Interview with Tom, Team Stray

Posted: March 1, 2014 in Small Talk

This was an interview that was previously published in the Insubordination Fest 2013 fanzine.

To kick off- Can you talk us through who was in Team Stray, what they played and a brief history of the band?

Team Stray began as me and whoever was around recording improvised songs in my parents’ basement. At first we used an old video camera to record and then taped the audio to cassette. Hi-tech. Then we upgraded to a Tascam cassette 4-track. The songs were obnoxious and kind of charming. Around 2000 my friend Justin Schafer and I put together a self-released split cd with a band called A Boy and His Blob. It was mighty terrible. We had fun. After that there was an impromptu recording session in Justin’s basement with Justin on drums (He played while sitting in an easy chair. Badass.), myself on vocals/lead guitar, Jeff Mannix on guitar, Tom Caruso on keyboards/tambourine, and Mike Saylor on bass. The band was more or less born that day…we wrote “Beckers” and a couple of other songs. We decided to write more songs and play shows. Justin stopped playing with us but remains one of the best guys. Our friend Jerry filled in on drums for a couple shows, then Eric Bowers joined and has played drums ever since. Tom Caruso was kind of not in the band for most of our recordings (he’s back now, on backing vocals, tambourine, and eye candy). We were together for maybe five years or so, and put out two albums, one 7″, and a posthumous cdr of odds and ends. We broke up for a few years because we were kind of over it. I’m mostly against reunions but then Eric got sick and we thought getting back together might be a fun thing for him and the rest of us. So we did that for Cincypunk Fest XI in October 2012. It was a blast, so we’re sticking around until it isn’t. So far so good. New songs are forthcoming.

Good stuff. Can you say any more about the new material?

Our new songs are mostly seeds right now…the odd guitar riff or a few lines of lyrics, etc. We recently had something we called a “Team Stray Session” where we invited a bunch of musician friends to come write and record songs with us all day. We got about twenty or so songs out of that (they still need lyrics and vocals) and those will be released for pay-what-you-want from our Bandcamp site soon. We’re going to do more of those. The stuff I’m writing on my own is more of what you’d expect from us if you’ve followed our arc…lots of hooks and what not, and lyrics that probably only make sense to me. I’m trying to be patient about it and see what happens.

Being a band from Cincinatti, what is your local scene like? How is distinctive from, say, the pop-punk scene in New York?

The local scene in Cincinnati is fantastic, though we’re at the fringes of it these days, since we’re older dudes with jobs, I have a child, etc. There isn’t too much local pop punk, but what there is is pretty great (The Dopamines and Dead North come to mind). I honestly have no idea what the scene in NYC is like…or much of anywhere else. We haven’t been able to travel much for various boring reasons, some of which I’ve already mentioned. We are playing in Brooklyn the Wednesday before the Insub Fest, so maybe people could ask me again after they read this.

Can you talk us through your influences as a band? Your first album (Popular Mechanics) was a straight-up, Ramones-y pop-punk album, but your second album (Gender Studies) seemed to have more of a ’90s indie influence- Weezer springs to mind. Was this a conscious decision to broaden your sound?

Everyone in the band likes at least a little pop punk, but the majority of the music we listen to is outside the genre…I graduated from high school in ’94, so I’ve always been a huge fan of bands like Guided By Voices, Dinosaur Jr., Superchunk, Teenage Fanclub, The Breeders, etc. Pop punk came a little later for me…Screeching Weasel and the Lillingtons were favorites at the time. I think we started a pop punk band in part because it was within our meager musical abilities. But more than that, it was just fucking fun to play. For years I had played bass in local bands I didn’t really like all that much, just to be playing original music. By the time Team Stray started, I just wanted to have a good time writing and playing music with my friends. That’s what this band has always been for. “Popular Mechanics” was the best we could do at the time. Not that I don’t love it. On “Gender Studies”, we got a little better at everything, and were able to finally incorporate some of our other influences.  But I think we’ll always essentially be a pop punk band…and I’m more than okay with that. It won’t stop us from mixing things up a bit, though.

Are you guys looking forward to playing Insubordination Fest? You have played previous Fests, right?

Insub Fest is the most fun thing we get to do. We played at the first three…2006-2008. I went in 2009. I had another band for a while called Army Coach which played in 2011 or maybe 2012. We all can’t wait for this year. It’s always a great time. Our buddy Danny White books a room for all of us and we act like a bunch of silly drunken idiots who have never had pizza before.

Are there any particular bands on this year’s bill which have taken your eye?

I’m way out of the fucking loop, so keep that in mind. Of course I want to see Screaming Females. And House Boat, Mikey Erg, Candy Hearts, Sick Sick Birds. And some of my favorites…Dead Mechanical, Steinways, Copyrights, etc. What usually happens is that I see at least one or two bands I haven’t heard before that blow me away.

What do you make of the pop-punk scene in general, right now? Do you notice much of a difference from when Team Stray started out?

Again, out of the loop. I could tell you a lot about the state of ambient/drone/neoclassical, but I’m not sure bands that softly go “mwahhhhhhhhhh” for entire albums are what folks want to read about. That’s a lot of what I listen to at home these days…helps me decompress from two jobs/two bands/a toddler. Anyway…pop punk is kind of like metal…there isn’t a huge fan base, but the ones who are there are rabid and loyal. And they tend to take themselves less seriously, which is a plus. I guess I’ll find out more about the current state of things when I’m in Baltimore. I’ll bet it’s lively. I hear rumors about this being the last Insub Fest, and that should not be the case. It’s too good. Let’s not allow that.

Finally, can you tell us what each member of Team Stray is now doing? Are you guys in any other bands at the moment?

Eric and I played in Army Coach for a couple of years. He played drums and I played bass and sang. That split up recently. If you want to hear just how much we love Dinosaur Jr. and Superchunk, our stuff is free on Bandcamp. Eric sometimes does a band called John Walsh. Fun as hell. Mike Saylor and I just started another band with Allie from the Ivorydales and our friend Mike Guendelsberger…called Privacy…catchy mid tempo power pop stuff. Tom Caruso is in a couple other Cincy bands, Lesser Apes and 2″ Winky. Jeff is getting into printing t-shirts and what not. And he’s always playing that Simpsons game on his phone. And smoking.  Class act.

Dave Brown

Further listening:

  1. Dustin Umberger says:

    This is fucking cool.

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