Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Mandates

     The Mandates are a pressure packed Rock n’ Roll powerhouse blasting out of the streets of Calgary. Some of the other press the band has received describes their sound as very “New York” and I couldn’t agree more. The songs drip with Ramones heart and glow with Dead Boys power. The best testament to this lies in the band’s debut full length, which they released in March of 2013. The album will make you want to fight that fancy dressed jerk that keeps hittin’ on your best lady friend. Then steal that same douche bag’s car and drive it really fast right through the front doors of that convenience store that humiliated and kicked you out earlier for trying to buy cigarettes and beer with your fake I.D. Every impulse a great Rock n’ Roll record should bring out of you. 

Interview by Jay Castro

Please introduce yourself and how do you contribute to the Mandates Rock n’ Roll machine?
My name is Brady A.K.A. Kirch N. Destroy, I provide guitar and vocals in the Mandates, in addition to being one of the primary songwriters.

The band is based in Calgary, are you all from that area originally?
I’ve been living in Calgary for over 15 years, our bass player Jimmy grew up in Ontario, but I think we all consider ourselves true Calgarians. Jimmy and I both have been a part of the music scene here for over a decade and each of us have some pretty strong feelings about what it means to be musicians in this city/province.

How did you all meet and start playing music together?
About four and a half years ago, I quit my main rock outfit and had wanted to start a new punk/power-pop band with a former band-mate and best friend, Sarah. She just happened to be dating a really awesome and motivated punk rock guitarist named Matt Sikkins, and after acquiring the very young and very talented Warren “Tahoe” on drums, being a friend of my newfound accomplice, Matt, we went through a few line-up shuffles before finally asking one of our hometown heroes, Jimmy James to play bass. Sarah had already moved across the country and Jimmy was the perfect man to round out our sound. Matt and I were on such a similar plane musically back then that at one point we nearly wrote the exact same song for each other to learn, coincidentally.

The press I read about you guys all describes you as having a very New York sound. Did you have this particular sound or a different concept in mind when starting out The Mandates?
When we first started out I think my playing was influenced by a lot of 70’s bands, though not exclusively from New York. Of course we were in love with The New York Dolls and The Ramones and Television and Blondie and all things CBGB so I think if our sound is “New York” it was because of our profound appreciation for that scene. That said I think we took as much influence by the U.K. and L.A. bands of that time, and even more so by contemporary Portland acts like The Exploding Hearts and The Nice Boys and The Clorox Girls. I think it was listening to those Portland bands and their incredible songwriting that got me really fired up in the beginning.

As influences, you listed overpriced pizza. Please explain.
In Calgary, it seems like everyone leaves the inner city after about 6 or 7 pm to go back to the suburbs where they live. I think it’s for this reason that most districts shut down early and late night eating is awfully hard to come by. Lack of competition in the after-hours pizza market has led Calgarians to be forced into paying over double what you’d pay in cities like Vancouver or Montreal for a late night slice, not to mention it’s usually cold and crusty and you might as well eat some garbage. Frustration and discontent with the very underpins of urban life is the basis for any great Rock n’ Roll band.

And speaking of delicious eats, Discorder actually compared The Mandates and your music to a pizza. Do you feel this is an accurate description of your music as a food dish or do you fancy yourselves as some other tasty edible treat?
I really enjoyed reading that piece. I think that’s a fairly accurate comparison, especially considering the sheer number of pizzas consumed during the year and a half that I lived with Matt. We had a stack of pizza boxes in our kitchen that was taller than me. We called it “Pizza Mountain” and it got too big so I had to move it outside.

What other than music and pizza influences your songwriting? Books, movies or anything like that ever inspire a Mandates song?
Most of our songs come from life experience I think, or more likely just daydreams. There’s one called “I Stayed at the Arcade” about a girl who is really good at playing Centipede, I think that’s the closest thing to pop culture inspiring one of my songs so far. There’s also a song called “She Gets Her Kicks from Terry Six (Not Me)” about trying to play like Terry Six from The Exploding Hearts/Nice Boys in order to win over a babe. I guess we also have a song called “Daggers’ Girl” that’s a reference to the 1986 skateboard flick “Thrashin’”.

You recently released your Self Titled debut LP earlier this year. Where was it recorded and are you happy with the finished results?
We recorded it with our friend Ryan Sadler who also did our previous 7”. He had a pretty cool studio in his basement and we learned a lot from the recording process this time around. We decided we weren’t completely happy with the mixes we had come up with so I got a hold of Pat Kearns in Portland who has done records with Exploding Hearts and Nice Boys and Clorox Girls and many more amazing bands, and he mixed and mastered it for us at his studio, Permapress. I had done a record with him in 2008 and I was really happy that he remembered me well, and was interested in doing a mix for us. We were really pleased with how quickly and efficiently he nailed the final sound we wanted.

If you guys could tour with any band/musician from times gone by, who would it be and why?
I would probably have to go with Blondie, so I could meet and then marry Debbie Harry.

I don’t like using the term “guilty pleasure” because I don’t think anyone should be made to feel ashamed of anything they like. However with that being said, what do you listen to that you think a lot of fans may be surprised by?
That answer is probably career suicide, but I think people might be surprised how broad our appreciation of genres extends. Jimmy listens to Top 40 all the time and a really awful new song will come on the radio somewhere and he knows every word and it blows my mind. Matt likes some Reggae and Ska and I like traditional folk and maritime music. We all like Taylor Swift.

What music have you unleashed on the world and where can people go to hear it or buy it?
As The Mandates, we have a 7” vinyl called “Take You to the Dance” from a few years ago, in addition to our self-titled debut LP that was released earlier this year. Find everything available free for streaming at and buy it from that website to support the cause.

What does the band have in store for us in the near, or not so near, future?
We just recently finished recording what will be at least two new 7” records (out in Spring, 2014) and we’re recording a new LP with Pat Kearns in March 2014, hopefully on shelves by the fall. We’re off to the Fall Down/Get Down festival in Vancouver next month and we hope to do some international touring in the Spring as well!

Nervous Talk

     The stream of fantastic band’s coming at us from Vancouver seems to be never ending. That stream turns into more like a raging river when listening to Nervous Talk. They ride these rapids hard hanging onto a raft inflated with influences ranging from 1970’s style power pop like Cheap Trick, or even catchy pub rock like Rockpile. Throw in some 1990’s garage punk that you might have heard exploding out of Fink or Jack Oblivion’s amplifiers back in their prime and this might get a bit closer to describing their full range of sound. Nervous Talk just released their debut 7” on Mammoth Cave Recordings and it very much reflects this broad range of influence. It’s a bit hard to describe it all accurately, but once you listen to this record you’ll sink right into it just like in your favorite pair of black Converse All Stars.

Interview by Jay Castro

Please introduce yourself (or selves) and how you contribute to the Nervous Talk Rock N' Roll machine?
J: I'm Joel and I sing and play guitar not the fancy parts.

T: Todd, sing and LEAD guitar.

Where are you all from originally?
J:  I'm from all over the prairies, but I spent the most time in Lethbridge, Alberta.

T: I'm from Vancouver Island. I lived on a boat for a third of each year until I was 15.

How did you all meet and start playing music together?  Are any of you in any other bands?
J: We all met each other through our previous bands. I met Shane, our bass player, when he was playing in the Hot Blood Bombers. Trevor, our drummer, was playing in a shitty band called Hazard Lights when I met him. Our bands hated each other. Todd was in Timecopz when I met him. I moved to Vancouver last year and wanted to start something new right away, so I called Todd and showed him what I'd been working on. A few weeks later, Trevor & I were playing some Spits songs for fun and I asked him to join. Shane followed soon after and here we are. Everyone, myself excluded, is in at least one other band aside from Nervous Talk. None of them are as good.

T: Joel originally asked me be a part of the new Moby Dicks lineup that he was thinking of forming. I told him I would give it a try, but a few minutes later we just decided to start a new band. I also recently joined B-Lines on bass and have been playing with them for a while.

You have a new 7” coming out soon Introductions b/w Shut It off, care to elaborate on any details about the release?
J: It's out now on Mammoth Cave Records. 3 songs. Art by Todd/Tony from Noodles//Pans.

T: Our friend Drew recorded us a couple times for free with his Tascam 1/4 inch 8 track. There was a pool table in the same basement so good times. We got hot dog stuffed crust pizza and it wasn't that bad.

Did you have a particular sound or concept in mind when starting out the band?  On the new 7” the song “Shut It Off” is a complete Rip Off Records style barnburner and “Introductions” seems like it has a bit of Power Pop or even a Glam influence.
J: The first song I wrote for Nervous Talk might have been Introductions. I'd played a lot of poppy sort of stuff in other bands, but it always had a kind of weirdo/primitive edge to it. I wanted to play classic pop kind of stuff without yelling myself hoarse about hot dogs or science. Todd's stuff has a harder, darker feel to it, much like his personality.

T: We've had a handful of songs with fairly different styles so far. I think we're still trying to find the right mix, but as long as we are liking each song for what it is we'll play it. Joel's dream has always been to have a band and its first release be called "Introductions." Do you get it? It's like an introduction to the band. He writes from deep within. My song, "Shut it Off," is based on what you'll probably want to do when you hear this single.

I recently read that out of all different art forms, music has the power to alter a person’s disposition the fastest.  Do you agree with this?  Do you have any favorite tunes that you can put on that will lift you out of a bad mood?
J: I think that's probably true. When I'm bummed, "Little Boy Blue" by Angel always brings me back to normal. Until I hear any of that new grunge revival shit that's happening these days then I get bummed out again by how badly it sucks and I have to listen to "Oo Oo Rudi" by Jook. Grunge revival, fuck off!!

T: I wouldn't say the kind of music I listen to be dictated by the mood I'm in. Whether I'm in a good mood or bad I just want to hear some good stuff. If I'm trying to boost my energy before Fight Club I'll throw on something like Teengenerate, Reatards, or Consumers.

You guys have only been playing together for a little over a year and I see you’ve played with some other pretty good bands and you played The Music Waste Festival in Vancouver last summer.  What has been the most memorable show the band has played so far?
J: This year's "Winter Waste" show, kind of a halfway to music waste party, sticks out in my mind as one of the funnest shows we've played. Lotta cute girls in attendance. Lotta dancing. Lotta good bands. We also played on this weird Red Bull tour bus thing at some skate contest that Andrew Reynolds was in or sponsoring or whatever. That, for me, stands as one of the most soul-sucking, regrettable shows I've ever played. Ha ha ha. But then later that day, we played a really rad show for 20-some people at our friends studio. Smaller venues lend themselves to better shows.

T: For me it was getting to open for Mark Sultan at the Astoria. I've been enjoying that guy's music for many years so to be on the same bill as him was cool. That skateboard thing was really weird. The stage was pushed off to the side of the park so it didn't really work. I do wish we hadn't of done it but I still managed to kind of enjoy how ridiculous it was.

If you guys could tour with any band/musician from times gone by, who would it be and why?
J: Well that's a toss up between Motley Crue and Led Zeppelin for obvious reasons.

T: GnR, Oasis, and Mitch Hedberg.

I don’t like using the term “guilty pleasure” because I don’t think anyone should be made to feel ashamed of anything they like. However with that being said, what do you listen to that you think a lot of fans may be surprised by?
J: I get pretty stoked when I hear Loverboy, Saga, and Van Halen. Other than that, I just listen to the radio broadcast of the lunar landing and songs of the whales & shit. Guess that's weird.

T: I just played in a Brian Eno Halloween cover band called HalloweEno. Zero guilt attached to liking that stuff but definitely isn't much like NT.

The cassette: a viable, collectable form of music or a fleeting hipster trend that will soon hobble back into the cave of obscurity where it belongs?
J: Cassettes will at least last for a long ass time. They're possibly the most durable analog format for personal music or whatever, so I understand the appeal in that sense. I don't have a ghetto blaster or anything so I don't buy them.

T: I don't have much of a tape collection but I'm always impressed by a good one. They sound fine, I'm all for it.

What music have you unleashed on the world and where can people go to hear it or buy it?
J: Nervous Talk only has the one 7" so far. Look for it on Mammoth Cave Records' website, whatever that is. My other bands, Myelin Sheaths & Moby Dicks, put stuff out on Southpaw, Bachelor, Hozac, Handsome Dan, and Mammoth Cave Records. Guaranteed none of them are sold out. Is that what you mean or did I just make myself look like a douchebag?

T: You can hear some other stuff on our bandcamp page as well. My old band Timecopz had a split single with Fist City, also on Geographing Records. Timecopz stuff is online too.

What does the band have in store for us in the near or not so near future, any tour plans?
J: We're going to keep on writing, trying not to barf, recording, and playing for as long as we can stand it. A tour to Alberta in mid-November is in the works. There's also talk of a tour down South but I don't have any solid info on that yet so keep your ears & eyes open.

T: We'll hopefully have more of everything. We have a steady supply of new songs so that should take us a ways. Can you get us one of those grants?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Kurt Baker

      In 2010, Kurt Baker released an EP called Got It Covered where he introduced the world to his greatest influences by covering their music.  This didn’t feel like a covers album though.  Kurt turned the volume to 11 and cranked out tunes by power pop titans The Nerves, Joe Jackson, The Vapors and many more.  He played those songs with such gusto and gumption I had to hear more of his songs.  That same energy continues to electrify piece of music he puts out.  I often ask the people I interview if there’s a certain song or album they put on to help them get out of a bad mood.  For me, Kurt’s LP Brand New Beat has been permanently added to that list.    

Interviewed by Jay Castro

You were born in Portland, Maine, where you still live today.  What was it like growing up there? I live in Arizona and Maine is a place I really want to visit before I croak.  I imagine rocky shorelines, foggy cold breeze, and lighthouses, just what I see in pictures, movies and such.
Hey there! Maine is great, it’s pretty much like the pictures. They don’t call it VACATIONLAND for nothin’! We’ve got scenic shorelines, big moose and awesome fishin’. I actually went way up to the north wood this summer and went fishing with some buddies. We caught some HUGE fuckin’ fish, lots of Coors Heavies were had and even got into a confrontation with a beaver. Maine really has it all. People think that we are Canada and we almost might as well be. In terms of music, it’s kinda off the map. I was really surprised when Bad Religion came to town because usually all we get is String Cheese Incident hippie fest hacky sack bullshit. There is a lot of that thanks to PHISH and their big festivals they throw up here. I tend to ignore that kinda stuff and it’s fairly easy to find great music in my hometown. Portland is the biggest city in Maine and it’s where I’ve spent my whole life up until now. Musically, we’ve got a very very rich scene. There is something for everybody from Stoner Rock to Hip Hop to free form polka. Lot’s of good venues throughout. They come and go, but we’ve still got Geno’s Rock Club. Portland used to be a much more gritty town. The Old Port was not unlike Hamburg, Germany, where the Beatles got their start. Along the cobblestone streets you had rowdy sailors, junkies, whorehouses and GREAT rock clubs. Those days are kinda gone and replaced with resort hotels and high end restaurants. This town is looking more and more like some gentrified suburb in Brooklyn by the day, I can’t stand it! However, that’s just me being a grumpy old local. Maine is nice. Come check it out sometime, we will eat lobsters!!!

What or whom inspired you as a kid to want pick up a guitar and write songs?
When I first heard the Beatles album “Rubber Soul” when I was around the age of 5, it be came extremely clear in my mind that my whole reason for being alive was to play songs. It seems kinda tacky, but we all have those moments when everything makes sense. You’re like “Holy shit, this is totally new, but I totally know it and this is what I’m going to do no matter what”. My five-year-old self had these thoughts rolling through my head when I first heard songs like “The Word” and “You Won’t See Me”. I mean I was so friggin’ adamant about doing music and performing on stage that I convinced a few of my 1st grade buddies to perform “Can’t Buy Me Love” at the school talent show. We dressed up like the Beatles and had mini guitars. “Ringo’s” dad made a fake drum set out of a home beer brewing kit. We did the performance and people really dug it. I can remember it really well. My memory is already totally screwed up and foggy, but I can still remember the feeling of being on stage and having people react to the performance. We were just lip syncing the song, but man I got the itch! After that there was a long time where I just couldn’t find people that were into the idea of starting a band. I guess everybody was just too young to take it as seriously as I wanted to. I jammed around with my cousins; we had a little group for a while. We never played shows, and I couldn’t really play guitar but I had ideas in my head of songs. I must have been 8 or 9 and me and my cousins out in Wisconsin would sit around a piano and come up with songs.  It was kinda like the Partridge Family, except we didn’t have a rad fuckin’ psychedelic bus, just a couple cases of soda pop and an out of tune piano. One tune was called “Missing You”, it was a real simple tune, but I can still remember the melody. I don’t have any brothers or sisters but my cousins are kinda the closest family I have. We would always listen to the Beatles, and then newer acts at the time, like the Cardigans and Green Day’s “Dookie”. By the time I got to middle school, I was starting to get into punk rock and, yes I will admit it, Ska music. Not that real deal rocksteady shit, but the dumb stuff like Reel Big Fish. I have a special place in my heart for those bands like Reel Big Fish and Goldfinger, but oh man those were different times when I was younger! Great memories. I pretty much picked up the bass because it was the only thing near me at the time. My mom’s best friend had a son that was a real troublemaker. He was always out getting chased by the cops, calling in bomb threats to the high school, smoking dope. While he was out doing that, I would go over to their house and play his bass for hours. He had tons of Victory Records hardcore CD’s, but also I guess he must have been a closet Ska fan, because he had those albums too. I would pop a Reel Big Fish or Bosstones CD into the player and play bass along to it. Ha ha, oh man.

Your music has timeless power pop themes coursing through and through.  I hear a lot of 1980’s Power Pop influence in it.  The new 7” Girls Got Money B/W Yeah? Yeah!  sounds to me like it has a touch of 1970’s Glam thrown into the mix.  Am I totally off the mark here, are you a fan of say T-Rex, Sweet, or New York Dolls?
You are spot on. I’m a big Glam Rock fan. Those records sound incredible. The drums are huge; the guitar is sounds like tons of chainsaws and lawnmowers exploding! Its dirty rock n’ roll music with a sort of bubblegum glean. I love the appeal. Groups like The Sweet and Slade are at the top of my list of favorite groups. New York Dolls are a groundbreaking group. Hell, even that old pervert Gary Glitter really has some incredible recordings. Joan Jett covered like 4 or 5 Glitter tunes on her first couple records. I kinda went back and did my homework and realized that those songs I was lovin’ on Joan’s records were originally singles by the Gary Glitter the Child Diddler himself. If you can get over the fact that some of those Glam singers and celebs, i.e Jimmy Savile, were the absolute worst kind of sex offenders, those tunes just rip. Take a song like Barry Blue’s “Hot Shot,” that’s like some kinda fucked up Octoberfest anthem. The movie “Beer Fest” should have used it. When I got a LP last year by the Italian band Giuda, I was blown away. The thing was recorded a couple years ago and it sounds like 1974. Those guys GET the sound of Glam and how it’s directly related to rock n’ roll music. A song like “Girl’s Got Money” was originally written as a Rockpile sounding song, but when I got that Giuda record, the decision was made to make it more Glam sounding. Even the early recordings by the Oi band Cock Sparrer are totally Glam influenced. Their cover of the Small Faces “Whatcha Gonna Do About It” was a big influence on “Girl’s Got Money”.

You started up your own recording label Collector’s Club Records a couple years ago, what led you to that decision?
Collector’s Club came out all the frustrations my bandmate and label co-owner Geoff Palmer and I were having with other labels putting out our records. My old group the Leftovers did not have a great relationship with our label, which I would also release some albums on as a solo guy, and we still continue to have issues. This label was no way a major label, but they also weren’t a bedroom label, who the Guts and the Leftovers had been working with prior. They had a nice office and stuff. The Leftovers had some high hopes, but it didn’t pan out. We didn’t have control over our music after it was released. Geoff and I were talking and we realized, hell, we really appreciate smaller one-man labels wanting to release our records, but let’s be honest, this is not THEIR music. They might care about it a lot, but nobody is going to give as much of a shit as we do about our own products, so why not just release em’ ourselves. We were both sick of not knowing how many records we were selling, you know. I could go on and on and on, but starting Collector’s Club Records was the right decision. We are a small label, and we really don’t have the capability to do much more except release records by our close friends and ourselves. The most important and also gratifying thing about having CCR is that we see where we are shipping records, who’s buying what and where. It’s an amazing feeling to know and see the outcome of all that hard work we put into the making of the music and releasing of the albums. The best thing to is that we know that we aren’t going to fuck ourselves over. “Brand New Beat” was originally released on CCR on digital and CD, but then we were able to license out the record to 4 other labels internationally. I can’t talk about labels without mentioned my friend Ryan at Jolly Ronnie Records. He really runs a kick ass label, and he’s probably one of the best guys I’ve ever dealt with when working with a small indie label, so I always ask him for advice and we’ve worked together on releases. I wish more label owners were like Ryan!

Your famous motto “Have a good time all the time” seems to be a theme with your music, that’s for sure.  Is this a personal motto as well? 
Oh hell ya. I mean, it’s pretty much impossible to have a good time ALL the time or is it? I think the best thing you can do is be positive. Our world is pretty screwed up, and who knows what’s going to happen tomorrow? We all get bummed out every now and then, but if you catch yourself and turn it around you can honestly have a better outlook on life. We are all here for some reason. I think mine is to promote positivity through Rock N’ Roll, gummy bears, and twelve-day coke binges! Ha, I’m not being entirely serious, but you catch my drift. Rock N’ Roll music is about feeling alive, being in the moment. If you’re gonna be a Deb Downs, it’s gonna get you nowhere. Nobody is going to want to be around you. Well, that’s what I think. So many people get off on negativity they don’t even realize it either. Sure, it’s real easy to be bummed out all the time and make others around you feel just as bad, but how is that making any progress in humanity? It’s not! Have a good time all the time, and put out the good vibes towards others, you’ll get it back too. I’m a big believer in Karma. Treat others the way you wanna be treated. All that “Life Is Good” t-shirt stuff, yadda yadda yadda, pass me a beer and put on that Motley Crue record dude! 

Speaking of good time music, I was recently reading an article in a magazine that said that out of all the forms of art music has the potential to change a person’s mood the fastest.  Do you agree with this and if so, what music do you put on when you need a good time booster?
I definitely agree with that. Take a good painting or something; you really need to look at it. Digest what makes it artistically so awesome. If it’s not some nude painting of a bunch of girls eating fruit, I can see how it might take a bit longer for it to change your mood. Once the music enters your ears it goes straight to your brain. It’s got a weird effect on people. I’m not sure how much we, or just me, really know about what music does to us, but it seriously has a strong effect on the way we act as people, our emotions and how our day can be completely flipped around if we hear a certain song. I was dating a girl that used to listen to Joy Division NON-STOP and all she would do would be bummed out and eat chocolate. I often thought about mentioning to her that maybe if she wasn’t listening to such depressing music all the time, she’d be a lot happier. I can’t pinpoint or describe accurately what exactly this feeling is, but when you first discover a record that truly blows your mind, it’s better than any other high, natural or artificial, on the planet. You become consumed with these types of albums. You wanna live in them. It doesn’t happen all the time but every now and then you discover a record so goddamn awesome it can have the power to totally change your entire year. That’s some crazy shit! Music is the best. Oh, I still gotta answer the last part of your question. Usually I put on the Andrew W.K “I Get Wet” album.

What music do you listen to that you feel would really surprise Kurt Baker fans?
I’m pretty vocal about all the weird shit I listen to. Whether it be ABBA or the best 80’s hair metal band on the planet, KIX. Ace of Base “The Sign” is really a super great electro-reggae record. I dig Claudine Longet, she was a smokin’ hot french chick but was bat shit crazy. Made some really spooky pop records. I don’t think it helps that she murdered her husband, a famous skier. She got off scott free! There is a great radio station that broadcasts from an island nearby Portland. They play pop music from the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. Old sounds taken directly from 78 records. I love that music, and the lyrics are so far out. I’ve got a pretty open mind when it comes to music and I’m a firm believer that a good song is a good song. If Mumford and Sons actually wrote a good song I’d probably be a fan, but I’m still waiting for them to do that. Not to get off topic and rant some more, but this whole Folk Americana Indie music movement really grinds my gears. As a rock n’ roll and pop music guy, obviously the last thing I care to see is a bunch of dudes in suspenders playing mandolins. It’ s just not appealing to me, and I’m trying to understand why the majority of music listening folks eat this bung up. Maybe it’s a popular genre now because it’s kinda like a direct response to the Emo/Punk/Pop stuff that was pretty big in the 2000’s. Even that was a response to Rap/Rock of the late 90’s. My buddy Dan James and I wear talking and it seems that every musical movement and genre is a direct response to the past. The best example being Punk Rock and New Wave. Grunge was a response to Hair Metal. But what do we have now? A bunch of assholes looking like they are camping out at Gettysburg for vacation.

Following you on Facebook, I notice you are a pretty hard working dude.  It seems you play shows a lot and you regularly release records that never skimp on quality.  I was watching that Jay Reatard documentary Better Than Something and he was talking about putting out releases and writing and recording so much music because he felt he only had a limited amount of time before the well of creativity ran dry so to speak.  Do you follow a similar philosophy regarding your music?
I’ve yet to see that documentary, though I’d love to check it out. I don’t think I agree with Jay on that though. One of the most important things as an artist is to at the very least entertain the thought of changing what you do. Change is inevitable, and part of the fun of creating music is trying new things. If you feel like you aren’t creative anymore, expose yourself to new things maybe travel someplace new, read some different books, hang with people you normally don’t hang out with. As a musician I’m constantly trying to expose myself to different ways and walks of life, to see what turns me on and turns me off. I can kind of understand that when you are younger, your eager to create and make as much music as you can. I often catch myself thinking, “Oh snap, I just pretty much re-wrote an old song” and getting a little frustrated. Writers block happens all the time, and when you get older more things come into play that can take away from your output as an artist, but ones ability to be influenced and harness creativity to create should never run dry. It’s only if you want it to. A guy like Nick Lowe pretty much reinvented himself from a class A roots rock power popper to a shamaltzy smaltzer, but the guy still writes and releases quality music. He just had to change it up a little. I’ve been playing in a lot of groups recently and it’s opened me up to new ways to thinking about how I approach music. The last couple years I’ve been working with an old Portland, ME rock n’ roller named Kip Brown. He’s 100% no bullshit rock n’ roll through and through. I’ve learned a lot from him. Just playing in his group has made me want to try new styles, simplify a lot of things, get to the core of what the music is all about. You can learn a lot from your peers and mentors!

You played in the Pop Punk band The Leftovers from 2002 to 2010 (roughly) and have been doing the solo Power Pop records pretty much since that.  You have been carrying the Power Pop banner into battle pretty high for a while.  Do you ever feel like you may have painted yourself in a corner musically?  Like if one day you said “I wanna work with those dudes in the Mars Volta” but can’t because you’re the prince of power pop and what would people think?
The Leftovers always kinda had an idea that what we were doing wasn’t very popular at the time outside of the pop/punk circuit, at least here in the States. We always would say, “We’re to punk for pop, to pop for punk!!”  We saw a lot of bands around us change with the times and get modest success because they started a Screamo band or something close to that. That wasn’t our style though, we wanted to write music that we absolutely loved, and no matter how “hip” it was. I’m very proud of the records the Leftovers made and at its core it’s really “power pop” music played by a teenage punk band. Once I went solo, the songs came out as straight up Power Pop. I like wearing skinny ties and love the genre to death, especially the late 70’s and early 80’s golden era stuff. Unfortunately, it ain’t ’79 anymore and the reality is that Power Pop is the most accessible not accepted music in the pop music realm. If I wanna make music for my entire life, which I intend on doing, I’m going to eventually have to ring up, for example, a guy like Blag Dahlia and say “Let’s do a Blast Beat Surf album.” You just gotta grow and try new things and try to expose yourself to new listeners. I have no problem carrying the Power Pop banner because I love it, and always have though. I also don’t think it would make much sense for me to try and make another straightforward power pop record like “Brand New Beat.” My music at it’s core will always have the elements of what makes Power Pop what it is, but I also feel like I have the freedom to try something new. Maybe my next record will be more influenced by 60’s garage, or maybe I’ll do a 70’s disco record, or maybe I’ll do a NWOBH album. I could also do an album with all those genres mixed on to one. I probably won’t, but I don’t feel any pressure by anybody to stick to one genre and continue to fly the power pop flag forever, and I’m not cornered musically. Whatever music I do make I will love and stand behind 100%, no matter what kind of genre it is. You gotta be sincere and love what you do. Right now for me it’s Power Pop, so into battle we go!

If you could assemble the ultimate Kurt Baker Band, the Avengers of the Kurt Baker Bands if you will, consisting of any musicians living or not, who would you include in this group?
Well, I really gotta give some props to the guys that play in my group right now. I’ve been very very lucky to get to work with such great and talented dudes. We always have a blast no matter what. BUT, if I had to make the ultimate band... i’d definitely want Dan Vapid in the group. I’ve always been a huge fan of him, and over the last few years we’ve become good friends and worked on a song here and there. His vocals are incredible, and he’s one of the best songwriters alive right now. I’d want Ace Frehley on lead guitar, Flo and Eddie from the Turtles singing and hitting percussion, Clem Burke from Blondie on drums. I would ask Paul McCartney to play bass, but he quit using pot recently so I don’t think he’d have a very good time at rehearsal! Sorry, Paul.

What does the Kurt Baker Band have in store for us in the near or not so near future?
Things are looking good for us! Always staying fairly active. We’re probably going to play a few shows in New England and then in December we’ll be over in Spain and possibly France for a tour. After the tour my plan is to stay in Madrid! I’ve wanted to move for a long time, and Boston and New York City just doesn’t do it for me. I love Spain a lot and have some wonderful friends over there, so I decided I might as well have a little adventure over there. It could last 3 months; it could be longer. Spain is a Rock N’ Roll country, so I’ll be playing lots of shows and writing and recording a new album. It’s going to be a lot of fun, and I’ll most likely have a good time all the time! Adios! 

Josh Berwanger

      Josh Berwanger got his start in The Anniversary. A band that is as equally noted for helping brings attention to the burgeoning pop/punk/emo scene from Kansas along with The Get Up Kids. After The Anniversary called it quits and Only Children stopped making music, Berwanger “was burnt out on music and needed a break.” While coaching high school basketball, taking graphic design classes and reconnecting with his musical past, Berwanger wrote the songs for Strange Stains, which covers a personal landscape of  love, heartbreak, idiots, and continuing to pursue what you love to do, no matter how hard that shit is.Strange Stains equally influenced by T. Rex, 70’s glam, American Power pop and ‘60’s pop.

Interview by Ed Stuart

Who’s answering the questions?
Josh Berwanger.

Where is the band from?
Nilbog, Kansas. 

Who is in the band and what instrument do they play?
Josh Berwanger - vocals, guitar
Michael Hutcherson - Drums
Zach Shoffner - Lead guitar
Brian Klein - Bass
Margo May is currently touring with us singing backing vocals

How did the band start?
I was going through a tough divorce, currently taking classes and dreading them. I started to really focus on songs I had been working on. Michael randomly contacted me from Maine and asked if I had been working on music. I sent him the songs I had originally intended to be mainly acoustic guitars and percussion. He sent them back with drums and it sounded really great. That is how the band started. 

For the last seven years you were coaching high school basketball?  What made you want to take a break from music for a while? The Anniversary called it quits during a tour and Only Children last release was 2007.
I was burnt out on music and needed a break. I still wanted to surround myself with something creative and be part of something where I could help influence people and be influenced in the same light, basketball was something I knew a lot about and had an opportunity to coach it. It was that or continue to sit in my Mom's basement watching Alf re-runs on VHS. 

Do you think music can still be a vital force in such a disposable age?
YES! The only way it isn't is if a person believes it isn't or if they believe the hype and buy into the disposable waste of trash music, whether it is the terrible shit on the radio or commercials, which it seems most bands strive to get their music on. It's like driving down the highway and seeing a billboard with a diamond ring on it and the slogan says, "She will say yes!"  Oh cool, so I better buy that particular ring.

In, you said about Strange Stains, "It's an honest and truly sincere rock and roll record. It's a record that speaks about love, heartbreak, idiots, and continuing to pursue what you love to do, no matter how hard that shit is."  Can you elaborate a little more on this quote? Is a Strange Stains meant to be a return to force for you?
The album lyrically is about where I’ve been, what I’ve seen, how I see the world. There are a lot of lyrics that you can look at and possibly think they are sad but really its about how to feel the change from getting through the experiences and moving on to being positive and believing in yourself and not letting the "shit" get in your way.

What bands were inspiring you when you were writing Strange Stains?
Ratt, Horror movie soundtracks, Tyrannosaurs Rex, Rolling Stones "Black and Blue", Ron Wood, Cinderella, Ralph from the Muppets, Mean Jeans, Groundhogs, Crow, Alice Cooper, Howdy Moon, Davy Graham. That would be a day of listening and it might change the next day. I'm always listening to music, always searching for new music.

A lot of Strange Stains reminds me of American Power pop as well a lot of 60’s pop. Which musical period would have rather have played guitar in?
I'm fine with this period, I have no idea if it was as challenging in the 60's, I'm sure it was because I listen to a lot of bands that never "made it" that were amazing. I think there are negatives and positives to every decade so all I can really do is focus on doing the best I can in this time period.

Did you ever finish your graphic design program/degree?
I was in the Johnson County Community Graphic Design program, which is amazing and has some of the best teaching I have been surrounded by; I have about a semester left. I may one day finish the course. I met some really rad people who I am now friends with and they inspire me to do better in whatever I'm working on. I just very much dislike sitting in class and was spending too much of my time dreaming about music and making music instead of giving 100 percent to getting better at GD.

50 years ago people used to buy music and get their water for free, now people pay for water and get their music for free. How do you think this affects music in any way? Do you have a different take on the music world since you have had a few years break?  What are some of the differences you notice between now and when you were in The Anniversary?
Ha! So true. I texted someone who said let me know when your album is out, so I did, and they wrote back "just waiting until I can download for free", and they were serious. I was like fuck, that sorta sucks. I don't think people realize the difference between a band trying to make a career out of it and a friend's band that plays for fun on the weekdays. I also don't think a lot of people realize for the price of a six pack or one meal they can purchase our or any other band's album striving to make a career in music. The Anniversary really paid attention to every detail from lyrics to the art for a tour poster; it needed to be approved by us. That is how Michael and I approach everything. I believe you need to have a plan, you need to have artwork that catches people's attention, every detail needs to be thought out and the band needs to have a reason why it works and why it makes sense for them. Its very different and very hard with so many bands and so much to choose from and so much to give your attention to and let your attention be robbed by. 

Why did you utilize Kickstarter to help put out the LP instead of sending demos to labels?
Oh, I was sending demos to labels; I was very persistent and annoying to many labels. After a while I just needed to get the album finished. I had spent a lot of money on the album already and needed to get it mixed, mastered and wanted to record two newer songs I had written for it. After I had the full package done and the help from the Kickstarter I was able to send a better representation of the songs to labels and suddenly had 3 different labels interested.

In Downrite you state, “There’s this part of me that really wants music to be normal again. I don’t even know what I mean by that exactly, but I know what normal isn’t—designer outfits, fireworks, synthesizers everywhere, crazy gimmicks. I don’t know how to relate to that. I want things to be more like Nirvana. I want to make rock and roll. I want to make something honest.”  Some of what you describe is reminiscent of the 80’s music especially hair metal or MTV influenced new wave. What would normal be?
It's funny because I love a lot of that metal from the 80's and it did get out of control, but the bands I like from that era like Motley Crue, Cinderella, Ratt their influences were rad power-pop bands and blues bands and I truly believe they have legit songs. You could also say the same thing about the New York Dolls or Alice Cooper but they were doing it for the sake of art and doing something different to get a reaction in a way that was rebellious and thought provoking. Now days the bands I am talking about in that statement don't have "songs" and they are doing it to conform to what they believe the audience wants to see, trickery and American Idol barf-fests. I used Nirvana as an example because they got up and played their songs and were the most popular band in the world, and playing their songs was good enough.

In Modern Vinyl you stated, “Most kids these days listen to twenty seconds of a song before they hit “Skip.” They do it because the song sucks. There is no soul in it. They listen to it because they’re told that they should like it. And they end up listening to twenty seconds of all these songs they don’t actually like.”  I remember reading an interview where you talk about how this student response influenced some of the songwriting. Can you talk about that?
That's part of the definition of Strange Stains to me. I coached a girl from freshman to senior year. When she was a freshman she loved the Jonas Brothers...was obsessed!!! I bet her by her senior year she would be completely embarrassed she ever owned anything "Jonas", guess who won the bet. There are some songs on the 'Strange Stains' album that are inspired by brains being washed by TV shows and popular music that make people dumb, particularly in "Gypsy Girl and the Tombs of Atuan".

Where can people hear Josh Berwanger and what’s next for you?
We are touring the East Coast, doing CMJ, AudioTree, Daytrotter, then touring the West Coast in November. We are currently working on a new Air Bud script and a re-make of Encino Man that is shot for shot like the original, with all original cast except Encino Man is replaced with a man in a Gorilla suit with Hawaiian shit and martini glass. 

Please spread the word. 
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