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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

The Down and Dirty: An interview with The Aggrolites

We chat to “dirty reggae” kings The Aggrolites about their new record Reggae Now!

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It’s been a long time between records for Los Angeles reggae band The Aggrolites. 8 years to be exact. After countless albums and endless days on the road, the band felt like it was the right time to step away from the grind of writing, recording, touring. But the extended break between records meant the band just had time to get some air, recuperate and find the charge that would ignite that next spark. That next spark ended up becoming Reggae Now!, a collection of the band’s signature “dirty reggae” sound, packed with life-affirming songs about hope and positivity. And while the album isn’t afraid to challenge and question the current landscape we find ourselves in, it doesn’t shy away from having a good time.

The record has received some lavish praise, with noted filmmaker, DJ, and Big Audio Dynamite co-founder Don Letts saying; “Their tunes perfectly echo the human chemistry you can hear in those early Jamaican productions. The band’s old-school analog sound totally captures the spirit of the music I grew up on“. While Specials vocalist/guitarist Lynval Golding has said; “This is THE album.

It’s easy to say that one of the most influential bands of modern American reggae is back. But the truth is, they never left. In between stops of their current North American tour, we had a chance to chat with vocalist and guitarist Jesse Wagner about Reggae Now!, how it feels to have written the record on their own time, and the significance of reggae music in America.

Congrats on the new record; how does feel now that it’s out?

It feels awesome. We are beyond stoked to see how positive the vibes are coming from all the fans old and new. 

It was a long time between records- 8 years. It was the right time to take a break after 2011?

We felt so. We were going hard on the road for a good decade. I think 250 days a year can wear anyone out. We never quit though. We just needed some time to do our own thing with our families and friends back at home. 

How did Reggae Now! come together- was there a spark that got you guys back into the writing process?

It just felt like the right time. We had talked about it for a while and when it happened it just worked. 

Was this the first time you had the chance to write and record an album without the pressure of label deadlines? How did it feel that you could just write Reggae Now! on your own time- the way you want to 100%?

Yes it was. And it felt really chill and relaxing knowing that time was on our side. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. 

How did you connect and end up working with Pirates Press Records? It seems like a great fit- plus their roster of artists is incredible.

I’ve known Skippy for a long time now and have been a fan of what he has been doing with Pirates Press for years. Playing the style of music we play isn’t necessarily an easy target to market. We knew Skippy and Pirates Press would know exactly what to do with our album and are all grateful for them. 

For those who may not be too familiar with the Aggrolites- share with us a little bit of your history and how the band came to be?

We’ve been around since 2002. We all pretty much come from the same scene in Los Angeles and all have the same love and passion for old school Jamaican music.  With that passion, the band has managed to keep it going ever since. 

How has the tour been so far? You guys are hitting cities all across the US until August; how is touring and getting to meet and perform for the fans now than, say, back in 2002?

It’s been an amazing run so far. If anything, things are getting better. I think with the internet it’s easier for people to find out about certain genres of music. We’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback. 

I love the video for “Pound for Pound”- where did you shoot it? How was it?

It was filmed in the San Fernando Valley at an equipment rental spot called Zio. Our friend Josh Rousch was the director and mastermind behind the whole thing. We had a blast filming it. So much fun and we were stoked to have some Aggro fans involved in the video also. That was a first. 

Let’s talk about reggae- because it’s such an important genre of music (in my view) and I think some people only see it in one color. But there’s a lot of history and culture- how did you discover reggae and what are some of the most important aspects of the music and culture to you and the band?

I found out about reggae probably like the majority of the American youth from the early 1990s; punk rock and Two-Tone. The thing that got me stuck on it was how tuff of a sound it is, but at the same time so beautiful. It is by far the most interesting music I’ve ever gotten into. I love how they sang about social issues going down on their small Island, but how powerful the lyrics would be in relating to people all over the world. 

Reggae, and ska and rocksteady seem to have a close relationship with punk. You guys have toured with and are close to many punk bands; what is it about the two genres that make sense and connects?

I believed it all goes back to the late 1960s when reggae became popular with the working class in the UK. It’s music for the people. Songs about struggle and overcoming it. Very rebellious music also. I believe Don Letts said it best that reggae was the soundtrack to the punk rock scene throughout the late 1970s. 

How important do you think music of good vibes is in today’s world? I think maybe the world could use a little more Reggae Now.

I thank you for saying that and agree 100%. We’ve always said we are “Feel Good” music. Sometimes it’s nice to just play a record and have a good time. Especially in this day and age. There is a lot of corruption going on and hopefully, we can ease people’s minds from negativity with our album. 

The Aggrolites’ new album, Reggae Now!, is available via Pirates Press Records.

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Interviews

Everything Will Be Alright: An interview with Ogikubo Station

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There is great joy in simple chords and simple melodies. It is, after all, the feeling of comfort that these things often bring. Comfort from the day’s burdens, comfort from the issues that disappoint us, comfort when the sunsets bring us joy. Ogikubo Station, the music project of Maura Weaver (of Ohio punks Mixtapes) and Mike Park (of Asian Man Records), is that kind of comfort. It is music that makes us think of the week we’ve just had, music that makes us want to do better in our every day, and music that makes us laugh, cry, and sing-a-long.

Fresh off the release of a new 7” EP Okinawan Love Songs, we chat to Maura and Mike about the new songs, making music from distances, and how Ogikubo Station came to be. The chat was a reminder that music can be the result of many things and many reasons. Some simple, some more complicated. It was also a reminder that if we’ve got the music, then maybe, just maybe, everything will be alright in the end.

You released your full length We Can Pretend Like last year- was there a catalyst that sparked getting back into the writing and recording again so quickly?

Maura: I think Mike just called me and said do you want to come out to California and do some songwriting, and then while I was out there he booked two days in the studio and said “Guess what? We’re gonna record a 7 inch.”

Mike: Is that what happened? Haha. I can’t remember. I know we had “Would I Break My Heart Enough For You” written and we were playing it live, so I thought “let’s just add a couple more songs and release a fun 7 inch.”

Did you write these songs the same way you’ve written in the past; from a distance?

Mike: Not this time. Since it was only a few songs we just rehearsed for a day and then recorded.

Does that process ever get easier, being quite far apart?

Maura: Not really. I prefer being able to collaborate in person and I believe that’s the plan for the next record. We started writing 4 new songs aside from what’s on this 7 inch to go towards the next Ogikubo full length.

Mike: Yeah, it’s not the best case scenario, but I’ve been doing with a lot of different projects over the years. Sending mixes and vocal parts and asking various friends to guest on records, so it’s not that bad actually.

Okinawan Love Songs

How was having Dan (Andriano) play bass on this EP? Will you be working with him again in the future?

Mike: I’ve known Dan since he was a teenager, so I just called him and said “Dan, I’m gonna send you a couple of songs for you to play bass on” and he was like “okay”. He has his own home studio and he’s kind of a gear head, so I knew it would be easy for him to do. I’d love to do more stuff with him, but I guess we’ll see.

Maura: Heck yes! I’ve been an Alkaline Trio fan since I was 14, so this is all kind of geeking out excitement for me.

For those who are new to Ogikubo Station – tell us how you ended up collaborating together?

Mike: Maura, you want to tell it?

Maura: Sure. So I was visiting the San Francisco/Oakland area where my sister lives and we were hanging out with my friend Danielle Bailey who is also friends with Mike. Danny had posted some photos of us hanging and Mike called Danny and said: “ask Maura if she would record a song with me”. So we drove to San Jose and we recorded a song called “Weak Souls Walk Around Here” and that was it. Just a one-time thing.

Mike: And at that time I believe I told Maura I’d like to put out her solo album and so for the next 2 years I would bug her every couple months to see how it was going and she would say “oh, I’m still working on it”. And then I finally said “hey, let’s start a project together” and thus Ogikubo Station was born.

How many bands are you in now Mike?

Mike: Kitty Kat Fan Club, Ogikubo Station, Bruce Lee Band …are the only ones that play, but I’m working on a couple of new projects. Always doing music.

Maura, how different has it been with Ogikubo Station than say, writing and recording with Mixtapes? Do the different processes give you new ways to write and approach songwriting?

Maura: I guess the biggest difference is the distance factor and that Ogikubo is not a full-time band. Mixtapes was my first real band and it was at a time in my life when everything was a first. First tour, first record, first van, the first van breaking down. I was still in my teens with Mixtapes and we all lived in Cincinnati. So it’s very different with Ogikubo. It’s hard to explain fully, but both bands have definitely been influential in different ways. But the basic idea of writing a melody over a strummed guitar chord is the same no matter the situation.

I love the TMBG cover on the new EP, and the fact that you chose to keep it lo-fi—what are some of the other bands you say would have directly led to the music and songwriting of Ogikubo Station?

Mike: I guess I’ve been listening to a lot of 80’s bands as of late and just kind of falling in love again with bands like Hoodoo Gurus, the Replacements, REM, and then newer bands like ALVVAYS, PUP, and Laura Stevenson. I’m always just looking for a good melody and some lyrics that aren’t filler bullshit.

Maura: I listen to so much music. From Kate Bush, TMBG, Desmond Dekker, Operation Ivy, to Beyonce and Taylor Swift. It’s hard to say what influences Ogikubo Station, but those are some bands I’ve been listening to lately.

Mike, I know on Twitter recently you’ve expressed your frustration and anger at a lot of the political things that are happening in the US (hopefully that’s not the cause of those grey hairs!) – but as songwriters, do you feel that it’s more important than ever to provide listeners with fuel to fight for equality and kindness, or do you feel that its just as important to provide an escape through music?

Mike: I’ve always felt music is political even when you aren’t trying to make it political. The sounds fuel the soul, creates the body to move and puts you in moods that you may not even realise are happening. Music has been my solace when it comes to expression and emotion. An outlet to get my ideas across in an artistic and productive manner. I don’t feel it’s imperative to be overtly political. I try not to shove politics down your throat, but if something comes to mind and I write about it and it happens to be classified as political, so be it.

Maura, you did the artwork for the new EP, an illustration of your Okinawan grandmother. The art is beautiful, can you tell us a little bit about your art and how you came into illustrating?

Maura: I’ve always enjoyed illustrating and painting. Creating art: With a guitar or a brush or a pen/ pencil. I wanted to draw my grandmother and give it to her as a present.  When Mike saw the drawing he asked if we could use it for the 7-inch cover. It wasn’t meant to be the cover, but after mike brought it up I said of course.

What are some of the things you’re looking forward to on this UK tour? You guys are going all over England, and then to Wales, and then Scotland. 

Mike: Sadly I’m not going on the tour this time due to some hearing damage I have sustained, but I’m still going to Brighton for a wedding, so I will be there for 3 days. And I’ll try to do every stereotypical British thing. TEA/MILK/FISH/CHIPS/MUSHY PEAS.

Maura: Getting to travel with my best friend Megan is the most exciting part of this UK tour. She’s never been before and that makes it that much more special being able to share this experience together. We are both Vegan/Vegetarian and one of our favorite things to do is eat, so we’ll checking out the different vegan spots in every city. And just meeting new friends, seeing old friends, and Edinburgh. I can’t wait to go to Edinburgh.

Is there a new full length on the horizon?

Mike: I’d like to work on one next year. I’m tapped out for this year. I’m gonna work on some new Bruce Lee Band stuff next and then I have a couple of other collaborations, but hopefully sometime next year we can start the process for the next full length.

Maura: That sounds good to me. It will give me a chance to keep writing songs.

Ogikubo Station’s new 7″ EP Okinawan Love Songs is out June 14th on Asian Man Records. Find out more about Ogikubo Station and their upcoming tour dates on their Facebook page.

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