It’s incredible to look back at the career of Dan Vapid and see that most of the bands he’s either helmed or been heavily involved in are some of the bands I call my favorites. It is a murderers’ row of pop punk bands, some indomitable, some were on the brink, and some were the next chapter in Vapid’s seemingly timeless pop punk songwriting. Screeching Weasel, undoubtedly is where you would have to start, and while you can argue that Ben wrote the vast majority of the material, Vapid was (and always will be) part of the band’s best lineup, and was partly responsible for some of Screeching Weasel’s most memorable songs (he co-wrote “Guest List” and a few other classic songs from My Brain Hurts and in my book, that solidifies his status as an important part of Weasel history).
It’s almost hard to separate Ben Weasel and Dan Vapid when it comes to their recorded output. There is so much crossover between the two, even outside of Screeching Weasel (Riverdales, Ben’s solo stuff) that sometimes it feels a little unfair to Vapid that he’s constantly stuck within this little circle of musicians that gravitated around Ben. But while Screeching Weasel carries baggage as it does weight, it was what Vapid did away from Weasel that confirmed his stature as a great songwriter, frontman and someone who could stand firmly out of the shadow of his previous band.
Whether you’re a fan of The Mopes or The Methadones, Vapid knew how to write a hook drenched in pop punk melancholia and infectiousness. I would argue that The Mopes’ 1998 record Accident Waiting to Happen is an all-time underrated pop punk album, and that songs like “Baby Doll” and “I Don’t Know How to Say Goodbye” would become precursors to the work he would do as Dan Vapid and The Cheats.
So now some 6 years since the last Dan Vapid and The Cheats album Two, we get the appropriately titled Three. The album is ten songs of pop punk goodness that are so very good. It is as if Vapid harnessed everything great of all his previous bands and channelled it all into the ten songs here. There is refinement, urgency and enough guts to make this a punk record that leans into bubble gum pop punk and power pop, without it having to rely on the in-your-face attitude of a Screeching Weasel record. Rarely is that a good thing too, but Dan Vapid’s ability to create melancholic sounds both hopeful and introspective comes off as incredibly gratifying. “The Time We Get” is Vapid’s ode to living life to its best, tracked to soaring guitars and the kind of vocal harmonies that made us fall in love with the era of pop punk he’s closely associated with. “Chase Away the Darkness” takes cues from more galactic sounding rock; buoyed by that crunching opening riff, the song sweeps into stratospheres covered by those big stadium filling rock bands. The song, layered with the many ideas that come with “chasing away the darkness” is at an opposite to its tonal composition; a big song about something closely personal. Who says Vapid can’t rock out?
While these songs are definitely tent-poles of Three, the moments where Vapid isn’t too concerned about sounding as grand are the album’s surprisingly best outings. “Bells of Maryville”, a sweet song about bringing life into this world, is straight forward pop punk but there’s something about the combination of the song’s composition, Vapid’s voice, and its Queers/Mopes amalgam that make it a truly fantastic song. “Dead Roses” however, is really something else- a wonderful song of the year contender. It is an earthy, rock n’ roll tinged number about heartbreak that skates along to great 60s-flavored beats with a foot firmly in the waters of sandy surf punk.
“Let Summer Work It’s Magic” and “Live a Little” is a great one-two combo to close out the album. Both soaked in the rays of hope and the uplifting side of punk. The “oohs” and “aahs” of “Let Summer…” compliment the up-tempo percussions while the “cmon cmon” bubble gum nature of the latter takes you back to the Queers’ “Punk Rock Girls”.
As Vapid sings the hook to “Let Summer…”, we are reminded that life’s often crazed rollercoaster ride is meant to lead us to one place. Dan Schafer, the man behind Vapid, has his legacy firmly entrenched in a punk history that he might not ever be able to escape from. But in reality, it really is OK- because as you listen to all the work he’s done away from Ben Weasel, you can see that he is more than an equal, and arguably, surpasses his former bandmate in writing songs that leave a lasting mark on those who listen.
“Sunshine warm our heavy hearts / life comes back to flourish / we can do the same / because everything is perfect where we are.”
The Down and Dirty: An interview with The Aggrolites
We chat to “dirty reggae” kings The Aggrolites about their new record Reggae Now!
It’s been a long time between records for Los Angeles reggae band The Aggrolites. 8 years to be exact. After countless albums and endless days on the road, the band felt like it was the right time to step away from the grind of writing, recording, touring. But the extended break between records meant the band just had time to get some air, recuperate and find the charge that would ignite that next spark. That next spark ended up becoming Reggae Now!, a collection of the band’s signature “dirty reggae” sound, packed with life-affirming songs about hope and positivity. And while the album isn’t afraid to challenge and question the current landscape we find ourselves in, it doesn’t shy away from having a good time.
The record has received some lavish praise, with noted filmmaker, DJ, and Big Audio Dynamite co-founder Don Letts saying; “Their tunes perfectly echo the human chemistry you can hear in those early Jamaican productions. The band’s old-school analog sound totally captures the spirit of the music I grew up on“. While Specials vocalist/guitarist Lynval Golding has said; “This is THE album.“
It’s easy to say that one of the most influential bands of modern American reggae is back. But the truth is, they never left. In between stops of their current North American tour, we had a chance to chat with vocalist and guitarist Jesse Wagner about Reggae Now!, how it feels to have written the record on their own time, and the significance of reggae music in America.
Congrats on the new record; how does feel now that it’s out?
It feels awesome. We are beyond stoked to see how positive the vibes are coming from all the fans old and new.
It was a long time between records- 8 years. It was the right time to take a break after 2011?
We felt so. We were going hard on the road for a good decade. I think 250 days a year can wear anyone out. We never quit though. We just needed some time to do our own thing with our families and friends back at home.
How did Reggae Now! come together- was there a spark that got you guys back into the writing process?
It just felt like the right time. We had talked about it for a while and when it happened it just worked.
Was this the first time you had the chance to write and record an album without the pressure of label deadlines? How did it feel that you could just write Reggae Now! on your own time- the way you want to 100%?
Yes it was. And it felt really chill and relaxing knowing that time was on our side. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
How did you connect and end up working with Pirates Press Records? It seems like a great fit- plus their roster of artists is incredible.
I’ve known Skippy for a long time now and have been a fan of what he has been doing with Pirates Press for years. Playing the style of music we play isn’t necessarily an easy target to market. We knew Skippy and Pirates Press would know exactly what to do with our album and are all grateful for them.
For those who may not be too familiar with the Aggrolites- share with us a little bit of your history and how the band came to be?
We’ve been around since 2002. We all pretty much come from the same scene in Los Angeles and all have the same love and passion for old school Jamaican music. With that passion, the band has managed to keep it going ever since.
How has the tour been so far? You guys are hitting cities all across the US until August; how is touring and getting to meet and perform for the fans now than, say, back in 2002?
It’s been an amazing run so far. If anything, things are getting better. I think with the internet it’s easier for people to find out about certain genres of music. We’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback.
I love the video for “Pound for Pound”- where did you shoot it? How was it?
It was filmed in the San Fernando Valley at an equipment rental spot called Zio. Our friend Josh Rousch was the director and mastermind behind the whole thing. We had a blast filming it. So much fun and we were stoked to have some Aggro fans involved in the video also. That was a first.
Let’s talk about reggae- because it’s such an important genre of music (in my view) and I think some people only see it in one color. But there’s a lot of history and culture- how did you discover reggae and what are some of the most important aspects of the music and culture to you and the band?
I found out about reggae probably like the majority of the American youth from the early 1990s; punk rock and Two-Tone. The thing that got me stuck on it was how tuff of a sound it is, but at the same time so beautiful. It is by far the most interesting music I’ve ever gotten into. I love how they sang about social issues going down on their small Island, but how powerful the lyrics would be in relating to people all over the world.
Reggae, and ska and rocksteady seem to have a close relationship with punk. You guys have toured with and are close to many punk bands; what is it about the two genres that make sense and connects?
I believed it all goes back to the late 1960s when reggae became popular with the working class in the UK. It’s music for the people. Songs about struggle and overcoming it. Very rebellious music also. I believe Don Letts said it best that reggae was the soundtrack to the punk rock scene throughout the late 1970s.
How important do you think music of good vibes is in today’s world? I think maybe the world could use a little more Reggae Now.
I thank you for saying that and agree 100%. We’ve always said we are “Feel Good” music. Sometimes it’s nice to just play a record and have a good time. Especially in this day and age. There is a lot of corruption going on and hopefully, we can ease people’s minds from negativity with our album.
The Aggrolites’ new album, Reggae Now!, is available via Pirates Press Records.
Allweather – Through the Floor
Debut album from San Diego’s Allweather is a compelling listen
Where did Allweather come from? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself through the first 5-6 times I listened to their debut album Through the Floor. Collectively the songs reminded me of a sound prominent in the mid-90s; tempered by the album’s melodic-hardcore demeanor. Punctuated by the terrific strained vocals, the initial reaction was to equate Allweather to a band somewhere in between early Polar Bear Club and early to mid-Transit. The music, for the most part, takes pop punk but substitutes the saccharine for more gruff melodies and the kind of pained, mid-tempo emotion that made those bands household names. But listen after listen I felt that was another connection; one that resonated with me more than those aforementioned bands did.
It hit me after listening to “Another Sad Song” for the umpteenth time- Allweather, while sonically more akin to current pop punk’s downtrodden, baggage-saddled sound, resonates closer to that of melodic-hardcore greats Lifetime. In part because vocally, Allweather’s vocalist Tim Putnam is so close to that of Ari Katz that it is almost impossible to discern between the two. And that is a very good thing- because Katz’s vocals reverberate as powerfully as it did back in 1995 as it does today. In Allweather’s case, listen to songs like “Grim Ave” and the a capella opening of “Die Slow” and you can swear that these songs are cuts off Hello Bastards or Jersey’s Best Dancers. Allweather employs more mid-tempo structures than they do Lifetime’s breakneck pace, but the sum of the parts make Through the Floor a compelling listen, even if the Lifetime comparison isn’t 100%.
“Groundswell” is probably the album’s best outing; melodic, emotional, hard-hitting in a way Texas is the Reason was, while “Die Slow” is not far behind for its sincerely great Lifetime-esque similarities.
For a band relatively new (having only released a two-song digital album prior in 2017), there is already so much to like and look forward to. Composed and packing a punch, those who miss the melodic but pained sounds of bands like Texas is the Reason, and of course, Lifetime, need not look much further than Allweather to find that what is old (and great) is new again.