Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Interview: Paint it Black (Dan Yemin and Andy Nelson)

Full interview with Dan Yemin and Andy Nelson of Paint it Black. Abridged version originally appeared in Poweredge skateboarding magazine. Check out Poweredge for the interview details and intro. Interview by Tyler Barrett, photo by Adam DeGross.

RadioActivist: Why’d you decide to play your two Midwestern shows in the dead of winter?

Dan Yemin: To be honest, we were so excited about coming we didn’t really consider the weather until we arranged everything. We haven’t been here in like six years because of a weird combination of things—partly that we don’t really tour and partly because coming out just to play a couple shows in the Midwest from Philly is really hard. It’s either drive and play Chicago and Detroit or fly and play Minneapolis and Chicago. And we’ve been talking about doing it for the last three years but we keep going to like England, like someone offers “Hey, we’ll fly you over to England” and we’re like “Okay, cool.” And so we end up spending all the time we had to tour. So we’ve been talking about it, Andy and I making all the plans for the last three years. So first it was like, “When the album comes out we’ll go do a Minneapolis/Chicago weekend” and that was like three years ago. And then it was, “Well, when the seven-inch comes out, we’ll go…”
Andy Nelson: It’s like vacuuming. We’re like, “Yeah…we’ll get to it.”
DY: And it’s gotten to the point now where we’re so embarrassed and ashamed that we haven’t been here that it’s not something we could let go. Our schedules are fucked between work and family and living in different cities. I looked at my calendar—mine and my wife’s calendar—and there were like four weekends in the first half of the year that I was available. And we wanted to give the Midwest priority because we hadn’t done it so long. And after I bought the plane tickets I thought, “Jeez, that’s February…what the fuck are we doing?” And people started telling me “You’re gonna eat the cost of the plane tickets…you’re fucked.” And it turns out we’re not fucked.
AN: Not yet! [laughs]
DY: So why do it February? Because if we waited any longer I was afraid it’d be another two years. And we picked our two favorite cities in the Midwest. It was like, Detroit or St. Louis, yeah…but bottom line, it was like where do we wanna be? Minneapolis and Chicago.

RA: It seemed like 2010 was a pretty quiet year for Paint it Black, any particular reason behind that?

AN: What did we even do in 2010?
DY: I had a baby.
AN: Oh, right. Did we even tour?
DY: We played Richmond…
AN: A house show in Philly, three shows in California, the record release with Ceremony, returning the favor they did for us the year prior. We did Gainesville, Reading, Leeds, seven other shows. Some with Blacklisted, some with Off With Their Heads. But yeah, even for us, pretty quiet.

RA: It seemed like Surrender and Amnesia had songs among the heaviest that you’ve done. Was that intentional in the direction you were heading or more a product of Kurt Ballou from Converge and God City Studios producing it?

DY: I think a lot of the stuff that we’ve done in the past is heavy, but it doesn’t sound like 21st century-heavy in the way it was recorded. Like when you do something heavy with [produce] J. Robbins, it’s not gonna sound brutal. It’s gonna sound heavy like heavy was in 1985, not like heavy sounded in 2005. So I guess yeah, Kurt had a lot to do with it.
AN: I think we continued to stretch. I think there’s what I would consider maybe our poppiest song, and our most sparse ones.
DY: The Bridge Nine record has our heaviest and poppiest song on it. Begins with “Salem” and ends with “Bliss.” The most fun part about this band is we can write something and not be like, “Oh, this song doesn’t work for Paint it Black.” Whatever we feel like works. We’ve established this parameters that are really broad, so we can convince ourselves we can get away with a really wide variety of heavy and pretty.

RA: There’s been some talk of you working with Minneapolis rapper P.O.S., can you elaborate on that? Has anything materialized or is that just ideas being floated?

DY: Stef and I are friends and he’s talked to me about writing some stuff, like “Write some stuff that you would normally do for one of your bands and record it and send me the file, and I wanna make beats out of it.” And that’s awesome, I’m flattered. I love P.O.S. and I love [Minneapolis hip-hop collective] Doomtree, but I’m writing songs for three bands and I don’t have a lot of extra stuff. And I’m not just gonna give Stef bullshit, like leftover riffs. I’d love it to happen, but, you know…in the next year I want a Paint it Black seven-inch, a Lifetime seven-inch, and an Armalite seven-inch, so I don’t have a lot of extra.

RA: Aside from having Oktopus produce your last LP New Lexicon, how does hip-hop influence you?

DY: It definitely influences the vocal cadence more than anything else. And also, I feel like I get a little better at the words each time. I feel like when I’m able to pull off writing something smart that also lets me to have fun, like play with language a little bit, I feel like that’s when I’m most influenced by hip-hop. Also, I think in the 2000s, underground hip-hop people pushed the boundaries of their genre way more than underground punk people did, so in that sense, I find that to be an inspiration.

RA: What’s been the connection between skateboarding and hardcore punk going all the way back to bands like Minor Threat and JFA?

DY: Minor Threat is my favorite band of all time. I have a video from an old Flipside—Flipside used to do a video campaign as well—and they have all these videos of bands playing or talking or hanging out in the early ‘80s, and there’s a video of Ian and Jeff skating this schoolyard with these major-league blacktop banks and that was one of the earliest things I watched over and over again. I have no claim to skating credibility since I’m so uncoordinated. I fell off my skateboard more than I rode it. I got sick of bloody knees and bruised faces real early. So I got rid of my skateboard when I was really young. And now I’ve come back to bloody knees and bruised faces by playing in a hardcore band way past my prime.

RA: I think there’s a parallel in that both are kind of bound by their form and the tools of the trade which somewhat constrain progression. How does Paint it Black approach a concept like progression?

AN: I think we absolutely try to progress, like we’re part of a scene and we want things to progress. We have no interest in stagnation. Over the last couple years the way we’ve tried to operate in the band has been with progression in mind, both artistically and in terms of the business of the band. I mean, just changing to doing only singles rubbed people the wrong way, I don’t know why. Commercialization is so engrained even in punk and hardcore kids and they’re like, “Well, why aren’t you making [full-length] albums?” And the reason why people expect albums now is because of publicity and record labels and corporate chain stores that want albums. And so we’re trying to play with people’s preconceptions of that and trying to control the kind of shows we play. We try to book our own shows and book the bands we play with and a lot of times they’re not the type of bands people who listen to our records would expect…which is nice.
DY: That’s one of the biggest ways in which we try to push the limits a little bit is curating our own shows. We’ve got three shows on the East Coast coming up next month and we’re very deliberate about what bands are playing, about the gender mix, and everything. This has less to do with form, or less to do with musical form in an obvious way.
AN: I think we’ve been trying to set an example, also. Like the idea of people sitting around and saying, “Oh man, it’s not like it used to be, there aren’t bands like Fugazi around anymore that really carry the torch. And I think a couple years ago, we were like, “Well, we’ll do that!” Not on as big of a scale, but so what? And there’s like this weird careerism with even the smallest hardcore bands, where they’re like “Oh yeah, we have a demo out so now we have a booking agent and we’re gonna get on a packaged tour and then a bigger packaged tour and a bigger one and it’s like, “Whoa, that’s not how you’re supposed to do it!”
DY: I like to think of each show as it’s own separate thing. And the whole point is that if there’s a band that we think is doing it like it was during your heyday, then make that band. If you don’t like the gender balance of punk shows, then book shows that are more gender-balanced. Don’t settle for what there is, make it the way it should be. I’m an idealist, and people think I’m crazy, but I’m gonna do it the way I wanna do it. Part of that’s the way it was, like in the heyday of the ‘80s or ‘90s and part of it’s the way it should be in the future. In that way, having a kid really plays into it in imaging the future I want her to have. I want my kid to be able to come see play and not think, “Oh, I could never play drums because there’s no girls that play.” I don’t want that to happen.
AN: It’s weird to think that the idea of independent underground punk rock that you can make something DIY by yourself and make it inclusive. I mean, that’s the idea, but it’s really weird to think that that’s a progressive idea, because that’s the blueprint.

RA: As skateboarding has become more eclectic in the past few years it seems like a lot of the hardcore scene has gravitated towards mixed martial arts, with Deathwish sponsoring fighters, and the lead singer of Raised Fist doing Thai boxing—

DY: Make sure you get it on tape that two people just rolled their eyes. [laughs]
AN: What do you think about it?

RA: Well what I wonder about—and actually I wanted to get Dan’s perspective as someone with a PhD in clinical psychology—is likelihood of brain damage people might be inflicting at an early age and the mental health issues it might bring up.

AN: Are you suggesting you have to be mentally ill to take part in it? [laughs]
DY: I think about the risks in much more of a personal, nonprofessional level. If you’ve read anything about this band, you know that I started this band after I had a stroke. And I have to take blood thinners for the rest of my life which means I’m constantly at risk for a hemorrhage, which is why I don’t stagedive anymore and why I’m way more conservative about what I do with my body when we’re playing. Because if I run my head into something hard I could have a brain hemorrhage. So it makes me think way more when I’m riding my bike around town, when I’m playing shows, when I’m going to shows, how easy it is to fuck somebody’s world up by hitting them in the head. And you know what…fuck all that shit. Fuck this, “I’m in a hardcore band, I’m in a hardcore position, I support mixed martial arts and I support its integration” [attitude]. I don’t want fighting. Hardcore already has two much overlapping Venn Diagram area with violence. I think it’s silly and irresponsible.
AN: Here’s what I think, and I’m going to try to be very diplomatic because people that I know and I’m friends with are into it. Let me put this straight: That shit has nothing to do with punk rock. I’ve read some things that are sort of like “it’s that violence and aggression and it’s engrained” and that’s fucking bullshit. If you’re into it, that’s fine, I’m not necessarily going to judge you on tape right now. But, what I will say is that I didn’t get into punk because I had all this pent up violent aggression. I’m attracted to the energy of [punk], but energy and aggression are not the same. Also, I fucking hated jocks when I was a teenager because they’d beat me up and call me a fag. And there’s a difference between being physically fit and being a fucking lughead that punches people. I find no attraction in fighting, the sport of fighting, or just something to do. It doesn’t solve anything. We’re pacifists, Dan and I, and it’s absolutely insane that this connection is being made. If you’re doing it for fitness, okay…if you’re into it for the sport, okay. But let’s keep it straight, it has nothing to do with punk rock.
DY: I’d be more interested if it was a thing you do because when the revolution comes, you don’t want all the jocks and people with shotguns to run things. But mostly it’s a bunch of dudes in a cage beating the fuck out of each other.
AN: It doesn’t even really concern us, which is why I feel we shouldn’t even be talking about it.
DY: It’s like if you’re into hardcore and into the stock market, that’s cool, but you don’t try and combine the two.
AN: And no particular judgment to anyone who’s into it or anything, but to suggest that it’s part of hardcore is crazy.

RA: Andy, what’s the status on your new band Fuck Drugs? Is that still happening?

AN: It’s absolutely happening. I spoke with Anthony on the phone two days ago. I have no idea when.
DY: It’s happening right now. I offered Andy drugs earlier and he said “Fuck drugs!”
AN: It’s happening, I just literally can’t say when. I have songs, Anthony has songs. It’ll be a straight edge hardcore sound. The songs I have are a little more intense. Someday I’ll find an excuse to go to California for a week and we’ll make the record.

RA: So Andy, you’re straight edge, and Dan, you’re vegan? How do those choices affect you?

AN: It doesn’t affect me on a daily basis. I have no interest in drugs or alcohol. I’m around it all the time, my friends do every kind of drug imaginable. I work as a concert promoter so I’m around it all the time and I’m just not interested in it.
DY: I’ve been vegan for twenty years. So it’s my philosophy of life, I guess. It has to do with anti-violence and sanctity of life and making wise and responsible consumer choices.

RA: Being a little bit older (Dan is 43, Andy is 29), does it make it more important to make money off your music when you have a family and the other responsibilities of an adult?

DY: It makes it less importantly actually. I’m so grateful that we don’t do music for a living. Because then you get to figure out how it should be done and not worry about the added pressure of rent. It’s like we were thinking this weekend, we might lose hundreds of dollars. And we’re okay with that. That’s why I have a job.
AN: I’m not into punk because I’m into money. If I was into money I’d play in a jam band.

RA: How would you compare the time you spend together as a band now with when you first getting started?

DY: It basically consists of coffee, food, and jokes.
AN: I think it’s way more fun now. The people in the band now, their brains are exactly like ours.
DY: We can not play together for five months and then we can get together with no rehearsal and play a show.

RA: You mentioned a 7-inch for Paint it Black and a 7-inch for Lifetime in the next year, what else is on the docket?

DY: Seven-inch for Armalite. That’s almost done actually.

RA: Anything else that I didn’t bring up that you want to mention?

DY: Skate or die. Just a little pandering there.
AN: I love skateboarding, but I wish it was easier. I skated for ten years and I had like the cliché sixth grade boombox with 7 Seconds tapes on it skating around with all my straight edge friends. But then by seventh grade they all stopped skating and listened to reggae and smoked weed and all that. But I skated for ten years like, to get around and I could never fucking do a trick, ever. All I could do was fall, that was the only trick I could do. It sucked. And it’s humiliating to be skating around and little ten year olds are skating by and doing crazy tricks.
DY: They’re ollieing over you while you’re lying on the ground.
AN: They’re grinding my face and it’s totally humiliating. And if they want skateboarding to be more popular they should make it easier. We occasionally play at like a skatepark or something and I’ll try and drop in and every single time I land on my chin.
DY: The experience of skating for a lot of our peers was getting into punk at the same time. My friend Dave who plays in Lifetime…on one tour fifteen years ago he pulls out this tape. And it was clear, all the writing was worn off, and it was the first Bad Brains ROIR tape. And he was like, “I found this other day, this is what we skated to in my boombox when I was like 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 years old.” And I was kind of obsessed with the tape because it had so much history. And I cherished it until it broke. I mean, I played it. I didn’t like, keep it in a plastic bag. I mean punk isn’t about being sentimental, I think it’s the opposite. But I mean, I was like “Wow, this is the tape they skated to, like ducking out of school to go skating.”
AN: Do you still have it? That’s kind of cool, a broken tape, you should frame it or something.

RA: It’s like a broken skate deck.

DY: Actually the apartment that [Lifetime] wrote Hello Bastards in was decorated with broken decks. All around the living room and everywhere. Like seven people lived there and it was all their broken decks. It made me wish I was badass enough to participate in it.
AN: Yeah, that’s why I kept doing it. I was like, “This is cool, I’m just horrible at it.” I had to hang it up. [laughs]

Review: The Heat Tape - "Raccoon Valley Recordings"

I've been mulling over possible introductions for this review for a while now, but I think the best way to do it is start with the obvious conclusion: This is the year’s best record thus far.

the heat tape is fronted by Brett Hunter, the familiar voice of pop-punk darlings the Copyrights and Dear Landlord. Joining him is Ben Bleyer (Conniption Fitts) and Brooks Davey of the Southern Illinois Invasive Species Strike Team (that’s a thing, not a band—thanks, Google).

Essentially a song-a-day project that morphed into a band, the heat tape has all the trappings of poppy garage punk done right. Raccoon Valley Recordings was written and recorded in Brett’s trailer in Makanda, Ill., a detail that seems to radiate from each track. What separates the heat tape from the smattering of crappy garage overflowing in the U.S. and Europe is that Hunter’s previous pop-punk endeavors have laid the musical foundation to distinguish it from the majority, sharing only the lo-fi sensibilities and DIY recording aesthetics. the heat tape is certainly not the first band to accomplish this (the Marked Men, High Tension Wires and Scared of Chaka have all succeeded in similar ways), but it’s still nice to hear garage punk that skips the slop and showcases a more mature sense of melody and musicianship.

In lieu of lyrics, the digipak includes brief annotations explaining such insights as that, though “Oh Camilla” sounds like a smitten serenade to a certain female human, the song is, in fact, about a chicken. There’s a good deal of self-deprecation (“21st Century Turd”, “Feel No Good”, “Crackin’ Up”) but there’s a sense of sincerity that emits from each song, making every painful concession seem genuine. The mid-tempo “4-Track Mind” could be the anthem of the album, as Hunter earnestly makes metaphor of his current condition: “The only thing left of my youth is the hiss in my four-track mind.”

While “Idle Hands” is undoubtedly the catchiest song of the album (and a phenomenal closer), the best song has to be “Quotes from an Unopened Letter”. As explained in the notations, the lyrics are composed of words taken directly from an unopened letter from the White County jail Hunter found in his trailer when he bought it. The heart-wrenching storytelling is compounded by the reality of the circumstances, as Hunter takes the first-person role of the anonymous author: “Grandma was the only person there for me / She testified on my behalf / It hurted me to see her cry on the stand / Right now I feel broken / I guess I just didn't try hard enough... Sometimes I wish that I was dead / I can’t believe I’ll never see Shelly again / The more I try, the worser I get / I guess I just didn't try hard enough.”

There’s a realness inherent in this record that’s lost on so much of the music that comes out today. It’s not necessarily the lo-fi aesthetics or the fact it was recorded in a trailer, but is probably more of a reflection thereof. It’s the life of an unemployed 30-year-old in rural southern Illinois put to tape...err, heat tape. The result is the best garage punk record this side of Texas since...well, maybe ever.

Review: Absinthe Rose / HUMANWINE [split]

Acoustic balladeer Absinthe Rose joins New England eclectic collective H.U.M.A.N.W.I.N.E. on this punk-by-association split on Rodent Popsicle Records.

While Kimbo Rose was mostly solo on her previous release, Digging Ditches and Escaping Holes, she’s joined here by Toxic Narcotic/Mouth Sewn Shut members here for a sound that’s both more animated and whole, moving each song forth with an energy and dynamic previously not heard. The additions of a snapping drum beat and steady rolling bass help transform what was an occasionally tepid solo acoustic engagement into what more closely resembles a folk-punk—or at least acoustic punk—ensemble. Rose’s voice is soulful and full, with a slight Southern curl belying her Oregonian roots. On “Upon a Drift”, she sings wistfully: “When you have a closet of skeletons / And you wonder how you got them all in / Piled high and everlasting / And when you’re done, there’s more than you began.”

At first I thought H.U.M.A.N.W.I.N.E. was a dumb name. Then I thought maybe it was antithesis of white whine/black wine/red wine and all the divisions between them and thought it was kind of cool. Then I found out it’s actually an acronym for Humans Underground Making Anagrams Nightly While Imperial Not-Mes Enslave. Then I thought it was dumb again.

Their music is kind of like a less brassy and ostentatious World/Inferno Friendship Society, with cello, violin and bass fiddle alongside the standard drum-and-guitar rock setup. Actually, the W/IFS comparison isn't good at all. H.U.M.A.N.W.I.N.E. is dark, sparse and cavernous. They actually sound more like something along the lines of Murder by Death, with more of an anarcho slant...and a female singer.

While H.U.M.A.N.W.I.N.E. doesn't do a lot for me on an enjoyment level, at least they’re introducing new styles to the legions of punx who only listen to both types of music: punk and hardcore. Absinthe Rose delivers the best cuts of the split here, a clear step up from the slow acoustic tunes of Digging Ditches and Escaping Holes.

Review: The Warriors - "See How You Are"

A gap of three-and-a-half years between releases is an eternity in hardcore. Bands routinely form, release a 7-inch, tour, release a full-length, and split up in less time than that. Yet in 2011, the Warriors return with See How You Are, and another 33-minutes of the metallic Nardcore that brought the band to prominence over six years ago.

Crawling forward with the opening title track, the Warriors do little to impress or instill any sense of urgency off the bat. Fortunately, that changes with the successor “The War Unseen”, a bobbing, grooving, nearly hardstyle jam as good as anything the Warriors have done. “Seize the Fire” displays the band's Rage Against the Machine influences, changing tempos and flow, and only faltering to a lifeless, humdrum breakdown. Perhaps the most anthemic track of the album, “Where I Stand” is slightly reminiscent of audio themes present on the band's previous release, 2007's Genuine Sense of Outrage.

The second half is highlighted by “Subirse El Muerto”, which enters weakly with a round of uninspired monochord hammers before exploding into one of the band’s most aggressive, punk-influenced songs. “Here We Go Again" follows, beginning with the same single-chord repetitiveness, though unfortunately never picking up the way its predecessor does. The record closes out with “Along the Way”, a metallic hardcore song fairly indicative of the album as a whole, hearing vocalist Marshall Lichtenwaldt growl, “Never real in the first place / There never was a light at the end of the tunnel.”

See How You Are is, if nothing else, a reminder that Victory still releases a few quality hardcore albums every year, like Grave Maker and Comeback Kid’s efforts of 2010. If you’re going to compare just those in the Warriors’ catalog, this album doesn't quite match Genuine Sense of Outrage, which is a good starting point. But since some anonymous chumbolone accused that review of sounding like a Mountain Dew ad, listen instead with a nice, tall glass of Tehachapi tap water and maybe you’ll better understand where the Warriors are coming from.

Review: The Varukers - "Murder / Nothing's Changed" [remastered]

Formed in 1979, the Varukers were one of the first bands to immediately follow suit after Discharge paved the way for the waves of D-beat soundalikes thereafter. This release is a remastered version of the 2004 compilation that combines the Varukers’ 1998 LP, Murder, along with the 1994 EP, Nothing’s Changed.

Those familiar with D-beat probably fall into two distinct categories: devotees to the style, and those who find it preposterous to base an entire genre off one drum pattern. I guess I’m somewhere in between, because I find myself enjoying most of this album despite the less-than-groundbreaking approach.

Murder is fairly thrashy and faster than what one might expect, save for a few more mid-tempo tracks (and I use that term loosely) like “Genocide” and “Eradicate the Problem”. The lyrics are pretty much the standard, gloomy left-wing rhetoric of the crust punk and anarcho-punk lore, like “Nightmare Vision”: “Here lies our earth / Its dead in torment / The cancers been caused by our abuse / Battlefields computer board games / Corporations drown out our cries / Men in suits slaughter thousands / Sign a check so many die.”

The Nothing’s Changed EP is only four songs long, though the difference in sound is palpable. The tempo of “Missing Out” is about half that of most of Murder, and the repetitive, angular riffs are nothing like the frenetic, quick-moving progressions of the LP. The next song, “Tortured by Their Lies” moves back to the thrashy D-beat style, which continues through “Obey” and the title track.

Anyone familiar with UK 82 bands like the Exploited, Discharge and GBH should know what to expect from the Varukers. It’s mostly fast, two-dimensional hardcore street punk mixed with a little thrash and Motörhead influence, and despite the sloganeering can be a fun listen, if for no other reason than the novelty.