“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.