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DS Exclusive: Tim Barry gets raw and real – even for Tim Barry – on the transitional new album, “The Roads To Richmond”

It is not, by any stretch, an overstatement to refer to Tim Barry as one of the premier storytelling songwriters in the punk rock scene for as long as most of us have been associated with it; he was certainly trending in that direction during his Avail days, but it’s become an irrefutable fact in his work since going solo a decade-and-a-half ago. With the exception of maybe “Prosser’s Gabriel” from his 2010 album 28th and Stonewall (or, I guess, “T. Beene” from it’s follow-up, 40 Miler), Barry writes almost exclusively in the first person. Sometimes, this finds him telling the gut-wrenching components of someone else’s story in explicit, vivid detail; see “South Hill” or “Solid Gone” or “Dog Bumped” most notably. While the subject matter is clearly not his story in each of those songs, he’s got a way of pulling the listener in and making you feel every last strain and emotion and decision made by each of the respective narrators.

Sometimes, though, and especially when relationships are involved, the lines between author and subject get blurry to say the least. Sure there are songs like “Lela Days” or “Older And Poorer” that are pretty on-the-nose when it comes to being obviously self-referential. But on classic Barry fan-favorites like “Exit Wounds” and “Avoiding Catatonic Surrender” and “Walk 500 Miles” and “This November,” he long-ago proved that he can write a broken-hearted love song like nobody aside from maybe Ben Nichols. Because the themes present in those songs are so, unfortunately, universal and because of Barry’s adeptness as a songwriter, you’re never quite sure if he’s retelling traumatic events from his own biography or simply relating the cautionary tales of his friends and peers. Case in point: years ago when Tim and I spoke during a prior album-cycle promotional run, he relayed the story of his father contacting him after the release of Rivanna Junction, asking if he was doing alright.

Today marks the release of Tim Barry’s latest album, The Roads To Richmond. It’s his seventh studio full-length, and it is, in many ways, an album that delves into what’s been a very transitional time in the proud Richmond, Virginia native’s life. Not only did Barry quit working a “real job” and make the decision to live solely on music for the time being, but more importantly (and profoundly) Barry and his wife split up in the years since we last heard new music from him. He found himself living, at various times, in his van, in an apartment on the “bad side of town,” and most recently, in the very first house he’s ever purchased. And so the weight of separation and moving on and all of the confusion and emotions that those things entail, particularly when still trying to embrace the role of SuperDad to his pair of young daughters (Lela, 7, and Coralee, almost 5) were destined to bleed into the material that wound up on The Roads To Richmond. In fact, when we caught up over the phone to discuss The Roads To Richmond, it prompted me to jokingly – well, half-jokingly anyway – paraphrase that Rivanna Junction quote from his dad. As it turns out, I’m not alone. “Brent Baldwin down at The Kitchen mastering plant down in Carrboro, North Carolina, was doing the work on it, putting the finishing touches on the recording,” Barry explains. “He’s a professional, and I trust him and I trust his opinion and his work, and basically he said what you were paraphrasing my dad as saying. Like, “whoa, man, I hope everything’s okay!” (As homework, I challenge you to listen to the funeral dirge that is “Box Wine And Xanax” and not feel like you got repeatedly punched squarely in your midsection.)

The tone is present right from the first somber piano notes of album-opener “Big Ships.” When Barry’s voice eventually joins the instrumentation, it does so in a more tender way than we’re really accustomed to. It’s a song that was written in a place that’s been important to a small legion of East Coast punk rock fans over the last several decades: Asbury Park’s Little Eden. “I was sitting in Kate Hiltz’s kitchen at Little Eden in Asbury Park. I don’t know what I was doing there, but I was there for a couple of days, and no one was around, I had the whole house to myself,” Barry tells me.  “And I was writing that song, it just popped out of nowhere like songs do, and when it came around to the chorus, I looked up and on her wall it said “Big Ships Turn Slow.” I ripped those lines right off of her kitchen wall, and that completed the chorus and the song kept on trucking.” 

Barry tends to play his cards close to his vest when discussing the actual subject matter of some of his more ambiguous material, preferring instead to allow the listener to connect to songs on their own personal level. Still, he offered a bit of a hint behind what went into “Big Ships,” which turned out to be the pivotal moment in putting the writing for The Roads To Richmond to bed. “It’s like this,” he explains. “If you’re taking on a massive life change, you can use the phrase “big ships turn slow,” like, if (I’m asking you for) advice, I can say “I’m quitting my job and I’m gong to be self-employed and I want everything to go right.” And you could say “Tim…big ships turn slow.

Peppered throughout the album are tracks that are unambiguously autobiographical., perhaps none moreso than “April’s Fool,” a song that in some ways sounds like a follow-up to Rivanna Junction‘s “Exit Wounds,” except with the added weight of a marriage and children involved. “(That song is) autobiographical to a T. And you know, to be clear, that song was written while I was going through possibly one of the biggest transitions of my life. It was written in one go. It was “play and record” on my iPhone while I was living in my van. There’s really very little editing on that song, and I don’t think, for me, that music gets any more real than that.

While Barry is obviously no stranger to the broken-hearted love song, “April’s Fool” is a track that evokes enough visceral emotion that Barry was initially remiss to include on the album. “My instinct is to not share that kind of song and share that kind of music because it is sad. My job isn’t to depress people. I don’t even have a job!” As time elapsed, however, Barry started to understand that there was real value both to himself and to his listeners in telling such a personal story. “The subject of the song is divorce, it’s separation, it’s the end of a relationship. It’s the difficult possibility of going on alone when you’re not used to that. That’s what the song’s about. It’s just a moment. And when I was going through that at that point, I didn’t have any peers who were. I had a lot of questions, and there wasn’t really anyone to reach out to…But, as I breach the release of this new record, I realize that I have multiple friends that are going through that exact situation. I have many peers who are dealing with that dynamic in their life right now. I think it’s purposeful now to put that sort of intimacy onto a record so that other people know that other people have been through it. 

I suppose this is as good a point as any to explain, emphatically, that The Roads To Richmond is a sad, depressing album; it’s not! There are very real and very weighty feelings on the album. Over the last half-dozen years, a couple of Barry’s musical peers, Dave Hause and Brian Fallon, wrote their own powerful post-divorce albums (Devour and Get Hurt in that order if you’re keeping score) that rank among the best collections of work in either of their respective lengthy careers, both with bands and as solo artists. Part of the reason those albums have resonated with so many people for so long is that, sure, they’re raw, visceral looks at the pain and isolation that separation leave behind, but they also offer a little bit of redemption; a little bit of positive glow that in spite of all the pain, the future may turn out alright. For that reason, there are a lot of people for whom The Roads To Richmond will be their Devour (or their Blood On The Tracks…or their Rumours…or their Tunnel Of Love).

If I’m going to highlight some of the more raw, heavy emotional tracks on The Roads To Richmond, it’s only fair to highlight some of the tracks that provide a little levity and balance. “Bent Creek” is in uptempo, front-porch singalong about being at piece with the freedom that laying your burdens down and moving on can provide. It’s a cathartic song, and Barry’s voice sings like that of a man with a weight that’s been freed from his shoulders. “Fussin’ Over Fate” is a similar feeling track, a boot-stomping jam about not lamenting the fact that your old hometown has changed from the place you used to remember. “East Texas Red” is a reworking of a Woody Guthrie classic that was popularized by Guthrie’s son Arlo, a country and western murder ballad of a cruel old railroad yard boss who gets his comeuppance at the hands of two weary railroad travelers. “Coralee” is a tender, sweet acoustic ballad of Barry’s own, an ode to his youngest daughter.

And then there’s “Oh My Darling.” It’s a rollicking, Pete Seeger-esque finger-picked number that is placed perfectly on the album, as it helps lift the spirits from the weight of “April’s Fool.” “Oh My Darling” is a track that sounds like Barry singing to his daughter, but the reality is infinitely sweeter; it was penned by Barry’s oldest daughter Lela Jane, then five, as an ode to her little sister, the aforementioned Coralee. “Lela free-styled the lyrics!” Barry explains. “She told me to get a piece of paper and write it down as she sang. She’s fast at writing lyrics and melodies.” Barry gave Lela co-writing credit on the song, and Lela even sings some of the response parts on the call-and-response section of the last chorus. 

You can check out an abridged version of my chat with Barry below; much of our chat was edited and condensed for content purposes. We talked quite a bit about The Roads To Richmond, naturally, and we also talked about Barry’s recent run of shows with Avail, the seminal band’s first gigs in more than a dozen years. You can also buy your own copy of The Roads To Richmond at Tim’s Bandcamp page or at his official store here or at his longtime label home, Chunksaah Records here.



DS Interview: Josiah Hughes (Blink-155 Podcast)

Two Canadian sellouts started a podcast in which they discuss every single blink-182 song. They titled it Blink-155, named after the amount of songs the band had at the podcast’s inception. Two years in, Exclaim! journalist Josiah Hughes (also of Pre Nup) and major label shill Sam Sutherland (also of Junior Battles) are well past 100 episodes and make over $1,300 a month in Patreon support.

To get to the bottom of this senseless endeavor, I interrupted Hughes mid-settling in to his new Montreal apartment to talk about if Dude Ranch is a dirty joke, being friends with the singer of Imagine Dragons, and why he started a blink-182 podcast. You can read our discussion below.



DS Exclusive: Jake Burns of Stiff Little Fingers Reflects on his Journey from Belfast to Chicago; and the role of Political Punk in the Era of Trump

Stiff Little Fingers, out of Belfast, Northern Ireland was amongst the first wave punk bands, and among those with a lasting impact. Their debut album, the seminal Inflammable Material celebrated its 40th Anniversary earlier this year.  The album features a trilogy of angry, political songs. S.L.F. founder and lead singer Jake Burns still has a bit of that same early anger in him and is hitting the road again as Stiff Little Fingers readies itself for another tour. The tour, entitled “40 Years of Inflammable Material,” celebrates the 40th Anniversary of the band’s debut album of the same title and they will be playing said record in its entirety. The first leg, well the US leg, takes them across the nation from October 1st in Phoenix, AZ and ending on the Flogging Molly Cruise with Burns’ friends and fellow Chicago residents in Pegboy.

Speaking of Chicago, Burns’ journey from his youth in his hometown of Belfast, Northern Ireland to his adopted home, the Windy City, was one of the subjects we recently discussed. Read the entire interview below.



DS Exclusive: Jason Cruz on Strung Out’s triumphant “Songs Of Armor And Devotion” and his Upcoming Children’s Book, “There Are Such Things As In Your Dreams”

When last we spoke with Strung Out frontman Jason Cruz, it was a couple of days prior to the release of his iconic band’s acoustic EP, Black Out The Sky. The album marked a bit of a departure, a change of pace album more than two decades into the band’s history of pioneering a blistering punk/metal hybrid. The album had been a bit delayed – its predecessor, Transmission.Alpha.Delta was already three years old and was, itself, the band’s first new album in six years at the time – and came at the end of a tumultuous two-year period that found long-time drummer Jordan Burns exiting the band, replaced by Runaway Kids’ RJ Shankle.

Fast-forward a less than eighteen months, and we caught up with Cruz again, this time on the heels of a new, fully-plugged-in full-length. On August 9th, the band released their ninth studio album, Songs Of Armor And Devotion, on Fat Wreck Chords, and from the first moments of the album’s opening track, “Rebels & Saints,” the new music finds the quintet firmly, aggressively, planting their battle flag as an ongoing force to be reckoned with nearly three decades into their career. That’s a concept that is certainly not lost on Cruz. “I think that we’re all still working class dudes. We’re still hungry. I feel like we still have to fight for every little thing that we’ve got and everything that we do. Nothing is easy for us, so I think that that in and of itself adds to the gravity and the sincerity of what we do,” he explains. “We earned the right to still be here. I think that if you’re going to do this – to do anything – you have to earn the right to keep doing it.”

Cruz notes that even with so many releases under their studded belts, the band experiences collective anxiety in the last period of time before an album officially drops, and the tone of that anxiety has shifted as much as anything else over the course of their career. “Up until the time it gets released, you’re wondering, especially with social media and everything that’s going on these days, everyone’s got an opinion and everyone feels their opinion needs to be heard, and they start throwing around how they think you should write the songs.” This forces the band – somewhat less-than-reluctantly – to pull back moreso than usual from social media outlets and to let their own collective consciousness steer the ship. It’s the quality that’s lead the band to continue producing material that’s as hungry and vital as ever. “I think that if you believe and something, do it or act it or live your life around it or just be it, and if people are inspired by it, good, if they’re not…I don’t worry about it.

Cruz’s songwriting has never been the type to shy away from sociopolitical issues, and that’s certainly no different on Songs Of Armor And Devotion given that the period we find ourselves in is ripe for commentary. However, Cruz’s songwriting is also the type that’s not going to beat you over the head with on-the-nose references. Instead, he opts for more of a storyteller’s role, allowing the listener to make her or his own connection with the music. That, of course, is by design. “I think music is more intimate than that, and the way it affects you when you first listen to something, or you first put on a CD or you have a moment…music is something so personal and intimate,” he explains.I think a problem with our generation, or just this time, is a lack of intimacy with all things, you know? Everything is so fast and mass-produced and gamma rays in your face and radiation in your face and instant gratification, but there’s no intimacy with anything anymore.

2019 finds Cruz not only assuming his storyteller’s role for Strung Out again by way of writing lyrics and creating artwork, as he’s now done for the bulk of the band’s releases; he’s now branching out into the world of author of children’s books! October 25th at the Copro Nason Gallery in Los Angeles, Cruz will be throwing an art show that serves as the launch for his debut book, There Are Such Things As In Your Dreams. The title was developed by one of Cruz’s daughters and inspired the central theme of the book. “It’s a simple children’s poem with some cool pictures. It’s trying to explain to a kid what dreams are.” In fact, There Are Such Things As In Your Dreams is the first of three books that Cruz has lined up. “The first one is basically a nursery rhyme or a kids’ poem with pictures. The second one is a little bit darker. The third one is a motherfucker…but that’ll wait ’til (his daughter is) a little older!

*excerpted artwork from There Are Such Things As In Your Dreams courtesy of Cruz himself*

As a songwriter, Cruz has not shied away from digging around in some dark places and exploring themes that might be awkward or strange or uncomfortable, and that won’t be different when it comes to his career as an author of kids’ books. “I am who I am in front of my daughter; sometimes I write about dark stuff, but I think at the core of everything I do is love,” Cruz notes. “I think if you read anything I write, it’s about love. I’m not a hateful person, I don’t write about hateful things. Everything I do comes from love, so naturally this book comes from love and dreams.” To that end, Cruz approached the process of creating the art and storyline for a children’s book in much the same manner that he approaches creating music, be it for Strung Out or another project like Jason Cruz and Howl. “To me, a children’s book is just like a song,” he explains. “They’ve both got rhythm, they’ve got imagery. It’s a simplified, poetic approach to telling a sorry or a thought or a theme, you know?

Head below to check out our full Q&A with Jason Cruz…or at least the first 22 minutes of our conversation before my recorder miraculously shat the proverbial bed. If you’re going to be in Southern California the last week of October, you can RSVP to the above-mentioned art show/book launch here; it’s free, and it will also feature guest artist and skateboarding icon Steve Caballero and an acoustic performance by Strung Out!

 



DS Exclusive: Amos Pitsch (Tenement) Interviews Walt Hamburger about The Hamburgers’ First Show in 9 Years

The Hamburgers were a pop punk band from Appleton, Wisconsin that I recall existing between the years 2004 and 2005. My high school band, Social Classics, often played locally with them at coffee shops and VFW halls; in basements and fast food joint parking lots. For me, at sixteen years old, they filled a void where no energetic, melodic, and slightly juvenile music existed anymore in the Northeast Wisconsin region. They encompassed the idea of fun and did it without an air of pretension. They seemed almost like a cartoon strip in band form and I think managed to make an impression on a lot of young minds in spite of themselves. As the years have passed, Walt and I continue to evolve into such different people, but I still consider him one of my closest friends; a madman at the wheel that somehow manages to continue to steer himself toward his own personal success. He’s released two solo albums on Lagwagon front-man Joey Cape‘s record label One Week Records, crosses the ocean yearly to play for international fans, and finds purpose at home running his own non profit organization dedicated helping animals in need. This weekend, The Hamburgers are reuniting at Appleton, Wisconsin’s Mile Of Music Festival for their first performance in nine years.

-Amos Pitsch, July 2019

Check out Amos and Walt’s interview below!



DS Exclusive: Luke O’Neil (no hope/no harm) on his debut book, “Welcome To Hell World: Dispatches From The American Dystopia”

It’s around about one in the afternoon on a warm-but-not-hot early summer Tuesday and Luke O’Neil and I are having coffee at an outdoor table in Harvard Square in right about the same spot that “good” Will Hunting sat explaining to his lovely British girlfriend, Skylar, about how in spite of his working class roots he’s actually wicked smaht and I’ve gone and embarrassed my conversation partner. Our table happened, randomly enough, to be located next to a couple of business types who it just so happens own a local bar that O’Neil worked at and got fired from. That’s not REALLY the embarrassing part, but there’s more on that later. O’Neil has spent years as the frontman of Boston-area bands like Good North and more recently No Hope/No Harm but is undoubtedly best known for his work as a predominantly freelance writer – “I guess somehow I’ve become like this notable freelancer, which, there’s a distinction between being a notable writer and a notable freelancer. It’s not that my work is that great, but it’s the fact that I’m freelancing, he notes, tongue firmly embedded in cheek – who’s been featured in places The Boston Globe and Esquire the Boston Phoenix (R.I.P.) and Huffington Post.

O’Neil’s been doing his own newsletter, Welcome To Hell World: Weekly Dispatches From The Pit Of Despair, for the better part of the last year. It’s must-read fare that’s equal parts horrifying and heart-warming and disturbingly humorous and soul-crushing and at times optimistic. All that work has culminated in the pending arrival of O’Neil’s first book, Welcome To Hell World: Dispatches From The American Dystopia, and, subsequently, in his getting to talk to schlubs like me not about things like labor disputes or immigration policy or the abhorrent state of the health care or criminal justice systems in his country, but about his own work. And that, as it turns out, makes O’Neil a little uncomfortable. “I’m embarrassed talking about it this much with you. Please make it clear that I find talking about myself to be weird. And I almost get embarrassed to say what I do, like when I went to talk to those guys over there and they said “hey, what are you up to?” a normal thing would be to say “oh, I’ve got a book coming out.” But I don’t say that…

Writing a book wasn’t entirely part of the original plan; or at least not the type of book that Welcome To Hell World eventually became. But let’s rewind the tape to the beginning. O’Neil was born in the late ’70’s and grew up in Kingston, Massachusetts, the small coastal town that’s about an hour south of Boston and an hour east of Providence, meaning he was equidistant to two vital underground music scenes at a pivotal time. After formative concert-going experiences involving Weird Al Yankovic and Rage Against The Machine – no, not on the same bill but can you imagine? – O’Neil had the opportunity to dive into two thriving underground music scenes at a vital time, as bands like Letters To Cleo and Dinosaur Jr. were blowing up. “(I would see them) and I would learn about all the bands that were opening for them. It becomes like a chain reaction – you go see a band and you find out who’s opening for them, and then you go see that band later and find out who’s opening for them, and I always really loved that about music,” O’Neil explains.

After Kingston came a trip an hour west of Boston to Worcester’s College of the Holy Cross and, following that, a stint in New York City inspired by a love for writing fiction. “I wanted to write fiction,” O’Neil remembers. “I wrote essays in fiction in college and won some stupid school awards, and that’s how I got my real first job. My real first job was I worked for Conde Nast. I moved to New York City – this was around 2000 – and magazines were just starting to have websites. Somehow, I don’t know how, I got a job just on the fact that I was a pretty good writer. I went and applied and interviewed for a normal job to be an editorial assistant and I somehow got it.”

A couple years in New York were followed by a return to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, specifically to an MFA program at Boston’s Emerson College, a degree that somehow, O’Neil never quite finished. Instead, he got a regular, paying gig at what was then called The Weekly Dig, a free, Boston-based alternative weekly newspaper, back in the waning days of those still being relatively viable thing. “I did two years at Emerson toward an MFA, and I somehow got the job at the Dig, and was like, “well, fuck it, I’m a professional writer now, I don’t need to finish this.” He continues: “I just had to do one more thing to write and defend my thesis. And I had it written, I don’t know why the fuck I didn’t do it. I just said “I don’t want to do it anymore.” And I started playing in my first band, and I thought I was hot shit. I was going to be a rock star! … I just kind of chafed against this program at Emerson, but I guess chafing against structure and discipline has always been a throughline for me…

That chafing against structure and discipline would eventually lead to O’Neil getting fired by the Dig.  As he tells it, in spite of the comparatively liberal office culture in place at the Dig, it wasn’t a fit for his personality in the long run. “Even at a place like that,” he explains, “I just didn’t like going to sit there all day and just being at a computer because the boss wanted you to be in the office.” O’Neil’s run at the Dig was followed by an editing job at free daily newspaper, The Metro (if you’ve ever taken an MBTA bus, it’s the one that’s usually open-faced on the empty seat next to you. This one would prove to be an even shorter run. “I went in the first day, and I remember everyone was so excited that there was pizza in the breakroom, and I just laughed and said “I don’t want to work at a place where people are excited that there’s pizza.” So I went back to waiting tables and freelancing when I could.”

Waiting tables and freelancing eventually lead to O’Neil’s former editor at the Dig, Joe Keohane, getting back in tough about a new opportunity a half-dozen years ago, this time on the pages of Esquire Magazine. “That obviously was a pretty big step for my career and I did lots of great work there, but then I sort of got fired, sort of quit from there? I still don’t really know.” It seems O’Neil’s penchant for what I think Oprah calls “speaking truth to power” but what essentially boils down to calling people on their respective shit had bit him in his own ass. This, you see, is a bit of a recurring theme in O’Neil’s writing career. “I tend to quit or get fired from almost everything I’ve ever done, because I have a very low tolerance for doing things just because that’s the way they’re done. I’m not afraid to speak up – I guess I’m just an impetuous teenage shit still!” As a freelancer writer, editors and websites and print publications (lol) will bring you on board because your words are hopefully going to generate eyes on their pages, sell ad space and/or subscriptions, etc. And if you’re generating content – and clicks – by pointing your spears at the power structure or class imbalance or whatever, that’s a good thing. But when you start to point those spears at the people you’re writing for, well, bad things happen. “I just started talking shit sometimes about how bad the (Esquire) site was getting while I was working there, and obviously the bosses didn’t like that, and we just sort of ghosted each other in a weird way.” O’Neil explains.

Though no longer at Esquire, O’Neil continued having his pieces picked up for publication in a variety of outlets like the Washington Post and the theoretically liberal bastion hometown newspaper that is the Boston Globe. In fact, a quick search on the Globe’s own website produces 364 results as of today. That changed earlier this year, however, in a rather notorious way, after the paper chose to pull a published O’Neil editorial amid fierce conservative backlash (O’Neil had opined – again tongue in cheek – that one of his regrets in life was not “seasoning” conservative pundit Bill Kristol’s salmon when waiting on him at a restaurant years prior). Rather than support their long-time contributor, they caved to pressure from the right-hand side of the aisle that doesn’t need to look hard to find myriad reasons to hate them anyway and instead, as O’Neil describes it, “slit (his) throat.

And so while starting a newsletter a year ago maybe wasn’t O’Neil’s idea from the start, it has given him a regular, unfiltered, seemingly stream-of-consciousness outlet to provide his unique blend of social and political and personal commentary. “In order to be one of the people now who keeps a job, who have to by your very nature be kind of a boot-licker or a fucking cop,” O’Neil opines. “I think that’s the problem with – and I hate the term mainstream media – but when you talk about the (Washington) Post or the (New York) Times or any New York magazine, in order to stay within the business and climb the ladder and get jobs and keep jobs, you definitely have to be willing to swallow a lot more shit than I certainly am willing to.” It also allows him to address issues like police brutality or throat-punching Nazis or the border crisis or people dying due to lack of affordable health care in a way that doesn’t have to address “both sides” of an issue in order to placate audiences or bosses. “A lot of times, I’ll talk to somebody who can’t pay their hospital bills,” he explains. “The journalistic thing to do is that you’re supposed to call the insurance company to get their side of it. It’s like, “fuck you, I don’t care what your side of it is. I KNOW what your side of it is. Your side of it is that you’re fucking this person over.” It’s pointless to me to ask. It’s like, if the cops shoot somebody, it’s pointless to call the cops and ask why they shot them. They’re going to lie to you…I feel like there’s too much of that now. There’s a lot of interviewing of the alt-right and neo-Nazis and stuff where they’re like “I’m going to show this guy’s words, and they’re going to seem so absurd that everyone’s going to laugh at him!” But I’m not interested in that.”

All of that brings us back to the Hell World book, which is due out next month through O/R Books. Much of it is comprised of pieces that’ve appeared in the Hell World newsletter, with a few companion pieces that appeared in other publications but seemed to fit the theme of the book, as well as a few new essays. It’s largely unedited from it’s original, unique format, which will probably please fans of O’Neil’s work and frustrate or confuse other people. “I think the book might be interesting and weird. I’ve certainly never read anything like it, which can be a bad thing. I can imagine people thinking it sucks, and maybe it does, I don’t know. But it’s like a weird mix of reporting on labor and health care nightmares and police violence and also commentary on other people’s reporting on that and also really a memoir of my own struggles with mental health and physical issues” he explains.“I think it’s a weird book, and it’s either going to be weird and people will really like it, or really weird and people will think “this is garbage.” All of that is just fine with the author, himself.

Pre-order your very own copy of Welcome To Hell World right here! In the meantime, check out our full sit-down with Luke O’Neil below. This was a fun one to get the opportunity to work on!



DS Interview: John Maiello (Dead Bars) Talks ‘Regulars,’ playing with the Souls, and life after ‘Dream Gig’

“Keep on dreamin’.”

For myself and many others, the chorus has become a warcry. The punky, rock ‘n roll stalwarts have a way of getting you on their side—whether it’s through their blunt, too-real lyricism, or their bar-uniting singalongs, there’s the palpable feeling that no matter who you are, you belong at their show. This is Dead Bars—eternally scrappy, open-throated, and always rockin’—and with Regulars, they’ve kept the dream alive. 

In honor of the new album (May 3rd on A-F Records, don’t sleep on it!), I had the pleasure of exchanging emails with frontman John Maiello. We talk about the band’s journey thus far, finally getting that dream gig, and their incredible new record. 

Check out the interview below!



Milo Aukerman hopes Descendents will record new music later this year

In a recent interview with Kerrang!, Descendents frontman Milo Aukerman confirmed that they are indeed writing new material for the band’s follow-up to 2016’s Hypercaffium Spazzinate. He’s quoted as saying:

“We’re currently writing. We tend to write a variety of stuff, which for me personally tends to range from love songs to hyper-fast songs about coffee, which we still do. So we continue to mine our background in early LA punk rock pretty heavily. I still like to write that kind of music because for me it’s the best way of getting my point across powerfully. But right now Stephen [Egerton, guitarist] and I have written about 21 songs, and we’re waiting for songs from Bill and Karl [Alvarez, bassist]. We’re kind of weird because everyone in the band writes, so we’re just waiting til everyone has finished up with their compliment of songs and then we’ll be putting another record out. I hope that we’ll start recording it later in the year.”

Exactly when the next Descendents record will be released is unknown at this point. Fans had to wait nine years for 1996’s Everything Sucks, eight years for 2004’s Cool to Be You and then twelve years for Hypercaffium Spazzinate, but over a month ago, Milo promised that it won’t be too long before the arrival of the next album.



Exclusive Interview: On top of the world with Buck-O-Nine’s Jon Pebsworth, talks “Fundaymental” and keeping it DIY in a septet

Third-wave California ska-punk pioneers Buck-O-Nine have just released Fundaymental on Cleopatra Records. It’s their first album in 12 years and marks the band’s sixth studio album since their conception in ’91. Fundaymental has been years in the making with each of the seven members making ulterior individual contributions to bring these fourteen-tracks to life, where “do it yourself” finds new meaning when your rhythm section is spread across the country and the guy singing the songs lives 100 miles away.

Dying Scene caught up with that guy via telephone call from Dallas to L.A. His name is Jon Pebsworth, and like pretty much all the rest of the band members, he’s been there since the beginning. Jon says the main thing to take away from Fundaymental is “Come out to the show. Put your worries aside, and have fun for a night.” and Buck-O-Nine after all these years? “Let it go!” The secret is trust, and this singer says he has loads of that, as well as respect for each member of his septet. He keeps the process fun and easy, and collaborations are chilled and inclusive.

“People leave. Even our drummer Steve, he’s the original drummer. He left the band in I think like ’99 or something like that and then he came back about six or seven years ago. So, it’s basically the same group of guys minus the bass player that did all of the first three records, which is pretty cool. Our bass player who is in the band now, Andy, has been in the band for about nineteen years.” Fun fact: Andy Platfoot is also the creative talent behind Buck-O-Nine’s music videos of late… the more you know.

As for the art on Fundaymental, “Steve did the cover and then the back cover, and then Jonas, our guitar player did all the graphic design and put it all together.” Fundaymental was recorded, monitored and produced by trumpet player Tony Curry who utilized F.B.I. spy tactic technological wizardry to hack his band member’s computers and record demos remotely. “Like I said, everybody’s got their little job that they do.”

“Our drummer recorded all the drums in a proper studio and stuff like that. It was a really weird process, but it was a lot of fun. There was a lot of learning as we were going. We were kind of like, ‘This is so trippy. We’ve never even been in the same room together playing these songs – which on all the other records that we’ve done over the years, we were just in a rehearsal room somewhere in San Diego playing the songs together and working them out that way. This was different but it was the only option we had. We just really, really wanted to do it, so we made it happen.”

When you find something you love, you’ve got to let it shine… I mean, something to that effect… I know that’s not right. You’ve got to be a peacock, right? “I went through some work things a few years ago working at this company, and I was trying my best to be like, ‘I’m into it. It’s cool.’ You know? ‘Let’s do this!’ And finally, after a couple of years I was just like, ‘You know what? Fuck this! And fuck this place! And fuck this job! I’m fucking out of here, dude.’ You know? Like, ‘I’m gonna’ go back to what I do. This isn’t me.’ So, that’s really kind of what its about. It’s really kind of a message to yourself, you know? A lot of my songs are like that where it’s like a pep talk almost for yourself. It’s a healing and process where you are talking yourself back into being positive and cool, and not dealing with bullshit. You know? For the most part that’s what it’s kind of about, and the references like ‘going back to the bar’ and ‘hanging out hooligan style’ is just a part of getting away from that negative shit to me, because that shit’s cool and fun.”

Jon and I had a great chat. It was super fun talking about ska in the 90’s, and the components of a talented band who tries to keep it in the family. Jon gave me the ins-and-outs of the new album Fundaymental. (available here) I got to meet his dog Barney, and we even talked about Mike Park a little bit behind his back. Find these conversations and more below, you young dead scenesters. Have a great day!



One Week ‘Til Manchester Punk Festival: An Interview With The Tree

It’s just one week until a few thousand punks descend on the northern UK city of Manchester for what has fast become an absolute festival-calendar highlight. Returning for its fifth and biggest edition yet, Manchester Punk Festival will play host to more than 130 bands spanning just about every sub-genre of punk.

The festival is the product of three of Manchester’s most-active purveyors of underground sounds – Moving North, Anarchistic Undertones, and TNS Records. Helping them is a vast team of volunteers drafted directly from the UK punk scene. Essentially, it’s about 10 massive DIY gigs running simultaneously, with hundreds of bands, that span three days. It’s fucking great.

With just a few tickets remaining, we put some questions to long promoter Ian “Tree” Robinson (of Manchester’s Anarchistic Undertones and Oasis tribute band-fame) to find out what goes in to putting on an underground slobber-knocker as grand in scale as that occurring next weekend. Below is the result of just that.

 



Exclusive Interview: Success is never realized with Houston and The Dirty Rats, Confessions of a DIY band with world record aspirations

Houston and The Dirty Rats is out to set a record. They’ve recently applied to Guinness for the category of “Longest Documented DIY Tour” – or something like that :) – in reference to their current tour, of which they should be right around the halfway mark, dubbed “The Dirty 100” or “100 shows in 100 days” tour.  I stopped by and spoke with the band as they came through Dallas, at the only place left for a cheap drink in Deep Ellum, Reno’s Chop Shop. We all met up and decided to chat it up for a bit in the bed of my truck parked right out back. It was a beautiful night with a near-howling wind that spoke just enough to rustle up the sensors in my phones microphone a bit, The city was wide awake on a Thursday and there were plenty of folks that took interest in our little motley anomaly in the bed of a truck in back of Renos.

A bit more than halfway through we breaked for their set, and I was thrilled with the band’s performance, and stage presence. I mentioned to Houston that he was lucky to have such a great rhythm section, and that the Dirty Rats throughout the night had expressed a level of brotherhood and comraderie that made me extremely excited to write about them. We talked about the usual stuff: DIY ethics, running your own label, dreams of being signed, ungodly amounts of malt-liquor consumption, and of course the 100 shows in 100 days. It’s a bit of a read but I’ll be damned if we didn’t just make the most adorable little punker quartet you ever did see. Also, if you or any of your friends are in a band, there’s about a 50% chance that it gets a shout in this piece as a bunch of our favorites get a mention.

This conversation was a blast and I’m stoked I got to relive it again in transcription. From my table to yours young scenesters. Here’s a band that’s going places. Read the interview below.



The Offspring members look back on 25th anniversary of “Smash”

The Offspring members Dexter Holland and Noodles recently spoke to Kerrang! magazine about the 25th anniversary of their breakthrough record Smash.

Noodles recalls, “Prior to Smash, we were pretty much a part-time band. Even when we blew up, I didn’t even quit my job [as a janitor at the Earl Warren School in Anaheim] outright – I took a three-year leave of absence. I was still working there when we were blowing up ’cause I’d promised my boss I wouldn’t quit until the end of the school year. There was this one high school girl that I knew [there] and she used to see me in the morning and say to me, ‘Man, what are you doing? I just saw you on MTV!’

There were a lot of things at that time that we didn’t do. We didn’t do any late-night TV shows until Days Go By [in 2012]! On Smash, we turned down Saturday Night Live, simply because we didn’t think we were good enough. Again, I think that has something to do with the fact that we were a part-time band.

We did do the Billboard Awards, which was on TV, but it wasn’t widely viewed. The organisers were pissed off that we played Bad Habit rather than one of the hits, but we thought, ‘We’re punks. We’re not a pop band. Let’s go out and fuck things up a little bit.'”

Dexter added, “We actually considered playing Too Drunk To Fuck [by Dead Kennedys] at the Billboard show. In the end we played Bad Habit. But we played raw, and at the end I dived into the crowd. I remember the looks on the faces of the people at the front as I did this, and thinking, ‘Wow, these aren’t the same people that come to see us when we play [punk venue] Gilman Street!'”

Smash was originally released on April 8th, 1994 via Epitaph, and was the first album released on that label to receive gold and platinum certification thanks to the hits “Come Out and Play”, “Self Esteem”, and “Gotta Get Away”. Along with Green Day‘s Dookie, Smash was responsible for helping bring punk rock into the mainstream, as well as paving the way for the emerging pop punk scene of the 90’s.



Descendents are working on new music, says Milo Aukerman

Descendents frontman Milo Aukerman confirmed in an interview with OC Register that a new album from the band is on the way. Fans had to wait nine years for 1996’s Everything Sucks, eight years for 2004’s Cool to Be You and then twelve years for 2016’s Hypercaffium Spazzinate, but Milo promises that it won’t be too long before the next record arrives.

He’s quoted as saying, “When we put out the last record we thought, ‘OK, I bet we could put out another record after this one and not wait a decade to do it.’ It was such a rewarding experience and you know what? Our fans deserve better. They deserve more than a record every decade or so. We started writing almost immediately after that record was done. I have been writing and Stephen (Egerton) has really picked up the mantle, too. Between us I think we have like 20 songs written and Bill (Stevenson) and Karl (Alvarez) have been writing songs as well. We’ve done some basic tracking, but it’s still a work in progress but I hope we’ll have something out by the end of the year.”

We’ll keep you posted as more details on the next Descendents record come to light.



Adam Pfahler confirms Jawbreaker are writing new material

Jawbreaker drummer Adam Pfahler confirmed in a recent interview with Music Radar that new music for what will be the band’s first album in over two decades is in progress. He was quoted as saying:

“Yeah, absolutely. We’re writing right now and we’ve rescued a couple of old songs that we never had a chance to record right at the end of the band. We’re going to get together in San Francisco and get right back to it. We don’t have a label yet, and we haven’t booked any studio time. We’re just dipping our toes and taking it one step at a time.”

Jawbreaker broke up in 1996, shortly after the release of their iconic record Dear You, but reunited in 2017 and have been performing live occasionally since then.



DS Exclusive: Dave Hause on fatherhood, family, and his suicidally optimistic new album “Kick”

The journey of a career songwriter is one filled with a seemingly endless series of what can rightly be called “pivotal” moments that can alter the arc of one’s professional career; the death of a loved one, the dissolution of a band, divorce, the misuse of alcohol and other drugs, marriage, worsening societal ills. Even if you’ve got your head screwed on in a manner we’d call straight, each and every one of those areas can seem daunting. When you couple any of them with the growing senses of fear and doubt and insecurity that can come, frankly, with being alive and even remotely paying attention to the world around you, it can prove enough to bring an otherwise strong individual to their respective knees.

In one form or another, Dave Hause has tackled all of those issues — sometimes individually, sometimes collectively — generally in a manner that can be poignant and heart-achingly personal. On his upcoming album, Kick, due April 12th on Rise Records, Hause has yet another filter to approach his life, and his craft, through: fatherhood. When we caught up with the now California-based Hause over the phone last week, he was out for a walk with his twin two-month-old sons napping quietly away in their stroller, affording his wife a much-deserved breather. Lest those who might be afraid that turning 40 and establishing roots on the sun-soaked west coast and becoming a dad would have dulled the daggers that Hause spent the better part of two decades sharpening, fear not; Kick is very much a return to form from the more positive, upbeat themes of its predecessor, Bury Me In Philly. “I think that Kick and Devour are a lot closer to one another than Bury Me In Philly,” Hause explains. Bury Me In Philly was me moving to California and figuring out what that was going to look like and figuring out happiness. I didn’t want to write a bummed record if I wasn’t bummed. Little did I know that we were going to have one of the biggest heartbreaks as a society that I could have ever predicted.”

There are some weighty questions posited over the course of the ten songs that make up Kick. Many of them, like “Weathervane” and “Civil Lies” and lead single “The Ditch” tangle the wires between the personal and the political and reveal the obviously delicate balances that come with managing one’s own anxieties within the context of tides that are literally rising and a social climate that seems hellbent on allowing it to happen. The ride culminates in the album’s closing track, “Bearing Down,” a track which…well, let’s put it this way: if the Devour track “Autism Vaccine Blues” and its narrator outwardly considering whether or not they’d be better off dead tugged on your heartstrings, “Bearing Down” will use two hands and rip those heartstrings straight from your chest. The song finds Hause not only name-checking Hunter Thompson and Robin Williams (and insanely talented Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison, who provided backing vocal duties on the Devour track “The Shine,” in the liner notes), all of whom died from suicide after lengthy and sometimes public struggles with their own demons, but contemplating his own oblivion and weighing swan diving off the Golden Gate Bridge.

But then comes the pivot, that moment that the narrative shifts from being bleak to being heavy yet hopeful by way of our narrator finding that he’s got a newfound responsibility to be around for a while, and to help those that he’s close to through these difficult times. “What I was betting on with that final verse,” he explains, “was really like the old Buddhist philosophy that life is pain. “Hallelujah, we’re alive, and it’s bearing down. It is brutal. And if I can lighten that load for someone else, then I’m serving some grander purpose more than just my own selfish whims.” If you’re lucking, the act of older and going through some of your own trials and tribulations allows you the experience and perspective needed to learn from past mistakes. “I’ve got to stick around and not put my people through hell,” Hause notes, adding “in looking at the patterns of addiction and stuff, you start to realize that ‘wow…I’ve made some messes that I wouldn’t mind not repeating, so I’m going to stay in better touch!’ I look at it as more of a human responsibility.”

If there’s a central theme to Kick, it’s that yeah, the current might be strengthening around us or the ditch we’re in may be getting deeper, but that focusing on that isn’t going to fix it. “It’s a very dangerous proposition to look at the glass as either half-empty or filled with piss! Maybe that could be true, but I can’t really afford to ruminate on that. I have to come up with a reason to look toward the shore despite feeling I or we, collectively, are drowning. I have to. At this point, it’s a job as I have as a dad,” Hause notes, quickly adding that, upon reflection, his new duties aren’t necessarily “new” at all, though they’re certainly more intense. “To some degree, I’ve always had that job. I’ve been a brother and a husband and a friend and a songwriter. I’m supposed to try to be of some good use to people.”

There’s a genuine art to being able to write a song that uses your own uniquely human experiences and resonates with other people in such a way that not only can the listener relate to your stories, but use them in a way that can move the needle in their own lives. You know the Leonard Cohen quote “there’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in?” Hause asks, knowing full well what the answer is. “A lot of times what’s compelling to me is trying to look at the piece of pottery and trying to recognize that it is indeed cracked — and we cracked it! We fucked it up!  — But then trying to find that light, because what else are you going to do? A joking alternate title for the record was “Suicidally Optimistic,” and I know that can kinda make the skin crawl, but a lot of times, I think that that’s my outlook.”

As was the case with Bury Me In Philly a few years ago, Hause was joined by his brother Tim for the creation of Kick. The latter might be sixteen years younger than his big brother, but make no mistake; he is not, by any stretch (and to paraphrase a line from the track “Civil Lies”) a kid anymore, displaying songwriting chops that match his previously-established guitar abilities. Having Tim as my partner now is clutch. His whole theory is that you make a ten song record, and then, long-term, if you end up with three of them in your “greatest hits” set that we’ll play for the remainder of our careers as musicians, we did something right.” Tim not only collaborated on music and lyrics this time out, he takes on lead vocal duties on “Civil Lies,” providing an effect that’s familiar while still adding a layer we haven’t heard on a Hause “solo” album before. I use solo in quotes there, because it may not be that way for long. “I didn’t really want to be a solo guy (at first),” Hause the elder explains. “The financial collapse happened and I grabbed a guitar and just went. I didn’t realize (it would happen this way), I thought I’d be back with The Loved Ones after a record or two, but the cookie crumbled differently. I brought my brother in and assumed he’d be with me for a year or two and then go back to college.” Instead, Tim has turned himself into a vital cog in the process. “I think we’re just continuing to set the table for us combining streams and using both of our songwriting output and both of our talents toward the same end. Ultimately, we may just go completely under the last name so that it encompasses all of our writing,” a trend that’s started already, as evidenced by Kick‘s cover art. 

While Hause will have Tim alongside him as he gears up to hit the road with a full band, The Mermaid, for the first Kick support shows later this week and through the remainder of the year, he obviously won’t have his family’s two newest members alongside. In order to gear up for life on the road as a dad, Hause has called on some old friends like Dan Andriano, Pete Steinkopf, Brian Fallon and Cory Branan not just for songwriting input, but for advice on how to best navigate these previously (for him) uncharted waters. While being away from his wife and two little fellas is obviously going to suck, Hause is hoping to use that as inspiration to dig a little deeper – as though that were possible – in his live performances. I’m going to miss my family. I’m going to feel to some degree like a heel for not being there for first steps or things. I’m going to miss stuff if I continue to tour to support my life. But I’m trying to look at it like a two-pronged approach: 1 – what I do is cool and the kids will be psyched on that and 2- more importantly, if I can lean into that experience and be like ‘well, I’m in Berlin, and I don’t get to do this just willy-nilly; I can’t just pick up and go, it takes a tremendous amount of planning and effort and heartache to be away from my family, I’m going to really dig in on this Berlin show…or these two Boston shows.’ I think maybe it’ll make things shine up a little brighter.”

The new tour kicks off tomorrow (March 27th) in Hause’s hometown of Santa Barbara and takes a baby-steps approach through places like Boston, Philly, New York and Toronto before making its way overseas for three weeks later next month. Tour dates are available here. Kick is due out April 12th, and you can still pre-order it here.

More importantly, you can check out our full chat below; Hause and I have done these a few times, so as usual, we range pretty far and wide.