The East Bay is home to a certain brand of rock music that burst into the mainstream collective in the mid-90s. East Bay punk was in part, the epicenter for bands that would ultimately change music. Members of the East Bay scene recently formed Charger; a hard-hitting rock n’ roll outfit whose roots are more DIO than Sex Pistols, more Motorhead than Ramones, but no less blitzing than the acts these members are most associated with.
Just who is Charger? Charger is Matt Freeman- a name synonymous with the East Bay punk scene as a member of Rancid, Operation Ivy, and Devils Brigade. Charger is Jason Willer, noted punk drummer who drummed for the legendary UK Subs. Charger is Andrew McGee, whose guitar works feeds the monstrous sounds you find on Charger’s debut EP- one we called a record you listen to “when you need to kick some ass“. And serious ass it kicks. Because while the members of the band have their own music lineages, Charger is a new beast; powered by heavy metal, driven by punk, and packing a battering ram.
We spoke to Matt, Jason, and Drew about Charger.
The EP rips. How does the result compare to what you had in mind and wanted to accomplish with the EP?
MATT: I thought it came out great. You never know what exactly will happen in the studio. Sometimes it’s hard to capture the energy you are looking for. We recorded all the basic tracks live in the room with each other, so I think that helped a lot.
How did you, Andrew, and Jason get Charger started?
MATT: I’ve known Jason for years around the East Bay music scene. He started teaching my youngest son, drums. We started having conversations about music and decided to jam together. We didn’t really know what would happen; at first, we were just trying different time signatures and rhythms to challenge each other. We started putting actual songs together. The next step was getting a guitarist, so we asked Drew. Things clicked really fast. It’s a lot of fun.
What was the songwriting process for Charger like- did you write together or separately and bring the ideas together?
MATT: It’s super creative. We all bring stuff in. We all contribute. The rule is there are no rules. Allot of the songs start out one way and end up somewhere completely different and unexpected. We spent a lot of time in the rehearsal room going over stuff. It’s never boring.
There’s a variety of rock music (heavy metal, prog, rock n’ roll) in Charger’s music. Was this a conscious decision, or did all happen naturally during the songwriting and/or recording?
DREW: We all have various influences that come out while we’re writing and playing. Sometimes someone will play a part of a song differently, and that might not always be a conscious thing. It might not be how we were playing it previously, but we’ll always consider if we think it’s cool or not, so it’s always a conscious decision if we decide to keep it. We seem to be conscious when we make those decisions, anyway.
Was the record self-produced, or did you work with someone in the studio?
DREW: We worked with Michael Rosen, who is credited on the record. He has a ton of experience and gets exactly what we’re going for. He’s amazing, and we’ll be working with him again as soon as possible.
Was there a catalyst that sparked your interest (personally) in heavy metal early on?
JASON: All three of us had a love for hard rock and heavy metal from an early age ranging from The Who, DIO, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Motorhead and Judas Priest. Metal was ground zero for me; from there, I began digging deeper into the underground. In the early ’90s, there was a Heavy Metal radio station at my local High School called “KVHS the only Real Rock.” The station broadcasted a specialty show from 10 pm to Midnight playing Thrash and Death Metal that piqued my imagination showing me there were whole other worlds of music out there to explore. That radio station was my personal John Peel. I started getting into punk as well as bands like Neurosis, Sepultura and Amebix. I remember screaming along to these bands as a teenager in which I can credit some of my vocal style to.
Matt, you’ve sung lead with Devils Brigade, but your vocal work on here is next level. Do you enjoy singing? Did you approach your vocal work differently from the songs you wrote for Devils Brigade?
MATT: Thank you. I just try to sing the best I can for every song.
The song “Damage” is a monster of a track- sonically its more than just a heavy metal song, a prog song, or a rock song. I feel like it is the best of everything. What was the idea behind “Damage”?
DREW: Thank you. We’ve written some songs that are slower or have different changes in them, so we wanted to make sure to include one on the first thing we put out to let everyone know we have that aspect to what we do.
The Charger record release show was May 17, then you’ve got a couple of shows with Hellfire in July. These songs sound great on record, but when writing, did you have the live show in mind? I feel like they are made for the live setting.
JASON: We write from our gut in hopes of making music we want to hear as well as enjoy playing live.
Are you looking to do more touring after these shows?
MATT: We are going to keep writing, playing shows, and recording. Thanks for the interview
Charger’s debut EP is available now via Pirates Press Records. You can also listen to the album on your favorite streaming service.
Everything Will Be Alright: An interview with Ogikubo Station
There is great joy in simple chords and simple melodies. It is, after all, the feeling of comfort that these things often bring. Comfort from the day’s burdens, comfort from the issues that disappoint us, comfort when the sunsets bring us joy. Ogikubo Station, the music project of Maura Weaver (of Ohio punks Mixtapes) and Mike Park (of Asian Man Records), is that kind of comfort. It is music that makes us think of the week we’ve just had, music that makes us want to do better in our every day, and music that makes us laugh, cry, and sing-a-long.
Fresh off the release of a new 7” EP Okinawan Love Songs, we chat to Maura and Mike about the new songs, making music from distances, and how Ogikubo Station came to be. The chat was a reminder that music can be the result of many things and many reasons. Some simple, some more complicated. It was also a reminder that if we’ve got the music, then maybe, just maybe, everything will be alright in the end.
You released your full length We Can Pretend Like last year- was there a catalyst that sparked getting back into the writing and recording again so quickly?
Maura: I think Mike just called me and said do you want to come out to California and do some songwriting, and then while I was out there he booked two days in the studio and said “Guess what? We’re gonna record a 7 inch.”
Mike: Is that what happened? Haha. I can’t remember. I know we had “Would I Break My Heart Enough For You” written and we were playing it live, so I thought “let’s just add a couple more songs and release a fun 7 inch.”
Did you write these songs the same way you’ve written in the past; from a distance?
Mike: Not this time. Since it was only a few songs we just rehearsed for a day and then recorded.
Does that process ever get easier, being quite far apart?
Maura: Not really. I prefer being able to collaborate in person and I believe that’s the plan for the next record. We started writing 4 new songs aside from what’s on this 7 inch to go towards the next Ogikubo full length.
Mike: Yeah, it’s not the best case scenario, but I’ve been doing with a lot of different projects over the years. Sending mixes and vocal parts and asking various friends to guest on records, so it’s not that bad actually.
How was having Dan (Andriano) play bass on this EP? Will you be working with him again in the future?
Mike: I’ve known Dan since he was a teenager, so I just called him and said “Dan, I’m gonna send you a couple of songs for you to play bass on” and he was like “okay”. He has his own home studio and he’s kind of a gear head, so I knew it would be easy for him to do. I’d love to do more stuff with him, but I guess we’ll see.
Maura: Heck yes! I’ve been an Alkaline Trio fan since I was 14, so this is all kind of geeking out excitement for me.
For those who are new to Ogikubo Station – tell us how you ended up collaborating together?
Mike: Maura, you want to tell it?
Maura: Sure. So I was visiting the San Francisco/Oakland area where my sister lives and we were hanging out with my friend Danielle Bailey who is also friends with Mike. Danny had posted some photos of us hanging and Mike called Danny and said: “ask Maura if she would record a song with me”. So we drove to San Jose and we recorded a song called “Weak Souls Walk Around Here” and that was it. Just a one-time thing.
Mike: And at that time I believe I told Maura I’d like to put out her solo album and so for the next 2 years I would bug her every couple months to see how it was going and she would say “oh, I’m still working on it”. And then I finally said “hey, let’s start a project together” and thus Ogikubo Station was born.
How many bands are you in now Mike?
Mike: Kitty Kat Fan Club, Ogikubo Station, Bruce Lee Band …are the only ones that play, but I’m working on a couple of new projects. Always doing music.
Maura, how different has it been with Ogikubo Station than say, writing and recording with Mixtapes? Do the different processes give you new ways to write and approach songwriting?
Maura: I guess the biggest difference is the distance factor and that Ogikubo is not a full-time band. Mixtapes was my first real band and it was at a time in my life when everything was a first. First tour, first record, first van, the first van breaking down. I was still in my teens with Mixtapes and we all lived in Cincinnati. So it’s very different with Ogikubo. It’s hard to explain fully, but both bands have definitely been influential in different ways. But the basic idea of writing a melody over a strummed guitar chord is the same no matter the situation.
I love the TMBG cover on the new EP, and the fact that you chose to keep it lo-fi—what are some of the other bands you say would have directly led to the music and songwriting of Ogikubo Station?
Mike: I guess I’ve been listening to a lot of 80’s bands as of late and just kind of falling in love again with bands like Hoodoo Gurus, the Replacements, REM, and then newer bands like ALVVAYS, PUP, and Laura Stevenson. I’m always just looking for a good melody and some lyrics that aren’t filler bullshit.
Maura: I listen to so much music. From Kate Bush, TMBG, Desmond Dekker, Operation Ivy, to Beyonce and Taylor Swift. It’s hard to say what influences Ogikubo Station, but those are some bands I’ve been listening to lately.
Mike, I know on Twitter recently you’ve expressed your frustration and anger at a lot of the political things that are happening in the US (hopefully that’s not the cause of those grey hairs!) – but as songwriters, do you feel that it’s more important than ever to provide listeners with fuel to fight for equality and kindness, or do you feel that its just as important to provide an escape through music?
Mike: I’ve always felt music is political even when you aren’t trying to make it political. The sounds fuel the soul, creates the body to move and puts you in moods that you may not even realise are happening. Music has been my solace when it comes to expression and emotion. An outlet to get my ideas across in an artistic and productive manner. I don’t feel it’s imperative to be overtly political. I try not to shove politics down your throat, but if something comes to mind and I write about it and it happens to be classified as political, so be it.
Maura, you did the artwork for the new EP, an illustration of your Okinawan grandmother. The art is beautiful, can you tell us a little bit about your art and how you came into illustrating?
Maura: I’ve always enjoyed illustrating and painting. Creating art: With a guitar or a brush or a pen/ pencil. I wanted to draw my grandmother and give it to her as a present. When Mike saw the drawing he asked if we could use it for the 7-inch cover. It wasn’t meant to be the cover, but after mike brought it up I said of course.
What are some of the things you’re looking forward to on this UK tour? You guys are going all over England, and then to Wales, and then Scotland.
Mike: Sadly I’m not going on the tour this time due to some hearing damage I have sustained, but I’m still going to Brighton for a wedding, so I will be there for 3 days. And I’ll try to do every stereotypical British thing. TEA/MILK/FISH/CHIPS/MUSHY PEAS.
Maura: Getting to travel with my best friend Megan is the most exciting part of this UK tour. She’s never been before and that makes it that much more special being able to share this experience together. We are both Vegan/Vegetarian and one of our favorite things to do is eat, so we’ll checking out the different vegan spots in every city. And just meeting new friends, seeing old friends, and Edinburgh. I can’t wait to go to Edinburgh.
Is there a new full length on the horizon?
Mike: I’d like to work on one next year. I’m tapped out for this year. I’m gonna work on some new Bruce Lee Band stuff next and then I have a couple of other collaborations, but hopefully sometime next year we can start the process for the next full length.
Maura: That sounds good to me. It will give me a chance to keep writing songs.