The band is about to release its first new record in nine years, Leave a Light On, via Rise Records on May 27th. What led to the decision to write a new record after a near decade of dormancy?
We've been active over the last few years, we've done some shows but we haven't done any serious tours or recording in that time. But I was writing all along. I've been focusing on doing the acoustic thing because of the other guys in the band, with kids and jobs and everything. We haven't been able to tour the way we could way back when, so I went out on tour myself and figured "well, this is the best thing I could be." We weren't really sure if we should try to put out a new record because we asked who would care or who would put it out. So we kind of put it off but we kept writing songs and I suggested recording, maybe putting out a 7-inch or putting it out ourselves. Shortly after that we ran into Craig from Rise at Groezrock, and he asked us what we were doing with the new record and we weren't really sure. He called us when we got back to the States and asked us to put it out on Rise. I didn't know too much about it but I knew he did records for the Bouncing Souls, Hot Water Music and Cheap Girls and I really dug those records. I didn't know much beyond those. I started asking around and we talked with them and the more we thought it was cool. We haven't been inspired to write any new records in a long time so we're really excited to get this thing done.
Rise Records has been on my radar for quite a few years, and being aware of the bands they put out around 2008 and beyond I was glad to see them branching out and picking up you guys, Bouncing Souls, Hot Water Music and everything.
Yeah, I didn't know about them too much but asking around and reading up on them I learned a lot. I even asked Craig, "Why would you want to put out our record?" He said he grew up listening to us and a lot of punk and hardcore and was really excited at the prospect of putting out our record. I like the fact that he said that. We even had a history I was unaware of. In the early '90s I was running a label with a friend of mine just putting out local Sacramento bands, nothing too big. One of the bands we put out was Craig's band that he played bass in. It's been really interesting to see the comments of our old fans that aren't connected to the current state of metalcore or anything and the normal Rise Records crowd that look at us like we're just crazy old dinosaurs. The response has been pretty funny.
It's always interesting to see a label with a broad spectrum of bands. The comparison I'm thinking of is Victory Records and all the bands they put out in the '90s. Seems like a good business model, at least.
The band and I are out of touch with what's going on right now. Not because we're old guys or whatever, but after 34 years you think you're used to the way people have been doing it. Everything's different now with the music industry that we feel new to it.
During the tenure of the band, you've interacted with a lot of different labels. Is your connection with Rise different than your dealings with other labels throughout the years?
It's a little different. From our end of it, we're not hungry to get a record label deal. We didn't go into this thinking we needed a deal. Had Craig not pushed us, we probably wouldn't haven even released a full-length album. We would have had material sitting around and self-released some 7inches, but now we're really in a good spot because we're not operating under desperation. Even though our heyday may have been in the '80s, we're playing for all the right reasons and the decisions we make now are made on what makes the most sense to us. We don't have to compromise or do things we don't believe in. Craig said to keep it simple and we could make the record we wanted to make. It's a pretty cool thing. We're also not going to sell as many records as their top bands, but I think they know that. What we've done is made a really great record and if anyone likes the style of music we've been playing over the years they'll be into it. It's a very nice and friendly relationship we have with Rise and it's been great. They've been really supportive.
It sounds appealing from your position because they're giving you complete control even though they're fronting the money. It seems like that's probably a rare thing in the industry these days.
Yeah, I had to talk to friends in bands and ask if labels even give bands money anymore. Everyone was just very direct in how things are done these days. There was a suggestion of recording with this person and this studio, but we had it in our minds to record with Steve Kravac who has worked with us before. He was available to do it and we made it happen. Let's go into Steve's studio and do it. He sat in on a few of our practices and we figured everything out. It wouldn't really work for us to record with some well-known producer, so we made our suggestion and they were cool with it. This means we'll be comfortable and make the best record we can. That's the best situation we could be in right now.
The record definitely sounds like the classic 7 Seconds sound. Do you think that falls in line with the sound people know the band for, like on your early recordings?
That sound is predominant on the record. There's about three or four songs that are a little more melodic and mid-tempo, things I worked on initially on an acoustic guitar. I demoed it and showed it to the guys and we decided to go with those. We've never been afraid to try something a little different from the record prior to that. Maybe it's not the best business move, but when we started doing that in the mid-'80s or whenever it was, it was weird but you have to make the music that you want to make. Yeah, you may lose some fans or make some new ones along the way but I don't think that matters. You've got to be in control of it no matter what you do. The funny thing is that Rise just released one of the new songs, the title track, and it's definitely more melodic. It's interesting to see the response from die-hard Rise Records fans who are saying that it sounds like the Foo Fighters, or that we're trying to copy Green Day. I remember being younger and a band would pop up out of nowhere and I'd think, "who the fuck are these guys?" That stuff never dies out. I honestly think that me and the band have expectations for the record and if some people aren't into it, that's fine. The record is solid and diverse, it's not too generic, there's enough for us to feel good about it. We're not in control of who likes it and who doesn't. We just let the label market it as they see fit, but we won't be doing any wacky shit or anything like that. It's a hardcore record to me, and I know that hardcore means different things to different people these days. Sometimes people's definition of hardcore is drastically different.
I think those definitions can all coexist. You also just released a new solo record, Off Stockton, in February through Rise. How did your solo career begin?
I've been doing the solo thing for probably going on 20 years. I've been putting records out on labels a lot of people don't know much about. I think our bass player had a kid and he was going to spend the first year staying at home. I tried to put together a band, but I realized I'm picky on who I play it with. I don't like crybabies or people that have overly high expectations on what they deserve, so I said screw it and played on my own. I did a lot of open mics and everything. My first solo record came out in 1996 or '97, and I did two records on Cargo, but I don't think those are in print or were widely distributed at the time. I do it because I love to play. I'll play in a club, at a coffeehouse, on the street. Anywhere I can. I love to write songs so as long as I have an outlet to do that I'll always be playing music. It's different than 7 Seconds but it's kind of nice to do both. Since I've been focusing on my solo stuff, now I'm ready to rock a little bit. I'm ready for people to be bouncing off the walls all sweaty and everything.
Do you do a lot of street performance with your solo material, and does that differ between playing an actual venue?
There's not a lot of difference, actually. When I first started doing solo stuff, I was terrified because it was just me. My first show was in New Jersey and my friend ran a club and asked if I wanted to open for some band for like three minutes. I did it and it was great. The funny thing was people showed up because my name was on the flyer and expected it to be more punky than it was. I was playing on the street and at open mics to really tighten up. I did it because I wanted to get over my fear of relying on amplified music. I'm used to 100 people showing up and going crazy but the acoustic stuff is different. I wanted to prove I could do it and get out of my comfort zone. The touring I do, I play a lot of shows at venues but I'll also play at art galleries and stuff. I like to play every day, and as long as I can make enough money to fill up the van I'm happy with it. It's a whole different ordeal and it's a lot of fun.
Is there a lot of 7 Seconds crossover at your solo shows, where people are there just because of your primary band and not necessarily because they know your solo material?
Not so much now. I've been doing it long enough that people know I do some acoustic shit. They've either made up their minds that they like it, hate it, or don't give a fuck. Some people will shout out 7 Seconds song titles, and some of them are outrageous to do on acoustic. I was just in Poland a couple weeks ago and some kids were begging me to play "Young Til I Die" and I was thinking, 7 Seconds is coming through again in a couple months, can't you just wait? So I did it and told them after, "sorry, I told you it was going to suck." I try to stay away from the classic 7 Seconds songs because I can't do any justice for them. There's so much material I've released that I decided I'll just play what I play. Guys like Chuck Ragan and Frank Turner doing well, everyone gets compared to them. I'm doing something a bit different, and I have a smaller fan base but if I can hit the road and make a record every once in a while and make someone happy then it's worth it.
How different is it to write for 7 Seconds as opposed to writing solo material?
I used to always carry around a notebook for lyrics and a tape recorder for song ideas, at the very least I can hum it or remember it in some way. These days now, I'm pretty limited when I write for 7 Seconds. When I sit down and write what I want to write about, there's always a challenge writing something that's going to represent you and your band well. Some people just write whatever the fuck they want and make no effort to not repeat themselves or keep in line with one thing, but we've always been a message band. I like that and I like to write about real things in that project. My solo stuff is a little more artsy, where I'll write about my cat or dog or something. When you write something down and read it again, sometimes you ask why you wrote it, but it's a snapshot of that moment. My solo stuff is less structured and I feel less of an obligation to write in a certain style, but with 7 Seconds I always have a message to share.
You've been involved in hardcore for quite a long time. How has the scene in the United States changed in your eyes?
I go back and forth, to be honest with you. The way I feel is that hardcore and punk rock should always be in the hands of young people. It should be dictated and guided by young people, people who still have that youthful energy. I'm willing to step aside, and I feel I have. I'm an opinionated person and I feel that I have a lot to say, but I also know that every 17-year-old hardcore kid is going to look at me and connect with that. I'm pretty opinionated on Facebook and people sometimes think I'm this grumpy old guy that's mad about not being young anymore. There's an amazing history behind where hardcore comes from with a lineage of bands like The Clash and New York Dolls. I notice a lot of young people don't know who those bands are and I think that's sad. I try to keep an open mind with new bands. I played two shows on the acoustic stage at Warped Tour last year, and it was eye opening. Of the 50 or so bands that were on the bill, I knew of two: Goldfinger and Reel Big Fish. I realized that most of the people coming to Warped Tour know about the bands I don't because they're big now, kind of like when Warped Tour first started everyone knew about Pennywise and bands like that. My biggest problem is that there's no connection. The anger's there and the posturing too, but there's no real defined message. Why aren't these guys saying anything real? But then I realized that's the difference between my generation and the current generation. I'm not saying that's bad, but that's the feeling that keeps coming up for me. There's plenty of ways to do your homework these days. I appreciate older bands that go out and play and kick the shit out of everybody because I know that's coming from a true place.
It's definitely uplifting to see a band that's been at it for so long blow new bands out of the water just for the fact that they can do it.
I guess I don't like to think too much about it because it's a waste of time but if someone asks me about it, I'll speak out about it. If I say anything on a social network, I get labeled as a "get off my lawn" kind of guy. I think that realistically young kids will always like their thing and the old people think the young kids are stupid and the young kids think the old people are stupid. I always ask people why they care what I think.
Are there any new bands that have caught your attention in a good way?
I like Iron Chic, what I've heard of them is good. We play festivals a lot and there are always bands that play early that are really good. I also don't buy records the way I used to. With the Internet, there's so much information now. It's gotten to the point where you realize there's just so many bands out there. I'm to the point now that when I see a friend wearing a band t-shirt I'll ask them who it is. Usually they're really enthusiastic about telling me about this amazing band they just saw. Keith Morris' new band Off! is great, and it's great to see a band of old hardcore dudes keeping up with the new bands. I really like Fucked Up as well, they're an amazing live band. I play with a lot of singer-songwriters too, so people that I'm impressed by, nobody knows them. Sometimes you'll hear people talking about a band a lot, and you'll ask who the fuck is that? My first inclination at that time is that band probably sucks, but I usually end up checking it out. I love when I have some sort of bullshit idea that I'm not going to like this band and I end up loving them. I love to be proven wrong. If something is kick ass and I'm stubborn, I love to find out that I love it further down the line. I used to buy a lot of records to see if I would like them. When I was 20, I'd spend all my money on records, like four or five, and I'd only like one of them. Finding bands that you love is just a great feeling.
I always thought an interesting factoid about 7 Seconds was its origin in Reno, Nevada. How did you have to adapt and make your own scene in Reno when you were growing up?
We were young people and if we didn't make something of our own, we were going to drown. In the late '70s and early '80s, Reno was very anti-kid. It was all about drinking, gambling, prostitution. Nothing very kid friendly. If you were a teenager, most of your friends would go to a kegger and get wasted and hope to get laid, and that's fine if you were into it. Me and my friends and siblings, we didn't fit in with that or the nerds or the jocks or anything. We were into music. We were buying records and that was saving our lives. I always say that if I couldn't have bought records and listened to them in my room all the time, who knows if I would have survived. Just to be able to get to a point in your life where you don't have to be a spectator, you could actually start a band and play for people, it was great. Once I had that in my brain, my life completely changed. We were all bored and had nothing to look forward to, and no bands were coming through our town. We were only hearing about things popping up in Chicago, DC, LA, and other places. We said fuck it, if they can do it we could do it. We started writing letters to bands like DOA and Black Flag asking them to play our town and they'd agree. They'd route their tours to come through Reno, and the first time there'd be 50 kids, then 100, then 150, and it grew. At the center of it all was 7 Seconds. Our ethic was everything was going to be all ages all the time, we'd be accessible and not rock star jerks. We were active and productive. Having that kind of attitude really stuck in our town and made the younger kids say they could do it too. It's a little harder in small towns like Reno because you don't have bands playing for you all the time, and you have to find one cool place where kids can hang out and have fun. It was tough because we had to create our own thing with very little knowledge, and we couldn't find out what was going on in other cities.
When you were touring in that time, did you ever stumble across any small scenes that were similar to Reno?
Yeah, absolutely. One thing early on was that we would go play in Wisconsin and other small towns because once we did it a few times and saw the response and all these hungry kids, we realized that's what we used to do and we'd try to come through as much as we could. If we were still a full-time touring machine, we'd hit the smaller places because most of the time that's where the love is. Everybody's just happy to have something going on. There's a feeling of appreciation and respect. That's what I love about Europe. Small places in Italy and Germany, tons of kids show up and are so happy that you gave a shit about their small town and they'll never forget it. In the early days, it was a big deal. Playing big places like New York were always great, but shows in North Dakota and other small places were special to us because we came from a small city.
You guys have some extensive tour dates in support of the new record this summer, which are on both sides of the spectrum: you're playing Pouzza Fest in Montreal and then Black N Blue Bowl in New York the next night. Does the band get a drastically different reaction at a punk festival like Pouzza than at a hardcore festival like Black N Blue Bowl?
We do, but I think the thing with us is that we've always straddled the fence. Hardcore kids always think we're more of a punk band and punk kids always think we're more of a hardcore band. Some people don't think we're either, actually. Not a lot of people know exactly what to call us. I think we work well on bills like that, maybe because of how long we've been around, but a lot of established musicians are glad to have us play. No matter what other bands there are, it's great to hear. I like the option to play both sides of the spectrum. It keeps it different and interesting, and if we were just playing hardcore fests or punk fests, it'd get boring after a while. We're not going to be a band that doesn't give our all. We always give 100 percent, and people notice that and appreciate it. Even if we've gained a few pounds over the years, people are always going to notice and appreciate it.
Is it strange to play with bands like Agnostic Front and other bands that you came up with?
No, not at all. The thing is that there's an unspoken celebration that we're all still here, still alive, and people still care to see us. Despite all the fashion trends and political winds, there's still a home for music that was created 30 years ago. Maybe it's how people think of Bowie or Dylan or the Rolling Stones. The reality is that people wouldn't do it if there wasn't a demand for it. You've got all this serious shit going on in your life and if you have a moment to not worry about those things and rock out and no one is getting hurt, why not? We run into guys like Agnostic Front or the Descendents and we've all gone through so much shit. If you broke down, you'd have to hitchhike to a pay phone and hope locals wouldn't slash your tires. We lived through that and it's nice to play with other bands that have survived that as well.
I actually saw the Descendents a few years back and they had absolutely killed it so it's great to see bands that can play just as hard as they did when they formed decades before.
I also think in general we all have something to prove. If you're in a band and you've been in that band forever, then you have something to prove to at least yourself. Maybe it's an ego thing, but I think it's bigger than that. We all want to be relevant in some way, and if you're in a band, even if you stop for years after putting your heart and soul into it, you have to love it. Nobody made any money back in the '80s and '90s. I know the emphasis isn't on that, but if someone out there still gives a shit and you can support yourself or your family, that's great.
Any additional plans besides the US tour this summer?
After we're done in July, we're doing Brazil in September. There's been some unconfirmed festivals so far later this fall, and what I'd like for us to be able to do is go places we haven't been before like Argentina, Chile and other places. I'm hoping we can do as much as we can. We're giving ourselves a full year of touring. This is the first time we can now have a big blowout, and it may be our last. This is the first time we're all in better shape and feeling good about the band. We even already have a couple new songs that we might put together into an EP or something down the road. We've also never really broken up. It's kind of funny to make a big announcement and resurface three years later. This will be a good test to see what the response is for a 34-year-old hardcore band.