East Bay Alert: KLYAM Interviews Max Becker of Emily’s Army!

“Whatever happened to pirate radio? K.C.U.F. and Radio Rock?”

So asks Broadcast This, the debut single of teenage punk-pop quartet Emily’s Army. They’re the new generation in the East Bay punk scene, a community that has churned out variations of an evolving “punk” genre for decades. And yes, one well-known, catalytic figure in The Bay happens to be the singer of Green Day and the father of Emily’s Army drummer Joey Armstrong.

The band doesn’t deny its affiliation and connection with Billie Joe Armstrong (even the K.C.U.F. lyrics are a Green Day reference). However, the craft and lyrical content that the band has developed in the past few years is a far cry from a Green Day carbon-copy.

Kids Like You And Me spoke with singer/bassist Max Becker to discuss songwriting, tour plans, and the fact that this band has its own identity, period.

Kids Like You And Me: The band has stated that its new album Don’t Be A Dick took only four days to record. How different was the studio recording process from the previous recordings, such as GarageBand tracks posted on  the Emily’s Army  MySpace?

Max Becker: Well it was done in a professional studio, but the cool thing about it was that the actual process was not very different. We recorded the entire album on bass, then on drums, and then on both guitars. It went by really quickly. We only did four takes. That’s what we did when we did GarageBand tracks, we would lay down the bass, then drums, etc.  It wasn’t too different, other than the fact that the quality of the whole album is way better.

KLYAM: Did the band have significant production assistance when recording ?

MB: Billie Joe was our producer so we had a little direction, but he really gave us a lot of leeway with what we could do. We’ve had these songs for a while. Since we had them all finished we didn’t really do any musical creation with him.

KLYAM: What is the typical song writing process?

MB: Cole and I both write parts on acoustic guitar. We show Joey and Travis the material and they come up with their own parts. We basically give them what kind of beat we want, then they figure out what works for them.

KLYAM: What about the lyrics?

MB: Cole and I switch off. He writes the songs that he sings and I write the songs that I sing. Except “Loch Lomond” of course, which is a Scottish folk song.

KLYAM: Did the band go into the studio with the 14 songs that ended up on Don’t Be A Dick, or were there more songs from a list that was eventually narrowed down?

MB: We knew we were going to have more than ten, but we didn’t know we’d have less than 18. “Ho-Lloween“, for example, we weren’t originally going to put on the album. We were debating on whether or not to put a couple of old songs, but we decided against it. I think the album, the way it ended up, really meshes with itself.

KLYAM: Will tracks of older Emily’s Army songs (that aren’t on Don’t Be A Dick) be released?

MB: It all depends on what Cole sings. He was really the singer back then, and I didn’t really sing. I know we get a lot of requests for “F-Word“, and “Superior” as well, but Cole is super adamant about not singing them. The girl that he wrote “F-Word” about is not even worth it anymore, he doesn’t even know why he wrote the song…

It’s more of a sentimental thing for him, even though the song is really good. I love playing it. I don’t think we’d record some of our older songs, but that doesn’t mean we won’t play them live.  We sometimes play “10th Street Square“, “Soho“…and “Queens“, actually. We’ve been playing those.

KLYAM: Do you think the DIY-punk ethic has shifted for upcoming bands like Emily’s Army now that the internet and social media is overwhelmingly popular?

MB: Definitely. Kids can literally record a song in one day, and it can be done right then. I mean, not everyone has a Mac and GarageBand, but a lot of people have access to one.

That’s easier than recording on a 8-track, because not everyone has an 8-track or a 4-track recorder. Back when that was how bands would record, you’d have to find someone. I think now, everything is really laid out there for most people. It really depends on their creativity.

KLYAM: Do you think technology affects the band’s fan base?

MB: Most of our fans are spread out. You can find at least one of them in a strange country, but you can’t find more than 100 in one place besides Northern California. But for us, that’s a lot. They’re just spread out everywhere.

KLYAM: In regards to touring, since all of the band members are underage, how much control does the band  have over the tour schedule, the lineup, and basic tour preparations?

MB: We worked with Adeline and told them how long we can pull off going on tour with our money situation. We don’t really have that much money. We also say what locations we want to focus on, and they helped us figure it out from there. The label will usually coordinate with a booking agent, but our last tour was done through Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children Macnuggits. They had a tour already, and we kinda hopped on it.

KLYAM: Do you think the upcoming East Coast tour will be harder than the tours Emily’s Army has done in California?

MB: I don’t think it’ll be that much harder. It will be different, because we will be borrowing equipment. I know Joey’s  not quite used to it… he’s done it a couple of times, but it’s really different. Drumming is probably the worst instrument to borrow equipment for. But I’m kinda stoked for the East Coast. We should have a lot of decent shows, and lots of parties in places we’ve never been.

KLYAM: Who does the band want to tour with in the future? 

MB: I know that I’d like to tour with some bands on 1-2-3-4 Go! Records, and also some bands from Adeline Records. Broadway Calls would be fun, but I don’t know if they’d be down. Larry and His Flask from Bend, OR, that’d be cool. We haven’t really thought about what bands to tour with, but I know of some bands that I was thinking about on 1-2-3-4 Go! Records.  Nobunny would be cool, The Ringers, stuff like that. They’re a good level to play at, a couple of steps up from us but not too crazy. That’s where we’re at right now, where we’re still trying to establish a lot of things.

KLYAM:  Will the shows be performed in smaller venues or  high-capacity venues?

MB: At the moment, with our fanbase, the smaller venues the better. But if we were playing a show with someone huge, like  Social Distortion or something, it would be cool to play a theater. The biggest venue we played so far capacity-wise for our own crowd was The Uptown for our record release. The capacity was only 200 but we fit  535 and we sold it out. Most of our shows will have a crowd of 50-150 people.

KLYAM: Will the band pursue everyday endeavors like staying in school, perhaps getting jobs, or will all of that become secondary if Emily’s Army becomes successful?

MB: It really depends on the success, some of us want to go to college. I’m trying to go to college because I’m graduating soon after this year, but I love playing music. It’s really hard to tell how successful we will be, or how successful it’s possible for us to be.  We know that we want the college experience, but we don’t know what we’d study in college. Music is our thing.

KLYAM: A lot of music publications automatically jump on the connection between Green Day and Emily’s Army. Does this affect the band mentality? Was it something that was anticipated when the band was  first starting out?

MB: We knew it would happen eventually. When we were first starting out, the few people who knew about the connection and asked about it, we’d just say “Oh… what are you talking about?” But now, Billie Joe has produced our album. We had a talk with him about it. He said “Yeah, its true.” We do have a connection to them, but we don’t take advantage of it. It’s like a father-son thing, like my dad teaching me to play a sport or something. He’s like that towards us, and it’s really awesome. He’s supportive. We knew stuff like this would happen. I guess we just try not to read it. We’re young, we get affected by almost anything.

KLYAM: If you had one message to give to the media who automatically dubs Emily’s Army as “Green Day Jr.” what would that message be?

MB: It would be, yes, we have a connection but we’re also our own band. We write a totally different style. If they were really the “music media” they would notice the different style. If they actually knew about music, they’d know it.

KLYAM: What advice should young upcoming bands (who aspire to follow in the footsteps of Emily’s Army) hear?

MB: Be with your best friends. Even if they suck at it. We all sucked at first but we’re best friends, and we work together. That’s really helpful for chemistry. I know a lot of bands who break up in high school because there aren’t many people at each school who play instruments, so they just go with whoever they want. But then, nobody knows how to write a song, or no one can hang out with the other. So, just stay with your friends.

—————

The first time I stood in front of 924 Gilman Street, it was closed. Something scrawled in the window with permanent marker caught my eye, the words “You’re not punk and I’m telling everyone.” The tongue-in-cheek Jawbreaker lyrics gave a sarcastic nod to any remaining punker-than-thou’s lurking in the Bay Area, while highlighting a bigger point. “Punk” as a classified genre is a shifting composition. Technological advancements are made readily accessible to bands (and fans) alike. As Max Becker stated, musicians have access to a wide array of music-making resources, and success is determined by creative capabilities and efforts.

Emily’s Army has taken a rich lesson in the history of their hometown’s music community. The East Bay punk influence highlights, but doesn’t overwhelm, the band’s style. Don’t Be a Dick  is catchy, with impressive harmonies and lyrical content that is self-reflective and socially inquiring. The Becker brothers take daily observations and express them through fast, layered components of a classic pop-punk song. Armstrong and lead guitarist Travis Neumann take directional cues from Becker and Becker, then lace the album with a blend of energetic beats and trusty pop-punk power chords, while occasionally throwing in an overt guitar riff (with minimal instrumental overlay) or complicated drum fill. The young, captivating, and enjoyable album displays a significantly tighter sound than older recordings that the band posted less than a few years ago.

Eventually, the dust of the media rushing to connect Green Day to Emily’s Army will settle. Some fans first acknowledged Emily’s Army because of the aforementioned family connection, but it’s possible that plenty of them will stay for the show. For now, the band has put forth enough effort to support their talents, with music that warrants a fair listen. So keep it coming, boys. You’re just getting started.

Dude Trip Out On This! KLYAM Interviews Black Lips’ Joe Bradley

“Black Lips live and ready, how ya doing Lauren?”

The Black Lips’ drummer Joe Bradley greeted me over the phone in a Southern drawl as the band traveled by van to Boise, Idaho for its tour in support of its newest record. As it has been deeply emphasized in recent music publications, the Atlanta flower-punks set out to record Arabia Mountain with help from Grammy decorated producer Mark Ronson. The result? A lo-fi, bittersweet compilation of catchy punk songs with pop hooks.  Lyrically speaking, the content ranges from inspirational theme songs to tales of Spiderman’s alleged childhood molestation.

Kids Like You And Me spoke with Bradley to discuss the climax of project Arabia Mountain: The album release after months of dedication, and the resulting 24/7 party that is The Black Lips’ current support tour.

Kids Like You And Me: So first of all, how is the tour going? 

Joe Bradley: The tour’s going great, much like the past two months in key locations across the globe. It’s been a party every night, and we’ve been getting a decent response from the audiences. You can’t complain when you’re enjoying your lifestyle.

KLYAM: Prior to the release Arabia Mountain, there was the inevitable album leak and you guys played songs off the new record at live shows. Now that the album is readily available to the fans, have you noticed a change at the shows now versus before, when the album wasn’t out yet?

JB: It would be hard to have a conclusive observation of that. We’re still playing a new market, including songs that we hadn’t played before the album came out. But I imagine that when audiences have access to the new material, even in the two weeks before the drop date when the album is leaked, it allows them to become more familiar with the songs and perhaps enjoy them even more during the live set.

KLYAM: Did you guys intentionally play a lot of yet-to-be released songs at live shows before the album dropped?

JB: We’ve never been a band that gets together and practices. We’ve probably only practiced about 20 times in the past ten or eleven years we’ve been around. So we try the new songs at soundcheck, and if we think we can play them well enough to perform then we will. There’s always room for improvement, but that’s what the live show is for.

It’s good to get used to playing your new material. As far as doling it out, we don’t wanna play all new songs. When you go to see a band you wanna hear the songs you know. So we try to get that mix in there.

KLYAM: Your last album was well received by several media outlets, but interviews with you guys have indicated that the band wasn’t satisfied with 200 Million Thousand as a whole. What sparked these sentiments? 

JB: I’ll go on record saying that I love 200 Million Thousand. I don’t know if that opinion is shared across the board, but I think there’s some really great songs on that album. Sure, the production might have been a bit hurried along, and we may have put it out before it was really done…but I think parts of that album are really memorable. I’m not going to slag something that we worked on, even if it wasn’t the best that it could possibly be, I think it’s a great album. I mean, “Starting Over” is a great song.

KLYAM: With all the extra time spent recording Arabia Mountain, was the ultimate goal to become better musicians or to make the album more commercially successful?

JB: There weren’t any media goals, well, media-conscious goals. Going back to your last question, we had kind of rushed to put out 200 Million Thousand. For this album we wanted to be sure that it was the best it could possibly be before we put it out. We didn’t put a deadline on it. It took four recording sessions to get 33 songs recorded, and then narrow those down to 16.

We have four song writers, so we just kept writing songs and recording until everyone in the band and at the record label was satisfied. They wanted us to work with a producer, so we asked Mark Ronson and he was totally down to do it. He brought a great 80s-pop sensibility to the studio and has a great ear for sound preferences, like instrument tones. He has a vast knowledge on old microphones and… just knew exactly what he wanted us to sound like. With all those elements together, the final product was really consistent and everyone was happy with it.

KLYAM: What was the most significant input that Mark Ronson had on the album?

JB: There’s a track on the album titled “Mister Driver“. Originally it started out as as punk song, and Mark came in and said it wasn’t going to work. So he had Cole do more choppy guitar strokes and sing the chorus in a different way. He also had Ian tune his guitar down, and I came up with a new drum beat. The formula for the song completely changed.

KLYAM: Other members of your the band have expressed the desire to achieve commercial success on a larger scale with the release of this album. Do you think this approach affects the art of the overall writing process? 

JB: That’s always going to be a possibility, but was it a conscious effort on our part? No, I don’t think so. If you review anything from our back catalog you’ll find various mixes of everything we still do today, and that includes pop songs. A pop song doesn’t have to be machine made and massed produced. It can just be something that’s catchy, gets stuck in your head, and is easy to listen to. We like to keep it simple. One of our slogans from back in the day was “Keep It Simple, Stupid”. Don’t overthink things. Don’t try harder than you really need to, because then you’re just wasting energy when it’s all going to come out alright. We don’t try to second guess ourselves either. I don’t think a commercially successful album was our main intent when writing these songs.

KLYAM: Do you have a preconceived vision of how you want songs to sound before writing and recording?

JB: Sometimes songs need to start out as a melody in your head, or you may have some really cool ideas for lyrics. Honestly, trying to force songwriting is difficult. I prefer the method of letting various parts of the composition come together at their own will. There’s a lot of times when you can have all of your music recorded but you’re stuck on the lyrics, so you’ll end up singing nonsense sounds or made up words over the music itself, and from that you can achieve some type of cohesive lyrics. It’s like reaching into a pile of goo and pulling out a diamond. It could happen! We don’t have a particular method of songwriting, it goes either way.

KLYAM: Is there a lot of contribution and input from the other members when you write your own songs? 

JB: That, too, is on a song to song basis. There are various songs we’ve worked on together by writing different parts, but occasionally one of us will write all of the parts to a song and then show the other members how to play it. Everyone has their own touch and puts their own feel into it. Everyone contributes at least something to every one of our songs. As a general rule of thumb, people can tell who wrote the song based on who sings it. This isn’t the case when we write songs together, or when someone writes a song and someone else ends up singing it.

KLYAM: You play guitar, bass, and keyboards in addition to drums. Did you try to utilize all of these talents in the studio? 

JB: I played bass, guitar, and several different organs on this album in addition to the drumming. On “The Lie” I do finger-picking on an acoustic guitar. I’ve played brass instruments on past recordings of ours, but I don’t think I did anything like that on this new album.

KLYAM: The bands that you guys play with seem to possess the same aesthetic value as Black Lips. Is there a particular act that sticks out that seemed to best compliment you guys for a particular tour? 

JB: The Spits, The King Khan & BBQ Show as well as King Khan & the Shrines, The Demon’s Claws… that’s the old family right there. But there are some new bands coming up right now. I don’t know if they’re necessarily complimentary, but the band we’re on tour with now is Cerebral Ballzy. They’re this hardcore punk band from New York. It’s more contrasting than complimentary, but I think it’s great. We always like to bring out new support acts that won’t necessarily highlight or accent what we’re trying to do. We want to offer some diversity to audiences, but also something enjoyable and familiar.

KLYAM: Is there anyone you really want to tour with that you haven’t?

JB: I can’t really think of anything… we usually end up playing with- Well wait, Ian’s saying King Tuff. Our buddies Gentlemen Jessie & His Men did a tour with King Tuff about a year and half or two years ago. They said it was really cool.

KLYAM: How does the band decide upon which new songs to add to its usual set-list? From your most recent tours, you have seemed to enjoy playing “Family Tree,” “Modern Art,” “Go Out and Get It,” “Raw Meat,” and “Dumpster Dive”.

JB: It depends on how often we’ve played a song. Sometimes it depends on what the audience is looking like. If it’s a punk audience, we might skew our setlist to be a little more upbeat. If there are more indie rock, artsy fartsy types of people we might play some of the weirder songs we have catalogued. Or, just whatever we damn well feel like, really.

KLYAM: What’s your favorite song to play live from the bands’ current discography? 

JB: I like to play “Dumpster Dive” a lot. “Take Me Home (Back to Boone)” off of Let it Bloom is fun to play too. It’s fast, and gets people dancing.

—–

With that, the interview rounded off, leaving me with a newfound perspective on the Black Lips’ approach to band growth.

For more than a decade, the Black Lips have built a cult-like following without relying on insincere, label-generated tactics that some artists use to build a fan base. Known for its unpredictability, the band might play a relatively tame set one night only to  have members at the next show vomiting, urinating, and brandishing their dicks like swords. In a similar fashion, The Black Lips approached recording their last album with little time and editing, then took ample time to meticulously perfect Arabia Mountain.

Ronson’s highly-publicized affiliation with the album is warrantable. The songs admittedly have a better sound quality than past productions, but the fine tuning doesn’t overwhelm the album. The jarring stylistic quirks that personify The Black Lips still shine through and characterize the album.

The relatively unprecedented mainstream hype surrounding Black Lips in the wake of its new release might prompt some changes. The band might venture into a realm of popularity that spans beyond underground music scenes. And honestly? Good for them. Whether you’ve permanently inked “Panama City Beach 3003” to your body or are just seeing the Black Lips for the first time on the cover of Spin Magazine, know this: No bullshit, this band is the real deal.

Arabia Mountain‘s mainstream success might be the key to penetrating the hearts and creative minds of kids who need to hear a band as gritty and influential as The Black Lips. Diehard Black Lips fans needn’t worry about what these guys will do next. They’re still acting like the Bad Kids they’ve been all along…at this point in the game, they’ve just perfected the art of doing so.

Interview W/ Ty Segall, The Next Jay Reatard

It’s an honor to be called that says Ty. I’ve been listening to him a lot lately and he really does have the songwriting/production chops to be mentioned along the lines of Reatard. Ty’s music is much more fuzzy than Jay’s was, but the similarity is in their ability to craft an addicting pop tune. I wouldn’t be surprised if within a year or two, Ty and his band surpass the threshold of popularity that Jay was able to attain in his short solo career.

Here’s the interview which was conducted by the Dallas Observer: http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/dc9/2011/02/qa_ty_segall_talks_his_favorit.php

Here’s a recent video of Ty Segall at a protest of KUSF: