Archive for November, 2016

‘Misery and Disaster’ is the second EP from relatively new UK indie-pop-punkers Shit Present. I had pretty big expectations of it after the brilliance of their debut self-titled EP, which came out late last year on Specialist Subject Records. ‘Misery and Disaster’ is basically a continuation of that first EP, musically and thematically and is in no way a disappointment in the slightest. Iona Cairns (Great Cynics) is an increasingly compelling frontwoman. Nothing quite reaches the heights of the cathartic rage of “Anxious Type”, but as a whole package, ‘Misery and Disaster’ is probably superior in most ways. As musicians, Shit Present have evidently improved and the guitars are now crunchier, the vocals clearer and the melodies now really shining through. “House (Breakdown)” and “The Line” are Shit Present’s meat and potatoes: quiet, driven openings which burst into cathartic and energetic choruses, with introspective, deeply personal lyrics to boot.

“House (breakdown)” is probably the best song on the EP and the best example of this kind of songwriting. The song begins slow and intense, with Iona describing someone’s battle with anxiety and depression from a 3rd person perspective: “Your neighbour says, she’s sick of hearing your radio/ your best friend says you’re always late, it’s like you don’t fucking care at all/ and you tried to write things down, but you couldn’t concentrate”.  This leads to a nihilistic chorus, which advocates smashing it all up and starting again. “Sick of Me” is rather unlike the similarly titled Descendents track; here, Shit Present keep a decent, driving melody and tempo throughout, pushing forwards to a killer chorus: “You’ve got a lot of nerve talking about my misery/ I’ve got a lot of nerve taking a bit more time to breathe”. Melodically, this is a pretty straightforward pop-punk track, but it simultaneously manages to avoid genre trappings. It is so refreshing to hear someone’s voice shine through in a genre where individuality is not explored enough.

However, if we are talking about melody, the catchiest song on this EP is the hook-filled indie punk of “Evil Way”. It has a wonderful, melancholic twang to it. It reminds me a little bit of one of Chumped’s spikier numbers. The lyrics on this one are also fantastic. It describes an ugly end to a relationship. I like how it flips a recent trope in ‘fest-style’ punk. I mean, I like a good majority of this kind of punk, but I do feel that ‘fucking up’ has been romanticised to a large extent by this community. I’m thinking The Menzingers, particularly. Shit Present turn this on its head by writing from the perspective of someone who is in a relationship with the aforementioned ‘fuck up’: “You just keep fucking up and in the most evil way/ twisting all my words until I’ve got nothing left to say”. I’m not totally sure but I feel like there are multiple perspectives and narratives present on ‘Misery and Disaster’, which is always refreshing to hear.

This is essentially a ‘break-up record’, without all the clichés and trappings that entails. ‘Misery and Disaster’ is intensely and almost uncomfortably intimate, with the opening line from the EP setting the mood: “I thought I’d never forgive myself for the way it felt/ to be lying in your arms while thinking of someone else”. I think the feeling of anxiety has rarely been so well portrayed in pop-punk as on this EP. Essentially: ‘Misery and Disaster’ deals with the personal and confessional in a similar vein as, say, early Waxahatchee, while still generating enough pop-punk hooks to be reminiscent of, say, The Ergs!

Check it out here: https://specialistsubject.bandcamp.com/album/misery-disaster

DB

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‘A Fat Wreck’ explores the history and legacy of Fat Wreck Chords, NOFX’s Fat Mike’s record label baby, following their 25th anniversary. The documentary has been in the pipeline for a while due to financial constraints, having to access funds through Indiegogo. Shaun Colon directs his first ever full-length feature with ‘A Fat Wreck’ but he does astoundingly well to wrap up and pull together all of the various elements of the record label, the bands on it and the label workers into one cohesive body that does not extend beyond an hour and half (lasting a restrictive 88 minutes). The documentary is visually intriguing and engaging from the beginning: each of the five ‘original’ Fat Wreck bands that had the first releases on the label are introduced in segues, which rattles through all of their ‘Fat’ releases, using snippets of music from the release and Nintendo-style 8 bit animation. There are a number of other intriguing aspects that Shaun engages with on ‘A Fat Wreck’ (such as the use of puppetry), but it does result in- at times-  things being somewhat all over the place, particularly in the latter half of the doc.

In general, ‘A Fat Wreck’ is engaging to the viewer and comments upon a multitude of aspects of the record label and the wider scene. In particular, I enjoyed the part about the ‘Fat Wreck’ sound and how Mike tried to sustain this, right down to the producer often used by the label. Ultimately, Fat had to progress and they moved onto a new era of the label, which focused on signing more mid-tempo, melodically focused bands (like Rise Against or Lawrence Arms). However, this doc is arguably for fans of Fat Wreck only. There is no great overarching narrative or gripping story behind Fat, or anything. It doesn’t engage with Fat Mike personally to work as a character study or anything either. Basically: Fat Mike worked for Epitaph for a little while, liked what he saw there, borrowed 20k from his Dad and got somewhat lucky with his early releases (Propaghandi, Lagwagon, No Use For a Name). From then on, minus the record industry collapse, things went relatively smoothly!

So, this in contrast to say the recent Lookout records story as told by owner/ founder Larry Livermore (How to Ruin a Record Label), which was engrossing from first to last page, even for those, I would say, who are not that familiar with that label. Perhaps the most intriguing parts of the Fat Wreck doc are the segments which deal the drama (who doesn’t love a bit of drama?). In particular, hearing from both sides of the Propaghandi vs. Fat Mike disagreement was enlightening (see: “Rock for Sustainable Capitalism”). Or Mike Park’s (owner of Asian Man records) criticism of Fat Mike’s lifestyle from a moral perspective and Mike’s subsequent retort (spoiler: it involves Noah’s ark). Then, there were the funnier parts where we hear about how Get Dead basically drugged Fat Mike one night- and how he respected that! Personally, I am a little disappointed that Screeching Weasel got no mention at all in this thing, except, of course, the opening quote of the documentary (as can be seen above advertisement), which came from Ben Weasel himself (on Twitter): “A Fat Wreck Chords documentary? That’s it. I’m done. Western culture has bottomed out”.

DB

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Delinquents are a brand new punk band straight out of Dundee, Scotland. “Next Generation” is their debut single. I love reviewing debut singles, you really have no idea what to expect! “Next Generation” is proper ‘70s style, melodic punk. Think The Jam, Stiff Little Fingers or 999 (indeed, Delinquents recently supported 999 in Dundee). The melodies and snarly vocals are very SLF, minus the Irish accent and politics. I like how short, spikey and to the point it is. That is kind of what you would expect from a punk band who have a clear love for the ‘70s, but what helps to separates the delinquents from the rest of the underground is (1) their ear for a good old-fashioned melody and (2) the clear, crisp recording sound. The vocals sound fantastic with this kind of production and may otherwise get lost in lo-fi recording. Lyrically, “Next Generation” couldn’t be more straightforward ‘fuck the system’ if it tried, with a chorus of: “What are we gonna say? What are we gonna do?/ Raise our middle fingers and say fuck you”. At times, the lyrics do read rather too much like post-American Idiot Green Day for my liking, but thankfully, the quality of the melodies offset this. The b-side “Waste of Time” is pretty different to “Next Generation” with its Anti-Flag woah-oh chorus and the subtle hooks in the verse. Considering I normally avoid ‘70s era revivalist punk, this is very good stuff indeed and I will certainly be checking out future Delinquents releases (plus the artwork is fantastic).

DB

Check it out: https://open.spotify.com/album/6ZYNR6X64xG9qFmP10gPwE

Buy it here: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/id1170577280?app=itunes

This is cool! A split release of two underground pop-punk bands from either side of the Atlantic, with two very different takes on the genre. The Raging Nathans kick off the split with some swirling, dare-I-say metal-esque guitar solos on “Minneapolis”, but that’s not who they are and it isn’t long before they launch into more straightforward Mid-western style punk rock, clearly influenced by Naked Raygun, but also likely to be kindred spirits with newer bands like The Dopamines and Rational Anthem. It features, crunchy guitars, fast tempos and unpretentious, sing-a-long chorus with gang vocals, more or less as you would expect. These are a decent couple of songs, but nothing spectacular.

Wonk Unit are a whole different proposition altogether. This follows the release of their fantastic Mr. Splashy LP which came out earlier this year. Wonk Unit can certainly not be described as boring or one-note. Throughout that LP, the tempo and styles shift considerably. They have a plethora of ‘70s style, fast-paced poppy-punk (listen to, for instance, the fantastic “Awful Jeans”), but they also play some slower, more mellow jams, which could be described in some quarters as ‘post-punk’. It is the latter style which is on display with the two songs on this split 7”. “We Came Together” is the pick of the two (and the split), sounding like a cross between ‘80s ska, PiL and free-style rap. And yes, that is a good thing.

Check it out here: http://radgirlfriendrecords.bandcamp.com/album/split-7-6

DB

 

Interview: Hallie Unlovable

Posted: November 22, 2016 in Small Talk

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The Unlovables were one of the core bands of the underground pop-punk scene in New York in the early to mid 2000s, alongside The Ergs, The Steinways and Dirt Bike Annie. They played a super poppy, harmony-led brand of pop-punk that is among the best of its kind. Crushboyfriendheartbreak remains one of my favourite pop-punk releases ever. They are a band that has really stood the test of time, too. The Unlovables have had a reunion of sorts recently: releasing a split LP with Dirt Bike Annie, that I gushed over a month or two ago (https://keeptrackofthetime.wordpress.com/2016/10/08/review-the-unlovables-dirt-bike-annie-reunion-show-woah-oh/) and then going on their first tour in 9 years, following their appearance at this year’s Fest. I spoke to Hallie, the lead singer, about the nature of this reunion, the New York pop-punk scene, nostalgia and her new band Hiccup…

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KTOTT: So, I’ll just kick off by asking, how did the recent tour go?

Hallie: It was really fun. I didn’t think we would ever tour again because, you know, we are not really a band anymore. You know, we never felt the need to break up or anything dramatic like that because we are still friends and we love each other and we see each other all the time, whether socially or just seeing each other at shows, or you know some of us are still involved in projects together like you know Mikey, the drummer for the Unlovables. He and I are in the house band for a tv show called The Chris Gethard show. So, you know, Mikey and I still collaborate all the time on another project. We still love making music together as The Unlovables and, while we don’t need to do it all the time or be a totally active band or put out records all the time, it is still just really, really fun to just do something together. So, we’re in this funny stage of being a band where we’re not quite a band, but we’re also not not a band [laughter].

I didn’t think we’d ever tour again. I didn’t think we’d ever release new music, and we released half of an album this year because we did a split LP with our friends Dirt Bike Annie, who you probably know if you’re into the pop-punk scene from the 2000s, but it felt really fun to just play music again and this was tour was just like a part two to that. I love that we couldn’t commit to doing a whole new record because we are all busy doing other things, but half a record, that we could do! It was so gratifying to do and we’re so proud of it. Then on this tour, we got to finally play those new songs in front of a lot of different audiences which felt great and it was really sweet and touching to see both old fans come out and then to also realise that we have all these new fans! That’s just funny, that’s just the internet. You know, when you put your music online, you can not really be actively working on your band or your music, but your music is still out there for people to check and discover and listen to. So, it was really cool- on this tour, we got to play to people who came up to us after the shows and said, ‘I never thought I would see you guys live, I cannot believe…I discovered you after you went into hibernation and I didn’t know if I would be able to catch a live show and I’m so excited that I did’. So, it was great. Sorry that’s a really long answer to your question, but the tour was really, really great!

KTOTT: It was your first tour in 9 years, is that right?

Hallie: Yeah, we hadn’t toured since 2007.

KTOTT: So was it a bit of a struggle to get back into the swing of things?

Hallie: Yeah, and we also made a funny decision in that we decided to tour a part of the United States that we had never toured to begin with. We had toured a lot back in the day. We had toured a lot in the Midwest. We had gone up and down the West Coast a bunch. Back in that period we were active- you know, we started the band back in 2001 and like I said that last tour was in 2007- there wasn’t a great scene for pop-punk in the South and the South-East, so we had just never really toured there, so it was really funny and challenging to book this tour, because I didn’t have any connections in these cities to begin with and now I really don’t! [laughter] I really had to figure out who are the bands that have popped up in these cities in Florida, in North Carolina, in Georgia, that are holding a torch for this kind of music? Who are still trying to keep it alive and still playing, you know, Lookout-style pop-punk. We were able to find promoters and bands and punkhouses. We played a lot of punkhouses on this tour. So fun, with kids just singing along. So, yeah, it definitely presented its challenges, but it was well worth it.

KTOTT: So, your tour was along the East coast, was it?

Hallie: Well yeah, we were playing this beautiful, fun festival that we have played on and off over the years called The Fest, which is held in Gainesville, Florida every fall. It’s normally the same weekend as Halloween. So, we played The Fest in Gainesville over the Halloween weekend and then we toured back up over the Eastern seaboard of the United States back up to New York. So, I think we played about eight shows on our way back up. It was fun.

KTOTT: Yeah, I’ve wanted to go to Fest for a while now. I see the line-up every year and it always looks great.

Hallie: This year was particularly great because it was the 15 year anniversary. It feels a bit like a family reunion every year because everyone who cares about this kind of music basically migrates to Florida every fall and it is just an incredible chance to re-connect with bands that you love or loved, to re-connect with bands that you met on tour at some point, to re-connect with friends in the music scene that don’t necessarily live in the same city that you live in. It just seems like everyone gathers and hangs out for that weekend and it’s normally pretty magical. Then because it was the 15 year anniversary this year, it was just particularly fantastic.

KTOTT: Do you have any particular standout highlights from this year’s Fest?

Hallie: Yeah, it is difficult to say because there were so many. People were really excited that The Ergs! were reuniting. They hadn’t played in quite a long time and because I’ve made music with Mikey Erg! for so many years, that was really cool to see that band reunite. We had been friends with them since they first started being a band and we both did our first West Coast tour together, The Unlovables and The Ergs! and we played to- I’m serious- we sometimes played to like 5 people on that tour. We loved it, because it was our first tour and the whole thing just seemed crazy and fantastic, but to see them play this year at Fest to- I mean, I’m not good with large numbers, but I’m guessing it was at least 1000 people, it may have been more. So that really moved me. Not to get too sappy about it, but it was really cool to see my friends play in front of that big a crowd where everyone was flipping out.

KTOTT: So, going back to what you were just saying, what were those shows like back in the early days? Did you often play to very small crowds?

Hallie: At the start, yeah. Because pop-punk was much more popular back then but with any band when you are starting out, you are always going to have to kind of ‘eat shit’ for the first year! [laughter] What felt really good was to go to a city for the first time and play to almost no-one and then you’d find that you would go back the second time and there were more people and then you would go back the third time, and there would be like a lot of people. It felt like you would plant little seeds in a city and then you would go back a while later and see what had grown. There was always growth. When you checked back in on a city, word had spread and the people that had seen you had told their friends. It was a very rewarding model of doing something. Like a clear result to your efforts that felt really good.

KTOTT: So, how have the crowd sizes been on this tour then?

Hallie: At Fest, our crowd sizes are always big because like I said, it is a gathering of lots of people who are into this kind of music. Our crowds on this tour, I would say were small but mighty. I don’t know if we did the best job of promoting it. We were just kind of doing it for ourselves and doing it for fun. I think were probably Unlovables fans in all of those cities that didn’t even know we were there, but it was cool. Like I said, we would see young people who were probably in middle school or high school when we were first playing shows or maybe even people who used to be in Elementary school when we used to be a real band and we would see people who had discovered the music and were so excited to see us live. So we weren’t playing to huge crowds but the people that we played to, it really meant something to them, so it was really fun.

KTOTT: Those can be the best kinds of shows, right?

Hallie: Yeah, and we played Washington DC on Tuesday and we had a fan there from Colorado and we had a fan there that had driven from Conneticut. I mean, those places are not near. It was like people had seen that we were playing again and everyone knows that we do things so rarely that people thought, ‘well I better just take this opportunity to see them live because I don’t know when and if it is going to come again’ and so it was cool. We had that at a number of shows where people had travelled like significant distances to see us. So yeah, you could see that it meant something to people.

KTOTT: And then that’s so cool that you managed to get some new fans as well!

Hallie: Yeah, that is just crazy to me! That we could have put so little effort into this band for the last 9 years but that people have continued to discover the music. It’s cool.

KTOTT: You mentioned that you put out the split LP last year with Dirt Bike Annie. How did that come about? And why did you decide to come back and release something new?

Hallie: We had a few songs that we had been playing right at the end of the years when we were active. That we had recorded. And we really liked them. So, I think we had some regret that these songs had just never had a chance to like live, you know. We had been playing them live on that last tour we did and people responded well to them and we were really proud of them, but then we had all kind of got busy with other things and the band had kind of got put on hold. I think we had in the back of our minds regret over never doing anything with these two songs, which was “Skip a Stone” and “Worthwhile”. We sort of felt that they were good songs and it’s a shame that no-one has recordings of those. And I have a new band called Hiccup, that is like my primary music project right now. I had written a couple of songs that I had tried to do with Hiccup and Hiccup has kind of a different sound and when I tried to play the songs with those guys, I was like, ‘this is not a Hiccup song, this is an Unlovables song!’ Even though I wasn’t playing with The Unlovables anymore, somehow those kinds of songs were still popping out of me. I had written a couple of songs- and this is really funny, because this is how the Unlovables started. The Unlovables started because I would just write songs for my friends. I wrote a song for an ex-boyfriend about our going on vacation, which is The Unlovables song “Vacation”. That was how we started because I would write these goofy songs that were just sort of meant to exist in my personal life but when people heard them, they got excited about them and they said you should do something with those. Like you should share with them more than the 3 people you played them for, in person. Yeah, so the new Unlovables record was those two songs that we had been playing back in like 2007, it was a couple of songs that I had tried to play with Hiccup that just weren’t genre-appropriate and a couple of songs that I had written for my husband that also seemed like they would make great Unlovables songs.

We just missed playing together and it just seemed the time. You know, I think there is a little bit of nostalgia for that era for that sort of music and we have seen a lot of our old friends reunite or tour or put out a new album. I think we were just feeling inspired, like ‘hey, that would be so fun, I wanna do that too!’

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KTOTT: So, is that split LP considered to be a one-off or do you think you may release something else in the future?

Hallie: I don’t think we’ll release something else in the future, but it’s so funny because now I think life has just taught me now to ‘never say never’. It’s really fun to have a band like that. We just truly do it on our own terms. We are not trying to ‘get bigger’. We are not trying to really do anything with it. The only reason for us to get together to make music or tour or any of the things that we have been doing is because we want to spend time together, we want to see old friends and old fans, we wanna make music together. If we don’t feel like doing it, we don’t have to and if we feel like doing it, we can and I think that’s rare. You can get caught up in being a band and feeling like ‘oh, what’s the next show’? ‘oh, what’s the next release’? It’s absolutely freeing to just have a musical project that is just on our own terms.

KTOTT: Quite liberating, yeah.

Hallie: Very!

KTOTT: You just mentioned earlier your main project Hiccup. So, when did you start doing that, who is in the band and how did it come about?

Hallie: Hiccup started probably unofficially about two years ago. Alex Klute, who I play with on the Chris Gethard show, he is just an incredible guitarist and vocalist. You know we are in the house band for this little TV show in a way that you normally see that for a talk show, you know the way The Roots are playing for Fallon. We play a lot of music but it’s just generally only seen by the viewers for 5 to 10 seconds going in or out of commericals. We play tiny little short ditties to introduce a segment or sketch or interviewee. Alex and I were having so much fun doing these tiny little bursts of music on this TV show that I think we just thought ‘what would happen if we had a real band where we could write full-length songs that people would get to hear from beginning to end? [laughter] He has such a nice voice and people have always said they like the way our voices sound together. It was a fruitful collaboration from the first time we started writing songs together for the show, so Hiccup was just an exploration of what else we could come up with. I’d say it has more of a ‘90s sound, maybe more of garage feel because Alex listens to a lot of Ty Seagall, that kind of stuff. We share songwriting responsibilities and we also trade off who is doing lead vocals, so it’s not like The Unlovables where I was just trapped at the microphone the whole time. Now, with Hiccup, I have whole songs where I just get to bounce around and play bass and it is the most fun. I can just let Alex take over vocal responsibilities for a second. I think it gives the band a really nice and interesting sound. It sort of reminds me of when I would be listening to a Pixies record and all of a sudden there would be a song where Kim Deal would be doing more of the vocals and that is so fun to just get a new voice in the middle of the record.

So, Hiccup is cool and I’m really proud of what we do. We have our first full-length record coming out on Father-Daughter records which is an incredible label on the West Coast. That label is putting out our full-length at the beginning of next year. So, that is going to be the first time that people are actually going to get a sense of what our sound is. Right now, we only really have two songs that we put out on a cassette. So we can’t wait to get the full-length out and for people to hear the songs.

KTOTT: So how active is the band?

Hallie: Pretty active! We actually toured down to The Fest in Gainesville this year. So we did like a week long tour in October. We play shows in New York city at least once a month and we’ll be playing South by Southwest later this year which we’re really excited about, which will be right on the heels of the album coming out. So yeah, that band is pretty active.

KTOTT: Yeah, so this acts as your main, active project and then you may do the odd show with The Unlovables here and there, dormant in the background.

Hallie: Exactly!

KTOTT: So yeah, going back to what you were saying before about the pop-punk scene back then, you were saying that there is a bit of nostalgia for that period now. Why do you think that is? Is it because there is less going on now or is it that kind of nostalgia people have for when they were younger?

Hallie: I think everything in pop culture just comes and goes in waves. There was so much enthusiasm for pop-punk, in the early nighties in an underground way when a lot of that Lookout records stuff was happening on the West Coast. That obviously all got huge in 1995 with Green Day and pop-punk making more of a jump into the mainstream. Then it was able to maintain people’s focus and enthusiasm for another maybe 6 or 7 years after that and then there was definitely a time when pop-punk was just sort of embarrassing and everyone was into indie rock and no-one wanted to admit that they used to listen to Weezer. I think just that some of the people that came of age listening to pop-punk are older now and enough time has passed that maybe it seems cool or vintage or just in an ironic way- I can’t tell exactly how people are thinking about it! I know, for me, I just needed my palette cleansed. I love pop-punk as much as anybody and I put out so many albums and I devoted my life to that sort of music and that scene for so long that I just definitely hit a wall with it. Man, there is only so much Ramonescore I can listen to! Even I went through a phase when I just did not want to listen to that stuff. I just needed a break. Again, the beauty of The Unlovables is that I allowed myself to take that break. I didn’t keep beating a dead horse. I just felt that I had my fill of that thing or felt that I said everything I wanted to say in that particular format. How great to be able to take a break and then find that all these years later, now that I have allowed myself to step away from it, I do still have enough love for this thing and that I do have a bit more to say in this format.

KTOTT: Yeah, you just needed to step away from it a little bit to re-appreciate it again.

Hallie: Yeah, and I think that maybe collectively as music lovers, we all did. It really feels great to have a refreshed enthusiasm for this stuff now, and to see that other people are feeling the same way.

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KTOTT: So, when The Unlovables decided to take a break, was there any particular reason for this, or did it just come down to the band wanting to get away from that scene and kind of music for a while?

Hallie: Well, I used to work in the theatre for a long time as a professional dancer and in the years when The Unlovables had been active, I was performing in shows where my performance show had a little bit of flexibility. So, I was still able to request nights off or performances off, so that I could go and play a show with the Unlovables or I was able to request time off so that I could do a tour. In 2007, I got cast in a show where I was performing eight shows a week and I just didn’t have any nights free to play punk rock shows. Mikey was touring a lot with a lot of other bands. He was doing tours with Star Fucking Hipsters and The Copyrights and who knows what else. If you know the career of Mikey Erg! at all, you’ll know that you can’t really keep track of that guy. He plays in like sixty different bands. So between my being busy and our guitarist Matt, who had played on our second release Heartsickle , he had moved to Colorado. So, it just seemed like everyone suddenly got busy with other things and it felt like a great time to be busy with other things. I think we all felt lucky and it felt like a great and interesting development, rather than like ‘oh shoot! We can’t do The Unlovables any more’. It felt like a natural time to put The Unlovables on pause.

KTOTT: Cool. I just wanted to ask more about the pop-punk scene in New York. What kinds of changes do you see in today’s scene from back then? Either musically or in the scene more broadly.

Hallie: Yeah, well, I think that the first big obvious thing is that the music scene when we were playing was still very much based in Manhattan, which is like- if you don’t know New York very well, if you write a letter and send it to New York, New York, it goes to Manhattan. Then we had outer boroughs like Brooklyn and The Bronx and Statton Island and Queens that are also part of New York City, but they’re considered outside of the city centre. When The Unlovables were playing in the 2000s, Manhattan, the East Village, CBGBs, the Knitting Factory, all of these music venues which were the heart of the music scene, most of them were still based in Manhattan. Then there has just been the most unbelievable shift, you know just crazy gentrification in Lower Manhattan. There are almost no music venues left there. Almost none. Everything is in Brooklyn now. Not only is everything in Brooklyn but things in Brooklyn are slowly shifting to further and further away from Manhattan. Maybe five years ago, the venues were just across the river from Manhattan and now it’s going further and further as things get more expensive and music venues lose their leases.

I’ll say that the thing that I have learnt and the thing that I find the most inspiring is that no matter what happens and no matter how many venues close, no matter how much things change and neighbourhoods change, something always pops up! Someone always picks up the slack. We had this huge blow last year where the publication Vice took over a building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and there were three really vibrant music venues because of it and we all thought, ‘oh, this is terrible, where are we going to have shows now?’ Within six months, there were more venues, like I said, just further from Manhattan. So, that has been really interesting to see. It has been kind of interesting to see this migration of where the music scene is focused.

There are a lot of younger bands who seem to have developed a passion for this kind of music and they are putting their own spin on it. I’d say it’s been really interesting to see because garage has been so big there and it still kind of is, it has been cool to see that a lot of the younger bands like Fidlar or other younger pop-punk bands seem to have more of an angry garage-y influence as opposed to the super poppy pop-punk, but I like that stuff just as well, maybe more.

KTOTT: Yeah, things go in waves don’t they? Maybe in a few years, the super poppy stuff might come back in again or something else might pop up.

Hallie: Yeah, totally. The thing I’ve learnt is just not to be sad about it. The one thing you can bank on is that the city and the music scene is going to change constantly. You can’t get too attached to things being a certain way. I loved the way New York City was when I moved here in 1995 and I loved the venues that I went to when I first arrived and I loved the bands that played. From that, I have the most nostalgia. I actually write a lot about it in the song “1996” that’s on our new release. Just a nostalgia for- I think this is probably true for anyone who moves to any big city- how it is when you first move there is always the best to you, but then you talk to people who got there before you and they are like ‘oh no, you missed it when it was really good’. That is one thing I have really come to terms with, just that you can’t get attached to it being a particular way. It’s gonna change and it’s gonna be just as great. It’s just gonna be different.

KTOTT: Yeah, and you just need to go with the flow…

Hallie: Yeah, and adapt and see the beauty in the new stuff!

KTOTT: So, you just going back to that split release you did with Dirt Bike Annie. Just wanted to ask two things about that. Firstly, what is your relationship with Dirt Bike Annie?

Hallie: Yeah, I would say they were sort of like our brother or sister band back in the day. Going back to what I said that I had just been writing songs sort of for myself or for my friends or just for fun. Dirt Bike Adam and Dirt Bike Dan and Dirt Bike Deannie, those guys were really critical in me deciding to get my music out there in a more public way. They really, really encouraged me. I would go to see them play and they were having such a good time. They would be playing little house shows where they had just sort of grown their own scene. They made playing music seem so achievable in a really fun way. It was maybe I think the first time that I had seen that you didn’t have to be like a rock star or filling out Madison Square garden to have a band and have fans show up to shows and sing along to every single one of your songs. So between the model that they presented me with of how to be a punk rock band and the actual encouragement that they gave me, on a personal level, they are much of why I got into playing music.

So, it really felt like things had come full circle in such a cool way for us to release this split together, because we had never collaborated on anything when all of our bands were playing all the same shows and shared all the same fans, so I’m glad we got around to it eventually! [laughter] Even if it was years and years after the fact. We talked about it but just didn’t get around to it. So, I’m so glad we did it eventually.

KTOTT: Because it was their reunion release as well, wasn’t it? They hadn’t been active for a good while either?

Hallie: Yeah, for about the same amount of time. There was just this feeling starting around 2005 that people had had their fill of pop-punk, including the people playing pop-punk [laughter]! There was just this sense that, ‘oh God, I think we have said all we have to say on this topic’. If you look at it, Dirt Bike Annie, The Unlovables, The Ergs!, The Steinways- although The Steinways kept going for a bit longer, but we all basically stopped playing at around the same time.

KTOTT: On that split LP, do you think that your own songwriting style has changed at all over the years? I know you said that some of the songs were older that you wrote back in the day.

Hallie: Yeah, two of them were written in about 2007. Yeah, my song writing style…I don’t know if you have ever listened to that Descendents record that came out around 2005?

KTOTT: Yeah, Cool to be you?

Hallie: Yeah, they put out this gorgeous record that was still pop-punk but instead of being about crushes, or like having differences with a friend or girlfriends, suddenly the record was about divorce and all of these grown up things. I really appreciated when they did that, because there are definitely pop-punk bands that keep just writing songs about like ‘hey do you want to go to the dance with me?’ when the band members are well into their thirties. You just feel like calling bullshit. I don’t believe that you actually care about that anymore. I don’t really need to be a perpetual teenager. I don’t really think that’s cool [laughter] I don’t know if I was really trying to or just because I was growing up but I think the new record is kind of a cool combination of still keeping in that pop-punk genre but I like to think that the lyrics are more grown-up or reflect a little bit life experiences or have a little bit more depth at actually wanting to look back at life. I love that I wrote a bunch of songs when all I had to care about was whether I had a date or not [laughter] but I have deeper concerns in life now, and I definitely tried to write about them and draw upon them on this record. I’m pretty proud of it. Not to toot my own horn, but I think it worked well. Did you watch the new Rocky movie that came out recently?

KTOTT: No, I didn’t.

Hallie: So, it was fine, it was pretty good. But I thought it was so cool that we were all introduced to this character Rocky Balboa back when Sylvester Stallone was in his like late twenties or early thirties and then when they released this new movie, whenever it was, where you got to see him as an old man. That’s so cool! You almost never get that. You almost never get to see a character grow up or be in a totally different phase of their life. I’m not like a senior citizen or anything, but…I’m kind of glad for people that were into The Unlovables back in the day that they get to kind of catch up with me and where I’m at now.

KTOTT: Yeah, definitely. I think that’s generally a thing with pop-punk right, where the majority of bands tend to keep singing about the same kind of stuff. For years and years. There is not much growth really.

Hallie: Yeah, I get why people would do it. If you are going to look at that genre and distil it down to its purest form, it did pop out of The Ramones when they were young and dumb and angry. So, I get why people think that is a defining thing about the genre but I would rather write songs that are true to where I’m at.

KTOTT: Yeah, it can feel like a fake if not, like, as you said when you hear older bands singing about going to the prom…

Hallie: Yes, exactly! I don’t judge any other people about the art they make- you know, put stuff into the world, no matter what it is- but it would feel to me like wearing a straightjacket. To have to keep writing songs on the same subjects forever.

KTOTT: Yeah, I was actually particularly thinking of the song “Worthwhile” from the new split LP. In that that is kind of a more mature or grown-up song than you had written in the past, but you were saying that that was one of the older songs, right?

Hallie: Yeah, but by older, it was still in 2007, so it was still a good six years after the songs I had written that appeared on Crushboyfriendheartbreak.

KTOTT: Ok, so it was still one of the later songs really. I just wanted to ask you a couple of small things. So, I read somewhere that your band name was inspired by The Smiths, is that right?

Hallie: Oh yeah! Because I always loved that song “Unlovable”. It’s one of my favourites and it’s one of the first Smiths songs that I got into. I don’t know, I am a pretty positive and cheerful person if you meet me in person but you know, I’m still a human being. Like everyone has that part of them that feels like, you know, you are hanging out in a group of people and you think that everyone likes each other better than they like you. You know the darker, sadder parts of your personality and you feel like if anyone actually got to know those, that they would just shun you. Both that Smiths song and that word ‘Unlovable’ spoke to a part of me that was really important, but that people wouldn’t necessarily see if they met me because I do give off a very sunny vibe when you see me in person. I am that way, that’s not a façade, but I am a human being. I have other parts of me. And it’s really funny because my husband has Morrissey tattooed on his arm and he has a Smiths lyric tattooed also on his arm, so it is funny that we had that in common, that the Smiths had been really important to us during our affirmative years.

KTOTT: I like that the name is linked with that song, but that it sounds like a very typical pop-punk band name at the same time! Final question: I assume that there is zero chance of this, but is there any chance that you would ever tour in Europe?

Hallie: It’s funny, people ask us from time to time. We would love to. I think we just worry that we have been inactive as a band for so long that we would be rolling up into cities in Europe and it would be like four sad guys in their thirties standing around getting really excited to see The Unlovables [laughter]. So, while we would love to do it, and while none of us has a crystal ball to look into the future to see whether that would be a successful and rewarding thing, it definitely feels like it would be a big risk to do it. So, yeah, probably not. Much more likely that Hiccup will get there at some point.

KTOTT: I’ll have to come to Fest some year then!

Hallie: Yeah, we’ll definitely continue playing Fest each year. We like the band too much to bury it permanently and Fest is the gathering of so many people and bands that matter or mattered to me. I can’t see a reason why we would stop playing Fest. It is so fun to dust off these songs once a year and play them for people who wanna hear them.

Check out the Unlovables/ Dirt Bike Annie split LP here: https://theunlovables.bandcamp.com/album/reunion-show

 

 

 

Image result for MR T EXPERIENCE KING DORK APPROXIMATELY

I have got to admit that the Mr. T Experience (MTX) is one of my favorite bands and I am such a big fan of both the band and the novels that this review will be quite biased. If I’m going to be honest, I feel like I would’ve liked this album no matter what. For anyone not familiar with King Dork, it is MTX frontman Dr. Frank Portman’s literary character Tom Henderson (found in King Dork and the sequel King Dork Approximately). He is a high school student struggling to find his place in the world and to deal with the normal people and other sadists. He also has a strange obsession with J.D Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, which he hates even if he has more in common with Holden Caulfield than anyone. The album starts off with “Cinthya with a Y”, an ode to female names with unusual spellings, and ends with “Down with the Universe”. The former was released with a lyric-video on YouTube (how modern!). The verses in the song are great, but the chorus falls a bit short to be Dr. Frank. The rhyme “Djulia” and “peculiar” is stellar. The latter is a great closer that easily could have been on 1999’s Alcatraz and pretty much symbolizes anything that the books stand for (“We’re gonna kill the Catcher in the rye”). In between there are lots of great tracks, as well. The title track “King Dork Approximately” was released along with the book and after hearing the album a couple of times, it’s still my favorite song on the album. The bridge always gives me chills and is one of Dr. Frank’s greatest achievements as a songwriter, in my opinion. I’ve heard the song through the single release on Spotify, but it was also released as a kassingle (how not modern!) with the B-side “O’Brien is Tryin’ to Learn to Talk Hawaiian” and never getting the kassingle, I didn’t get to hear it before listening to the album. It is a lovely little Folk song with a cool finger-picking pattern. It is so catchy your ears will hurt and scream with joy at the same time, if ears were able to do such things. The song is actually a WW1 era song written by Al Dubin and Rennie Coromack and if I remember correctly Tom learns it from his stepfather (Little Big Tom)’s hippie friend. “Robot Rag” also has a cool finger-picking thing going on.

A lot of the songs are quite Rock n’ Roll and it’s fitting to the book and Tom and Sam (his friend)’s taste in music. “Still Not Done Loving You Mama” sounds like early 70’s Rock n’ Roll and not in an awful way. The bass line is great and it could possibly be a future MTX classic. Another highlight is the 60’s sounding song “High School Is the Penalty for Transgressions yet to Be Specified”, it has a great melody, fantastic backup vocals and clever lyrics (“a sex alliance against society”) “Sadistic Masochism”, “I Wanna Ramone You” and “Thinking of Suicide” are all classic MTX. “I Wanna Ramone You” is a song that comes from the first book and is about the word Ramoning as a euphemism for sex, it’s a French word and the song also includes lyrics in French similar to those in La Belle’s “Lady Marmelade”, which is probably the only sentence most people know in French and probably the origin to the idiom “pardon my French”. It’s a catchy song! “Thinking of Suicide” is also from the first book and a great song. It stems from a hilarious incident where Tom’s mom finds the lyrics to the song and thinks Tom is suicidal when, in fact, he is just in love with a girl who hands out suicide pamphlets. It has the fantastic line “(…) think of suicide when I think about love”.

“King Dork Redux” is just a re-recording of the old MTX classic “King Dork” that predates the books. I do prefer the old version, but there has been added some sweet back-up vocals to this one that makes the re-recording worthwhile. One thing I do miss on the album is a song about Sam Hellerman (I would imagine something like “Even if his plans are heinous, Sam Hellerman is a genius). Maybe the only significant downside to the album is that the band sounds so great that it loses the authenticity of a high school band that changes constantly, both when it comes to their line-up, name and basically everything and has a drummer that needs to play another song to keep the right beat, but this is not a big deal in my overall view of the album. Another downside to some could be that you have to buy the book to get the album, which is unfortunate if you’ve already bought the book. The album has already grown on me a lot during the times I have listened to it, even if it’s not the best MTX album by any means, it’s not the worst either! And to sum it up I think it’s a tremendous album, if tremendous means what I think it means.

RH