Monday, March 27, 2017

An Interview With Remo Drive

Album art for "Greatest Hits"

One of the more "up beat" acts from Minnesota, Remo Drive, has taken great care to craft their signature brand of emo tinged pop punk into something they can all be proud of. Their newest album, "Greatest Hit's", boasts refined rhythms and tasty jams under Erik's well honed vocal skills. Lyrically, I think it's more "mature" than their past songs with songs like "I'm My Own Doctor" and "Yer Killin Me" deploying clever lines and tongue-in-cheek metaphors to convey a deeper and more serious meaning. "Name Brand" stands out to me with the lines "I piss away my money on this bourgeoisie coffee/I am a child who needs pleasing/Pacifier lost my mouth I’m screaming".

Instrumentally, they aren't breaking any boundaries, but that's not the point. Sam and Stephens rhythms perfectly complement each song while Erik's leads and hooks find the right times to shine. I don't think one member stands out more than another and that's one of my favorite things about this album. It stands as a cohesive work between talented musicians that have learned how best to work with each other to the benefit of the individual song. 

Overall, this record is the result of years of tweaking and learning what works best for the band and their creative process. They've come along way from their early days and this album is a testament to that journey. 

Photo Credit to @Trevor Sweeney Media

1. This is a run of the mill question, but one I feel should be asked. How did the band begin and what have you learned since you started? If you could go back and tell yourself one thing, what would it be?

Erik: We began in the later part of 2013 after Stephen and I's first band had just broken up. There was a bit of a DIY pop punk/ Emo scene going on in Minneapolis so we tried to hop on some shows within that. Since then a lot has happened. If there was one thing I could tell myself, it would be "its okay to try new ideas". For a long time we tried to go about the band in a very straightforward way. I think once we started thinking about things in our own way it started to click a lot more.

2. Y'all have come a long way since the first time I saw you play in St. Louis. Erik, you where only 18 and Sam was still finishing up high school. Steven couldn't even legally drink yet. How does it feel to come so far, in terms of popularity and recognition, in such a short time and at such a young age?

Erik: It's really great to be picking up all this steam lately! We've been going at this for 4 years so it's cool to see such a great reception. We put a lot of time into this new batch of songs so it feels particularly good to see such a positive response!

3. While we're on the topic of your relatively young ages, what was your parents reception to you playing shows and going on tour while in school? Were they supportive from the start or did it take some persuading to get them to go along with it?

Erik: It took some persuading but after the first couple of weekenders they were down!

Photo by Snuff Film Collective
4. With 5 or 6 tours completed you have a taste for life on the road. How is the DIY community in Minneapolis compared to the places you've visited on tour? Whats your favorite thing about going on tour?
Erik: Minneapolis is a very interesting place. There's plenty of great bands and I'm sure we don't even know a fraction of them. There's so much culture here. In the DIY community the vibe is kinda the same everywhere (for better or for worse). It's cool seeing how the cities themselves vary! We've come to love a lot of places we would have never been able to visit otherwise.
5. You've released several videos recently, Art School, Yer Killin' Me, Eat Shit, and Crash Test Rating. What was your favorite one to work on? How has the feedback been since releasing them?
Erik: I liked working on them all! Yer Killin Me has done the best which makes me happy because it was so spontaneous. Art School is another favorite because of how visually pleasing it is. The feedback has gone above and beyond any of our expectations!
6. I saw where The Needle Drop shared your video for "Yer Killin Me". How did it feel to have "the Internets busiest music critic" take the time out to show some love for your music?
Erik: It felt amazing, I've been a viewer of his for 5 or so years so it was surreal to hear him singing some of our words on camera

Screen Cap from "Yr Killin Me"
7. Art School in particular was very unique and seemed like one hell of a good time to shoot. It also has been the most "technical" video you've done so far with the choreography and amount of props used. Where did the idea for this come from and what was it like to shoot this as compared to your other videos?
Sam: The idea came from us wanting to do some sort of dance video for a song. We thought Art School was a fun, upbeat song, so we decided to use the idea for that song. Then from there, I thought it would be fun to collaborate with people from my high school, since I went to a performing arts school. So I reached out to John Mark who was a dance teacher at my school and my show choir teacher, and talked to him about getting dancers and doing a video together. From there, John Mark really did all of the work with coming up with all the ideas and details with shots, he choreographed everything, and got all of the dancers, extras, and crew together to make what was a small idea into an amazing production and video. He did such an amazing job with everything and we'd love to work with him again in the future.
8. Erik mentioned on a Facebook post that you guys took your EP's off of the internet because "We were never completely satisfied with our performances on those songs and they feel like us trying to sound like other bands..." Do you feel like you have found "your sound" with Greatest Hits, or do you still feel there is room to hone and improve your art? How was the writing process compared to previous releases?
Erik: I think there will always be room for improvement but this is the first release of ours that feels true to who we really are. As far as writing process goes, I made the bricks and Sam/ Stephen built the house. I would typically come to practice with some ideas, we'd play through them and pick out which ones we liked enough to work on. From there on Sam and I would mold the songs into their respective arrangements. Stephen then came in and figured out bass parts and acted as the last wall of defense. Overall this was our most collaborative effort.

Photographer @brettballachino
9. When it comes to the song writing, what comes first, the lyrics or the instrumentation?
Erik: Always instrumentation! Sometimes I have an idea of what I'd like to write a song about but usually I cant write lyrics until there is something to write to.

10. Production wise, Greatest Hit's is your best sounding record yet. I'd go as far as to say it's one of the the best sounding records I've heard yet this year. I understand Erik has recorded Demo 2014 and Christmas Tune, along with Greatest Hits. How did the approach to recording Greatest Hits differ from your previous releases? What have you learned about recording that might be helpful to other people going the DIY route?

Erik: Previously we had worked with Andy Mathison who is very talented, we just wanted to have unlimited recording time for this record. I think the real kicker when it came to Greatest Hits sounding better was Jack Shirley's mixing and mastering. If you wanna record your own stuff, you gotta be your own producer. You are the only one there to make sure you give passionate takes. That's probably the trickiest part haha
11. Talking about DIY again, what does being a DIY band mean to you? Is there anything you think should change about the community?
I like to think of us an independent band. DIY is really cool but DIY feels really exclusive. Whenever there's a large community of people there are going to be bands that are favorites and ones that aren't. We have been in the latter until very recently.
12. Now that greatest hit's has been released, what are you plans for the immediate future? Where do you hope to see the band in a few years?
We are just rolling with what comes to us! I'd like to see us touring more regularly and hopefully having another record under our belt!

Photo Credit @Trevor Sweeney Media

Saturday, March 25, 2017

An Interview With An Atomic Whirl

An Atomic FUCKING Whirl. Jesus Christ… There isn’t a writer alive who can properly describe this band. Hell, their own recordings can’t even convey the pure sense of RAW FUCKING POWER that this band brings to venues and diy spaces all over Asia and North America. That’s not to discredit their recordings, they are both stellar noise/grind/math/whateverthefuck albums, but nothing compares to their live shows. Pictures come close, videos come closer, but you’ve just gotta be there to witness what some might call a lesson in pure self-expression. 

In an attempt to convey what exactly I mean, let me tell you a story. Me and the mates in SFC live in a podunk little town far removed from anything even closely resembling the words “exotic” or “cultured”, so when we heard that this Japanese noise band was coming to Lost Cross, we decided to forgo band practice that night and make the hour drive south to witness something I’ve retrospectively deemed a religious experience. We were all pretty fried from a recent acid trip, so we got loaded on Busch and Ham’s to numb our aching minds as we waited for AAW to start. When we made out way down stairs, we were met with a sight that most trained professionals would label insane. A bass guitar was plugged into heaps of pedals running into multiple amps, while Kenjii wrapped a literal towel around his head and stuck duct tape around his nose and eyes. The giant known as Brian was seated behind a drum kit full of cymbals and weird percussion…things? It was absolutely surreal. It had been raining pretty heavily, so water had leaked into the basement, leaving the floor muddy and slick. Everyone stood in silence, not knowing what to expect.

And then AAW started playing. Two chords and a bell hit into their set and I was flat on my back, smiling from ear to ear. The room simply exploded in a mass of flailing bodies as drops of cheap beer washed over us. Everyone was moving, smiling, falling down, and incoherently screaming along with Kenjii as he gyrated, screeched, and laid waste to anyone who came within striking distance of his now weaponized bass.

After their set, we collectively stumbled out of the basement to get some fresh air and dry off, only to hear that AAW were playing in St Louis the next day. Needless to say, we unanimously agreed to tell our jobs to fuck off so that we could experience this again. The next night we found ourselves standing in the basement of Zambo’s, witnessing the awesome force that is AAW. It was arguably an even better set, with Kenji seemingly more energetic than the night before and using an AM radio as an impromptu sample machine. He even passed his bass guitar to some audience members as he proceeded to climb into Brian’s bass drum… while Brian continued to play.

Afterwards, we ended up on Zambo’s back deck talking to them about everything under the sun while we tossed back a few brews and listened to Brian and Kenjii tell us their stories..  Brian and Kenjii are two of most polite and interesting human beings I have ever had the good fortune of meeting, so I was beyond overjoyed that Brian allowed me to email him some questions about An Atomic Whirl. 

1. How did An Atomic Whirl come up with it’s name? how did you and Kenji form the band, and what is the history of the band?

I met Kenji in 2010 when our previous bands played together in Taipei. After years of partying and touring together in Asia, we decided to start our own thing, largely as an excuse for me to fly to Tokyo every month. The first time I flew there to practice with Kenji and a couple other friends, I read the phrase “an atomic whirl” in some Nietzsche book I was reading. It stuck with me, and we’ve used it ever since. I love the name because no one can ever get it right. (The Atomic Whirls, Atomic Whirl, Anatomical Whirl, etc.)  
2. Being from Taiwan and Japan, how is the music scene and the underground culture over there? Do you think that living there has influenced you as an artist/musician? How do you each like living there?
The music scene in Tokyo is very diverse and creative. Playing shows there has definitely influenced us both as individuals and as musicians. Our friends’ bands there are world-class. Taiwan is much more limited, but there’s a small pocket of creative musicians doing interesting things. That said, we’re both definitely ready to get out, because the US has so much more to offer and such a vibrant DIY music scene.
3. AAW is chaotic, loud, and just plain weird. What the fuck are your influences/inspirations for playing your instruments?
Our primary influence at first was Fantomas, just because we both loved their chaotic weirdness and insistence on doing something totally new. I’d say in the last couple years our main influences have been bands that we’ve seen on tour, like The Central from Madison, New China and Resent from Austin, Heavy Baby Sea Slugs from Denton, Turd/Cutter from Charlotte, Dent from Boston (shit, this could go on and on…).
4. You just came off a pretty extensive tour of the United States. What where some of your favorite venues, and some of your favorite bands you played with?
We played at several great houses, a few cabins in the woods, and some solid bars. Rozz Tox in Rock Island was nuts, as were Far House in Ann Arbor and Disastr House in Rockford. But I don’t know, we loved every day so it’s hard to rank anything over anything else. As for good bands that we saw:

(I tried to link these the best I could - SFC)
The Hymens (Denton)
Seres (Denton)
Povertybomb (Erwin, TN)
Turd/Cutter (Charlotte, NC)
Nermal (Asheville, NC)
Basura (Chapel Hill, NC)
Dent (Boston)
Batlord (Buffalo)
Hate Face (Cincinnati)
Death Sex Advocates (Cincinatti)
Sojii (Grand Rapids)
Ape Not Kill Ape (Grand Rapids)
Blisshead (Grand Rapids)
Immanuel Can’t (Lansing)
Red Robe (Ann Arbor)
Super Thing (Ann Arbor)
Kenshiro’s (St. Louis)
Hinge (St. Louis)
Buzzzard (Carbondale)
Closet Witch (Iowa)
Sin Lengua (Wichita)
And The Central from Madison, WI is fucking incredible. Like, incredible. We toured with them for four days, and their songwriting/drums/guitar/vocals/performance is so good. I’m out of adjectives for them.
5. Did any crazy or memorable experiences happen while you where stateside?
It’s all such a blur, it’s hard to hone in on particular memories. Partying with our friends in Denton, Charlotte, and Madison were definite highlights. We tried to hit mostly new cities on this tour, so it was all really memorable, especially because everyone was awesome everywhere we went. Going up to Boston and Maine was really cool, and the mini-tours we did with Turd/Cutter, Sojii, and The Central were really special to us.
6. How did you enjoy your time in America?
Mainly by drinking the cheapest beer we could find and smoking a lot of weed. Ha. It was 100% fantastic. Even the bad times were good. Everything was awesome. It’s a dream.
7. What’s some thoughts and opinions on American culture?
We pull into a town and meet the coolest, most creative 1% of the culture there, so our view is definitely skewed. There’s a lot of weirdness and backwards shitfestery that we’re not really exposed to. So we love it, especially the DIY touring culture and how supportive and passionate everyone is.

8. How does AAW go about writing a song? Do you play it the same way everytime or do you switch it up quite a bit?
Our songwriting has changed over the past couple years. We just bounce ideas around until we get something that sounds right. It usually only takes an hour or two to write a song. If it doesn’t come together pretty quick, we’ll scrap it and start something else. Over the course of touring-playing every single day for weeks-the songs tend to change quite a bit. It’s unbearable to play the same set the same way day in and day out, so we just naturally change things up, listen and respond to each other, during the course of performing.

9. What are Kenji’s lyrics typically about?
Who knows. Most of them are about whatever we’ve recently experienced or where we are. They’re probably much simpler than people would expect. Here’s the lyrics for the song “TCRC”:
…because our friend Jay runs The Checkered Record Club in Tainan, where we often perform and drink. Nothing profound here.
10. Kenji’s set up is pretty creative, can he tell me what all his gear is and what he likes about his set up? I’m especially interested in why he chose a fretless bass.
Kenji brought a fretless bass to one of our first practices because he found it super cheap in Tokyo. It worked well and produces a unique sound, so we stuck with it. His pedal setup evolves quite a bit, as he prefers using whatever custom pedals our friends make. In general, we like whatever we can find cheap, since it’s just going to get destroyed in the process of touring anyways. Each new toy gives us new directions for writing songs.
11.Your live show is very original and gets the crowd going wild. Everything from moshing, handing out free beer, and letting people play your instruments might happen. Did you guys play to do all these crazy antics or did they just happen?
Nothing is planned. It’s important for us to change up the live show every night and keep things spontaneous, so all the weirdness is just a way for us to keep it fun for ourselves. Especially for Kenji—he’s always scoping out something to hang on or crawl through or whatever.
12. What are AAW’s goals as a band, where do you see yourselves in the future?
We’re applying for Kenji’s artist visa, which will allow us to tour in the US full-time for the next few years. Our goal is to have a sustainable life as a touring band, which involves not only building a fanbase and making a certain amount of money, but also learning to treat it less like a constant party. Drinking every day and chainsmoking cigarettes and eating shitty food starts to wear you down and definitely affects the performance after awhile.
13. How do you feel about Mexican food?
We accept cash, Paypal, and burritos as payment.

An Atomic Whirl is approved to return stateside!! They are currently planning an extensive North American tour so be on the look out for a date near you!! Click on the link below to check out their Bandcamp, and be sure to head over to their Facebook to keep up to date on these two crazy dudes!



*All photos used here were pulled off their Facebook from various photographers. 

Special thanks to  Mark Boulanger from Massa Nera for helping out with structuring this and editing my errors.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

An Interview With Val From Sojii

In this digital age, there’s A LOT of fucking bands out there, and one of my favorite past times is sitting down with a good pair of headphones and just digging through Bandcamp on the search for something new. On most occasions I find a few bands or artists who catch my attention for a few songs, but ultimately I loose interest or forget their names soon after closing out the app. Not Sojji though. The distinctive pig in a dunce cap album art work enticed me to click on their debut self tilted ep, and when the spastic energy of the beginning of “Milksop” gave way to a tight lead line, I was hooked. It wasn’t long after playing their ep back to back a few times that I liked the page, and hit Val up for an interview. 

1. To someone who has never heard Sojii, how would you describe your sound and the overall vibe of the band? 
Angular hard stool 

2. Y’all have a very cool, trashy, some would say, “lo fi” aesthetic being presented through the sound of your music and the photos you post on the band page. Is that an artistic decision you made with intention, or just a reflection of your collective lifestyles? 
Well I think all the trashy photos are from me cos I’m a trashy person. Danny is more linear and Donny is a classy fuck. 
3. I know that you used to live in New York and that Sojii followed you when you moved to Grand Rapids. How did the band initially form and how did moving affect it?
Yeah. Well the band didn’t only move. All the members have changed completely. It started because Anna, Raegan, and I went to the same school and we hated everyone and knew there was more somewhere out there in the deep smoggy sky. It has changed completely cos there are different people. For better or worse. I believe it’s more of a fluid entity than a fixed image of identities.
4. What are your personal influences as not just a musician, but as a person? What are Sojii’s collective influences?

My personal influences are industrial buildings and sites I saw [they] were so cold and forlorn and I wanted to take them home with me. Adrenaline too. I think our collective influence don’t exclude md2020. Touring. Sodium. Ajvar, Alice, and Prudence.
5. Lyrically you have a very “stream of conscious flow” with some pretty dark and nihilistic subject matter being presented. How do you typically come up with your lyrics? 
You just said it! It just cums. 
6. I’ve really enjoyed the ambiguous nature of you lyricism and how many different meanings can be inferred from your lines. For example, off your latest single, “Junkmale”, you have the lines “Look outside the kitchen window/At the kingdom at my feet/I slain the fertile cesspit/Put my feelings at ice cold ease” followed by “if you wanted it/I don’t/Kill that part anyway/If you needed it/I don’t/kill that part anyway”. Would you care to dive into what you meant by this? 
I don’t remember exactly. It started as a concept Katie gave me for the music she wrote. Really It’s about killing my ability to carry a child in order to live life as selfishly and opportunistically as I can. (Gender roles blahblablahblah) 
7. You finished a tour last year with the noise duo An Atomic Whirl. How was that experience for you? Where there any memorable moments from your time with those goof balls?
Otherworldly. They’re a couple of the craziest cats I’ve ever met. I wanna tour with them in Asia. Idk if this is trĂ¼ but Kenji said he was gonna make his solo project into “Kenjii” cos of us. Haha. Also they’re moving back!
8. Besides AAW, what are some other great bands you’ve had the pleasure to play with? So far what venues have you enjoyed the most?
Ape Not Kill Ape (MI), CHOIR (PA), Girl Pusher (CA), Vertighost (CA)
Honey Trap in LA, Baxter BLDG in DC, Aviv in NYC (r.i.p)
9. With three tours under your belts, what have you learned since the first one? If you could give some advice to up and coming touring bands, what would it be?
Who I want to play music with. What is important to me. What really matters. Tell cunts not to bring fucking cheeze whiz cos it’ll stain the fuck outta my ‘98 econoline carpet goddamnit.
10. What are your most memorable good/bad/weird moments from tour?
Good time was when these two kids followed us from west ma to another couple shows and brought us exciting party favors.
I wanna say no bad times on tour cos I love every bit but it throws me off when anyone is sad or upset. Tour 'sposed to be fun. I did end up in the ER in Connecticut because of aforementioned party favors. The cops took my knife away and never gave it back.
I believe that I am the weird moment because I can’t think of anything weird.
11. When you first started the band, did you imagine things would turn out as they have? Now that you’ve made quite a bit of progress, where do you see Sojii in the future?
I like to embrace the now with eyes to the future. I don’t know that I’ve made much progress, but I have a lot of wet dreams about Sojii. I want to do everything I can as long I let me.
12. I understand that y'all are working on recording more material. Would you like to fill us in on how that’s going, and give us a hint as to how it will sound?
It’s going great. YOU’ll KNO WHEN U KNO. All I can say is we’ll probably b recording in Chicago.
13. wut’s ur last wurds???
Gabe Page

Valerie is one of the more interesting characters I have come into contact with through this magical thing called the “DIY Community”, and I think Sojii accurately reflects that, not just in Val’s meandering and ambigious lyrcism, but also in the straight weirdo rock nature of their specific brand of noise rock. Seriously, CHECK THIS BAND OUT. You won’t regret it. (Well, maybe you’ll regret it if you get the god damn cheese wiz in the carpet!)