The Interrupters helped re-popularize ska-punk. Now they’ve made the most personal album of their career
It was only a matter of time before the oft-maligned music genre of ska-punk re-entered the musical mainstream, and in 2018, The Interrupters pulled off the unlikely feat of getting a ska-punk song on the radio with "She's Kerosene," something not even the band could've seen coming when they formed seven years earlier. Now, four years, a stadium tour with Green Day, and an entire ska resurgence later, The Interrupters are back with a new album, In The Wild, and the band have evolved in a multitude of ways since "She's Kerosene"'s unlikely success.
Having worked on all three of their previous records with producer Tim Armstrong of Rancid, who the band have called the "fifth Interrupter" in the past, this one was done entirely in-house with guitarist Kevin Bivona producing. They had initially begun working on some songs with Tim, including one that he sings guest vocals on, but once COVID lockdown hit, the band had no choice but to turn their practice space into a studio and make the record themselves. "The twins [bassist Justin and drummer Jesse Bivona] and Kevin built the studio by hand, using power tools and YouTube how-to videos and JOANN fabrics," singer Aimee Interrupter said on the new episode of the BrooklynVegan podcast, and while they were doing so, Aimee went through intense therapy that allowed her confront lifelong mental health issues that she'd tried to ignore for years, which led to her writing the most personal songs of her career. "In our previous music, a lot of the lyrics I wrote and a lot of the stories I would tell, I would tell about other people; rarely would I make it in first person," Aimee tells us. "In the majority of The Interrupters' music, I would tell my story but through other people, like 'that happened to her.' The song called 'Easy On You' was my story but I said 'she,' 'Jenny Drinks' was about me at the time but I said that was about Jenny, 'She Got Arrested' was something I experienced in my life, but I made it about somebody else. So this record I felt that it was time to stop hiding behind other people and finally just tell my story and I'm really glad I did, because it really was a rebirth of sorts, to get it out and to finally sort of unveil myself and just be real with who I am."
"It was, for us, kind of an amazing, perfect storm, long time coming for us to be able to help her tell her story through music in that way," Kevin added, "because being locked down and being that we had to make the record at home, and having this kind of safe place to do all that and spend the time on it is the only way it could have been done."
"Having the time to do the reflection [due to isolation] was so key, because I really dug very deep and I think that just the isolation created an environment for me to do that digging," Aimee continues. "While [the Bivonas were building the studio], I was doing this treatment for my brain called TMS therapy, which is transcranial magnetic stimulation. That really changed my life, and it really helped me in my depression. TMS is when they put a little helmet on you, and basically there's a part of the brain that scientists discovered in people with major depressive disorders -- like myself, I've had it pretty much my whole life -- they found that people that have that have a little dark spot in their brain that doesn't get lit up, and the magnet stimulates that part of the brain and it helps with depression in a massive, massive way. And it really helped me wanna wake up in the morning and be happy to be alive, which is something I hadn't experienced pretty much ever. So in my depression being lifted, I was able to look at some really traumatic and some really dark places in my life that were, quite frankly, really unsafe to go mentally before that treatment. I couldn't even look at that stuff because it was just too hard to look at. But once I got the help from my brain, and I was feeling happy to be alive, I just started writing so much, and so much creativity came out of me, and so many things that I had been afraid to look at I was now able to look at. And like I said the isolation helped and the time helped, so it was really a perfect storm, and so that's kind of why the lyrics are as personal and as deep as they are."
Aimee refers to In The Wild as her life story, and the candid, first-person perspective that she offers throughout this album makes for the most impactful music The Interrupters have ever written. From the literal second you click play on album opener "Anything Was Better," you're transported directly to the distress of social anxiety ("I felt invisible, but everyone was staring at me"), and much as the song sounds like an uplifting punk anthem, it ultimately deals with needing to escape your past. A similarly troubled theme appears on "Raised By Wolves," which also gives the album its name ("you left a child out in the wild"). Aimee also directly or ostensibly tackles mental health battles with anxiety ("In The Mirror"), depression ("Kiss The Ground"), and OCD ("Jailbird"), as songs like "Let 'Em Go," "Worst For Me," and "Afterthought" appear to address her history of abuse, and she deals with the death of a loved one on "My Heart" and "Love Never Dies." But perhaps the most impactful song is album closer "Alien," an ethereal ballad unlike anything else The Interrupters have ever released. It includes the lyric "I've never felt completely female," a line that confronts a lifelong frustration with the gender binary and society's expectation of what a woman should be.
"Since I was eight years old, I've had a condition called trichotillomania, and that's when you pull out your eyelashes and your eyebrows, or your head hair, you just pull out your hair and you can't stop it," Aimee says, elaborating on the song's theme. "It's really confusing as a child, especially when nobody around you looks that way, and you're the only one who looks that way. I got bullied, and I got teased a lot, and it was traumatizing for me. And I had a lot of abuse as a child -- sexual, physical, mental abuse. At one point in my early childhood -- 8, 9, 10 years old -- I kind of disassociated from my body, because my body was really an unsafe place, I didn't connect with it. So I started identifying as a spirit, that I wasn't male, I wasn't female, I was just a spirit, and that gave me a freedom. Because I didn't look like the other girls, I didn't act like the other girls, I just didn't relate. So yeah I have a deep, deep empathy for and I relate very much to people that have gender dysphoria. It was just a very lonely, lonely place to be in my body and on the earth, so that's what that song is about."
As a result of making sure Aimee's stories were delivered in the most impactful way possible, The Interrupters expanded their sound stylistically too. "[We were] really not putting ourselves in a box of any genre, just really wanting to get the story told," Aimee said. "There was no, 'this has to be ska, this has to be punk.'" In The Wild does have plenty of songs that exist in the third wave-style ska-punk territory that The Interrupters usually tread, but more so than any of their previous albums, In The Wild reaches back to the styles of music that informed third-wave ska in the first place. They explore over half a century of musical history, from the rootsy, traditional, Jamaican ska vibes of "Burdens" and "Love Never Dies" and the glammy rock & roll balladry of "My Heart," to the dubby reggae groove of "Kiss The Ground" and the power-poppy first-wave punk of "Jailbird," to the 2 Tone revival of "As We Live" and "Let Em Go," to classic Interrupters-style anthems like "In The Mirror," "Anything Was Better," "Raised By Wolves," and "The Hard Way." And more than anything else, the genre-defiance was born out of the necessity to match Aimee's lyrics with the musical backdrop that best captured the spirit she was trying to deliver.
"Kiss the Ground," for example, was a song that came about because Kevin just started playing a reggae rhythm on his guitar, and Aimee "just started singing it, just as it was," she says. "And we just wanted the song to be what it wanted to be instead of trying to change it or produce it in a way that wasn't the original idea."
"And at the same time we did go into the studio and say, 'What would it sound like as a ska song?'," Kevin added. And then what we noticed is like, it's dancey but it's missing the spirit of the song, so that was the thing, just listening to the spirit of the song and do whatever was best for that."
To help The Interrupters carry out their vision were some key guests from multiple generations of ska. For the 2 Tone-inspired "As We Live," The Interrupters brought in not just frequent collaborator Tim Armstrong but also 2 Tone legend Rhoda Dakar of The Bodysnatchers and The Special AKA. "'As We Live' was one that we built with Tim and we were like, 'We have to have Tim's voice on it,'" Kevin says. "And as we were building it, it had such a 2 Tone groove to it, and... we keep in touch with Rhoda, we love Rhoda, every time we go to England, she'll come out to our shows, she's DJed our shows. We consider her family. And in the back of our minds we're always like, 'We gotta make a track with Rhoda,' and as we're working on this track it's just like, 'This might be the one, let's send it to her and see what she thinks.' And, we send it to her, and she sends back a voice memo of her singing along to it, and it's her exact, her whole idea for the verse, the 'love is an action,' like all of that, and she's like, "What do you think?" And we're like, 'Please record this!' She recorded her vocals in London and sent it to us, and it just fit right in as if we were all in the room together. And it was a beautiful thing to have three generations of ska on a track, especially with such a powerful (I think) message."
The '60s-ska-inspired "Burdens" features Greg Lee and Alex Désert of Hepcat, who Kevin referred to as "our favorite ska band," and he says they "took that song to the next level." "Honestly for us," he adds, "the thing that I took away from it was I got to spend a day in the studio with Tim Armstrong, Greg Lee, Alex Désert, and make a song. That is something that I will never, ever forget."
The equally rootsy "Love Never Dies" features the great UK punky reggae revivalists The Skints, who The Interrupters have been touring with this year. "As soon as we made that track, we heard The Skints' voices on it," Kevin said. "As far as live bands go, it doesn't get better than The Skints. They're super talented, and their harmonies are so good, and their taste, their approach, just everything they do, we're just such huge fans of." Aimee adds, "We're huge fans, and they're the sweetest people in the world." "They really are," Kevin continues. "They're a joy to be around, and they brought joy to that track, which had kind of this bittersweet, melancholy, darker vibe, but there are these uplifting harmonies -- everything they added to it we just loved it so much."
As The Interrupters trek through these various styles of music, it never feels forced, and their songs always feel as undeniably catchy as the ones that landed them on the radio. It sheds a light on the history of ska without feeling like a history lesson, while shedding an equally or even more important light on the realities of struggling with mental health and abuse. "I just wanted it to be the best that it could possibly be, and the most authentic that it could be," Aimee says, "and tell my truth, and in telling my truth, have the hopes that it would connect with other people's truth, or tell my story in the hopes that other people can see their story inside of it."
In The Wild comes out this Friday (8/5) via Epitaph (order yours). Stream the current singles and check out the list of upcoming tour dates below, including a Europe/UK run with The Bar Stool Preachers (who just signed to Pure Noise and put out a new song today), and another US run with Flogging Molly, Tiger Army, and The Skints.
For even more, listen to our new podcast episode with The Interrupters. In addition to talking about the new album, they talk about their favorite ska bands of all time, backing Tim Armstrong and Jesse Michaels during their recent semi-Operation Ivy reunion, recording harmonies for the new album backstage at Citi Field when they were opening for Green Day, and much more. Listen on Spotify, Apple, Google, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
UPDATE (8/5), album out now, stream it:
The Interrupters -- 2022 Tour Dates
Aug. 7th – Tilburg, Netherlands – Poppodium 013
Aug. 8th – Lokeren, Belgium – Lokerse Feesten
Aug. 9th – Cologne, Germany – Live Music Hall
Aug. 11th – Tolmin, Slovenia – PUNK ROCK HOLIDAY 2022
Aug. 12th – Igea Marina, Italy – Bay Fest 2022
Aug. 13th – Linz, Austria – Tabakfabrik Linz
Aug. 16th – Berlin, Germany – Huxleys Neue Welt
Aug. 17th – Hamburg, Germany – Markthalle
Aug. 20th – Tiverton, United Kingdom – Beautiful Days Festival 2022
Aug. 21st – Bristol, United Kingdom – Marble Factory
Aug. 23rd – Nottingham, United Kingdom – Rock City
Aug. 24th – Leeds, United Kingdom – O2 Academy Leeds
Aug. 29th – Manchester, United Kingdom – Manchester Academy
Aug. 31st – Glasgow, United Kingdom – Barrowland Ballroom
Sept. 2nd – Birmingham, United Kingdom – O2 Institute
Sept. 3rd – London, United Kingdom – O2 Academy Brixton
with Flogging Molly, Tiger Army, The Skints:
Sept. 9th – Denver, CO – Mission Ballroom Outdoors
Sept. 10th – Dillon, CO – Dillon Amphitheater
Sept. 11th – Salt Lake City, UT – Complex Outdoors - The Lot
Sept. 13th – Bonner, MT – KettleHouse Amphitheater
Sept. 14th – Boise, ID – Ford Idaho Center Amphitheater
Sept. 16th – Eugene, OR – Cuthbert Amphitheater
Sept. 17th – Seattle, WA – WaMu Theater
Sept. 21st – Paso Robles, CA – Vina Robles Amphitheatre
Sept. 23rd – Chula Vista, CA – North Island Credit Union
Sept. 24th – Irvine, CA – Five Point Amphitheatre
Sept. 25th – Las Vegas, CA – Mandalay Bay Beach Stage