There are certain points in my life where I just want to revel in simplicity. This feeling often correlates into the music I listen to. The endless tags put on every single band, song, and album is just so irritating. It could be anything from post-punk, to garage rock, to my absolute favorite, emo. This name tagging compulsion that everyone in the world seems to harbor has sent me over the edge. I just want to listen to a rock band. I don’t want to have to think of a bunch of genres to describe it. I want a band that will extend through the barriers of stereotypical labeling. Lucky for me I found the Von Bondies.
First of all, there is a misconception that must be cleared straight away. Many people seem to think that the Von Bondies are just a second rate version of the White Stripes, much like those purses with weird initials on them are $30 knock-offs of $1,000 Louis Vuitton bags. That is simply not the case. Yes, it is true that both bands hail from Detroit, Michigan, and both got lumped into that garage rock category. Jack White even produced the group’s first album, but that doesn’t mean the Von Bondies need to be placed alongside the White Stripes. There are three main differences between the two groups. First, the Von Bondies do not have an album full of songs with really repetitive bass lines that start to give you a headache after a few listens. Second, the Von Bondies write lyrics that impose clarity and simplicity, while figuring out a White Stripes song is like putting together a puzzle with about seventy-five percent of the pieces missing. Thirdly, the Von Bondies are just all around much more enjoyable to listen to. What the Von Bondies need to do right now is shake off the White Stripe’s shadow and let their own image shine.
The Von Bondies latest release is Pawn Shoppe Heart, an album full of rock and roll tunes about life, heartache, and booze. They are very rock n’ roll: from their looks, to their attitude, and to their songs; yet they have their own defined version of rock n’ roll, considering their band is split down the middle when it comes to the male and female ratio. The album takes off with “No Regrets,” a song with an astoundingly catchy drumbeat that distinctly matches the catchy chorus. Wailing guitars come in and out of the song until the listener is completely convinced this record is definitely worth listening to. Pawn Shoppe Heart is one pocket full of energy infused with loud rock that can be found through the whole record.
The Von Bondies are reminiscent of the Rolling Stones back when they were young men and releasing songs like “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” Stollsteimer sounds like he has the propensity to have the swagger and confidence of Mick Jagger. He has the attitude and charisma that shines through just by the way he can turn it up and turn it down. He can howl a song out like a rock star and/or he can go to the other extreme by drawing out long dramatic notes. On the title track of the album, Stollsteimer sings with such veracity over the screeching guitars it makes for an intense end to the record. It is the sort of song that you really just want to hear as the finale at the end of a concert. If it’s this good on record, it has got to be amazing live.
Stollsteimer takes off from his vocal duties to let the girls take the lead on the track “Not That Social” which poses the lyric “you’re not that social, just a good drinker” as the tagline. The song has simple words, but it’s the perfect Saturday night out-on-the-town song. Everyone knows someone portrayed in this song. This is something else that the Von Bondies seem to conquer whole heartedly. Stollsteimer has the talent of writing lyrics that avoid complexity and instead harbor on ground that people naturally identify with. The songs are not horribly written rock songs with no point, no story, or no sense of comprehension. They instead focus on the sort of issues that everyone deals with and understands.
Pawn Shoppe Heart is what so many albums strive to be. It is a rock album that manages to be catchy, simplistic, and yet doesn’t sound like an overproduced “garage band” record. The Vines, the Hives, the White Stripes; they all need to take note, because none of them have lived up to the hype they’ve created. The Von Bondies might actually be able to surpass theirs. They have made a record unbound by labels. Why? Because it’s good, and that is all that really matters in the end.
The Down and Dirty: An interview with The Aggrolites
We chat to “dirty reggae” kings The Aggrolites about their new record Reggae Now!
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.
Allweather – Through the Floor
Debut album from San Diego’s Allweather is a compelling listen
Where did Allweather come from? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself through the first 5-6 times I listened to their debut album Through the Floor. Collectively the songs reminded me of a sound prominent in the mid-90s; tempered by the album’s melodic-hardcore demeanor. Punctuated by the terrific strained vocals, the initial reaction was to equate Allweather to a band somewhere in between early Polar Bear Club and early to mid-Transit. The music, for the most part, takes pop punk but substitutes the saccharine for more gruff melodies and the kind of pained, mid-tempo emotion that made those bands household names. But listen after listen I felt that was another connection; one that resonated with me more than those aforementioned bands did.
It hit me after listening to “Another Sad Song” for the umpteenth time- Allweather, while sonically more akin to current pop punk’s downtrodden, baggage-saddled sound, resonates closer to that of melodic-hardcore greats Lifetime. In part because vocally, Allweather’s vocalist Tim Putnam is so close to that of Ari Katz that it is almost impossible to discern between the two. And that is a very good thing- because Katz’s vocals reverberate as powerfully as it did back in 1995 as it does today. In Allweather’s case, listen to songs like “Grim Ave” and the a capella opening of “Die Slow” and you can swear that these songs are cuts off Hello Bastards or Jersey’s Best Dancers. Allweather employs more mid-tempo structures than they do Lifetime’s breakneck pace, but the sum of the parts make Through the Floor a compelling listen, even if the Lifetime comparison isn’t 100%.
“Groundswell” is probably the album’s best outing; melodic, emotional, hard-hitting in a way Texas is the Reason was, while “Die Slow” is not far behind for its sincerely great Lifetime-esque similarities.
For a band relatively new (having only released a two-song digital album prior in 2017), there is already so much to like and look forward to. Composed and packing a punch, those who miss the melodic but pained sounds of bands like Texas is the Reason, and of course, Lifetime, need not look much further than Allweather to find that what is old (and great) is new again.