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Mark Trombino: Tears of Our Tracks

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Often times, we don’t fully appreciate what goes into the music we listen to; it’s not easy creating an album’s worth of music. Records are released all the time, but making one takes time and energy. Making a record that reaches out to the listeners, that takes heart.

Mark Trombino is a producer, mixer, and engineer of albums. He puts all he believes into his work, and the results can be seen in the vast amount of work he has done. From Jimmy Eat World to Mineral, to recent fan favorites the Starting Line, Mark Trombino is constantly working. He took time out of his very busy schedule to talk to me; it showed me just what kind of person he is and being a fan of the albums Mark has worked on, growing up on the sounds that he has helped create, it was an incredible experience.

David: Mark, you produce and mix albums. Can you explain to the readers, what this actually consists of?

Mark: Well, I’ll tackle the easy one first. A mixer is the person who, after everything has been recorded, takes all that material and adjusts the balances between them and basically finishes the recording process. They may get a tape with 24 tracks on it, with the bass drum on one track, a bass on another, guitars and vocals on others as well, and they then squeeze all that information down to 2 tracks which represent the left and right signals in a stereo image. How they do it involves proper equalization of the source material, compression, panning, etc. and is really an art form in and of itself.

Producers are a lot harder to explain. I guess it’s fair to say that producers are hired by bands to be the objective party in the studio, the person that isn’t partial to any particular instrument or component of the band, and someone who can, with relative certainty, give guidance and focus to a process that can be very overwhelming. I see myself in that way. What I try and do is first make sure that I feel the band is ready to even set foot in the studio, and I do this by listening to the songs, and seeing if we have an album’s worth of material there. Then we’ll go into a rehearsal room, and we’ll tweak the arrangements if necessary, and we’ll figure out tempos, and we’ll work on drum parts, etc. We’ll do as much as we can in pre-production to avoid doing it later on in the studio. When that’s done, we move into the studio and my role as a producer I’d say is really about making sure that the band is performing to their fullest potential. Is this take good enough? Can it be better? Producers are often called on to be cheerleaders, to be ego strokers, to prop the musicians up when they need it, but I find that I suck really badly at that.

I also engineer my own records, and that’s another job description entirely. I won’t get into it now, but that involves setting up microphones, choosing the signal path used to record something, being the guy that gets the physical sound from the musician onto tape. I guess that would be as opposed to the producer who gets the “vibe” or “energy” or whatever of the performance onto tape.

David: How did you get involved with producing, mixing, and engineering albums?

Mark: I really just sort of fell into it. I never really planned on doing this as a career, but because I was always interested in the process, and because my experience of recording with other people never really was satisfying to me, I just sort of started doing it. When I was in college, I started recording my bands and some friends’ bands in the electronic music studios at UCSD. The Jehu Merge 7” (Drive Like Jehu) was done there. When Jehu was looking for a place to mix YankCrime, we found this studio in North San Diego county that wasn’t being used much, and I was able to convince the owner to let me start bringing bands there. That turned into Big Fish, and that’s where I really started learning how to make records.

David: Many of the albums that you work on are with many bands of the punk rock or indie genre. Why is that?

Mark: It’s not by design I promise! I find it strange, and a little unsettling because honestly it’s not my favorite kind of music on a personal level, and also I don’t like the idea that I would be associated with only one genre of music. I’ve always been very afraid of being pigeon-holed as a “punk guy”. I would rather be in the same category as a Tchad Blake, who can make an amazingly cool record in any genre he chooses. I appreciate a good pop song, and it really doesn’t matter to me what genre it comes from. It’s all about the song itself. I’d be happy to do just about any kind of music really, and in fact I wish I was working in a greater variety of genres.

David: You have built quite a reputation in the punk music world. When people close to the scene hear, “Mark Trombino will be producing this upcoming album”, they get excited. How does that feel for you being that it’s kind of rare in the music industry today to even know who the producers are.

Mark: That’s awesome. I didn’t know that. I’m too detached from it, really. I just make records and I have little knowledge of how they’re received afterwards. But it’s good to know that people associate my name with a certain sound or quality or production value… Or based on some of the reviews that I have read, my “over production” value!

David: With doing many punk albums, many of those bands are on Drive Thru Records. Talk a little bit about your relationship with the people at Drive Thru?

Mark: I think that I have a great relationship with Richard and Stephanie. They’re good people who put out records by bands they they absolutely love. They have an amazing amount of passion for every single band on their label – and I totally respect that.

David: How long does your actual production time on an album take?

Mark: It depends. I’ll spend as long as I can making a record. I’ve done records in four days and I’ve spent as much as three months. I’ll use whatever I have. In general, though, I’d say it takes one to two weeks of pre-production, about five weeks of tracking, and a couple of weeks for mixing. That’s a pretty ideal scenario.

David: When you add programming into the music, how do you and the band work out the added sounds that you will incorporate into the specific song?

Mark: For me it’s pretty simple. I just use whatever sounds I have at my disposal within the song itself. So if I need some loopy drum sounds, I’ll take the drums that I’ve already recorded for the song and process them a bit to make them sound different and use that. If I need a pad of some sort, I’ll take another sound and time stretch it a bunch of times until I get a nice harmonic texture to lay over the music. Occasionally I’ll pull a sound from outside the song, but since my sample library is pretty much non-existent, I don’t have much to choose from. I have to make it myself. It’s probably bullshit, but I feel that if I use pre-existing sounds and process them, then it’s more organic or more appropriate for some reason.

David: When adding programming sounds, what type of equipment do you use for those sounds?

Mark: I use Pro Tools for just about everything. I don’t use that much gear. I like to work “in the box”.

David: Your work on the Jimmy Eat World albums, especially ‘Clarity’, in my opinion is like nothing out there. Talk about the relationship between you and the boys from Jimmy Eat World?

Mark: We’ve done three records together and by now we are really close. The experience of making ‘Bleed American’, where we made a record on our own and completely without any label support or input, working guerilla style was something that I always look back on as my favorite recording experience ever. I point to that as THE way to make an album. Artist and producer without any label or outside input whatsoever. We made the record we wanted to make, on our own schedule, and on our own terms. The fact that it did so well is just icing on the cake. The process of making the album was more rewarding than anything else I’ve ever been a part of.

David: Is there an album you have produced that you are most proud of?

Mark: Every album I make I love. You can not spend such an enormous amount of time and energy on something and not become attached to it in some way. And every album has given me the opportunity to learn something new or try out something new, or has forced me to think about things in a different way.

David: Mark, what is your personal opinion of the music out there today?

Mark: I can’t make any sort of blanket statement about current music. I think that, as there has always been, there is an over abundance of shitty music out there, but that there is enough amazing and brilliant music currently to keep me from jumping off of a bridge. Personally, I like music that sounds fresh, that’s forward thinking, that isn’t too derivative. My favorite new record right now is ‘The Ugly Organ’ by Cursive. Brilliant.

David: Any upcoming projects that you are currently working on or will be working on that you can share with Sound The Sirens?

Mark: I’m currently working on The Living End. We’re about done tracking and then we move to mixing. After that I’ll be doing another Jimmy Eat World record, then another Finch record, and then another Starting Line record.

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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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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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