We Are The Union interview: Reade Wolcott tells the story behind their crucial new album ‘Ordinary Life’
Pre-order the last few remaining copies of the limited pink/black vinyl variant of We Are The Union's new album 'Ordinary Life.'
"A lot of people will probably hate hearing me say this, but I feel like Self Care is the start of this band," said Reade Wolcott, vocalist/guitarist of the long-running ska band We Are The Union, in reference to their 2018 album. It's the band's fourth overall, but even from a listener's perspective, Reade's statement rings true. The album followed a short hiatus, it was the band's first with Jer Hunter, who's built up a huge platform and played a major role in attracting new listeners to modern ska, and it really felt like a creative rebirth for We Are The Union. It has some of the best, catchiest, and most intricately arranged songs of their career, mixed with the theme of mental health and some of the most emotionally deep lyricism in WATU's catalog. That album's followup, Ordinary Life, out this week on Bad Time Records, is an even greater creative rebirth. It found We Are The Union reinventing their approach to writing and recording, and it tells Reade's coming out story as a trans woman.
"I was so concerned about sort of doing Transgender Dysphoria Blues part 2," Reade says. "I really didn't want that, because I think that record is perfect, and is a perfect expression of those emotions. And I was like, 'I can't do that, that's not me.'" "And there are plenty of other themes throughout the record," Reade later added. "There's also the story of my dissolving 12-year relationship that also ended last year, so there's a lot about that on the record. As on Self Care, there are continuing themes of mental health struggles, and I was very careful to try to write a record -- and this is kind of where I feel like our narrative is maybe a little bit unique I hope -- in that what I really tried to do was to frame the trans experience and frame dysphoria alongside things that are maybe more relatable to the general public, like heartbreak, like ADHD, depression, all the more common themes that we've kind of touched on in the past."
"So my hope was -- and time will tell if this was successful," she continues, "if I can kind of present dysphoria and the trans experience along those lines, that maybe a few lightbulbs would go off, and would help normalize the experience for a few people."
The record is even deeper and more vulnerable than Self Care, and there's not only more depth in the lyrics but more variety in them too, from the direct "fuck you" to transphobic bigots in "Boys Will Be Girls" to the uplifting rallying cry in "Morbid Obsessions" ("If I get one life, I'm gonna do what I want") to the vivid imagery in "Make It Easy" ("I've been thinking 'bout a silver screen love, just a supercut of us/In faded colors like Wes Anderson, I'm painted porcelain") to the conversational approach in "Big River" ("Man, I feel like shit today"). Ordinary Life also has the warmest production of any We Are The Union album, and it finds them branching out from their ska-punk roots more than ever before. In addition to an array of their usual ska influences -- from the skank-pit-inducing "Morbid Obsessions" to the more mid-tempo, 2 Tone-leaning "Boys Will Be Girls" to the slower, more traditional ska/rocksteady vibes of "Big River" -- We Are The Union channelled several modern punk, DIY, and indie rock influences, like PUP, Charly Bliss, Illuminati Hotties, Soccer Mommy, and Phoebe Bridgers. "There are so many artists who are afraid to admit that they're influenced by their contemporaries, and I just am not," Reade says. "I love looking back at bands from the past for influence, and I love looking around us at what's happening now and being inspired by people who are creating right now."
If you're just ska-curious, but you're into any or all of the punk/indie/DIY bands that Reade named, there's a very good chance that Ordinary Life will draw you into the genre. It's steeped in a thorough appreciation and understanding of ska's 60+ year history, but by looking to the world around them for influence, they've come out with a record that feels fresh, forward-thinking, and very in line with what's happening in today's DIY scene. Depending on your age, all the recent "ska is back" talk might feel like an inherently nostalgic thing, but Ordinary Life is a step forward, both musically and thematically. It has the potential to one day be talked about as a landmark record, if it isn't already.
Ordinary Life officially comes out this Friday, June 4 (pre-order on limited pink/black vinyl) but a stream will premiere on the Skatune Network YouTube Channel on Thursday (6/3) at 9 PM ET along with a Q&A and call-in prizes. Ahead of the release, I caught up with Reade to discuss the lyrical themes, the band's new approach to writing and recording, influences, mainstream pop music, the current ska resurgence, and the song that got them in trouble with a certain legendary punk rock band. Read on for our chat...
Ever since you announced the album and put out "Morbid Obsessions," it seems like the feedback has been amazing. How have you been feeling about everything?
I feel amazing. You know it's funny, "nervous" isn't the right word because for the first time in my life, I actually knew the songs were good before we put it out. Of course there's still like artist nerves, like "is my art good?", like there's always that. But I had so many people -- our producer, the rest of the band, everybody -- just in my year, like, "no, no, no, the song is definitely good." So I actually kind of knew it in my gut for once, which was like, really unusual for me. I'm usually riddled with doubt about the songs. And maybe it's just because it was overshadowed with my doubt about coming out as trans, but I had so much confidence about the songs that I was weirdly not that nervous about that aspect of the announcement. But, you know, the reaction's been incredible and I feel so grateful and thankful that people are resonating with the song and people are resonating with the story. It's been really, really incredible. It's always amazing any time anybody hears something you create and be like "I like this," so to have that feeling kind of amplified on a level that you've never experienced before is like, "Oh, what do I do with this feeling?" All I do all day is just tweet "thank you" over and over again [laughs].
Yeah and I think it's really great that we live in an era where the punk and DIY community is really open and supportive about gender identity and LGBTQ issues.
I literally have not experienced one notable negative interaction. I haven't seen a single comment, it just seems like the entire community is just like "yep, cool!" I'm so lucky, and I know that's not everyone's experience, but I'm so lucky to be surrounded by a community that is so supportive. I feel really, really grateful for that.
That's awesome. Were you at all concerned like, "what if the reaction is negative?"
Oh yeah, for sure, 100%. But again, I was only concerned about the reaction to me coming out. And that was kind of where my brain was focused. We were very careful to really keep it close to home. Even most of my extended family didn't know. We really kept it in the box -- intentionally, because I'm an artist, I express myself through my art, and it was very important to me to express it that way. And I almost think, like, as a result, that's where my artist doubt came in, like in the actual coming out portion of everything, because that really was my coming out to most people. There were a handful of people who got a text or a call in the days before, but for the most part -- except for the people that were directly involved with the project or intimately involved with my life -- that really was my actual coming out. I had all sorts of family coming out of the woodwork like "excuse me?!" [Laughs.] So yeah, there was definitely doubt in terms of what the reaction would be, but I was really pleasantly surprised that there's been nothing but positivity and support. And that makes me feel really good about the future, and hopefully seeing that reaction will inspire more people to feel comfortable coming out with their own truth. Seeing that at least in our corner of the world, at least in the punk rock community -- or at least in our corner of it [laughs] -- that there's a support structure here, that there are people who will love you regardless. And I hope that some people will find some courage to explore that as well, just from seeing the reaction. Because it's been incredible; people I toured with ten years ago but haven't talked to since then texted me like "oh my god! I'm so happy for you." Those are the moments where it's like, "okay, really as a community we have changed a lot." Because I know, even for people who came out five or ten years ago, it was even harder then. So it makes me feel really grateful that this community continues to push itself forward, and continues to become more open and more supportive of all people, not just LGBTQ individuals. We're really as a community -- especially in DIY -- we do a good job of holding people accountable and making sure that the scene's at least moving towards something that's more equitable for everybody. It's not there yet, it's not perfect, we have plenty of room to grow. But it's nice to feel part of something that's moving in the right direction, especially as the world seems like it's moving in the opposite direction.
I feel like even just in the year alone, with everyone being more online than ever, you can see how concerned the DIY community is with all these issues. It's been so overwhelming and just a little ounce of comfort with everything else going on in the world.
Yeah. It's been so refreshing to me watching -- like, how many bands to this day are still finding ways to put together compilations to benefit important causes? You know, to find ways to use their art to benefit others. And I think that's so interesting and so kind of unique to our corner. Because, you know, you look at the mainstream artists, and around the time of the big surge of Black Lives Matter last year, you saw all these artists doing fundraising and helping out, but then they all kind one by one dropped off. But in the DIY community, those causes are still going. We're still rolling. We're still putting in the work as a community and I think that's really, really special. And across the board: I see incredible LGBTQ organizations getting great support from the DIY community. It's really fascinating and really special. We've sort of taken the idea of what punk rock is and actually did it, instead of turning into curmudgeonly old people.
Right, like "Fresh Fruit for Rotting Punk Rock Stars."
[Laughs] Yes, the song that got us in a bit of trouble.
Really? What happened?
Ohhh yeah. A member of management team of a certain punk rock band, who may or may not be parodied in the name of a certain song, reached out to us and expressed they're upset.
Which is wild because you'd think if they were the band they used to be that they would see the sense of humor.
You would think!
So you mentioned that you spent the first two thirds of 2020 writing "a nearly endless supply" of songs about gender identity, heartbreak, mental health. At what point did it become clear to you that this album would be your coming out story?
It's hard to pinpoint an exact day, but it was over the course of the summer and fall. I really didn't fully accept it until closer to the date that we actually got into the studio. I knew that that's a thing that I was writing about, but I didn't really fully... it's a complicated question to answer because I went back and forth. I was like, "maybe this is what I'm gonna do, maybe not," and I was so concerned about sort of doing Transgender Dysphoria Blues part 2. I really didn't want that, because I think that record is perfect, and is a perfect expression of those emotions. And I was like, "I can't do that, that's not me." And so I kind of went back and forth, and I'll tell you the band didn't know until about a month before we all got to the studio together. And that was really around the time that I fully accepted that this is what the record is, this is what it's focused on. And there are plenty of other themes throughout the record. There's also the story of my dissolving 12-year relationship that also ended last year, so there's a lot about that on the record. As on Self Care, there are continuing themes of mental health struggles, and I was very careful to try to write a record -- and this is kind of where I feel like our narrative is maybe a little bit unique I hope -- in that what I really tried to do was to frame the trans experience and frame dysphoria alongside things that are maybe more relatable to the general public, like heartbreak, like ADHD, depression, all the more common themes that we've kind of touched on in the past. So my hope was -- and time will tell if this was successful -- if I can kind of present dysphoria and the trans experience along those lines, that maybe a few lightbulbs would go off, and would help normalize the experience for a few people.
Once you decided that you were ready to be fully honest with yourself and tell your truth, do you feel like you were able to achieve things with your songwriting that you hadn't been able to in the past?
Definitely. My most vulnerable songs have always been my best, and the ones that I'm the most proud of. I think the last few years have really been a journey of learning to be fully vulnerable with myself, and I think in doing that -- especially lyrically -- I was able to really hone my skills and create something that is emotionally vulnerable but also hopefully doesn't come off as "whiny." That's always the struggle when you're writing emotionally vulnerable music. It's like, is it uplifting? Is there a way for it to not just be a total downer? And I think it helps that we frame a lot of it through the lens of ska and punk rock which are like upbeat, uplifting sounding styles of music. That's something that's important to me, though; to not have everything be such a downer. Not that there's anything wrong with expressing your art that way, I just think other people do that better than I do. I think what I kind of bring to the table is finding that silver lining and finding that kind of positivity in the tragedy or the bad feelings or whatever it is, and I think that's what I'm the most proud of, in terms of the lyrics on the record. I feel like I really found a balance between those things. And musically -- we worked with Jon Graber, who also produced Self Care, but since then, Jon and I co-produced on the latest Goldfinger record, we've been working with all sorts of bands, and the two of us together have really established a real rapport and a real strong mode of operation when we're in the studio. We just work together really well. We're really good at servicing the song and focusing on what the right decision is for the song and not what the right decision is for somebody's feelings. Which sounds a little bit callous but I think ultimately it produces better songs. If everybody in the room is fully focused on the end product and not on their own ego, there's no way that the end result can be anything but the best iteration of itself. That's what we really were able to do, and Jon played such a huge role in that. It truly, truly would not be the record that it is without him.
What stands out to me lyrically on this one is it's emotionally vulnerable like you said, and the message is so powerful, but on top of that, I think it's some of your most vivid and poetic songwriting yet. There are the direct fuck-you songs like "Boys Will Be Girls," but then there's lines like "A supercut of us in faded colors like Wes Anderson, I'm painted porcelain." Like some of the most imagery-inducing lyrics that I've heard from We Are The Union, maybe ever.
Yeah, and a big part of that is over the past few years, Jon and I have just been so lucky to work with higher and higher calibers of artists, and so I kind of realized if I wanna hang with the big dogs so to speak, I gotta step up my game. And in addition to that, Jon is just so good at challenging me. He's as much an editor as he is a producer. Like I'll send him drafts of lyrics sometimes, and he'll send them back like "hey, this verse is really fucking boring," and at first I'm like "fuck you," but then I'll give it a couple days and I'll go back and read it, and I'm like "nope, Jon's right, this is really boring." I actually need to find a more interesting way to say what I'm trying to say. That's one of the great benefits of working with Graber, he is nurturing and challenging at the same time. Working with him and working with the clients that we've been lucky enough to work with as a team over the past few years really made me step up my game in that regard. So yeah, I'm super proud of where the lyrics on that record went. I'm glad you like that verse because I am very insecure about that verse because I don't usually dabble in imagery, so I still don't know how to measure whether or not I'm doing a good job in that realm [laughs], so it's nice to hear somebody say that they like it.
Yeah totally, and that song in particular kind of plays into my next question about the music. Musically, the record almost isn't even ska punk. It's almost more like ska emo or ska indie rock, and I feel like that song is just like, really emo. Do you feel like you pushed yourself to push We Are The Union out of your comfort zone? Did you have specific influences that you were channelling?
Absolutely. The biggest thing is I'm a pop music junkie, I listen to almost nothing but pop music. I'm listening to Carly Rae Jepsen, I'm listening to Charli XCX, I'm listening to Ashnikko -- that's the stuff that I listen to on a daily basis. I listen to an insane amount of Gwen Stefani and No Doubt. And that's kind of where my head is at most of the time. But also, that's backed up by: I also really love the latest PUP record. I love the band Charly Bliss, I love every song they've ever put out. I love Illuminati Hotties, again, every song they've ever put out. And those three -- on like the indie or punk side -- those are kind of really the big three that informed the record outside of like our typical ska influences. Like of course I'm listening to Rancid and The Interrupters. We made a point to go in that direction of ska. Like those bands almost kind of pull from 2 Tone in a way but it's still very ska-punk, and so I was listening to a ton of that. But really the record is primarily informed by PUP, Charly Bliss, Illuminati Hotties. That sort of corner of the world musically really does a thing that I think is very interesting. Soccer Mommy too -- which I know is probably weird for people who listen to the record, they're like "where is Soccer Mommy fit into this record?" and I'm like "I promise you they're an influence on every song." And I think it's funny, there are so many artists who are afraid to admit that they're influenced by their contemporaries, and I just am not, I just don't care. I love Jeff Rosenstock, I love everything Jeff Rosenstock has ever done, including his new material, and hell yeah I'm influenced by it. Same with PUP. Like PUP are our contemporaries, certainly, but I don't think it's weird to be influenced by their music. And I think that that's something that a lot of artists are afraid to admit, but I just think amazing art is happening all around us in real time. I love looking back at bands from the past for influence, and I love looking around us at what's happening now and being inspired by people who are creating right now.
Yeah, I mean I think that's how interesting stuff happens. It does feel like there's this pressure to namedrop classic bands as your influences, but like, just to use a really obvious example, Billy Corgan said that Siamese Dream was influenced by My Bloody Valentine's Loveless which was like two years old at the time. He saw this new thing happening and wanted to take that thing forward; I feel like that's how new ideas happen.
Yeah, and I think that's so important and I think it's important to be honest about it and talk about it. Because I think as a young musician -- when I was much younger -- I spent so much time trying to shut out modern influences and trying to only look at like, "Okay, what are the biggest bands? What are the most successful bands from the past? What did The Clash do?" You know and it's like those are great, I can sit here and talk about The Specials all day, they're one of the best bands of all time. Everybody knows that We Are The Union is influenced by The Specials, you know what I mean? You can't be a ska band and not have influence from that band. It's almost like "duh, what else are you into?" You know what I mean? It's like a given, like you look at your classic bands and that's like your bed of influences. Like "great, amazing bands. What else? What's new? What are you bringing to the table that's new?" And I love looking to contemporary artists and going like, "Okay, what's happening? What does music sound like right now?" Maybe it's because I listen to so much pop music that I'm not afraid of that. For decades now, [artists in] the pop music community borrow from each other all the time. How many times do you hear a sampled chorus from a song that's like two or three years old? You know what I mean? It happens! And remixes will re-chart with guest appearances and stuff like that. That's cool to me. I think that's really rad, and I think it's something we shy away from a lot in rock music and especially in punk. And I just think it's so silly. I think that we should be honest about who we're influenced by, and we all should make a better effort to be influenced by our contemporaries, and like you said, push ideas forward.
Yeah, and I think it's interesting you bring up PUP; like for current punk fans who don't listen to ska, I'd say if you like PUP then you'd definitely like We Are The Union. Like it's ska-punk but it's that world of punk, it's not '90s skate punk, it's not Less Than Jake, it's not NOFX.
Right, yeah. And that was a very big point that we wanted to make on this record. Again, nothing against those bands, and those bands continue to innovate in their own right. Less Than Jake continues to innovate on their new records; I think that's awesome, and they'll always be an influence on my writing, always. But I'm also always looking for new influence to incorporate. And I hope I never lose that as an artist. If nothing else, I hope that I continue... 'cause it makes me feel like a kid, you know? Hearing a new band and being like, "oh my god, that's so cool what they did!" Like Phoebe Bridgers; there are moments on Ordinary Life that are influenced by Phoebe Bridgers. Not necessarily stylistically, but like, I watched a whole video breaking down how both Elliott Smith and Phoebe Bridgers use a major 2 chord to evoke a specific emotion. And you bet your ass I took that to those songs. It's in "Morbid Obsessions." There's a very poignant major 2 chord, which will mean nothing to most people, but in "Morbid Obsessions," because specifically I was like "I like this tension in Phoebe Bridgers' song, how can I put that in my context?" It makes me feel like a kid in a candy store. When you open your mind to being influenced by anything and everything, you're bound to create cooler stuff. Even like, that band Meet Me @ The Altar that's like blowing up right now? They're straight up doing like chuggy, riffy pop punk, and like for the first time in ten years, I'm like, "Do I wanna write a riffy pop punk song just for shits and giggles?" Because I feel inspired listening to their music, I'm like "This is just so good, the riffs are great, the vocals are great, this band is awesome." I love the feeling of finding a new band, listening to their music, and then channelling that excitement through my own art. I think that's the most honest form of appreciation that I can offer, being like "I love your music so much that it made me change the way that I write songs."
So, from my perspective, Self Care seems like it was sort of a creative rebirth for We Are The Union, and this new album to me kind of feels like you took what you started on Self Care to a higher, deeper level. Would you say that Self Care sort of opened the doors to what would become Ordinary Life?
Absolutely. A lot of people will probably hate hearing me say this, but I feel like Self Care is the start of this band. I feel like everything that we did before Self Care certainly still exists and I'm proud of it, but looking back at [Self Care] now, that feels like an absolute rebirth of the band. And I think so does the new record. As an artist, I love the idea of constantly evolving and every single thing being a rebirth. One of the things that I'm most jealous of in pop music is that those motherfuckers get to completely reinvent themselves every few years as they see fit. And I think that's so cool. Billie Eilish: her new song is unbelievable! It's so good! It sounds nothing like the last record, it's completely different. And nobody cares, everybody just goes "wow what a great song." Of course there are always going to be people who get upset when you make an artistic change, I shouldn't make such a broad sweeping statement like that, but the vast majority of people I've seen have been like "wow cool!" Pop musicians can get away with that, look at Miley Cyrus. Miley Cyrus just put out an '80s rock record with guest appearances from Joan Jett and Billy Idol, like that's so cool, and it slaps! And meanwhile, what was she doing two years ago? She was hanging with a bunch of rappers doing hip hop, and that's awesome. Like it's also good. And I think that it's so cool -- and this kind of hearkens back to what I was saying before -- I love that in pop music, you can take what I'm talking about by being influenced by your contemporaries even further. You can actually bring them in and be like "write a song with me." In my dream world, in my dream punk rock utopia, that will be normalized in our world too. And you do see it a little bit; Charly Bliss and PUP did that holiday song together, and that was really cool. But I love the idea of just like calling up the vets and being like "hey, y'all wanna write a song together?" and then just doing it. I think that's something so unique to pop music that I think guitar-based music would really benefit from. Because like, you wanna talk about exchanging ideas or pushing ideas forward? You get two completely minds on the same idea and the things that will happen can be absolutely magical. I really hope that we can get to a point in punk rock or in indie rock or in our corner of the music world where we can do that.
What you said about Self Care feeling like a debut, it's also the first one with Jer in the band. Obviously Jer's built up such a great platform and has been doing so much for the entire ska genre, and is also such a great musician. What would you say that Jer brought to the table that We Are The Union hadn't had previously, and how would you say that you've grown as collaborators now that you're on your second album together?
I think what Jer really brings to the table is an enthusiasm so earnest and so palpable that you really can't help but enjoy whatever moment you're in with them. They are so good at finding the joy and finding the fun in whatever it is that you're doing, that it's like impossible to not have a good time around them. And I think that really helped with Ordinary Life, because the way that we wrote this album was very different than anything that we'd done before. In the past, I'd send around a demo and everybody would kind of write their parts and then we'd get together, and we'd do some pre-production and maybe make some changes but for the most part everybody is sort of in charge quote-unquote of their own court. And we threw all that out the window. This is something that Jon Graber and I borrowed from our time working with [producer and Goldfinger vocalist] John Feldmann, the idea of "nothing's sacred, except the song." Basically we brought the song down to just the skeleton, so we had a rough idea of the drums, and then we had vocals and rhythm guitar, and that's what we walked into the studio with, that's it. And, we built every single song in real time from the ground up with midi drums -- fake drums -- and then we recorded drums dead last. Doing it that way, everybody's parts get written in real time together -- with Jon Graber in the driver's seat more or less in charge, but all of us sitting there collaborating on each other's ideas. And the only way that that type of workflow works is if the atmosphere is friendly and fun, and Jer's just palpable enthusiasm for whatever moment they are in helped make even the most tense moments during that process fly by. And I think everybody showed up with a great attitude and with the song in mind, but I was really glad to have Jer there, not only for their musical contributions to the record, but also for that lightheartedness that they not only bring themselves but they also bring out of everyone that they're around. I think that's such an important thing that we overlook as musicians. It's kind of like "well, what do you bring to the table musically?" and of course that matters, but what do you also bring to the table in terms of personal interaction? What do you bring to the unit in terms of how do we get through difficult conversations, where we're butting heads? I'm really grateful to Jer for their ability to keep it light and keep it fun.
Leading up to this album, you put out a handful of singles that aren't on the album. What exactly is the story with those?
"Fresh Fruit For Rotting Punk Rock Stars" was originally on the record and we cut it; that one was actually written with everybody during the Ordinary Life sessions. The other ones were all sort of, after Graber and I finished the Goldfinger record, we got kind of addicted to that workflow, and we just wanted to keep creating. Some of those songs were ideas that I knew weren't going to make the record, but also some of them were just stuff that we literally wrote in the studio. "Your Way, Your Time" was a custom song for our Kickstarter for Self Care. Jon and I wrote that song basically in a day, lyrics and all. We wrote that song together, and basically finished it and then sent it around and were like "alright, what's everybody else got?" So a lot of those singles were kind of just me and Jon writing in the studio and taking an idea from start to finish. Sometimes I'd come in with lyrics or a skeleton, and sometimes we'd start without that and build the entire song. And then we'd either write horn parts and send the idea to Jer and say "hey, can you track this?" or we'd say "Jer, what do you got?" Those singles were all kind of fast and loose in that Jon and I kind of just went for it. We just did whatever came to our mind that day. It was really, really fun and really challenging as a songwriter, to work completely off of your gut and not so much off your brain. It's really interesting, and it really changes the creative decisions that you make, and I think that it made me a better songwriter -- kind of listening to my first instinct. And that spiraled into the record, having everybody in the room, all in tune with their gut instinct; I was so nervous going into it, but once we finished the first two songs I was like "this is going to be awesome." Everybody's in it, everybody's doing their thing.
There are more [non-album songs] in half-recorded states, and there will be more as we go forward. It's just, again, something I've unabashedly stolen from pop music. That's kind of how pop acts roll, you know? They drop a single, they drop another single. Sometimes they make those singles into a mixtape or an album. That model is something that I think could do well in our community, to look at the way that hip hop and pop artists carry themselves and release their music, and go "how can we incorporate this into our scene?" Because I love when bands just release a standalone single, like Illuminati Hotties with "I Wanna Keep Yr Dog." That song's great, it's just by itself, just a single. Great song, I listen to it all the time. Magnolia Park; they just went back and released a bunch of songs as part of mixtapes, but for a while they were just dropping singles. I think that's so cool. And I like that they're now doing these monthly mixtapes -- if I'm not mistaken -- where they take a couple singles that they'd done and add to that. It's exciting to me to already see artists doing that in our world, and I really hope more people in punk rock and indie rock and pop punk get on that wavelength, because I think it's really awesome. The more we can focus on moving really quick and not having to focus on an album or an EP to make a song make sense, or to make a song see the light of day... the more we can focus on songs as songs and however we release them is right, I think we'll get a lot more quality music out of artists.
I wonder if the pandemic has inspired people to do more of that.
Totally. And I think the idea of an informal release is something that is often overlooked from bands. We want everything to be very put together, we tend to be very particular about everything. But I think bands would be wise to look at solo artists for inspiration on how to not take yourself too seriously. And yeah I think being in a pandemic has allowed artists to have the freedom to experiment a little bit more with their writing style, with their release structure, with how they do everything. If there's ever silver lining to take away from this absolute tragedy, maybe we'll get new ways of consuming art that continue once things go back to normal, or whatever things go back to. I think that's exciting, and I hope that we continue that.
Yeah. So, to talk about ska for a second - if ska seemed like it was back, so to speak, a year ago, it's skyrocketed in just the past few weeks alone. In your opinion, why is the genre having such a moment right now, and what do you think the future holds for ska?
I think there's a few things at play. I think for one, there have just been a bunch of bands doing interesting things with the genre for a few years now, in a way that we didn't see for a long time. There have of course always been interesting bands, but there hasn't been like a big surge of ideas. So I think a big part of it is we just have this big surge of new ideas and new bands and new people who are... I think something that's interesting about the state of ska right now is that to me it doesn't have a sound. Other than everybody's making ska. But like, you look at Bad Operation and you look at Catbite and you look at We Are The Union and you look at Matamoska, you look at all of these incredible bands -- Joystick just put out a new record -- and none of them sound anything alike. I think that's really unique. [Jeff Rosenstock's] SKA DREAM is another example; the entire ska scene exploded over that, you know? And it sounds nothing like anything else that's going on right now. Or Omnigone, all of the Bad Time Records bands, really everybody in the entire scene who's kind of popping off right now -- it's all so unique. And I think that surge of ideas is really what's driving it, partially.
The other thing is I think there's a growing queer presence in the ska scene, and I think that's in no small part due to Jer being openly non-binary and being open about their experience. Between that and the fact that their content not only touches on ska but also touches on video games and TV show theme songs, I think their entire operation, so to speak, really seems to be helping push forward the "the future of ska is queer" narrative. And I am so grateful to be part of that and to feel like -- like yeah, ska is an inherently fun sounding style of music, but there's also space for tons of emotional depth if you're willing to look for it. What better music could there possibly be to have a surge of queer folks taking interest? I think that's a big part of it, that there's a new influx of queer folks who are like "oh, ska rules! And I have representation in ska now!" For quite a long time, it was very, very dominated by cis white men, and I think we're starting to see a lot more diversity in the scene and a lot more representation and a lot more involvement from everyone, and that's really what defines the new groundswell of ska to me - that it's for everybody.
On the other hand, why would you say that it was hated for so long?
I think, unfortunately, some of the bands that crossed over to the mainstream were bands that were sort of goofy, you know? I love that, I like that ska has a goofy side. But also I think that what happened was a lot of the bands that crossed over to the mainstream kind of got typecast into this goofy role, and kind of got cornered into that sort of like, not serious music vibe. Music for dorks -- which, like, of course, that's great. But for a long time I think there was just a bit of a rebellion against that. People in alternative music wanted to be cool, they didn't want to be perceived as dorky or nerdy. My hope is that now we've accepted that that doesn't represent all of ska. Like, I love The Aquabats, they're not the only ska band. I love Reel Big Fish, they're not the only ska band. I think as the genre kind of has this groundswell of bands that are very sincere and aren't necessarily as lighthearted, I think that we'll start to see people get a little more emotional depth out of the scene. It's always been there, it's just that's not how it was represented. I think it comes down to: it was really easy to sell one specific narrative. You know, like, put the ska band in the Matt Stone and Trey Parker movie, right? Put 'em in there being goofy. And that was just an easy thing to sell for the public. And so, I think it's unfortunate that the entire scene reduced to that, because of course those bands are valid and great, but there's also so much more to the scene. And there have been interesting bands all along. But I'm excited that so many new ideas seem to be coming to fruition now, and coming together and sort of creating this swell of new bands. And I hope that we can convince a lot of people that, yes, ska sounds fun, but also it is a sincere form of art and there is a lot of emotional depth to be found. And also there are songs that are fun, and that's okay.
It's weird too because it's not like fun music in general is looked down upon. All those pop artists you named before are super critically acclaimed and they write very fun music.
Right. Here's my hot take: it's the same thing that happened with Nickelback. Like everybody jumped on the bandwagon of shitting on Nickelback and like, who really cares? Why is it part of our identity to like, hate a thing? It's so silly. If you don't like it, you don't have to listen to it. I don't like Nickelback so I don't listen to them, but I don't make my entire personality focused around like, talking shit about them. And I think it's the same thing with ska. People just wanna have something to hate. That's maybe the real reason. Being typecast as nerd music is definitely true, but I think it's more just that people always want something to hate.
I'm about to wrap up but before I do: what do you most hope listeners take away from the album?
I hope that people find something to relate to. That's really it. I make emotionally vulnerable art because I want people to have something to connect to, I want people to have art to connect to. And whether that's connecting to the themes of dysphoria, whether that's connecting to the themes of an ending relationship, whether it's a cute, sickly sweet love song or crush song like "Make It Easy" that's sort of just like "I like this person, I have no idea if they like me, but here's a song." What I hope is that people can find something on the record, even if the only thing they relate to is "oh I have ADHD too, my brain's really frustrating to be in sometimes," you know? I just want people to take away something that they can relate to and maybe find some strength in. That's it.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Stream Eichlers on Spotify.