Power Pop Lives On With Paul Collins

I met Paul Collins at a show he ended up covering “Walking Out On Love” with the band. As someone who’s had “Hangin’ On The Telephone” ingrained into my memory from a young age (my first concert was Blondie when I was seven and my dad is a huge Nerves fan), having the opportunity to talk to him was really cool. I mean, the first time I heard “Rock n Roll Girl” I got goosebumps and wore the song out on my guitar. He’s still incredibly active and tours a lot, so if he’s ever in your area, don’t miss it.

Are you currently working on anything right now?
Yes. I’m currently writing a new album. I’m working on writing a new record and it’s gotta be the best record I’ve ever made. I don’t want to kid myself. I wanna make the best stuff I’ve ever done. You wanna set the bar as high as you can. I just put together a new band with a group from Jersey called Low Doses, they have a girl bass player. This is my first time working with a girl. It’s kind of cool, I’m old school so it’s good for me to do that. She’s really good. She’s a great bass player and singer. We just had our first rehearsal on Sunday. Our first show will be at the Acheron on October 23 as part of the Tuff Break Records weekend with Terry & Louie and a bunch of cool bands. We’re playing the after party for the Terry & Louie show, which is at The Wick. I’m looking to book shows around Brooklyn and Jersey. Right now I’m just having fun, going to shows, I saw the Sorrows at Matchless. It’s always fun to hear bands because you get ideas for songs and it spurs you to be good.

What was the best part about playing in bands like The Nerves, The Breakaways, and The Beat?
I think the best part was the material…I remember getting goosebumps listening to these songs. The first time Jack [Lee] played me “Hangin’ on the Telephone” was like, “Oh my god, I can’t believe how good this is.” Being there at the moment and working up these songs with Jack and Peter [Case] in The Nerves and The Breakaways. I remember Peter playing “Rumble.” He had a teardrop Vox guitar plugged into a Vox amp and he started playing “Rumble” and I was just going, “Ohhh.” Shit like that, That’s what part of this music that really knocks me out. The first time I heard “Shake Some Action”…that music really knocks me out. I still don’t know why power pop is such a big struggle. “What I Like About You” and “My Sharona” hit the big time, but there are so many other great songs with power pop that are still just like, “Who is that, what is that?”

I’m proud of my early songs. I’m proud of how simple they are. A lot of the time i listen to the radio and they sound so magical and mysterious to me, How these bands get these sounds, and the vocals and harmonies. So of course when I joined The Nerves, Jack and Peter were writing songs and I hadn’t written a song yet. I was so green with envy. I learned how to play folk guitar and drums by playing pencils on a table. My musical education was pretty basic stuff. That’s how I created my style of really simple shit. It’s always hard to start writing and I never want to stop writing because if you stop it’s hard to start. I write a lot of songs, and it usually starts with a lot of really bad songs and you go, “Oh god, it’s over, I’m finished.” Then I was sitting around and I heard “Strawberry Fields” and I started singing this and I went and looked up the chords, and it’s all the same chords that I use. But, wow what they did with it. It kind of helped me get back into it. I just learned songs I like, I learned “Jessie’s Girl” to get in the groove. It spurred me to get back into the groove. Writing is really exciting but it’s also really hard for me.

What were some of your favorite bands to see and play with when you were younger?
We played with Mink DeVille in LA, that was awesome. I saw The Jam’s first two nights at The Whisky in the 70s and we were like, we were so blown away. It was like, “Man I don’t know, can we ever be that good?” They were so good. They were smoking, they were so hot. I saw Tom Petty with 25 people at The Whisky. We played with Devo, we played with DMZ. That Nerves tour we played with a lot cool bands. We toured with the Ramones, the original band, with Tommy on drums. That was really really cool. We had no idea they were going to be iconic. The coolest guy in that band was Dee Dee, he was so nice to us and he loved our songs. He was always like, “You have good songs, they’re cool, i really dig them.” They were cool to watch. They had a pretty heavy duty work ethic. So many years later, I can say,, “Yeah I toured with the original Ramones.” That’s pretty cool. Those are good memories from music. It was different I was 18, 19 years old so at the moment everyone was hustling and the competition was heavy. Everyone could say, “I wish I had enjoyed it more, I wish I knew how cool it was.” We wanted to make it. We were so driven to be successful. We wanted to bust out in a big way. I try to keep a lot of those principles and the work ethic in mind today. Trying to put a song past Jack and Peter was not easy. You really had to have your shit together. It was a good education for me as far as craftsmanship as a songwriter.

What bands are you into right now?
That’s a tough one. There are good bands. I tour with them, mostly underground bands. Purple Seven, Mother’s Children, Nagaldas. I love Adult Books from LA, they’re on Lollipop Records. I just don’t get it, most of the good music is off the radar. and there’s so much stuff. I spend a fair amount of time on the internet. You’ll be cruising along and you’ll see one band, and then you’ll see another band, and then another band and I find shit and I go, “Wow I’ve never listened to these.” I listened to The Spongetones this morning. It’s good as a writer so I keep myself fresh and motivated. When I hear other good songs i have to write something that good. It keeps me motivated.

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Do you have any cool tour stories?
Sex, drugs, and rock n roll? Oh god. I mean there were tons of those stories. It never ends, it’s not like it was back in the day of course. I did my drugs and I’m still doing my sex and my rock n roll. In the heyday of sex, drugs, and rock n roll it was just freakin’ nuts. I’m lucky i survived in one piece. There’s so many horror stories of people who barely got
out alive or didn’t get out at all.

But The Nerves had just finished the first leg of our one and only US tour and we were in LA. We had to go from LA to NY and then tour back. I’m not sure of the logic but if we didn’t do that it wasn’t a national tour. So we get as far as New York and we don’t know how to get back. It was so hard just to get there. We played most of the major cities. So we
wind up in NYC and my girlfriend at the time was staying in the Chelsea. Jack and Peter both decided they were going to go back to LA, so they went on a 2 week break and went and then they were going to come back and meet me. I’d stay in New York and do the booking. For some reason that logic worked for us. So I stayed at the Chelsea and tried to figure out how to get back. So one of the things I did was meet with Danny Fields, the manager of the Ramones. Trying to find people in the business was hard, you had to be somebody, and we weren’t anybody. But he was like, “Cool, come by my office.” So I go to his office, Ii had our package, our 45 and a write up. So i said, “We’d really like to do some shows with the Ramones.” He said, “I’ll tell you what. if you can get us a gig in Cincinnati, I’ll give you five days in Texas.” So I said, “Okay, can I use your phone?” He says sure and takes his black phone and turns it around. I’d been talking to this club in Cincinnati, called Bogarts. It’s still there today. So I had the booking agent’s number so I called him up and I was like, “I’m sitting in Danny Field’s office, how about a show with the Ramones?” and he goes, “What?” and Danny says “I’ll take it from here.” So he books this show. It’s the first punk show on record to happen in Cincinnati. So we did this show. We also did five shows with the Ramones in Texas. which was crazy. I remember the first show was in San Antonio. It’s August and it’s really really hot. and we wore these three piece suits, which were ridiculous. So we’re sitting there waiting and it’s like, noon, and we’re waiting for the Ramones to get to the club. We were standing there and looked kind of excited, we’re meeting the Ramones. So this 9 passenger station wagon pulls up, gravel parking lot, dust everywhere, and out come the Ramones and their girlfriends with their black leather jackets, and leather mini skirts, fishnet stockings, hair, the makeup, the lipstick. Right off Saint Marks. And it’s really hot and they’re looking around like. “What the hell are we doing in this dump?” It was really funny. I remember thinking, “Why do they have their girlfriends with them?” That’s really odd. They’re dressed up like Friday night on Saint Mark’s Place.

We were playing a military base. and those days, when they had shows, the bands would play two sets, we’d do a set then the Ramones and they’d turn the house and then we’d do a set and they would. So you play twice a night. So at this show the Ramones are the Ramones, Dee Dee was Dee Dee. He’d be a little spaced out or play a different song from the band but I don’t think anyone noticed. But we played this place with a low ceiling and Dee Dee would always do 1234 and jump up and down and play bass. So he’s hitting his head on this low ceiling so it’s not working out, so he stops doing that. Ao in between shows, I overhear johnny screaming at Dee Dee saying, “I don’t give a fuck, your job is to count off the songs and jump up and down.” So the next set I see Dee Dee is jumping up and down hitting his head. And I felt really bad for him. But he was the special guy in the band. Really sweet guy. I used to see him in the mid to late period and you’d never know what he was gonna look like. You’d see him and he’d be dressed in an English suit with a bowler hat and another time he’d look like he’d been up for 15 days. But he was rock n roll.

How do you feel about the newer power pop coming out now?

The biggest thing is all these young bands carrying the torch, making it their own. I’m not a power pop purist. Every once in a while when I’m writing I’m like, “Come on man, you have to write that huge killer power pop song.” But I’m not a purist in a sense of what people are doing today. Obviously rock n roll is made by and for young people. So however these kids interpret the music I was learning when I was their age, however they interpret the Plimsouls, and The Beat, and 20/20, and Dwight Twilley, and the Flamin’ Groovies, When they put in their mixture and make their songs, that’s fine with me. It’s just the way the music world works, how do you bust out? In those times it was Frampton Comes Alive and Fleetwood Mac, these six hundred thousand dollar records, so who’s going to listen to us in a basement?

Well you ended up having a huge influence on power pop.
If that’s true, I’m proud of that. I’m still hustling but that’s a good thing. But I feel that I have been fortunate in the sense that all of these projects I’ve been involved with produced really good music. I feel lucky. All of those things were real bands, what they produced was the sum of their parts. It was a great experience to work with those people. That was my favorite part, working with other people. That was part of the fun. You play a song and some guy goes. “Yeah lets put this part in” and you go, “Oh shit, that’s fucking awesome.” I think it’s really cool there’s a new generation of people who wanna promote this legacy, keep this music alive. This is the kind of music you have to go out of your way for, You have to buy tickets, spread the word, drag your friends to shows. It still needs that kind of support.There are great band still who play to six people and then 60 million people listening to shit you’re like “what the fuck is this shit?”

Catch Paul Collins at the Acheron on October 23.

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The Cry talk power pop, touring, and getting arrested in graveyards

photo by Jenny Evans

photo by Jenny Evans

I met up with Brian Crace from The Cry when they were in Brooklyn September 5th for their show with Alan Merrill of The Arrows. The Cry are essentially Exploding Hearts worship, but they definitely have their own influence. They’re currently on a seven week tour supporting last year’s release “Dangerous Game.” At their show at the Grand Victory, they ended up covering “Walking Out On Love” by The Beat with Paul Collins, who they played a few dates with in the past.

What’s the most recent thing you’ve worked on?
We recorded a new song with the new lineup and that’s the only new thing we’ve done so far.

What’s the new lineup/how is it different?
We’re a five piece now. We have a new drummer and a new bass player. We added a keyboard player that does percussion and sings backgrounds and shit, and he plays guitar.

Are you working on new material soon?
Once this tour is over, we’re working on third record material, but I’m not sure how long it’s going to take.

Are you branching out from your old sound or are you staying the same?
Probably but a little different. With the first record and second record, they’re fairly different but they’re still power pop. This is a little glammier than the second record. I don’t know, that kind of shit just happens with us.

How long have you been on tour?
We’ve been on tour for almost five weeks now of a seven week tour.

What’s the best show you’ve played so far?
I think it’s a tie between yesterday [The Mercury Lounge with an after party at Manitoba’s] and the Viper Room in LA. Everything else has been up or down, hit or miss kind of shit.

What’s the best band you played with so far?
Probably Dinos Boys [in Atlanta] or Biters. We played with Biters when we were in Houston.

What’s the show your most excited about for this tour?
Probably the Biters show. We were trying to play with Wyldlife here. It just didn’t work out but I was stoked to play with them. Also pretty excited about playing with Alan Merrill.

What’s your favorite older powerpop band and your favorite newer power pop band?
Favorite new power pop band is probably the Barreracudas out of Atlanta. They just put out their second record. [As far as older] it’s always changing. I’ve been listening to a lot of Protex lately.

What bands have influenced your sound the most?
Exploding Hearts gave us our main influence when we first started out. We listened to that first record a lot. I’d heard it before and never liked it and then my singer showed it to me again, like a year after and it like hit me, like full force. Like shit dude. We get a lot of shit at home, everyone just calls us Exploding Hearts ripoffs. We played with Louie Bankston, who was in the band. He came up and sang Thorns In Roses with us once or twice which was cool So Exploding Hearts and The Booze out of Atlanta. Barreracudas and Biters. We really dig the Atlanta scene, what’s going on there.

Do any other Portland bands influence your music?
We’re fans of The Riffs and The Wipers. My singer loves old Portland punk. He grew up in the street punk scene there and just kind of gravitated toward power pop because he got a little bit older.

Wildest story from tour?
This tour, a couple of my band mates were banging a chick in the bathroom at the same time. Also my drummer got arrested. He was hanging out with some people, they wanted to show up in some graveyard in the middle of the night. So they were chilling for maybe ten minutes and the cops showed up, and someone yelled “run” so he dipped out. He got away, and he hid on someone’s front porch. He thought he was hidden but the people who lived at the house were home so they called the cops on him when they found him. He spent like eighteen hours in jail and we had a show the next day, and he didn’t get out until maybe an hour before we went on. That was in Atlanta.

Check out their Facebook for tour dates.

Talking TV with Richard Lloyd

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[I met Richard Lloyd in the seventh circle of Hell, also known as Times Square, the week it was one degree in New York City’s Winter 2015. He’s thirty minutes late and when he finally comes up, he’s tugging a rolling suitcase full of paintings behind him. We end up going to this tiny Italian restaurant a few blocks away, because it’s empty and quiet and seems like a good place to conduct an interview. The actual interview consisted of him basically telling me all these crazy stories about Television and being a musician, so it was really tough to compose into interview format. That’s why it’s taken me so long to publish it. I’m going to post the transcript of the conversation in installments, and this is the first one, which mostly focuses on Television’s beginning and end.]

When I was young, I didn’t make any wishes, because I thought wishes would come true. So I saved them all up, and about when I was in my mid teens, I made a wish. It had two aims: one, that I’d be a world famous guitarist of top rank. There’s room at the top if you’re good. It’s not like there’s a best guitarist ever. So the other was to somehow impact the history of rock n roll, irrevocably and without question. If you look at what happened, they both came true. I had a guy call me up who knew me from then. People used to ask me, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” and I’d say “I already am who I’m going to be when I grow up. They’d say, “What?” and I mean, I was making records and I would go around and play music. I’d make an irrevocable impact on the history of music. And I had no idea how it was going to happen.

And then I saw Tom [Verlaine], almost by accident play three songs on his own. [During] the second song, I turned to my friend Terry Ork, who wanted to manage a band, and I said, “If you put Tom and me together, you’ll have history.”

television

Tom has “it,” the famous “it.” You can’t teach “it,”  you have to have some “it.” I’ve tried to teach “it” to people who don’t have “it” but it can’t be done. Anyway, I knew he had “it” but he was missing something, and I knew I had “it,” scads of it, but I was missing something. I saw that we could link, like gears in a clock. and that’s exactly what we ended up doing. So he and Richard Hell, who was his best friend, who was not playing bass at the time…they came down and we traded my guitar back and forth. Richard Myers and Tom Miller [Hell and Verlaine, respectively, at the time] whispered back and forth, and they came over and said, “Alright let’s try it.” So we talked Hell into playing bass. But he didn’t want to, he wanted to be a writer or a poet. But we talked him into playing bass again. Tom said he had a perfect drummer in Boston. The third day of rehearsal, Tom said, “Can I talk to you?  I want to apologize because he used to be a great drummer, now  he’s a jazz drummer. He’s playing this crap and it’s driving me crazy.” I said, “Tom, think about classic rock, all the best guitarists had nutty drummers. The Who – Keith Moon. The bass player was the stable one.” When we got Fred Smith, he was the stable one, eventually.

In the beginning, I stood in the middle. Richard and Tom sang most of the songs and I sang a couple. Then Tom wanted to be in the middle. Then Tom  decides to write a song, and we help him for like a year and a half to mess around with this song, and we get nowhere. I told him over two songs, “If you don’t give me equal songwriting, you can write your own thing and I’ll play anything you want me to play, but you can’t have that riff [for the song].”  So he had to cave. The same thing [happened later] with “Days,” I was playing a really playing a bastardized version of The Birds “Mr. Tambourine Main,” and he came in to the studio and he asked me to play it backwards. So I just played it and stopped in the middle of itand went backwards. But I told him he couldn’t have it, that was me, and it’s still me. So I got credit for two of the most beautiful songs on those records.

By the time we got to adventure, we had lots of songs, but he wanted to write songs in the studio.  For me, that was the beginning of the end.  I quit finally after 35 years because he wouldn’t tour if he had money, but if he was running low on money he’d do a tour. I don’t want someone else deciding how much money I make. I’d rather make less money than be dependent upon this guy like a bad girlfriend, who doesn’t call you, but then she does and you’re supposed to hop over. I was loyal to the band, he wasn’t. It took me awhile to find that out.

There were two of us…at first there were three, but Richard Hell treated everyone around him like an insect. Tom didn’t treat me like that because he needed me. I quit basically because Tom kept talking about making a record and I have a damn studio, and he goes “I can’t get a good drum sound in here.” and I’m like, “Have you listened to my records that I’ve made in here?” and he goes “No.” Every year that went by the same way, for 14 years til finally I said “That’s it.” I did miss that last show but I’d already decided to quit. That was going to be my swan song but thank god I didn’t have to do it.  The first time we broke up, we knew but the audience didn’t. No one knew when we played our last three nights that we were gonna go to Chinatown to have a  meal and say goodbye. but jazz quartets could do it all the time, why not rock n roll?

Talking Shit with Night Birds

Night-Birds-Avalon-Kenny

[Note: This is an interview I did in January 2014 for Rice and Bread Magazine.]

I recently had the chance to sit down (well, stand in a bathroom) with New Jersey punk band Night Birds, [who were] on tour with Torche and Municipal Waste. Night Birds are a quintessential punk band, and it’s easy to see why: their sound is a modern take on the California punk scene from the ‘80s with surfy guitar riffs, insane bass lines, pounding drums, and fast vocals. This isn’t a band to sleep on; their shows are wild and captivating due to the entire band’s stage presence.

You guys are working on a new album. How is that coming along?
Vocalist Brian Gorsegner: We’re still pretty much in the process of writing it, but here are my observations thus far: lyrically, there are more personal songs than we’ve ever had before.
Guitarist PJ Russo: Definitely one.
B: There’s at least two. We’ve never really done that before. We have no personal stuff on our other records. But now we thought it was time. With every record our mindset going in is, “How can we make this better than the last one?” so we try to push ourselves to not get lazy and write the same record again. We always try to take a notch up and I do think that we’ve done some more with this record… I will also say that one of the songs on it is my favorite song we’ve ever written.

When are you guys planning on having that out?
B: If we can get it done when we’re supposed to get it done… I found out yesterday that the release day is supposed to be October 6, but that’s a lot of pressure on us to get it done when we’re supposed to get it done. I’m giving us a 50/50 shot.
PJ: We’re basically, I don’t know, 85-90 percent done writing it, but that’s a fair estimate.
B: I’d lean more toward the 85 percent.
PJ: Almost there, we just have to work on sequencing; we’re working on a couple songs that aren’t completed yet. We’re really slow writers. It’s kind of embarrassing.
B: We’re not even slow. I think we’re more meticulous than slow. We don’t go weeks without trying.
PJ: But while other bands take a day to write a song, we’ll mull over an idea and almost over-think it to make sure it’s as good as it can be.
B: I’ve heard bands say they wrote their whole records in a weekend, and then they recorded it in a weekend, and then it was done. And it takes us like a year and a half because we throw songs away and we keep some, and I think we are definitely our biggest critic. If we’re going to put something out that’s going to be on a piece of wax for the rest of our lives, I want it to be something that we stand behind and we’re proud of instead of like, “Well, I think we’re done here; let’s get our check and fuckin’ cut a record.”
PJ: Yeah, I mean we can just write a whole album about like, jerking off and eating food….
B: …and doodoo.
PJ: I mean, we kind of do that.
B: But we do it in our own special way where people don’t realize what they’re hearing until it’s already infected in their brain.

On your last album, you have a cover of the theme to the movie Escape from New York. Are you going to have anything like this on the new record?
PJ: We’re working on, not exactly a surf version, but we’re fooling around with this one movie’s theme song. We might put it on somewhere, but it’s not going to be out front like “Escape from New York” was. That’s because we were able to take that song and make it something different from what it originally was.

What other songs do you have that reference movies?
PJ: Our 7″ was entirely about movies.
B: We reference a lot of movies by a guy named Frank Henenlotter, so on the Midnight Movies 7″ we reference Bad Biology, Frankenhooker, Basket Case, and Brain Damage. We also have a song about the movie It’s Alive. We probably have lines here and there, but no other songs that are full-on about movies. The song “Midnight Movies” references Pink Flamingos, The Exorcist, and Eraserhead.
PJ: We reference Seinfeld… we also have a song that’s a subtle nod at the movie It’s Pat. We’re nerds. Nerds are nerdy about smart stuff. We’re nerdy about watching TV.

Night-Birds-Avalon-Kenny-2

What other bands have influenced your sound?
B: When we started the band, it was more that we wanted to start a catchy punk band like The Misfits. Punk music, but set to the blueprint of pop music. Not just fast for the sake of being fast, but have melody and try to write hooks. So throughout doing that we pickup tricks from shit we’ve been listening to since childhood, from The Adolescents to…
PJ: …California punk, like early ’80s California punk, is an easy comparison to make. And that’s fair, because that’s mostly what I listen to; that’s mostly how I learned to play. We listen to a lot of Naked Raygun, a lot of Killed by Death stuff. Our drummer, Ryan, listens to a lot of rock.
B: And our bass player listens to a lot of jazz. So it’s like, that’s the stuff we enjoy and I like trying to write songs like that because they’re fun to play, and I like writing a melody. So it’s easy to lump it in like, “Oh, it sounds like punk from the past 30 years,” but I think we’re just as influenced by later-era The Ramones as we are the California stuff.
PJ: We did a cover of “The Job That Ate My Brain” by The Ramones.

Have the other bands you guys have been in before influenced Night Birds at all?
PJ: The band I was in before Brian asked me to join Night Birds called Phibes were definitely intentionally trying to sound like TSOL, and that was our only real thought. My guitar tone hasn’t switched too much. I just added reverb to make it surfier, but I haven’t changed it that much since my last band. Joe’s bass playing in The Ergs and his bass playing in general is just nuts.
B: I don’t know if old bands I’ve been in shaped the sound of the band I’m in now, but old bands that I’ve been in taught me how to be in a band. Each band I did taught me new experiences; you learn how to tour, and learn how to be on the road with other people and get along in tight quarters. The first time I toured the US, it was a fucking train wreck and everyone treated each other like shit. Everyone was in each other’s private space. For your band’s longevity, you need to know how to get along, and how to be able to behave with other people.
PJ: We rarely have spats, even when fucked up things happen. There’s a lot of understanding going on and a lot of… what’s the word I’m looking for?
B: Inner-band sex.
PJ: Yeah, that’s it. No, there’s a lot of shit put into perspective, before we jump on someone’s case we kind of take a step back and are like, “Okay, well what’s really going on?” and take everything in before we approach a situation.
B: It’s pretty mature of us.
PJ: If there’s ever a problem, it gets neutralized very quickly.
B: We handle our dealings in a very adult manner.
PJ: Yeah, because we’re adults, goddamnit!

What kind of equipment does it take to make your sound?
PJ: I use two amps onstage, and I daisy chain them together with the same pedals. One amp is Brian’s amp; it’s a Fender DeVille combo. The other is an old Fender Pro Reverb, and I basically turn the treble up and it annoys a lot of sound guys because it’s on the high end. When we were in Europe, every sound guy told us to turn my amps down because some clubs have decibel levels they can’t go over. So during sound check I would have my amp up too loud and they would be like, “Turn your amp down,” and I’d be like, “Okay,” and I would turn it down until it was inaudible, and they’d be like, “Okay, that sounds great,” and I would be like, “Okay whatever,” and then I would leave my amp onstage and when I would go onstage I would turn it back up. What are they going to do?

What are your favorite bands right now?
PJ: Our favorite bands right now are Torche and Municipal Waste. We played our first show with them last night and it was so much fun. They are so cool and friendly. Torche is fucking heavy. Municipal Waste is great. I like the band Nervosas. They’ve been working on a new record and they played a live set with all new songs on it. The drummer sent me the MP3s and it’s sick.

If you could do a cover set of any band, what would it be?
PJ: Maybe The Pagans, or The Turtles… that psychedelic band that did “Happy Together.”
B: Why did that just come out of your mouth? We should do a The Ergs cover set. So we’d make more money and people would come to see us.
PJ: Joe’s going to hate that.

What’s a non-punk band you guys like?
PJ: I’ve been listening to a lot of Thin Lizzy lately.
B: We listen to a lot of non-punk. I’d say if you put our musical tastes together in a bucket with all four of us, there’s probably an equal amount of non-punk as there is punk. I love Queen.
PJ: Motorhead?
B: Motorhead’s a punk band. Oh, and Cheap Girls… I told them the other day that they’re my current favorite non-punk band, and they got all butt-hurt because they think they’re a punk band. They sound like Goo Goo Dolls.

Night Birds’ Born to Die in Suburbia is out now on Fat Wreck Chords, and they also recently released a new song “Blank Eyes” off their upcoming album.

Personality Crisis

Daddy Issues

Daddy Issues

[This is an article I wrote for a website I previously worked for, You & Me & Us. It’s a compilation of my feelings, as well as friends of mine, on the concept of being a minority in the punk scene.]

Punk has always been a scene known for celebrating diversity. As a musical genre, punk encompasses all sorts of sounds; from power pop bands like The Nerves, to blistering d-beat, crust punk, and power-violence. Punk is also full of all different kinds of people with different backgrounds and is meant to be supportive of anyone and everyone involved. However, though it may seem like an inclusive scene, a lot of people seem to be marginalized by what some call a “straight white boys club.” Women have always struggled finding themselves a place within the scene. Even in our modern punk culture, homophobia can occasionally still be an issue, and these marginalized people may feel excluded due to their race, gender, or disabilities.

I identify as non-binary and look like a girl, so that’s what I feel the most comfortable talking about. I can’t speak on behalf of a person of color, a person with disabilities, or most people who identify as queer, so I’ve gathered stories and information from friends in the scene. Everyone has their own individual experiences, and while it’s not the norm, some local scenes are run by people who may feel excluded elsewhere. There have been plenty of cities whose scenes have welcomed others and me with open arms, but just as many that have turned me away or made me feel inferior. It sucks: we’re fucking living in 2015 and still seeing sexism, racism, and homophobia everyday, but why should we have to see it in the punk scene where we’re all supposed to feel welcome?

On being female: 

It’s hard enough to be a woman, period, but I’ve noticed in the punk scene, a lot of dudes don’t accept women right away (if at all). Hardcore is overrun with “bros,” and there’s some sort of unspoken test you have to pass to be able to hang with the dudes. I’ve always felt like I had to prove myself to be taken seriously, but there’s also a certain line you can’t go over. If you try and talk too much about certain bands or ideas, you’re trying to “show off.” I really get excited about music and so it is one of the few things I can actually hold a conversation about. Doesn’t mean I’m trying to show off or be some “punk guru,” it just means I give a shit. I’ve been looked down on, ignored, and passed over by the same dudes who claim to be feminists.

Female musicians may be looked over when dudes are looking to start bands, who may instead opt for a guy who is probably already in four or five bands. Women have to fight for recognition, no matter how good they are. As a female musician, I’ve heard these things that were supposed to be compliments:

 “Whoa, this band has a girl in it! Cool!” (When was the last time you heard someone say “neat, there’s a dude in this band!”) “She’s a really great guitarist, for a girl.” “I don’t typically like girl singers, but I like your band!” “You remind me of [Bikini Kill/The Slits/Punch/other female fronted band]!” 

The few “compliments” they get come down to them being recognized as “female musicians” as opposed to “musicians.” Guys seem to be surprised by the fact that chicks can actually play instruments, and even more shocked by the fact that they’re good at it. They may mean well, but these kinds of statements make women feel abject and reinforce the idea of women as “the other.” It’s great that women are being recognized, but we want to be known for our talent, not for our gender.

A lot of women also don’t feel safe at shows. My friend Kara, for example, doesn’t feel comfortable wearing dresses at shows anymore because she’s been felt up so many times. She’s had dudes literally lift up her dress and give the excuse, “well if you don’t want me to get hard then don’t wear a dress.” After having random dudes grind on her, she quit wearing dresses and skirts to shows. My friend Anna has also been groped at shows, and the dudes have defended it by saying they were just being friendly or it was an “accident,” citing that they ran into them in the pit. When I saw Spraynard in October, I was literally fingered while I was crowdsurfing. I felt so uncomfortable that I walked out. Beyond feeling inferior, feeling violated discourages a lot of women from attending punk shows. A lot of girls have learned that if a dude actually holds a conversation with you at a punk show, he probably just wants to fuck you. And that’s fucking depressing.

On being queer, nonbinary, or trans: 

I think the punk scene really wants to be supportive and welcoming of queer and trans people, but a lot of it is all talk. A lot of people will say they aren’t homophobic and that they support gay marriage, but will turn around and stare at and harass trans people who come to shows. My friend Mikey has on multiple times been called a “faggot” for wearing dresses to the shows they attend. They also said that they have had experiences where people have called them a “PC fag” for talking about gender issues and social responsibility. I’ve had friends, like Jamie, who have been jumped for being a “faggot,” things you usually only hear about or see in movies. Jamie was singled out for not conforming to the “bro” uniform at a Slapshot show and physically punished for it. Punk is about challenging social norms, but it doesn’t accept its own kind doing that. It’s not a place a lot of people feel comfortable being themselves.

possum

Poossum

However, it’s not all awful. A lot of people have been starting communities to make progress for punk queers. Queercore has been around since the mid 80s, and as a scene works towards making punk a safe environment for queer and trans punks. There’s a collective in New York City called Brooklyn Transcore that cultivates a welcoming scene, hosting events featuring local queer and trans bands. My friend Pierce is a queer, nonbinary punk and their band has started aligning with other queer bands in the city, which makes everything a lot easier and better for them. However, in many places they are still forced to codeswitch when they shouldn’t have to in a place that’s supposed to be about acceptance.

On having a disability:

On a different spectrum, having a physical disability can also make you feel inferior at punk shows. A lot of disabled people find that others feel “sorry” for them, even if they’re perfectly capable of holding their own. I have a friend, John, who has been going to punk shows for longer than most of the kids in the hardcore scene where I live have been alive. He’s seen how rowdy they can get, yet people try to “protect” him in the pit. While it’s well intentioned, it’s misplaced. He, and many other disabled people, don’t like the special privilege he seems to get for no due reason. He doesn’t like being treated like a special case, facing some of the same parallels POC, queers, and females deal with. He just wants to do the same dumb shit as other people without having to question other people’s interactions with him.

Mental illness, on the other hand, doesn’t have a physical appearance like being a girl or trans or a POC, but it still can make you feel left out. A lot of punks face anxiety, depression, and other mental disorders that make it hard to be around a lot of people and feeling unwelcome because of their physical attributes just makes it worse.

On being young:

While being a kid doesn’t necessarily make you a minority, a lot of scenes are hostile (or at least uninviting) to younger fans. Obviously, it’s hard to fit in anywhere when you’re a teenager. However, sometimes shows, a place youths should feel welcome, can often make them feel excluded. Sometimes, it’s just because the venue is 18 or 21 and up. Other times, it’s because the older fans think they are better or smarter than the younger kids. I always felt like I had to be three times as cool as the people around me when I was going to shows when I was a teenager, even going so far as lying about my age for three years. I felt like I wouldn’t be taken seriously if I was actually fifteen. However, some scenes are accepting of younger people. I went to Damaged City Fest and saw more younger kids in one room than I had than when I was going to shows in high school. Personally, I think teenagers should be encouraged to create and take part in the scene. Who’s going to carry the torch after we get jaded?

With all of the negative shit happening, there’s definitely progress happening. Sites like Is This Venue Accessible make it easier for disabled punks to attend shows, and the rise of queer communities within the punk scene have made it safer and more welcoming. Bands like RVIVR have encouraged queer youth to feel safe at shows and make an effort to promote gender equality. It wouldn’t be fair to talk about trans punks without mentioning Against Me!, a killer band fronted by a badass transwoman named Laura Jane Grace. She’s been an incredible influence on trans (and non-trans) youth, and is basically the perfect role model.

To make the scene better and easier to be a part of, there’s tons of progress we need to make. However, there’s one thing everyone can do, and that is just to be nice to each other. Having a tough guy attitude at hardcore shows is “cool” and all, but it’s not too hard to be welcoming and inclusive. Be kind. It’s 2015, and being a dick is decidedly unpunk.

Riding Through Hell With The Village Tricycle

Rebecca & Jeremy (Photo by Keith Warther)

Rebecca & Jeremy (Photo by Keith Warther)

[Note: This is part of a series of archived interviews I did for a website I previously worked for, Avant Greensboro. This interview was conducted for April 6th, 2012.]

For this week’s interview, Keith and I got to talk with one of Greensboro’s newer bands – and definitely one of the most original. The Village Tricycle consists of Rebecca Henderson on vocals, Mike O’Malley on drums and vocals, and Jeremy Harris on keyboards and vocals. Together, they make up some sort of musical-esque punk rock band. Keith and I went over to Jeremy and Rebecca’s house, where we talked to them on the porch. We arrived slightly early and Rebecca arrived slightly late, so Jeremy gave us a preview of a song that would be on their upcoming release that will be out sometime in May. When asked if it would be an EP or an LP, Rebecca only said, “It’ll be somewhere between 7 and 12 inches.” Before we departed, Rebecca and Jeremy insisted we give them locks of hair for their ‘hair jar.’ They made sure to inform us that it was their second jar – their first one had been stolen off their front porch.

How did you meet?

Jeremy Harris: One night, one dark and stormy night, I emerged from my apartment after a long and arduous journey into the dark realms of the human psyche. I had a long conversation with Lucifer, the prince of darkness. My mind was still reeling from all the things he had taught me. I came onto the porch to have a think, to have a cigarette. Rebecca was sitting here. Introduced herself.

Rebecca Henderson: I’m a bitch like that.

JH: She started asking me about my tattoo. I said something about Satan. “I’m friends with Satan.” She was like, “Oh cool, so are you like into voodoo stuff? That goth stuff?” Something about goth and I was just like, this bitch has no clue what she’s talking about. I heard ‘goth stuff’ and I was like, “I have just had a three hour long conversation with Lucifer” and I was like, “you don’t know me. You don’t know me.” And then I sat there in silence.

RH: He was acting like I was the weird one. You came down and twisted yourself on the couch in your underwear with a cigarette.

JH: After I had recovered from my experience, I apologized and we became friends after that. Rebecca knew Mike from Charlotte. I met Mike one night at a house and there was a piano and we all started singing. I’m one of those people who hears someone else is a musician and I’m like, psh, whatever, and then Mike sat on the piano and I was like, whoa.

RH: We’re a band with two musicians and three artists.

Jeremy & Rebecca (Photo by Keith Warther)

Jeremy & Rebecca (Photo by Keith Warther)

How long have you guys been playing music together?

JH: After that first night.

RH: We were like musical fuck buddies.

JH: Whenever we were all drunk in the same place we played together. At some point we decided to try to write a song.

RH: We were eating sushi and I was like, “Jeremy. I have these words in my head.”

JH: So we started trying to write a song and we needed a little extra something so we hounded Mike.

RH: We were like, “Mike, come write a song with us” and we wanted him to come with his bouzouki. But he came with these drums and we were like, “I guess you play drums now, motherfucker.” All in all we’ve been a band since January.

JH: We’d been fooling around since the summer and then we decided to write songs together.

How would you describe your music?

RH: It’s background porn music for gothic fans. Wait, what is it? It’s 1920s punk rock. It spans a pretty wide music gap because we decide we want to write a song in a certain style. Jeremy’s pretty good at picking out styles.

How do you write songs? Is it a joint effort or does one person do it?

JH: It’s totally collaborative. Working in a group always has to be completely collaborative or else the power dynamic is skewed. If I am ever in a band, not doing solo things, I feel like everyone has to write songs together. Since we live together, we are a lot of times on the same wavelength and we come up with a plan, a concept, a storyboard, so to speak. Then we’ll bring Mike in and he helps tidy up the loose ends.

RH: You’ll know when there’s a Mike moment in a song. We won’t write anything and have him come fill it in.

How did you get your name?

JH: I remember this story differently than what I’ve heard from Rebecca or Mike. I always remember joking between the three of us about who’s the third wheel. Who doesn’t belong, who’s the third wheel. Then we were like, we don’t have to have a third wheel, we can be a tricycle.

RH: Then we brought in the Village Bicycle idea and it became a ménage-tricycle – and then The Village Tricycle.

JH: Everyone gets a ride on The Village Tricycle.

What artists have influenced you the most?

RH: Influenced is a tricky word. I would say informed. A lot of the music we’ve heard has informed us to what we like about music but it’s not what you’d pick out as an influence.

JH: As far as influence goes, everything is an influence. If you like it you’ll incorporate it into your own art. If you hate it you’ll figure out why and why you don’t want it to be part of your art. As far as informed, I think that’s why we three work together. We come from very different musical backgrounds.

RH: I think that Mike brings the Tom Waits-carnival. Jeremy brings the classical Bjork-Tori Amos. I’m somewhere with post-modern riot Nick Cave.

JH: There are areas we overlap. We all enjoy musicals a lot.

RH: We all like punk a lot.

JH: We like trashy 80s music.

RH: Kate Bush. If we had to summarize one influence it would be Kate Bush. For me at least.

What was the best live show you’ve ever seen?

RH: [To Jeremy] Are you going to say Bjork?

JH: No…For me it would be Joanna Newsom, [which] was like one of the best in my memories because by the end of the show I could look in any direction and there was someone full out bawling in tears. The demographic was so wide. Everyone was so moved. Tied between that and Zola Jesus. I went to this show in Chapel Hill and there were literally twenty people there. It was so intimate and she’s like 4’11” and raging on the stage. It was so personal and she was drawing straight from ‘the source.’

RH: I think the hardest thing for a band to do is win over people when you don’t already know their music. So in that sense, I would say the best show I’ve seen probably to date in the sense that I sort of left completely fulfilled and exhausted…There’s this Puerto Rican punk band called Davila 666 that was playing with my friends’ band, Paint Fumes. They were highly recommended and their record is really cool. I think it’s weird that we do covers because I was into it and I was like “oh my God.” They did this cover of “Hanging On The Telephone” and it was all in Spanish but I was singing along in English. It was weird. Just because it was so surprising, that was the best show. We really like live music. I think music is meant to be seen live.

What inspires your mash ups and what artists to use?
RH: Number one, they’re very good practice as a band. We started off not doing original stuff. We liked certain songs and for us as artists they’re better in conversation with each other than on their own. It’s like a way of generating experience without generating content.

Hair Jar (Photo by Keith Warther)

Hair Jar (Photo by Keith Warther)

JH: The whole idea of the sum being better than the parts.

RH: It’s our invocation when we use them in our set.

JH: We’re drawing energy from those artists that have come before. I think it’s something everyone does. You hear one song and sing another song over it that reminds you of another. It’s become kind of an art. Songs that match up musically as well as a theme. And it’s just fun. Everyone likes to have a song that people recognize.

RH: Especially as a new band – just to tap into people’s psyche.

JH: You get that with straightforward covers but two or three songs you’re like, oh surprise! It’s another level of excitement.

What do you like best about playing in Greensboro?

RH: People will show up.

JH: I’ve never played anywhere else so I don’t have much to compare. I think for me one of the best things about playing here is being exposed to little niches of people. Little families that you normally wouldn’t come in contact with. Like were it not for playing at The Flatiron, there are all these people that I never would’ve met. I would have never gone to The Flatiron on my own. It’s just not ‘my scene.’ But that is rewarding. To be at parties and stuff. It’s this whole other group of people who are not a part of my immediate reality that you can come to appreciate.