When you first listen to Thrice, your mind, body, and soul is stormed by a surge of sincerity and commanding sounds. Always different, always changing, Thrice speaks to their audience. Envision the words being scribbled onto an old notebook as the music is fused. They have created something unique and special.
Thrice took a portion of the proceeds from both of their previous albums ‘Identity Crisis’ and ‘The Illusion of Safety’ and donated them to charity. The same will be done for their major label debut. ‘The Artist in the Ambulance’ drops July 22 on Island Records. Expect the unexpected.
[with Dustin Kensrue & Riley Breckenridge]
David: What were some main reasons you guys decided to sign with Island/Def Jam Records after being on Sub City?
Riley: We were never in a situation where we felt like we HAD to sign with a major. We had another record left with Sub City. But getting the opportunity to sign with a major label, knowing that your records will be available everywhere, having the resources to make the records you want to make, and being able to concentrate on music full-time, is not a opportunity that many bands get, and if you do get it, it’s not like it’s an opportunity that’s going to keep coming back. So we decided that if we found a label that was willing to work with us on our terms, that understood what we are trying to do as band, and was willing to let us continue the charity work we’d done at Sub City, we’d sign. Island ended up being the label that we chose, because we feel like they are everything I mentioned above and more.
David: Many times though fans have a negative response to a band switching from a small label to a larger major label. What has been the response from your fans since switching over to Island/Def Jam?
Riley: There’s a little of both, although it seems like the negative people won’t shut up about it. We really appreciate the supportive people because they obviously have faith in our band, and realize that we didn’t just sign to a major label to hand away all of our creative control. We made a very educated decision when we signed with Island. We took our time, spoke to and got advice from people we trust, and made sure that we knew what we were getting into. We have the final say in every creative aspect of this band, from music, to artwork, to merchandise. It seems like the people who have negative things to say about the whole situation, have this strange preconceived notion that all major labels are evil, and that every major label/band relationship is the same. The truth is that it’s different for every band, and every label, and if someone wants the truth about a particular situation they need to go to those involved and get real answers instead of spouting mindless rhetoric. There are shady people everywhere, regardless of label size. As a band, you just have to make sure that you align yourself with people you trust.
David: Your new album, “The Artist in the Ambulance” comes out July 22nd. What can we expect to hear?
Riley: Much better production quality. We had the opportunity to work with better equipment, and take more time recording than we ever had in the past, and I think it shows. The songs are a little more refined than anything we’d done in the past, which was also a product of having more time to mess around with arrangements. We wanted to make memorable songs instead of memorable parts. The last record was pretty scatter-brained (which worked at times, but didn’t at others), and we wanted to make something a little more cohesive. We also experimented with a lot of odd-time signatures, guitar tones, and string arrangements. It’s definitely different than anything we’ve ever done.
David: “The Artist in the Ambulance” is an interesting album title. How did you guys come up with that name and is there any type of special meaning behind it?
Riley: It’s based on an excerpt from the book “Burn Collector” by Al Burian (who plays in Milemarker). It’s a story about himself (an artist) and his brother who is a paramedic, and their contributions to society. The paramedic’s impact on society is a lot more obvious than the artist’s. The basic premise deals with society’s duty to do more, and to try harder to do something meaningful, especially in the artist’s case. We’ve always tried to do a little more than just make music, by donating money to charities.
David: Your previous album “The Illusion of Safety” sold really well quickly and even made it to the Billboard”s Heat Seekers Chart. How did you guys respond to that?
Riley: It was definitely an honor, but it wasn’t anything we really thought about all that much. We aren’t really that concerned with record sales or Billboard charts.
David: I look at many of the song titles from “The Illusion of Safety” album and I see they deal with the theme of death such as, “Kill Me Quickly”, “The Red Death”, “To Awake and Avenge the Dead”. Why the references to death in your song titles and lyrics and where do you draw the inspiration for writing very strong, powerful, deep, and dark lyrics?
Dustin: I’m not too sure. I think that if you read a lot, subconsciously I think it will affect how you learn to express yourself through words, and will improve your use of vocabulary. Inspiration though can come from anywhere, and usually does. I will start thinking of a line or concept and write it down, and then usually come back and build on it later. The dark themes are used because you can sometimes convey something to someone’s heart when you might not be able to convey it to their brain.
David: Many times your songs seem to have no set structure and each part of the song sounds new. You don’t find that typical verse and chorus set up to your songs. Do you guys make a conscience effort of writing songs in that matter?
Dustin: We did. We don’t anymore. We were basically in this weird rebellion from normal song structures. The effect was that it produced an interesting record that was a snapshot of our band at the time, but we realized that we should focus on making a good song, instead of achieving an agenda. Basically, at this point we’re repeating parts that would happened just once on “Illusion”, and we are varying those parts to keep it fresh. I think people are scared that the new record is going to be boring because we keep talking about how the structures are not as weird, but I think they will be surprised at what is actually there.
David: When spending a lot of time on the road touring, what are some things you guys like to do to pass time or relax?
Riley: I watch DVD’s, read, play guitar, or listen to music.
Dustin: I’d have to say ditto. Damn Riley, stealing my hobbies.
David: What do you guys have spinning in your own CD players now?
Riley: I have been listening to Radiohead – ‘Hail to the Thief’, Poison the Well – ‘You Come Before You’, and Prefuse 73 – ‘One Word Extinguisher’.
Dustin: Damien Rice, The Postal Service, Tom Waits, Strike Anywhere.
David: After the new album is released, what’s next for you guys?
Riley: It comes out towards the end of the Warped Tour, so we’ll finish that up, head out to Europe for some festival shows and a few club dates in the UK, and then were planning on doing a U.S. tour in the fall with Thursday.
David: You guys have recorded three albums now. What have you learned from being involved in the whole making a record process a few times now?
Riley: You learn the strengths and weaknesses of your band, and try to make the best of them. I think each time you record, you get a little better prepared for your studio time, although you can never be fully prepared. You learn a little bit of tech geek stuff along the way too.
David: Any real big negatives out there that you guys have experienced being in the music business?
Riley: The only negative I’ve seen is when people don’t know how to separate personal issues and business issues.
David: How would you guys like to see the band in years to follow?
Riley: We take things one day at a time. I know we’d love to continue writing, playing, and touring, but I am more concerned about playing a good show today than I am about where we’ll be in the next few years.
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.
Everything Will Be Alright: An interview with Ogikubo Station
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.
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.