|Photo Credit: Roger Fruin|
The Gator- When I was four and five, I would take a guitar and attempt to play along to The Who’s "Tommy". We have video somewhere of me at that age singing and 'playing' along to Acid Queen. But when I started playing for real, I wrote my own songs. I’ve also played violin, trombone, and piano, and on a much less proficient basis, accordion, piano, drums. I also play bass fairly well.
HipinDetroit- How old were you the first time you played in front of an audience?
The Gator- I was 13 the first time I got on stage with a band and rocked it out. We played a few cover songs. Less Than Jake, NoFX, Sublime, Silverchair. I had been dreaming about it ever since I was very small, and let me tell you, it was everything I had hoped it would be.
HipinDetroit- How would you describe yourself to someone who never heard your music before?
The Gator- The Gator is beardless folk punk.
HipinDetroit- What bands/groups/acts have you performed with?
The Gator- This summer I played one of the most fun shows ever, with The Wild (ATL), The Taxpayers, and Ramshackle Glory. Ramshackle Glory invented the Gator clap, by the way. I also play a lot of shows with my dear friends Due North, and Cheapshow. Egon’s Unicat from the Illinois Valley is probably the most intense, entertaining group ever. I’m playing with Run, Forever on the 17th and Franz Nicolay on the 19th. When I was in Utility Monster, we played with this tight band called Bahamut…
HipinDetroit- Who are your biggest music influences?
The Gator- Without question, Rancid and Bad Religion shaped me growing up. Let’s Go and Suffer were the entry points. Rancid stole my heart and then Bad Religion showed me there was a place for intelligence in punk rock. At 14, that was monumental. Operation Ivy’s Energy got about a million plays in my Discman as well. …And Out Come the Wolves changed my life. I still remember the Epitaph Records order form that came in other cds, when Out Came the Wolves was just released. It said, “This rules the universe. Be a part of punk history.” So I went down to Beat Hotel and bought it, duh. And Joe Strummer is my punk rock hero, above all. I love NoFX. I love Swingin’ Utters. Alkaline Trio, boysetsfire, Hot Water Music, Jets to Brazil, The Lawrence Arms, and Against Me! picked up the mantle late 90s/early 2000s. The Weakerthans are perennial favorites of mine. As for slightly lesser known favorites, I think The Gamits are incredibly underrated. Their album Parts is one of my favorites.
Beyond the punk rock world, once we drift towards the singer-songwriter world, Joey Cape (of Lagwagon) started me on this path. I’m a huge fan of Neko Case. I unapologetically love Elliott Smith as well. I think John K. Samson’s songs are marvelous. I love everything he’s done.
The Beatles and The Who started everything when I was a small child. My dad used to play blues albums when I was young. I grew up listening to Leadbelly, Robert Johnson, Ted Hawkins. And Patti Smith has been this sort of constant presence my entire life. I also got to see Nina Simone in Detroit not long before she died. My parents have been major musical influences as well, just because they played all these albums all my life. Luckily they never played me any music that sucked. Seriously.
HipinDetroit- L.A. to Chicago to Detroit, what do you see as the difference in the music scene here from the other places you lived? [Seattle too!]
The Gator- I’m no expert. I would preface my answer by saying that I’ve never felt like I was truly part of any scene, which is to say that I’m not sure I ever fit in anywhere. But that’s how we all feel. I’ve gone to more punk rock shows by myself than with friends. I guess you don’t need to go with friends when there’s a whole pit full of new buddies every time. Punk rock is my friend. It doesn’t require you to fit any particular mold. In high school I’d play my shows in a J. Crew sweater because that’s just what I had on that day. I don’t have any tattoos or piercings. I’ve had the same haircut my entire life. I mean, clothes don’t make you punk rock. Body modification doesn’t make you punk rock. Being an asshole certainly doesn’t make you punk rock. I’ve always thought that punk was, or at least should be, the most inclusive and accepting of all art forms. There may be others, but whatever. I love punk rock. It’s desperation and elation simultaneously.
When I moved out of Michigan the most recent time, the scene in Detroit felt depressed. All the jobs were gone anyway. My whole band was unemployed. I left because I lost my home, and my extended family back in LA was able to get me a job. But my perception was that in Michigan, the scene was depressed, in the medical sense. Nobody felt like doing anything. We’d play shows and the same 20-30 people would be there. Let me tell you, we had a great time together. But when we’d play a show in another city, it felt more alive.
Los Angeles has a lot going on, I don’t know that I have anything too insightful to say about it. Chicago has always seemed fine to me because I’ve gone in to play shows with other non-Chicago bands, and we’ve had a great time. But other friends in Chicago bands have bemoaned the pretentiousness there. I haven’t experienced it firsthand, but I can see how that could be the case. Seattle was really friendly, but then again I wasn’t there for very long. And also, I made a very good friend right away, in a great band, so that helped.
Detroit feels alive again. Maybe I’ve been away too long and the scene is even further along than I perceive. But we have everything it takes. Pain makes great art. And we have been through the wringer. NoFX has that song, The Desperation’s Gone, where Mike sings about how “the notes and chords sound similar, the same forbidden beat but the desperation’s gone. The song’s the same, the desperation’s gone.” We have the desperation and its necessary counterpart: community. We’re doing this together. Restoration. Rebuilding. Reclamation. It seeps into our sound. You can hear a Chicago punk band and know it. You can here an LA punk band and know it. Bay Area, Philly, DC, Gainesville. Same. You can hear it, and it’s because of a shared experience. Detroit is audible. And it’ll kick your face in.
HipinDetroit- Favorite venue to play at in Detroit (and surrounding areas?)
The Gator- Trumbullplex! They are the best. I love the people there. Austin, J Rae and Mikey are incredibly dedicated to fostering an inclusive arts and music community. I’ve had the great privilege of playing several shows there, and I’ve loved every second of it. I also like the Lager House a lot. PJ is incredibly kind, and I love how he’s always there and talking to everyone. And he remembers you the next time. I am also really stoked about the Toepfer House starting to get a lot of attention. My friend Vince from Cheapshow (Toepfer House is his house) is the real deal. He represents so much of what is great and right about music. I love him. He also sends the funniest text messages.
HipinDetroit- where do u want to see yourself in five years?
The Gator- I actually do write five-year plans. I was trained to do that. This project, The Gator, will still be going. I’ve decided on that. Writing, recording, touring. Five years from now, five more albums, lots of tours, lots of singing along together. The question here is really, what does success look like to me? The answer is a self-sustaining music career. I’m happy to work a job in addition to music so I can directly help people. And I need health insurance because I end up in the ER a lot. But musically, I’d like for the album and touring to pay for itself. I don’t want to be famous, not even close. Fame seems like a terrible curse. I love Bandcamp and crowd-funding. There are still great labels, and if a band or an artist wants to grow and expand, labels can provide the distribution and tour planning and exposure that an artist may not be able to create on their own. But now anybody can make some music and release it on the internet. That leaves the onus on the audience. You can’t let the radio tell you what’s good (you never should have anyway!). You have to listen and decide for yourself. In five years I will be able to say I’ve been working tirelessly on learning and creating with music, and that I’ve been able to meet thousands of great individuals along the way.
HipinDetroit- Favorite live show you ever saw or experienced?
The Gator- October 24th, 1998, Rancid at Clutch Cargo’s was my first big punk show. One time before a Bad Religion show I was so stoked that I punched my sister in the stomach. Tom Waits in Detroit. One time my dad took me to see Nina Simone. Against Me! in Pomona, CA. BR’s 30th Anniversary show in San Francisco. Gogol Bordello puts on a phenomenal party. The Weakerthans are pretty powerful too. I mean, I have a box full of ticket stubs like everybody else. But if we’re talking pure fun, pure enjoyment, then I have an unexpected answer. I saw NOFX at ROMT in 2008, and it was the most fun I’ve ever had at a show. I can’t explain it. I mean, I heard they suck live. And also, ROMT has pretty crummy sound. I was 25, so it’s not like I was young and impressionable anymore. But they played every song I wanted to hear, and they played The Decline, and they told everyone to elbow a kid in the eye. Say what you will, but that was a good damn time.
But the show with The Wild, The Taxpayers, and Ramshackle Glory was probably my favorite to play. I’ve had a ton of fun with Due North, with Egon’s Unicat, and with Sagan Youth.
And about the Kickstarter:
All the info is on the page, but I just want to stress again that this project means the world to me. I am paying for the recording myself. The Kickstarter money would fund a vinyl pressing of the album. My good friend and roommate, Chuck, challenged me, back in September, to record and press this album by March 30th. Let’s win this challenge!
|Photo Credit: Cale Kehoe|