The T4 Project
Contributed by ben_conoley, Posted by Interviews

The T4 Project released their Story–Based Concept Album back in 2006. However, nearly two years later, the album will be released in physical form on Mental Records. The band, which is the brainchild of Shannon Saint Ryan, consists of some of the biggest names in punk rock including members of Pennywise, Bad Religion, Subhumans and more. Shannon recently sat down for a chat with our own Dante 3000 to discuss the album and future plans of the band.

The easiest place to begin is, How did the T4 Project come about, how did you get started on all that?

Well, it was four years ago now. I came off of a US with my band and the band was going off in different directions. I got bored and I was living in LA and got evicted from my apartment. I lost my job. I had left it to go on tour. I was broke and I had just left the band. So I wanted to start in a new direction. I started to work and I had been wanting to do this thing with the virus for quite a few years, it was always stuck in my head. I wanted to really tell a story with the way that the virus functions, it’s like a beautiful metaphor.

I picked up a job and moved to Venture and just sank every penny I had into making it. I actually have the same amount of money now that I did four years ago, I’m broke but I actually produced it and it’s great, just the way that everyone came together and believed in it, it was refreshing, you know?

I suppose the main questions is why this approach? Why incorporate all the different musicians as opposed to just making it with studio musicians or even starting a new band?

I recorded bands for about four years. Hang on a sec…I started recording bands and there are lots of great bands. And this was about ’96 to 2000. During that time that is where I really was, working with different bands and different types of people and noticed the differences and also the similarities in vision. By the end of those four years I’d worked with all kinds of bands up to ones with Fat and Epitaph, doing preproduction. Working with all the genres of music, you would notice that there seems to be this gap, like people like one thing or the other. So to me it was about bringing everyone together to celebrate the underground. Everyone who just doesn’t want to be part of the mainstream, we want to do things pure. So it was a way of bringing everyone together. And also, doing it from the late ‘70s with musicians from then up to nowadays.

It’s interesting that the line up consists of artists who are fairly new to artists from the ‘70s, how did you pick that list? Was it anyone you could get, or were there people in particular? It was a bit of both. I was looking around to see what different people were doing and then figuring out how to get a hold of them. I just kind of figured that everyone knows someone, who knows someone and I just kind of used that approach. For example if you knew someone who I desperately wanted to be a part of it, I’d give you the demo and show you the work and basically what’s going on and just say, "Give it a listen. If you think it’s shit, it’s all right. You can just give it back to me, it’s all right. But if you believe in it please pass it on."

With that sort of approach it helps, because there wasn’t much at stake. So the person didn’t feel like they were put under a lot of pressure. Getting a hold of the different people…I just thought of the ultimate rhythm section for me and just going, "Subhumans and Bad Religion," just drums and bass. It just has a real good feeling to it. Just getting that vision in your head and going for it.

Some people were easier to get than others. Sometimes you would go after one person and end up in another direction. It’s a way of staying flexible. I didn’t want to be too rigid about it. In all honesty there’s nothing special. don’t think I did anything that anyone couldn’t do and that’s what I’m excited about. I hope that it opens it up and kids that are fans of it can go, "Wow, I don’t have any money, I don’t know anyone, I work full-time" and you can still do it. You’ve just got to work your ass off basically but it’s cool because you don’t feel as lost. Like "oh you gotta be signed" or "you gotta do this." That was the other thing trying to get it picked up. I have a normal factory job and it was hard funding it. I wanted to get help from a label but no one was interested in it, because it didn’t tour and it seems like everyone is scared right now. The industry’s changing, and I have to be sympathetic to that but at the end of the day it was like, "Dude, I gotta do this. I have to do it."

What was the hardest part about the recording? Was it the funding or finding the time to get people together to do it?

Yeah, I’d say it was the scheduling. You really had to jump at these windows because a lot of them, well most of them, were touring, really heavy touring throughout the year. The most unbelievable part was getting the entire rhythm section together in London. I mean you had Jay Bentley, from Bad Religion, coming out from Vancouver. I’m in LA. Tony Barber, from Buzzcocks, was in New York. One of the drummers, Spike, he was in England only a couple hours away. The other drummer, Trotsky from the Subhumans, he was in Germany. There was this window, this one week opportunity, and I thought, "Oh my god, I could get everyone together," so it has a better feel, a more natural feel. It came so close, because you had to book the flight to make that window and I had to take out a loan and just, fuck it, drop all that money on it. I couldn’t get [the money] from a label and I was running out of time. At that point, that’s where I realized -- I had just eaten up the biggest part of the budget with the rhythm section, with the studio and everything. (laughs) It’s funny because you’re sitting with these guys and you just feel like a little kid. I mean the stories they tell and everything, it’s magical. Then you realize, "Oh fuck, this is costing me a dollar a minute. (laughs)" I mean you can’t replace that amazing [experience].

With all of the effort, like having to take out a loan to record the rhythm section, were you ever at a point were you just said, "It’s not worth it" or did you always just have faith it would work out?

No, because, well, here’s the deal. I mean we have friends who are $20,000 in debt from going to the bar. It’s stupid. I always look at it like, if you’re going to use a credit card, or take a loan, if it’s going to be towards a goal of making a better tomorrow, if it’s part of your tool and your craft, it’s okay. That was how I justified doing it. Yeah (sigh) it was fucking scary. I remember calling up Jay Bentley in Canada, the Bad Religion bass player. I had to book this flight and just to go overseas, just his and my flight, [the prices] were ridiculous. I said to him, "This is a non-refundable ticket, are you going to do this? I have to ask." He goes, (nonchalantly) "Oh yeah man. I talked to all the guys and I’m going to England and recording at southern." So that was nerve racking to push on that.

I want to talk a little bit more about the album itself. It’s called A Story-Based Concept Album but there’s not too much about the story available without the album. Is that something you want to leave up to people or do you think it’s pretty self-explanatory?

I think it’d be pretty clear, but if you’d like to talk about it, sure.

Yeah, just something to give people who aren’t familiar with it a little feel for the album.

I think it can be interpreted however [differently] for different people. It’s just an everyday story of two characters and the ups and downs of society. Just at the end of it, it’s about making choices, about thinking before you act. Like the whole metaphor about not catching the virus, it means that everyday we get things thrown at us and we have to dodge. Sometimes we get smacked in the face by something and it’s just about thinking about the choices we make before you act. Because we can send ourselves on these downward spirals.

The story is very dark but it has an uplifting ending, where the torch is passed on to the kid. It’s great because it’s a new generation. The kid goes out there and hopes to find other people who share the same beliefs and values and aren’t just in it too, you know, we’re all in this world together. There’s not just one of you, and it’s just a way to have a bit more heart, compassion and empathy. I think it speaks differently to different people.

There are certain things with police, abortion and church and state. I never want to be preachy about stuff, it’s people’s personal feelings. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. It’s a real shame when it hurts other people or infringes on them. But, I didn’t want it to be over the top social or political.

It was also fun doing the commercials in between, like real tongue in cheek. Make it a bit uplifting out of something real dark. So it’s goofy but I find it ridiculous that you turn on the TV and there are these pharmaceutical ads and they weren’t there a few years ago and now they’re normal. You go into any house and open the bathroom cabinet and there’s a cocktail in there and kids are taking it to school. When we were in school, you had a few of the hard. Maybe the jocks had steroids or coke. Now it’s like pills all over the place.

About the commercials, was that originally part of the concept or was it something that came up as you were working on it and how did you decide which ones you were going to go with?

I wrote them out first, I did think about how I was going to do them and place them. But I researched how to do it, so I was looking at other concept albums, and what other people did. Here’s a funny thing, I read this the other day, it’s by Bill Zanker of the Learning Annex, he was talking about different business. I always find it interesting, because being on the artistic side, we get fucked. We get totally fucked by life. So, he said one of the ways to protect yourself is to learn about the other side. So I checked out this book and it said, whatever business you’re in, in order to be successful you need to study the successes and failures of other people in your business. I thought that was interesting.

What I did with the T4 Project, I didn’t study the successes and failures of other records. I went out and I looked at other concept albums. I don’t even know what each one sold. I don’t have a clue. What I looked at is what moved me. I thought it was really interesting to take that business concept and apply it to art. I don’t know how many records they sold and I don’t give a shit.

When you were doing the research, was there one that stood out or did you just go through the basic ones that people cite?

There’s a couple I dug up, because of talking to people and finding out what other people are into. You’ve got everything from Bat Out of Hell, to, obviously, The Wall to Operation Mindcrime, which is ridiculous. Obviously Tommy for The Who and The Who Sell Out. The Point, that’s another one. On The Who Sell Out, they had the commercials in between it, there was also a Black Flag album that has it in between it. I thought it was fun, it’s a laugh, and everyone is taking themselves so seriously nowadays.

It’s almost like a really great opportunity with the industry, with everything moving more digital. I think that it’s putting the value back into records. To actually get an album, it means having better quality, better artwork. I mean I bought an album a couple weeks ago because it was recommended to me. I spent $17 and four songs were great, but the rest were shit. I didn’t feel good about that. I felt ripped off. So the next time I do it, I’ll get the songs for a dollar off the internet. I’m even for bands giving the stuff away for free, to get exposure and then fans come to the shows. It’s also scary thinking that labels, if they don’t get enough money off the CDs, might shift over to the shows. Start running the shows. So as liberating as it is with the internet, there are also some scary things down the road. But, there’s always a way. I don’t give a shit. It seems to just be a cycle in life, people try to stop you one way and you just find a way to get around it.

Is there ever a chance to do a live version of T4? I know you wouldn’t be able to get everyone together for a tour but maybe get certain members together to play it live.

I would like to see that happen and I’d like to see it with the full rotation of the band. Because doing a two month deal would be very difficult. Maybe two nights in LA and if the kids love it maybe two nights in the UK. That can fit in and get both sides where the record is made. I’m guessing, two nights, if we could get people to take a week out of their schedule and we rehearsed (laughs), then we’d do the two shows, it’d be magic.

I definitely think there would be interested parties. Even if they’re not too familiar with the music, just to see that line up in one place.

Yeah, it’s been asked, "why don’t you just take five of the dudes and go on tour?" People have always asked all the way through for that. For me it’s just about the community and the vibe and there’s no other way to achieve that, with that feel. Looking at the tour schedules I do see a window in September and October, if it were to happen. So yeah, if stuff brews up. I could use a bit of help. But as long as people want to see that, we’ll work to do it. No fucking question.