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Cooking in the Kitchen: An interview with Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros

When you think of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros what comes to mind? Transcendent dreamy desert scenes, billowing peasant skirts and beards so majestic you could just cry at their beauty? Check, check and check

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We’ve all heard Jane and Alexander boast nostalgic spills of last cigarettes and broken asses. When you think of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros what comes to mind? Transcendent dreamy desert scenes, billowing peasant skirts and beards so majestic you could just cry at their beauty? Check, check and check (#igetweirdforthebeard). 

After years on the road, rife with adventures and cooked breakfasts’, the (upwards of) 10 piece have garnered a reputation as a must-see live act, regarded for their unpredictability, compassionate connection with crowds and lilting musical mayhem. 

Their self-titled record is melodically outstanding, continuing on a progressive path of deliciously spacious arrangements and all consuming choruses. Though the deeply entrenched message of their lyrical content rings true to the old, their growth and direction has come a long way. I had a chat to Crash (just Crash) about Bowie, kitchen metaphors and helping people embody courage. 

Hi Crash, how you going?

Ahh, so good (laughs). I was just running some errands and I just got back in time.

That’s cool, what are you up to?

Nothing, just trying to get used to being home (laughs). I can tell I’ve outgrown the domesticated life. I’m leaving the house without my wallet; I’m making all sorts of mistakes. I went and bought embroidered towels for our state manager and drum tech.

Oh, that’s super nice of you.

They’re like these hand embroidered towels with Biggie Smalls on them.

That’s awesome.

I got them in a series of Rastafarian colours (laughs). He’s gonna love it!

Where did you find those?

Ah, my friends Etsy page. She was doing a hip-hop series. She sold out of the Biggie Smalls pretty quick, but I put in a special order. So I feel like a pretty lucky dude. 

Very lucky! What time is it over in LA?

That’s a good question (laughs). I’ts six o’clock.

We’re on opposite ends of the world right now.

It’s true! It’s true! (laughs)

Are you with the rest of the band? Do you guys all live together when you go home?

Ahhhh, (laughs). Like in a shoe? All together in a shoe? Ummm, no, no most of us are here in LA, if not, on the West Coast. We got a couple folk in New York and then Alex is in New Orleans, but relatively close I’d say. 

Ten people is a lot of people. How did you get together in the beginning?

It was kind of like a big kitchen. It was like a huge kitchen and Alex sort of being the chef, he (laughs), he would leave and grab some ingredients and return to the counter, to the stove. And then he would leave and grab some more ingredients and bring it back to the kitchen and the stove. That’s how I remember the process in meeting everyone. My band The Deadly Syndrome, we had just recorded our record there in the studio and immediately after Alex came in and started forming Edward Sharpe. So Mark Noseworthy who now plays guitar (3.29) he’s been in the band since then. I kind of met Alex through him. And Aaron who was playing bass at that time for Edward Sharpe was producing that record. So maybe through them and through that studio and geez, many other musical networks in the city. 

That’s pretty incredible.

Yeah, I mean, it was quite a lot of people to bring together. I know now there’s 12 of us on stage, but I’m pretty sure on that first record there’s more than 12 people. There’s gotta be maybe upwards of 20.

Wow, does it get pretty crazy when you guys are touring around? Just with so many people?

Ahhhhh crazy? It gets crowded, crazy. It’s like running a children’s nursery for the tour managers if you would ask them to break it down. Everybody’s got their different priorities on the road and in between gigs. I just like to laugh so uhh (laughs), pretty easy for me. But sure, it’s cool. I mean, gosh, I could go on and on about the things we do and how we spend our time and how crazy it gets.

You’re just like one big family on the road, I guess. 

Sure, sometimes we’ll get to cooking breakfast outside the bus first thing in the morning. We’ll bring like these camping ovens and stoves and do like a non stick pan (laughs), throw some butter in there. People driving by thinking, who the hell is in that bus!?

Your self-titled album really shows an evolution of your sound. How would you describe the new LP compared to previous sounds/albums?

It’s certainly a breath of new life into this record compared to the previous two. The word would be rambunctious. That’s just kind of like the go to word for the difference in sound. There’s definitely that great energy. It’s pretty obvious at even the first listen. It’s cool. I think it really raises the whole reason and goal of celebrating the live shows. You know when you play the songs and the audience is looking more and more familiar. If we could just sing them all together and celebrate them and have a really good time, you know? 

Tell me about the artwork for the album, what was the creative process behind that?

(Laughs) uhh, there was a lot of back and forth over which art concept would actually make the record. We went from one idea, which was a candid photo, not every one of us was even in the photo. But it was a candid photo nonetheless where we all were dancing. It was black and white. Something about it spoke to a lot of us and we were gonna maybe use that photo, but then that turned into something else. This wild confetti glittered stuff with a big peace sign. You know, two fingers for the cover, but then that went away. Then this cover came across our inboxes and it seemed like a pretty unanimous yes. It spoke to us a bit more than the other work. They were cool ideas however; they just didn’t last in our mind. This idea however, resonated a bit more with us. So yeah, once again we just went back and forth and talked about it for a while. We finally pulled the trigger on it probably well after the due date (laughs).

I noticed when I was listening to it last night that there are a lot of great ambient sounds that creep in, little bits of laughter and such. What sort of vibe were you trying to capture?

The atmosphere was a live atmosphere. The record needed to sound as if you were in the room. Even in the recording process, the more tracks you throw on top of one another, the more noise and sounds in the room that build up. A lot of times you’re busy cutting those out, but this was an effort to leave the character and the charm in the recording. So there is that feeling and that vibe. Alex and us would love to do the next record completely live. I mean us going into a room with you know, pots and pans and chains and just really strip down and bimp and bomp and bap and scream and just really go from there. There’s something really cool about that sort of primal approach. 

Tell me about the music making process for Edward Sharpe. Is it mostly collaborative, do you all have your input? Or is it more one person steering the ship?

Well, with so many people it’s very easy to do the collaborative thing. There’s always ideas’ coming through and down the pipeline. I think sometimes the songs you will find maybe need a more focused attention. Then in that case, the original author of an idea or maybe just Alex himself, will just carry it down the way and then bring it back. In that case on this record, Alex did a lot of carrying, if you will, because there was this vision that he gained of the album and just wanted to see it through, for which we’re all really, really pleased and super excited about it.

If you had to use three words to describe your music, what would they be?

Three? Just three. Three is so many. Three is so few. Well, I’d say joyous, I’d say colorful and I hope I would say uplifting.

I like those. I like those a lot.

Alex I think would say, courageous. He’s really been gunning for writing songs that really help people embody courage and take on courage. Different answers of course, but I think courageous too.

I think that works. Your songs have a lot of positivity and that gives people courage. 

Sure, and even me, as a songwriter myself, I do a lot of reading back on the lyrics that Alex will put down. If I were free just to question assumptions, you know, are you not free? And why would you say so? You live in America. And what do you think is compromising that freedom? It’s interesting to read those lines and see that deeper message there and the way he is challenging some status quos and some ways that we’ve just sat back complacently accepted. Its really cool and I really love it.

Yeah, definitely. Do you guys have any pre-show rituals or on stage traditions? 

The pre-show ritual would be a huddle. We huddle before every show. Those can get pretty funny (laughs). It can also be really cool for just reconnecting us and reconnecting everyone and just getting us on the same page before we step out there for all the eyes and ears to see and hear. It’s a really special moment, I think for each and every show. Even when it’s hard to do, it’s really been a great element to have. And then on stage I’d say (laughs), the tradition is asking the audience which songs they want to hear (laughs), and also, just sort of passing the hat and allowing more and more of the song writers amongst us to pull out some material.  Jade has been doing her songs on the records and also some other songs that shes’s written. Christian, the same for him. Songs that he has on the Edward Sharpe records as well as some others he’s done. We’ve been doing a song called “Motion Animal”. The whole passing of the hat has been really cool and that’s becoming a pretty fun way to approach things, a good routine if you will.

What songs do you find people call out when you ask them what they want to hear?

Ohhh, well “Home” is a given, right? So there’s always that one (laughs). People call it out as if we won’t play it (laughs). There was maybe a show, no more than a handful where we have not played home and it’s strange every time that happens, we sort of feel so deeply satisfied (laughs). But, there’s a lot of great songs that are requested when we just give the audience the opportunity to shout em out. You get “Dear Believers” or um “Fire Water”, people will request some of the Alexander material so like “A Million Years”. All sorts of stuff really, “Child” gets requested a lot. It’s a real interesting thing to see what people are gonna shout out from city to city. 

What is the most pleasing thing about what you do?

I think just constantly being humbled in a really breaking way by how special this opportunity is. I think we’d be lying if we didn’t say, we feel like we’ve hit the lottery and it’s just been a ton of fun. We’ve had the opportunity to meet many great and amazing people and see a lot of the world. To do that carrying a message such as this and a vibe about ourselves such as this I think is pretty fulfilling. So I guess I’d be a fool not to say that.

That’s a really lovely sentiment. I must ask aswell, what’s the story behind the name, Crash?

Well, it came up on a job. My performance wasn’t so good. So I think the kind young lady who sparked the nickname was just trying to make sure it was fitting for me. I wasn’t showing up on time in the mornings and I wasn’t in the best condition or shape to work when I would show up. So I think she got me with a dagger and it kind of stuck. But yeah, it worked out. It’s been a silly ride with that nickname as well.

If you could pick one person, dead or alive, to play a show with, who would it be?

Oh man, dead or alive. I mean there is so much material and people out there. You know what’s cool, an icon of ours that is still rocking today and I believe just released some new material. Bowie would be pretty exceptional would it not? David Bowie, that’d be really neat. If I could just aim high, I would say Bowie. 

Interviews

Weight of the World: An interview with Good Riddance

We talk to Russ Rankin about these new ballads from the revolution

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The influence of Santa Cruz’s Good Riddance is a far-reaching one. Their music of hope, loss, frustration, and anger packed into their hard-hitting brand of melodic hardcore has traveled far since the release of their acclaimed 1995 debut For God and Country. Their music was the gateway to socio-political punk for many, leaving an indelible mark on listeners across the globe. One of those was a young, wide-eyed kid who, having grown up in the dictatorial landscape of Indonesia’s pre-democratic society, yearned to hear and learn about something new. That kid was me, and while my story is one of many, it began with Good Riddance’s seminal 1996 album A Comprehensive Guide to Moderne Rebellion. That album sang of about inequality, human despair, and the complicated and fragile systems in which we live in- and it was the perfect tonic for living under a military dictatorship. There was hope in the messages they sang about; that whenever there is the struggle, there are those willing to fight for better.

More than 20 years since, Good Riddance are still fighting strong, fresh off the release of their brand new album Thoughts and Prayers. The record, their ninth studio album, is just as explosive, fire-breathing as anything they’ve released- a record as timely as it is encompassing of relatable issues no matter where you live.

It was daunting to talk to vocalist and songwriter Russ Rankin about the music he’s written. Not just because their influence was such an important part of who I was and who I am, but because I was nervous about not sounding like a buffoon while trying to carry some weight and importance to the questions I asked. The truth is, part of this was a thank you, and part of this was finally getting a chance to get insight into the music that has played a vital part in influencing many punks across the globe.

I really enjoyed the new album- how do you guys feel two albums back after some time away?

Rankin: It feels like we are back in the swing of things, as far as having the mindset of continuing to create new material. When we first began playing again, we were focused mostly on playing older songs that us and our fans wanted to hear. We still love those songs, and we enjoy playing them live, and it also feels really good to be creating new music as well.

When did you guys start the writing process for Thoughts and Prayers? Was this album any different, easier, more difficult to write than any other?

Rankin: I started working on this material in late 2016. I basically forced myself to pick up the guitar every day, and, for whatever reason, I was inspired a lot, and the bulk of this material came together rather quickly. I used Logic Pro to put demos together, which I then sent to the other guys. When we had enough songs, that everyone agreed on, we started scheduling practice time. 

good riddance

Thoughts and Prayers

And the title, it’s very timely, but also a potent title that speaks on many levels. When/how did you know this was the right title?

Rankin: I had thought for a long time that it would be a good title. As an American who doesn’t believe that thoughts and prayers are a sufficient answer to the scourge of gun violence in my country, I thought it would be a good reminder about the tepid responses given by the people we send to Washington, D.C. to shape policy for us. It fits as an album title and is also symbolic of the social and political detente we find ourselves in. 

I’ve always loved GR album titles- not just because they feel significant, but because they’re also poetic in a way. Do the titles come way after all the songs are done and you see how the songs come together as one?

Rankin: Oddly, I can’t really remember the timelines, as far as which came first historically. I mentioned my idea for this title to Chuck as we were boarding a flight home from Las Vegas, Nevada on January 1, 2018. By that time, a lot of material had already been written. I have always enjoyed taken phrases or word groupings which have a traditionally patriotic flavor and turning them on their heads, using them out of context. 

I grew up in Indonesia, and when I first came across A Comprehensive Guide to Moderne Rebellion, I was immediately intrigued. Because it felt important, rebellious, and eye-opening. At the time, true democracy (in Indonesia) was at its infancy and most of my childhood was spent living under a military dictatorship. I know you recently spoke about the influence and effect of your music, that at the very least it has opened minds. How important is that to you- that your music spoke to people, not just in the US, but around the globe?

Rankin: I think I had always approached music with the hope that it could inspire people, but I’m sure I had no idea the extent of it. Even with our modest success, the number of people who have reached out to me personally, either at shows, on the street, by mail, and, these days, via social media, to tell me about the tremendous, positive, impact our music has had on their lives, is incredibly humbling and gratifying. I was inspired and, to a degree, radicalized, by the bands I grew up listening to, so I know exactly how that feels. 

Do global issues shape your writing? Or at the very least, do you write so that some kid in Indonesia for instance, can connect to your music?

Rankin: I think that global issues shape everything I do, as far as the ways I interact with the world. As an American who has had the opportunity to travel, I can’t help but see how interconnected we all really are, and how my country could learn a lot by taking a step back and observing the ways other countries approach things. Americans are fond of self-aggrandizing, and shameless chest-beating, but we are falling well short of achieving a truly just society. 

As a listener, I’ve always thought that your music resonated because so many of the songs could be relevant in 1996, 1998- but also now, in 2019. Has that been an important part of your songwriting?

Rankin: It has. As much as I love the Dead Kennedys, so much of their music is about specific events, which tether the material to a singular moment in time, which can lose its relevance to a listener who was perhaps born before that event occurred. I prefer to write about ideologies, dogma, and characteristics of the human condition, which have in the past, and sadly will in the future, contribute to the ongoing struggle for equality and justice. I believe these explosive moments, events, and polarizing figures, are merely symptoms of a greater ill which underlies everything else. 

Has this been the most disappointing time you can remember politically in the United States?

Rankin: I was a teenager during the Reagan presidency, and I didn’t think anything could be worse than that. The saddest part of it, to me, is the crippling apathy. Less than 38% of eligible U.S. voters bothered to turn up and be heard in our last election. The white, fascist, nativists will always turn out to vote, so the rest of us had better show up as well, but we don’t. Civics cannot be a spectator sport, at least in my opinion. The loss of a free press is a big part of it. So many people end up feeling marginalized or detached from the whole process, and the culture industry keeps us passive and distracted, chasing artificial wants. 

Your music is more than just politics. In your recent conversation with Kerrang, you talk about the songs of Thoughts and Prayers. There are political songs, but also songs about being human, connections, introspection, fragility, hate, love- what are some of your lyrical influences that still influence you to this day? Were they other musicians, books, poets? 

Rankin: My biggest influences, as far as songwriting, would be Greg Graffin from Bad Religion, Richard Butler from the Psychedelic Furs, Billy Bragg, and, perhaps more than anybody else, Rhett Miller from the Old 97s.

The lyrics, even from For God And Country, always had an almost poetic tone to them. Did you find that you were a good writer early on, before you started writing music?

Rankin: Writing has always come naturally to me. English classes in school were relatively easy (conversely, math was never my friend). I enjoy writing and have the opportunity to write regular columns, as well as numerous op-eds for magazines and websites. 

A few years ago you were speaking to Punknews and were talking about how important and significant you felt Symptoms of a Levelling Spirit was/is to you. Do you still feel the same? Especially now the last two albums after the hiatus. 

Rankin: I think there is always an interesting push/pull dynamic, as a band achieves some degree of longevity. How can they continue to progress, and challenge themselves musically, while staying true to the legacy they’ve established, and which their fans expect? For me. Symptoms Of A Leveling Spirit will always hold a special place because it was the first time I felt comfortable and confident as a songwriter. It felt as though I had finally arrived, and was the first time I believed I had found my voice, so to speak. I was also in a really good place in my personal life during that time, so I associate a lot of positive memories with it. It was also the apex of the Good Riddance career, as far as the biggest we ever got. Fat really got behind that album, and there was a tangible push for us that entire year of touring.

Songs about love and relationships have also been important to the GR discography. Do you find writing songs about these connections any different to the more socio-politically driven ones? (“Jeannie” and “Not With Him” are still some of my favorite punk love songs- can I call them love songs, is that accurate at all?)

Rankin: I don’t really make a distinction. I write about my experiences and my observations about the human condition. The Descendents made it okay to write punk songs about love, loss, and heartbreak, and bands like Jawbreaker took it even further. If it’s genuine, I think it can be just as inspiring or comforting as a political song, depending on the listener’s experience. 

You’ve worked with Bill (Stevenson) and Jason (Livermore) again on the record. What is it about them and the Blasting Room that you guys connect with both as producers and as artists who understand what you guys are looking for sonically?

Rankin: Bill has two aces up his sleeve when it comes to producing us: he comes from and was a seminal figure in, the scene which directly inspires us, and he is also a brilliant sound engineer. Add to that the fact that, over the last 20 years, we have become good friends, and the entire process becomes easier, more relaxed, and a lot of fun. He knows the buttons to push to get the best performances out of us, and he knows which bands and players to reference to help us visualize the aesthetic he is after.

You’re heading to Europe in August, then a few days in Canada- will there be more opportunities to see you guys live at the end of the year and all through next year?

Rankin: Given that this iteration of the band will necessarily tour a lot less (jobs, families, etc) than we did at our height, expect Good Riddance to have a busier year than the last couple of years.

The new Good Riddance album Thoughts and Prayers is out now on Fat Wreck Chords. Good Riddance tour dates and ticket information can be found on the Good Riddance website.

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Interviews

Live While You Can: An Interview with Much the Same

Much the Same have lived the ups and downs of life and are realising they are right where they need to be

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Returning from a long hiatus is never easy; music rarely stays still, life changes, and people move on. For punk band Much the Same, returning from their 8-year hiatus meant more than just getting back together to write music again. For the members of the band, it was about overcoming some of life’s most difficult obstacles to find that while so much had changed, one thing stayed constant; their love for creating music together. And although the process itself has evolved since their initial run through the mid-2000s, Much the Same found new ways to create.

Now 13 years after their last full-length album, Much the Same have just released Everything Is Fine; a collection of punk rock melancholia, introspection, and overcoming the downs of life with three-chord hopefulness and soaring guitar solos. A joint-release by Thousand Islands Records, Pee Records, and Lockjaw Records, Everything is Fine is the band’s most accomplished album.

We had a chat with vocalist and guitarist Chris McGrath and talked about living the moments, overcoming battles with cancer, the changing landscape of being in a punk band in 2019, and Dexter Holland’s hot sauce.

I really enjoyed the new album. How does it all feel, for everyone, that the album is done?

McGrath: I think there’s an overwhelming sense of both excitement and relief. I just looked it up and we first began writing new songs in 2009, two years after we’d broken up and two years before we even got around to playing a single reunion show together. For me, personally, I felt that we set the bar very high for ourselves with our 2006 album, Survive, and I just kept hoping it wasn’t a fluke and that we were still capable of writing music like that, especially since we have never gone back to being a full-time band. I’m happy to say that I’m quite satisfied and have been overwhelmed by the positive response to the singles. I can’t wait for the whole thing to be out in the world.

The album is a massive accomplishment- but it’s also very personal right? It’s part celebration for Dan (O’Gorman, guitarist)’s victory over cancer?

McGrath: Yes, Dan wrote most of the songs on this album, lyrically and musically. In the past, Dan primarily contributed music, but in the midst of some very dark times in his life, he found his lyrical voice and the songs just started flowing out. So when he got cancer, and then as it traveled throughout his body, things started looking really bad. We tried to stay positive and hopeful, but I was preparing myself to lose my friend. I thought it was pretty likely he wouldn’t live to see the album finished. I kept that to myself for a long time, but one day just had to ask him if these songs he wrote were important to him at all, or if in the face of death it was all meaningless, and he assured me that he really wanted them out in the world even if he wasn’t around by then. 

So we pressed on with the writing, even as he was in the hospital receiving treatments, and miraculously, he had all the cancer removed! There is one song on the album about those dark days, called “In the Event of…” and the album title and cover are a reference to that song. We’re just ecstatic that he’s still here to celebrate this accomplishment, even though his life is obviously worth so much more to us than any music. 

Much the Same

Everything is Fine

You guys got back together in 2015- was it a natural process- did someone reach out to someone first, how did it work out?

McGrath: There’d been a couple of attempts to write music together again since our breakup, but between us living far apart from each other, and everyone being involved with new families, school, and careers, it took many years to finally come together. Since Jevin, our drummer, lived in California and we were all in Chicago, we ultimately recruited our friend Mike, the drummer from Break The Silence, to play with us and help us write new music. We booked a show very shortly after that, which was probably a bad idea because our infrequent practices became more focused on being ready for shows than writing, but it was exciting to have the opportunity to be in front of people again and see that our fan base had grown in the 8 years we’d been apart.

After a couple of years and some cool international trips, it became clear that no matter how awesome Mike was, our band was just not “much the same” without Jevin. He was like family and a crucial part of our songwriting and sound, so we brought him back in despite the long-distance and things felt right again.

What kept you all busy in-between?

McGrath: Three of us got married and had kids, two went back to college and got teaching degrees. The other guys all eventually started their various careers and I continued my career in software development that I’d been doing the whole time we’d been a band. Marriage, young kids, jobs, mortgages to pay… all this stuff keeps a man very busy!

Dan, Frank, and Mike had a band together for a while called The Culling Song that never materialized. Jevin had a band called Unit91 with Jared from Counterpunch and Josh from his old band Form Follows Failure, they put out an EP you can find on Bandcamp. Frank eventually started another band called Burn Rebuild, which has put out a couple of EPs and is still together and playing shows around Chicago. My only musical endeavor was joining my church choir for a couple of years, which was really fun.

What was the first song you guys wrote once you got back together? Was it “Seasons Change”? Like riding a bike?

McGrath: “Seasons Change” was actually the last song we wrote together before the breakup and was released on the Japanese edition of Survive back in 2007. It has been floating around the internet since then, but with the new digital publishing technology available we finally put it up on all the stores and streaming platforms not too long ago.

The very first song we put together for this album was called “Haunted”, and we started that way back in 2009. Dan and Frank wrote it together and brought it to my house to work on. We finished it off but didn’t really have any way to do anything with it at that point. They recorded an acoustic version with our friend Chris Walsh singing, and then we did pretty much nothing for 7-8 years!

The first song we wrote once we were officially back together was called “Homecoming”. I wouldn’t say it was like riding a bike, though, because in a way we had to learn how to write all over again.

Has there been a different approach to Much the Same songwriting today than when you guys were writing the songs for Survive and Quitters Never Win?

McGrath: Definitely. With Jevin living far away and having so many other priorities like family and careers, everything is very different. We used to practice together once a week, get together randomly and show each other parts and work them out together before practice. It was extremely collaborative. On this album, most things were done individually and recorded on our phones, emailed back and forth, LOTS of texting (we almost never talk on the phone or see each other in person). 

Thankfully, recording technology has become cheap and accessible so we were able to piece these songs together by recording demos, something we’d never been able to do before. It gave us the chance to try things that would have been impossible just standing around a room and playing them live. And as I mentioned, Dan became a songwriting powerhouse for a while, so it was a big change to have most of the songs being written pretty much singlehandedly by one person. That took some getting used to.

What’s been the aspect of Much the Same you’ve enjoyed the most since getting back together, and what’s been, say, the least fun?

McGrath: For me, I have loved being creative again. I really missed that outlet of songwriting and having projects to work on. When one of the guys would send over an idea I’d often obsess over it and spend hours working on demos to flesh it out, whenever I could find the time. It’s also been very exciting having a fan base that has grown enough that we really feel like people are as excited as we are that we are a band! For so many years it felt like we were the only ones who cared–us and a very small selection of dedicated fans. Flying to other countries to play festivals and touring with bands we grew up on has been a 20-year-old dream come true.

The least fun could easily be said to be Dan’s cancer battle, but that’s obvious and already been discussed. I’d say doing this whole thing long-distance and not getting to see each other every week to keep our relationships going and work from a shared energy and excitement has been very tiring and bittersweet. I miss just getting to stand in a room with these guys and play our instruments. We’ve had exactly one band practice in the past two years. I can’t wait to do 9 shows in a row with these guys!

I loved your cover of Lagwagon’s “Making Friends”- and it’s such a different Lagwagon song to cover- was there a reason for “Making Friends”? Will there be more covers on the horizon?

McGrath: When the A Fat Wreck documentary was being made, they put out a call for covers of Fat bands. We weren’t together at the time but decided to do something. Lagwagon has, of course, been a huge influence on our songwriting, but we also knew that a lot of the standard favorites would be popular and that we might not be able to bring anything special of our own to them. Pretty quickly Dan suggested “Making Friends” and suggested the beat we used, so we went with it. If I had had more time to think about it I would almost certainly have suggested “Change Despair”, which is my favorite deeper cut of theirs. But I’m glad we did what we did.

The other three guys pretty much worked out all the details of the song without me and recorded it all before I heard any part of it. I was blown away by how it turned out, especially the basslines. I knew at that moment that I wanted to write more songs with these guys, so that was actually a major factor in us getting back together. The added vocal harmonies and changes to the melodies were just my natural inclination of what to do over what they’d recorded. It all turned out really well and I love playing that song live.

As for new covers, it’s probably not very likely that we’ll do more full-band covers because we would really want to bring something unique to it and our sound is not exactly very different from most skate punk bands!  But I’ve got a shortlist of solo covers I’d like to do for our YouTube channel, so we’ll see if that ever pans out.

The new album SOUNDS great- where did you guys record, and who produced the record? Is this the happiest you’ve guys have been with the recording?

McGrath: Thank you very much! Nick Diener from The Swellers is an old friend and was an obvious choice for us to record with now that he has his own studio. Fantastic musician and songwriter who knows our music well, so we knew we’d be in good hands. Scott Hallquist from Ten Foot Pole recorded the drums at Ryan Greene’s studio. Both of these guys did a phenomenal job getting amazing tones from all the instruments. Nick steered us in good directions with the songs and even sang harmonies on one of them. He also pushed back pretty hard on the original arrangement for the last song, “Passengers”, which was a bit different. We took his feedback and tried some other things and the song came out so much better and I think it’s collectively our favorite on the album.

Survive and Everything Is Fine were both such different albums to write and record, and both Nick and Cameron Webb did so much for us, I’m not sure I could say I prefer one recording or process over the other, but I do think we sound our best on the new album. That bass tone, though. My God. I’ve never heard a bass sound so good on any album.

So your previous album, 2006’s Survive, was released on Nitro. What was Nitro like- was Dexter and Greg around for the day to day of the label? Have you kept in touch? I know they’ve been pretty dormant for years.

McGrath: We landed at Nitro during what seemed to be their final attempt to keep the label going. They had A Wilhelm Scream, No Trigger, and Hit The Switch around the same time and I was really optimistic about the direction the label was going, building a great roster of skate punk and melodic hardcore. The A&R guy there, Sean, was an absolute gem of a human being and really believed in us. We only met Dexter briefly in the studio, but he said he liked our band, so that was enough! I’ve spoken to him briefly once more about some business stuff but by the time we were doing that he was really focused on his hot sauce, Gringo Bandito, which is GREAT. It’s the only sauce my wife or I will buy for the past 13 years. Nitro has since been bought by Craft Recordings, which is a catalog label that does reissues, and who just recently pressed Survive on vinyl. 

I feel like Nitro had a great roster. What are some of the differences with being on a label in 2019 than it was back in 2006?

McGrath: Oh man, it’s so different. I can’t speak generally about all labels because I don’t know how they all work, and I’ve only heard bits and pieces about the business side with the more well-known ones. The main thing seems to be that labels don’t often give bands recording budgets anymore and take a lion’s share of the profits afterward, it seems to be a much more even deal between band and label regarding both financial and energy investment. 

In our case, Nitro was an incredible opportunity because they paid for the album entirely and being on their roster gave us a lot more credibility. Survive would not exist as it does without Nitro, not even close, and it probably wouldn’t have survived (ha!) in the scene for years after we broke up.

With Everything Is Fine, we were determined to do the album ourselves and handle the digital distribution, now that that’s an easy thing to do. In 2006 we never could have expected to have that kind of reach without a label. From there we looked for labels that had interest in being involved and creating the physical products. If nobody had wanted to do that, we’d still have done the exact same album and just put it online to buy or stream.  

Fortunately, Thousand Islands Records in Canada, Lockjaw Records in the UK, and Pee Records in Australia were all excited to work with us and get vinyl and CDs out into the world. So we have great partnerships with each of them that are mutually beneficial. It’s a lot less like being “signed” the way it used to be, and more just about a bunch of people helping each other out and sharing a love for music.

So it’s Europe in August- Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovenia- what are you looking forward to most about the shows and touring Europe?

McGrath: I’m honestly just really excited to get back on stage with these guys for the first time in a year, and it’s a pretty different experience for us to go on tour and actually know there will be people there for us!  We did South America with Face To Face two years ago, and we were stoked for the opportunity but had no idea going into it that we’d actually have a significant fan base at every show. That was honestly a shock, it had never happened before. So this time we get to be excited ahead of time! 

Then it’s back for the 350V Festival- Me First, Suicide Machines, Naked Raygun, Bosstones- sort of like a hometown fest?

McGrath: Absolutely! 350 Brewing is a local brewery that our bassist, Frank, was working for, and so they knew we’d gotten back together when they were planning their first 350 Fest five years ago. That was our first show back. The event has grown massively in such a short amount of time, last year they had The Descendents, and this is the first year it’s a three-day event. I think it has been two years since we played in the Chicago area, so it’s going to be a blast to do that with friends at such a great festival, especially right on the heels of our album release and tour. 

Has the Chicago scene changed much since the mid-2000s? Do you guys find it easier to be a band in Chicago these days?

McGrath: The scene is probably incredibly different, but I’m really no longer in it to even speak to it. We have our friends in other bands and all, but in the mid-2000s there was this booming punk scene with bands like Rise Against and Fall Out Boy coming up as peers. There were shows constantly and I could go to any show and know a dozen people there, sometimes a hundred. High school kids went to shows every week and were rabid about local bands, and we were single guys in our 20’s for whom music was the most important thing in life. I feel very fortunate to have been a part of all that. These days, I’m 40 and spend time with my family, and most of the people who like our style of music are in a similar stage of life, or they’re little kids of people who listen to us! Not a lot of teenagers at punk shows anymore, and that just changes the whole dynamic. Punk rock has become something of an older man’s game now, but thankfully not in that desperately-holding-onto-the-glory-days kind of way. 

So no, I don’t find it easier to be in a band these days, especially since time and distance keep us from doing very much at all, and when we do we’ve somehow ended up in this very cool position where most of our shows are in other countries. I would never have believed that could happen if you’d asked me at any point since I started this band. We are incredibly fortunate and so thankful to all the people who have made it possible to keep doing this.

Much the Same’s new album, Everything is Fine, is out now on Thousand Islands Records, Pee Records, and Lockjaw Records.

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