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The Starting Line: Something Left to Give

For pop punk/rock act The Starting Line, it has taken two full-length albums and a pair of EPs to finally find their direction.

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Some bands take a few years and a few albums to finally piece everything together and get it right. For pop punk/rock act The Starting Line, it has taken two full-length albums and a pair of EPs to finally find their direction.Combining elements of their previous releases while implementing new sounds that reflect the maturity of the band, Direction is The Starting Line’s finest work to date and the listeners agree. The album debuted at No. 30 on the Billboard 200, selling close to 20,000 copies in its first week.

Guitarist Matt Watts recently took some time out of his hectic schedule this summer on the Warped Tour to talk with us about the band’s newest release, the excitement of being on a new label, as well as what the future holds for the band as well as himself and band mates.

It seems on Direction the band took bits and pieces of all your previous albums and mashed them together. Is that a fair assessment?

Watts: I would say if Say It Like You Mean It and Based On A True Story got married and had a very good-looking, intelligent, talented baby, then it would be Direction. Musically, we tried to challenge ourselves while keeping the structures very straight forward, with the same good old TSL hooks.

I also noticed that Direction seems to have more of an edge to it, especially with the vocals. Was this a natural progression for the band or something that just fell into place?

Watts: Everything on Direction happened in a totally natural, organic way. We’re not a band that really tries to force things.

On your previous album, Based On A True Story, there were some problems with your label at the time (Geffen) during the writing and recording process. How different were things this time around?

Watts: We’re lucky to be on a new label (Virgin) and it’s like night and day from our previous label experience. The people at Virgin are TSL fans, they respect our vision and understand what we set to achieve with each record.  It’s a great relationship, and we value their opinion as well. They also come out to any show they can, which is something I can’t say for our previous label who never actually made it out to a show.

After Geffen granted the band a release, how cautious were you guys when signing a new deal? Was there ever any thought of staying away from the majors?

Watts: We were very selective in trying to find the right place, we were in a great situation and able to really pick and choose and wanted to make sure we got the right deal. After meeting (with) Virgin, it was a no brainer. We just clicked.

After having such a negative experience recording with Geffen, was it refreshing this time to just put an album together with no strings attached?

Watts: It was such a positive experience all around … sort of surreal.

Now that the album is out, how proud is the band of it compared to your previous work?

Watts: I feel like the band is always at a different place mentally when we have a record released. With Say It Like You Mean It, we were just excited to have a record out and in stores. With Based On A True Story, we were just happy that those songs saw the light of day and that we were able to have people hear the songs, and glad that there were a few f-you’s to the label in there. With Direction, it’s been such a positive experience all around and such an optimistic record and it really suits us. So, we’re thrilled.

Having accomplished so much in so little time, does the band find it difficult to keep growing as musicians while still being a pop-rock band so to speak?

Watts: I feel like no matter what genre you’re in, you should be moving forward. I really hate it as a listener when bands put out the same record twice. When I hear bands that really push the limit musically, it totally inspires me, and us.

Most of the band is embarking on side projects. What are you guys up to and what are the main reasons for you guys getting into these projects?

Watts: Tom (Gryskewicz – drummer) and I started The Seventy Six for fun; we were home for almost a year and wanted to write pop songs with our good friends. As far as Kenny’s (Vasoli – bass and vocals) project, Person L, I feel like he just really wanted a creative outlet for the songs that he was writing that weren’t exactly TSL songs … the Person L stuff is really rad.

Is there any fear that with these new projects that The Starting Line gets pushed on the back burner for a little bit?


Watts: Not at all, TSL is everyone’s first priority, but music is supposed to be fun and we’re all about making different kinds of music when we can.

You also have a growing management company (Art Is Hard Management). Was part of your decision to do this because of securing your future for life after TSL?

Watts: I really took an interest in music business and the music industry when TSL first signed to Drive Thru Records. I was always the business guy and always wanted to pursue management at some point. When I heard New Atlantic, I thought they had a ton of potential and felt like we could all grow together … which we have.

How much longer do you see The Starting Line putting album after album out?

Watts: I don’t want to put a number on it, but we don’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.

What are your long terms goals for the band as well as yourself?

Watts: I would love to keep putting out records that we’re all proud of, and to keep things moving forward. As far as myself, my long-term goals are to achieve everything that I want for TSL, as well as the bands I work for.

Interviews

San Diego’s Best Dancers: An interview with Allweather

San Diego’s rich punk history continues its next chapter with Allweather

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San Diego’s alternative music history will forever be intertwined with punk’s mainstream rise through the 90s. While Los Angeles and the Bay Area took much of the attention, San Diego quietly produced a few bands that would ultimately rise to the top of mainstream punk. Now more than 20 years later, San Diego continues to produce as many excellent bands as it does excellent burrito joints. We are unsure whether it has anything to do with the sunny locale, or the food, or the proximity to coastal bliss, but San Diego punk is thriving. But don’t just take our word for it, just listen to the current crop of punk bands that call the area home.

Allweather are one of the newest on the scene, but their members have a long history amongst Southern California’s punk underground. They’ve just released their debut full-length Through the Floor; 10 songs of hard-hitting, melodic punk that at times throws it back to Lifetime’s emotionally charged output.

We spoke to Allweather guitarist and vocalist Tim Putnam.

Thanks for taking the time guys- new full-length in the books- how does everyone feel?

We are so stoked that this thing is finally out. It took about a year and a half to put this all together, what with full-time jobs and other adult-y obligations; but now we’re ready to share it with the world and it feels awesome. Definitely a labor of love with this one.

I really enjoyed the record. You’ve gotten some great feedback?

Everyone has been super receptive. Maybe they’re just being nice and telling us what we want to hear. But if so, they’re doing a great job! They’re saying some nice things!

I spent the first few listens trying to figure out that “sound”— because the album got me like a record did so many years ago. It took a few good listens but to me, it reminds me of Lifetime’s Hello Bastards and Jersey’s Best Dancers. At least that’s how it made me feel. I love those two records and I felt the same when I listened to yours. What are your thoughts on the different interpretations of the record or how it can make people feel many different things?

That’s awesome that you say that. I honestly love everything Dr. Dan Yemin has been involved with: Lifetime, Kid Dynamite, Armalite, Paint it Black. Contrasting dark vocal delivery and lyrical themes with more melodic/upbeat instrumentation is something I think we try to emulate from those bands. I’m hoping that makes for a record that everyone can take something away from, whether you want to just bop around to some pop punk songs or delve deeper into the bummer-ass lyrical content and see what exactly this dude is yelling about.

Who produced it and how did the writing and recording go?

So, that gets a little messy. The majority of engineering was done by our lead guitarist, Tony Estrada, who was our guitarist at the beginning of this recording quest. Tony left the band in the process of recording the record so Todd Allen, of Paper Street Cuts fame, stepped in to engineer what was left of the project. Mixing and mastering was done by Paul Miner at Buzzbomb Studios. All music was written collectively by the band.

It’s a personal record- songs about day-to-day life, ups and downs?

For the most part, I’m a fairly upbeat kind of guy. That’s because I have music as an outlet to compartmentalize any sad or angry thought I might have. This record is a collection of all our anger and sadness for the last two years. That’s pretty heavy. We’ve got songs about heartbreak, death of friends, and questioning the purpose of human existence. More ups than downs I guess.

You guys are relatively new as a band. Can you share with us a little Allweather history and how you got started?

I’ve known Aaron and Manny since we were teenagers. We all grew up about an hour and a half east of San Diego in a small town called El Centro, California. It’s basically the default decision when you’re old enough to move from El Centro to San Diego because it’s a larger city close to home. Aaron, Manny and I all ended up in San Diego by this logic and all played in bands together when we were younger in El Centro and just decided to jam to see what might come out. And Allweather was born. Tyson is the newest addition to the family, having joined our ranks on lead guitar almost a year ago, and the dude is a prodigy. He brings a lot of songwriting to the table and is going to be huge in shaping what Allweather is going to sound like moving forward.

What got you all into into punk and the music that became Allweather?

I think coming of age in the late 90s/early 2000s, punk was somewhat accessible. At least gateway-punk. It was very easy to get into Green Day and Blink-182 by seeing them on MTV, then hop on the internet and get sucked into the rabbit hole that is punk rock. Before you know it you’re on Limewire giving your computer AIDS so you can pirate “Maxwell Murder” at 20 kbps. 2 days later you listen to it and you’re like “Welp, I guess I’m a punk now.” Also, growing up in a small town like El Centro, you were just bored and had to entertain yourself. You started garage bands and booked backyard shows because it was something to do. 

Let’s talk about the stop-motion video for “Life Vest”- looked like a fun video, but it looked like a lot of work. How was that to shoot? Why stop-motion?

Almost 1000 individual photos. 18 hours straight of shooting. For a 2-minute music video. SO WORTH IT. We had about a hundred dollars to spend on the video and stop motion seemed like a good way to add some class to our cardboard-prop-level budget. Luckily, Tyson took the reigns, figured out the math behind the whole thing and hopped in the director’s chair. All in all, we’re super proud of the finished product.

The vinyl/CD is out through Paper Street Cuts- how did you guys connect with Paper Street Cuts? 

I’ve been playing local shows with Todd of Paper Street Cuts in San Diego for the last 9 years. In that time, Todd has become a real friend of mine and the band’s. This year Todd started making handmade lathe cut records for limited release through his label, Paper Street Cuts. No… like he cuts his own records. By hand. WHAT? Not to mention he’s an incredible human being. So, when Todd approached us about having our record be the first LP available through Paper Street Cuts, we jumped on it.

You had a record release show June 14. What are you guys up to next- back on the road?

We are going to be heading out for a West Coast USA tour at the end of July. It’s our first time touring and we’re pumped. More info on that shortly.

What are some of the things I should check out next time I’m in San Diego- food, music- cool record stores?

San Diego is the self-proclaimed burrito capital of the world. But it’s true. Best burritos anywhere. And where do you go to get one? Throw a rock in any direction and you’ll probably hit a taco shop. Some of our favorites though are Colima’s, Roberto’s, Rigaberto’s, Alberto’s…basically anything with the -berto’s suffix will be a win. For live music, our headquarters is Tower Bar in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego. Honorable mention goes to Til Two Club, the Casbah, and Soda Bar. Tons of rad record stores but our recs go to Red Brontosaurus Records and Re-Animated Records.

Allweather’s debut album, Through the Floor, is available now via Paper Street Cuts.

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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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