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Mustard Plug: Skankin’ Pickles

Rick Johnson and Jim Hofer of Mustard Plug sat down on plush couches a few hours before their set and gave me a damn good reason to proudly hail from the Midwestern Mitten.

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Chubby mallrats returning too-tight sweaters, exhausted parents sleeping off holiday hangovers and bratty kids lamenting their lame presents- the day after Christmas is such an awfully dull day for common folk. However, here in Michigan, Mustard Plug delivered a lovely present by returning to their hometown and playing a festive show at Grand Rapids’ Intersection. Couldn’t have been nicer if they were wrapped in yellow paper, and the fans couldn’t have been more appreciative (see: kid in actual mustard bottle costume). 

Eating Jimmy John’s subs in a room next to a room rumored to have hosted a few of Tommy Lee’s sexcapades, bassist Rick Johnson and trombonist Jim Hofer of Mustard Plug sat down on plush couches a few hours before their set and gave me a damn good reason to proudly hail from the Midwestern Mitten, and to teach me exactly where Mustard Plug stood on the following topics. 

80’s HAIR METAL

Sound the Sirens: If you didn’t play in Mustard Plug and you were in an 80s metal band, what would your name be?

Rick: Like fictional band name or real band name? 

Jim: Actually, I was in an 80s metal band in the eighties, and the name of the band was Bloodshed. 

Sound the Sirens: You were! I did read that. 

Rick: The Rakkoons. With a “k.” 
(everyone laughs

BILLIE JOE ARMSTRONG

Sound the Sirens: A long time ago, Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day had an article in NY Rock, where he was talking a little shit on the ska scene. Any trash talk you’d like to spit back? I mean, there’s a lot of potential material. 

Rick: (shrugs) Mascara? (everyone laughs

Rick: I don’t really have a beef with him at all. We did steal his beer, right? 

Jim: That’s true. 

Sound the Sirens: What? 

Rick: When Mustard Plug played with Green Day like, years ago, we stole their beer. 

Jim: Didn’t Billie Joe used to go see OpIvy? 

Sound the Sirens: Yeah, I think he said something about how he didn’t like any of the ska scene except OpIvy. 

Jim: Huh. 

WEIRD AL YANKOVIC

Sound the Sirens: So how was playing with Weird Al?

Rick: We never played with him.

Sound the Sirens: Oh yeah. Well, I heard you met him years later. 

Jim: Yeah, actually, I didn’t know it was him. He bumped into me after the show, shook my hand and is like, “Hey, good show.” And I said “Hey, thanks. Thanks for comin’ out.” And I kept walking. 

Sound the Sirens: How did you not recognize Weird Al? 

Rick: He was in that phase where, like in the eighties, Weird Al had that short curly hair and the mustache. 

Jim: He wasn’t in character. He didn’t have a Hawaiian shirt on, he had shaved his mustache off and he had really long hair. 

Rick: He looked like he looks now. 

Becky Fritter gets “MySpacey” with Mustard Plug’s Jim Hofer

SEX AND KENNY G.

Sound the Sirens: I was talking to a kid a few months ago who was saying that Mustard Plug and bands like that were the only reason that band nerds like him got laid. 

Rick: Got laid? 

Sound the Sirens: Yeah, he said that. Seriously, I think without Mustard Plug, he would have had to wait a couple years…

Rick: More than a couple years. 

Jim: How come it never worked for us? 

Sound the Sirens: Well, how was it for you in high school, you know…? 

Rick: Rick Johnson was not getting laid! 

Jim: Neither was Jim Hofer! (everyone laughs

Rick: Yeah. That was, that was not on the agenda whatsoever. I was a band kid. 

Sound the Sirens: Well, now you made it cool for band nerds to be band nerds. 

Rick: I don’t think that’s true though. I think he was the cool kid that was in band who was getting laid to begin with. 

Sound the Sirens: I don’t think he was…

Rick: What did he play? 

Sound the Sirens: Um, he played saxophone for a while and then switched over to the tuba. 

Jim: Well, see, it’s the saxophone players. The saxophone players are always like the, uh, the- 

Rick: Suave. 

Jim: Yeah, like Kenny G. Kenny G is suave. 

Rick: I bet Kenny G’s getting laid more than me. 

Jim: I bet he is. (everyone laughs

Rick: And I bet he’s playing saxophone while doing it! 

Sound the Sirens: See, I’d think Kenny G would make one lose an erection. 

Rick: Nah. It’s a smooth groove. All laid back. 

COREY FELDMAN (former Goonie, current douchebag)

Sound the Sirens: All right. You guys have ten seconds to come up with a consensus on what celebrity you’d like to punch in the face. 

Jim: There’s so many. 

Rick: Yeah. So many. Corey Feldman, Vanilla Ice, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Kevin Federline, Nelly, Jimmy Buffett- 

Jim: The dude from American Idol. 

Rick: Taylor Hicks? Ruben Studdard? 

Jim: Nah, dude, the judge guy. 

Sound the Sirens: Simon Cowell. 

Jim: And all the contestants. Actually, I work at Meijer Gardens, I do bartending over there, and they had the American Idol tryouts for Michigan there… and I had to work that night and I had to sit through all those acts. It was the most haunting thing I have ever seen in my life. Everyone’s got thirty seconds to go WHOO-woo-ooooooooo…

Sound the Sirens: You should have tried out. 

Jim: I should have. I’m too old. 

Sound the Sirens: That one guy has gray hair. 

Jim: Whatever. 

Sound the Sirens: Wait, so why Corey Feldman? 

Rick: He’s a douchebag! 

Sound the Sirens: He was cute in the Goonies

Rick: All right. Here’s my beef with Corey Feldman. Motherfucker is a millionaire by the time he’s fourteen, and he doesn’t blame himself for losing his fame and losing his money. He blames everybody else for not telling him that if he spends his money, he won’t get it back. End quote. If you watch E! True Hollywood Story, there’s a scene where he’s like, “It’s not my fault I crashed, I was a drug addict by the time I was fifteen, that I had four or five million dollars. It’s not my fault ‘cause nobody ever told me that if I spend that money I won’t get it back.” 

Sound the Sirens: Wow. Thank you for screwing up the Goonies for me. 

Rick: Yeah, I’m sorry. 

WARPED TOUR

Sound the Sirens: I heard something happened at the Detroit Warped Tour, in 2002. What exactly went down?

Jim: Uh, basically, they kept having us play these little tents that, like, thirty people can fit under and watch us. So, we’re playing the last day of the tour, and we told them that they really should get a bigger stage, ‘cause it’s not going to be good with all these kids coming out. And they didn’t listen, they kept putting us under the tent. There were hundreds of people there to see us, and the sound guys freaked out. The sound guys were kind of assholes, but they freaked out and kept turning the sound off on us. And the kids were fine; they weren’t going onstage, they weren’t touching the equipment. They were totally fine. But the sound guys kept freaking out and finally, they called out these bouncers, these like, football player guys, and started throwing around all the fourteen-year-old girls up front. Finally, Kevin Lyman, the guy who runs Warped Tour, cut us off. So apparently we’re never going to play Warped Tour again. 

THE MIGHTY MIGHTY BOSSTONES

Sound the Sirens: Mighty Mighty Bosstones… can you talk to them and convince them to reunite and tour with you? 

Rick: It’s not gonna happen. (laughs) We’re pretty good friends with one of the guys, and the thing is, when anybody asks him when the Mighty Mighty Bosstones are going to get back together, he just laughs. He’s like, “Yeah, man… sorry.” 

Sound the Sirens: I’m sure that if you guys did tour again together, you could take over the world. 

Rick: 1998 all over again. 

Jim: I did an interview with Dicky [Betts] once, and he said something about- this is, you know, seven years ago- and I asked him what he’d be doing in another fifteen years, and he goes, “We’ll be singing songs, along with Mustard Plug and No Doubt!” 

Sound the Sirens: Speaking of, how do you guys feel about No Doubt, or really just Gwen Stefani? 

Rick: She’s probably doing what she wants to do. I mean, it’s so completely far away from anything that we’re doing. It doesn’t really matter. It’s like Hollywood pop. 

CLICHE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

Sound the Sirens: I hate to do this, but you guys have been around for fifteen years. Please say you’re going to do it for another fifteen. 

Rick and Jim: (laughs

Sound the Sirens: Just please don’t pull a Bosstones on us! 

Rick: If Dave and Colin were here, their answer to this question would be that they never thought they’d be playing this long. You can’t really answer that question honestly. I thought we were going to break up like seven years ago. 

DAY JOBS, WAL-MARTS, NARCOLEPTIC BOSSES

Sound the Sirens: You mentioned earlier that you were a bartender. Why is it that so many musicians are bartenders? 

Jim: Well, they let me go on tour. And as a musician you’re also qualified to be a bartender without any experience. 

Sound the Sirens: Really? 

Jim: For being an alcoholic. (everyone laughs

Sound the Sirens: Suckiest day jobs. Ever. 

Rick: I used to mow lawns. That was the worst. 

Jim: I worked at Meijer. 

Sound the Sirens: I heard they were worse than Wal-Mart. 

Rick: They’re not worse than Wal-Mart. They’re almost on the same level, but you gotta support them because they’re a regionally based local company. They’re in direct competition with Wal-Mart, and who would you rather see; the conglomerate that’s ruining everybody’s life- 

Jim: Well, if Meijer could, they would, though. 

Rick: Yeah. 

Jim: I used to have this job, I was an assistant to this guy who owned a company and part of my job was to drive him around. But he was a narcoleptic, so he’s in the middle of giving me directions and he’d fall asleep. So I’d have to just drive around until he woke up. 

(everyone laughs

(The rest of the interview was interrupted by drummer Nate Cohn, who at this point, walks in with a videocamera, getting footage for the Mustard Plug DVD and explaining how he got to dress up as a panda bear and wish kids a happy birthday at a roller rink he used to work at. Want to know more? Guess you’ll have to wait for the DVD to come out and hope the footage doesn’t get cut!)

Interviews

Weight of the World: An interview with Good Riddance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

good riddance

Thoughts and Prayers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Interviews

Live While You Can: An Interview with Much the Same

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much the Same

Everything is Fine

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

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

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

What kept you all busy in-between?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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