It took four years to release Comfort/Distraction since your last full-length, Good Views, Bad News - What took you so long?
We felt really rushed when we made Good Views, Bad News. I wrote that in a couple of months in winter and I hated having that deadline. It was just so stressful for us, and we had our first European tour with Alkaline Trio, which took up four weeks when we were supposed to be writing, and we obviously weren't going to say no to Alkaline Trio. This time, we just really wanted to take our time with it and not have any deadlines, so that's what we did. We set our recording schedule six months ahead of time, but we had already been writing for a year at least. It was nice to write as many songs as we wanted. Some of those songs went on the Toxic Kids EP and some of them went on our new full-length.
It's your first full-length with your bassist Adam and there was a bit of palaver when ex-bassist Matt was kicked out of the band and wrote a statement on Punknews, do you wish things were done differently?
It was weird. To me, there wasn't any drama and it was a surprise to see that on Punknews when we didn't even announce he was out of the band. To us, it didn't really matter. I mean, at the time, it mattered, it was a big decision to make, but once it was done, it was done, and that was written on Punknews several months after we kicked him out of the band. It happened in June and then we went to Japan in August and the night we came back from Japan we saw that message.
The new album seems a little grittier; do you think that's because of Adam's contributions?
I think it has to do with just the three of us playing together and being more focused on the music of it, instead of just the melodies. All our other records were usually me coming to practice with a verse and chorus and then we'd write a song around that. But this time, it was the three of us; we all really contributed and threw into our ideas. Josh wrote some guitar parts, Adam wrote some guitar parts. It felt really good and more complete.
You can definitely tell you experimented a bit more on this record with the likes of "Zombie World."
Yeah, I know, that's a weird one. That song probably sounded way more like "Left and Leaving" by The Weakerthans, it was slow like that. Then it just evolved. I have demos of that song that are completely different sounding and once we got out of the studio that was the final product. I showed Jimmy from Polar Bear Club the demo of that song two years ago because I name drop him in it and I just wanted to make sure he was cool with that.
Before Comfort/Distraction , you released the Toxic Kids EP, which seemed quite hit and miss with people as the production wasn't so polished - was that intentional?
Yeah, that was intentional. We wanted that sound, so we went to Jack from Comadre to make the record, because we knew he has really perfected that gritty punk sound. We got a lot of shit for that, a lot of people really didn't like the way it sounded, because they were used to how the other records sounded. A lot of my punk friends in Oregon back home really love the way it sounds and when we come over here people don't like it because it doesn't sound good, but what punk records sound good? There's no good old-sounding punk records.
On Good Views, Bad News, you said you sometimes wrote about things that don't affect you personally, but this one seems to be more personal.
It's a very pessimistic record at times and I'm not some angry guy that hates the world. There are positive things I write about as well. I'll always write love songs, I'll always write any song about any topic that I feel needs attention brought to it. Sometimes it's pretty vague, sometimes it's just a fictional story and sometimes it's very personal. I think Comfort/Distraction is all over the place, but at the same time, it feels like a Broadway Calls record to me. I'd say this record is just as personal as anything else I've ever done, but also branched out a little bit. I wrote some stories, I like songs that tell stories, so I tried to do that. I guess I wrote it so other people could relate to it as well, instead of talking about touring or some shit like that.
You reference the town we're in tonight - Kingston, UK - in "Surrounded By Ghosts" on the new album, and during the show, you said it's about your first UK tour a few years back with Cobra Starship and All Time Low, and how you played a show in Kingston during one of your free days and everything was okay again.
That was the first tour we did where we didn't go out with friends. Every tour before that, it was in the States with bands like Daggermouth or Ruiner, someone we already knew from playing shows together and it was fun. This was our first time overseas and it was with two bands I had no knowledge of, except that I knew Gabe was in Midtown. It was weird. We were this scrappy pop-punk band on tour with this very polished pop-punk band and a pop band. Most of the fans didn't like us, we had no idea what we were doing, we were in a car and driving ourselves around England for two-and-a-half weeks being tourists but also having to go play these shows where nobody really cared about us. It was a weird time and I remember playing our first Kingston show and just being like, 'Holy shit, this feels so good.' It felt like home, but we were in England and it has felt like home every time we come back. We're really thankful to Banquet Records for everything they've done for us. They've put out records for us and are just a great store and people.
I read somewhere that Comfort/Distraction was initially going to be a concept album - what was it going to be about? And why did you abandon the idea?
The general concept was the idea around the song "Stealing Sailboats." It's just about an old man who decides he's done with the world and steals a boat from Chicago. I haven't even looked at a map, I don't even know if this is possible, but he sails all the way through the Great Lakes, meets people along the way, has all of these adventures, and eventually just sails off the edge of Niagara Falls. And that was his plan the whole time. It was originally just going to be a story about that guy and what he went through. Then I kind of decided it was a bad idea to limit what the songs should be about. It's not even a good idea for a Broadway Calls record, because that's not what people want from us. They want songs they can relate to and feel good singing along to. I didn't want to write a whole record about this depressing guy with a sad ending. I still want to write the story of that guy and I think I will, but I'll limit it to one song, instead of a record.
I also heard that Side One Dummy pulled out of releasing Comfort/Distraction at the very last minute - what's the story behind that?
Yeah, it was weird and very confusing at the time. We scheduled our recording in September of 2011 for March 2012, and when I say 'we' scheduled it, we called Bill Stevenson, agreed on the time period, and then he got ahold of SideOneDummy and they worked out a budget, that's the way it works. So, they worked out a budget in September and everything was cool up until a week before we went into the studio. I'd been trying to get ahold of Joe Sib for several weeks and see what he thought of our demos and make sure everything was cool, because we were going to record in a week and then go to Japan with the Descendents, so we had to know if everything was cool. He finally called me back and said they couldn't do the record. I was really frustrated, angry, and confused, because as far as Bill and I knew, we were going to do the record and then Joe Sib decided he didn't want to pay for it. I said, "Ok, I guess, we're not on your label anymore…" and that was the last time I talked to him. It was just a very bad communication breakdown within the label that led to what happened, apparently. It was a confusing time, but I know for a fact that we're all happier to be on No Sleep Records. To go ahead to make the record and put ourselves in debt is something we've never done and that was scary, but it made it feel like it was our record and we didn't have to answer to anybody or fix my lyrics to make Joe happy.
Is that what happened with the last record?
No, that didn't happen, but when I sent him demos for this new record, he told me I needed to dumb my lyrics down to appeal to more people. [Laughs.] And I was like, 'No, I'm not going to do that.' I understand that his big selling artists are The Gaslight Anthem and Flogging Molly, and I don't really know what those two bands sing about, but I know I wasn't going to change my lyrics for that audience to try to make him more money. It was really weird. It sounds like something a major label would do in the 80s to a metal band or something. Not a punk label in 2012.
Yeah, it's weird. There were a couple of pretty political songs on Good Views, Bad News like "Election Night," which I've heard a few people call an 'Obama love song.' What are your thoughts on his first term? And were you just as excited when he was re-elected?
Yes, I was. I voted for him and was glued to the TV during that whole election campaign. I'd never followed politics as closely as I did last year, and I'm sure that's the same for a lot of Americans. It's a crazy time over there and so divided. I don't think the President has been able to do as much as he wanted to and he has a lot of challenges to put up with from the other side that basically just stop anything he wants to do, because they disagree so fundamentally on everything and it's really discouraging and frustrating to watch American politics, because nothing is getting done. There are a lot of heavy subjects on the table that need to be dealt with. I don't know if people will look back on Obama's presidency and see that he got as much done as he promised or planned on doing, but it seems like he's trying and has a lot to deal with. The opposition was terrifying and if Romney was elected, it would have been a scary time to be an American again. I really think it would have been worse than Bush, because there's weird religious undertones on the right and they definitely base their laws based on the Bible.
It's cool that you went it alone and got in debt for recording Comfort/Distraction when it seems that so many bands would start a Kickstarter in a situation like that nowadays.
It's a touchy subject - a lot of people really get worked up about that stuff. We didn't want to ask people who listen to our band. They do enough for us, they come to our shows, sing along, and buy our shirts. I'm not going to ask them to pay for our record before they've even heard it. We don't really want to ask people for money until we've got something to offer them, I guess.
Before we finish, I want to know your thoughts on The Menzingers, since I remember you taking them out on their first west coast tour a few years ago - how do you feel about their success? There's so much hype in the UK around them right now.
I know, I saw they sold out two nights in a row here way in advance. I think it's fucking awesome. I love that they have that success. They are some of the sweetest guys we know and some of our best friends. They're great songwriters and amazing live. I'm really happy that they have that kind of success that not a lot of bands that sound like that get - especially with a silly name like that. [Laughs>] Everything fell into place for them, because they were doing the right thing - they just wrote good songs and that's really what it comes down to. They wrote good songs and the right people noticed, who helped them get their audience a lot bigger than they used to be and that's awesome. I'm really stoked for them.
Do you have anything else to say?
I don't really know what's next for us, but if anybody already liked us and gave our new record a chance - cool, thank you.