Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Last Temptation of Jughead: An interview with John Jughead Pierson

Recently I discovered a podcast titled "Jughead's Basement" hosted by none other than former Screeching Weasel guitarist John Jughead Pierson. When John agreed to an interview recorded over skype, I decided to use the full audio footage to release a podcast of my own, which will be made available in the coming days. In the meantime enjoy this print version of our conversation.

D: For anyone who is listening to or reading the transcript of this, I’m talking with John Jughead, the cofounder, alongside Ben Weasel, of legendary punk rock band Screeching Weasel. John, let me give the audience a brief background on you.

J: Ok.

D: From 1986-2001, give or take a couple yearlong breakups, you were Screeching Weasel’s guitarist. You’ve also played in the band Even in Blackouts, been an actor, writer, and now a podcaster. Is there anything I missed in that resume?

J: I was also in The Mopes.

D: That’s right, and The Lillingtons too!

J: I toured with The Lillingtons and The Manges [John pronounced this Man-gees], I wouldn’t really consider myself in those bands. But The Mopes was my band with Dan Vapid.

D: It’s pronounced the Man-gees?

J: There’s different ways of pronouncing it. They actually were referring to the mange of a dog. A lot of people thought it was pronounced “Mon-jahs” because they were Italian. The band thought it meant being rabid, like a dog, so they called themselves The Manges.

D: What’s funny is when you had Andrea, their singer, do one of your segments, he was saying he thought the Ramones were pronounced the “Ramone-es” with his Italian accent reading it. So I guess it works both ways.

J: I think The Manges realized they didn’t actually know the pronunciation so they just go from one to another (laughs).

D: And when did you play with them?

J: It was when I toured Europe right after Screeching Weasel’s House of Blues shows in Chicago.

D: So probably 2001ish?

J: Yeah! I went out and met them all in La Spezia, their hometown, and did three or four shows with them there. Then a couple of years later I did their first West Coast tour here in the States. I think that was three weeks.

D: Cool! I want to focus a lot of this interview on your podcast, and what you’ve covered on that, but before we go into that I have some questions about your earlier life.

J: Sure.

D: There’s an intriguing quote that you’ve made about your family, “I come from a family of black sheep. Friend’s told me that their parent’s said they should walk on the opposite side of the street while passing our house.” Can you elaborate on your early life?

J: We were all very different. My first three siblings were all born one year right after the other. Then there was a five-year break, and then me, and a five-year break, and then my sister. My father left when my sister wasn’t even a year old yet. 

The first three kids were a unit in themselves, and they were at the age where divorce wreaks havoc on lives. So they kind of went nuts, and were selling drugs and getting kicked out of schools. There was a lot of violence around the neighborhoods that they and a couple of other neighborhood kids would do. They used to blow up picture windows with M-80’s and things like that, throw mailboxes through windows, just crazy stuff.

I found out years later that a bunch of kids my age were told by their parent’s to walk on the other side of the street when they came to my house. I had no idea about this. I lived in the chaos, I didn’t know it was any different any were else.

I think the division of the five years between those three, and then me and my sister, sort of added to us having completely different experiences in our lives, and added to us being very different from one another, and from the people we grew up with.

D: How old were you when your dad left?

J: I must have been around five.

D: And did he stay in your life?

J: For a few years not so much, and then he did until his death, when I started college. The whole situation is strange and I’m eventually working on a book about it. Years later he came to live back at home because he was sick with cancer. My mother and him were no longer speaking really, but she became, because she’s a saint, his nurse and nursed him the last two years of his life. So I was much more in contact with him at the end.

D: What did each of your parents do for work?

J: My father was an aluminum siding salesman, and my mother didn’t have a career until he left. She was left with five kids, didn’t even know how to drive, so she kind of had to learn a lot of stuff immediately. She fell into cleaning houses and now she does senior care, even though she’s 80 and older than a lot of people she cares for.

D: So what point growing up did you meet Ben Weasel?

J: I first met him in Jr. High School, which must have been around the mid ‘70s. We met on the wrestling team there. I had an older sibling that was a wrestler so I was sort of expected to do it, not by my family, my mom didn’t care, but by the teachers in our Jr. High.

Ben was sort of a troublemaker already so his parents and the teachers made him do an after-school activity.

D: Given the way you said your brothers were, do you feel like you were able to see him in a different way than a lot of other people who would just write him off as some troublemaker?

J: You know I’ve never really thought about that but I think you’re probably correct. I never really was frightened of him or thought it was odd the way he was. Years later when I found out a lot of the things he did, like runaway and lived on his own, and had to be hunted down by his family, and sent to Maine to be restricted in a... I don’t know what to call it.

D: I know the place you’re talking about, it’s the place where the Kennedy who ended up killing someone went.

J: Yeah!

D: I’d describe it as not quite a reform school, a little more extreme than that. I know some people who have been sent to those, from what I’ve heard those places don’t sound very fun or productive.

J: Yeah, that to me was extreme. I never had that in my family, but also I think his family was more proactive in trying to solve problems, whereas my mom was too busy to really worry about it.

I became my mama’s boy because I was the only one that she had. Rebellion for me became very different from what it was for my brothers, or from what Ben experienced.

D: You guys formed the band in 1986, how old were you at that time?

J: I was born in 1967.

D: So you’d just gotten out of high school.

J: Yeah, I graduated in 1985, spent a year in limbo, and then got reacquainted with Ben. I had been working at a movie theater, Randhurst Cinemas, since about ’84, and he started working there the end of ’85, maybe beginning of ’86.

I hadn’t been in contact with him since he got kicked out of high school; actually I had never seen him in high school, so I hadn’t seen him since Jr. High. Then he was working with me and that’s when we started the band.

D: Is it true you guys started it after seeing a Ramones concert in Chicago?

J: I never saw the Ramones.

D: Oh so that is a myth?

J: Ben had seen the Ramones. My punk influence in high school was seeing Repo Man, which I did a podcast about.

D: That’s interesting I’d seen that written on a lot of sites. I guess don’t believe everything you’ve read.

J: Yeah that was Ben’s influence. Our first show we went to together was the Circle Jerks in 1986.

D: So that must have been the same time the band formed, and then pretty early on you guys made that first album, like ‘87ish?

J: We went from being called All Nigh Garage Sale to Screeching Weasel pretty quickly, within a few months. My friend Matt Carlson actually had a shirt that said, “There’s A Screaming Otter In My Pants!” We said, “I really like that idea!” I think we were actually in the lobby in the movie theater, we all sort of contributed to changing it to Screeching Weasel, and I think within three or four months we had our first demo out, which was almost song for song the record that we recorded later.

Screeching Weasel's debut album
 D: Another thing I’m wondering if it’s true or not, did John Peel, the famous BBC DJ, play songs from that album on his radio show?

J: Yes he did! Ben worked at an all night gas station, and he called me over one night and said he had heard from some people in England that we had been played on the John Peel Show.

D: Do you know what song it was?

J: I think it was something ridiculous from the early songs like “BPD”. (Laughs) I know it was something very ridiculous, not one of the ones that people remembered.

D: That’s funny that that’s what he would have latched on to.

J: Yeah.

D: So that’s basically how you got started with the band and music. What about in theater, when did you first become involved with that?

J: I actually recently did a timeline that I’m probably gonna put online. I was trying to figure out when I started theater and when I started music. They were around the same time. Like I said, I sort of lived in limbo for a year working at the movie theater and a coffee house, and then I went to Columbia College, and we also started the band.

D: That’s the Columbia in Chicago not New York, right?

J: Yeah. I studied mostly literature but I started taking improv classes and that was my first college experience with it. I had done plays in high school, but these were my first out of high school productions.

D: Had you been following Second City Theatre at all? Around that time it would have been Chris Farley and a lot of those other people performing there.

J: Yeah I actually met Chris Farley in a bar, way back when Dan Akroyd had his first Blues Brothers Bar.

D: Was this when Chris Farley was just a guy who was part of the theater, or was this when he was on Saturday Night Live?

J: He wasn’t even on Saturday Night Live yet! This was one of my first experiences of meeting someone famous. I always had the feeling that you just sort of leave those people alone, and if they seem jovial, and they want to talk, you do, but otherwise you just leave them alone. So we were in Dan Akroyd’s bar and Dan Akroyd just shows up. It was while he was in “Driving Miss Daisy” and he was up for the Academy Award.

I was with my friends and I was like “Oh let’s just leave him alone”, and then Chris Farley, who I didn’t know who he was then, started being all over him, almost like humping Dan Akroyd! And then near the end of the night, the bartender came to me and my friends and said, “Dan Akroyd really appreciates you not bothering him…”

D: (Laughs)

J: “…he wants to buy you a drink”, and I actually turned it down because I didn’t drink. But then he came over to us and started talking about the weather and the Oscars.

D: So thanks to Chris Farley, you got to meet Dan Akroyd.

J: (Laughs) yes! Then I studied improvisation for about ten years, I taught a little bit at Second City and at Columbia. I traveled the country and performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with improvisation too.

D: Oh so you taught at Second City?

J: I called myself the Bull Durham of Second City because I was sort of being groomed to be a teacher, but I fell out of interest with Second City. I would substitute teach a lot, but I never actually strictly taught there, I did teach at Columbia for a couple semesters.

D: And you wrote some plays as well?

J: Actually I was record for play for most of the career of Screeching Weasel. I think I wrote about sixteen or seventeen plays, one for each recording, so I was producing and writing plays while I was on the road with the band, then I’d come back and direct them.

D: Did they all get produced?

J: Yeah. The head of Columbia College, Sheldon Patinkin, who was also one of the guys who started Second City, was grooming me for playwriting. He let me do the first couple for free at Columbia, but once Screeching Weasel started making money I would pour all that money into producing plays. From the beginning I was producing my own, I never had somebody else produce them.

D: All right, so let’s talk about the podcast now that we have some of your background. What got you interested in doing this? Are you a fan of any existing podcasts or did it just seem like an interesting new medium?

J: I actually became more aware of podcasts after I started doing my own. My girlfriend Paige and I were talking about my relationship with this other actor named Eric T. Roth. We had a fun rapport with each other, and Paige suggested that he and I start a podcast. It was pretty much that simple.

The first one, “The Whole In 30 Days”, was based on the Neo-Futurists, which is a theater company I’m a part of, where you pretty much write plays and document your life instead of fictional characters. I wanted to base it on that idea.

D: So this is the precursor to Jughead’s Basement, The Whole In 30 Days?

J: Yeah, Eric and I would carry around digital recorders, and just record our lives for 30 days, and then we would get other people to write short audio plays based on a theme. We’re still doing that but him and I both moved away from Chicago so we’re taking a break.

But since then I listen to a lot more podcasts. I love “The Partially Examined Life”, which is a philosophy podcast.

D: How did you come up with the idea to do a show about different people commenting on each track of an album?

J: I’ll give you the back-story on Jughead’s Basement. I got asked by AMP Magazine to host their facebook page for an evening. Supposively when I did it they had the most responses from people asking questions. I had a really great time and they thought it was pretty great. My current producer, Jeromy Corp, had been following it on facebook and asked if I wanted to start a show. He runs another podcast and had bought enough space that he wanted to offer it to anybody else who wanted to start a program. So I said yes to that, but then it was up to me to come up with the concept of it.

Like everything I do, I don’t like to do it easily. I could have just done a live show and interviewed people, but I wanted to do something strange, something that incorporated using a lot of the writers and performers I know. I’ve always loved the idea of explaining or exploring lyrics, which I don’t think is done enough, so I love the idea of getting a bunch of people who were influenced by specific records and getting them to write about their own lives in relation to that specific song on that record. So that’s basically how that specific structure took place.

D:  And why’d you choose Repo Man for the first episode?

J: It was gonna start with punk and then go in more diverse directions. I thought about where my punk influences came from and Repo Man was definitely the first thing that blew my mind. I knew some bands already; I knew the Ramones, Wire, and the Sex Pistols. But when I went to see that movie when it came out, it blew my mind. I’d never heard of the Circle Jerks or any of those Southern California hardcore bands.

D: One of the segments you had for that episode was Mike Watt of the Minutemen talking about the Fear song “Let’s Have A War”.

J: Yes.           

D: I’d never made this connection before but what Lee Ving did in Fear… you’ve seen Decline of Western Civilization?

J: Yes.

D: In the beginning where he’s making fun of the crowd and they’re all getting angry and trying to get up on stage and fight him, Mike referred to it as stand up comedy. What hit me is it’s sort of the same crowd-baiting type thing that Screeching Weasel would become known for.

J: Yeah, Ben was actually a very big fan of people like Lee Ving or Tesco Vee from The Meatmen. He was definitely influenced by those sorts of people; I always used to call Ben the Don Rickles of punk rock. We used to watch a lot of George Carlin standup and it just made sense that that was gonna be his persona on stage. It sort of helped him deal with his anxiety of being on stage, the more he talked and the more he lived in his anger, the less anxious he would feel.

D: Well one of the other things from that episode you were talking about was what you saw as punk music before seeing Repo Man, and you mentioned the Ramones and Oingo Boingo. Given your background, I was wondering if you ever tried to incorporate any of the theatrical stuff that Oingo Boingo was doing, but on a level that would fit Screeching Weasel? Or was what Ben was doing sort of a stage act in itself?

J: I don’t know how much we really thought about what we were gonna do on stage. I think it more just came out as a reaction to the scene. Larry Livermore talks about this in the “My Brain Hurts” podcast, the punk scene got very serious, hardcore music was very serious, very political, and it just dominated everything, there was no sense of humor anymore. So I think most of our stage performance came more out of trying to break that pattern. I liked to dress up goofy and Ben didn’t mind doing that either, so we just did that naturally, and like I said his anxiety drove him towards being a Don Rickles stage presence. We never really discussed it, it just sort of happened.

D: Speaking of Larry, one of the things that I like about the podcast is the diversity of your guest contributors, in that it’s not all musicians, but a range of various types of artists, or non-artists for that matter, just people with interesting takes on what they associate songs with. Was that a conscious effort by you, did you try to involve more of the people in your theater crowd as well as musicians? Or had you intended it to be one or the other?

J: I wanted it to be all of that. I used to really be into separating out my personalities, not in a psychotic way, but I had the Jughead personality, I had Ian Pierce the writer, and John Pierson the Neo-Futurist performer. Then I actually got fairly popular in all three of them, but no one knew who I was.

By my age now, I wanted to be more of a cohesive whole, so I thought of these podcasts as bringing all of my influences and the friends I had from these different scenes together, and records are the best way to do it because everyone is influenced by one record or another. It’s not just punk records, I’m gonna do episodes on Tom Waits and Weird Al. Al wasn’t really an influence for me but surprisingly was an influence for a lot of people I know. It’s gonna stretch out in many different directions, but I’ll always have a punk one every other show.

D: One of the people that I thought was a great guest was Kyle Kinane, the standup comedian. How long have you know him for?

J: I actually never knew him when he was living in Chicago. I didn’t meet him until he moved to California. My friend Pam works as an agent for CCA, one of the largest agencies in the world, and she helps out with Chicago’s Just For Laughs Festival. She was coming to town from California and I met Kyle through her. She said he’s a big Weasel fan, and we just got to talking and got along pretty well. I approached him about being on the My Brain Hurts podcast and he joyfully agreed.

D: Well that’s a good segue into the My Brain Hurts episode. One of the cool things about that was in addition to putting out the episode with each contributor’s thoughts on each song, you also put out extended interviews that you did with all of the core band members besides Ben, and with the albums co-producer Larry Livermore. Had you been in touch with all of those guys or did you re-connect with them for this?

Screeching Weasel from l-r: Dan Panic, Dan Vapid, John Jughead, Ben Weasel

J: That’s a good question. Larry I’ve been in contact with the most because he’s always on his email and facebook. Dan Panic and I sort of fell out, not emotionally fell out or had any arguments, just since I stopped doing the royalties for the band. That’s when I used to keep track of everybody, I’d send out all the royalties to anybody who had ever been in the band, so I knew where everyone was, but that had stopped a couple years ago so I lost track of him. I just emailed him and he was up for it. He hardly does interviews, he hates it, but he seems to do the things that I advise, so I was very happy that he did it.

D: Yeah that was great because I’d never seen him interviewed before for anything. It seemed like in the ‘90s and early 2000s he was drumming for about ten or so different bands, and then in the last decade just disappeared. So that was great to hear from him for the first time.

J: Him and I have always been fine, but it was good to talk to him. We hadn’t talked in quite a while. Vapid on the other hand, I had a sort of falling out with when the whole reforming of Weasel without me knowing happened. Him and I had a stupid argument, and we hadn’t talked. Then when he had a falling out with Ben, I felt bad for him because I knew it was going to happen.

I used the interview request as a way to apologize to him and hoped he would accept it. He did and we both started talking again. You know those weights that hang over your head? One of them went away when he agreed to do the interview.

D: That’s good to hear. Was it the Panic interview where he talked about going to Guitar Center and getting in a fight with the employee because he said he didn’t like the drummer from Rush?

J: Yeah Neil Peart (laughs)!

D: That’s a great story. Do you feel the same way about guitarists, like do you feel Johnny Ramone makes a better guitar player than someone who’s technically trained and can do all sorts of solos?

J: I do not. Even in that interview of Panic you do sort of get the idea that he respects someone like Neil Peart, it’s just sort of the punk instinct to rebel against that because it’s so complicated, there’s none of that beautiful simplicity that you get from someone like the Ramones.

I don’t really consider myself a guitarist, I’m sort of an uber-artist and guitar is just one of the things I do. I don’t claim to be really great at it, so I don’t have a lot of opinions about other guitarists, only ones that I see live and I think are amazing. That ranges from Brian May from Queen to Lint (Tim Armstrong) from Operation Ivy and Rancid. I really have to see a musician before I can comment on their playing.

D: Have you seen Tim play lately at all?

J: No but we were the first ones who brought Operation Ivy to Chicago. We did a basement show and I just thought he was incredible. Also he plays lefty, so it’s fascinating to watch him play. I actually learned a lot about how to loosen up more as a guitarist from watching him. But I have not talked to him since Ben and him had a big disagreement.

D: Yeah I had a question about that, but I’ll save it for when it fits in.

J: I think that kind of ruined any sort of relationship I could have had with him. I’m trying to get Matt Freeman or Tim to be on the Operation Ivy podcast, but I don’t know if they will. I talked to Jesse Luscious, who used to be in the band Blatz, and he still talks to them. Jesse emailed Matt for me, but I really don’t know how they feel about me.

D: Yeah. Anyways I was asking because Tim does minimal guitar playing these days. He’ll be up there and Rancid’s other guitarist, Lars Frederiksen, will be playing all the songs and Tim will be singing along and occasionally strumming. It’s sort of become a joke that you’ll go see Rancid, and you’ll see Tim occasionally play his guitar, even though he’s this great guitar player who did all the stuff for Operation Ivy.

J: Yeah that’s bizarre. I actually have never really followed Rancid, even though I like their music. I think when they came around I was at a point where I just started absorbing more theater and less music, so I never really learned much about them. But it’s a shame if he’s not playing guitar because I think he’s one of the best.

D: Yeah no doubt. I have another question regarding them but I’ll get back to it later.

J: Ok.

D: So back to the My Brain Hurts episode, you were saying Larry was the one who you stayed in touch with the most, which surprised me because when I interviewed him he was saying the thing that finally convinced him to leave Lookout! Records was a lawsuit over owed money between the label and Screeching Weasel. It just sounded like a huge point of stress for him, and he seemed to consider it without merit. I just wanted your take on the bands side of that.

J: It was a complicated issue, no court ever actually happened over that, but they pursued it. Lookout! originally split things 60/40, band gets 60% label gets 40%. Eventually they realized they couldn’t pay their bills, so they started taking money of off the top before splitting it 60/40, but not informing the bands. That’s where it got out of control and we wanted to leave. In Maximumrocknroll, Ben printed a fax that he got from Larry, that talks about them trying to sue us. It was ugly on both sides, but it eventually blew up in their faces.

D: Was this when Larry had already started to have less and less interest in the label and was leaving more things up to Chris Appelgren and the other people there?

J: When a lot of the bands rebelled against what he was doing there, I think that’s when he lost interest. I think they line up at about exactly the same moment.

D: So how did you guys become friendly again? There was never any bad blood like there is between him and Ben?

J: No, I’m not as aggressive as Ben. I even wrote in my book, “Weasel’s In A Box”, that Ben has a stronger attitude of right and wrong, whereas I more see things in gray. I tend not to get involved in those conflicts. Those two love it, they love hating each other, they love making up, and it’s all part of their shtick.

D: Yeah I’m shocked that for a while when Ben was doing his solo stuff, they were friendly again. This was after Ben had written that song “Hey Asshole” where he calls him all these horrible things like a pedophile, but I guess Larry’s got thick skin.

J: Yeah he’s also super intelligent so he’s not gonna make decisions based on just his emotional reaction to somebody, he’s gonna weigh the options of how it helps him or if it hurts him. He thinks on more complicated levels.

D: I’m curious about the album’s other producer, Andy Ernst. One of the things that Larry said about him was that before doing the first Green Day record, Andy was producing a lot of hip hop and classic rock albums, and he didn’t seem to think much of that whole ‘90s punk explosion, which seems weird to me because he’s now so synonymous with it. What was the band’s relationship with him like? Did he seem to get what you guys were doing, or just hit the record button and make sure everything was working right?

J: It was sort of like a whirlwind, we went in, we were very prepared, and we played all the songs. We joked with Andy, but I hardly even remember him being there. So it didn’t make much sense to include him on the podcast, I didn’t think I’d have good questions for him.

He was a good straight-laced engineer guy. I don’t think he really produced the album in anyway, most of the producing had always been me and Ben, I think he just sort of did the dials for us.

D: It’s funny too because throughout the ‘90s and 2000s, I don’t know if it was just because people would go to him after hearing all the stuff that he’d done, but AFI and all the other Bay Area punk bands that came in the wake of Green Day and had their own sort of success, he did a lot of those albums. So to think that he wasn’t really interested in it makes me laugh.

J: Yeah that’s sort of like George Martin, the engineer of The Beatles. That guy only did classical music before The Beatles. That’s where the riff between John Lennon and Paul McCartney started happening, because Paul was really into the George Martin classical music version of their recordings, and John just wanted to do raw songs. So my point is that idea’s been around for quite a while.

D: The other guy from My Brain Hurts that I’m curious about is Dave Naked. That would have been the only album of you guys that he played on, is that right?

J: That is correct.

D: And he was in the band for about a year, give or take?

J: Yeah he was a good guy, Dan Panic’s friend, but he never really jived with the band, he was just sort of there. After Ben and I stopped playing in Weasel, we started a band called Gore Gore Girls, and he was in that. When that broke up we had been in conversations about getting back together with Vapid, and we got Panic as a drummer. Eventually we wanted to go back to a four piece. Dave Naked was there for My Brain Hurts, but he seemed like a fifth wheel, it didn’t groove as well with him.

D: So do you feel if Vapid had done the bass parts on My Brian Hurts it wouldn’t have been any different? Did Dave bring anything that made that album standout for you?

J: You know I wish I could say something good for him and say yes, but I think he was just so new for us. I don’t think Dave added much of anything besides being a good personality.

D: During the Vapid interview, one of the things that you guys discuss is how the multiple tours that you did seem to blend together in your minds, into almost one big one, which is a big theme of your first book.

J: Yeah.

D: I don’t know if you could figure this out, but do you know how many tours the band did when you were in it?

J: I don’t know, surprisingly not as many as I would want.

D: All right. I think one of the ones you guys were trying to figure out which year it was, was when you went to Berkeley and you stayed with the aforementioned Matt Freeman and Tim Armstrong.

J: Yes.

D: That was when they were in Operation Ivy, before Rancid?

J: Yeah we had met them in Chicago, and then went out to Berkeley and stayed with them. Kamala had come over too and that’s where that song came.

D: Oh, “Kamala’s Too Nice”!

J: Yeah she was friends with them.

D: I see the name Kamala thanked in a lot of the liner notes for ‘90s era Lookout! and Epitaph bands.

J: Yeah she was pretty great.

D: I guess she left a big mark. Other than Ben did everyone get along between Screeching Weasel and Operation Ivy?

J: That rift wasn’t till later. As long as Operation Ivy was a band, we all got along really well. We used to sit around in their living room and just drink beer and play music.

Matt was the most outgoing; he was the extravert of all of them, him and Ben would be the hosts of all the parties. Dave Mello would always be there, hanging out with everybody, but I never really got to know him. Tim was always a little quiet, and always more to himself. Jesse was also a quiet person who would hide out a lot, but we got along.

D: I guess there was a point where Screeching Weasel wanted to sign to Epitaph Records, and then Rancid said they’d leave the label if this happened. Is this a true story?

J: Yeah it is. I got it second hand from Ben talking to Brett Gurewitz from Epitaph.

Things got weird when Tim did an interview talking about being on the streets, and Ben questioned his street punk creds, “Hey you’re just a suburban kid just like the rest of us, who do you think you are?” That’s where things flared up between them and it kind of got crazy.

D: From what I’ve read, Tim became pretty badly addicted to drugs and some of the songs he wrote, like “Salvation” or “Holiday Sunrise”, were about when he was living homeless at Salvation Army type places. So for whatever it’s worth, just because he came from the suburbs doesn’t mean he didn’t live that life at some point.

J: Yeah I don’t disagree with you. I don’t think I ever witnessed that period of time, to me he was just this skater kid that used to play a great guitar and used to be on a skateboard all the time. I really liked him.

D: Well let’s get back to the podcast. The Minutemen’s “Double Nickels On The Dime” the next episode?

J: Yeah that’ll be up very soon.

D: Do you have the lineup for it already; can you give some of the names of who we can hear on it?

J: This was actually a very personal one and most everyone who’s on it is a really close friend of mine. It’s an interesting take, we’re splitting the whole record between six of us, so we each have about six to seven different songs because there’s forty-two songs on the record. One of the guys, Bob Stockfish, came up with the idea “Why don’t we have all of the songs be econo-style?” which is a Minutemen word meaning short and thrifty. So we’re all doing one to one and a half minute pieces on six different topics. A couple of them have been on the podcast already, Steve Walker who’s one of my best friends, and directs all my plays, was on Repo Man.

D: Which piece did he do?

J: He did “Institutionalized”.

D: Oh right!  That was a great one.

J: Yeah he’s a pretty great writer.

D: Is Mike Watt gonna re-appear on the Minutemen episode as well?

J: Yeah, I did about an hour and a half interview with him, and my job this week is actually to cut that up. I asked him specifically about the songs he had wrote, so he’ll represent his own songs on the podcast.

D: Are you gonna release that whole interview like you did with the Screeching Weasel member interviews?

J: Yeah I’m pretty sure I will.

D: Oh that’ll be good.

J: Yeah it’s long. My one thing about Mike, which I’m actually writing a piece about, I couldn’t break it because I’m not a good enough interviewer yet, but since he’s been talking about his band for so many years, he falls into a pattern where he knows what he’s gonna say. So you think you might have gotten some new information, and then you go back and a read a book or some older articles and he almost word for word says what he’s said before.

D: I think there’s two different documentaries, one of them I know is “American Hardcore” and I can’t remember what the other one is, where he gives the interviewer the same tour around San Pedro, California in his van that he does to the interviewer for the other movie.

J: Yeah you’re right, I just saw that online.

D: Was Mike familiar with you and your work at all?

J: He didn’t show any signs of it. He did an interview with me because he’s really approachable, and he was trying to support the Repo Man cover record.

D: He covers Let’s Have A War by Fear.

J: Yeah. I snuck in when I was talking to him that I was gonna do Double Nickels On The Dime, and he said “Yeah I’d be up for that”.

D: That’s awesome.

J: Yeah, I’m trying to get George Hurley now, but he doesn’t like speaking.

D: (Laughs)

J: Mike even said he usually has to go by his house to actually talk to him. So I’m hunting him down, and Grant Hart from Huker Du said he would like to but then he had to go off to Europe.

D: All right, so we’re almost at the end, I have a couple questions that are unrelated to the podcast. I guess this’ll be the time to go over them.

J: Yeah, that’s good.

D: I think it was the first episode, you said you’re touring with a puppet show. How is that going?

J: (Laughs) It’s going fine. I’m trying to be more of a rounded theater person, so I think learning a new talent was kind of the goal. I haven’t performed in front of kids since my college days, so performing in front of 700 kids at a time is pretty nuts.

My girlfriend Paige and I had to move to Cincinnati, which we’re not too happy about. There isn’t much to do compared to Chicago. We’re trying to make money to survive here, so we don’t really have time to find the culture.

D: Were you familiar at all with the Cincinnati punk bands? I know Larry Livermore just did a compilation for Adeline records that had a number of bands from the area on it.

J: I don’t know any of them. I became friends with a guy named Chris Blair, who isn’t in a band, but is fairly connected with the scene, but I haven’t met any bands around here yet. Aren’t The Dopamines one of them?

D: Yeah. The Dopamines, Vacation, and Mixtapes.

J: Oh the Mixtapes! I keep forgetting that they’re from Cincinnati. I really like those guys. I tried to contact them to get them involved with the podcast and they showed interest, but I think they got busy. That’s one of the few bands I have heard. I’ve really enjoyed them.

D: Have you heard Larry’s compilation at all?

J: Not yet, but I will. I think what was missing from Lookout! when he left, was how he really knew how to choose a band.

D: Do you have any plans of playing music again?

Even in Blackouts from l-r: Liz Eldrege, Bice, Gub, Phil Hill, John Jughead

J: I got financially burned pretty badly with Even in Blackouts. Honestly, it was the best time I ever had with a band but I drove myself into financial trouble with paying for everything, so it kind of dampened my spirit. We’re going in to record something, but I’m calling us “EIB”. It’s half of Even In Blackouts and a couple of other friends doing a recording for a tribute to The Vindictives, so that might spark some more playing, but I haven’t gotten myself to write anything yet.

D: Which half of the band, you and the singer Liz Eldrege?
J: Me, and Liz, and Gub.

D: And are you still in touch with the other band members, Phil Hill and Bice?

J: Bice I still talk to. He runs a studio called New Alliance in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He had a child so he’s pretty busy.

Phil pretty much fell out of contact with everybody. I think he’s just sort of living his life right now and staying away from music.

D: A couple years ago I think he got jumped in a parking lot, and had to stay in the hospital for a stint.

J: Yeah it was a pretty horrible thing for him. He’s a Nashville boy and he’s very protective of woman. He saw a woman getting beat up by her man and he went to go stop it and got jumped by the guy’s friends and beat to a pulp. So not only the beating, but also I think the moral implications of what happened, made him think to hide out for a while.

D: Yeah, I’d talked to him a couple years before that happened. As a young punk kid walking around Nashville with a mohawk, he got shot by a bunch of rednecks passing by in a truck. It seems like trouble seems to find him, no matter his intentions.

J: Yeah he’s got a colorful life. Him and Mass Giorgini are the two punks that I want to write memoirs, both have fascinating lives.

D: On the subject of books, would you like to plug yours or anything else before we finish up?

J: I have my own site, I’ve been trying to blog a lot, trying to get all those memories out. I have “The Last Temptation of Clarence Oddbody" a novel based on “It’s A Wonderful Life”. It’s a very dark interpretation of the original movie. Also I’m writing stuff for AMP magazine, I’ll be doing an interview with Joey Vindictive about the resurgence of The Vindictives.

D: All right, thanks a lot for talking the time for this, it was great to talk to you.

J: Yeah, thank you David.

D: Like I was telling a friend the other day, if your favorite band is Led Zeppelin you’re not gonna get a chance to talk on Skype with Jimmy Paige.

J: (Laughs)

D: That’s the advantage to liking bands like Screeching Weasel.

J: That’s the thing about liking Mike Watt too. I really admire that attitude, and I want to be like that myself, just talking to whoever wants to talk.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

An interview with Zac Mayeux of Billy Raygun

I first met the members of Billy Raygun two years ago when they played the first show of their first ever tour in the basement of the house I had been living in. Some of the band members looked like they may not have been old enough to have driver’s licenses, let alone be spending the last few weeks of the summer driving down the East coast and playing shows in beer drenched punk houses, but as far as bands go they were wise beyond their years.

Formed in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Billy Raygun has been around since 2006, and for the majority of that time has consisted of their current lineup of singer/guitarist Zac Mayeux, guitarist Nate Rubin, bassist Cakes and drummer David Solender. In the past year the youngest members of the band have graduated high school, and the oldest can now legally buy alcohol. After six years and four EPs, I’m surprised a band formed by 14 year olds is still around, but in Billy Raygun’s case the music’s really good, so why stop?

I talked to Zac as the band was on the verge of their latest tour, which will coincide with the release of their first full-length album

D: For a city of only 25,000 people, Portsmouth has had a surprising number of good music acts, from you guys, to The Queers, to The Guts, to The Lanterns, to The Bruisers, even Ronnie James Dio was originally from there. Why do you think this is the case?

Z: I have no idea how Ronnie James Dio could've come from here. That shit's just an anomaly.

D: Weirder things have happened, the singer from Anal Cunt (as well as Fat Mike) were from Newton, Massachusetts, a real wealthy suburb that's home to Boston College and a handful of other private colleges.

Z: Well as far as Portsmouth goes, through the 80's to the late 90's it always had a really solid music scene. I was way too young to have been any part of that, though. There was an all ages club called the Elvis Room that was pretty famous and lots of touring bands used to come through to play there after Boston, as well as local bands like The Queers and Jabbers. I guess I would attribute many of the acts you mentioned being from Portsmouth to the fact that the city used to be much more open to music and all ages venues. There's still a local music scene, but nothing really in the punk vein.

D: What happened to that club?

Z: From what I've gathered, it was shut down because of financial troubles, people doing too many drugs, underage drinking, and violence. I guess someone got stabbed? I don’t know. I was a baby at this time and used to get woken up all the time by punks drinking in the parking lot outside of our house because it was pretty close to the club.  Funny how that's all come full circle...

D: I've heard Portsmouth described as New Hampshire's hipster city, is that the case?

Z: I'd say it's somewhere between a hipster and yuppie city. It's a pleasant seaside city with a lot of history, definitely a good place to grow up and for tourists to visit.

D: How did you meet each other, and when did you start the band?

Z: I've known Cakes since I was 6 or so, and through playing guitar in the middle school jazz band, I met Nate (who was wearing a home made Descendents shirt!) and Calvin (our first drummer). I started jamming with Nate and Calvin shortly after that. I was the only one of us that had a bass, so I played that until Cakes joined us a week before our first show. This was after we had been a band for a year. 

D: Why did you take a year to play a show?

Z: We were just trying to find our sound and weren't really that interested in playing shows until we were good, and even by the first show we were still pretty awful. It was with The Guts, The Leftovers, For Science, and Project 27. I think seeing those bands and talking to them after the show really pushed us in a more pop punk direction afterwards.

D: How did you get onto that first show? Were you familiar with those other bands at the time?

Z: I used to go see The Guts a lot when I was younger, so I knew their guitarist Geoff Useless. He heard I had started a new band and asked us to play a show with them. I was a fan of The Guts and The Leftovers at the time, but I hadn't heard the other bands. Talking to some of the other guys in Project 27 and For Science made me a bit more aware of the other types of bands that were playing that type of music, like The Ergs!, The Steinways, etc.

I think it was at that show that someone actually mentioned the Pop Punk Message Bored to me. We actually met our current drummer through that site; he offered to put out our first 7" on his record label. He actually previously played in this local band we all liked called IAMJAPAN.

D: I read that at one point when your band started out you had a keyboard player. How long did they last?

Z: Haha, I had never really written songs before and had only been playing guitar for a little while when Billy Raygun first formed. We had a lot of initial growing pains trying to figure out what we were going to sound like. My friend Joe played keyboards for us for a few months and then we started moving in a more punk or pop punk direction, away from just making weird noisy shit. At that point we decided we didn't really want keys anymore.

D: So were you guys originally a noise rock band? Are there any recordings from this era?

Z: Imagine a bunch of little kids who were trying to sound like The Butthole Surfers and Pavement at the same time, while also not being very good at their instruments. That should paint a pretty good picture.  There are recordings, and they can be found on the internet if you search hard enough, but you really shouldn't

D: For songs written by a teenager, I’m surprised how good the lyrics are. Other than those noise songs, is there anything that you look back on and cringe at?

Z: Other than a few songs not coming out quite the way I had hoped recording wise, no.  Maybe in a few years I'll look back and think some of our stuff sucked, but for this being my first band I've got to say I'm really proud of our output so far.

D: Right now you’ve released a bunch of EPs, when will you make a full length?

Z: Well, this interview is happening in mid April and we're supposed to be recording one in early June. Hopefully by the time this interview is published we will have a full length of all new stuff available in some way!

D: Where's it being recorded?

Z: We're recording with Jay the Milky in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Jay’s the dude that did all The Credentials and Witches With Dicks stuff, and we're recording it mostly live like those bands did.

D: Will this summer be the furthest out you've toured?

Z: Yes, by far.  We've only toured twice.  It's hard to find time for touring because all of our schedules are pretty busy and don't always line up that great.  See also: practicing.  Also, we're really lazy and don't have any of our own equipment. 

D: Please tell me the story about the tour stop where the tweaked out manager locked you in the basement of his bar!

Z: We had just played this bar in Lexington, Kentucky called The Green Lantern. The manager came up to me and told me he really enjoyed our set. He asked how old we were and when I told him our ages he started acting weird. He was muttering things like, "not in my bar" and "how could this happen?" He then tells Cakes, Nate, our friend Amber and myself to follow him. He brings us down to the basement and proceeds to tell us we made a huge mistake, we never should have come to Lexington and if anyone finds out that he let us in his bar he’s going to kill our moms and bomb New Hampshire. That guy was definitely tweaking out on something crazy! Then he'd start yelling at us and snap out of it all of a sudden and say, “But please, have a great night! You guys played really great!”, and then start yelling at us again. He told us don't leave this basement and don't go in that room (pointing at a door in the basement). Cakes asked what was in the room, and he told us it was "none of our business", in a really mysterious and menacing way. It was probably either a dead body or a meth lab. Anyways, as soon as he left we hid in the car the rest of the night while we watched him pace around the club looking for us.

D: leads to a brand management company called Billy Raygun Design! Did you get your name from them?

Z: Haha, no. We thanked them in our split with Lipstick Homicide for not suing us yet. They didn't have any internet presence when we named our band so we had no idea. Oh well!

D: After graduating high school, and people inevitably facing different paths in life, has it been hard managing to keep the band together?

Z: While we've all graduated school, we're all still in the same area. Some of us are still at school, some of us are working jobs, some of us both.  The band will continue to keep playing together as long as we're geographically close enough to each other.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Charlie Don't Mosh: An interview with John Wayne Swayze of :Satch:

The CharlieCard is a plastic card that gets you into the subway, busses, and other forms of transportation that service the Greater Boston area. If you're unfamilair with this fact, the title of this post may not make sense (and it doesn't help that the accompanying artwork of the character on the card flailing his arms ala the Circle Jerks logo has yet to be finished). But I wanted to get this posted while the original story was still fresh; recently the Boston Herald posted an article about the Boston Police cracking down on moshing at shows, while citing the case of a college student who got concussed during a Flogging Molly set. Imagine my surprise when I found out that student was actually an acquaintance of mine who sings in a hardcore punk band called :Satch:, under the alias of John Wayne Swayze. After reading the Herald article, which cited a few quotes of his, I wanted to give him the oppurtunity to tell his entire side of the story, as well as giving a platform to talk about his band.

D: What happened exactly?

J: The whole night is a pretty big blur. I was pretty drunk when everything happened and then getting my fucking dome knocked screwy sure as shit didn't make the night more clear.

From what I remember, I was in the pit during Flogging Molly, and at some point my head went forward at the same time someone else's head went backward. He hits my forehead with the back of his head and I'm knocked silly. I just stumble, sort of fall backwards into the people standing at the edge of the pit, and they keep me from falling on my ass. The guy who hit me immediately realized how hard the collision was and turns to see if I'm alright, and the other people around me make sure there's nothing bad. I told them everything was fine. The guy apologizes and we have a wicked sexy man hug. I couldn't really see straight out of my right eye for at least a few songs afterwards, but I stayed in the pit, and was having a blast. Flogging Molly covered “The Times They Are A Changing”, which was fantastic and wicked cool to see live, but I really don't remember a ton else that happened during the show. I have no clue what was the booze and what was the concussion.

It's over a month later, and I'm still not recovered, it took a whole month before I could make it back to school. There were a couple weeks where I just couldn't really walk properly. One of the doctors I saw thinks that something was just fucked with the brain circuitry that controlled my legs. I still have to deal with near constant headaches and even this interview is making me a bit disoriented, like my head just ain't all there. But shit happens and hopefully everything will get better.

D: Is this the worst you've gotten injured at a show?

J: By far. I got a concussion at a Dropkick Murphys show a couple years back but that happened during spring break and I was back in class the week after. I'm riddled with stupid injuries from various shit, like tendonitis in my shoulder and a nerve problem in my back that flares up at shows, but nothing nearly as serious or as shitty as this concussion.

D: There are other stories about people getting hurt at shows and then suing the venue, which I assume you have no intention of doing. What would you say to someone like that kid in California who got damage at a Pour Habit show and is suing the venue?

J: I don't know the details, so I don't want to feel like a dick talking out of my ass, but if it was a situation like mine then it's just a bullshit lawsuit. Boston has laws against slam dancing, House of Blues let it happen, and I got hurt. That's an easy lawsuit right there, but it's also a fucking stupid lawsuit to pursue.

I want to slam dance and collide with people, it's fun. People choose to go in there and we do it because we like it. We all know that slamming into other people has risks. But if you're going to sue, get the fuck out. Just keep away from people who are slamming, I've never been to a show where it's impossible to get away from that.

D: How did the Boston Herald get in touch with you?

J: My brother showed me the initial article about Boston cracking down on slam dancing and I contacted David Wedge, the author of that article, with my story. I asked him to give people my perspective and he immediately emailed me back so we could do a phone interview. My injury wasn't reported to House of Blues or the Boston Police, so I guess they didn't even know someone got hurt there until that article came out. The crackdown really had absolutely nothing to do with me, it's just funny timing that it started at the same show.

D: I'm sure the Boston Herald just took a portion of what you said and printed that, so is there any full unabridged message you'd like to say to the city of Boston regarding this new enforcement?

J: There were a couple of things I wanted to stress that David Wedge left out. First off, the House of Blues staff never lets shit get out of hand. Seriously, it's the House of Blues and they got security right there in the crowd. What the fuck do the police expect to happen there? I've never seen a show get anywhere close to rowdy no matter how full, how tightly packed, or how obnoxious the people are. It's an all ages venues and it's legitimately safe for all ages. If they're gonna start cracking down then they definitely chose the dumbest place to start.

Second off, they have to be stupid if they think this is going to do anything positive for Boston. They're not going to stop people from slam dancing, moshing, or whatever the hell they're scared of. We want to be there. We choose to spend our money on a ticket and then walk right into that pit of people slamming their bodies into each other. So if we can't do it in Boston then we're just gonna do it somewhere else. No one is being saved by this, Boston is just asking people to stop pumping money into their clubs.

D: So what kind of dancing was going on exactly, because I feel like there's a big difference, and the Boston Herald article didn't clarify this, between the type of slamdancing you'd expect to see at a House of Blues show, and the fists flailing type of moshing that you'd see at a tough-guy hardcore show for a band like Blood for Blood, never mind shit like spin-kicking.

J: It was the usual type of slamdancing that always happens at the House of Blues. No fists or feet or elbows flying or anything that was actually violent. Probably a bit tamer than some shows can get there because security did try to keep the slamdancing down a little bit.

D: So do you see this resulting in bands (specifically ones with a relative level of popularity) just booking more shows in places like Cambridge, Worcester, Providence, etc?

J: They were trying to enforce it at the Flogging Molly show but they didn't try all that hard. So I have no idea how much effort they're going to put into it. The Herald said they were fining venues, and hitting clubs in the wallet will definitely get their attention. I have no idea how hard they'll enforce it or what will happen if clubs don't.

I definitely hope that bands and fans alike avoid playing in the city if it's fully enforced, at least any venue that cops will be watching. Hopefully basements stay safe even if clubs get fucked. I hate to see people avoid Boston but Boston could deserve it.

D: I can tell you it's not being enforced at the small clubs that I've been to recently. I went to a show on St. Patrick's Day, and there was lots of slam dancing, yet no one from the club telling everyone to stop, and also no one getting hurt. The one person who got way too aggressive, seemed to be a local college drunk in all green celebrating the holiday, rather than someone who goes to punk shows, and he was thrown out by the staff after being warned to cool it down and refusing. The actions they took resulted in people being able to dance, yet making sure no one got knocked out by a violent drunk, I think that's a good model to go by for the smaller clubs.

J: That's exactly how I think it should be handled. Let the venues decide how much they're willing to tolerate. I feel like most venues that are willing to host aggressive shows understand what they're getting.

D: At the same time, shouldn't the club be held responsible from a legal perspective, if that venue hadn't kicked that person out and people got their skulls smashed from him?

J: Probably. I assume that's how everywhere else does it, venues can allow moshing if they want, but the legal shit is on them if it leads to problems.

D: Have you been back to the House of Blues or any other larger clubs since the initial incident? Did they enforce the policy?

J: Nah, I haven't been back into any big Boston clubs since then. I had to lay low for a while and I'm still not really sure I feel like going back into a pit until my head is back to normal.

Part II

D: When did you join :Satch:?

J: Depends on how you look at it. I think I became the singer for :Satch: in spring of 2011, but even before that, they were all my friends and I was writing some stupidly awful lyrics for them. I never considered myself part of the band at that point but Tipp (the guitarist) said he pretty much always counted me as a member.

D: Had you sung in any bands before this?

J: Not at all. I'm not a singer, I'm the drunk guy with the microphone.

D: So who is doing what in the band now? The last time I saw :Satch: was as a three piece, right before you joined.

J: Hitman is our drummer, Tipp is the guitarist, and Solomon is the bassist. Same guys as always but with me added.

D: Why is the name spelt between colons?

J: I think it started out as like a joke about colons, like the part of an ass. I'm sure I've been told the story but my fucking memory has gone to shit between head injuries and narcotics.

D: How would you describe your music and stage performance to someone unfamiliar with the band?

J: It's like getting drunk, doing speed, and then fucking a stranger in the ass while his girlfriend tries to break down his door. I don't know a better way to describe it. It's fast, raw hardcore punk written by 4 assholes who are bored in general and bored with everyone else. We're not a political band with messages about anything, and we're not a group of artists getting together to play, just fun loving punks showing our balls and hoping someone has as much fun as we do.

D: I've always thought of the band as the Ramones on speed, because it's that same 1-2-3-4, break into song, 1-2-3-4, break right into next song routine. But it's also played so much faster, and the guitarist is running all over the place, and you're right, there's no message or politics to it at all. It reminds me a lot of what early 80s hardcore bands were doing in LA like Fear or The Germs, before hardcore had become so machismo and metal based.

J: Yeah, that's the sort of shit that we draw from.

D: Are there any plans for a new release?

J: Planning isn't really part of our process so no one really knows for sure. There's a chance we're going into the studio for something shortly. It'd be nice to get our new stuff recorded and get all our shit together on a single disc.

D: Did that ten songs in seven minutes recording you did ever get a physical release? I remember seeing a picture of artwork for it, I think it was something like a shower drained by lice-infected pubic hair.

J: It got as much of a release as anything we ever do, which is to say we burned copies then handed them out for free. That picture never got included but I don't think it was even made at the same time. If people want it, it's called the Crabs by Association EP, and it's available for free download at Our follow-up demo is also free online, but I have no idea where that is. We just opened up a Bandcamp page ( so everything should be up there soon.

D: In addition to hurting yourself in the audience, don't you hurt yourself on stage, by doing things like slamming your head into the microphone? I've seen pictures from :Satch: shows where you look pretty bruised.

J: Oh yeah, although I gotta stop that for a while, it's something I just do when I'm really fucking into it. I'll do it when the crowd is too small or isn't really that into it and there is nothing to play off of but myself. I've also slammed my head into a door just getting pumped up, and I've made my chest bleed from a mic stand. I can't explain it. Same reason why I go around slamming my body into people, I guess. Maybe I just do it because I'm too dumb, drunk, and indifferent to do anything better.

D: Have you played any shows outside of New England, and do you have any plans to tour?

J: No, and I wouldn't count on it any time soon. We're so fucking poor to begin with and everyone else has other commitments that get in the way. Who knows for sure though? I'd love to go on tour, that'd be a great fucking time. We'll play anywhere for any reason, if we can, so maybe some time.

D: At this point, where's the farthest out you've played a show?

J: We've mostly just been playing greater Boston shows, like we just played at the Starlab in Somerville. Besides the immediate Boston area, I've only played with the band in Worcester and Lowell.

D: How is Lowell these days? I've heard it described as the college and then a slew of bad areas?

J: It's hard to describe it differently than you did but that's such an understatement. There's such a range of shit that doesn't seem to happen in most places. Just the mixing of college kids, the honest working class, and gang members from a million different cultural and ethnic backgrounds makes the city weird and oddly amusing. Definitely
a lot of bad areas and I sure as fuck wouldn't feel too safe getting lost here, but :Satch: was born in Lowell and I call the city home right now so I can't be too harsh.

D: That's funny you'd say that about Lowell, an old roommate of mine described Fitchburg (another Massachusetts city with a State University) as a bad mix between drunk College kids and local poverty. I think it's the same thing though, there are decent people and decent things that get overlooked for the crime.

J: Yeah, I've heard a lot of people describe Fitchburg the same way. Maybe that's why :Satch: was so well received and played their first couple shows there.

D: Why weren't the first shows in Lowell?

J: No idea, really. I wasn't involved with any booking at that point. I think it was a case of just playing the first places people offered. But those Fitchburg shows were good and well received, so fuck it, we're not too worried about where we're playing as long as we get to play.

D: Where can someone get in touch with you if they want to book you for a show?

J: Go to our Facebook page,

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

House Boat Captain: An interview with Grath Madden

If 30 is the new 16, Grath Madden may be the poster child for his generation. The 33 year old perpetually under or un-employed temp worker with a bachelors degree that took him nowhere, passes his time smoking pot, reading comic books, and watching too much television. And much like the protagonists in his comic book collection, Grath has an alter ego of sorts. Moonlighting by playing in punk rock bands, or at least when he feels like it, he has written, sang, and played guitar on one of the best albums of 2011, but that’s not gonna help him one iota when he ends up in line to collect unemployment.

While he may be low man on the totem pole at his workplace, there's a subgroup of a subgroup of a subgroup that sees Grath Madden as somewhat legendary. He cut his chops fronting The Steinways, a hugely influential and revered part of New York's 2000s pop punk scene. After The Steinways imploded, Grath went from writing short cutesy Steinways songs without choruses or refrains, to short self-loathing songs for his new band House Boat (also without choruses and refrains).

Rounded out by legendary punk drummer Mikey Erg, former Off With Their Heads guitarist Zack Gontard, and Grath’s former Steinways band mate Azeem Sajid on bass, House Boat has carved their name among the list of best new punk rock bands going today. I spoke to Grath about his bands, his life and The Biggest Loser Australia.

D: Where are you originally from?

G: Born and raised in Baltimore.

D: Aren't the Madden brothers from Good Charlotte from that area? Do you have the misfortune of being related to them?

G: Haha, yeah, I think they are from somewhere in Maryland, thankfully no relation.

D: From reading the autobiographies of Robin Quivers and John Waters, I've got the idea that Baltimore was a seedy place for a kid to grow up in. Was that your experience?

G: I moved to Parkville, Maryland when I was 12, so my first hand shady Baltimore experience is pretty minimal. I never really looked at it as any shadier or sketchier than anywhere else. I mean, there are some awful, awful neighborhoods that I wouldn’t feel at all safe in, but I spent most of my time growing up sheltered in Catholic schools and all-boys private schools, surrounded by rich white pieces of shit.

D: I take it you must have hated Catholic school. Did you get in to trouble a lot for having a smart mouth?

G: Catholic school was way better than what came after. At least there were girls in Catholic school. I was a pretty enormous nerd, so I didn’t really start to get lippy with teachers until I was like 17 or so. But by that point, yeah, I was pretty fucking obnoxious. I got a detention for “casting a spell” on my English teacher.

D: Did you go to college, and if so what did you major in?

G: I went to Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY. Majored in film. Now I’m a temp receptionist. I wonder if I made the right decision?

D: Did you work at all in any position of the film/television/commercial industry?

G: I did some production assistant work when I first moved to New York, and I hated it more than anything else I’ve ever done ever. It’s amazing to me how much bullshit people will put up with just so they can “work on a movie/TV show.”

Honestly, I didn’t really stick around long enough to deal with anything other than nothing to do and really shitty hours. But the tone for that shit is set right off the bat, “You are working on a television show, and you should feel HONORED to give up 16 hours of your day!” The magic of being a part of a British dating show wore off in about 4 minutes.

D: When did you first move to New York?

G: I moved back to Baltimore when I got out of college, then a room in an apartment full of friends of mine opened up in Queens about a year later, so I jumped on it. I really didn’t have a reason for coming here, but most of my college friends were here, and I was really into what was going on pop punk wise in New York/New Jersey (bands like The Ergs!, The Unlovables, Dirt Bike Annie, etc.), at the time.

D: Do you remember the first time you saw The Ergs! and met Mikey?

G: I either met Mikey at an Ergs! show in Kutztown, PA, or a Dirt Bike Annie show at North Six in Brooklyn. I can’t really remember which came first. The first time I saw The Ergs! was at that Kutztown show. I got their first 7” in the mail on my 21st birthday, and it was pretty much the most exciting thing I’d heard in a couple of years, so a few weeks later, I found myself driving through Pennsylvania to see them.

The first time I really remember hanging out with Mike was at a big show Eric Peabody put on a few months later. After smoking a billion joints with members of Dirt Bike Annie, I stayed up way too late nerding out on pop punk records with Eric and Mikey. I was like, “this fucker’s a bigger pop punk nerd than I am!” I’d always been pretty isolated, punk rock wise, so it was awesome to finally meet some folks around my age who were just as geeky about this shit.

D: How did you first meet the other members of The Steinways?

G: When I moved up to Queens, I knew that Jon Whoa Oh (founder of Whoa Oh Records) and Chris Grivet were nerdy pop punk dudes that lived in the neighborhood, so it wasn’t long before they were showing me around and taking me to Queers shows and what not. Michelle responded to a “hey, join my band” thing that I put up on a message board, and I was like “Whoa! A cute girl!” So yeah, she was immediately in.

The band was originally me on guitar, Grivet on drums, Michelle on guitar and Jon on bass. That was probably the line up for about a year, and man were we shitty. Something needed to change. Jon had the misfortune of not being a drummer or a really cute girl. Michelle switched to bass, and Azeem joined in 2005 or maybe the end of 2004. He had been in The Widows, who played their first ever show at The Steinways first ever show.

D: Were The Steinways the first band you were in?

G: I played in a band called The Kevins right before college in Baltimore and a band called Steve McQueen while I was in college. Neither were really “real” bands, more assemblages of friends who I’d begged to play music with me. Neither band recorded anything, and between the two, we probably played like 12 shows.

D: Was the first tour you did with The Steinways what you'd expected it to be?

G: The first one was great. We went with The Unlovables, Zack Gontard from Off With Their Heads filled in on guitar for them, it was a fun bunch of folks to be out with. The four of us that would eventually form House Boat spent most of the tour together in the “smoking car,” so that was cool.

D: You've said most of the low points of The Steinways revolved around alcohol. Can you elaborate at all?

G: Haha, did I say that? It’s 40,000% true. If you’ve seen The Steinways or House Boat or whatever bullshit I’ve done, you know that I like to talk on stage. That plus a massive amount of alcohol can lead to mistakes. I’ve said a lot of dumb stuff, and every once in a while I say some dumb stuff that makes someone upset.

D: Anything you'd care to repeat?

G: Not really!

D: When I was doing some research before this interview, I found The Steinways have a page on of all places. It says you played a basement in Chicago where members of Screeching Weasel used to live. What's the story behind this?

G: I forget how it got set up, but the Chicago stop on The Unlovables/Steinways tour was Jughead’s basement. I think Dan Vapid was living there at the time too. It was pretty fun; we barbecued and hung out watching “Some Kind Of Monster” in the living room and then played a show that night. I forget if The Methadones played, but Even In Blackouts definitely did. There are clips on youtube of The Unlovables and us from that show.

D: What was everyone's opinion on Some Kind of Monster?

G: Well, it’s more or less the best movie of all time, so we’re obviously all very fond of it. I highly recommend the deleted scene with Ja Rule to anyone who’s foolish enough to have not checked it out already.

D: Yes the recording of "We Did It Again"! I love how when they're recording it, Ja Rule (or someone in his posse) says it's gonna be the next "We Are The Champions" and talks about how he sees it getting played every time the Lakers win a title. Metallica bopping their heads to show they're down with the rap part is great too.

G: Yeah, it’s easily the best song I’ve ever heard in my entire life.

D: Back to the subject of Screeching Weasel, The Steinways were joined on stage by Ben Weasel in 2007, how did he become aware of the band and meet you guys?

G: I don’t really know how he came across us, but he just kind of contacted me one day and asked if we’d maybe want to play some songs with him at Insub Fest. I definitely had to read the e-mail like five times before I really understood that, yes, the dude from Screeching Weasel wants my really shitty band to play my favorite songs ever with him. That whole thing was really fun and really awesome for all four of us.

D: At that point did you really feel The Steinways were "really shitty"?

G: I don’t think there was a point at which I DIDN’T think The Steinways were really shitty. That probably had something to do with how shitty we were. I was definitely nervous about playing with Ben because I never thought the four of us were particularly good at playing our instruments together at the same time.

D: Have you talked to Ben since then? Is the artwork of the new House Boat album a slap at him?

G: I haven’t talked to Ben in a while. I think it’s a major bummer that there’s been so much bullshit, gossip and nonsense surrounding him over the past few years, but it sort of seems like that’s what he’s after to a certain degree. I would’ve loved to do some more stuff with him, but we approach music from way different angles, so anything we’d talked about at first fizzled pretty quickly. He’s one of my favorite songwriters of all time though, and that definitely hasn’t changed.

The album art definitely isn’t supposed to be a big “fuck you” to Ben or anything. It was kind of just a dumb idea that grew out of some drunken conversations at a show we played in Philly a couple of years ago. When we recorded the record and came up with the artwork, all that South by Southwest bullshit hadn’t happened yet, and there was way less “controversy” surrounding Ben. I feel like the cover seems more pointed now that that shit’s happened, but, yeah, it’s just a dumb joke.

D: So there were talks about doing a band or album with him?

G: We talked real briefly about maybe doing something together, but never to the point that we even really figured out what that thing would be. I’m probably not well suited to be working with anyone whose musical career is an actual career.

D: Since The Steinways breakup in 2009 how many one offs has the band reunited for?

G: We did a set at a show in New York a few years ago that was the original Steinways (me, Michelle, Chris and Jonnie Whoa Oh), but the only real “reunions” we’ve done were Insub Fest 2010 and last year’s Don Giovanni showcase. We’ve been asked to do a couple of other things, but the Don Giovanni show was a train wreck, and I don’t think any of us are super eager to revisit that. Then again, next year is the 10th anniversary of the band….

D: You mentioned earlier that you thought The Steinways were shitty; do you consider House Boat shitty?

G: Nope, not really. We’re not much of a live band, but that’s more due to the fact that we play together like three times a year and have had two full band practices over the course of our existence. But this is pretty much my ideal scenario, band wise. I like our records, and I couldn’t pick better guys to play with.

D: Why use Zack, a guitar player from Minnesota, for a band from New York?

G: The whole point of House Boat, for me, was getting to play music with whomever I wanted to, and those people happened to be Mikey, Zack and Azeem. When the band started, Zack was more or less always on tour and Mikey was also living in Minnesota. I definitely never planned on us recording and playing as often as we have. I’m pretty happy with how it’s all worked out. Zack’s actually in Florida now, and Mikey floats back and forth between Jersey and Queens, so we’re actually geographically closer than we ever have been.

D: Do you know why Zack left Off With Their Heads?

G: I don’t really want to speak for him, but I can definitely say him leaving that band was amicable, un-dramatic and all that good stuff. I think he just wanted to not tour all the time and do more normal person stuff. He’s in school in Florida at the moment.

D: So if you could have the lifestyle of someone who squeaks by from constantly touring instead of working conventional jobs would you take it?

G: Nope. I kind of hate touring. Well, that’s not totally true, but I get really antsy and not stoked to be on the road after a week or so. I think doing it every night for a couple of months would suck all the fun out of it for me. Doing a week or so at a time once every year or so is pretty ideal for me.

D: A lot of House Boat songs deal with underemployment. Do you ever consider going back to school and getting a better degree?

G: I’ve been temping for like 8 years at this point. I’m either that or unemployed. At the moment, I work as a receptionist at a lab in Brooklyn. Come June, I will most likely not be working as a receptionist at a lab in Brooklyn.

That said, if I thought it made sense to go back and get a graduate degree in something, I would, but I’m pretty sure they don’t have masters programs for comic book reading, weed smoking or pop punk songwriting.

D: Do you write all of the House Boat lyrics?

G: For the most part, yeah. Other than like three lines, Azeem wrote all the lyrics for the ones he sings lead on.

D: House Boat’s lyrics often paint a narrative of depression and self-loathing. Do you write from an autobiographical perspective or from someone else's point of view?

G: I’m pretty self-obsessed, so they’re definitely all about me. I get pretty sad sometimes! The songs are where the bad feelings go. When you write a shitty song about how shitty you feel it makes you feel better. I think there are maybe two or three Steinways songs that are written from someone else’s point of view, but for the most part, I can’t write shit unless it’s about me, I’d guess that at least 90% of my songs start with the word “I.” Or at least an implied “I.”

D: What are the two or three songs you wrote from someone else's perspective?

G: Off the top of my head, “Diogo A Go Go” and “It All Went Wrong” by The Steinways are both supposed to be other people talking, but could just as easily be me.

D: A couple songs on the new House Boat album stick out as sounding different from anything you've previously done. They're actually the first and last tracks. The riff used throughout "Who Let The Dogs Out" (which I think is the best song off the album, despite the name) sounds like something meant to be played with a sitar. How did you come up with this and musically what is it exactly that gives it that sound?

Secondly, "Bug Out" seems almost too heartfelt to be written by you, I think it's a beautiful song, but there seems to be none of the irony or self-depreciation you usually use. Was this song written sincerely or is it tongue in cheek? I noticed the lyrics to Teenage Bottle Rocket's "Skate or Die" are in its place in the album's liner notes.

G: I wrote most of “Who Let The Dogs Out” while I was standing on the train platform waiting to go home one night. The riffy shit just kind of came up when I went home and started messing with it on garageband. It’s not really supposed to sound “different.” I mean it’s basically just “I Work On The 13th Floor” with a slightly modified riff and melody. But, yeah, I like that one too, so thanks!

“Bug Out” is a super sad song I wrote when I was desperate to get back together with a girl. I never really planned on using it for a record, but when we were putting songs together for this last full length, it seemed like it really fit and would be a nice closer.

D: Why do you rarely title your songs after lyrics in them?

G: If I wasn’t in my bands, and I picked up one of my bands’ records, I’d be like “Who the fuck does this guy think he is?” That said, I almost never give a song a title just because I think, “Oh, this is hilarious.” I don’t have a lot of songs with repetitive choruses, so it’s generally kind of hard to pick out a “refrain” to use as a title. If a title seems to not make any sense, odds are it’s just an inside joke between me and myself.

D: Have you really watched The Biggest Loser Australia as your song title suggests?

G: You better fucking believe I have, three seasons of that shit no less! One season of that show is literally about 80 episodes long, which is fucking nuts, so it’s on 4-6 times a week. I don’t know what’s wrong with Australians. I don’t know what’s wrong with me either. I actually resisted the temptation to start watching this season, so maybe I’m getting better.

D: How did you even become aware of the show? Any other shows of that vein that you've wasted too much time on?

G: I think the Amazing Race Asia was the first non-American reality show I accidentally stumbled upon. I was probably torrent searching the regular Amazing Race and that shit popped up. I’ve seen Biggest Loser Australia, MasterChef Australia, Junior MasterChef Australia, The Apprentice UK, The Junior Apprentice UK, The Apprentice New Zealand, Beauty and the Geek Australia, Amazing Race Asia, Biggest Loser UK, etc, etc, etc. Though many years later, I’m finally getting tired of all that shit. I haven’t watched any foreign reality television yet this year, and I may not at all. Though I will say that both Junior Apprentice UK (recently renamed “Young Apprentice”) and Junior MasterChef are fucking brilliant, and I will watch the shit out of both as soon as they’re back on.

D: Back to music, what does the future hold for you?

G: There will definitely be some more House Boat stuff this year. We have an EP of sorts coming out in a couple of months, and we’ve also got a song on that comp Larry Livermore put together for Adeline Records. We’re looking to record for a split that I’m really excited about in July. I won’t say who the band is, and it’s not like it’s someone that’s going to make people lose their minds or anything, but I really hope it works out. Past that, I’ve been trying to get a couple of non-House Boat things off the ground, one which involves all people I’ve played music with before and one that involved no people I’ve played music with before. Either those two things will happen, or I’ll just say fuck it and do another Barrakuda McMurder thing.

D: What is the lineup for Barrakuda McMurder?

G: Barrakuda McMurder is me and whoever else is around. So far “members” have included me, Chris Pierce, Matt Lame, Azeem, Chelsea Lacatena and Chris Grivet.

The stuff on the first Barrakuda McMurder 7” and the stuff on the first House Boat LP was all written at more or less the same time. At that point, House Boat didn’t exist, and it was looking like The Steinways would do a third LP. I wanted to record with other folks, so I just took 6 songs from what I had and went and recorded them with Chris Pierce playing drums and me playing more or less everything else. I definitely wish I’d saved a song or two from that for the first House Boat record.

Since then, the only other thing “we’ve” done is a free release that was just me and Azeem playing everything. Those songs were definitely more “throwaways” that House Boat was never going to record.

D: Alright one last question, and I want you to answer seriously, where do you see yourself in life in 2019 when you turn 40 years old?

G: I have no idea. I'd like to think that I won't still be splitting my time between temping and pining over unattainable women, but I think my discography might disagree with me. I'd settle for working someplace I don't totally hate, dating somebody I totally like and making records a couple of times a year with my friends. That's pretty much the sum of my life's ambitions at this point.