Junior Battles
by Interviews

Newcomer's Junior Battles will be stirring up quite the ruckus over the next few months with appearances up and down the east coast, making stops along the way at Suedefest II and The Fest 8. With the well received debut of Hotel Bibles and a full-length album planned for 2010 you will be hard pressed not succumbing to the buzz this four piece has trailing them. Punknews' Bill Leary caught up with vocalist Sam Sutherland before the band loaded into their van for their current string of shows.

Bill Leary: Since Junior Battles is a relatively new band, tell us the story of its conception?

Sam Sutherland: Aaron, Joel, Justin and I had all been playing in a "very serious" band that wasn’t going anywhere. Everyone had either quit or been kicked out, and I e-mailed Aaron one demoralized, hopeless night telling him we should just start a incredibly not-serious pop-punk band to get beer tickets and hang out together. In fact, I just looked up the e-mail, and it says: "I want to start a bullshit-free pseudo-punk band (think Fifth Hour Hero, but with me singing / playing shitty chords instead of a hot French girl)." We asked Justin and Joel to join up because they’re the best and they’re our friends. I wrote five songs in a week in my hot, shitty apartment so we could play a show right away, and we made our (only kind of shaky) live debut two practices later, opening for Wednesday Night Heroes and a bunch of hardcore bands.

The Hotel Bibles EP is the official debut by Junior Battles, but a demo was formerly recorded and self-released. Tell us a little bit about the differences between the two recording sessions?

We never really formally released our demo, but we did have some truly horrendous songs on our MySpace for a long time. We tried to record ourselves twice, since Aaron’s kind of a genius at that stuff, but we failed completely each time. The first attempt was made on my old analog four track, because we wanted to be punk, but it really, really didn’t work. The second time we were really careful to get great drum sounds and take our time with a nice bass tone. Then we got excited and decided we could finish the whole thing that night and drank too much whiskey and stayed up until 6am and thought we were the best band in the world until the next day when we realized we had created a complete sonic train wreck. That demo got floated around to get us shows and convince people we were a real band, but we didn’t get down to recording something properly until last December when we hooked up with Donny Copper to do Hotel Bibles. We recorded that over a weekend in Hamilton above the Sonic Unyon building. Donny is the man and we had the best time. Joel watched a lot of hockey and we all ate huge burritos. Listening back to the unmixed tracks on Sunday night when we drove home to Toronto was the first time any of us really believed we could do something real with this band, and it was the best feeling in the world. And we owe Donny for that.

What is the significance of a hotel bible?

Most of the songs on that EP deal with the feeling of becoming estranged from people you used to be close to, specifically during that awkward transitional time between finishing school and getting a job and trying to be a real person. For me, the idea of hotel bibles captures that strange sense of something transient but, to some people, incredibly important. Your friends, a bible, a hotel, your whole weird life.

The decision to debut with an EP as opposed to an LP is one that many punk and hardcore bands go with. Why choose to release an EP instead of jumping feet first into a full length album? If the EP wasn’t received well would Junior Battles have called it a day and moved on to other musical aspirations?

Junior Battles was never conceived as something that would catapult us into buckets of money and mountains of cocaine. The whole point from the beginning was to have fun with our friends. If people hated the EP, it would be a bummer, for sure. But the only thing that would lead us to call it a day would be if we stopped having fun. As for recording an EP instead of a full-length, we had a batch of songs that represented a very specific time in the band’s existence; all those songs were written around the same time with the same themes reoccurring musically and lyrically. We wanted to have a document of that period of our life as a band, which is exactly what it is. What we’re writing now would have seemed kind of schizophrenic next to a lot of that EP, and I think it allowed us to put something out into the world and give people a sense of what we’re about. And now we can launch a full-length into the world and have it become a celebrated, hallowed document of Canadian pop-punk circa 2009/10, like a modern, socialized medicare-influenced version of Milo Goes To College, but much better.

Reviewers have sited Polar Bear Club, Lifetime, and even Panic! At The Disco as similar sounding bands. Who do you consider to be influences on your music and what sets Junior Battles apart from some of those bands?

I haven’t heard Panic! At The Disco (maaaaaaaan), but I know some people think we sound like old Fall Out Boy, which is about as cool. It’s odd because I’ve never listened to or liked that band. Except that song "Sugar We’re Going Down", which, in all fairness, totally kills. I think because we play pop-punk and both Aaron and I have clean voices, stuff like that is the easiest comparison to make. We should start smoking and pretending to be tough. I really hate seeing bands play where the guy singing sounds like Frankie Stubbs, and then you hang out after and he’s rocking a high-pitched little boy’s voice. Just stop it, every one of you. That said, I think Aaron and I are just trying to write songs we would have flipped over when we were 16. For us, this band is about an honest portrayal of our enthusiastic, younger selves, drawing from that time when we first fell in love with music. Which basically means mid-90s pop-punk and Canadian alternative rock. Someone recently told me we sounded like a mix of Green Day and Seaweed, which made my week. I like to think what separates us from the whole pop-punk revival thing that’s happening right now is that we’re drawing from stuff way outside of just New Found Glory and the Descendents, because we also grew up loving Limblifter and old rock radio. Aaron has this insane knack for really unexpected harmonies that are pretty outside of the pop-punk norm, and Joel flatly refuses to play a double-time punk beat. And Justin doesn’t really listen to punk, so his bass lines are always really foreign to us and totally traditional in his mind. And we’re all super handsome. More handsome than most.

If I only had .99 to download a song from iTunes, which track from Hotel Bibles should I grab and why?

"Boats" is probably the hottest jam on that EP. Covers all your Junior Battles bases, with big gang vocals and lyrics about being a shitty person and hating yourself.

A short East Coast stint with One Win Choice leads up to your first appearance at The Fest 8. What are your expectations and more importantly, what are you bringing to the table?

I made it down to the Fest for the first time last year and it straight blew my mind forever. I was anticipating having the best time of my life but I literally had the best time of my life. We’re incredibly fortunate to be able to play this year, and I just found out we’re playing the Kickstand, which is hands down my favorite place to see bands anywhere. Like, anywhere, ever. So I’m beyond stoked. If stoked was a measurable thing, calculated in Dudebles, we would cause the Dudeble Meter to break off and then everything around you would explode. We’re bringing that to the table. Our foolish, childlike enthusiasm for everything. More literally, we’re also bringing a compilation of the Canadian bands playing Fest this year, because there’s a bunch of us and it’s awesome. In the past, Canada hasn’t had a big presence, but this year, we’re taking over. You know, all seven of us. Go see Hostage Life, Dig it Up, the Flatliners, Vicious Cycle, Living with Lions, and Carpenter. People with government health care represent.

What are some differences between touring Canada and The U.S.? Do different obstacles present themselves?

There isn’t the same culture of house shows and alternative spaces in Canada. With the exception of places like 73 in St. Catherines, when we tour in Canada, we almost exclusively play bars, and our upcoming U.S. tour only has one bar show. Booking shows in the States was exciting because instead of talking to some sleazy bar owner guy, you’re talking to a kid just like you who owns a weird loft-thing somewhere in South Carolina who just loves music and bands and meeting new people. That makes the whole process really exciting, because now we can’t wait to get down and meet all the people who have put out their necks to let us play in their sheds or basements or kitchens or whatever.

How’s your merch table looking? What can we take home with us after the show?

You can expect to take home a head full of precious memories and, if it’s a loose enough night, Justin. Plus, you know, shirts. And our EP. And that Canuck Fest Comp-thing.

What should we expect from Junior Battles after the few mini-tours taking place over the next couple of months?

We’re writing like madmen and are hoping to disappear for a while to demo new stuff and record over the winter. The goal is to have a full-length out at the start of next summer so we can tour like crazy and party with college kids.

Is there any talk from labels wanting to sign Junior Battles for an upcoming full-length?

Just, like, every major label. We’re going to make a DVD of the experience, stay true to our indie roots for one more record, and then jump ship to Warner Bros. and eventually smash some kid’s face against a countertop in some coffee shop because we hate ourselves.

The internet seems like the best way to get a new band heard these days, what are your feelings towards an ever-growing online punk community? Is the internet hurting or helping the underground music scene?

Anyone who argues that it hurts is stupid. The internet makes local scenes accessible to everyone, and it means that kids who might have been isolated and depressed in whatever small, shitty town they live in can get turned on to rad bands they would otherwise never hear because radio sucks and the record store in Mellville, Saskatchewan doesn’t carry the No Idea catalogue. That said, it does make pointless, distracting, negative stuff like anonymous message board shit-talking possible. And it causes some bands to focus on the wrong stuff (getting MySpace plays, taking slick promotional pictures) over the right stuff (going out to shows, making friends, and getting in the van). But the good outweighs the bad. You’re from Philadelphia, we’ve never played there, and this interview is happening. So I’m stoked. But seriously, death to MySpace Punk.

Recently, "Basements" and "Update Your Resume" debuted on your MySpace page, will these tracks be on your forthcoming full-length next summer or will we be seeing another EP or split of some sort before then?

Both of those songs are demos we whipped off in two days with our friend Steve Rizen, who's, like, a Level Four Sound Wizard. We also recorded a third song that might end up a 7" this winter, and we'll probably end up re-recording those for the full-length.

There is little divergence between the 2 new tracks and Hotel Bibles, is it safe to assume that the upcoming full length will stick to the insanely catchy Junior Battle formula?

These days, we're just trying to write catchy songs that are interesting to us. Most of our writing up until recently was somewhat rushed or not fully collaborative, but we really took time to hash out ideas as a group with these songs. We just want to push that aspect of the process. But really, the biggest change in our sound will be the inclusion of pure mosh-metal fury. And the auto-tuned vocals and dance breakdowns and rapping.

Thematically "Basements" deals with growth. Evolving as a band while staying true to your basement roots is at the core of this track. Why was this message important to get across?

"Basements" is more about the importance of growing with your friends and loving the places you come from, than an explicit song about our experiences as a band. For me, it's a song about appreciating the people who make your life rad. And singing with those people. And possibly playing in a band with them.

"We make the most of what we’re advertising" is the closing line of "Update Your Resume" could you give some insight on this lyric and how it fits with the song as a whole?

I must now pass the phone to Aaron [Zorgel], since he wrote that song and can unlock its mysteries:

The line is "We've done it wrong, we've done it right. We bask in artificial light and make the most of what we're advertising." What I was trying to say there is that at this age (early twenties) it's trial and error -- we make a few mistakes, but when times are tough, it's important to build on your skills and experiences, and learn from your mistakes in order to work towards doing something that makes you happy every day. For me, that meant quitting my miserable job, and re-evaluating how I wanted to spend my time. So here I am, broke as fuck, sitting in a van with my best friends, and I couldn't be happier about that.

Both new tracks take place in the Winter. Was there a conscious reasoning for this and if so, what role does Winter play while in a band?

This was the first time we realized that both songs have winter references. We're bright dudes. Being from Toronto, you always have that soul-crushing few months when it's just dark and cold and fucking miserable out and you spend all your time inside thinking about the idiotic settlers who didn't notice how much nicer life would be if they just moved to San Diego. So "Basements" is about having great friends to anchor you in a town you'd otherwise get the fuck out of because it depresses you half the year. With "Resume", Aaron made a New Year's resolution to quit his job, hence the lovely winter setting.

In closing is there any information you’d like to get out to the fans of Junior Battles?

Quit school, do drugs, listen to the Replacements.