Defiance, Ohio

Distance and preoccupation tend to be the Achilles' heel for most bands, but folk punk act Defiance, Ohio manages to make it work. Perhaps circumstance prohibit them from the more traditional band experience. Though, given everything the members are involved in, the core requirements are there: they do play shows (sometimes), they do put out records (sporadically), and they do communicate with each other (a lot). In an effort to make up for their lack of touring this year, they are making the trek down to play Fest 8. Upright bassist Ryan recently talked to Matthew Bentel about the challenges popularity incurs, the insatiable desire to stay involved, and the increasing interest in "licensing" their music.

Defiance, Ohio used to get a bad rap for sounding "too much like Against Me!." The band seemed to have adopted the modern version of folk punk, and refined it to a "t" with Share What Ya’ Got and The Great Depression. But, as if you left something unsettled or became uneasy with what you’d been producing, you quickly returned with The Fear, The Fear, The Fear, something that departs in some drastic ways from the band’s previous works. Was that intentional, was the record a by-product of some backlash within the group or from the fanbase, or was this simply an honest progression, where the group was headed?

When it comes down to it, unless it’s a very conscious decision from the conception of a band, I’m not sure a band has all that much control over their collective, creative progression. I don’t feel like any of us set out to play what would later be dubbed "folk punk". For me, I think it was only a desire to play music with friends I cared about and do it in a way that was more inclusive, progressive and exciting than previous projects.

The Fear, The Fear, The Fear was very much a record that came about spontaneously and without much planning at all. We didn’t go into the studio to come out with a record.. it just happened that we ended up with something we felt was a complete record in the end (albeit a short one).

Do you feel as if Defiance, Ohio commands a larger amount of attention than its peers, like its one of those "must know" bands if you listen to this or that genre? If so, is it bothersome?

I feel indescribably fortunate and thankful for all of the support and interest people have given us. It’s been seven years now, and I am still surprised, all the time, by how sincere and strong people’s feelings and connection with us appears to be.

It can get difficult, however. Sometimes it’s hard to feel like you are really on the same page and connecting with a group of ten close friends at a get together, a basement show of forty a can be really exponentially harder; and once you have 300 folks crowded in a space that holds 200, it’s nearly impossible to get much across.

You all are very "involved" individuals, if you don’t mind me using that term. Outside of band member's private initiatives, as a band, you have endorsed DIY or collective endeavors, causes, and ideas, the latest being the Icarus Project. I mean, I thought that was the death ray that James Bond had to dismantle in Die Another Day?

At least to me, when you are a kid and you first get into punk, you do it because you want to stand for some sort of cause and feel part of something more thoughtful than the world around you is providing. As an adult, I don’t think that desire has been appeased. I think being involved in these sorts of endeavors is very core to the lives of most of the members of the band, but I am often surprised at how often we get credit for it. What I mean to say is, I feel like we could do so much more and be so much more involved than we are. It scares me that our involvements stand out. I would like to play music in, and live in, a scene where this was the standard and I was constantly inspired by the actions of my peers.

Right now, we try to lend support to those folks that we come across that do inspire us with their thoughtful projects.

Early on, you guys were staunchly DIY, to the point of painstakingly manufacturing your own records. The band decided collectively that it would be more feasible to get some help from a label to produce future records, while keeping the music free for download. Was it hard from a mental standpoint to make this shift, and was it hard to set up a deal with No Idea records to still keep the music available for free download, even if you offered it weeks after the physical release?

At some point we realized, though we have a lot of individual interests, none of the members of Defiance, Ohio wanted to run a record label based around our releases. It was clear that, we needed help with it and that our own energies could maybe be better spent on a variety of other creative and social endeavors. Var and No Idea were very easy to work with from the beginning. Not only did they not question our desire to have the music available for free download, but Var talked with me for hours at a time about changing lots of other things about how the records would be released.

In the end, we were able to make a CD/LP that sold for less money than recently previous No Idea releases, was free for download, had less promotion, and used somewhat more sustainable products in production. I don’t feel we could have produced it in that way on our own and kept up with all the releases. It was/and is, I feel, a very understanding relationship that we have with No Idea.

It was the band’s idea to delay the download releases.

As frequent Fest attendees, do you ever feel an obligation to play? Does it ever become stagnant, or, for you, is something like the Fest essential?

A while ago, we kind of decided to be done with playing large fests, including the Fest in Gainesville. There are some issues that we have with them; including corporate sponsorship, age restriction, high admission, and, for some, a lack of personal engagement. These concerns were not the main things that made us not want to play. (Though, I feel, really important issues worth being aware of and have conversations about.) The main reason we didn’t want to play fests was that we enjoy coming to people’s towns and engaging with their local scenes. As we played more and more fests, we found ourselves skipping areas of the country and many cities; playing just this one big show instead of smaller, more intimate, events.

Unfortunately, this year, our desire to take things a little slower, as far as touring goes, means that we find ourselves unable to make it to a lot of places regardless of playing, or not playing, the Fest.

We are happy to be part of it this year and have a chance to play for some folks we might not otherwise be able to.

Have you ever seen the movie Half Nelson? The movie credits lists "Chad’s Favorite Song" by William Staler / Defiance, Ohio as appearing, and says further that its performed by Jeremy L. Balon. I’ve watched the movie several times and still can’t find when this song appears. Is this true? If so, was this Will’s or the band’s decision to license the song, and who is Balon?
I have not seen the movie. I am aware that it was made and I believe I have heard the cover version of the song a long time ago. Jeremy is an old friend of the band from our time in Columbus who went on to work in film.

Defiance, Ohio gets a lot of requests to use music in video and film. Our music is licensed only under creative commons and we are very comfortable with people using it as they see fit. We hope, that in doing so, they (and their project) respect the basic ideas and feelings of the band but I don’t have interest in trying to control it. Sometimes working in this way can have less than perfect outcomes. I have, for example, seen an Internet trailer (possibly user made) for Ben Stein’s movie about evolution using the song "Tanks! Tanks! Tanks!"

Members of the band are beginning more frequently to operate outside the realm of Defiance, Ohio, with some starting or maintaining side projects, or pursuing other goals. You state that new material is ready and studio time is in the future; vague claims. Can you divulge more about what the band is up to, perhaps speculate the future of Defiance, Ohio as a band? I think folks in the band have always been really involved in side projects, along with community and personal ones. We have given a little more time to those things as of late. But, mostly, I feel that people have recently started to take much more notice of some of these outside projects. This is great, there are a lot of really exciting things going on right now in all of our lives. I think a big part of sustaining anything is giving it space to grow and change. I can’t say how Defiance, Ohio will grow or change. I remember sitting in some grass and having a conversation with Will and Geoff, in the first year of the band’s existence, about how we could see ourselves playing music with each other at forty and beyond. I still feel that way. At different times our involvement has to wax and wane. Right now, I feel like we are in a time of trying to put quality over quantity, to really enjoy the time we get to spend together and not rush or overdo anything. We have several songs we would like to record and release, but not a whole finished record worth. It’s just a matter of finding the right time to get together and do it.

With so many different, divergent styles and voices in the band, what is the writing process like? Was it different for The Fear? I think it has always been the same. Like any aspect of the band different people are more or less involved at different times. Usually, one of us brings an idea and we all work on it together… BZ sometimes tells us what is strange about it from a music theory perspective (she is much more formally trained than the rest of us). Then we just play. It’s really very simple and has changed very little over time.

What is an absolutely must for you when you're at Fest? Whenever I go to Gainesville, I get pretty excited to see the Bat House at the university. Here’s part of a description of it from its website:

Right around dusk, as the crowd begins to form, slowly, one bat every 20-40 seconds or so will flutter out. As the sun goes down, a steady stream of over 100,000 bats will pour out and sail over your head as they head to Lake Alice to feed on insects for dinner.

It’s a pretty amazing sight.

I think it’s also kind of a tradition for us, and friends, to eat Pho together at Saigon Legend.

Thanks a lot for the questions and for folks taking time to read the responses.