If it had a chance to hit the mainstream, the Ducky Boys would be credited with returning music to its three chord rock 'n' roll roots, while simultaneously bringing a social consciousness back to the genre.
Frontman Mark Lind released both that album, and a new solo record, Death Or Jail last month and sat down with Kevin Finn to talk about the records, future projects, and politics.
How do you think the albums came out?
The Ducky Boys one, sound quality-wise, came out way better than we expected. Jim Siegel, who recorded it at the Outpost, makes great sounding records. This is the third CD we've done with him, so we knew something good was going to come out of it. But we didn't know that he would be able to drag the good performances out that he was able to. The solo thing is actually intended to be a little more lo-fi. Marc Flynn, who I worked with on that, got the exact kind of recording that we wanted.
What are your favorite songs on the record?
I think "Tortured Soul" and "Bombs Away" are the best ones. Everyone we gave advance copies to think the first two ("Celebrate" and "The Middle Children of History") are the best. But I put up a poll on the band's website, and right now "Bombs Away" is leading in votes. That kind of reassured me that my finger wasn't off the pulse of what the kids like these days.
There were some that I was really psyched with and surprised they came out so good. Doug (Sullivan, the guitarist) does these really lush sounding background vocals. We did a certain kind of backing vocal that Jim had never done before. It worked, and I was able to take credit for the great idea, when in reality it blew my mind. I think that really brought those songs to a new level.
Doug's singing provides a nice contrast to yours. On Dark Days, Mike Marsden (former singer/guitarist), had a similar tonal quality to you.
I think that's because we didn't know what we were doing. When we started the band, we couldn't find a singer. Finally, I said, fuck it, I'll do it. And then Mark decided if I was going to sing, he was going to sing. We kind of copied each other.
Doug was the lead singer of a band called The Eleventh Hour, which doesn't play much anymore because two of the guys are now with Dropkick Murphys (Tim Brennan and Marc Orrell). His vocals for that band are just astounding. He thinks he sucks, but I don't know what's wrong with the kid because I would die to have his vocal ability. Just when it gets to the point where you can't take another five seconds of my growly voice, he comes in singing like an angel, and it saves the day.
Were you listening to "Guns of Brixton" when you wrote "Bombs Away"? It's definitely got that kind of feel.
Yeah, I guess it kind of does. That was originally a rock song that one day I was bored with and decided to do the upstroke guitar on. Ska's dead and all that, so you don't want to do a straight-up ska song. If it does carry kind of a Clash-type reggae feel to it, then I think mission accomplished because that's more of a classic thing that's not unfortunately dated to 1997.
That's one of many political songs on this record, which wasn't necessarily the case with your past albums.
I think that's a case of being older and having more of a range of interests. We used to say when we were younger that we didn't do anything political, as if it was some sort of decision not to touch that stuff. In reality, we were just completely ignorant.
I didn't realize you were so young when you started.
I was 18; Mike was 17, and Jay was 19. But Jay (Messina, the drummer) looked like he was 41. You get older and you start to get interested in what's going on in the world. I started reading a lot the last couple years. Considering the time period we're living in, it's easy to come up with something.
There's a definitely a leftist slant.
It's funny because my brother Rob and I were talking about this. His band, Ramallah, is super left-wing, almost to the extreme, but he used to be almost a Pat Buchanan-type conservative. We were talking about how after 9/11, we were seeing a resurgence of conservatism in the punk rock field. I don't know if we were just being contrarian or what, but we went the other way.
How has your brother influenced your writing?
The only reason I ever got a guitar or started a band was because of him. I would say as far as musical influences, he is the biggest one. We talk a lot on the phone. If I'm going to bounce a conceptual idea off somebody, I would run it by him first. He's had a lot to do with The Ducky Boys over the years. He named us. Everything I've done musically has at least come through him in some way. Plus a lot of the bands I got into when I was younger were recommended by him.
Over time, the music seems to have gotten a little less punk rock by form. It's retained the spirit, but the music has evolved. Was this a conscious decision, or just a result of changing tastes and growing older?
I think it's a little of all those things. When we were kids, we would just plug in and play. There were never any thoughts like maybe the guitar shouldn't play at a certain point. Dynamics didn't even make sense. Once in awhile on the old stuff, you'd catch a bass break after the second chorus, and that was about it. That was the one trick we knew. Then we stopped touring. Being home and having a job again and making money, I was able to buy CDs. I spent a lot of the time listening to how The Beatles and Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty and U2 and all these huge bands make their songs, how they arrange the parts. I'd say that's the conscious part. Then there's the part where you don't want to play songs that are a minute and ten seconds forever.
I definitely find myself listening to the last two records a lot more than the older stuff.
Yeah, me, too. With the older stuff, we had ideas that were bigger than the band. There were some things where we were headed in the right direction with the idea, but the execution was awful.
You did take some older ideas for the solo album.
They had never been recorded, but that's a good example of the way something can grow when you let the idea fester. They never would have sounded like that had we recorded them on Dark Days, especially the last one ("Jealousy") on the solo CD. What I wanted to do was make it like "Rocket Queen" by Guns 'N' Roses, a two-part song.
That's one clocking in at almost six minutes, right?
Yeah, that one's going to go down in history as our "Paradise by the Dashboard Light". I didn't think Jay and I could actually get through that song. We were just laughing our asses off while we were recording it. We had practiced it for like one week before going into the studio. We were going for a guerrilla attack on that recording. It was pretty fun watching him do the slow parts because he's a big guy. And he's funny, so it's always funny to watch him play. He was making faces at me in the recording studio while playing these big, bombastic drum parts. We were just laughing, thinking "who do we think we are, The Who or something, writing a rock opera?"
You should write one. Green Day did it.
Well, Green Day. I love that band. They can do no wrong, not at this point at least.
It seems like the more introspective songs ended up on the solo album. Was that intentional?
Yeah, I guess a little bit, particularly "For Frank" and the one that's titled "Love Song", which is a pretty original title. Hopefully, it didn't disappoint any of the Tesla fans.
I was surprised to see The Ducky Boys record come out so quickly after such a gap between the last two.
Well, the long gap was because we didn't know what we wanted to do. But we don't tour, so we really don't have an excuse not to make a new CD. Well, we will tour. We'll try to do something in the fall. But we don't tour full-time like Lost City Angels or someone who's just out there all the time. We're probably going to start recording another one a year from now. Well, we might do one over the summer, which would be re-cuts of old songs.
Are there any songs in particular that you're going to redo?
We picked out fourteen of them, plus an Operation Ivy cover ("Knowledge") to round it out because they were one of the main reasons we started the band. We will mainly do songs that we play in our live set. This came up because Sailor's Grave has offered us a bunch of money for the old CDs. That would be cool because we could sell them the CDs and put money in our pocket, but if we give it to them, the contract is for life. I just don't know if I want to spend the rest of my life with those things our there.
"I'll Rise Up" would sound great re-recorded.
Yeah, with Doug singing the background and chorus part. We would definitely make the chorus the way we have him singing live. I can see it being really big. Not big as in commercial-wise, but big as sounding on the speakers.
That's always one of my favorites when I see you guys play.
Yeah, that one seems to go over well still.
About a year and a half ago, you guys played on my birthday at T.T.'s with The Marvels, Avoid One Thing and Far From Finished. Right when you started "All Rise Up", this guy next to me, who I had never met in my life, turns to me and says, "This is the time of the set I usually punch somebody in the face". He said it in a really friendly way, though. I just slowly backed away from him.
That's awesome. When's your birthday, December 14th?
Mine was the 17th, so that was our mutual birthday show. Next year, we'll have to get together and have a mutual birthday party at a show.
How did you come up with the cover art for "The War Back Home"? It's pretty freaky.
Yeah, isn't that kid creepy? Doug did the whole layout. Since he's a graphic designer, we figured it would make sense to have him do it. I think it's really good because he tied in themes from the songs. That kid is actually a picture of him from when he was like seven years old, with the face being different parts from different kids. It came out really creepy.
What are your plans for touring?
It depends. We were originally thinking about headlining our own thing, in which case we would have sixteen dates and would play everyday. Ideally, we would like to go with Born to Lose from Texas, Far From Finished and the Hudson Falcons. What good is it going out touring once every two years if you can't bring someone your friends with, someone you want to show to other crowds? But we're really doubting our ability to draw a good enough crowd to finance the whole thing.
Have you drawn pretty well when you've toured before?
There have been tours we've done that have been really bad, and tours we've done that have been really good. We did most of our touring in '99 opening for Dropkick Murphys right when The Gang's All Here came out, and they were the buzz band. All but two of the shows on the tour sold out, so needless to say, that worked to our advantage. About six months later we went out with U.S. Bombs. There were a couple shows on that tour where we were getting a walkout after we played. People would leave on the Bombs. Not that we ever want to see that happen, but it's a good way to gauge if it's successful for you.
Just to finish up the question about the touring, if we were to headline, I don't know how it would go. We do alright. We do better now than we ever did before.
All the time off didn't dilute your fan base?
Actually, bands that go away and come back instantly get bigger draws. The day the Rat closed, Jim (the owner) called me and Mark from The Unseen up to his office to tell us the news. He was like "I sold the Rat. I just want to let you know. I'm so glad you guys got to start out here. A lot of bands started out here."
He started naming them off, and he goes, "Incidentally, if you ever want some advice, break your bands up and come back a few years later. I had Sick of It All here when they first started and they couldn't draw twenty people. They break up; they come back, and they can't even play my club anymore."
That was such a weird thing for him to be telling me right now. But we break up; we come back, and there are more people there. So, it really is true.
Maybe he should come back and open another club then.
Yeah, he should follow his own advice.
How do you feel that growing up in a blue-collar place like Charlestown has influenced your writing?
Actually, I'm going to get wicked pretentious here for a minute, but my cousin Bernie is from Charlestown, too, and we had this conversation recently about how the way you grow up affects your music and whether you have a message or not. I said that sometimes being poor or having adversity affects people's desire to pursue music. Aside from Joe Strummer, I don't know of any well-to-do people in music that have actually done anything. They're all people who come from poor areas or fucked-up families. Even though Bernie lives in Charlestown, he was complaining that he doesn't have anything to say. He was basically saying that he was envious of me and my brother. His parents stayed married; they really loved him. He said he really wished he had our upbringing in order to have that talent. I was like, Bern, no, you don't wish you had that because there's a reason why my brother Rob is the angriest person in punk rock.
So I do think, and now I'm kind of going back to the question, it does affect you it in that way. It kind of gives you something to chase after. I really think a lot of people I grew up with in Charlestown, even though they love music, they went the root of drugs and stuff like that and they never followed it. If a lot of those kids had just gone the music route instead, there would probably be some cool bands coming out of Charlestown, but they all decided to get into the drug scene instead and go to jail, which is why I called the solo record Death or Jail.
Alright, Mark, I think that's all the questions I've got. Thanks, and I'm sure I'll see you at a show sometime soon.