Have you ever thought about changing your name so it wouldn't be as obvious?
I've thought about that. I thought about it in the very beginning, and because I didn't at that point, it just seemed silly to change it later on. Someone would go, "Why aren't you in the band anymore?" I was gonna have an alter ego.
Have you ever been tempted to promote Bangs at the expense of any other bands on the label?
No, I think the opposite problem happens, where I feel sort of guilty about it and I don't do as good a job as maybe I should. We actually hired an outside publicist for our last record 'cause I was too uncomfortable with it. It was just too hard to, you know, [cheesy, glad-handing publicist voice] "Hey, did you get my record? What do you think? Don't you want to write a big feature about it?" I just can't do that. I mean, not that I could ever do that with anyone's band. I'm not necessarily a very good publicist, I don't think.
How did you get the job?
It all started out seven years ago. I was 19, helping out with extra work around the office, and they only had one full-time employee at that point. And then I started doing mailorder. And then from mailorder, I was the only one who wanted to answer the main line. And then I started doing radio. I found I hated radio, and Slim said, "Well, why don't you try doing press and advertising?" I mean, I like it, I really do, I just don't think I'm a very good traditional publicist.
How did Bangs start?
Sarah started playing music with our original drummer Jesse [Fox], and then she was looking for someone else to join the band. They had a couple songs and they sort of had a vague idea, and our mutual friend Jessica suggested that she call me up 'cause I wasn't playing music at the time. And we knew each other, Sarah and Jesse and I, the original group. We all went to high school together and middle school, and we knew of each other more than we actually knew each other. But then we started playing, and it seemed to almost automatically work. But I had never played bass up until that very first practice. I had been a drummer and a guitar player before.
How did you end up on bass?
Well, she called, and she was like, "I am starting this band, and I know you play guitar, and I already have a drummer, so would you be interested in playing bass?" I was like, "All right, I'll try it. See what happens." But I really like it a lot, actually. It worked out well.
Isn't that how Kathy Valentine from the Go-Go's started?
Really? She's one of my favorites.
Yeah. I think she was a guitar player. She'd never touched a bass before agreeing to play in the Go-Go's and had to force herself to learn.
That makes sense. She also is sort of a drummer. I met her once, and she was telling me about that.
How long had you been playing guitar or drums? What was your main instrument at that point?
At that point, I'd been playing drums mostly for the last few years before that. But I was taking guitar lessons when I was 14 and I played the clarinet and the cello. I come from a really musical family. My father's a drummer, my sister's a drummer, and they both play guitar as well. My grandfather was a drummer, my grandma played guitar. My mom's a dancer. It's all in there somewhere.
What made you switch drummers?
Well, Jesse was in another band that was actually his priority. He plays guitar and sings, and that band, they're still around, they're called Polecat. And after our second U.S. tour, it seemed like, "Well, maybe this group isn't really working.," You know, we weren't really friends with Jesse, and his priorities were somewhere else, so it was just like, "Well, maybe this'll be my last tour." And I think it really worked out for the best in all ways. We have Kyle now, and Kyle's a great drummer, as Jesse was, but we're all friends and goofy and it's more fun than it used to be.
So Kyle's fitting in pretty well?
Was there any sort of hazing period when he was the new guy?
Not too much. We did have another drummer [Dub Narcotic Sound System's Heather Dunn] in the middle of all that, and I think she sort of bore the brunt of our hazing.
So he's not being treated like the new kid any more?
No. Well, we sort of give him a lot of shit, but I actually think that's probably from being the only boy in the band. And he's just so fun to tease. But he likes it. He always admits that later.
You guys have been pretty staunch about sort of trying to stand clear of being categorized as a "female" band, but you're active in things like LadyFest and stuff like that. You have a foot in both ignoring that and working with it.
Right. I don't think as a band we're overtly political. Our songs are mostly really personal. But I sort of see it as, there are so few women playing in aggressive, almost sort of traditional, rock bands that I see that as being political. I absolutely consider myself a feminist in almost all definitions, and I think it's really important to me. I grew up in a family where it was very much stressed. I don't know, does that answer the question? [laughs]
Yeah, it does. I mean, it's a tough question for me to bring up, having read that you guys sort of hate the issue.
Well, I don't hate the issue. I think that Sarah and I actually feel very differently about it. I think we totally respect each other's opinions, but I think it's a little more important to me than it is to her, but maybe that's not true. I can't really speak for her. I hate just the, "Ooh, you're from Olympia, and there's girls, and your sister was in Bikini Kill, and therefore I have this expectation of you that you're not fulfilling."
Where does Kyle fit in, sort of in the middle and possibly standing outside of this issue?
Yeah, I think he's pretty outside. I'm not sure we've ever really had a conversation with him about it, out and out. Living in Olympia, you almost sort of assume everybody is on the same page as you. I don't know. He's never really been part of the dialogue about feminism in our band or anything. He hates being called an all-girl band. [laughs] He feels left out.
Is the Olympia scene heavily populated by female-led bands or bands with women playing aggressive music? Do you think that's more prevalent in Olympia than it is elsewhere?
Probably. It seems, though, that more tours that we go on, there's more girls in every band, you know? I mean... That didn't make any sense. [laughs] The more tours we go on, the more girls playing music there seems to be, which is really incredible and encouraging, but I think that Olympia probably still is outside the norm in that way, where there's a disproportionate amount of women involved. I mean, not in a bad way. [laughs] God, I'm just not coming out right. I just mean that compared to the rest of the world, it's more like it should be here.
You come from a strongly independent-minded scene, but I noticed that you also tend to brandish a lot of the trappings of megastardom. Like you talk up Rod Stewart and Black Sabbath a lot, you've got your lightning bolt guitar straps, you've got your power ballad.
Right, but we all sort of have that childhood fantasy.
Which of those has the strongest pull on you? Or do they need to be mutually exclusive?
I think they work well together. But the strongest pull is definitely that we're an independent band, that we are in control of everything. That's most important to me. The other side comes out when we play sometimes, I think.
Does it make you have to fight for credibility at all?
Maybe, yeah. Yeah. I think people can relate to it, though. But there's a lot of people who are uncomfortable with it, I'm sure.
Is everybody in the band originally from Olympia?
Kyle's from Tacoma, which is about 30 miles north, but Sarah and I are Olympia born and raised. Well, pretty much. I moved here when I was 5. I think that counts.
Yeah, I was born in Virginia and lived in California until I was 6 and then grew up in Maryland, so I always just tell people, "Maryland."
Yeah. It's easier.
Not that you needed to know that.
Well, it's important. I feel like these one-sided conversations are sort of odd sometimes. Just like, "I'll just sit here and talk about myself and how I feel about everything!"
From what I've read, you were a cheerleader in high school, with all that that entailed.
That I was. [laughs] And Sarah was on drill team. And Jesse Fox, the original drummer? He was in the band. He played drums in the marching band.
That was your attempt to rebel against your liberal parents, is that right?
Yes. They hated it.
What caused you to switch sides, as it were?
Back or initially?
You know, Tobi's five years older than I am and she was just starting college at Evergreen. And so she and my parents... They had gone to Evergreen as well, it's a really liberal college, and they were having more and more in common. And I was turning 14 and I didn't want to be like the rest of my family. And I just knew this one thing would really bug 'em. I don't think it was very conscious. You know. I got the right responses. My parents starting calling me a puke when I was trying out for cheerleader.
Yeah, they were like, "Peggy's turning into a puke." [laughs]
Does that mean something that I don't understand?
It's a weird dad thing, I think. It just means just gross and not what he'd really want her to be.
So it's not like a derivation from Puget Sound or anything, it's literally vomit.
So what made you shift your allegiances once more?
Well, it was like three years of a serious identity crisis. When I became a junior in high school, when I was 16, it was just sort of like, "What am I doing? I don't belong in this place, I don't belong in that place, I don't know where I am or what I want to do, and are these the people I want to hang out with? This is not the music..." I was still listening to music that was really important to me. I mean, all my life I've listened to Elvis Costello, and the Ramones have been a total constant. And people around me were just not interested in politics and it was just really sort of alienating, but I wasn't quite ready to admit that I was wrong. So it took me a while. It took a very, very horrible first year in college to realize that that was not where I belonged. I came home and dyed my hair black and started playing music again. [laughs]
So you stopped playing music in that time?
Yeah, pretty much. I played a little bit of guitar, but I didn't learn how to play drums until I came back from school.
Do you intend to go back or is that a part of your life that you figure is over?
Yeah, I do. I was working here for a while, thinking that, "Okay, as soon as I figure out like what I want to study and I am not wasting my money, then I'll go back to school." But now I've got this band and I really just want to do this band for a while.
Is the band anywhere near becoming profitable?
It's sort of borderline. I mean, not as to where I could quit my day job. Maybe if we toured all the time, it could be. We could make some money on tour. I'm sort of actually stuck in this place where I think, "Oh, maybe I should quit my job and just go on tour for a year and see what happens."
Do you ever mention that to Sarah or Kyle?
Yeah, I've been talking about it a lot, actually, with everyone, including Slim, my boss here. "What if I take six months next year?" And we're going to put out a new record in the spring and just tour, see what happens.
It's been a year since the release of Sweet Revenge. What have you guys been doing since then?
We went to New Zealand and Australia on tour.
How'd that go?
It was incredible. It was really a lot of fun. It was our first international tour. We got flown to Alaska last summer and played one show. It was out of control.
Did you get much of an opportunity to see much of any of the places or did you just mostly spend time going from gig to gig?
No, we spent a lot of time actually just sort of hanging out and spending lots of money. We swam in the ocean in New Zealand, and then we went to a wildlife sanctuary in Australia.
Did you pet a kangaroo?
Yes. Actually, a wallaby. The kangaroos were sleeping under the tree. I was scared to go all the way out there. [laughs]
Were you afraid of a kangaroo attack?
Yeah, a little bit. They have those big huge feet, they'll punch you. They'll punch you with their hands and they'll kick you with those huge... Those feet are huge. Way, way larger than I thought they were going to be.
I studied in New Zealand for a year. This is that two-sided conversation you mentioned earlier.
Really? Where did you stay in New Zealand?
At the University of Auckland. I did some travelling around New Zealand and around Australia. So when I read that you guys were touring there, I sent you an email telling you guys what to see and where to go.
Oh, really? That sounds familiar to me, actually.
Yeah, so I'm that creepy guy.
That's not creepy, that's cool. [laughs] I loved Auckland, I really loved it. I love New Zealand. We made so many great friends there. New Zealand was definitely the highlight.
Do you get different crowds or different responses to your music than you do in the U.S.?
No, it actually seemed pretty similar. I was pretty shocked at how similar it was. We're going to England this summer in August, so we'll see what happens there. It's our year of touring only English-speaking countries outside the U.S. [laughs]
But you're lining up Spain, so you're reaching outward.
Yeah. Actually I'm working on trying to play some shows in China right now. 'Cause we're going to Japan, and I studied Chinese for five years and spent some time in China when I was in high school. So I've always really wanted to go back and combine the two interests.
How far are you on doing that? Is that just pleasant daydreaming or is that actually underway?
No, no, I've actually contacted the people in the last couple of days who told me they could help me book some shows in southern China and then two in northern. And one in Hong Kong. I'm really excited about this. This has sort of always just been like this dream that I've had that, "This can't really happen." But I think it actually might.
You said that you didn't find much difference in Australia and New Zealand from in the U.S. What kind of audiences do you guys usually get?
Depends on if we're playing all ages or a bar. There's two different audiences that come to see us.
What's the difference?
Mostly age. But, you know, whenever we play all ages, there are tons of young girls, and ideally I would love to be able to play all ages in every city, but unfortunately, there's a lot of problems with all ages clubs. There's not a lot of them, and there's not a lot of good ones. There's a lot of people who are really disorganized, and you can't really function as a working band and only play all ages shows these days, unless you're in a band like Fugazi that can play a huge theatre. So, ideally, we'd love to be playing all ages shows all the time because it's most important for me to play to that sort of audience, like younger kids, rather than drunken scenesters.
Does your audience usually skew towards women, or is it just more noticeable with younger kids?
It's definitely more noticeable in all ages. I think there's a little more of a dude crowd at a bar.
Is there a difference in your audiences between when you headline and when you're a supporting act?
Definitely. We've done lots of different tours. We've toured with Dub Narcotic, we've toured with the Makers, we've played some shows with Rocket From The Crypt, Murder City Devils. We've played with a lot of dude bands, and maybe that's why I sort of think of that, 'cause most of those shows were at bars.
What kind of responses do you get when you play with dude bands?
Actually, usually pretty positive ones.
What's the most ridiculous comparison you guys have ever gotten?
Somebody said we were like the Pretenders. And I don't think that we're like the Pretenders at all. I love the Pretenders. I really, really love the Pretenders, but I don't think we are. I just think it was another one of those rock critics, "Oh, there's a woman fronting a band. There's women in this band, and can I compare them to other women? Which other women do they remind me of?" That's my pet peeve.
Why did you guys choose to cover "Southern Girls" on Sweet Revenge?
We're huge Cheap Trick fans, and I really wanted to sing another song on the record.
Is that the only song on the record that you sang?
No, I sing "Schick Shadel" and "Sweet Revenge," too. Our vocals sound similar on this album, I think.
Then why is Sarah the main singer?
Because she's a better singer, I think. I don't know. She's really the main creative force, I think, behind the band. I mean, Kyle definitely writes all his parts, and I write most of my parts. Sometimes she'll come up with one or two things that starts out with the, um, hold on a sec... [away from phone] Are you looking for a CD? They're downstairs by the door.
Random guy: Cool.
Maggie [to SCR]: The Tight Bros. record [Lend You A Hand] came in today, so the band members keep coming in really excited to see it. But what was I saying? Oh, the main creative spirit. I really think that it's been her vision all along, and I like to think that I add my two cents to it and it becomes something a little bit different, but I have to give credit where credit is due. She does all the artwork for T-shirts. I mean, visual art is her first love.
Is there ever a question of whether she'll have to choose between art and music?
I don't think there is for her. She's been talking about it a lot lately. I don't feel like any of us think that this band is going to last forever. And I think that she'll probably always continue to play music, but I think that visual art will be more of a priority for her. Speaking for her. [laughs]
That's fine. She's not here to defend herself.
She knew the risks when she didn't show up.
These are things that she said lately. She would like to do more with visual arts, but I think she thinks of that as later on in her life.
Is she the main writer, or who writes what?
Hold on. [to someone else:] They can take a couple of the promos, that's fine, but like one or two. [to SCR:] Okay. Sorry, but we've gotta run the office as well. What was I saying... Oh, songwriting. I wrote most of "Schick Shadel." But she always writes her guitar parts and I always write my bass parts. So someone will come with an initial idea for a song, and then we all sort of play it out together. Kyle and I do a lot of arranging of stuff that she brings in.
How fully formed are the songs when they're brought to the band? Not very, or is there a definite framework?
Sometimes she'll come with a full song and even lyrics, ideas. But mostly, I think it's like one or two parts, maybe, and then we'll sort of play around with it. Or, you know, every once in a while, I will come up with something. That's why I want to quit my job, though, 'cause I wanna be able to practice more, write more. And I just feel sort of burnt out after eight hours of staring at the computer or being on the phone.
You think that that's something that you would do any time in the foreseeable future?
Mmm, I don't know. Everything seems very up in the air right now. I feel like I'm at a crossroads with this. [laughs] With my band and my job. I feel like something's gotta give one way or the other. I just know that if I think about it and I'm like, "Okay, when I'm 35 and I look back at this and I look back at the band and this time in my life, am I gonna regret more the band or the job?" And I think there's a pretty clear answer there. I'll regret not having gone on all those tours.
Do you think it's a catch-22, that your job would help you to book those tours but prevent you from actually being able to go on them, whereas you wouldn't be able to book them but you'd have the opportunity to go on them if you were just with the band? Did that make sense?
Yeah, but I don't, no, I think it would be fine if I wasn't working here. They would have to just hire someone else to do publicity and maybe they'd be more comfortable with it.
Is this the sort of thing that you'd like me to edit out, by the way?
Sure. [laughs] I'm just thinking out loud. No, I actually don't really care. These are not secret thoughts or whatever. These are things that I've just been talking about. I mean, they are sort of personal, I guess. You caught me before I've had caffeine. I'm just sort of, "Bleuh."
Other than touring, how much time do you guys spend with each other?
We kind of spend a lot of time with each other these days. We hang out a lot, which didn't used to be true. But ever since Kyle's been in the band, we're sort of more friends than bandmates, more so than we used to be. But we practice two or three times a week. We just got back from a two-week-long West Coast tour. We're about ready to go to England. There's lot of time spent together.
I know that everybody in the band is in other bands as well.
Not me, anymore. I was in four bands or something. Three bands, four bands at one point.
How did that work out for you?
I think it led to all of this, actually. [laughs]
Talking to me right now?
No, just my freakout. Kill Rock Stars put out 20 records last spring. I was in three bands at that time, I was writing and recording with Bangs. I was playing shows with my other two bands and trying to promote 20 records, and I just sort of lost my mind.
So you quit your other bands.
I had to get my priorities straight. But Sarah plays a lot of music with other people, and it just really seems to get her more excited about it, as opposed to me, I just get more stressed out about it.
What would you say would be the high point in Bangs' career up to now?
There's been a few high points. Our last show at the Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco I think was one of our best shows ever. We just played there like six times and it's sort of become a really comfortable place for us to play, and there's lots of friends and lots of people. But I really think the high point probably was New Zealand and Australia. New Zealand.
What specifically about New Zealand?
Just that we toured in New Zealand. [laughs] I mean, it's kind of a strange place to go for the first country you tour. But it was just a great experience. We played with good bands, we made good friends.
I read that Sarah's afraid of flying.
We all became a little afraid of flying after that trip.
How did you handle the 13-hour flight?
Well, the way home it was 27, 'cause we flew from Melbourne to Auckland, to Auckland to L.A., L.A. to San Jose, San Jose to Seattle... [laughs] And we lost it. We all just lost it. And there was the worst turbulence I've ever experienced on all of the flights. It was really bizarre. It was like some sort of conspiracy. But Sarah and I, we were flying on Qantas, so we had those sleeping masks on. And she was on the window and I was on the aisle and Kyle was in the middle, and he was up watching some terrible movie, like Lucky Numbers or something. [laughs] And I was just drifting off to sleep, and Sarah just can sleep anywhere at any time. She's got a great knack for it.
But this turbulence came out of nowhere that was the worst thing I've ever experienced. I grabbed the armrest and just thought, "Okay, this is it. This is how I die." We dropped hundreds of feet in seconds, and it was just like, "Uh, what's going on?" And the captain came on and was like, [sternly] "Everyone get to your seats immediately!" He just sounded so freaked out. And at no point did he ever say, like, [mellow] "Okay. You know, we're just experiencing a little bit of turbulence, we're gonna go up a couple hundred feet, gonna go down, you know, we're gonna try and figure this out." Nothing like that.
And then it stopped and we felt okay. And Kyle had to get up. He had to go to the bathroom before all this happened, but he'd been stuck in his seat, and he was like, "Oh no, I have to go, I have to pee." And so he got up and as soon as he got in the bathroom, the turbulence started again. And they kept shouting, "Get back to your seats! Get back to your seats!" [laughs] And he was too terrified to come out. But he came back, and it was just... It was awful, it was terrible. And this woman next to us just started throwing up and threw up all the way back for the next five hours.
Then they lost five of our bags as soon as we got to L.A. The only thing we had was our guitars. I would have said that it was the best trip ever had it not been for the flight home. We were all like, "We don't want to fly anywhere for a while!" So we'll see how it goes on the way to England.
That was an interestingly tempered high point of your career.
Well, yeah. The rest of the trip was the high point. It was just somebody wanting us to come over, and knowing that there are people in other countries that want to see us play was incredible.
What would be the low point in your career?
The low point would probably be in between drummers. Just not knowing what we were gonna do. We always sort of sure that we were gonna continue, we just didn't know with who.
Was there any question of you switching back to drums?
No, I think that there's something between Sarah and I that works well the way it is, sharing vocal duties. I think that it just works really well. We had talked about being in another band where I played drums. But -- we were talking about this last night -- it's been so long since I played drums. It's been years, I just stopped. So I decided last night I was gonna start playing again.
This morning I was checking out the Q&A section of the Kill Rock Stars web site, and a lot of the questions revolve around cartoons.
Like somebody compared you guys to Jem and the Holograms...
...asked you who your favorite Care Bear was, and somebody gave you the choice, "Rainbow Brite or Strawberry Shortcake." And there were a bunch of other references to television, like Sanford and Son, Mary Tyler Moore, and The Jeffersons. Why is that?
I have no idea. [laughs] We were talking about this the other day. I was actually going to start asking us questions to spur something else.
What kind of questions would you ask?
I haven't gotten that far. I was just like, "There's no good questions being asked. They're just all silly, wrestling, Three Stooges, I don't know." [laughs] I mean, I admit, I'm a sports fan, but not wrestling. I love basketball and baseball. And gymnastics. I was a gymnast for a long time. I was very serious about it for a while.
Did you have Olympic dreams?
Yes, I did. But I realized even at nine that they had passed for me. I was too old.
Who in the band gets hit on the most?
Oh, Sarah. She would say the other way around, but I think it's Sarah. She might scare people a little more than I do. Well, just 'cause, you know... [and this is where side one of the tape ran out...]
...tape just ran out and I just need to flip it. If you can remember exactly what you just told me...
...could you repeat it?
So you're not going to help me out at all.
No, I will, okay. What was the question? Oh, yeah, who gets hit on the most. Kyle gets hit on a lot, actually, but mostly by other boys. Sarah intimidates them more than I do, I think.
Because she's, um... I can't say this again, can I? [laughs]
You can try.
She's really beautiful and she's got a strong stage personality. She plays guitar with great command and authority. She plays lots of solos. She's sort of tough, you know? I think she scares the boys away, just from talking to her right afterwards. I think she has no...um, never mind. [laughs] I for some reason get boys hitting on me from England and/or Ireland. I just can't wait for that tour. [laughs]
What does your boyfriend think about that?
He thinks it's hilarious. He's not a person to be threatened at all by anything.
Well, now that I've embarrassed you and forced you to answer a question that you didn't want to answer...
Right, and now I'm having that after-interview feeling of, like, "Oh, God, I just told him way too many things about my life!" [laughs] No, I think it's all fine. I'm totally having that after-interview hangover already. Just like the next morning you think, "Oh, God, what did I say to everyone? What was I doing? Was I really dancing around on the table? I don't know."
In the meantime, I would like to offer an apology.
This goes back to a year ago in Cleveland, at the Sleater-Kinney show. I'd been listening to All Hands On The Bad One for probably the last three or four weeks about once a day, which for me is too much.
Oh yeah, I forgot about opening for Sleater-Kinney. That was the funnest part of all of our tours, opening for people.
So now you're going back and trying to change the interview?
No, I'm just, you know... It can just be a conversation between us. I'm just remembering. [laughs] They have the best audience. But tell me more. All Hands On The Bad One, every day for weeks...
So I'd been obsessed with the album, I drove five hours to see them, I ditched a family get-together. And after the show, I was basically stalking them. I'm not proud of it.
You're not the first.
I got everybody's autograph and had random people take pictures of me with members of Sleater-Kinney. And because you were the closest person by, I gave you my camera to take a picture of me with Janet. I decided later, and this might not be true, that you were bitter because I wasn't fawning over you guys as much.
No, no, no.
Because the picture came out out of focus.
Oh, I'm sorry. [laughs] I was actually kind of drunk at that show.
So I felt like that was a cosmic suggestion that perhaps I should apologize to you if I ever got the opportunity.
No, no, not at all, not at all. I'm actually a very shy person, and so I think a lot of people sometimes think I'm grumpy or not very nice. I try. I'm just really sort of socially retarded. Just put it right all out on the line right there.
I was very focused, and if I hadn't been as keyed in on that album, I would have said hello to you guys. And I felt bad afterward.
That's alright. I think I took a lot of pictures with Sleater-Kinney on that tour. They're the stars.
But it was good show. See, I'm trying to make up for the lost time now trying to say what I should have said. "It was a really good show. I really enjoyed 'Southern Girls.'"
[laughs] Are you a Cheap Trick fan, as well?
Yeah. I saw them for the first time on the 4th of July, I think it was 1998. It was a great show, but it was strange because there was a couple that had just gotten married and they were there.
The guy was in his tux, the woman was in her wedding dress, and this is on the park in front of the Indianapolis War Memorial. It had rained earlier in the day, so it was muddy. This woman was in her wedding dress, standing in the middle of mud with her new husband rocking out to Cheap Trick, and then they started fights with people.
Oh, my God...
It was just one of the most surreal things I'd ever seen.
Right, it sounds sort of depressing. [laughs] I've never seen Cheap Trick. But they're playing in Seattle in less than a month and our friend Chad who used to be our booking agent runs the club. So we're gonna get in. It's our goal as a band right now to open for them. So we're gonna get in and we're gonna try to harass them. It's gonna be a disaster. [laughs]
But it'll be a great story for the future.
Right. "We're one of like probably 80 to 100 bands that's probably approached you about, you know, [lamely] 'We cover one of your songs, We really wanna open for you.'" You know, it's just not gonna work. [laughs] But I just want to see them play, more than anything.
For a band whose prime was literally 20 years ago, Robin Zander's voice...
I know, I love his voice.
It's stronger, clearer and more powerful than people 25 years his junior. I was standing in the front row the next time they played, in a club without fighting newlyweds in attendance. The man looked like he was going to burst just a massive bloodvessel in his forehead at all times. But lungs of leather.
That's something to aspire to.
And it's like Rick Nielsen doesn't even play guitar. He just forms chords, grabs about 500 guitar picks, strums them all and then throws them out into the audience.
Yeah, we played a stage after they did once in Portland. We played with Sleater-Kinney at this place called the Luna, and they had played there the night before, and it was covered with Nielsen picks. We were so excited, and they had little Xes where they were supposed to stand. I was like, "Sarah, look, I'm Tom Petersson!" And we used their picks for the rest of the tour, and they broke. Like I never saw such terrible picks. [laughs]
Maybe that's why he doesn't use them. Maybe that's why he throws them out to the audience.
Exactly. But, you know, they wouldn't work for a bass. They were definitely guitar picks, but they kept breaking for Sarah.
Do you ever get tempted to get a 12-string bass?
Nah. I'm all about simplicity. I have a Ramones tattoo. I have a strong simplistic aesthetic.
Why a tattoo of the Ramones, specifically?
This is a long story, can we get into this? [clears throat] My parents listened to the Ramones in the late '70s. We always sort of danced around the living room and sang Ramones songs. I mean, it's perfect for a kid who's 4 years old, 4 or 5. It's high energy, it just goes right along with the mentality. Everything about it just works. And they just remained my favorite band growing up, and it was sort of at that point when I came back from college and was losing my mind and reminded myself of who I was, what I was all about. They're just a really personal band for me. In the next Punk Planet, I had to put together this article about Joey Ramone.
How did you take the news of his death?
Not very well. I knew he was sick. We'd emailed each other a few times because Kill Rock Stars put out a Ronnie Spector EP [She Talks To Rainbows] and he produced and sang some of the songs. We sort of worked together on that project but we never met each other, and I was really disappointed with that. He was always sick, and everyone surrounding him was always like, "Joey's not well, he's sick from years of touring," but they never said cancer or anything. I just sort of assumed that. Then when I talked to our friend Jonathan, who's Ronnie Spector's manager and husband, and he told me that Joey was in the hospital, I was like, "Oh, no, this is gonna be it." And I was out working in my garden listening to a baseball game. This is how exciting my life is. But the news bulletin came on in the middle of that, and I just started crying and crying and crying. It was awful.
When you were working on the Ronnie Spector CD, did you get to work at all with Ronnie? Did you meet her?
Mm-hmm. Yeah, I met Ronnie a few times. I'm good friends with her husband now. They're good people.
How does somebody like Ronnie Spector end up on a label like Kill Rock Stars and named Kill Rock Stars?
Right. It was Joey's idea for her to send the stuff to us. I think that she really really really has been screwed over by managers and producers and ex-husbands and record labels. Hers is a really pretty tragic story. She's an incredible talent and she just wanted to do things on her own terms, I think. I think Joey was really helping her with that. It's amazing to hear her sing now live. It's incredible. I don't know that I've ever known anyone with talent like that.
Is she working on anything else with the label?
I don't know what her next stuff is going to be, and I know that it's not finished yet. She actually collaborated with Keith Richards on this next one.
I know. I love the idea. Kill Rock Stars. Keith Richards. [laughs] But I don't think it's gonna happen.
That would definitely be worth hearing, though.
Yeah, it's incredible. I've heard three songs off of it. They burned a CD for me of the three songs they recorded and it's great. It's incredible, and there's one song that Keith plays guitar on, and then there's another one where he plays guitar, but it's an Ike and Tina cover, and so they're doing duelling vocals.
Ronnie Spector and Keith Richards duelling vocals.
Yes. Hilarious. I mean, his are mostly spoken. But it's actually a really good song. You see, those are the benefits of my job. I've had really great experiences. I've met most of my heroes. It's been a good job and maybe it will continue to be for a while. Maybe I can get someone to sub for me while I go on tour. Maybe Jackson can learn how to answer the phones. He's sleeping in the closet right now.
Whose dog is Turbo, then?
Turbo is Tina's. She's the production manager. She has three dogs. Turbo, Flopsy and Aki.
Are we going to see a Flopsy's Favorites next?
Yes, we are.
So that's going to be the actual title?
Yeah. [laughs] It all comes from this old sort of Vail family tradition. When we go on car trips, we'd each get a side to a tape, and we'd get to put our favorite songs on it. It'd be like "Maggie's Music," "Tobi's Tunes."
What are you doing next? Are you working on a new album?
Bangs? Yes. We've just written the first two songs for our new record. We've been practicing, finally.
Can you sing part of it for me?
Actually, there's no vocals yet. We're just working on the instrument part. But, yeah, we're just starting to write the new record. Kyle broke his wrist last fall. We were out of commission for six months, so we didn't write any new songs, which was kind of stupid, but we just sort of busied ourselves with other things.
Other bands. I was working with the other bands I was in pretty heavily then. But then they both broke up about the same time. So that all worked out right when it was time for us to start getting active again. We wanna record either in late September, early October. We're getting hopefully some money from this movie that we might have a song in.
What movie is that?
It's called The Glass House. It's like a Hollywood movie with Leelee Sobieski. It's her first million dollar movie. And Bruce Dern and Diane Lane are in it. I like both of them a lot. If that really comes through, then we're gonna get a ton of money and we're gonna buy a really nice van and we're gonna start touring like crazy.
It hit me a while back that if she wants it, Leelee Sobieski is going to pretty much rule Hollywood for the next 40 years.
She could very well choose sort of a sideways career, and more power to her if she wants that, but she obviously is very talented.
I always envy that. What would that feel like? Like just to have like a really incredible voice. That's what I would want more than anything, I think. Just to wake up and be able to sing whatever I wanted.
Sarah's tour diary [posted on the Kill Rock Stars Website] was a lot of fun to read. The impression that I got from it was one disaster after another punctuated by some great shows. Is that accurate?
Yeah, but I think that we all really enjoy the disasters.
There was no indication that they were incapacitating disasters.
Yeah, we all sort of start to lose it. Except for maybe Kyle's shoes. They're fine now. [laughs]
They have been broken in, then. [Kyle had purchased new shoes that turned out to be too tight. It was all in the tour diary, I swear.]
Yes. I was pretty alarmed when I got in the van and I was like, "Is Kyle drunk? Is he passed out?" [laughs] "What's going on?" He's like, "My shoes! My shoes!"
I was more concerned about the Pomona show where they cancelled and didn't bother telling you.
Yes. That's gotta happen at least once on a tour. The thing is, I love touring more than anything in the world. I could do it all year long. I don't think Kyle feels that way.
Do you prefer touring to recording?
Recording is not really that enjoyable. [laughs] Or at least, it hasn't been so far. I mean, it's great to sit down and listen to playback maybe the first couple of times and think like, "Oh, this sounds really good, I'm really excited about this." And it's fun to do some of it, but it's monotonous. You have to play it over and over and over again. You have to listen to your songs a million times, and then you just sort of lose all perspective.
And then by that time, you're ready to go out and play the same songs every night.
Yeah. I love playing live. There's nothing better.
Do you guys ever consider just recording your next album live at a show?
Nah. [laughs] I have never heard a show of ours actually sound very good, played back to me.
Doesn't that worry you at all?
I mean, it's not good enough for a record. We're all perfectionists. We wouldn't allow a live record, is more of what I mean. Nothing I've heard sounds good enough to record. I actually like writing songs better than I like recording them. That part is equally as fun to me as playing live.
You talked earlier about how your songs are generally fairly apolitical. I speak as someone who's only heard Sweet Revenge and not Tiger Beat, though the name suggests that I might not be completely off for that one, too, but one thing I've noticed is a lot of your songs deal with teenage themes.
And we're not teenagers. [laughs]
Just how every single little detail has the capacity to have cataclysmic ramifications.
That comes from Sarah and I both being Virgos. To get into the astrological side of things. [laughs] No, Sarah and I are both people that have a really hard time confronting people and problems. I think that we're both getting better at it, but we write about things that we can't really talk to people about, I think. At least I do. "Schick Shadel" is all about that.
What exactly does the title mean?
Schick Shadel is a Northwest rehab center. [laughs] They had all these commercials in the '80s. It was like, "Go there to dry out. For ten days and a couple of two day followups and you'll be sober." You know, it was obviously a thing that didn't really work, just sort of a quick fix rehab. And they have them all over, they're a chain.
And you used that as a metaphor.
For my best friend being in a destructive relationship. So that song's actually not about a boy. Nobody thinks that.
That it's not about a guy named Schick Shadel?
No. Well, everyone thinks our songs are all about boys. Well, they sort of are. [laughs]
I certainly didn't mean to indicate, by the way, when saying that they have teenage themes that that was necessarily a bad thing.
Right. No, I didn't take it that way. I'm comfortable with our themes.
I'm a huge Undertones fan, so I am all over teenage themes. And certainly it's a lot more interesting than the music that the actual teenagers are making.
Right. But there's teenagers in New Zealand that are making good music, though. There's this band called the Coolies. They're insane. We toured with them. They're great.
I've not heard of them. Ever since I was there, I try and keep up as much as possible. Which obviously is not nearly enough anymore, apparently. I've never heard of the Coolies.
I really want to go back. I'm trying to figure that out, too. We did not get to the South Island at all. We did a tour of the North Island. We played in Palmerston North, Hamilton, Wellington. We stayed in Rotorua for a night.
Did you like the sulfur? [Rotorua is home to a great deal of volcanic activity, with geysers, mud pools and hot springs, and the town is suffused with the smell of sulfur.]
We were in all of the van and one of the girls in the Coolies opened the window, 'cause we toured with them, and she yelled out the window, "Your town smells like shit!" [laughs] So that was one of the highlights of the tour. Rotorua was great, though. We sat in some hot springs and looked at the stars in the Southern Hemisphere.
About two months into my time there, it suddenly occurred to me that when I looked up, I was seeing things that I'd never seen before in my entire life.
Right. I got really excited about that when I realized that as well.
I tried to get a couple other Americans interested in that and they just didn't care.
How could you not care? It's exciting.
Like, "Don't you understand that the planet that we're on, we normally see one side of the universe. We're looking at the other one right now." You know, "That's the Southern Cross."
Yeah, that was the only one that we could really identify.
Well, almost everything else is just navigation equipment. Which I always thought was sort of a raw deal for the people in the Southern Hemisphere. You know, we get bulls and warriors and they get sextants and compasses.
Right. We get all the astrological constellations. I don't know where those are, though. I can identify Orion and the Big Dipper, and the North Star, usually.
Casseopeia's a W.
Okay. I'll look for that one.
That's my gift to you.
Maybe next week. We were talking about going camping for the Fourth of July at practice last night. See, that's how well we're getting along these days. We're talking about a band camping trip for the Fourth of July. Maybe we'll look for Casseopeia.
Do you guys take instruments with you?
Keep it a music-free weekend.
Mm-hmm. Well, actually, maybe we'll ask Sarah to bring her acoustic guitar. See what happens. [laughs] I was like, "We should write songs on the beach in Australia." Mmm, doesn't happen.
Where in Australia did you guys go?
Just Melbourne and Sydney. We played something like six or seven shows in Melbourne.
Did you do any travelling outside of those two cities at all?
Only to go to the sanctuary outside of Melbourne, really. We didn't travel as much as we should have in Australia. We never even went to the beach in Australia. We just went to the beach in New Zealand.
Well, they have jellyfish in Australian beaches sometimes.
Right. Saw lots of crocodiles...
That's more reason to go back, right?
Right. That's true. We have things left to do there. Next year when our record comes out, we want to go to Japan, Australia. We wanna tour Europe, we're trying to get our record licensed over there. Now working on China, U.S. World domination. But I don't know, 'cause it'll be the rise of Sleater-Kinney again. Sleater-Kinney are coming back in 2002 as well, so we may have to share some of that limelight.
It almost sounds like they're treated as kind of the royalty of the Kill Rock Stars label. Is that an accurate assessment?
Well, no. I would think I would be that way even if I didn't work here, you know? I mean, they're a great band that really deserves everything they have. I'm kind of a fan. They're great, they're consistent, they're modern.
And, oddly, they're improving. I'm always perplexed when a band that supposedly is at its peak, as they were supposed to be at Dig Me Out, actually continues to get better.
I feel that way about the new Unwound record [Leaves Turn Inside You]. Everyone says that their peak was Repetition, or some people say it was New Plastic Ideas, but I think the new Unwound record is brilliant.
I scoured the web this morning to see what questions that I was preparing to ask that had been asked five hundred thousand times already before. Most of which were all the questions that I was going to ask.
Well, the answers change eventually, you know? You think about it more.
I pretty much killed the question about where the band name came from.
[laughs] It came from a friend. Actually, Sarah's friend suggested it to her, and we thought about it a long time. We liked all the different connotations.
How come you haven't been sued by the same band that sued the Bangles into changing their name from "the Bangs"?
You'll notice there's no "the" before Bangs. That was what that band was called. We were really adamant about no "the." We thought maybe that would separate us. And I haven't heard anything at all, it's kind of odd. It's very strange. But I just like it anyway, just "Bangs." 'Cause I sort of think of it like the noise, like a bang, or hair bangs. Not "the." Even our label gets it wrong every once in a while. If you'll notice the top spine of the last CD, it says "The Bangs." I got so mad. "Not 'the!'"
Well, I've been talking your ear off.
That's all right. I think it's probably the other way around.
But you're supposed to do that. You're the one who's actually being interviewed. I'm the one who's supposed to ask a simple quick question and then just nod and go, "Mm-hmm" as you give me your answer.
Right, but then I probably would not have divulged so much information. [laughs, kinda mischievously, actually]
Well, you have my email, and you can always send death threats to the magazine when the article comes out.
Right. "He's making all of that up! I never said that!"
"I would never say anything as stupid like that about Qantas!"
[laughs] Oh, God. So that's the thing, every time I get interviews back, I will read them and just think, "I am so inarticulate, it's unbelievable. I sound like a fucking idiot."
I hope that since this was technically promotion and publicity for one of the Kill Rock Stars bands, the 90 minutes that we've been talking is not going to cause you any trouble.
It will all be fine. I've actually been doing other things as well. I'm multitasking. I've been answering email, getting guest list information together, so lots of other things are going on over here.
Then I apologize for nothing.