Aaron Scott of Attica! Attica! interviews Rob Sullivan of Ruiner
Oasis is one of those bands we all listened to before we knew what punk was. The type of band you thought was "alternative" before you even knew what that was. When your favorite "punk" band was Green Day. I remember owning an Oasis t-shirt in like 6th grade and I just always listened to them. When we sat down to pick a cover we charted out a huge list of songs. We just kept voting until we got it down to (What's The Story) Morning Glory?. That list was a collection of our youth, I can say for sure.
Were there one or two bands that took you tangibly deeper into punk/hardcore or just into more local/underground music? What was the bridge from the days of Oasis/Green Day? And would your Ruiner bandmates have a similar answer?
For me it was mostly local bands that introduced me to punk/hardcore. At that time the Warped Tour was completely Fatwreck and Epitaph bands so it made it easy to find everything I was looking for in music. High school is when I discovered bands like Bane and Shai Hulud. From that point I worked backwards figuring out what influenced what and so on. As for the other members I'd say it was pretty similar aside from Danny. He grew up on metal. He sorta went in a strange reverse listening to the incredibly harsh to the incredibly pop. Granted, he may have one of the more vast music tastes of anyone I know. As a whole, Ruiner all listened to a lot of different things, really.
Why did you choose to do a more faithful cover version? And did you ever consider incorporating more melodic singing in Ruiner's songs?
Honestly, I felt it would have sounded terrible if I tried to scream it. I was hit or miss with how I felt about the end but I think it worked out. I enjoy singing in general. I grew up going to Karaoke bars with my parents when I was younger and I always sung. I never had an issue using a real singing voice. It's something I never wanted to do in a band really but when the opportunity comes to attempt at actually singing I usually take it.
About adding that element to any Ruiner song, I can say sort of. I'll say that if we stayed a band and did another record you'd probably hear a little bit rougher singing voice come out of me. I always tried to find a different voice for every record depending on the writing style and tone. I always wanted to sound like me but I never focused on making sure I sounded exactly the same. I wanted to sound what I felt was comfortable to the music. I know that if we continued writing we probably would have gone a little more melodic, that pushing my voice the way I did wouldn't have worked for me.
What's it like to not be in Ruiner?
I am really enjoying my time away from being in a band. I was in bands since middle school and touring since I graduated high school. I had a lot of other goals I finally am focusing on. Granted I have to be consumed by something so the moment the band ended I entered into the next phase of my life. I do occasionally miss it. Mostly when I am at a show and I see bands that seem like shells. I get bothered when I see bands with nothing to say, when it seems like they aren't fucking angry at something. I don't understand why you want to play in a punk or hardcore band with out being fucking pissed. Thats just me though.
Anger and frustration are emotions you often tapped into with Ruiner lyrics. These are often considered "negative" emotions, but it seems that you consider these an essential part to making music. Do you feel that anger is a positive force?
I think if a person wakes up every day thinking life is perfect, that nothing should be changed, they exist with no regrets and don't feel a certain angst when they turn the TV or radio on... they are already dead. They have quit on humanity in my opinion. I don't look at the world as this big dark abysmal pile of shit however I know that a lot needs to change. Be it the involvement of the religious right within our government since the birth of our nation specifically or in more modern times how nearly a decade of deregulation has made men who were already pretty terrible people into full blown fucking nightmares. I just can't fathom how a person doesn't get bothered by these things. Put aside the personal shit, your relationships, your family life or whatever it is that the majority of musicians write about. I mean that stuff alone fueled me since I picked up a pen to write when I was a teenager. Then you start getting older and all aspects of what the phrase being alive means.
I think anger is a positive response. I think if more people were angry at something more could get done. Anger motivates people. I am not talking about irate uncontrollable bastards but a person should be angry from time to time. I think if you want to scream your head off about your feelings you should have some sense of anger inside. Some part of you should be wanting to tear itself out of your chest and tell whoever or whatever it is that gets under your skin to go fuck itself. I can't imagine living without that feeling inside.
You seem like a pretty sincere and straightforward lyricist. Do you think you ever took on a persona lyrically that embodied an idea or a personality moreso than just communicating your precise personal feelings?
Absolutely. I know from time to time the asshole persona that I took got blown up a bit in certain instances. However I usually only let it get the best of me in good fun. I just like messing with people. I mean you personally touched on that in a song for Marathon that I think embodies how it goes to be in a band. We aren't at all as bad off as we seem. I am purposely not trying to quote you because I think it would be a little bit cheesy. When it comes down to it we mean every word and we are to some degree exactly the personality we portray. It's just when you put us on stage long enough a little ego takes over so things get shifted up a few gears. More specifically with lyrics I'd say it was about dead on how I felt. When it came to writing I don't think I really let that persona take over. At a point I felt like I had been writing the same songs over and over for years. Just improving on how I wanted to say whatever the point be that I was trying to reach.
Can you identify one or two public figures whose perspective or philosophy resonates with you (and why)? It could be a writer, stand up comedian, lyricist, Plato, whomever fits you best.
This is a very good question with what could be a very difficult answer. Throughout my life I'd say this has changed very much. Sometimes it was a member of a band or athlete but then I'd meet the person and totally change my perspective. So I'll say two people currently that I know even if I met them I am sure my opinion would not change. The first being Lewis Black. Lewis Black is probably my favorite comedian. He is the angry uncle that you hope loses his shit at the family gathering just for the story. His stand up is something I can not get enough of. I love stand up comedy and to keep myself safe from ridicule of some other comedians who might capture my full (incredibly offensive) sense of humor I'll stick with Lewis Black.
The second would be Dan Gable. Dan Gable is one of the greatest wrestlers to ever live. He won a gold medal in 1972, he had one loss in college and en route to that he never had a single point scored on him in his collegiate life. He was also the coach for the University of Iowa for almost 25 years during which he won the NCAA team title 15 times. No I do not have all of that committed to memory I looked some of it up just to push my point. The reason I identify with that man has nothing to do with wrestling really. Though I wrestled and now do the whole MMA thing its his mentality on life. The reason no one scored on him is because he just kept coming. No matter what the other guy did he just kept coming and broke their spirit. His way of training is something this world rarely sees. I've said my whole life men like my father don't exist anymore. Men who don't quit, who don't complain when things get harder, they don't look at their past mistakes as reasons to not progress they just keep moving forward. I might not achieve any sort of greatness in my life short of having been in some shitty band but I know ill keep moving forward.
Fans of any band love to ask what the next step is. Right after you release an album, they want to know when the next one is coming out. Right after you play their town, they want to know when you're coming back. Right after you break up, they wonder when you're playing a reunion and when you're starting a new band. Has this been your experience overall? And what have you told people who still want more from Ruiner and/or from you as a singer?
Yea that's pretty much been the experience for me as well. I just tell them thank you and to move on, honestly. I have no real desire to front a band ever again. Some of the guys have new bands so when they ask what anyone is doing I tell them. Danny has a few projects he is working on. He got his old band Quills back together and he has his At The Heart Of The World thing. Steve, Dustin and Joey have a band but they have yet to pick a name.
The video from your last show looks insane. One thing I like about official last shows is that they're like a living funeral where the deceased gets to see and hear how people feel about them before they're gone. Was your last show like that for you? Or was it just another show?
Our last show was definitely an experience I won't forget. A lot of great bands played and it just felt really good being able to call it a day like that. Aside from one idiot in the crowd heckling the entire time I'd say it went perfect. We didn't want our set to feel any different so aside from coming out to a Nine Inch Nails song we just ran as many songs as we could together in blocks. No encores or anything weird like that. Just Ruiner the way we always played with me running off at the mouth about something in between songs.
Okay, last question: If you had to write a song about life after Ruiner, what would it the lyrical themes be?
Honestly I don't know. Every time I would sit down to write something topical I rarely enjoyed the finish product. If it's not personally driven I always had a hard time finishing it. At this moment I am in a really good place in my life. I'd need to be back on the road, broke, and struggling to actually have the desire to write an entire song. Not to say that's how everyone should feel but for me I needed to be mentally in a certain place to want to write. Right now I am so geared in a different direction that I wouldn't even know what to write about.
Rob Sullivan from Ruiner interviews Aaron Scott from Attica! Attica!So, why did you choose The State Lottery?
I first heard Propagandhi in the Summer of 1998. I was visiting my friend Michael in Hamburg, Germany. He made me a tape from his vinyl copies of "How To Clean Everything" and "Less Talk More Rock." I biked around Hamburg for a week, listening mostly to those two records. I was blown away by the crass snottiness of their first record, and by the maturing intelligence of their second. They took political punk to new levels for me, surpassing the passive intellectualism of my first love, Bad Religion. If Greg Graffin and Brett Gurewitz were philosophy, then Chris Hannah was action. After many listens, "The State Lottery" stood out, along with a few other tracks ("Less Talk, More Rock," "Refusing to Be A Man"), in that it introduced me to a truly new idea. It's rather simple, but I had still never thought about it-why do politicians throw a party when they win the hardest jobs in the country? The song is such a concise deconstruction of the most important thing for us all to consider when analyzing anything: what is the motivation behind each action? Everyone's behavior is informed by an agenda, transparent or not, and understanding the agenda helps us to understand how power structures work. It's like Lenin said, you look for the person who will benefit and uh, y'know...
Would you say Propagandhi would approve of your rendition?
Wow, that's a great question. They don't strike me as being particularly uptight about interpretations of their songs. I think they're more interested in human rights than they are about whether someone is playing their music with a djembe drum. I view them as one of a handful of bands that are almost "uncoverable." They're like the Pixies...do you really think the world needs another version of "Where Is My Mind" when the original is essentially perfect? And yet, I felt like the unique qualities of Propagandhi are what made them so influential to me. I wanted to do a version that would both give respect to the original and reinterpret the urgency in a different instrumental context. I'm proud of my version, but who knows if Propagandhi would approve. They'd probably think it's cute.
If someone came to you and said "I want to do a bike tour with my acoustic guitar", what's the first piece of advice you would give that person?
I would tell them to do a bike tour without a guitar. Not a big one, just three or four days. My bike tour was 10 weeks of 50-mile days. When I decided to do the tour, the farthest I had biked in one day was 25 miles. The scope of the tour was based on ambition, not on reasonable understanding of the true physical cost of biking 2,400 miles. I wouldn't trade the experience for anything, but I also would probably have been just as satisfied and inspired had I only biked 800 miles. Then again, I might have talked myself out of it altogether had I tested myself in advance too much, so maybe my advice would just be this: go for it.
So looking back you have been in some pretty noteworthy bands whether you think so or not. My personal favorite is Marathon. For anyone who doesn't know, the majority of that band is also in Polar Bear Club. Now in my opinion, you can hear a lot of similarity between the two. Lyrically, you and Jimmy are very different, however. Do you ever think what could have been had you kept Marathon together? Do you think both bands could have functioned at the same time given PBC at one point was not a full time band?
I think it's natural that there's similarities in the two bands' sounds. Not only are there common members, but there's a discernible Rochester (NY) sound that we both colluded with to a certain degree. Maybe that's Upstate pride talking, but Rochester has pumped out some great bands. To be clear, there was never any conflict between Polar Bear Club and Marathon's schedules. I think Nate first joined PBC when Marathon was already on its way out, and Emmett joined after Marathon was done. There were actually more scheduling conflicts when we started Marathon and nearly everyone was already in one or two other bands. The last several years of Marathon were unfettered by any other band obligations. So we really just fell apart on our own. I never know what to say about why we broke up. I'm the one who basically quit, but I think we all sort of knew it was coming. We were frankly getting bored with being broke all the time, and playing the same places over and over without building our fanbase significantly. I lived in our van for a long time, and we weren't even buying pasta dinners out of the band fund for most of the time we toured. We were falling behind on our merch bills to our record label and were having a hard time keeping jobs on the side. I know there's some people who would've killed to be in our shoes and play to 100 people most everywhere we went in New York State, but there's only so many times you can play Harrisburg to 6 people. I suppose we could've scaled back to just occasional weekends, but we had other obligations pulling us in different directions. One guy needed health insurance really bad for a serious medical condition, another guy started going to school, another moved to Boston, and I was like, "fuck it." So I called the time of death and decided to move out to the West Coast.
I'm not sure anything would have been different had we stayed together. I'm pretty sure we all regret not having recorded a second album. I think the cocktail of musical minds within the band had the potential to produce an amazing record. That said, I can't say that another record would have upped our potential to make a sustainable amount of money. I hate to frame it in terms of money, but how many years can you eat only peanut butter sandwiches and play shows to an empty room and say that you do it because you love it? I think nine years (between De La Hoya and Marathon) was enough for me. I still love touring, but only when I can do it when I want to, not because we feel like we have to.
You have now lived in many different cities (aside from spending time in many different cities) would you say Portland is home? Does it meet that level of comfort that a person tends to find at some point in their life?
Despite continuing to live here, I think Portland is the place that I've felt least comfortable (of the places I've lived). I often have a hard time communicating with people who grew up in the Pacific NW. I think I exaggerate that narrative in my head at times, but other times it blows my mind how passive people can be here. I love the sincerity and directness of the Northeast (where I grew up and lived most of my adult life) and I don't see that very much out here. And, I also get myself in trouble when I get too pointed with my opinions. But it's not a big enough problem to leave Portland. I often entertain the idea of moving back east, but I never know where I would move to. I really want to live somewhere that I can get the advantages of living in a city (good shows, good food, good art, interesting job opportunities, etc.). I also want to live somewhere that I can realistically live without a car. I have a cargo trailer for my bike and I use that to bring my gear to shows and do my food shopping. Portland is awesome for biking, and it would be hard for me to move anywhere that was a major step down from that. All that said, I feel like I've kept Portland at arm's length for the five years I've been here...like I never want to let Portland get too close. I guess I've never been totally comfortable with the idea that I'll have to fly across the country every time something cool is happening back east. It would seem more efficient to just live there. (As a sidenote, Portland is a total indie rock town and it consistently disappoints me how little interest there is in punk and hardcore here. There's a good little scene for DIY music in general, but a city of this size should be able to get more enthusiasm for decent punk shows than it does.)
Attica! Attica! allows you to explore pretty much whatever you want without anyone really saying "No, that sucks" do you think you will ever want to return to a full band again?
You've just identified the best and worst part of not having a band. The boredom-bred negativity of the bandmate experience really sucked when you had a cool idea that no one really cared about. But now all I have is ideas and uncertainty. I could really use someone around who would help me filter out the bad ideas from the beginning. I'm not saying that my music is full of bad ideas, I'm just saying that it saves time, money and energy to realize a bad idea is bad before you get into the studio. I really miss playing in a full band, but that's the only part I miss. I've never toured alone in Attica! Attica!, I've always done it with another band, so all the benefits of traveling with a group of people are there with none of the detriments (when there's an argument, I usually don't have to be involved, for example). I just miss singing and running around with a loud, fast, tight band playing with me. And there's a certain style of singing that fits so well with a full band that doesn't always sound great acoustic. All that said...I don't know if I'll ever do another band again because I don't know if I care enough to put in the energy. I love performing, but I don't particularly like writing music, so every time I'm posed with an opportunity that involves writing more songs, I'm a little reticent to jump into it.
You just made existing as a singer songwriter sound like heaven, to me anyway. With that said I will conclude my part of the interview with some truly personal questions. For anyone that doesn't know, you work in the food industry. I'd like you to name your favorite food to eat and prepare as well as tell me one story about how incredibly rude people can be to those in the service industry.
Yeah, I think being a soloist was a matter of survival. I don't know if I'd still be performing (in the DIY scene, at least) if being in a band was a requirement.
To be honest, I'm not passionate about cooking food. I'm pretty good at making something that tastes good and I have an above-average knowledge of food, but I don't cook for myself at home after doing it for 40 hours/week. I think my favorite thing to prepare is whatever I'm making for other people, because it's a rare occasion that I get to feel like my day-job skills are somehow important. If I'm having some people over for dinner, I usually try something new and ambitious so I can learn something new. And it's very satisfying if I try something new and tricky and I knock it out of the park on the first swing. My favorite thing to eat is legit pizza and/or bagels from the Northeast (specifically, NYC). Portland, on the whole, has not mastered either of these foods.
As for rude behavior...books could be written about that. Rudeness almost always stems from entitlement and the belief that, in a monetary transaction, the person receiving the money must do absolutely anything to receive the money. Most people are fine, but it only takes one jerk to ruin a shift. One time, a customer (claimed he) broke his tooth on an olive pit and then threw his plate against the wall about two feet from my head. That was in New York...I can't imagine anyone in Portland being that aggressive. Here, they just yelp about it from their seat. Whenever someone complains, I want to say, "why don't you just yelp about it?" But then they probably will.