[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.
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.
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.