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.

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