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DS Exclusive: Jared Hart on Mercy Union’s unorthodox origin and the road to “The Quarry”

When last we caught up in any official capacity with Jared Hart, the New Jersey native was somewhere in Florida in the midst of a support run, opening up for Frank Iero’s project at the time. Hart was mere weeks away from the release of his full-length debut solo album, Past Lives and Pass Lines, a collection of songs that were written over the previous handful of years that didn’t really fit the anthemic, street punk stylings of his “day job” band, The Scandals.

At the time, prevailing wisdom seemed to be that Hart would try to settle into a groove of spending six months a year working with The Scandals and six months a year working on solo activities, achieving some semblance of perfect creative balance. And while Hart has stayed steadily busy over the course of the last three years, it’s safe to say that the bulk of that work has not exactly gone as planned. Early 2016 brought with it the start of what turned out to be a year or so on the road across most of the globe as part of Brian Fallon’s backing band, The Crowes, in support of Fallon’s own debut solo album, Painkillers. Then there was the release of the stellar, Fallon-produced Scandals EP, Lucky Seven. Then there were solo European dates for Hart, a follow-up solo EP featuring reworked tracks from Past Lives + Pass Lines, scattered Scandals dates, and a few shows filling in on guitar for fellow Jersey punks Lost In Society.

In the process of working on ideas for what would theoretically be a second solo full-length, Hart would reconnect with an old Jersey musical acquaintance: Benny Horowitz, best noted for his work in The Gaslight Anthem, but also part of other noteworthy projects like Bottomfeeder, Wax Bottles and Antarctigo Vespucci. “I had a good handful of songs and a handful of riffs that were starting to come together,” explains Hart. At one point, I hadn’t seen Benny in a while, and he was saying “come by, we’ll get coffee or lunch, or if you want to jam or something, you could bring a guitar…” It seemed like he wanted to stretch it out a little bit, so I was like “you know? Fuck it, I’ll bring the guitar over and we’ll see what happens.”

Once the duo got together, things progressed quickly. Perhaps unusually quickly. “Immediately, we were fleshing out a full song,” says Hart. “He was like “what have you got?” and I pulled a riff that I had forever out, and then all of a sudden there was a structure, and there were these parts, and things he was playing were making my guitar go a certain way, and I remember thinking “this is interesting…this doesn’t usually go like this.”

What became apparent seemingly early on is that the new music the pair were creating wasn’t new solo music, and it wasn’t new Scandals music; it was becoming its own thing. “As the riffs kept coming, Benny was like “you know, we have a record here. Should we do an EP?” says Hart, explaining that he was initially gunshy to bring in old material he’d had in the bank and risk messing with the collaborative, spontaneous jamming. Eventually, he relented. “And I was like “well, I have all these other songs too…” So we started jamming on those, and then all of a sudden, after a couple months, we had a full-length.”

As it became apparent that the new music was a new project, that meant that the new project needed new members. “It was just me and Benny (at first) and we had all these songs, and we got to say who we wanted to play with us. And I was like, oh, fuck…that’s usually not a question that gets asked, usually you have the band all there first (before developing music).” Hart and Horowitz recruited fellow Garden Staters Rocky Catanese and Nick Jorgensen to the mix. Catanese, himself a veteran of the criminally-underrated Let Me Run, has been a friend and collaborator of Hart’s for years, so including him in the new band only made sense. “Our first tour together was in 2012,” Hart explains. “I used to fill in for Let Me Run once in a while, he has filled in for EVERYTHING that I’ve ever needed…any time the Scandals needed something, he’d hop in, and we’ve always just kind of had each other’s backs in that sense.” So I said well “of course Rocky has to be in it, because he’d be filling in anyway!”

When it came time to get their new material recorded, the newly-formed quartet holed up with none other than Pete Steinkopf at Little Eden studio in Asbury Park. Catanese and Jorgensen put their own respective touches on the music that Hart and Horowitz had crafted, and the recording process moved efficiently. Each of the band’s members has had experience in bands playing fairly diverse sounds within this punk rock realm, but Hart says there was never a discussion about musical directions when it came to the new project. “I wanted to make a record that I wanted to hear. I felt like I was lacking hearing some of these songs myself, and even just the sound of it, where it sounds sometimes like you’re in the room with the band playing…that’s kinda what I wanted to be able to do. I’m super proud of that,” he explains. “The actual process of writing and recording was really cathartic to do it like that. To not worry and to not stress and to let it just kinda roll…The only reason that something sonically or tonally or structurally got changed was how it fit into the context of all of the other songs (on the record), not anything outside of that. That was really fun to do.”

As the recording process was winding down with Steinkopf, and before Hart would leave for a solo run through Europe, the band got word that they’d landed a spot opening up a handful of dates for Racquet Club on the veritable super-group’s first real US tour. Initially billed as “Jared Hart with Full Band,” it wasn’t until Hart was overseas, their album already in the bag, that the band settled on a name. “Picking the name was probably the hardest thing of this whole project. That was the most anxiety I’ve had in general,” laughs Hart. “I was in Europe. We had a day off, and I had to pull over and just sit there. We made the name and I sent the t-shirt design in the same day. I sent it in to get printed that day and I had like a full-blown panic attack about the name. Because now it was done, it was printed. They sent me a picture of the screen blown out, and I was like “oh my god, what if this isn’t good?” My cousin is 18, and he was sitting in the passenger seat and he was like “dude, it’s fine!” I had my head against the steering wheel like “I’m not good with change and this is so permanent.” He had to kinda talk me off the ledge there.”

That name, of course, is Mercy Union. The band are slated to release their debut full-length, The Quarry, next month. And their doing it themselves via Hart’s newly minted Mount Crushmore Records. Evoking his mom’s “if you want something done right, do it yourself” motto, Hart determined that releasing the album on their own made the most sense, however nerve-wracking an endeavor that might be. “Starting this label up and trying to do everything the right way and through the right channels…that aspect of it has been stressful. But the band part of it and the record and the songs has been way less stressful than anything else…I know that if something goes wrong, it’s going to be my fault, and I prefer it that way.” Hart determined that he’d acquired enough experience over his fifteen years in the music business to make it work, not only for himself but for other friends that might have music to put out down the road. “I want to learn how to do this right and be prepared for whatever comes down the line. I’ve been talking about it for years, to have an outlet for friends to be able to share their music when they can’t get anybody to put their shit out.”

The dozen songs that make up The Quarry have some familiar notes, but those notes combine in a way that produces a new and unique sound, which was exactly the point. “As a writer, I’ve never been able to totally force songs into molds, and that can be a hard thing about being in a punk band that’s strictly a punk band or a pop-punk band or whatever you want to call it. When you step too far out of that realm, everyone’s like “whoa, what are you doing here?” Hart formed The Scandals almost a decade-and-a-half ago and it’s been his baby ever since. But there aren’t songs on The Quarry that would fit in the Scandals catalog, or even that would have fit well on Past Lives + Pass Lines. “(These songs) couldn’t be forced into that mold, and I don’t think that would be fair to any of us. With that kind of music, it’s easy to tell when something is forced, and I love that band and I love those guys and I can’t just force a record that sounds like everything else.”

Mercy Union’s forthcoming debut album, The Quarry, due out October 19th on Mt. Crushmore Records. Pre-order bundle options are available here, but they’re going fast, which is a welcome sign to calm the potential nerves of a new project. “It’s kind of always been a fear of mine, to start something from the very beginning,” Hart says. “I started The Scandals in 2004, and just the sheer sense of that you’re going to do this whole new thing out of nowhere was daunting, but sometimes you just need to stop and take a breath of fresh air and see what happens.” 

Head below to check out our full Q&A!


Dying Scene Radio – Episode 10 – Band Spotlight: Allout Helter

Mira!! Mira!!! Los culeros are back with another installment of Dying Scene Radio! In this episode (number TEN?!?!) AP meets up with Denver based melodic hardcore stalwarts, Allout Helter to talk about their ten year anniversary celebration, the growing punk scene in The Mile High City and of course 80’s one-hit-wonders A-Ha. Not only that, the guys will also bring you all of the news you were probably too lazy to read and play some rad tunes from emerging artists that you were probably too lazy to discover! They do all the work for you! So, turn up the volume, kick back and stream  Episode 10 of Dying Scene Radio, below!

People Corrupting People (Ska) Releases New EP “Red Herring”

Denver based ska troupe People Corrupting People is back with the latest installment of their Animal Farm Chronicles series. The newest six track EP, entitled Red Herring is the the sixth in the series and keeps the anti-capitalist, anti-establishment theme alive! When we talked to the band about the recording process, they told us: “We had originally planned to book  time at our old studio, Ocean Tides Audio, but life got in the way in a hurry and we had to go a different route. Enter: (guitarist/vocals) Nate Nepsky – new producer/sound engineer/pretty much everything on this record. It was his virgin voyage, only ever having recorded years ago using a shitty laptop and Garage Band. Things have changed. Now, he has a shitty PC console and Ableton live. Literally everything you hear was recorded, mixed and mastered in Nate’s bedroom, and he doesn’t have fuck all knowledge of what he’s doing.” Well, if that doesn’t personify the punk rock, DIY work ethic, we don’t know what does! Check out the debut track “He Dwells Within” (featuring members of The Bourbon Brawlers), below!

DS Exclusive: Johnny Bonnel and Jack Dalrymple talk Swingin’ Utters talk “Peace And Love”

(L-R: Dalrymple, Bonnel, Koski, Ray and Teixeira)

As I write these words, we’re less than thirty-six hours away from the release of Peace And Love, yet another killer release from seminal Bay Area punk band Swingin’ Utters. The album is due out this Friday (August 31st) on Fat Wreck Chords – naturally – and as is par for the course with the Utters, there are an awful lot of modifiers we can use to describe the album: the ninth studio album in the band’s thirty-plus year career; their first album in four years; the first album since the departures of both bassist Miles Peck and founding drummer Greg McEntee; the most overtly-political album in the Swingin’ Utters library; et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Perhaps the most appropriate descriptor, though, is that the album is really, really great.

We caught up over the phone with both frontman Johnny Bonnel and guitarist/occasional vocalist Jack Dalrymple to discuss all things Peace And Love, and what was readily apparent from the outset of both conversations is just how excited the band and its members are to have people hear the new material. “This was a really fun one,” says Dalrymple. “Every album I’ve done with those guys has been a weird process, but this was a fun one, man.” Bonnel, for his part, is even more emphatic. “This is probably the most excited I’ve been about a record by the Swingin’ Utters,” he explains, that excitement clearly evident in his voice.

Now, it’s a given that most band members are going to be excited about new material, particularly in the promotional run-up to an album’s debut; that’s the whole point, obviously. But the Utters – Bonnel specifically but more on that later – have a lot to be proud of this time up. As alluded to above, there are a handful of new faces among the ranks of the Swingin’ Utters. Greg McEntee departed from the bands ranks after the release of Fistful of Hollow and was replaced by Luke Ray, probably best known here from his days playing drums for Cobra Skulls. Miles Peck, who himself took over for longtime bassist Spike Slawson in 2012 and had taken on a more active songwriting role recently left last year. Peck was replaced by Tony Teixeira, Ray’s rhythm section sidekick in Cobra Skulls and, more recently, Sciatic Nerve.

While they didn’t factor into the meat of the songwriting process, Ray and Teixeira’s presences are very much an integral part of the sound of Peace And Love. “I think they’re amazing musicians and they’re great dudes, so we’re super stoked on that,” explains Bonnel, who himself is no stranger to having a long-time partner in the music-making process as he and Utters’ guitarist Darius Koski are nearing the three-decade mark as a team. Dalrymple elaborates, relating the connection between Ray and Teixeira to his own connection with Peck (whom he also appears in toyGuitar with): “They’re awesome! They’ve been playing together since they were kids, dude. Me and Miles were kind of locked in, because Miles is my buddy, and you get to this weird spot where you’re in each other’s heads. I know what he’s playing and what he’s thinking and what he’s going to do, and that’s the same way with Tony and Luke. They make this solid rhythm section, man.”

If you put your Swingin’ Utters discography playlist on “shuffle,” you don’t have to wait too long to encounter a few songs that sound nothing like the songs that come before or after them in the queue. That’s readily apparent on Peace And Love of course — see the Koski-penned Ramones ode “ECT,” or the surf-goth-Beatles-esque “Seeds Of Satisfaction” for proof — though more than in the recent past, some of those new directions and sounds come from Bonnel himself. While he’s always been an idea man, Bonnel wrote more on guitar than he has in the past. “I like that he’s WRITING writing now,” says Dalrymple. “It’s awesome, man. He comes in and he’s got these crazy, weird guitar riffs and we kinda work around those. It’s so awesome, man. (The Bonnel-penned “Louise And Her Spider”) is my favorite song by the Swingin’ Utters in a long time.

Hearing his songs in their end form on the album is a source of pride for Bonnel, leading to his greater-than-normal sense of excitement leading up to Peace And Love‘s release. “A lot of the songs I wrote are all me,” he explains. “I didn’t collaborate as much on the writing process necessarily; I played them for the band and then the band took off with them. So yeah, (that excitement is) probably because it was more of a solo writing process for me.” That increased focus on solo songwriting from Bonnel also brought with it some nervous moments, especially when it came time to bring some of his more atypical ideas – see the appropriately-titled “Dubstep” – to the group. “I thought they’d think they were stupid,” says Bonnel half-jokingly. “Your brain kinda goes crazy worrying about that stuff, but as soon as I showed it to them and explained that I wanted (“Dubstep”) to be fairly tribal and dance-able on the drums and bass.” All the anxiety was, of course, for not. “They went for it. I really love what they did. They changed the songs from what I thought they would be and escalated them to something that I thought would never happen. I’m super pleased with the end product, and Luke and Tony had a lot to do with that.” Dalrymple, who shares co-writing credits with Bonnel on a few of the album’s tracks for the first time, glows about his partner’s input. “He’s the most artistic out of everybody. That dude is a real artist in all senses of the word. He’s quick, and he’s got this weird awesome vision that’s just different, man.”

Dalrymple, for his part, not only sings lead vocals but also has solo writing credit’s on Peace And Love‘s closing track, “H.L.S.” As you might imagine given the title, the song shares an influence with another Dalrymple-fronted track, albeit by a different project: toyGuitar’s “Turn It Around.” That, of course, is the 2015 passing of Dalrymple’s former One Man Army bandmate Heiko Schrepel. Dalrymple was gun-shy about including the song. “I think I was kinda nervous, man,” he explains, with some hesitation apparent. “It felt too raw, and maybe like it was too much. I didn’t really want to release it.” After playing an early version of the track for a few people, it was Koski who convinced him to give it a go. “He was like “I’ve got this idea. Hear me out! Hear me out!” And I didn’t even want to fucking do the song. In my world, that song would have been like after the record ended and two minutes of silence go by, then maybe that song starts. And Darius was like “no, fuck that, we gotta do it this way!”

The end result is a sweet, haunting, largely acoustic track, that provides a poignant, meaningful endnote to an album that’s pretty important album both within the band’s ranks and in the scene in general. Not only were Bonnel, Koski and Dalrymple able to overcome the loss of a few important contributors inside and outside the band, they were able to do so in a way that’s as charged-up and inspired as ever. In penning a few of their most outspokenly political songs to date in “Yes I Hope He Dies” and “Imitation Of Silence,” the Utters also plant their flag firmly in the camp that’s emphatically critical of what’s going on in the White House and at large. “Racism in the White House is a pretty serious thing,” states Bonnel. “I mean, racism is a thing that’s gone on since the beginning of time, but it’s at the point where something needs to be said. Things need to change, and we’re not the only ones doing this, for sure. It’s got to be a group effort.”

Head below to check out our conversations with both Bonnel and Dalrymple. Make sure you pick up Peace And Love on Friday!

DS Exclusive Stream/Interview: Sad, fast, and loud—Throw brings speed back to melodic punk

The fact of the matter is, whether you’ve heard of them or not, Throw is making exciting music.

Last year, these guys threw a wrench into what could’ve been a recitation of big-names’ sophomore albums and ended up claiming a spot in my year-end best-of list. They came out of nowhere, as most great bands do, with an interesting and developed sound, played very fast. This is the crux of Throw—the self-deprecating vulnerability of bands like Joyce Manor meeting the spastic speed of old school punk. It’s a weirdo amalgam of hardcore, indie, skate, and emo that feels both scrappy and singable—but also, inherently young. 

Throw’s new record, I’m Very Upset, is another set of songs played amphetamine fast with open throats and hearts-on-sleeve. We’re debuting the full stream right here (and it’s their absolute best work to date)—but while we’re at it, we decided to sit down and talk to the Portland punx about the band, the new album, and themselves. Check out the stream and interview below!

DS Exclusive: Doc Rotten debut new EP, “Illusion To Choose”

Since initially forming sometime in the winter of 2017, Trenton, New Jersey, punks Doc Rotten have quickly proven themselves to be among the hardest working new bands in the game. We’re stoked to bring you the exclusive debut of their forthcoming EP, Illusion To Choose!

Emphatically proving their hometown’s motto correct, Illusion To Choose was produced by the inimitable Pete Steinkopf at Little Eden in Asbury Park, New Jersey, and marks the third EP in the band’s young career — their debut, Fallout, was released in late 2017 and their stellar sophomore EP, Sick And Suffering, was released back in March.

Illusion To Choose is due out this coming Friday (August 31st), but you can check it out in all its glory below! Stay tuned for a slew of tour dates that’ll find the foursome touring all over Japan, Europe, and, of course, the US from November through next March!

DS Exclusive: Art Thieves (Boston, MA) stream “The Untouchables”

For fans of Ducky Boys and Old 97s, Boston punkers, Art Thieves premier a passionate new anthem for the next generation of brick throwers. Here is a near-month-early exclusive of “The Untouchables” off the new album Russian Rats which releases September 14, 2018 on State Line Records, home to Ducky Boys. You can pre-order Russian Rats here.

“The Untouchables” is a call to action in resolve, and a plea for justice for those who deserve it.  A working-class mantra for anyone fed up with patriarchal discrimination and subsequent exploitation of not only our mothers and sisters but the subservient masses as a whole, “Middle fingers up. Let’s fuck this government the way they fucked us up. This generation is untouchable.” Go ahead and sing along with the hook… Gen X’ers in the back, included. We get the feeling this songs’s meant for all the punks, with its intimate, small-venue quality, and the welcoming atmosphere of a smoke-stained old bar-room. Slap it on the jukebox and crank it up!

Of the new record the band says, “This moment feels important, and important moments should have a soundtrack. A good one, though. One that sounds like some good punk shit that couldn’t quite crack the mainstream in the 80’s.” Russian Rats will be Art Thieves’ first release since their 2015 debut, For Free!, which, impressive in it’s own right is streaming here with a few other teaser tracks off the new LP, and sounds as if the band has honed their sound quite a bit. No longer relying on the extra instrumentation of the saxophone and organ present on their last album, the songs of Russian Rats gravitate towards a more broken down rock and roll texture of grinding bass lines and pick slides taking preference over tracks laden down with layers on top of layers, good for grabbing your friend in a headlock and trodding around, fists raised up, in a sea of bodies.

Hear “The Untouchables” here first, below.

DS Exclusive: Rob Taxpayer (The Taxpayers) premieres new video and talks Song of the Week Club anniversary!

Rob Taxpayer is an artist’s artist. This is a man who continuously creates. Whether it be the many exciting, volatile, and ambitious records he’s made with The Taxpayers, or the accompanying novel to God Forgive These Bastards: Songs From the Forgotten Life of Henry Turner, Rob Taxpayer is constantly busy making something. He’s punk in the most classical sense—an individual with a developed perspective and DIY to the bone—following his muse in and out of the strict boundaries punk sets for itself, and redrawing the borders as he sees fit.

Rob’s latest project is the Song of the Week Club, in which he releases a new song every week. August 20th, today, is the anniversary of this insane, impressive project. To commemorate this event, we’re premiering the video for “Gary, Indiana”—a song about Janus, the Roman God of Change “taking Gary, Indiana into her car and carrying the city towards whatever new birth is coming for the post-industrial midwestern city.” 

As an added bonus, Rob sat down with us to talk about the Song of the Week Club, songwriting, his new video, and everything else he’s doing. Check below to see the video and read what Rob has to say about all the cool stuff he’s working on these days.

Dying Scene Radio – Episode 9

Well, well, well…look who’s back with another episode! We almost gave the lads over at DSR credit for a quicker than usual turn around. Then we realized that they didn’t get a god damn interview…. Lucky for you dear listeners, the guys made up for it by adding more news stories and a plethora of new music from some kick ass, emerging punk acts that you probably haven’t heard of yet! In summation: AP and Bob are lazy pieces of human garbage who suck major ass and this episode has TONS of great music and scene news! So, stream it, in all of it’s glory, below!

Chris Fox (Punk) Releases Video for Solo Version of “Stupid Chords, Stupid Words, Stupid Song”

It’s not often we get to play the role of David Attenborough but today, we’ve managed to get our hands on some rare footage of the nomadic, woolly faced fox in the wild! That’s right! Reno’s punk rock prodigal son, Chris Fox is staying in the news with the debut of a brand new music video for “Stupid Chords, Stupid Words, Stupid Song” from his most recent self-titled, solo album which was released in late 2017. If you’re on the Left Coast, be sure to keep an eye out for Mr. Fox and friends as Boss’ Daughter makes their way down the coast this Summer on the Bossy Sauce Tour. If you’re not lucky enough to be on the West Coast, fret not! If we know the bearded balladeer, he’ll be planning a trip to your ‘hood soon enough. Until then, stream the new video below until your eyes bleed!

DS Feature: Catching up with Chicago’s Mystery Actions at Motoblot 2018!

A couple of weekends back — June 22 to 24 — Dying Scene were out and about at the 5th Annual MOTOBLOT Vintage Motorcycle & Hot Rod Street Rally, held at the All Rise Brewing/Cobra Lounge in Chicago, IL. In addition to a number of contests and bike and scooter shows, the three-day festival featured performances from more than two dozen bands, including such varied acts as the Legendary Shack Shakers, Supersuckers, The Creepshow, and Nuns of Brixton, the self-described “Only Clash Cover Band That Matters.” While we’ll bring you photo coverage from the bulk of the festival in another day or so, we wanted to take the opportunity to highlight one of the bands present that we’ve never quite covered before: Mystery Actions.

One of Chicago’s most promising up and coming groups, Mystery Actions took the Mods and Rockers stage to deliver yet another fiery performance. So who is Mystery Actions? Allow us at Dying Scene to introduce them to you.

The band is made up of Nikki Beller on lead vocals; Lucy Dekay on guitar, Mary Rose Gonzales on drums; and Sarah Travelstead on bass guitar.

The band was started in early 2013 by bassist Shauna Fay. Per Gonzales, Shauna was looking to start an all-girl punk band and recruited with the words “Playing rock and roll is good for the soul.” Gonzales was introduced to Beller and Dekay and from the start, the band became the baby of all four as Gonzales describes it. Though Gonzales was the most experienced musician, meeting and jamming with the other three, all first-timers on their instruments helped lift her out of the funk she was in.

“I always daydreamed about it, listening to the Supremes or the Ronnettes as a kid, daydreaming on the couch.  Oddly enough, “Be My Baby” was our first jam that night we all got together at Superior rehearsal spot” recalls Beller. Later in the year, Shauna moved to Portland, OR. The three other members have remained the entire tenure of the group. However, they went through 7 “unofficial” bassists until 2016 and Sarah Travelstead came along to cement the still current lineup.

Per Beller, there have been quite a few exciting moments for her and her bandmates. Among her personal faves, “I’d say our first highlight was opening up for Oi Polloi in 2014. Upon our east coast tour return, we had the pleasure of playing one of the last shows at Chicago’s legendary Double Door, alongside Cocksparrer. Playing with the Buzzcocks for the 2nd in 2017 at the Ritz in San Jose, CA was otherworldly. We recently shared the stage with GBH and the Dead Boys. Other memorable shows would for sure be Peter and the Test Tube Babies, Shonen Knife, Protex, Murphy’s Law, The Freeze, The Queers, Lower Class Brats, Go Betty Go and more to come! We’ve been very lucky and are very grateful.”

Recently, Mystery Actions got their friends and fans involved in trying to land them a spot on Flogging Molly’s Salty Dog Cruise 2018. “I read about the contest from the Flogging Molly cruise Facebook page and decided to enter. I made the video for our entry using pictures of our friends and family along with live shots of our shows,” says Travelstead. Though they did not get the spot, they recall the process as a positive one.

Of course, four people will have varying influences and on ideas which shape them as musicians and as a group. As for musical influences, per Beller: “We all have different influences which really helps add to the sound. I have influences all over the board, from Diana Ross of the Supremes and Ronnie Spector of The Ronettes to Vi Subversa (Poison Girls) Honey Bane, Wendy O Williams (The Plasmatics) and Alice Bag (The Bags), Suzuki Quattro, New York Dolls and Girlschool, Motörhead, Prince, Bowie Mick Jagger, Screaming Jay Hawkins, I could go on and on. I also draw out my demons and toxic energy on stage, it’s definitely a release. Before I found punk, I grew up on Rock and Roll music from the 50’s, Chicago blues and the big band era.”

Gonzales had some differing influences: “All of us girls grew up with different influences but our sound has been relatable to the 70s punk feel. I grew up listening to Elvis Presley but when I reached 5th grade I discovered the band No Doubt. Gwen Stefani blew me away as a child. 1 she was a woman and 2nd she did the damn thing. When I reached high school I was obsessed with the Buzzcocks and thought Joan Jett was practically god”.

And their outfits? Beller being out in front is especially cognizant of how she presents herself and what helps her performances. “As for outfits, I wear whatever I feel. I’m comfortable with myself and in my power and strength of Womanhood/spiritual being. I like to wear clothing that makes me feel powerful, sexy, innocent, whatever mood I happen to be in that day. I like to bring out my kink and personality in what I wear. Being all female musicians, people like to put us in a separate box. We’re tough and powerful and I like to make that known by the way that I look. Like hey, boys, we’re here, we’re comin’ and demand respect. We don’t really plan anything, we work hard and show up, whatever happens on stage is raw and natural, as it should be.”

It’s always intriguing to me how band names are selected. I discussed with Gonzales.”… we booked our first show without having a band name. In order of operation, we wrote songs, booked a show and lastly came up with a band name. Eventually, they needed something to put on the flyer so we needed not only a name but we needed it fast. We referred to ourselves as “last minute bitches” and that’s exactly what we were. We all sat in the middle of our rehearsal space with our notebooks, calling out random names. If we liked it we wrote it down and started the process of elimination. I remembered one of the names Nikki came up with was “Leather daddy and the sailors” but obviously we weren’t gonna use it. Hahaha, Mystery Actions was what stood out. Not only was it a song by The Rezillos but the name just truly meant something to us .”

So what is on the horizon for Mystery Actions? Little doubt more highlights and increasing a fan base to their infectious punk rock and the rowdy, leave it all on the stage performances. One thing sure to increase exponentially the amount of touring. Beller: “we haven’t toured much far away yet, we did an east coast (2016/6 shows) and west coast tour (2017/4 shows down the coast of California). We since got our passports, so more to come!”

Specifically though, they are in the process of finishing up their debut release with producers, Vee Sonnets and Karl Gustafson,( both of whom are members of The Crombies) at Legendary Records. They have several as of yet unreleased tracks. “By late fall it should be in the works and be in people’s hands by the holidays. We’ve also worked with Filmographer Sarah Giroux and will be releasing our first music video for our song, “Line in the Sand.” Next show we look forward to will be September 22nd for Punk the Burbs fest. It’ll be our second time playing with The Queers and our first time playing with The Bollweevils!” Gonzales informs me.

Beller also discussed with me reasons for her excitement at recording. “This will be our first record available and it’s long overdue. I’ll be ecstatic once that baby is in my hands. And when I say baby, I mean it will be the equivalent of holding my non-existent first born child in my arms. We have put so much work and dedication into this band… vinyl is what I want. It lasts forever and I look at it as your footprint, it will last long after we are gone… unless you leave it out in the sun, but then we’ll be a warped candy bowl or ashtray.. which oddly enough, still sounds exciting.”

Mystery Actions is one of the upcoming stars of the Chicago punk scene. They may be based here but with them and their fans alike know they will become known widely outside their respective zip codes in short order. Anyone who has seen them perform will attest there is no mystery to what make them exciting.

DS Exclusive: Lucero’s Ben Nichols talks “Among The Ghosts” and the band’s twenty-year legacy

“My life would have been so much easier if I had just played punk rock songs at punk rock shows, or played country songs at country shows. But for some reason, there’s something in me that has got to play punk rock songs at country shows and country songs at punk rock shows.” – Ben Nichols (Lucero)

It’s an interesting phenomenon to have been a band long enough to have something resembling an arc or a trajectory to your career, thanks in no small part to the amount of “figuring you out” that fans and industry people and pretend music journalists like yours truly will try to do. If you’ve followed the path of Memphis’ Lucero, who’ve now crossed the twenty year mark as a band, you’ll know that it’s one marked by a series of genre-busting left-hand turns; depending where you jumped on the train as it careened down the track, you found yourself a fan of a band that was performing markedly different music – and was composed of markedly different members – than somebody who hopped aboard five years in either direction. 

The early part of 2018 brought with it the 20th anniversary of the band’s first show (celebrated in a barn-burner of a block party in their collective hometown back in April), and also found the band putting the finishing touches on its soon-to-be-released ninth studio album, Among The Ghosts. Due out August 3rd on a new label home (Thirty Tigers) the album finds the quintet taking a hard left once again. Gone is the quintessentially Memphis boogie-woogie sound that had been a focal point of the last three Ted Hutt-produced albums. Instead, Among The Ghosts finds the band producing some of the fullest sounds and most complex textures of the band’s two-decade-old catalog: Nichols’ lyrics and vocals are more earnest, the bass grooves are punchier, the time-keeping pocket is deeper, the guitar leads are soaring and more angular, the keys and strings and horns lead to a fuller and more cinematic quality than we’ve heard the band commit to record. In many ways, it’s years different from a lot of what we’ve heard from Lucero in recent memory; in other ways, it’s the most “Lucero” album yet.

We caught up with Lucero frontman Ben Nichols via telephone from his house, and it became instantly apparent that it’s not only the band’s musical direction that have changed since the release of their last album, 2015’s All A Man Should Do. An hour before our conversation, Lucero announced a slew of US tour dates that’ll keep them busy for the bulk of this coming fall. For a band that long-ago earned its Road Warrior badge of honor, that should not come as much of a surprise. However this Lucero circa 2018, not 2008. Nichols, who spent the formative years of his songwriting career penning some of the most soul-crushing songs of whiskey-soaked heartbreak and unrequited love of the last generation, has not only gotten married but has become a father for the first time (his not-quite-two year-old daughter Izzy is the whirling-dervish focal point to the band’s limited-release seven-inch that hit shelves a month ago).

If Nichols and company weren’t so immensely proud of the new record – and with good reason – the remainder of this calendar year might look radically different. “I’m really excited about the new record,” Nichols states rather emphatically. Now, it is obviously standard operating procedure for bands to publicly pronounce that their new music is more satisfying than anything they’ve produced to date, especially when it’s fresh. Nichols is nothing if not tangibly genuine in his appreciation for the new material, perhaps because it is, legitimately, so damn good. “I really love these new songs, and I love playing them every night…it hurts a little more to leave town, but I’m just so proud of the record, so it’s totally worth saying goodbye for a little bit and going out on the road.”

When it came time to write material for the first post-fatherhood album for two of the band’s members (drummer Roy Berry’s own daughter is just shy of two as well), the band opted not to team up with Ted Hutt again, as had been their recent pattern, and instead stuck with the theme of keeping things different this time out. Where the Hutt-era albums involved a lot of pre-production and a concentrated editing effort geared at cutting things up and making them fit in the best way possible, the Among The Ghosts sessions started the band back toward their earlier influences. “For the last three records,” Nichols states, “I wanted to go for that more Memphis sound, with the horn section and the boogie-woogie piano parts. It was fun to explore that. But with this record, I decided to go back to our roots.”

Those roots, as should be probably apparent given Nichols’ age and place in the music scene, involved traditional country music and late-80s alternative rock, run through a bit of a punk rock filter. Sort of. “When I started the band, it was kind of a rejection of the punk rock scene. I wanted to play sort of traditional country music, which we quickly found out we were unable to play,” explains Nichols. “I started off playing at 14, 15 years old, learning Cure covers and REM covers. That kind of ‘120 Minutes‘ era stuff. That’s what I grew up listening to in high school and those are the first songs that I learned how to play when I picked up a guitar. That stuff, whether I wanted it to be or not, was actually more of a presence in that early Lucero stuff than I thought it was.”

When searching for musical inspiration, looking toward one’s roots can be a questionable decision if not handled appropriately. But with the right approach, and with twenty years more knowledge, skill and ability in the ol’ tool belt, it can bear productive fruit. Armed with little more than four or five basic guitar lines to work with, the band gathered in early 2017 at the legendary Sam Phillips Recording studio in Memphis with a new locally-based producer, Matt Ross-Spang, who has a few Grammys to his credit from work with the likes of Jason Isbell, combined his attitude with the studio knowledge they obtained through the Hutt years, and took their time crafting a new record. The band set up on the floor in the studio and experimented, capturing new sounds and directions in real time, and allowing the product to build slowly and organically toward its eventual direction in real time. The Civil War letter home-inspired cadence and march of “To My Dearest Wife” came together fairly quickly, as did the album’s title track, an intense, angular rock song that also ranks as probably the most on-the-nose personal song on the album if not in the entire Nichols catalog. “Family ended up being a much bigger influence on the record than I thought it was going to be at first,” Nichols explains. “With Izzy and being married and having a house and a family (editor’s note: Nichols’ wife has two daughters from a prior relationship), those themes are obviously at the front of my mind, and those are songs that I feel like singing because that’s kind of what I’m going through at the moment.”

The album contains its fair share of running themes, many of which revolve around the protagonist not only having a battle to fight, literally or metaphorically, but a reason – in the shape of another person – to keep fighting for. Title track aside, Nichols explains that he was “intentionally trying to write more in a storytelling way, where the narrator isn’t necessarily Ben Nichols, and trying to work on the craft of songwriting, although that sounds pretentious.” Filled with straight forward mid-tempo tracks like “Everything Has Changed” and “To My Dearest Wife,” frantic, jagged rockers like the title track and “Cover Me” and tender ballads like “Always Been You” and “Loving,” the latter of which was also used in the closing credits of Nichols’ brother, Jeff’s award-winning 2016 movie of the same title, many of the images captured on Among The Ghosts are certainly inspired by very real events and historical tales, but they’re written in a way that makes the message translatable to the modern listener. “I wanted (them) to be applicable to whatever battle anyone’s fighting in their life. Whatever goals you have and whatever you’re fighting for, I wanted it to be able to apply to that.”

At this point, the bulk of Among The Ghosts has been played live over the course of the last half-year, with Nichols playing some of the tracks solo and acoustic in a one-off New Jersey date earlier this year, and the band playing a handful of tracks at springtime tour dates. Then, of course, came arguable the most traditionally “punk rock” decision any band will make this year, which found Lucero taking their 45 minute direct support slot on Frank Turner’s recent full US tour, sandwiched in between The Menzingers and Turner himself, and to using it to play 90% of the new album, months before its release. “It was a Frank Turner show, so we only had 45 minutes,” explains Nichols somewhat sheepishly. “Really when it comes down to it, I had so much fun playing those songs, and I’m away from my family and a lot of these songs are about missing my family, so I really just did it for myself! I think it worked!

The one song that didn’t make it into that set, for reasons that’ll be obvious to the listener once they hear it, is “Back To The Night,” a track that’s jarring to listen to the first time out, as it contains a lengthy spoken-word element performed by Academy Award-nominated actor Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road, Nocturnal Animals, Take Shelter, Mud, etc, etc, etc), who’ll also star in the band’s upcoming video for “Long Way Back Home. The band found themselves with the bulk of the track’s dark, haunting music completed, and Nichols had a surplus of lines that had been cut out of other songs that he didn’t want to necessarily discard. Inspired by the early-90s trend in which bands would insert movie or television dialog into their songs, what Nicholas also had was an idea. He explains: “I pieced together lines that I’d written that didn’t get used. A lot of them were from “Everything Has Changed,” some of them were from “Back To The Night,” some of them were from other things..that weren’t being used and were on the cutting room floor, but that I didn’t really want to get rid of. So I sent it to my brother, Jeff, and said “man, if you can just have Mike (Shannon) call us and leave a voice memo…” He was nice enough, within twenty-four hours, to recite those lines in a voice memo, and it was the coolest thing ever to get that voice memo.”

After a period of three-or-so weeks in the studio, stretched out over the course of most of 2017, Lucero completed work on Among The Ghosts. Though each of the track’s ten tracks are different, sometimes radically, it still ranks as perhaps the most complete and cohesive collection of stories in the band’s lexicon. “I think I’m pretty good at taking a step back and evaluating where the band is, at least for the last three records and how this new record fits into that arc,” Nichols affirms matter-of-factly. “I think we’re right where we want to be… (Among The Ghosts) ended up sounding exactly like the kind of music I was in the mood to hear right now.”

Head below to check out our full, extensive chat with Nichols. It ranks as one of our favorite conversations to appear on the pages of Dying Scene to date. While you’re at it, you can still pre-order Among The Ghosts here before it’s too late.


Up-and-coming skate punk band Noogy hits the road, talks the biz

DFW skate-punk band Noogy is touring the East Coast on the heels of their second EP release this year, “Pessimistic”. If you get the chance, this is for-sure, for-sure a band you are going to want to check out live. These boys have been pretty busy tearing up the southwest, from Texas to Cali, hanging out with MDC and otherwise running amok. They’ve made a pretty noticeable impression on their worthy followers of youthful hoodrats and miscreants as well. Check em out!

I caught up with Andre at the kick-off party, and scheduled a time for him to give me a call… He hit me up, and we talked road life, Dead Kennedy’s, Steve-O and more. Check out their tour schedule and read that conversation below.

DS Exclusive: Fighting The Good Fight with Kevin and Aimee of The Interrupters

Let’s say, hypothetically, that you were a band that had achieved some modicum of success in a relatively brief period of time. For argument’s sake, our definition of “success” here includes the following parameters: signed to one of the most successful independent labels in the music game; put out not one or two but three albums on that label, all of whom were produced by one of the bigger and most recognizable personalities in the the punk music scene; headlined a couple of your own successful cross-country club tours; played the main stage at a handful of wildly successful punk rock festivals; toured several continents with one of the last quarter-century’s largest rock bands on the planet; got added to regular rotation at your hometown (Los Angeles) rock radio station which, in spite of prevailing trends, remains a taste-making force in the game. Oh, and let’s also say that all of these accomplishments – and more – happened within your first half-dozen years as a band. It would be natural, maybe even expected, if some of that love and those accomplishments went to your head, and you maybe started to take some things for granted, right?

Not if you’re The Interrupters.

We caught up with Aimee and Kevin from the band over the phone the Friday before last, which happened to coincide with the release date for their third – and best – studio album, Fight The Good Fight (Hellcat/Epitaph). Amidst the hustle and bustle that an album release date can entail, and after exchanging our usual pleasantries, we got interrupted (pun largely intended) by the duo receiving an incoming call that they couldn’t ignore, as it was from none other than Tim Armstrong. Armstrong is not just one of the godfather’s of the last three decades of punk rock, he’s been a constant big brotherly presence in The Interrupters’ career, signing them to his Hellcat label imprint right out of the gate, producing and appearing on all three of their albums to date, imparting his unique wisdom on the quartet along the way. For more than just the obvious reasons, The Interrupters are a band that considers itself and its crew a family, and Armstrong is as big a part of that family as anybody. And so the sheepish excitement in Kevin Bivona’s voice when we returned to our call and explained why they had to break standard informal phone-interview protocol and put me on hold was not only palpable, it was downright refreshing.

It would certainly not be the last time that our conversation would trend into events that were notably surreal. Any fan of the Interrupters knows that they spent a great deal of time touring Australia, Europe and South America as direct support for Green Day over the last year. It found the band not only getting to play their upbeat blend of punk and third-wave ska to a large number of new ears, it also created a situation where a different high-profile Armstrong, Green Day’s inimitable Billie Joe, ended up with writing credits on a song (“Broken World”) on the newest Interrupters album. Here’s how Kevin Bivona explains it: “We were in Santiago, Chile, and we played a show, and there were a couple of hours before we had to go to the airport, so we were hanging out with Green Day and their families. It was an amazing experience. And (Billie Joe) goes “hey, I have an idea for a song that I think could be a really cool Interrupters song.” And he grabbed a guitar, and he kinda pulled Aimee and I aside and he played it for us, and he said “I don’t know, I think this would just be a kind of cool thing for you.” And he played it for us and we said “Yes! We love it!” Upon returning to the States, the band got to work on filling out the remainder of the song, and doing so in a manner that would do right by the Green Day frontman.  “I wanted him to be proud, because he thought enough of us to give us this riff that he could have obviously turned into an amazing song for any one of his bands. We sent the song back to him right when we were done with it, and he texted us back that night and he was so excited about it and happy to be a part of it. It’s so surreal, too, to have a song with a riff written by Billie Joe Armstrong and produced by Tim Armstrong…”

If you’ve had a chance to dig in to Fight The Good Fight yet, you’re probably aware that Billie Joe’s involvement wasn’t the only surreal part of the album-making process. While Tim Armstrong has lent his iconic vocal stylings to a track on each of the first two Interrupters albums, FTGF’s “Got Each Other” finds each of Rancid’s members chipping in, an idea that came from Armstrong himself. “Matt and Lars are in the Bay Area, and Branden lives in Utah,” explains Bivona. “When it came time to get the actual recording done, we were kind of down to the wire, so we actually had Jesse and Justin get in our tour van, drive up to San Francisco, and set up a mobile studio to record Matt and Lars’ verses and run them back down. Simultaneously, I’m on the phone with Branden in Utah, and he has a studio in his house…He sang on the choruses with us, and he sent it to us to mix that night. It was really down to the wire.”

The result of the last-minute collaboration is textbook Interrupters: an infectiously danceable, high energy rallying cry preaching the timeless notions of friendship and unity. “I cried my eyes out when I heard all of Rancid singing with us on that song,” says Aimee. “The first time I ever heard Rancid in my life, when I was in high school, I cried when I heard “…And Out Come The Wolves.” I felt like I wasn’t alone in the world, and that other people understood me. We brought that message on “Got Each Other,” and to hear all of Rancid sing that message not just to me but through my speakers with me…”We don’t have much, but we’ve got each other”…I was so happy and so grateful, and I can’t really describe how full circle and surreal that moment was.

While many of the tracks on Fight The Good Fight deal with themes that we’ve come to know and love from The Interrupters circa 2018, we also find the band digging a little deeper, turning their mirror inward in ways that were missing on the first two albums. Tracks like “Gave You Everything,” “Room With A View,” and “So Wrong” resonate as the band’s most personal – and arguably most compelling – tracks to date. Says Aimee: “I feel like when you write a song that moves you and touches you, and you’re going through an authentic experience and writing your truth, a lot of times for me that’s therapy. I’m writing to get things out and I need to process this stuff and this anxiety that’s happening in my heart and my mind. When I process that and put that into lyrics, if that helps me and gets me through it, then hopefully that can help somebody else. That’s what this is all about…loving people and helping people and connecting with people through your music.”

The band’s quest to bring their music and their positive energy to as many people as possible has generated numerous unforgettable experiences. As they get set to head out on the last leg of the final installment of the Warped Tour this coming weekend, they’re sure to add a few more to the list. “Just when we think we’ve checked everything off the bucket list, some new opportunity presents itself and we are blown away with gratitude,” says Bivona, the sincerity palpable in his voice. “Even doing the Amoeba Records in-store performance a couple nights ago was surreal. Getting added to our local radio station, KROQ, which is what we all grew up listening to, is surreal. There’s never going to be a time where there isn’t an amazing opportunity that we will be thrilled with.

Head below to check out our full Q&A with Kevin and Aimee, and stay tuned for upcoming tour announcements in the very near future!

DS Photo Galley: Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls with Dave Hause and the Mermaid, Boston, MA

Frank Turner has had a bit of a mutual love affair with the greater Boston area over the last handful of years. While his first show inside the city limits didn’t occur until February 2010 – roughly six years after his first-ever show as a solo performer and three years after his first US show which happened in San Antonio of all places – the years since have found the Wessex boy turning Boston into his North American home, with area’s bars and clubs and storage lockups serving as a virtual basecamp for his touring operation on this side of the Atlantic. There’s been obvious support from the likes of local heroes Dropkick Murphys over the years – including lengthy tours both Stateside and abroad – but Turner and his band, the Sleeping Souls, have also garnered a fair amount of radio play from the city’s holdover alternative and independent stations and won over crowds the old fashioned way: by playing their asses off.

Traditionally speaking, Boston, you see, prefers its musicians and its athletes to share a few overlapping characteristics. If you’re viewed a tough, scrappy, hard-worker who may not necessarily have been born with the most virtuosic capabilities but through blood, sweat and tears have carved out a spot for yourself, you’ll do alright here. (Not having an abundance of melanin helps as well, but that’s a conversation for another time and platform.) And so it was a little confusing to see only a couple of Boston dates on the initial list of North American dates in support of Turner’s new album, Be More Kind. Both dates were at Royale, a thousand-ish capacity club that is a great venue, however it’s much smaller than venues like House of Blues and, of course, the Agganis Areana that Turner has headlined in past runs through the city. And while Lucero and The Menzingers were listed as openers for the bulk of the month-long tour, neither were slated to appear in Boston. Hi-jinks, it seemed, were afoot. Within a few days, however, a bigger picture appeared. Tickets to the first two sold out in mere moments, and were quickly joined by two more shows, which also sold out quickly, and finally by two more shows, all without openers announced, meaning that Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls would be headlining the same venue six times in a week. All of a sudden, we had ourselves a big deal on our hands.

Dying Scene have had the privilege of covering a bunch of Frank Turner shows over the years, and night four of this six-night run (which turned into a seven-night run as Turner played a benefit show for the Claddagh Fund at one of Dropkick Murphys’ founder Ken Casey’s new dining establishments on July 3rd) marked yours truly’s seventh time shooting Turner locally at venues ranging from a record store to a college hockey arena to a giant outdoor festival, and while it’s generally hyperbole state that a show was the best of a particular bunch, I’ll be damned if this one wasn’t right up there. The varied setlist covered all seven of Turner’s full-length studio albums (pretty sure I’d never heard “Journey Of The Magi” off 2009’s Poetry Of The Deed live before) as well as the 2010 Rock & Roll EP (definitely sure I’d never heard “Pass It Along” live before). Turner is able to change at a moments notice from being the solo, folk-punk troubadour persona that has long been his bread and butter, to the consummate showman, singing and dancing in non-stop, high-energy fashion, including a lap around the entire venue balcony during the show-closing “Four Simple Words.” Hell, he even got opener Dave Hause to play along, as the latter crowd-surfed his way around the venue as though it were a punk rock baseball diamond during fan favorite “If Ever I Stray” (see the last photo above for proof).

Oh and as was mentioned briefly above, Dave Hause and his band, The Mermaid, were added as opener to this show after the sell-out had been announced (other shows featured support spots from some combination of Speedy Ortiz, The Homeless Gospel Choir, Jeff Rosenstock, Restorations, Tim Barry, Hotelier, War On Women, Kevin Devine and Trapper Schoepp, making each of the six shows a truly unique experience). Hause and his brother/musical counterpart Tim were in town for a stripped down show at Boston’s new City Winery establishment during the altter stages of their tour with Northcote earlier this month. While we enjoyed the hell out of that experience, the elder Hause is masterful at commanding an audience and a full band at a sweaty punk rock show, and this particular band has turned itself into quite a force that’s able to seemingly effortlessly pull off the myriad sounds that have been woven into the Dave Hause solo catalog – yes, that’s Kayleigh Goldsworthy on melodica above – particularly on its latest entry, last year’s Bury Me In Philly. It was a disorientingly early set – Royale turns into a dance club at 10pm, prompting a hard 9:30 curfew, but the dynamic Hause fired the crowd up the way few others can. (Plus, his merch girl was pretty cute!)

Head below to see our full photo gallery from the evening.