Archive for the ‘Small Talk’ Category

Interview: Larry Livermore

Posted: October 23, 2014 in Small Talk

I’m going to keep this short, because I’m pretty sure you all know this, but Lookout (without an exclamation point) records co-founder Larry Livermore released an incredible book Spy Rock Memories last year, detailing the time he spent in the early-to-mid ’80s in the wilderness of California’s Emerald Triangle and the formation of Lookout Records. It’s an affecting, personal and entertaining read that I cannot recommend enough. Larry answered questions about the book, as well as his future projects and looking back on Lookout records.

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Hello Larry! How are you on this fine Autumn day? What have you been up to during the last few months?

I am at least as fine as this autumn day, sunny, breezy, and a little cool. I have been cooped up in one room or another for the past several months editing my new book. I kind of wish it were done, but it isn’t, not quite yet.

It has been over a year now since Spy Rock Memories was released. How do you feel looking back on it now? Did it turn out like you imagined?

I’m very happy with Spy Rock Memories all around. It’s one of the first things I’ve ever done where I didn’t feel the need to do a lot of second-guessing after the fact. Of course it’s not perfect; nothing ever is. But it told the story I wanted to tell, it looks and feels beautiful, and it’s a great feeling to know it’s in print and out there for people to read should they so choose.

Since its release, what has the feedback been like from the punk community? And more specifically, those from Spy Rock who feature in the book?

Feedback has been mostly positive. In fact, to my surprise there hasn’t been a single (at least that I’ve seen) wholly negative review. The comments I’ve gotten haven’t been specifically “from the punk community,” probably because the book’s subject matter, while periodically intersecting with punk themes, isn’t specifically punk. I think at least half my readers have been more interested in the “back to the land” aspect, or have a direct personal knowledge of or interest in rural Northern California, where the story is set. Nobody who’s portrayed in the book has had any complaints, at least not that I’ve heard of. I recently had the pleasure of attending a wedding where a number of the main characters were present, and they all spoke highly of the book

spyrockcover2rework

According to your blog, you have been working on another book for a while. Can you tell us any more about it? Do you have a release date in mind?

The new book has been “in the works” for some years now, but I actually started writing it on August 29, 2013, and was hoping to have it done within a year. As my calendar dolefully reminds me, I’m already a month and a half past that deadline. It’s essentially about what comes next, after Spy Rock Memories, but there’s some considerable overlap, since “what came next” was Lookout Records, which was already well underway before I left Spy Rock. I was hoping for a December release, but it looks more like spring 2015 now.

In regards to writing about “what comes next” post- Spyrock, am I right in thinking that this includes your time living in London? What time frame are we dealing with in the new book?

No, actually, the third book will deal with London. So although a certain number of Lookout-related events took place in the UK, I’ve kept discussion of them to a minimum in this book.

Aside from the book writing, are you still writing any new music?

I wrote and recorded a couple new songs with the Potatomen a year or two ago (actually, more like finished a couple songs that had been in progress for some time already), but nothing much ever came of it. I think they might be released someday, or maybe not. Other than that, no. I noodle around on the guitar or piano from time to time, but that’s about it.

A couple of years ago, you released a compilation showcasing all the hot young stuff in pop-punk today on Adeline Records- The Thing That Ate Larry Livermore. Do you think it helped increase exposure of said bands? And do you have any plans to do another compilation in the future, or was it a one-off?

They’ve asked me a couple of times to do a follow-up to The Thing That Ate Larry Liverrmore, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. I’m sure it helped the bands involved to some extent, but as I said in response to a related question just the other day, I think most of those bands, regardless of how great they are – and they are great – are not likely to get the kind of exposure they would have if they’d been around in the 1980s or 90s. The specific question I was asked (this was at a book reading, actually) was which of today’s bands I would sign if I were still running Lookout, and I pointed to that compilation as being a pretty good illustration. But I followed up by noting that if Lookout had issued that same identical compilation in 1994, it probably would have sold 50 times as many copies as it would today. Not because of any fault on Adeline’s part – they did an excellent job all the way around with it – but because the demand for that style of music just doesn’t exist on the level it once did. At Lookout, we sold most of our records to kids – teenagers and young 20-somethings. People of that age nowadays are, for the most part, simply not interested in pop-punk.

Looking back in time, what is the part you miss the most about running Lookout Records?

Well, it’s nice to have a little excitement in one’s life from time to time, and there was certainly no shortage of that during the Lookout days. Also, it was nice getting in to almost any show I wanted for free, and having complete strangers treat me as if I were “somebody.” But seriously, I think perhaps one thing I miss the most is having the ability to make a difference in people’s lives. For example, today if I see a great band who really have something to offer the world, I’m limited to wishing them luck, whereas back then, I could say, “Hey, do you want to make a record?”

The Lookout Roster included such pop-punk greats as Screeching Weasel, Green Day and MTX, but is there a band you regret not having signed, or missed out on?

Well, it depends on what you mean by “missed out.” There are bands we could have worked with that would have made us millions of dollars, but weren’t necessarily Lookout-sounding bands. Or who might have fit in at Lookout at first, but later went on to evolve into very different bands. AFI, for example; their first record was standard East Bay pop-punk, and they really needed a label to take a chance on them, so it would have benefited both them and us. Maybe if they’d been on Lookout they wouldn’t have wound up going goth, you never know! But as it was, they released their first album on a label that went bust, and it was at least a temporary setback to their career. They did well in the end, though! I recently ran into Davey AFI at an event and apologized for dropping the ball on that occasion. He was cool about it. The Offspring, too. In 1992 they’d been a band eight or nine years and were going nowhere, so I thought Lookout might be able to help them, but in the end Epitaph was able to pull them out of the doldrums, so to speak! And Rancid, I really do regret them leaving for Epitaph, because they were an East Bay band with a Lookout pedigree. Once again, though, they did rather well for themselves the way things worked out. You know who else I think we could have done well for? Jawbreaker.

Did you find much of a similarity between the punk scene you were involved with in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s and the scene you part of in the ‘60s?

In terms of energy and excitement, maybe, although it’s important to bear in mind that the 60s scene was far larger, and perhaps more driven by a quixotic idealism that rather quickly turned to cynicism when young people realized that all their fantasies of a more perfect world were not about to materialize. At the same time, there was not nearly as much of a DIY spirit, at least when it came to music – there were many other independent enterprises: underground newspapers, food co-ops, political movements, etc. – but the music was largely marketed by corporate entities and the masses of fans tended to see themselves as consumers rather than producers.

Final question. As I’m asking you these questions for a blog, and you are a blog-writer yourself, do you think that blogs are now more relevant than print fanzines (as you used to write for in the ‘80s/’90s) for today’s generation? Do print zines still have a place in punk rock?

Print will always have a place in many aspects of culture, including punk, but I think they’ll be more of a boutique/specialty item, much as vinyl records have become. Both print and vinyl are wildly impractical and inefficient, as well as being far more expensive means of transmitting information, but obviously they have a strong appeal to a certain sort of connoisseur, and will always be with us to some degree. But I suspect upwards of 90% of all information will ultimately be conveyed digitally, until or unless space aliens or a nuclear war or some massive solar storm wipes out the entire electronic data base, at which point print and vinyl will prove to be highly useful artifacts after all.

 DB

Buy Spy Rock Memories here: http://dongiovannirecords.com/product/90-spy-rock-memories

Read Larry’s blog here: http://larrylivermore.com/

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“The Creeps are going, going to the gas chamber!” But before that, Skottie Lobotomy lead singer of Ottowa punk rock band The Creeps answered a few questions about his time in the band so far, which is pertinent since they are about to play a local show celebrating 15 years as a band. I will refrain from rambling on about the band and their latest LP Eulogies (I did that enough already here: https://keeptrackofthetime.wordpress.com/2014/07/21/review-the-creeps-eulogies-its-alive-records/), but safe to say I rate The Creeps up there with the best in contemporary pop-punk.

Hello Skottie! Can you introduce The Creeps to Keep Track of the Time readers?

Hi Dave. Sure. We’re a three-piece band from Ottawa, Ontario. We started playing together in 1999. This month is our 15th year anniversary as a band, which is kinda wild. I guess we play dark, melodic punk music. We grew up playing and listening to classic pop-punk, so there are elements of that sound in our songs but smarter people than me have noted that we’ve kinda shifted away from our roots to forge our own ‘sound’ in recent years, which is nice of them to say and I tend to agree.

Your new album Eulogies came out in July on It’s Alive Records. Are you pleased with how it turned out?

Yeah, we’re extremely pleased and pretty proud of this one. We hadn’t released a full-length since 2007 and I kinda wondered if we even had it in us anymore. All three of us play in a bunch of different bands now and the Creeps is less of a priority than maybe it once was, but once the songs started churning out it became an easy process. And there’s definitely something to be said for the ease of writing songs with people you’ve been doing it with for so long. We fell really easily back into things.

Eulogies cover art

It has been six years since your last LP Lakeside Cabin. We have had multiple 7”s during that time, but why did it take so long for an album to appear?

Part of it is the multiple bands thing and not practicing as religiously as we used to, part of it is being busier in our personal lives and part of it is just my songwriting process. I tend to like to write pretty compartmentalized records from a lyrical standpoint – not necessarily ‘concept’ records, though we’ve done some of those, but at least records with a consistent theme – and I’d kinda exhausted some of the old stories I liked to write songs around. It just took me a while to figure out what I wanted to sing about this time around.

How was the recording process for Eulogies?

It was pretty typical for us. We’ve been recording with our friend Paul ‘Yogi’ Granger at his Meatlocker studio here in Ottawa for the past few recordings we’ve done and we’re always happy with the results. He’s got a great ear for melody and is definitely a valuable fourth voice in the room when we’re working with him.

You also released the vinyl for Lakeside Cabin through It’s Alive Recs, as well as the Follow You Home 7”. How did you get involved with It’s Alive?

We did a split with our friends FEAR OF LIPSTICK from Moncton, NB, who put out some records on It’s Alive and I think that’s how we probably ended up on Adam’s radar. I think it was a mutual admiration thing after that – we liked his label and he liked our band, so it was an easy fit. He’s such an awesome dude to work with and such a positive supporter of our music that it’s been a no-brainer to keep working with him on subsequent releases.

Looking back on your early releases, it was 2003 that you put out your first album Gamma Gamma Ray. How do you feel looking back on that album now?

I think all three of us feel strangely proud..? I mean, it’s a juvenile effort in every sense. We could barely play our instruments and fell into the obvious “pop-punk” tropes of the time, but so what? We came by it honestly and loved what we were doing then and that’s the attitude we’ve taken towards the band ever since. Most people our age still playing in bands have the luxury of no longer being attached to the songs they wrote when they were 19. We just never broke up our band when everyone else did and at this point, I think that’s kinda cool.

How was it that The Creeps formed as a band?

We met in University. I was in first year and Ian was one of my frosh leaders (a role which he performed horribly). One day he came into my room and embarrassingly caught me wistfully listening to my old band’s CD and figured out that I played guitar and asked if I wanted to start a band with a “drummer” he knew (Jordy’s drumming qualifications were that he had access to a drum kit, more or less). The next week, the three of us met in Ian’s basement and learned a MOPES song together. That was almost exactly 15 years ago today.

Considering the early stuff, how do you think you have developed as a band over the years? For me, Lakeside Cabin seemed a pretty significant shift in sound.

I’ll leave it to others to try to describe the way our sound has changed, but I think you’re right that ‘Lakeside’ represented a sort of shift away from what we were doing originally. By that point, I’d become a much more confident songwriter and lyricist and we’d at least graduated from ‘comically ill-equipped’ to ‘not horrible’ at playing our instruments, so that helped. I’d like to think that those trends have continued since 2008, when that record originally came out.

Song-writing wise, the change seems to have been from a straight up sci-fi Lillingtons-esque style to recurring themes of murder and serial killers. How did these ideas/themes develop in your songwriting?

It was actually on ‘Back to the ‘Bin’ that I feel like I started writing lyrics based around stories I had kicking around in my head, rather than just regurgitating the lyrical content of our favourite bands at the time – the Lillingtons being an obvious one, local legends the Riptides being another. I can’t really describe why I write what I do, except to say that I find the subjects titillating, and sometimes genuinely frightening. Most people find it weird that I am legitimately terrified of horror movies and never watch them. I guess one of the things that I’ve always been aware of when swimming in those lyrical waters is how easy it is to fall into the realm of schlock and it’s something I’ve tried to avoid. All of this said, I think the lyrical bent on ‘Eulogies’ is a different beast altogether and kinda represents another shift for me.

What is like to be a part of the Ottawa punk rock scene? There seems to have been a ton of good stuff coming from there in recent years.

It’s been an incredibly exciting time to be writing and playing music in Ottawa over the past 5-6 years. There’s been a friendly competitiveness that I think has forced everyone involved to raise the bar for their own bands in terms of effort and quality-control that’s been amazing to witness and to be a part of. That, coupled with the genuine support that bands in this city show for one another and the small group of committed individuals, many of whom we count as great friends, who promote shows regularly, who run affordable rehearsal spaces, who manage awesome labels and distros, who operate awesome little recording studios and who organize incredible annual music festivals like the GAGA Weekend and its older brother OTTAWA EXPLOSION – it all makes for a pretty cool time and place to be in a band.

As well as The Creeps, you are also involved in The Visitors and Crusades. How do you manage to fit it all in? Do you tour regularly or semi-regularly with any of the bands?

We’re all involved in multiple bands – I’m also in CRUSADES and BLACK TOWER, with Erin from the VISITORS and Dave from CRUSADES on drums, Jordy also plays drums in CRUSADES and Ian also plays bass in a new band called the STEADY SHAKES, who are awesome. None of our bands tour with any regularity as we all hold down full-time jobs, but we treat the bands as more than just hobbies, with regular band practices and playing shows as much as we’re willing and able.

Finally then, what do The Creeps have planned for the rest of 2014?

First, we have our local record release/15th anniversary show coming up on October 24th at an incredible new venue in Ottawa called the HOUSE OF TARG, which is operated in part by Yogi, who recorded a bunch of our records and by Kevin from the VISITORS. We’ll probably play some release shows in Toronto, Montreal and other surrounding areas in the coming months and then after that, who knows. We tend not to plan too far ahead these days, which suits us fine.

Check out The Creeps latest release here: http://thecreeps.bandcamp.com/album/eulogies

The Murderburgers are one of the best current pop-punk bands going. This is undeniable. I have obsessed over their last couple of records during the last six months or so. I go back and forth on which one is better, but it doesn’t really matter: they’re both brilliant in their own ways. It will be pretty exciting to hear what comes next from The Murderburgers. So, I caught up with Fraser Murderburger to hear about that, as well as well as embarrassing first albums and near-death tour experiences. It’s burger time!

Hello Fraser! Can you introduce The Murderburgers for us?

Hey, Dave! Sure. We are a three piece pop punk band from Scotland. I sing and play guitar, Steve plays bass and does backing vocals, and our drummer Stuart just left so we currently have people standing in for us until we find a permanent replacement.

The Murderburgers formed in 2007. How did you guys meet/form as a band? Where are you from in Scotland?

When the band started I lived in a small town on the west coast of Scotland called Alexandria, which is right next to Renton, the place where I grew up. I started the band right before finishing up at college when I was 20. The original line-up is pretty different than it is today. I was singing and playing guitar, my brother was on 2nd guitar, my friend Brian was on bass and my friend Sean was on drums. Obviously me and my brother had been introduced a long ago, and I grew up with Brian and Sean so we all know each other really well already. Since then the line-up has changed about 15 times or something ridiculous like that. Before Steve joined the band I knew him already through our old bands crossing paths over the years and from hanging out at shows, so before he joined we had already been friends for 6 or 7 years. That seems to be what’s happening nowadays, or at least it seems to be happening in the Scottish punk scene. The people that are still working away at playing in bands all end up in bands with each other.

Your first release was “Bitches, Blunts and Pop Punk”, back in early 2008. How do you feel about that album looking back on it now?

Personally, I think it sucks. Like, really sucks. But hey, most bands start out shitty. It’s cool having a history to look back on and see how much the band has progressed over the years though. I never thought back then that this much would have changed. At the end of the day, back then it was just 3 drunk morons trying to be offensive and play as fast as possible, so I guess we got the job done.

Bitches, Blunts And Pop-Punk cover art

There is a gulf of difference musically and lyrically between your first two releases and last year’s “These are only problems”. How do you think you have changed as a band since the early years?

We’ve changed a lot since back then. I kind of view “How to Ruin Your Life” as our first proper album, really. That’s when we finally had a solid line-up, got our shit together, recorded properly and actually spent time and money on it. All of the stuff we recorded before that album is all pretty much demo quality and not as much time was spent on the song writing process as there has been in recent years. In the early years we had more of a mix of stupid songs about nothing and serious songs about anxiety and depression, but we don’t really do the stupid shit anymore, simply because we weren’t that good at it. Lyrically our last couple of albums have been mainly about life, death, depression, mental illness, poverty, all that sort of shit. I feel way better getting it out of my system and getting it off my chest, even if it does make people think that I’m a psychopath.

After having three albums on Monster Zero, you released “These are only problems” with Asian Man records in the US. That’s pretty cool. How did it come about?

We played with Joyce Manor at King Tut’s in Glasgow in September 2013. It was a great show and we got on well with the guys, so we kept in touch. I mentioned to Barry that we were recording a new album, and he offered to talk to Mike at Asian Man about it. Mike was into the record and wanted to put it out, and the rest is history. We grew up listening to Asian Man bands, so being one now is pretty insane.

These Are Only Problems cover art

Are you pleased with how the new album turned out?

Yeah, really pleased with it. That’s the longest we’ve ever spent working on an album, so we are glad that it was worth it. People seem to be into it as well. Steve designed the album art and took all the photos that ended up on there. I was keen on the album art relating to the song content and Steve did a great job. Jamie Ward, Matt Allison and Collin Jordan all did a great job with making it sound awesome well.

So, you have just been on tour supporting Alkaline Trio in the UK, how the hell was that? And how did it come about in the first place?

I emailed Mike Park towards the end of 2013 saying it was probably a longshot but wondering if he knew if Alkaline Trio would need another support band on their UK tour dates in April this year as we were touring around then as well, so Mike said he would ask them for us. Not thinking it would happen, I went ahead and booked some dates in Germany and Austria around then as part of our 2 month Euro tour. Then when we were in France in March I got an email from Mike saying Alkaline Trio would have us along on the UK dates, so we rescheduled most of our German shows for September. Luckily everyone was really nice about it and understood how big a deal if was for us. The tour was amazing. Bit of a change of pace going from playing to like 30 or 40 people a night to playing to sold out crowds of a couple thousand for a couple of weeks. We weren’t too sure how well we would go down in front of an Alkaline Trio crowd but every night was great. The guys in Alkaline Trio and Bayside as well as their crew looked after us and made sure we had everything we needed. Hopefully we’ll get to tour together again at some point.

And before that, you did a huge Euro tour. What was your favourite stop on the tour?

We played a lot of places in France and Italy that we had never been to before, so we’ve discovered a bunch of new favourite stops really. We did 3 shows with our good friends I Was A Teenage Alien from Toulouse when we were in France, so that was awesome. We had a great time hanging out and drinking whiskey at Will from Lunch/Panda Records’ place in Aix-en-Provence. He’s one of our new favourite people now. The whole Italian run was great this time. Played some familiar places again like Milan and Genova, as well as a bunch of new places. We did a few shows with Dan Vapid & The Cheats while we were there, which was amazing. We are massive fans of all of Dan’s previous bands and love the Dan Vapid & The Cheats records, so we were really happy we got to spend a few days hanging out and getting drunk with them. We’ve been talking about doing some more shows together in the future, which is something we really hope comes together.

Outside of that tour, what’s your favourite ever gig you have done?

We’ve done a lot of great gigs that I could talk about to no end, but there’s one that will always sticks out in my mind. I had a really shitty time towards the end of 2011 with depression, anxiety, all that head frying shit. I’m doing pretty good now, but back then I was having a really rough time of it. Around summer 2011 was when it started kicking in real bad, right before 3 months of touring. Having dealt with anxiety and depression since I was 17, I figured I would just continue to deal with it on my own again. Huge mistake. To cut a lot story short, it all blew up in my face and everything turned to shit. I ended up getting so bad that my girlfriend at the time couldn’t deal with it and kicked me out, so I end up without a place to stay and no job, and I was pretty much losing my mind. We had to cancel our upcoming shows until I got my shit together. After finding a place to stay in Edinburgh and after a few weeks of therapy I started feeling way better, so when we were asked to open for our good friends The Queers in March 2012 as warm up show before hitting Europe with The Copyrights a month later, we figured it would be a great way to start things up again. It still sticks out as one of the best nights of my life. Playing live again and seeing so many friends in the same room was exactly what I needed, and then seeing The Queers play was the perfect way to top things off. That night really did restore my faith in pretty much everything.

It’s written on your website about a “near-death experience” when touring in 2012. What’s the story behind this?

We actually had two that year. When we were on tour in Europe with The Copyrights in April 2012 our old drummer Stuart wasn’t feeling so good the morning after a show in Germany. We just assumed that he was hungover, but after a while it was clear that he was genuinely ill. We took him to a hospital and it turned out his appendix was about to blow up, so he got it removed there and then. He had to fly home afterwards so Luke from The Copyrights ended up drumming for us for the rest of the tour. Stuart had already been to a doctor in the UK about his appendix but they told him he didn’t need to have it removed even though he was in pain. We pretty much got to the hospital just in time. The other near-death experience happened when we were on tour in the US with Dear Landlord a couple of months after that. After a really shitty sleep I wanted something to keep me awake during the drive from Denver to Salt Lake City since it’s meant to be a really nice drive, so I picked up some stuff at a gas station which I assumed would be like caffeine pills or something. To cut a really long and horrible story short, they were more like capsules of speed for truckers and taking all four of them at the one time was a really bad idea. I spent the next ten and a half hours sweating, puking, coughing up blood, having nosebleeds, my veins were popping out and hands were cramping up, I couldn’t breathe properly and I spent the whole time trying not to pass out. The general consensus was that I was going to die. Luckily that didn’t happen, but it was definitely the worst ten and a half hours of my life. Never again.

You appear to tour an awful lot. What do you like to do when not touring?

When I’m at home I spend a lot of the time dealing with the band as well, booking and writing mainly. I thought for a while there that doing absolutely nothing between tours was the best thing ever, but after a while I started thinking I could be making better use of my time when I’m at home, so I started a record label called Round Dog Records in May this year. I’ve always loved the idea of putting out records for other bands and running a distro, and now seems to be a good time to do it. I put out The Walking Targets’ debut album in June, I’ve got Roboter’s debut E.P coming out in late August, then The Lemonaids’ new album in mid-September, then Black Volvo’s debut album in late October. I’ve got 4 more releases coming out this year that I can’t really talk too much about yet since I’m still working out the details with the bands but it’s looking like it’ll be a pretty productive first year for Round Dog. I see a lot of good bands when I’m on tour, so it’s pretty cool now to be able to work with them as well as be friends with them. It’s a lot of fun. Apart from that I put on the odd show here and there and work whatever job I can get so that I can still afford to be a moron in a punk band.

Moving back to home, how would you describe the Scottish punk scene these days? The Kimberly Steaks are another awesome band from around your way.

The Scottish punk scene is amazing right now. So many great bands and people involved and everyone is pushing in the same direction. We’ve got great bands and solo artists like The Kimberly Steaks, Walking Targets, UNIFORMS, Black Cop, Clocked Out, Lachance, Billy Liar, The Lemonaids and Mark McCabe to name a few. We have great promoters and collectives like Punk/Rock Rammy, Struggletown, Make That A Take, House Of Crust, Walk The Plank and Anti-Manifesto that put out records and put on shows. We get a lot more touring bands actually wanting to come to Scotland now. It really is exciting times and things keep getting better and better. We’ve all got a really good thing going here and I’m proud to be part of it.

I remember when we started out how different it was. Trying to book Scottish shows was a nightmare, and so was getting anyone to come along to them. A lot of touring bands missed out Scotland because it didn’t seem worth the drive, and back then no one could blame them. There was a lot more of this pay-to-play bullshit as well, so you were getting ripped off by promoters all the time and every other band that played those things saw everyone else as competition, so it was difficult to make friends with other bands. Thankfully things have changed drastically since then. I actually met The Kimberly Steaks at a pay-to-play gig about 10 years ago. They did a cover of “Ashtray” by Screeching Weasel and I thought “Shit! Someone else in Glasgow likes Screeching Weasel! We should probably be friends!”. That’s probably the only good thing that’s ever happened by doing a pay-to-play gig.

Finally, what plans do The Murderburgers have for the rest of 2014? Is there a new album in the works?

We’re opening the main stage at Hevy Fest in Port Lympne this coming Saturday (16th Aug) which should be awesome. Then we’re touring Europe from Aug 25th to Sept 16th. The first week of that tour is with our lovely criminal friends Masked Intruder, then we have a few days on our own, then a week or so in Germany/Czech Rep with States and Empires. We are playing Fest in Gainesville again at the end of October, so we are currently booking October/November US dates around that. Then we are finishing off the year with Book Yer Ane Fest in Dundee in late November and probably an Edinburgh show in December as well. Our split with Billy Liar should be out before the end of the year, just need to put the finishing touches to the songs. We started working on a new E.P for Bloated Kat Records earlier this year, but due to the fact we haven’t had time to finish the vocals I’m guessing it won’t come out until next year now.

We haven’t started properly working on a new album yet but we’ve been talking about doing one at the start of next year. We’re most likely going to take a break from touring from the start of next year until March/April to get it done, unless we get offered a ridiculously good tour that we’d be stupid to turn down, then we’ll probably just have to stress out and do them both. But yeah, we’re going to record a new album at the start of next year.

Cheers, Fraser! Any final words?

Thanks for your time, and sorry for taking so long to get my answers to you!

Listen here: http://themurderburgers.bandcamp.com/

Interview: Zatopeks

Posted: April 2, 2014 in Small Talk

Zatopeks formed in 2001 and have been consistently been one of the most interesting, creative and bloody catchy pop-punk bands in Europe. Unlike many bands from this scene, they can’t be so easily pigeon-holed as pop-punk, with a variety of influences being evident, including folk and Russian futurist writers. Their latest album About Bloody Time just came out at the tail-end of last year and is fantastic. If you haven’t checked it out already, you really need to. So, I chatted to the now well-dispersed Zatopeks about their time as a band.

Let’s start at the beginning: who is in Zatopeks and how did the band form, way back in 2001? A couple of you guys played together in a band prior to Zatopeks, right?

Sam: Sebby, Spider, Pete, Will and myself make up the band. We all played in a band called 3 1/2 Inch Floppy, apart from Spider who was jumping off things in various stoner/hardcore bands.

Sebby: Most of us met at university in Birmingham, except for Sam – but then Will had known him rather longer! When we started Zatopeks, it was just a bit of a joke side-project from 3 1/2 Inch Floppy which was our main band and had been going for a couple of years. We started off just playing covers and had a short lived idea to only write songs in a made up language, but luckily that didn’t last too long! We had a lot of fun with it though, the songs started getting a bit more serious and people ended up liking it more so it just kind of took over.

Pete: I love that it started as a joke and we’re still having fun doing it! Probably the most valuable lesson I learnt from university!

Next year will be the ten year anniversary of your first album Ain’t Nobody Left But Us. What are your reflections when you look back on it now? What were your aims when you released it?

Will: Ain’t Nobody Left But Us! Our album titles are always defined by Anglicisms. It was exciting to be part of the Stardumb Records scene around then, and I guess I can already look back at it with a kind of rose- (or Heineken-) tinted nostalgia. All the songs are linked to old jokes or personal memories, so it’s difficult to critically assess it, but I think it still sounds really good… youthful exuberance and all that. There were no real aims as I recall, but maybe the others can correct me and I’ve just suppressed the world-dominance aspiration memories through subsequent disappointment. I remember playing a gig in Denmark around that time and somebody we’d never met was singing along to our song while we were playing. I thought ‘we’ve made it!’, and that approach to success hasn’t really changed for any of us.

Sam: Yeah, as far as I remember we never had any aims. Just go out, have fun and give 110% every time. We can only beat ourselves. I think we may have beaten ourselves.

There is a good mix of ‘90s pop punk and ‘50s-style rock ‘n’ roll on that record, does this reflect your influences at the time?

Will: Very broadly, yes. Sam and I are brothers (you’d never have guessed) and grew up with our dad’s rock n’ roll records from an early age, though it was more Sam who turned into the Teddy Boy. In the late 90s when I started writing songs I was heavily influenced by my personal holy trinity of Screeching Weasel/The Queers/The Invalids, the latter being a massively underrated band. I guess the album was an attempt to blend these musical directions and include some tongue-in-cheek nostalgia via the ‘Jimmy’ gang stories, which we found hilarious at the time. But by this stage my main influences were more people like Tom Waits and Aaron Cometbus, both of whom had a big impact on the lyrics. You can already see that somewhat in the lyric book, and in Sam’s weird, grizzly Tom Waits-ish impression on ‘Mary Lou’. We were always terribly subtle.

Pete: Yeah it was all Lookout!, leather jackets, Ramones and fun back then!

Will: … and now it’s all Mayakovsky, corduroy jackets and angst!

Who writes the lyrics in the band? Does it tend to be a collective process, or is it normally one person who writes them?

Will: I write the lyrics and the basic songs on an acoustic guitar, and then play them to the chaps and we arrange them together. It was Seb’s idea to translate the Low German dialect into English for the chorus of ‘Politics’ on the new record, though. Definitely wise advice; I get a bit carried away sometimes.

Sam: That was definitely a good call by Sebby. Although a shame we didn’t record an alternative version with the Low German dialect.

Pete: As a band we have quite a wide range of musical & other influences, so the way we sound and perform seems to come together at the natural cross over of these influences all trying to sneak their way in amongst the framework of Will’s unique stylings.

My favourite song by you guys is “Some Town in Northern France”. Was this inspired by a real-life incident?

Will: Yes. Actually only one person who was there that night knows that there’s a song about it, and one which is still being sung 16 years later. I’d just finished A-Levels in 1998 and some schoolmates called me up asking if I wanted to go to France the next day as they’d found return tickets for 15 quid. We went to Calais, had no idea what we were doing, fled an awful discotheque and ended up walking around the countryside all night armed with several lukewarm stubbies of Export ’33. It was in one of these little villages that we passed these girls sitting at a fountain drinking beer. We all just glanced at each other and then we bottled it and wandered on, and then finally a couple of us decided to go back to the village and say bon soir. After being searched by some suspicious policemen who wondered why scruffy English teenagers were roaming around their otherwise pristine settlement, we finally got to the square and they were gone. To be honest, the girls were probably heavy metal fans, and not the ‘punk rock girls’ I sing about, but I thought that wouldn’t have worked as well in the song. It was an early lesson in both carpe diem and poetic license.

With Damn Fool Music, there were noticeably slower-paced and more experimental songs after the more straightforward pop-punk of your first album. Was this something you were actively looking to do, or did it just happen naturally?

Will: There was no conscious decision, but the lyrics of ‘I don’t want the Airwaves’ function as a kind of accidental manifesto for that album. I didn’t listen to much straightforward pop-punk then anyway, and it was an attempt to reflect our various musical interests whilst still sounding like the Zatopeks. Pete and I are massive jazz fans so this record was the first to try bringing in jazz lyrical and musical references. Damn Fool Music was chosen as a title because it was Sam and my great-grandfather’s dismissive term for jazz, and it was really fun to attack the Daily Mail using syncopation and muted trumpet. I guess it’s quite a transitional album, and you were right in your recent review to say that, taken together, it’s more eclectic but perhaps less effective as a whole than About Bloody Time. Thematically and musically I think it was a step forward, though.

Sam: I think we were also kind of finding our sound. We definitely tried to mix this one up a bit and didn’t want to make a straight up pop punk record. It was fun to play about a bit and we had also improved as musicians. Will was also getting a bit sick of writing songs about chewing bubblegum beside a jukebox, which is understandable. I think if we’d have stayed the same band as on the first record we probably wouldn’t have bothered making a third. I don’t know though, works for Motörhead.

You released “Handclaps and Bottlecaps”, a split 7”, with The Copyrights, in 2006. How did that come about?

Sam: I literally have no idea. I think Adam wanted to do something a bit different for It’s Alive. He asked both bands and we were well up for it. That was a lot of fun to make and I guess it also got us into contact with The Copyrights.

Pete: Those songs were really fun to record acoustic style. It was done by a friend of Sam’s who was getting into sound engineering and had a sweet little home-studio set-up, which meant we had time to mess about with the ridiculous intro on Death and the Hobo and the handclaps!

The 7” came out on It’s Alive Records. You have also released another 7”, as well as co-releasing your latest LP on It’s Alive. How did you get involved with Adam and It’s Alive?

Sebby: I’ve known Adam for a long time, it must be over 10 years by now! We’d been trading records online and talking for quite a while and I remember him telling me he was planning to start a label. Pretty soon afterwards we were working on our first album and we talked to him about It’s Alive doing an LP version but unfortunately the album was too long for the pressing plant he was using at the time to fit onto one record. We had a couple of extra songs that we recorded in the same session though and so It’s Alive put those out those on a 7″ with 2 other songs from the album, so at least some of them would get a vinyl release! When we were working on Damn Fool Music, Adam had the amazing idea of releasing a double gatefold LP of both albums together, but unfortunately that was going to be way too expensive! Then when we came to do this album, we were very keen to work with It’s Alive again, and to make sure that we had an LP version planned from the start.

So, your new album About Bloody Time came out at the tail-end of 2013, after a 6 year gap since the last one. Just where have you been?

Will: Well, it’s a hobby and it’s quite difficult to coordinate since we’re scattered around a bit. Spider, Sam and I moved to Berlin in 2005 and now we only tend to meet up all together for gigs or recording, which means we don’t do so much but we’re always excited to hang out and play together (speaking for myself, at least!) when we have the chance. The Berlin section is also playing in a streetpunk band called Tungsten Tips, with our friend Debby on vocals and me on drums, and that band is more active given that we all live in the same city.

Sebby: I also started another band with some friends in London called Paperjets a couple of years ago so that I could still play in between Zatopeks tours. It’s been strange getting used to having regular band practices again after spending so long in a band that’s spread out across different countries, and where band practice involves at least 2 of us having to take a flight.

Pete: Swinging on moonbeams & singing to the wind!

In the intervening years, were you still gigging much as a band?

Will: We’ve done a few tours for between 2-4 weeks over the years which were lengthy by our standards, but would probably constitute a long weekend to someone like Kepi Ghoulie or The Murderburgers. We try to tour like that at least once a year and then do a few weekends or festivals, though it doesn’t always work out. Luckily we can borrow people from other bands if someone can’t make it, and Matthias and Mikey from the DeeCracks are honorary Zatopeks these days.

Pete: Like Will said before, the lack of regular shows is more than compensated for by the fun we have when we do get together to play!!

I notice that you tend to play shows outside of the UK a lot, including Insubordination Fest in the US. Is this something you want to continue doing if possible?

Will: Since 60% of us live outside the UK it’s often more convenient to play on the continent, and I love how many different cultures you can cross in just a week or two of touring in Europe. We played in Ancona, Italy last year at a brilliant antifascist social centre, and within 10 minutes we were drinking the regional liquor with the organisers and learning about Italian politics, which are a thoroughly depressing topic for them but fascinating for us. Then the next day with we went with the other band (The Dinasyt) to a barbecue at someone’s house in the hills above the city and celebrated the anniversary of Italy’s liberation from fascism with a bunch of really nice and half-cut locals. Experiences like that remind you why you’re in a punk band, and I want to be able to do that for as long as is physically possible.

Sam: Since we started as a band we’ve always tried to play abroad. We’ve met so many good friends from all over and as we don’t play so much it’s nice to go on a proper trip. Although we would all definitely like to play more in the UK.

Going back to the UK, do you think the UK punk/pop-punk scene has changed much since you started as a band?

Will: Unless it was hiding from us, I don’t recall there being any pop-punk scene around 1999 when we met. Crackle! Records in Yorkshire was putting out some native pop-punk stuff, but we never encountered any of those bands at the time. It certainly felt like it was just The Griswalds, Punch Puppet and us, although I’m sure there were things going on elsewhere that we weren’t aware of. Last week I saw the line-up for the Stuck in Springtime festival in Glasgow and it was all UK pop-punk bands. There’s been a boom, for whatever reason. Styles have changed a bit in general, but I’ll sound like an old man if I start trying to figure out or explain what the kids are up to these days. More beards, less fake American accents. That’s my summary.

Sebby: Yes, I think the scene has changed a lot since we started. I remember going to (and playing) so many gigs in nearly empty venues in those days – I particularly remember seeing Sloppy Seconds play in Birmingham in 1999 and being one of only about 10 people there. There have always been great bands around, but I guess it was a lot harder to find out about stuff. It does feel like there’s a lot more going on these days and people seem more interested in UK bands now, whereas before it was always much more about American bands.

Pete: It seems to go in waves a bit depends on who’s about & what venues are going at any given time, but that said, the last few years there have been some fantastic new UK bands and lots of great bands playing that have been going for donkeys years. I’ve probably been particularly lucky being based in Bristol too, as there are some great promoters and there’s been a continuous run of amazing punk shows with some really great local bands, as well as others from across the the uk, europe and the world… and long may that continue!

Well, the new one has definitely been worth the wait. How do you think it turned out? What were you going for with About Bloody Time?

Will: Simon Speechless did a brilliant job on the production and I’m really proud of it all. One thing we wanted to make sure of was that it was an album we could play live, and that seems to have worked well. We were also going for a heavier sound and something that worked as a whole, rather than being a collection of different approaches and styles. Also, touring with The Copyrights taught me that it’s possible to write intelligent songs that still have catchy sing-a-long choruses, and I tried to bear that in mind whilst writing this batch of songs. In the past I used to get a bit bored of choruses and kept tinkering with the lyrics each time they came around, which is a pain for anyone who vaguely knows the tune and might want to shout along after a few beers.

Sam: We’re really happy with the outcome and Simon did a truly amazing job. I guess the next record will be more of a rock opera!

Pete: The whole process of making it was really fun. The conscious effort to get together to create something over a extended period of time, with little bits and pieces falling into place as it went was great. One weekend we’d be down in Ealing eating olives, 6 weeks later in a snowy Berlin hearing a new song then going to watch The Members, a month or so after in Manchester munching scones then somewhere else making 4track demos with headphones in a practice room. It’s probably this time of gestation and relaxed approach that makes it feel more of a piece than the last record.

There are a lot of literary references on the new album. My favourite being your adaptation of the WH Auden poem for the song “One Evening”. What’s the story behind this?

Will: We’ve used literary references or entire poems to a lesser degree on our other albums and 7”s, and increasingly it just happens that most ideas for songs come from a verse of poetry or a book that’s lying around in the flat or in the back of my head. The Auden song in particular came about because I’ve always loved that poem; it’s dark as hell and the imagery is beautiful, and I thought it would work well as a punk song due to its conventional structure and rhymes. That’s the usual pattern. Blending literature with punk music is also nice way of integrating different cultures and time periods… so far we’ve covered about 1500 years, from Tang-Dynasty China via Medieval Persia to South Ealing Station, and I think there are common philosophical threads holding it all together. Occasionally the references become a kind of game, for example trying to structure a personal love song around a series of sideways references to a writer’s back catalogue and ideas, which we do in ‘Acetate’ (Camus) or ‘Amy Tonight’ (Kafka). But more often literature helps to colour and distort the way I describe cities and places, providing a starting point that’s more interesting and dreamlike than personal experience. Lorca’s nightmarish visions of Brooklyn dictate the atmosphere of New York in ‘Alert!’, even though I only quote him in the chorus – I never thought I’d ever write about angels jumping off bridges and poets kissing hangmen, but that’s what Lorca does to you. ‘Mechanised’ is basically inspired by Nikolai Gogol’s 19th century warning that the devil himself lights the streetlamps in St. Petersburg in order to show everything in a false light. That’s still a haunting idea walking around the city in the 21st century, except now the devil is drowning in light pollution, which took the song off on different trains of thought and into later Russian cultural traditions such as Futurism and Symbolism. On a somewhat shallower note, there’s also a childish kick to be had from setting grim philosophical concepts to poppy melodies.

Looking to the future, what do Zatopeks have planned for the rest of 2014?

Sam: We will be touring in July and will also play some shows in UK after that. I think some long weekends in various places will also happen.

Will: Yeah, we play Fonsstock Festival on 11th July in North Germany and will hit the road after that for a little while. It’ll be nice to tour the record finally! In 2014 Sebby will also be defending his title as the best-dressed person on the European punk scene, aided by his new tweed jacket.

Do you think it will be another six years until the next album?

Will: I hope not, but I make no guarantees! I’ve already written several songs for the new record… based on literary references, so I guess that trend will continue.

Sam: Six years sounds very ambitious.

Thanks, Zatopeks! Any final words?

Will: Thanks a lot for the interview and hope to catch you in the UK this year!

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Check it out: http://zatopeks.bandcamp.com/

Ace (Azeem Sajid) plays in pop-punk super-group Houseboat, and has now started a new ‘solo project’ called Skinny Genes. If you have yet to hear it, I highly recommend you check the 7″ out. I asked Ace a few questions about his bands, the New York pop-punk scene and the difficulties of the recording process for Skinny Genes first 7″. So, read on, bitches.

Hello, Ace. Tell the world about Skinny Genes. What’s it all about?

Hey, Dave! Skinny Genes is a pop punk “band” that is comprised of just me. Thanks for the interview!

How and why did Skinny Genes come about?

Oh! There’s more. Well, I’d been tossing around the idea of starting my own band for years, but, honestly, I’m terribly slow with songwriting. It can take me years to finish a song, as is the case with the song “Worst” on the 7″. I wrote the first version of that song in 2008, while The Steinways were still together. It took me 5 years to turn a terrible song into a mediocre one. Anyway, I told Sam from Traffic Street that I was thinking of starting a band and he wanted to do a 7″. I realized putting a band together was (and still is) a huge pain in the ass and decided to do it as a solo thing. After procrastinating for months, I booked time with Chris Pierce in early 2010, realized the songs were total crap and promptly cancelled at the last minute. I sort of lost interest and when Sam shut down Traffic Street I thought, “Oh, there’s the missed opportunity I’d been waiting for.” I also got super caught up at my shitty job that prompted a complete creative rut for a few years.

I quit my shitty job and was bummed out for a while. It was the perfect time to try again and I dove headfirst into writing and re-writing. I was much happier with the results, booked recording time and just went for it.

Talk me through the recording process for “Meh”, your first 7”.

Honestly, it was really exhausting and a bit stressful doing everything myself! I was delirious and sore as hell when we were doing vocals and by the time we finished, my brain and ears were completely shot and I thought everything sounded like ass. When I got the mixes, though, I was super-happy.

Thankfully, I had demo’d everything at home on my computer, so I knew exactly what I was going to be doing before going to record; tempos, harmonies, song keys, lyrics, etc. The only “prep” I had to do was practice drums a bunch. Chris Grivet (of Triple Bypass and Panther Moderns fame) helped by playing guitar. I recorded at Sonic Iguana with Luke McNeill (Copyrights), who House Boat has done two LPs with, so it was pretty relaxed. Aside from another engineer, Philip, that stopped in to assist here and there, it was pretty much just Luke and I for the majority of the recording. Mass Giorgini also popped in once in a while to say hi and make dick jokes at Luke’s expense. I’m sure it got boring for Luke at times having no one else to talk to while I was recording, especially the drums, which I did without any reference guitar and totally from memory. It was literally just me playing drums for hours with no musical accompaniment. But, after we were done for the day, we’d proceed to get drunk and hang out. Sonic doesn’t have Wi-Fi, unfortunately, so, y’know, whiskey and stories during downtime. Luke’s a great dude to pal around with. Philip mixed everything afterwards and Mass mastered it. They both did awesome jobs.

Following on from “Meh”, what are your future plans for Skinny Genes? Are there are any more releases in the pipeline?

I recorded 13 songs but was only able to finish 10. 5 are on “Meh,” and another 4 will be on a future 7″ (as soon as I get the artwork done); the last one I have no idea what to do with yet. I’m also not sure when/if I’ll get ever the last 3 completed; if I do, maybe another band will wanna do a split?

Fortunately, I’ve been experiencing a creative spark in the last few months and have been working on a whole bunch of new songs, so Skinny Genes “The LP” is definitely in the works. I’m actually more excited about the new stuff than anything I’ve done before, which is, of course, the most cliche thing to say, but it’s true! I’m also finally looking to put a band together to record, play some shows and maybe even do a tour. I’m not rushing anything, though. Working at my own pace without any expectations is pretty comforting.

As well as Skinny Genes, you of course play guitar for Houseboat. What’s going on with Houseboat these days? Are there any plans for a follow-up to The Thorns of Life?

I play bass in House Boat, Dave! Yes, there’s a new House Boat LP in the works. We were planning to record in the Spring but this Euro tour opportunity came up. We’re planning to do it later in the year instead.

Although it is only early days in Skinny Genes, would you say that you prefer writing songs alone, or as part of a band, with the other members of Houseboat?

I like both, but they’re really not that different. Songs in House Boat (and Steinways before that) are 95-100% complete before the rest of the band hears them. The only difference is having four opinions versus one. Both have their merits and annoyances (Chris Grivet).

The Thorns Of Life cover art

What is the New York/New Jersey pop-punk scene like these days? We can look back at a few years ago and say it was pretty great, with bands like Unlovables, The Ergs!, For Science, and of course Steinways. But do you think there is still as much going on these days?

There’s a scene for sure but I’m pretty removed from it these days. That’s not really a comment on the scene, just me being an old, boring fart. There are definitely shows going on and new bands popping up all of the time, so it still exists but maybe not in the same way it did a few years ago, as far as traditional pop punk. Things are much more varied as far as themes and sounds, if that makes sense. My favorite new local band is Now People, featuring Zach from Liarbirds, Danny from Modern Machines/Used Kids and, of course, Mikey Erg. They sound nothing like any of their previous bands but it’s still super-good. Iron Chic rules, as well.

Lets end with some more personal questions: Azeem, why are you called Ace?

Well, my birth name is Ace and somehow I got stuck with the nickname Azeem, so, I dunno, you figure it out!

How did you get into punk rock?

As with most folks my age, Nirvana was my awakening, which led to alternative rock and thrash metal. The difference between me and most of my peers is that Dookie did not have much of an impact on me. Dun-dun-dunnnn! I got into the EpiFat stuff super-hard and Green Day didn’t really do it for me. A year later, I started checking out the Ramones and was into it. An older high school friend of mine made me a mixtape with a bunch of Lookout bands; Queers, Hi-Fives, Riverdales, Op Ivy and that stuff sounded really awesome. When my best friend bought Screeching Weasel’s “Boogada,” it was all over. It was the greatest music I had ever heard and completely changed my life, for better or worse. I became obsessed with anything and everything Lookout and pop punk. (For the record, Insomniac is the best Green Day album, by far.) When Mutant Pop came around, I abandoned ship and got into indie rock, 90’s emo and 80’s hardcore. That era of pop punk was important to, and had a huge impact on a lot of my friends, but it really soured me. The Ergs! and Copyrights pulled me back into pop punk and I’m stoked that they did. So many awesome bands and records have come out in the last 10 years. My tastes are all over the place these days. Like, I unashamedly love Justin Timberlake, am planning on getting a Converge tattoo and would pay a ridiculous amount of money to see The Smiths reunite.

Finally, how did you get involved with The Steinways?

I became friends with all of them through a girl that I was dating. I met her at the first Steinways show, which a band I was playing in at the time also played. Funny thing is, I thought they were terrible, haha. It was about a year or so later that they asked me to join on bass and I suggested I play guitar instead. I had yet to play guitar in a band and thought, “This shit is so simple, might as well.” I mean, I was reluctant because, seriously, the band wasn’t very good at the time. Michelle switched to bass, Grath started writing really good songs and I got really into it, but, best of all, it was fun. Another funny thing is that, at the time, I was the least acquainted with Grath and we’ve now been playing music together for a decade. That’s fucking weird, man.

DB.

Check out the bands:

Houseboat: http://houseboat.bandcamp.com/

Skinny Genes: http://skinnygenes.bandcamp.com/

Brassneck Records is one of the finest punk rock distros in these lands. Based in Cardiff, over the past four years, Brassneck Records has been providing easier access (with much reduced postage costs) to LPs and 7”s from DIY punk rock labels that were probably only ever available before in Florida record shops, or online, with $30 postage costs. It is particularly brilliant if you are as big of a supporter of the mighty It’s Alive Records as I am, whose records are regularly stocked there. Brassneck Records has now started releasing (and co-releasing) its own releases, including an LP by a cool little French band called Chestnut Road. So, I asked Scott, the owner, what this Brassneck Records thing was all about.

You decided to set up Brassneck Records in 2010. What was your reasoning behind this?

There was no big plan to it really, no grand idea above and beyond selling records I loved to likeminded people.  Ever since I was a nerdy little kid I loved the idea of working in a record shop or running a record label, it just always really appealed to me.  I grew up in a pretty small town in Northern England so my exposure to decent independent vinyl stores was limited and, when I did get to visit them in Manchester they were really exciting to me and I built up a sort of naive romanticised ideal of how awesome life in a record store would be and how hanging out and talking music all day would be my dream job.  OK, so now as an adult looking back on it, it was kind of dumb but the passion for vinyl and for punk never left me.  More recently, the specific impetus for Brassneck was the fact that I was buying a fair number of records from overseas and, with international postage being what it is, I often ended up paying like 3 times the value of a record on postage alone.  I’m not a rich man and this meant I managed to buy very few of the records I needed.  There are plenty of great UK distros out there but I just felt the time was right to give it a shot and maybe try to stock some other records that weren’t readily available over here at the time.  So it was partly about keeping my own costs down when it came to my own collection but also offering what, to me, was a valuable service for any people who had a similar passion.  I kind of went in half cocked, not really knowing what I was doing or what to expect and part of me fully expected to fall on my arse.  I guess that somewhere in this big lumbering 38 year old punk there’s still a little nerdy teenage version of me that is over excited by record stores and talking about vinyl to the people who really give a damn about it.  So no, there was no grand plan in place, no amazing back story to it, I just wanted to do something positive for punk in the UK.  It was as simple and naive as that.

How did you find setting up Brassneck Records initially? Did you find any particular challenges?

I think the only real challenge in the early days was my not knowing what the hell I was doing.  I just knew I wanted to give it a shot so I emailed a bunch of people who ran labels I knew, asked how I could buy stuff wholesale and winged it from there.  Luckily everyone was really helpful and I made a few new friends and discovered a few new bands in the process.  After that, the next issue was seeing if anyone would buy anything and if people would even visit the store.  There were a few clumsy errors in the early days, a few expensive lessons learned but I really was lucky that I hit the mark more than I missed it.  Nearly 4 years in and I’m still learning.  I probably always will be.

You are based in Cardiff. From what I understand, South Wales/Cardiff has something of a thriving punk rock/ DIY scene. How has your location impacted upon Brassneck Records?

Yeah, the scene in Cardiff/South Wales is pretty good right now.  I haven’t lived here long enough to compare it to “the good old days” but I think most South Wales punks should be pretty pleased with the amount of activity that’s going on in the local area.  We’ve got more great local bands than I have the time to name here but check out Dividers, The Arteries, Grand Collapse, Pipedream, Not Since The Accident, Hipflask, Bad Sam, Bedford Falls, The Modern Farewell & Question The Mark as a starter. There are plenty more I forgot as well (sorry).  We also have some really good independent venues (particular mention to Le Pub in Newport) and a bunch of great guys who go out of their way to put on shows for touring bands (STHC Cardiff being a main player).  Cardiff is also home to the world’s longest running punk fanzine (Artcore) and we even have an actual physical punk record store in the form of Ghost Town Records right in the centre of the city.  And of course we’re just over the water from Bristol so we have access to another local scene less than an hour away.

From a label/distro perspective, I think that having all these things on my doorstep keeps me motivated to be an active part of something that’s important to me.  I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of local support and have a lot of good friends in the local scene that stop me becoming jaded or bored with it.  With the internet it’s easy to build relationships further afield and be part of something more global but there’s always something kind of special about playing a part in something close to home and the local bands, labels and promoters out there mean I’m as excited about what’s happening in South Wales as I ever have been.  Every time I go to a show or hang out with guys and talk about music I’m that same excited kid in the record stores of Manchester.

You were originally solely a punk rock distro, but have since began to release your own records, including an LP by Chestnut Road. How did this come about?

It was always part of the plan.  I didn’t actively think about it too much in the early days as I just didn’t have the cash.  Luckily, as the distro did a little better I was able to put a few quid aside to branch out.  At the start I was conscious that I wanted to release stuff by new bands or at least by bands who hadn’t released very much rather than go for the more established names.  The 2 bands I was looking at for the first release were Holiday and Chestnut Road.  I heard Chestnut Road’s demo via Bandcamp and heard Holiday after buying an LP from one of the band on Discogs and getting talking about music.  As time went on I spoke with Rich Speedowax about co-releasing a Chestnut Road 7” which then (with the help of the band and Aston at Boss Tuneage) turned into a full LP.  At the same time I was speaking to Adz & Matt from Holiday about helping distribute their demo on CD.  But before a CD was even made, it turned out that a bunch of other labels were keen to release that demo on vinyl so I jumped on board and the debut Brassneck release was born. So, along with the LP and a briefly delayed split 7” with Speedowax, I suddenly had 3 releases planned in the space of a couple of months.  It’s really just grown from there with another few 7”s and a tape under my belt.  There’s also the debut LP from The Caffiends just around the corner.

What does the future hold for Brassneck Records? Do you plan to continue to release more records yourself?

Yeah, absolutely.  I’ve put out 7 releases in 10 months the Caffiends LP is due by the 1 year mark in May.  Basically I plan to keep on releasing records for as long as it’s affordable and as long as people keep buying them.  I’ll keep running the distro alongside the label of course and I’m lucky to be in a position where I can do both and they pretty much sustain themselves without me having to lose too much money.

As for what else the future holds, I dunno.  It’s probably clear by now that I’m not business genius of the year.  I release and sell records I like.  I support bands I like and I take unplanned appealing opportunities where they crop up.  Whatever happens, I want Brassneck to be involved in punk in some way for as long as it can.  Quite how that will happen is as much my guess as it is yours but I’m quite happy doing my little thing here in Cardiff and, if people can get something out of it then it’s even better.

It is stated on your website that you only sell records you personally own yourself? Is this still the case?

Haha, I should probably update that.  That was definitely true at the beginning but, the increased amount of traffic over the years means I’ll sometimes sell things I don’t necessarily need for my own collection. That’s certainly the case for CDs.  I don’t really like the CD format and traditionally they sell poorly for me so I don’t stock many of them.  I guess I should rewrite that to read “I only sell records I like”.  I’m not going to sell records I don’t enjoy just to make a couple of quid, I’d rather stock a bunch of records I love that nobody else gives a damn about than sell music that doesn’t mean anything to me.  If I wanted to do that I’d just go work in HMV.

And as a follow-up question, do you get many requests from bands to have records stocked in your distro?

Yeah, all the time.  Bands and labels.  I replied to a couple of these emails just before speaking to you.  And even though money and good taste means I have to say “no” a lot, I do welcome it.  Sometimes you hear great new bands that way.  Sometimes you just hear another band that sound like a 5th rate Ramones rip off, but I’ll always try to reply to people who send me a message that’s directed to me and who seem to know a little of what Brassneck is about.  In these cases I try to listen to everything I’m sent. There’s also those situations where I’ve just been copied into a generic mailing list promoting a Bulgarian death metal band or something when the sender obviously knows nothing about what I’m doing or who he’s emailing.  Those guys don’t get responses any more than those Nigerian princes that have a million pounds waiting for me when I send them my bank details.  Legitimate punk bands and labels are always welcome though, I’ll always do my best to listen to everything that falls into that category.

During your time at the helm of Brassneck Records, what have you noticed about the punk rock scene in the UK? Do you think it is pretty strong right now?

I guess my answer about the scene in Cardiff can be related to this to some degree.  It’s easy for me to look back on the glory days of my youth and grumble about how it’s not as good as it used to be.  But it’s all relative.  If you look at the scene in any given year and there’ll always be someone who thinks it sucks and there’ll be those who think it’s better than ever.  I remember feeling less than positive about it in the mid 90s when every second band wanted to sound like Green Day.  And don’t get me wrong, I had plenty time for that band at that time but I was guilty of falling into the “punk was better 5 years ago” camp.  Although personally, I’m now very positive about how strong the DIY ethics are across the country and how many really good bands there are right now.  Excluding the Welsh bands I already mentioned, there are some amazing UK bands are out there like Bangers, Bear Trade, BUZZorHOWL, The Dauntless Elite, The Down & Outs, Epic Problem, Good Grief, Holiday, The Kimberly Steaks, The Murderburgers, The No Marks, Pacer, Paperjets, The Unreleasables, Zatopeks, etc, etc.  The list could go on forever.  So yeah, to answer your question, I honestly believe the UK punk scene is thriving.  Maybe not commercially but, in terms of underground DIY punk, we’re churning out as many quality bands as ever.

Final question: if there is one record you could recommend which is stocked in your distro right now, what would it be?

Just one record?  I mentioned earlier that I only sell records I like so that makes it kind of hard.  As such, I’ll just sidestep the question and go for the one I’m listening to at the moment which is “Goocher” by The Credentials.  It’s not a particularly new LP (released in 2011 I think) but I did just restock it and it has all the elements I love in an album.  It’s short, raw and dirty (in a Crimpshriney kind of way), it’s lyrically smart and …..in addition the title is an obscure reference to one of my favourite films from my youth.   Pretty much ticks all the boxes for me!

Thank you, Sir. Good luck in your future Brassneck-ing!

Thanks for the questions Dave and thanks for taking an interest in what I’m doing over here.  Good luck with the webzine.

Check it out: http://brassneckrecords.bigcartel.com/

DB

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: http://teamstray.bandcamp.com/