Grab your guitars and load the old van; we’re getting ready to hit the open road. Bring your cameras and plenty of film, road maps are a must and don’t forget your friends. Welcome to the world of Limbeck.
Their latest album, Hi, Everything’s Great saw release on Doghouse Records and the guys couldn’t be happier. Their album springs American nostalgia; in a world focused on the new, Limbeck aren’t afraid to go to the old for inspiration. Using the good old days and the many things we overlook in everyday life, Limbeck crafts music from everything and anything; resulting in their imprint of “pop-rock with a dash of country twang.”
Patrick and Robb were kind enough to take a few extra passengers through their journey, so buckle your seatbelt and grab that camera; we’re going along for the ride.
[Interview with Robb MacLean and Patrick Carrie]
David: For the readers out there not familiar with your sound or music, how can you guys best describe it to them?
Patrick: As simple as this question sounds, the answer is everything but. We generally have come to describing our music as pop-rock with a dash of country twang. We’re not too country, but the average pop-rock listener would most likely see us as being kind of “rootsy”.
David: Robb, is it true that many of the lyrics you write are transpired from the photographs you take? Explain how you get lyrical inspiration from your photography?
Robb: Yep. It’s not always necessary, but I do like to do that. Photos you take are usually really nostalgic, good and bad. If I look at one that I’ve taken that reminds me of something that happened, it’s easier for me to write a complete, coherent song. There’s also been a time or two when I’ve written a song and then tried to take a picture of what was around me at the time, like for the song “In Ohio on Some Steps.” It’s not my favorite picture in the world, but I like it because it reminds me of that morning. I might just be way too into nostalgia!
David: In recording “Hi, Everything’s Great”, you guys didn’t use top of the line equipment for all the songs, you opted to use older equipment and older models. Why was this?
Patrick: Well, we’ve never been fans of the Mesa Boogie dual rectifier, or the Marshall JCM 2000 … all those new hi-tech amps. They didn’t do it for us… So we spent way too much money on a bunch of Fender amps from the 60’s and 70’s that gave us such great, natural tones, and when you’d crank ‘em, it would be the tubes working really hard, pushing the speakers really loud, instead of some bad pedal to do it for you. We were all really happy with how the guitars sounded on the record, and the bass too. Justin used a cool old Vox bass amp… and Matt used a whole room full of kick drums and snares to get some neat sounds.
Robb: It’s not like we were going for a lo-fi sound or anything, and it wasn’t a new idea or anything. The truth is new amps by Mesa Boogie, Marshall AND Fender just can’t compete with the old Fender/Marshall/Vox/Gibson/Sears/Alamo/Voice/you-name-it amps for our style of music (if we were a metal band it would be a different story.) They don’t make them the same way these days. The ones that are older than I am have 10 times more character. Each one sounds a bit different, even if they are the same model.
David: You guys have also incorporated the lap steel guitar, banjo, organ, and even the cowbell to your sound on the new CD. How did using all these new instruments come about?
Patrick: They were just kind of there, so it seemed like the right thing to do … actually it was a little more planned for some of the instruments. We had a friend Chris from the band Melee fly out to play some piano and organ parts here and there on the record. He’s an incredible player, and we had some great late night jams with him in the studio. There was an old 1950’s all-original Fender lap steel guitar that appeared in the studio one day, and we were looking for an instrument to tie together a melody at the end of one of our songs, so we tried some parts out with it, and we were very excited about it. We still are. The banjo was also just sitting around the studio. The cowbell … it’s the kind of thing you kind of hear before you actually put it on a song. You’ll be listening to the song and say, “Hey Matt, did you put cowbell on the bridge of this song? Cause I can totally hear it” after he denies doing it, that’s the sign it’s a must.
Robb: Sometimes it’s less musically motivated and more because of stuff like the Saturday Night Live sketch where Blue Oyster Cult’s producing a record with Christopher Walken telling them they need more cowbell. That’s not the real reason that Matt played a cowbell in ‘Gamblin’ Man’ but it would be a damn good reason if it was.
David: How have things changed for the band since signing with Doghouse Records after being a do-it-yourself band for years?
Patrick: Well, first off, Doghouse Records is an incredible label, with an amazing staff of people that really care about their bands, and really love the music. So it’s a great feeling to have such a strong force behind us. It’s a feeling we’re not used to, but we love every minute of it. Plus they have pretty kick ass barbeques. Doghouse is allowing us to be where we want to be; they’re with us every step of the way making sure everything is going smooth and how we want it to. We made a record that we’re very proud of, and now we’re touring as much as possible, and they’re helping to spread the word, and keep us out there. It’s incredible. Incredible is definitely the word for them.
David: Your 2001 release “This Chapter Is Called Titles” and brand new release, “Hi, Everything’s Great” were produced by Ed Rose of the Get Up Kids and Coalesce fame. How is the experience in working with Ed for years?
Patrick: Ed is an incredible person. We’ve recorded nearly everything with him since meeting and making our first record with him. Not only is he an amazing producer and engineer, but he’s the best to hang out with and get tours of the Lawrence (Kansas) and Kansas City areas among others. He knows all the best restaurants, a ton of crazy stories about everything, he has a great collection of amps and gear, a perfect musical ear, and his wife was nice enough to let us borrow her car for the time we were there so we didn’t have to drive our gigantic enormous van everywhere.
David: Speaking of that large van, you guys are big on traveling and seeing the country. Talk a little bit about touring and the opportunity to travel the open roads.
Patrick: We love touring. We love seeing new places. We love going someplace, and not knowing what’s around the next corner. It’s the best thing ever, hanging around with three of your best friends, driving around the country and playing music. It’s completely amazing. When we’re on tour, sometimes it’s very surreal to look around and realize exactly what you’re doing. It’s just too perfect.
Robb: Yep. It’s cool to meet people from other places too and stay at their houses and hang with their cats and dogs and be friends with them the next time you come through town. Also be friends with them on Friendster (I’m just kidding … ok, I was actually telling the truth, but I don’t like Friendster, I just don’t want to deny my friendship with someone when I get the friend request, so I make them my friend. Now all I do is get annoyed if anyone sends me messages via Friendster instead of regular email or calling me on the phone.)
David: On to friendships then, you guys are pretty tight with Adam and John from the band Home Grown. You and Home Grown even joined forces and put out one of your early releases on a split CD titled “Connection” on Adam Lohrbach’s Utility Records label. How did that friendship all come together years ago?
Patrick: Basically, we befriended them quite a long time ago, not through music, but through bad jobs. Bad jobs that you had to drive really far, and stand around on a corner while holding a sign pointing to a new housing development that needed some attention. As far as the CD, we consider the “Connection” EP to be our first real demo as a band.
Robb: Yeah, we don’t really include that in our discography since it’s a demo quality recording, and so far removed from what we’ve been up to in the last couple years.
David: Robb, when recording “This Chapter is Called Titles” you lost your voice and things looked down for the band. How did that bad experience eventually end up helping the band?
Robb: I didn’t really think of it as such a huge thing. I mean, it was a drag since we were so close to finishing the record. It worked out to our advantage though, because we went home for a couple weeks and got to listen to it with new ears and work out some changes that we might not have picked out before, had we just stayed and mixed it.
David: There was quite a gap for you guys between full length releases. During the time after releasing “This Chapter Is Called Titles” and “Hi, Everything’s Great”, how did you guys mature and progress as a band?
Patrick: Well, it took about three years between the two records… so we had a lot of time to think stuff out. I can definitely say our taste in music has changed a LOT. In the time that we had to make this record, it’s been very noticeable to see a given band put out a great record, and do very well in all areas … and then immediately a handful of bands will pop up and do the same thing and everyone buys into it. There’s no value for originality when every record label around can have their own version of a given band, and profit off of it. It’s pretty sickening. So basically, we got a bunch of Bob Dylan records, and Johnny Cash records… listening to bands like Big Star, the olds 97’s, The Eagles, and stuff like that. It’s all incredibly great driving music. So it was the soundtrack to our touring. Back then artists would have time to develop and progress, so there was no need for them to jump on the bandwagon and put out the same record as everyone else to keep afloat. We took note of that and we wrote what felt right, and what felt good. So our end product is a record that we’re very proud of.
Robb: When I started becoming broke from touring and paying rent at the same time, I got into a lot of music that I never thought I would ever like back in high school, because I would listen to what I could get for 35 cents at thrift stores. I’ve never been one to scour thrift stores that often, but I like them, and they’re a great place to buy records that you’ve never heard before. If you get one or two that you hate, they were only 35 cents or so, so it’s no big deal. So now I even like John Cougar Mellancamp and the boss. I’m still easing into the boss, I’m not 100% in the Bruce Springsteen club yet, but I like the idea that I’m listening to “the boss.” There’s nothing more American than “Born in the USA.” but, of course, if I pulled up to a stop light blasting it, I would probably get embarrassed and turn it down a bit.
David: You guys recently were able to tour with label mates The All-American Rejects. How was that experience and were there any really funny or wild moments from the tour you could share with us?
Patrick: The experience was amazing. It was definitely one of the best tours we’ve ever been on. They’re the sweetest guys, and an awesome band. They treated us like kings. We made some really great friends for life now. We hope to keep meeting up with them in the future. It’s hard to pick one funny moment … but when we got back into the US from Canada, we all went to Dirk & Emily’s house (the owners of Doghouse) in Toledo for a gigantic BBQ. It was a crazy day of playing with all the dogs (I think they have 4 of ’em), watching Super Troopers, playing baseball, and making s’mores … not to mention the incredible BBQ.
Later in the night, Justin from our band and Tyson from the Rejects decided it would be fun to light off this big firework called “Halley’s Comet”. It’s supposed to go 300 feet in the air, or something ridiculous like that. The only problem the stick to launch it off was broken … so Justin runs to find a stick from a tree, while Ty grabs some duct tape from inside. They end up taping a branch onto the rocket… and putting it right in the middle of the yard to light it off… They light it once … and nothing happens. So they light it again … and it slowly takes off … and it ends up that the stick is waaaay too heavy, so the rocket drifts up towards the roof, and then explodes. So basically, we almost lit the Doghouse Records house on fire. It was funny.
David: Along any band’s journey there are people or bands that really help you out. Who are some of the people or bands that have really helped Limbeck out along the way?
Patrick: Well although we just came in contact with them… everyone at Doghouse Records (Dirk, Emily, Sheffield, Dave, Laura) has been so amazing to us. Also, the All American Rejects for being way too damn good to us. An incredible promoter from up north, Eric Fanali, has treated us very well, and definitely helped us out more than his fair share. Our good buddy Nick Celi from Tucson … and everyone in Kansas, Ed Rose, Ron Hayes & the Black Lodge, Sean & Burton @ Bearpress and Mr. Greg Franklin. This is turning into a weird kind of thank you list, so perhaps I’ll stop here before I get gushy.
David: The album is out in stores, what’s next for Limbeck?
Patrick: First off trying to replace the words “incredible” and “amazing” with other words, because I now noticed that I use them too much. Touring like mad is next for us. Playing the songs off our new record for people to hear, and hopefully like. To be out in the world and meet people and see new places. And then somewhere in there work on some new songs … what about you Robb?
Robb: I’ve already replaced those words with “ridiculous” and “rediculously.”
Weight of the World: An interview with Good Riddance
We talk to Russ Rankin about these new ballads from the revolution
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.
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.
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
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.
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.