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]

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