Finally, Someone Discusses the Best Music of 2010

This is a few days late but really, who cares? Top five (not feeling too ambitious right now; 2010 is in the past, man, etc etc) albums from last year.

1. Against Me! – White Crosses

The thing I really like about Against Me is that they change their sound on each album in a way that’s interesting and not forced. If they re-did their first album every time around, it would obviously be old and ridiculous by now. But on the flipside, if they started cramming in string sections and weird time signatures just to show they’re “expanding”, it would be terrible too, in a different and even worse way. It’s a dilemma (maybe “a dilemma” is a little much; replace that with “something” or “shit”) every band has to deal with at some point, and I think they’ve done a nice job of handling it. I don’t like every song they do, but you could plausibly argue that each album is better than the one before it, and each is different in an interesting way. There are barely any bands you can say that about. Sleater Kinney would be one. Superchunk, too (they didn’t get better with each album, but every album sounded unique and yet still like Superchunk). And probably Jawbreaker. That puts Against Me in good company, and it makes it so I’m excited to hear what they’ll do next, as it won’t be another stab at their existing formula; it’ll probably be something totally new and different.

This particular album sounds like really, really, really well-done 80s music to me. Not “80s” in the way that most people mean, with Casio riffs and prominent snare hits and vaguely dance-y bass lines. I mean “80s” as in music that was actually popular in the 80s. “80s Music” is a simplified, revisionist genre that doesn’t really represent how bad the decade was. Similar in a way, I guess, to people thinking “Disco” immediately when someone says “70s Music”, even though that wasn’t a big deal for the bulk of the decade. I suppose years from now (or already?), the same thing will apply to “90s Music” and Grunge.

White Crosses isn’t 80s Music in that dumbed-down sense; it actually sounds like real 80s music, perfected. I think the music that was popular in 80s is worse than horseshit (I’d rather listen to horseshit, literally, like put my ear near it, than listen to an entire Debbie Gibson album), but with this record it’s as if Against Me took the scattered slivers of redeemable qualities out of it and turned it into something great.

I’m getting a bit into the weeds here as I realize I’m not exactly a connoisseur of 80s pop singles, and might be talking a load of crap here. To test this I just Googled “1985 Billboard Hits” and picked one of the top ones I didn’t recognize. ‘Broken Wings’ by Mr. Mister. I checked it out to see if it bears any resemblance to the Against Me album.

I didn’t recognize the song at all until the chorus hit, at which point “Oh shit, THIS song” hit me. This song is awful. And it perfectly summarizes actual “80s Music” for me.

On top of that, it DOES sort of remind me of White Crosses! If someone took Broken Wings and made it fucking awesome, it would fit in perfectly on White Crosses.

So: for changing things up in a great way from their previous catalogue, and for making a seemingly awful sub-genre of music sound sweet, this gets Album of the Year for me

I spent too much time on this, so look for numbers 2-5 in a day or two!

-Nate

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Banner Pilot LP3 Update #3: Trimming the Fat, Increasing the Phat

(cross posted at the Banner Pilot Tumblr page)

Well, it’s some random day of the month, so you know what that means: a Banner Pilot Album Three Songwriting Update!

Let’s recap. When I posted the last update we had 6 or 7 songs. We’ve scrapped a couple of those since then and added a few more. Most of these new ones have been in the last three weeks; in other words, you could say that we’re on fire. Well, maybe not “fire”. Maybe “a roll”. Or “a tentatively encouraging pace.” Yeah. Kick ass.

Granted, most of these new ones aren’t sure things, and in some cases we don’t even have vocal melodies sorted out yet. But they *feel* like they have a good chance of working out, unlike the vast majority of Rough Ideas we have, where the feeling is closer to, “Eh, well maybe this might be OK at some point, possibly.” You can just tell sometimes. The sketchy ones are similar to a Bad Job Interview…. halfway into it you have a bad feeling, and while there’s a tiny chance you could turn things around, it’s pretty clear you’re screwed. At a certain point, further investment of time is pointless and it’s better to stand up and say, “You and your battery charger factory can go shove it, mister.” And then you walk up the street and start fresh somewhere else. Like a Jamba Juice.

That’s what we did recently: abandoned song ideas that were, upon further inspection, probably futile. And there were a LOT of these. I mean, as recently as two weeks ago we had tons and tons of rough ideas and random riffs and stitched together chord progressions, most of which were sad and unfinished and directionless. Looking now in my iTunes folder, I count 203 demo files. Granted, there are duplicates, but still: it’s SEVEN POINT TWO HOURS of mostly crappy demos. Most of them are just rough ideas I came up with in Garage Band, some are recordings of the live band at the practice space, some have vocals, some don’t. Most of it is no good, and again: 203 files, SEVEN HOURS.

Having this crushing volume of ideas floating around turned out to be counterproductive. “What should I work on? Something in the “LP3 – September Best” folder, or maybe ‘LP3 – Older Crap Heap’? Didn’t ‘Spanish Reds – Alt Vocals Sept 2’ have a cool part? Wait, was ‘Wimpy Riff’ the track I wanted, or was it ‘Chorus Idea – Track 7 (2)”?”

Total confusion. So we went through basically every file we had a couple weeks ago and ruthlessly discarded 99% of them. Now it’s way easier to tell where we’re at, and to focus on the songs that actually have a chance of seeing the light of day. Before it was “7 pretty good songs and 40+ ideas that have cool parts here and there that maybe we can combine stuff from and blah blah”; now it’s “these 10 songs have the best chance of working out, and these other 4 have some cool parts. The end.” WAY easier. The end result will be an album that’s much better than if we were just like, “Screw it, the 12 songs that are closest to being done, boom, there’s our album.”

So there you go. There’s the update. Next time: a discussion on song tempos! Whoo hoo!

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Banner Pilot LP3 Update #2: Droppin’ Ds

(See previous post. This update is from October, I think)

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What do you folks think about Drop D? It’s a phrase that causes me to cringe, or at least gulp, at first but then with further reflection my hesitation eases a little. See, first impression I think of something in the Korn / Limp Bizkit vein, a vein that is no good. But there’s also a few good indie and punk songs that pull it off. (‘Chinatown’ by Jets to Brazil comes to mind. Also… Ok, I’m drawing a blank, but other examples do exist!)

I guess I should explain: Drop D means you drop the tuning of the lowest string on the guitar. Usually E, it goes down – or drops, get it? – to D. What happens after that depends on what you do with it. It makes power chords easier to play, and you can do a lot of goofy sounding stuff on the lower frets (this is what falls under the Korn camp).

But there are also a few neat tricks you can do, things that don’t make it sound like you have dreadlocks and are about to yell, “Step the fuck back!” or “Ruahkakaka!” or something. For one, you can play octaves on the A string but also hit the open dropped D, which makes a nice Jawbreaker-y effect on the right frets. And just playing a ‘normal’ punk progression suddenly has a cool, darker sound to it.

I’ve written two song ideas in Drop D for the new album. Obviously, they are not in the Korn camp. Dummy titles are “Blinders” and “Lightsleep”. The initial demos were a little shaky, but we’ve done some cool stuff to them as a full band and i’m now pretty confident both songs will end up on the final album. TWO drop d songs— who would have guessed?

The other weird/different thing I wanted to try on this record was a song in 6/8. But what I came up with sucked. So, fuck that 6/8 shit! Drop D is where it’s at.

In fact, do you think “Stop, Drop D, and Roll” would be a good album title? Like, all of us adjusting our tunings in the middle of a fire….. could be awesome.

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Banner Pilot LP3 Update #1: It Begins

(My band Banner Pilot is currently writing and demoing our third album, a process I’ve been sporadically documenting over at our Tumblr page. I figured I’d start cross-posting the updates here. To catch things up, I’m posting the first two updates. This one was originally posted in August, I think).

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(Look for a few dozen of these in the months to come. They will probably be boring and inane one-by-one, but could be cool as a whole months from now when the record is almost done. Maybe? Maybe!)

Starting to make decent progress on things. Right now, here is where we are at: I have about 40 song ideas on my computer. The vast majority of these are garbage; stitched together chord progressions and random guitar noodling that tries, unsuccessfully, to hit on a good vocal melody idea. But! About 8 or 9 of them seem potentially good enough to end up as keeper songs. Of these, we’ve tackled 4 or 5 as a full band, recording demo versions at the practice space.

Just in the last week, we’ve recorded two of them. ‘Spanish Reds’ and ‘Sleep it Off’. As with all of these, they’re just dummy song titles I make up on the spot when forced to name the drum-machine file. Sometimes, they stick (“Drains to the Mississippi”, “Skeleton Key”, etc), but usually not. (“Spit Out” was originally called “TV Ears Saved Our Marriage”, because that was the text of a magazine ad that happened to be opened up on the table when I named the file).

I think these two tunes will both end up on the album. Sometimes you can tell. On the last album, there were songs that immediately felt like keepers, and others (like a song we named “Blue Ribbon” because… well, take a guess at what might have been in the room when we wrote the song) are more like “I think this might be OK? I mean, maybe?”, which is a sign they’ll get scrapped later. These two, though, seem to fall in the former camp. Good sign!

Danny said the prechorus to Spanish Reds reminds him of an Andrew WK part. That seems good to me.

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Introductory Post

I’m not entirely sure what, if anything, I’ll use this blog for; the main purpose of this website is to put all the music and writing stuff I’m working on, or have worked on, in one spot. The blog is an afterthought…. I’m more of an edit-it-to-death-first kind of writer so the more spontaneous nature of blog writing doesn’t come naturally to me. Nevertheless, I’ll give it a shot, and you can expect to see posts on here sporadically, maybe a handful a month.

I had to put up “categories” on the top there so the site didn’t look empty; they represent the rough ideas I have for subject matter. Random observations, reviews of terrible books I’ve found at thrift stores, Minneapolis-specific stuff, wine reviews by someone who knows very little about wine… stuff like that. I’m  sure I’ll fine tune all of that and have a better idea of which subjects make more sense in the weeks and months to come.

The only category that has more than one test post at this point is “Interviews.” That was by far the easiest part of setting this website up: linking to interviews that already exist on the web. Rad.

I leave for tour tomorrow so maybe I’ll be bored enough on the road to update this a few times. If not, check back in a couple weeks.

Fun fact: the image here was on the first page of a Google Image Search for the word “introduction”!

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Punknews 2009 Interview

Here’s a Banner Pilot interview Nick and I did for Punknews in 2009. Check it out below, or on their site.

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With their inaugural release on Fat Wreck Chords, Collapser, available today, Nick and Nate from Minneapolis’ Banner Pilot spoke with Punknews’ Zack Zeigler regarding the differences betweenCollapser and their last release, Resignation Day, how comments – both positive and negative – from Punksnews’ readers can actually make a difference in the band and the steps Banner Pilot takes to ensure the production of their records don’t fall into the “mall-punk” category.

There are high hopes for your first Fat Wreck Chords’ release; did you feel the pressure during the writing or production of Collapser?

Nate: You know, not really. 99 percent of the writing took place before we signed, and the actual recording process was pretty laid back and fun. I feel like we really prepared for the recording and had everything written and ready to go, so there wasn’t a lot of pressure or stress. We knew we could play the songs and didn’t need to write a ton of parts on the fly or anything.

I guess the first couple days were a little stressful because we thought we’d be banging out four or five songs a day and that didn’t happen. But once we adjusted to the pace of a couple songs a day and accepted the fact that we’d have to book extra days, it was a blast.

It’s interesting though, I guess if we had signed *before* writing any of the songs it would have been a little different. I think there might have been more second-guessing going on while we were working on the songs. As it was, Fat had heard demos for 11 of the 12 songs before we even went into the studio, so there wasn’t the worry of handing the album in and them being like “Oh shit, we didn’t know that you guys totally suck.”

Sometimes punk music all sounds the same, so what will help separate Collapser from slipping into that category?

Nate: I think the fact that we distort our guitars and have gruff vocals should set us apart. Nah, I don’t know. In some ways I don’t think it’ll happen. I think, for example, that if you walked into a nursing home with a boombox and played Simple Plan and then Banner Pilot, you’d have a ton of old people yelling at you to turn it off, you’re waking up the dead, it all sounds the same, etc. You just have to do your best and hope that someone who is actually into punk music will notice any differences.

Nick: Yep – a guy I work with told me we sound just like the Offspring on numerous occasions. Who am I to argue? I usually just tell non-punk fans who ask that we sound kinda like the Ramones or Green Day.

Nate: Also, we definitely didn’t have an attitude of “we need to stand out and be different” with the record. That sort of mindset can lead to weird places where you’re forcing things – “Hey, let’s add…. a… flute?” – into your songs. You should just figure out what you can pull off and try to get really good at it.

Why is Banner Pilot getting popular? No disrespect in the question, but there are bands that never have or never will achieve the same success as you guys. So what makes your band different? Is it your work ethic? The personalities in the band? Do you all have the same goals? Or are you just that good?

Nick: How dare you, sir.

Nate: Well, this isn’t false modesty, but we’re really not that popular. To the extent that there’s some people out there who have heard our band and like it, I guess some of that might be because we do spend a fair amount of time on the songs. For every 50 song ideas I write on my computer at home, we’ll end up using five or six. And I think if we had the mindset of “the first twelve songs we come up with, there’s our album,” less people would like our band than do now.

There’s a line that punk rock fans sometimes obsess over when it comes to an album’s production. How do you guys decide if it’s too much or too little? Did you run into that at all with Collapser? Who – if anyone outside of the band – do you lean on for advice on that?

Nate: It’s definitely something we try to give a lot of attention to. Usually we start by playing the engineer records we like the sound of so they know off the bat what we’re shooting for. Then you kind of sit back a little and trust that the engineer knows what they’re doing, but still pipe up if it seems like something isn’t quite coming together. I think it worked – I’m really, really happy with how Collapser ended up sounding. I do think if we had pushed it too much further it would have bordered on over-produced, but as-is I really like where it’s at.

Of course, there’s also a difference between “really good” and “overproduced.” For example, none of the major label Green Day albums are overproduced; they’re all just really well-recorded. Whereas some of the mall-punk shit is comically overproduced. I like to think we wouldn’t ever end up with something that’s overproduced, even if we had some crazy budget, because none of us like how that shit sounds. I think other bands might aim for it. I mean, I’m guessing a band called something like Autumn’s Fall *wants* to sound like overproduced crap; we don’t, so it’s not that difficult to avoid, even if we had the means to accomplish it.

(Note: I have no idea if there is actually a band called Autumn’s Fall. But if there is, they must suck)

Nick: We definitely wanted to up the production for this record. I wasn’t really happy with the sound on Resignation Day – I kept thinking shit would improve dramatically in mastering but it didn’t work out that way – I came home with my copy and played it alongside songs by bands like the Copyrights and D4 and thought, “Fuck, this is too high-end.” Off With Their Heads’ From the Bottom sounded awesome, and that was recorded by Jacques Wait, who also had done Soviettes’ records (and Dear Landlord this spring). We asked him to record it and basically trusted him to make it sweet. I’m totally stoked on how it turned out.

Do you ever check out the comments on Punknews.org in response to any news about you guys? Do you even care?

Nate: Yeah, I definitely check out the comments; it’s fun to hear feedback on stuff. If someone doesn’t like something, and it’s useful criticism, I’ll keep it in mind for later. With the last album a fair amount of people said the songs sounded too similar, so when I was writing the basic ideas for the songs on this album I tried to force myself to try some new things. So getting that kind of feedback was useful.

On the other hand, if the criticism is “blows. new Thrice album fuckin’ owns this wussy girl music crap”, then…. I mean, that’s cool, you know? It’s worth a shrug or a grin and that’s about it. You’ll never have *everyone* liking something you do. And the other thing is, it’s just music. No one is going to be harmed by your record. If Banner Pilot, instead of making punk records, made pacemakers, I would be totally freaked out if people were like “ugh, these suck.”

Nick: I read the comments, but focus on those by posters with great musical taste like Scarysmurf, nocigar and 14theroad. I remember reading Dan Vapid say he never reads Methadones reviews, but I can’t help myself. Because of that, I’ve also seen such gems as “this CD was so wussy I gave it to my girlfriend” and “Banner Pilot would do better as a punk rock cover band.”

Is the goal as a band to stay the course, keep doing what you’re doing (because it seems to be working out well for you), or are you guys trying to find ways to explore new things?

Nate: One thing bands always run into is whether they should stick to what they know or try new things. Think about how often you see arcs like this:

1. Band X releases a well-received album. It introduces the “Band X Sound”

2. Band X releases a followup. It sounds basically like the first album but it’s not as good.

3. Stung by criticism that they’re a one trick pony, Band X releases a new album, saying “We want to expand our horizons and explore new sonic soundscapes. We don’t want to be restricted by tired old formulas. We’re breaking new ground. Keyboards are sweet now. Blah blah”. Their new album sounds totally different. It also sucks.

4. Band X says “We’re going back to basics. We don’t want to forget our roots. Longtime fans are in for some of the original fury that made Band X shatter preconceived notions of the human experience blah blah blah”

I mean, that happens all the time. So you have to try find the middle ground of not losing why people liked you in the first place, but also not falling into a rut. Finding that sweet spot is tough; not many bands pull it off.

I’d say that Jawbreaker and Against Me are great examples of pulling it off – each of their albums sounds different, but not in a forced way. And even though I like 24 Hour Revenge Therapy the most, I think I’d like Jawbreaker less if instead of releasing what they did, they just released four 24 Hour clones and Unfun/Bivouac/Dear You never existed. Superchunk and Sleater Kinney are two other examples of bands that pulled it off well.

Nick: I feel like we’re just getting better at we do, which is pop-punk, and I’m happy with that – that’s the music I love. On Collapser, we definitely did try to do some new stuff, more mid-tempo like “Starting at an Ending” and “Write it Down” which I was originally thinking could be acoustic when I wrote it. We may still try to cash in on the folk-punk wave though.

Sometimes, the better you become as a band, the more people like to try to tear you down. Is that happening to Banner Pilot? Is that from jealousy? Does that affect you?

Nate: Uh, I guess I haven’t noticed anyone trying to tear us down. Is that happening? Are there people out there trying to destroy us? I’m picturing some guy watching us through a monitor, stroking a cat and saying “Soon, my pretty.”

Nah, I dunno – I guess I haven’t really seen/heard that. If it’s people who are basically just like “We don’t like your band”, then who cares? I suppose something like what Against Me went through would bother me, but that’s not going to happen to a band of our size.

You’re playing The Fest this year. Any bands you want to see that you’ve never seen?

Nate: I need to sit down and go through all the bands on the website. Last year I did that and made a point of seeing as many new bands as possible. It was great. I stumbled on all sorts of great sets from bands I never knew of beforehand.

Nick: 7 Seconds! I played the shit out of The Crew back in high school. Other bands that I don’t see that often that I’ll make a point to check out include Bridge and Tunnel, Lemuria, Monikers, Dopamines, Menzingers and Toys that Kill.

Do you prefer playing festivals or shows? Are the short sets at festivals a positive or a negative draw for Banner Pilot? Or does it not matter as long as you’re playing to a crowd?

Nate: If it’s a fest against a single show, then I prefer a fest, no question. Tons of bands, including bands you don’t usually see live, a bunch of friends from across the country in one place… it’s great! If you’re comparing a fest to a tour, then you have plusses and minuses. Tours have more variety to them, and you have the bonus of being able to check out a new city each day.

But even then, I guess I prefer fests. They’re a lot of fun.

What’s wrong with a band that makes money? It seems, sometimes, that once a band starts to cash-in from their hard work – even without taking any short cuts – there are still ignorant fans that can’t wait to lump that band in with people who take the easy route. What’s up with that?

Nate: There’s nothing wrong with a band making money. Well, if it’s like “Hey, check out it out, Autumn’s Fall has teamed up with Vault soda to quench your thirst in a totally kickass way. Buy their new album Carbonate and get a coupon inside for free ringtones and a 20-oz. soda”, then it’s pretty fucking stupid. But in general, if you’re mad that a band has worked hard enough where they’re able to make some money off of what they do, then you are pretty stupid and spend your time getting worked up about ridiculous things.

Nick: Yep – in my opinion it just shouldn’t be what’s driving you. If you’re changing your music and image to make money, your shit isn’t from the heart and I don’t want to hear it. “Guys, my analysis shows that through the application of eye-liner we can boost sales by five percent” – Sorry, ya lost me.

Which three bands would you like to be mentioned in the same breath with? Which three would you consider an honor to be compared to when your career playing music is over?

Nate: Jawbreaker, Lawrence Arms, and Screeching Weasel would be cool. Those are all bands I’ve liked a lot over the years, and bands that I think kids will still be getting into for years to come.

Nick: Sounds right to me!

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Punknews 2008 Interview

Here’s a Banner Pilot interview Nick and I did back in 2008 for Punknews. Check it out below or on their site.

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While the actual release date keeps getting pushed back, Minneapolis, Minnesota’a Banner Pilot really have finished their debut full-length, Resignation Day. The follow-up to their 2006 EP, Pass the Poison, shouldn’t disappoint those who loved the band’s blend of Lawrence Arms, Dillinger Four and Jawbreaker-esque punk rock.

Punknews interviewer Zack Zeigler talked to the band’s vocalist/guitarist Nick and bassist Nate regarding their approach to the new album and what people can expect.

Have you noticed anything different about Resignation Day, the sound or the lyrics, opposed to Pass the Poison? What, if anything, persuaded that change in sound/direction?

Nate: Not really; I wouldn’t say we’re “going in a new direction” or “broadening our horizons” or whatever. I think the songwriting is better, but we’re definitely not doing anything drastically different, like adding keyboards or anything ridiculous like that.

Nick: We’ll save that for LP #2 — but we did try to mix it up the tempo more on this record! We play both speeds, 190 and 200 BPM. Lyrically I still draw a lot of inspiration from John Fante’s books and write songs about life’s challenges and coping mechanisms — yah know, screwy girls and drinking.

You released your first demo in 2005, what’s changed in you as a band since that release?

Nick: We got a non-digital drummer! He’s not as reliable and you have to feed him but he’s a better conversationalist.

Nate: Besides Danny [the drummer], I think that playing shows and writing songs has made us a better band since the 2005 incarnation — but not really different. I guess it’s sort of like the first question, not to disappoint, but we haven’t gone on any spiritual quests or anything over the last couple years. I like to think that the EP was an improvement on the demo and the new record is an improvement on that.

But who knows? I mean, every band thinks their new stuff is their best album yet. You never hear a band say “Aww, this new record is a fucking joke. We got high half the time and did stupid shit like hiring a tuba player and running all the vocals through a wah wah pedal. Ughh. Seriously, just get the last album.” Nope, it’s always, “We’re really stoked about the new album and we think it’s our best yet.” And then when the next record rolls around it’s all, “We made some mistakes on the last record. It wasn’t really ‘us,’ and there was a lot of stress in the band at the time, you know? But we’ve cleared our heads and now we’re really stoked about the new album and we think it’s our best yet.” That said, we’re really stoked about the new album and we think it’s our best yet.

What message do you want your music, particularly Resignation Day, to get across?

Nick: There’s really no manifesto this time around. It’s sort of all been said before. Meat is still murder, dairy is still rape, so on and so forth. Although, I recently heard the Brokedowns say on stage “you can’t soar with the eagles if you stay out with the owls” and that seems like a pretty great message so maybe we’ll co-opt it.

How have you been getting the word out about your new album?

Nate: We hand out tracks to people walking by, cold call strangers out of the white pages, etc etc. All the normal stuff. Plus we’ve been trying new ideas like putting up songs on our MySpace page. Once we have physical copies in hand we’ll be sending them out to magazines and distros and what not.

Nick: I know where Channel 11’s “backyard” is where they shoot the weather portion of the 10 pm newscast, we can hop up and down behind the fence and yell shit.

Nate: Yeah, and then if the news channel tries to give us shit, we’ll just say we were reporting legitimate weather news. “This album is going to be a total hurricane of awesomeness!” or whatever.

What’s your favorite song to play live? What’s your favorite song off of Resignation Day?

Nick: My favorite is probably ‘Saltash Luck’ or ‘Empty Your Bottles’; on the latter I get to play bass because neither Cory or I can play that drone lead yet and sing at the same time. That’s strictly for the pros.

Nate: I like the song ‘Cut Bait’ because it’s a pretty fun bass line to play. I think the best song on the record would be ‘Empty Your Bottles.’

If you could tell a kid that’s never heard of Banner Pilot to listen to one song off the new record, what song would it be?

Nate: Uh, gee, I dunno. As I understand it, no one really reads lyrics anymore, so it’d be hard to try to get a message across to a kid unless you were strictly going with the song title. So I guess I’d choose ‘No Transfer’ so they’d maybe learn about the importance of getting a transfer when you ride the bus.

What does the term “sellout” mean to you guys?

Nick: Um, what our record will do once this interview gets posted on Punknews.org? (That was the deal, right?) What the guy at the liquor store tonight said happened when I asked where my favorite bottle of Rioja was? Basically don’t change your music for money.

On your MySpace page you described your sound as a blend between the Lawrence Arms, Jawbreaker and Alkaline Trio. Were those bands your main influences?

Nick: I grew up listening to a lot of Screeching Weasel so that’s a main influence for me. We’re probably a hybrid of that with the rougher vocals of Jawbreaker/Crimpshrine/Hot Water Music. Lyrically, I look up to Blake (Jawbreaker) quite a bit, although Dingbat is pretty fucking sweet.

Nate: Mostly the first two. Not Alkaline Trio so much. Jawbreaker’s probably my favorite band, but we don’t really sound like them. I mean, seriously, does anyone actually sound like Jawbreaker other than Jawbreaker? Not really. A few bands sound like Dear You-as-performed-by-a-computer-program (ie, they understand the basic formula but it doesn’t sound right), but that’s about it. We get compared to Lawrence Arms every now and then, and I can hear that, so it’d be fair to call them a main influence.

What’s the last show Banner Pilot went to that they didn’t perform?

Nick: Nate and I went to see Tegan and Sara recently but swore we wouldn’t talk about it. $8 Heinekens? Wtf? It was great though.

Nate: All four of us? Not sure, unless you count any of the various Fest shows.

For those who have never been, what’s a Banner Pilot show like?

Nick: It’s incredible. We usually open with me staring at Danny while he checks some knobs and dials on his cymbals and I try to gauge when we can start rocking. Someone probably yells out “Boner Pilot!” and 15-20 minutes of blistering punk rock follow sprinkled tastefully with awkward banter. If someone breaks a string, Nate may play the dungeon song from Super Mario Bros. on bass, or we’ll break into a confused rendition of Lillington High.

Do you have anything special planned for the release of Resignation Day? If so, what’s the plan and where will it be?

Nick: Dillinger Four was cool enough to let us open their 3rd annual “Dillinger Fourth of July” at the Triple Rock and hopefully we’ll have the CDs by then. It’s also Off With Their Heads CD release show, so it should be awesome!

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Scene Point Blank 2008 Interview

Here’s an interview I did with Loren from Scene Point Blank back in 2008. Read it below or at their site.

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Minnesota punks Banner Pilot continue to turn heads with their vintage pop-punk sound. Scene Point Blank chatted with bassist Nate Gangelhoff about the band’s new full-length offering and their recent trip to The Fest.

Scene Point Blank: Nate, you’re listed as bass & guitar. Do you play both on the record?

Nate Gangelhoff: Yep, the previous guitar player quit while we were in the studio, so on the last album I did all the guitar leads and half the rhythm tracks. Plus I always do the bass. It worked out fine – I actually write the guts of all the songs on a guitar, not a bass, so it wasn’t weird or anything. The extra two strings didn’t fuck me up. Plus believe it or not they’re actually thinner than bass strings, so it’s kind of like Bass For Dummies.

Scene Point Blank: I really don’t know much about the death of Rivethead and the birth of Banner Pilot. How did Banner Pilot get started?

Nate Gangelhoff: Banner Pilot basically started with me writing some songs along to this drum program I got for my computer. I had a really hard time coming up with tunes until I was able to play along to a basic beat and keep time. So once I had that I wrote a few things and then Nick and me came up with vocal ideas over them. The songs were god awful, but got better over time. As for Rivethead, we were a band for a pretty long time, so it just sort of naturally ran its course after six or seven years. I think Banner Pilot had technically started before Rivethead broke up, but we didn’t actually have a drummer or play shows until months later.

Scene Point Blank: What’s the significance of the name?

Nate Gangelhoff: I dunno, I guess it sounded cool?

Scene Point Blank: You’ve gotten a lot of positive press on the web. Have you seen an increase in attendance on your tours from this?

Nate Gangelhoff: Well, not really, but I guess on the last tour there were a few shows that seemed to have more people. But I didn’t say “This is because of the web, right?” to any of them, so I can’t venture a guess as to why. I guess the longer you’ve been a band, the more chances there are that someone’s heard you and will check out a show.

Scene Point Blank: How did Go-Kart contact you? Do they have other Twin Cities connections?

Nate Gangelhoff: I think a guy at this radio station heard us and recommended that Go-Kart check us out. They don’t have any Twin Cities connections as far as I know.

Scene Point Blank: Do you think the record captures who you are as a live band?

Nate Gangelhoff: Kinda, but that record was a little different, I guess, ’cause it was three people playing four instruments, you know? Can’t do that live. But I guess that’s not a huge difference ’cause I don’t really have a unique guitar playing style or anything.

Scene Point Blank: Had you worked with Dave Gardner before?

Nate Gangelhoff: Yep, we’ve worked with Dave a few times on mastering and he’s awesome.

Scene Point Blank: How many bands are you currently in?

Nate Gangelhoff: Two main ones: Banner Pilot and Gateway District. I’m not in Off With Their Heads anymore ’cause they finally found someone who can tour all the time, but I’ll definitely help out if they ever need a bass player for a stray show or recording. And I’m sort of still in the Pyongyang Metro but that’s really sporadic ’cause the singer lives in Philly now. And I might be helping out a friend of mine this winter with his new band called The San Diego Chargers (Minneapolis).

Scene Point Blank: Have you ever had just one band?

Nate Gangelhoff: Yeah, it was just Rivethead for quite awhile.

Scene Point Blank: What makes Banner Pilot different than your other projects?

Nate Gangelhoff: Well, it’s not much different. But, with all the other bands I’ve been in I pretty much just write the bass lines, or in the case of The Gateway District, the guitar parts. So Banner Pilot is a lot more involved and time-consuming because I write the guts to all of the songs.

Scene Point Blank: How active is Gateway District? Is it a side project?

Nate Gangelhoff: It’s a little more active now. We did a 7″ in 2006 and then didn’t do anything until this past summer, mostly because we were all living in different states. But this summer we started playing again, wrote an album, recorded it last month and played a handful of shows along the way. So yeah I guess you could consider us to be “active” now although we won’t be doing any six-week tours or whatever.

Scene Point Blank: You’ve been in bands for quite a while now. Have your goals changed, or do you still get the same thing out of playing that you did when you started?

Nate Gangelhoff: Yeah, it’s really the same for the most part – fun for the same reasons. I don’t remember the experience of being in a band when I was eighteen being a lot different than it is now. I think that’s a good thing?

Scene Point Blank: A lot has changed for me since I was eighteen but, yeah, that sounds like a good thing that you haven’t burnt out.

Nate Gangelhoff: Yep!

Scene Point Blank: Moving on, The Fest 7 just finished. I think I first heard about you sometime after The Fest 5, although I never saw the band until the last year. How many Fests have you played (or attended)?

Nate Gangelhoff: This one was our third in a row. I think it was my favorite so far, too.

Scene Point Blank: What’s your highlight from this year’s Fest as a performer?

Nate Gangelhoff: It was a great show and definitely our best Fest set yet. The first time no one really knew us, and last year we stupidly played all new songs that no one had heard yet. So this year it was cool to play to a lot of people that seemingly knew the songs.

Scene Point Blank: I actually missed your set, but how was playing the Sidehatch? You had a pretty prime timeslot between Coalesce and Lawrence Arms.

Nate Gangelhoff: The Sidehatch was cool – a little dark; we had to buy a lamp for the merch table just to see anything. But besides that it was great. I’m guessing a lot of people checked us out before checking out the Lawrence Arms next door, but I can’t imagine that many Coalesce fans were into us.

Scene Point Blank: You never know, but that was a curious timeslot for them. You’d think they’d be allotted closer to some of the hardcore bands.

Nate Gangelhoff: True. But shit, that’s got to be hard to schedule like 280 bands over three days. You’re going to have a couple of weird pairings, I suppose.

Scene Point Blank: What was your highlight of Fest 7 a fan? Did you stay the whole weekend?

Nate Gangelhoff: I think my favorite band was Good Luck. My goal this Fest was to see as many bands that I hadn’t checked out before, and I caught quite a few good ones. Yep, we stayed the whole weekend but I got Fest AIDS pretty bad Sunday evening so the last set I saw was at around 7pm.

Scene Point Blank: Me too, but I didn’t crash until after Leatherface. Did you stay at the Holiday Inn? Did the official post-Fest show happen?

Nate Gangelhoff: Yeah, we had a room at the Holiday Inn. It was nice being close to all the shows – the last couple years we stayed at the Rush Lake Motel, which was pretty awesome in its own right but required a bit of a walk. I think they ended up scrapping the plans for midnight karaoke on the rooftop, actually. Bummer.

Scene Point Blank: So you got “Fest AIDS”?

Nate Gangelhoff: Indeed! Not as bad as last year though. Last weekend at this show I ran into probably fifteen people who went to Fest the previous weekend and every single one of them was sick!

Scene Point Blank: Fest AIDS kept me from going to that Arrivals/Off With Their Heads/Gateway District show on Friday. I was a little better than last year, in that I didn’t totally lose my voice this time around, but I’m still coughing a week later. Is Fest AIDS a unique thing, or are viruses like that a typical result of touring?

Nate Gangelhoff: Fest AIDS is unique, I think. When I’ve gotten sick on tour on other occasions, it felt like a run of the mill illness. But Fest AIDS is a somewhat different sensation. It’s almost like you somehow inhaled the weekend, this rancid mess of smoke and PBR, and have to sweat it out of your system.

Scene Point Blank: Did you tour on the way to FL?

Nate Gangelhoff: Nah, not this year but we did for Fest 5. It’s pretty cool ’cause there’s so many bands descending on the same part of the country at once that you end up having great shows along the way.

Scene Point Blank: Thanks for your time.

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Mutiny Zine 2008 Interview

Here’s an interview I did with the fanzine Mutiny Zine back in 2008. Check it out below or at their site.

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Hey Nate! What’s up?

Not Much!

I just finished your book “You Idiot” which was absolutely hilarious. How has the response to the book been so far?

– Thanks! Glad you liked it. So far the response has been whelming— not underwhelming, not overwhelming. Just whelming. I have six books left and will be doing a second printing in a couple weeks, and so far people seem to be digging it. Can’t complain!

Sounds like it’s doing really good! How many copies did you make in the first printing?

550, i think? Somewhere between 500 and 600. Not a ton; I didn’t want tons of boxes sitting around if it totally flopped.

Are you happy with the way the book came out?

– For the most part. There are a fair amount of typos, and in retrospect i should have cut down some of the articles even further. But, I’ll fix both of those things in later versions I guess. Overall, I think the book looks pretty nice and I think it ended up with a good mix of topics. Hopefully it’s a good book to have on tour, or in the bathroom– good for reading random 2 or 3 page snippets at a time.

Tell me about Arsenic Books, is it a company of your own or how did you get in touch with them?

I wouldn’t call it a “company” as much as a name I slapped on the book to give it a faint whiff of professionalism and prevent it from being dismissed outright by certain people. I mean, i think “self published” can be taken by some to mean “too crappy to be published by anyone else”, which, granted, is probably completely true a good portion of the time. Anyway, yeah– it’s basically nothing more than a pair of words I decided to put on the book.

The book is made up of a number of issues of your old zines You Idiot and Whiskey Plus. When did you first decide to make a zine of your own?

– My first zine was compiled when i was 13 or 14 years old. It was called “Pearl Jam Must Die”, and it was…. whatever the opposite of “good” is. Oh yeah, “bad”.

Have you always been into writing? How come you decided to start doing zines?

– Yeah, I’ve been writing goofy crap since I was like nine years old or something. It’s fun. I don’t remember why exactly I started doing a zine— probably mostly because I could. Kind of like why that guy climbed Mount Everest. And, in a way, creating the first 20 page issue of Pearl Jam Must Die was a similar triumph for mankind.

For those who haven’t heard of the book or your zines we need to make a few things straight. Neither You Idiot or Whiskey Plus were average music fanzines. How would you describe the content of your zines?

– That’s a tough question. Actually, it’s not really that tough; I’m just lazy at answering this sort of question. Uh…. I guess basically both zines examine and (over?) analyze various dumb things in our world.

I guess my next question is: How the hell do you come up with this stuff? Where do you find all these extremely stupid books and records you write about?

Some of them I’ve found at random garage sales or stores. Others, i’ve searched out– for example, by browsing through books on Amazon that have one star averages, or searching for phrases like “sketchiest diet”. You have to wade through a lot of crap to get to the good crap.

Do you read “good” books as well or is it the crap that gets your attention? What’s your favorite writer/writers and why?

Oh, hell yeah! I sure hope that no one thinks I spend the majority of my reading time devoted to stuff like Why Knock Rock? and Turmoil in the Toy Box!  Some of the authors I like are TC Boyle , Jonathan Lethem, David Sedaris, Michael Lewis, Matt Taibbi, stuff like that. I’ve actually been reading mostly non-fiction lately. But yeah, I definitely read “good” books more than I read “insane” books.

Some of the stuff you write about is so extremely stupid it almost sounds like you’ve made it up. Exactly how stupid are people nowadays?

Hmm, it’s kind of hard to answer that, since there are so many different people in the world. It’s kind of like asking “Exactly how depressing are armadillos nowadays?” I mean, I can’t say for sure. It depends on the person/armadillo. That said, there are a lot of really fucking stupid people nowadays. I have nothing against people as a whole, mind you.

At times when I read your book I got the feeling that you’re pretty much bored to death. I mean, I would have to be pretty damn bored to go out and look for stupid stuff like this.

Actually, I’m not really that bored. I dunno, I suppose writing this stuff amuses me, but I didn’t start doing it out of boredom.

One of my favorite parts in the book is when you give virtual reality a shot. I literally laughed my ass off when I read it. Can you give a brief description of that experience for those who haven’t read it yet?

Sorry about your ass! Briefly, I heard about this ‘virtual’ world on the internet called Second Life where people create avatars, spend real money, and then do crazily inane things like shop at malls, dance on dance floors, and so on. I gave it a shot and got kicked out of a country bar, banned from a strip club, set on fire, etc. It’s more amusing with the visuals of these things happening.

Have you been playing any on-line games since you did that test? Maybe it’s time to give it another try?

– I actually haven’t! You’re right, I should find a new one and give it a shot.

There’s also a really funny part in the book where you review records that you’ve actually haven’t listened to. Tell me a little bit about that. Did you give the records a listen after your reviews or are they still unplayed?

I go over it in more detail in the book but basically: I let my friend borrow my record collection, he sold said record collection for cigarettes and beer, I no longer had a use for my record player so I got rid of it, people started sending my vinyl to review for my music zine. So, at that point I felt I had an obligation to review their works, but did not feel that this obligation extended to purchasing a record player with which to actually hear them. So, I gave it my best shot by looking at the cover art and skimming through the lyrics and stuff. I still don’t have a record player, so nope– still haven’t heard them!

How come you decided to put your old zines together in a book?

– Doing a zine fucking sucks. I mean, writing one is fine, but i hate the whole stapling/collating part. With a book, boom, you’re good to go.

MUTINYZINE is a strictly online thing but I can imagine doing a paper zine is a lot of work for sure. But even though you already had all the text done for this book wasn’t it a lot of work to put it all together?

Sure, it was actually quite a bit of work to write and assemble it. But unlike with a zine, it’s a one time thing— there’s no copying, stapling, collating, etc.

What do you think of “zine-scene” nowadays? Do you have any favorite zines that you read?

Gotta be honest, nowadays I really don’t read any zines or pay attention to the whole zinester culture and what not. The only zines I still read are ones from ‘back in the day’ like Cometbus and Burn Collector and so on.

How about online-zines? What’s your opinion on that?

I guess I don’t really think of them as “e-zines” or “online zines” or whatever…. to me things on the web are just websites or blogs or whatever. Either they’re good and worth reading, or bad and not, is how I look at it.  So I guess I have a pretty mundane opinion on online-zines.

A little bird whispered in my ear that there might be a scond book coming out. Is there any truth to that? It would be awesome.

Yeah, i’m working on a couple different books right now– might be awhile since i’m busy with music stuff right now, but hopefully i’ll have a second one out soon!

Sounds great, are you willing to give away any details on that? What kind of book is it gonna be?

– Well, the first one is sort of based on the stories that were in Pick Your Poison, the other zine I used to do. It was more of a “personal zine” for lack of a better term and it was just various stories from my childhood and adulthood as opposed to the articles/research slant of You Idiot. As first I was just going to do a straight reprint of the old zines, but I went back and read them and realized a lot of the writing is garbage and some of the stories don’t hold up well. So I’m going to condense and re-write it all.
After that I’ll probably do a book full of work stories. I have some other ideas I’m kicking around too.

Apart from writing your playing some music. I know you’re in Off With Their Heads and Banner Pilot. Any more bands?

Yeah, i’m in two other bands right now– The Gateway District and The Pyongyang Metro. I’m not in Off With Their Heads anymore, though. So, just three bands. That’s a nice round number. Actually, it’s not. Shit.

So, you left OWTH? That band has quite a history in changing the line-up I’ve heard. How come you left?

Yeah, OWTH has probably had something like twenty members by now. I left just cuz they tour 11 months out of the year or something ridiculous and I can’t pull that off.

Do you have any musical updates you’d like to share?

Sure– The Gateway District has an album coming out this May, and Banner Pilot is heading in the studio to record a new full length next month. Should be fun!

Resignation Day has been getting some awesome response from what I’ve heard. How do you think the new Banner Pilot record will sound?

I think it’ll sound a lot better production-wise and there’ll be more variety to the tunes. Usually when a band says that it’s a bad sign, but i’m not talking about anything drastic here. I think it’ll be a lot better than Resignation Day, but we’ll see! Definitely excited to get back in the studio.

Ok, that’s it. Thanks for answering Nate and good luck with your bands and the writing!

No problem, thanks for the questions!

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White Collar Punk Rocker 2009 Interview

Here is an interview I did with the blog White Collar Punk Rocker in 2009. Read it at their site, or below.

With news of Banner Pilot signing to Fat Wreck Chords last week, thought it was worth posting this interview I did recently with bassist Nate Gangelhoff.

For a band with just four members, melodic punk rockers Banner Pilot could pretty much sell out a club just by inviting band mates from all the current and former groups they’ve put in time with.

Between them, the guys in the Minneapolis band have played in or are currently playing with Off With Their Heads, Rivethead, Gateway District, These Riffs, Cave Death, The Manix and Pyongyang Metro.

With a new member and a slew of songs, Banner Pilot is currently focusing on finishing their new record and perhaps a quick tour of Japan.

Bassist Nate Gangelhoff spoke with me recently about the new songs, finding time to get on the road and the lack of harps and tubas on their new record.

Have you started working on the new record yet?

Yep! We’ve actually written a full 12 songs and now we’re in the process of fixing them up, working out the little details, trying to get tight on them so we don’t blow four days in the studio failing to play them correctly. So yeah, we’re actually almost done with the new one. After that we’ll probably try to do a series of splits and 7″s or something.

Any idea of what it will sound like?

In the grand scheme of things it’s pretty close to Resignation Day, but I think there’s more variety this time. I’m sure most people reading that are going to think “Uh oh”, and with good reason, but it’s actually not a dramatic departure or anything goofy and pretentious. There’s a couple slower songs and a couple faster songs… basic changes like that. We’re not adding textured harp parts or tuba solos or anything. It’s still punk rock stuff simple enough that a well-trained monkey could approximate it. Actually, that’s not true– I’m exaggerating. There’s no monkey out there that could touch the stuff we’re working on. It’s that good.

Same line up as before?

Nope, last time around we were a three piece and I played guitar and bass in the studio; this time we’ll have a full four piece band.

Who are you going to be recording with?

Our friend Jacques Wait. I played on the Off With Their Heads album that he recorded and everyone was super happy with how that sounded, so we’ll be going for a similar thing on the next Banner Pilot record.

Do you think labels are still important for punk bands?

They can be, but it’s definitely less so than five or 10 years ago. Nowadays it’s pretty easy to record an album, distribute it, and book a tour all from basic tools on the Internet. But labels can still help and do things you can’t do on your own. We self released our EP and it seems like the album on Go Kart has gotten around more and, obviously, required less work and upfront money from us.

Do you plan to tour much behind the new record?

We’re not really a “tour six months out of the year” band, but we’ll definitely do a couple weeks out somewhere plus a ton of Midwest shows on the weekends and stuff. Our goal this year is to make it over to either Europe or Japan.

Is it hard for you guys to find time to get put on the road?

Yeah, we all have jobs and stuff so it’s not feasible to tour for super long stretches at a time. But we do what we can and it seems to work out ok.

Do you still enjoy touring or do you see it as a necessary evil?

I enjoy it, but in smaller doses. I’ve done a couple of month long tours before and that’s about the most I’d want to do in one block. If I was in a position to tour a bunch, I’d probably still want to ideally do it like three weeks on, two weeks off, or something like that. I don’t think it’s really a necessary evil– your band will do better the more you tour, but you can still get people to hear your songs without touring. I imagine that was harder to pull off 10-plus years ago than it is now.

Is the Minneapolis music scene still pretty tight?

Yeah, it comes and goes but right now it’s pretty great. I’m sure it’ll be overtaken by some ridiculous subgenre in a year or two but for now there’s a fair amount of good bands

Anything else you want to add?

Get the new-ish Shorebirds album; it’s really good! That’s the only thing I have to add.

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