Thursday, October 9, 2014

Unwelcome Guests

In the heavily wintered cities like Buffalo, is melody a way to keep warm through the harshly cold winters? Well, maybe not, but Unwelcome Guests have taken the pages of later Husker Du and Replacements and created their latest LP, Wavering, built on the belief of melody first and the rest will follow. It had been four years since their first LP, Don’t Go Swimming, but now the band are back and one review has already billed Waveringas one of the best of 2014.”

Interview by Ed Stuart

Who’s answering the questions? 
Micah Winship and Stephen Schmitt 

Where is the band from? 
Buffalo, NY
Who is in the band and what instrument do they play? 
Micah Winship: Guitar, Vocals
Stephen Schmitt: Lead Guitar
Stephen Floyd: Bass
Jason Bauers: Drums  

Micah: Chris Oakes was the bass player and he’s on Wavering.  Stephen Floyd started playing with us after he helped put the record out (he runs One Percent Press); probably to make sure we actually did stuff to promote it, ha. Chris got married, had a baby and is settling down in the small-town-apple-farming-life he was destined for. His wife is awesome and the baby is super cute so I guess it’s alright.

How did Unwelcome Guests start? I had read that initially the band was a two-piece folk band then became a full band. Can you give some background on this? 
Micah: Yeah, that's how it began. The first year consisted of me playing acoustic guitar and Colin Scharf playing electric guitar. We got some people to play bass and guitar because full band is a million times more fun. A year later Colin moved away and Steve started playing guitar. It's funny how different things sound, I have a hard time hearing the super early stuff now.  
Steve: I think Micah actually went on a search-and-destroy mission to eradicate all the physical copies of the early stuff. I’ve never even heard it.

What is the scene like in Buffalo?  
Micah: The scene in Buffalo is constantly changing. There has always been a strong hardcore music following though. Bands that play music on the fringes of the definition of punk come along and mix in with everything else. For example, Failures' Union is a rock band but some members have a strong hardcore music background and the singer, Tony, plays Saxophone in a funky, dance, soul band called Mallwalkers - with everyone else in the scene (there are 9 people in that band, including Steve). They're weird and good. I know that some cities have multiple punk scenes and they don't crossover. Buffalo has one music scene and we all know each other.

Due to Buffalo’s location right by the Canadian border, does the city have a lot more Canadian bands come through town than US bands? 
Micah: Not so much on a DIY level because the border is super annoying. If a band is going to deal with that they often times do a larger tour. We do have a lot of Canadian beer though such as Molson and Labatt. Steve and I go to Wellington pub every Monday for what were once $1 Molson pints; they’re $1.50 now but we still go. Big radio bands like Tragically Hip are household names here and people in the South have usually never heard of them.   

Steve: I haven’t read too much about it yet, but I believe Canada has removed work permit restrictions for bands so hopefully there will be an influx of Canadian DIY bands now able to play here and vice versa. I also want to go to Newfoundland badly so maybe we can plan a hassle-free Canadian tour now?

How did you get connected to Dirt Cult Records? Did Dirt Cult seek you out or did you send them a demo of the tracks for Wavering? 
Micah: Dirt Cult put out our Painter EP 7” and Chris Mason helped us book a West Coast tour back in 2007. I thought that Wavering sounded more like a Dirt Cult release than Don’t Go Swimming so I asked him if he’d be interested. One Percent Press, which is run by Stephen Floyd, split released it with Dirt Cult. Then Stephen joined our band.

Steve: Chris hasn’t asked to join the band yet, but we hope he does.

I had read in an interview in Rock Star Journalist, Micah, referring to the split record with Saint Sweetheart, said, “I really don’t like that record. I’m fairly proud of all of our material that has made its way to vinyl but if I could pluck that out of existence, I would.” Did this bit of disappointment regarding a prior release have anything to do with Wavering taking about two years to record? 
Micah: I do hate that record. Not to downplay the fact that we put a lot of time and effort into Wavering but what took the most time had nothing to do with us perfecting every detail – we’re not that complicated, ha. After Don’t Go Swimming our drummer quit and we went on a tour with a different guy which didn’t work out and then our previous drummer came back and then we went on tour in England with a different bass player and drummer. You get the point; we had a lot of changes in the band and life stuff just kind of got in the way. It made it really hard to get the songs tight and record them. I’m really enjoying our current lineup and we all seem to be on the same page.

Steve: I’m still pretty charmed by the cover of that release: a crayon (I think) drawing of a lounging beaver and a wily-looking alligator. I like absurd stuff.  But, yeah, it was a weird, tumultuous time when we recorded the Saint Sweetheart 7” and the recordings kind of reflect that in a bad way.

One review of Wavering stated, “Despite the fact that we are only three full months into this year, I am confident in labeling this album as one of the best of 2014.” I’m guessing when reading a review like that made it worth it to put so much time into Wavering and not rush a follow up release after Don’t Go Swimming? 
Micah: I’m glad that people are enjoying the record. The big differences between Don’t Go Swimming and Wavering are the production and the drumming. Zac was great and we definitely came into our sound with him, but Jason is insanely good and there’s a lot more variety and clever little percussive things going on with Wavering. The production also captured what we do live a lot better because we’re a loud band and John Angelo (guy who recorded Wavering) did a great job of capturing a sound that conveys that. We also wanted a record that was really concise and went with 10 songs that go well together. We were tinkering with a full band version of “Resolutions” from the demo we did beforehand, but it didn’t fit with the rest of the songs so we ditched it. 

Steve: It was definitely a protracted process, so it’s great to see positive reviews.  It’s great to see any kind of attention at all after so long between releases!

There have been a few reviews that I have read that compare Unwelcome Guests to Husker Du, Replacements and Bruce Springsteen. Are any if these bands influences on the band’s sound and songwriting? 
Micah: Of course, they’re all wonderful. I’m surprised no one has commented on how similar the beginning of New Day Rising is to Aerostatic, which wasn’t intentional but I felt no need to change. 

Steve: There must be some connection between Buffalo and Minneapolis, maybe the winters or the regional accents? Micah introduced me to the Replacements, and they’re great, so definitely an influence. I know almost nothing about Bruce Springsteen though. Except when he did that Super Bowl halftime show and slid on his knees and his crotch collided with the camera. That’s an influence, for sure.

Do you think music can still be a vital force in such a disposable age? 
Steve: Definitely, people are always going to connect with music, despite the way the majority of the world consumes it now; and nothing beats a live show. We recently saw Cher perform and it was mind-blowing. She emerged from a full-size Trojan horse. Full-size. Fucking. Trojan. Horse.  I guess that made the music kind of secondary. I don’t remember what my point was.

Micah: Yeah, I don’t know. Music and art have always been important but our interaction with each just changes with each generation. 

In an interview with Eighty-sixed Fanzine, there is a quote from Micah that reads “I can’t imagine where I’d be if it weren’t for going to Cobra La when I was a teenager and for that reason I feel like every town and city should have a common space for kids to get together and work on creative projects.”  Does Buffalo have these types of places?  
Micah: Yeah, we have Sugar City, which is an all-ages art space. They’ve actually been without a space for the last couple of years and would hold events at other venues to fundraise. They used that money and some weird grant that landed in their lap to open a new space. Should be open soon from what I understand. 

Steve: I got into playing music and going to shows pretty late; I wish there was a space like Sugar City when/where I grew up. 
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? 
Steve: That’s a pretty striking analogy. I’m guilty of subscribing to the digital age myself. Of course, I love how easy it is to just search and listen to any song on Spotify or Google Play and get instant gratification. So I think it makes it even more necessary for bands to put on a great live show, have interesting artwork on releases and cool merch. For example, I recently saw Psychic Teens (from Philly). I had enjoyed listening to them on the internet and whatnot before, but when I saw them live, they were amazing - their LP artwork is fantastic and they have a T-shirt with Winona Ryder (as Lydia from “Beetlejuice”) on it which I bought instantly.

Where can people hear Unwelcome Guests and what’s next for the band?
Micah: We’re working on a new record and hope it won’t take so long to get it finished and out there. It’s about half way put together and less concise than Wavering and bounces around to a lot of different sounds and styles, so far anyway.  Our “to do” list has return trips to Puerto Rico, England, and the West Coast on it. We’d really love to do a full European trip but aren’t really sure how to make that happen at this point.

Steve: Also, Newfoundland.

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