When Small Brown Bike broke up in 2004, bearded men across the world cried a little. They offered some relief (and hope) when they announced a string of one-off reunion shows in 2007. However, they still seemed determined to pursue their new career paths. Then something changed. Slowly, they started trickling out news: they were back together, writing new material and planning shows. Here at Punknews, we thought it was pretty important to find out exactly what led to this change of heart and what we should expect from this reformation. So we sent Matthew Bentel to meet up with the band at Fest 8 and discuss what drove them apart and what brought them together, their side projects, and how they are approaching the reunion.
Alright, since all of you are here, it would be really helpful if you said your names.
Travis: Iâm Travis.
Ben: Iâm Ben, I play bass.
Travis: I play axe and vocal sometimesâ¦Travis [laughs].
Alright, well its official: Travis.
Mike: Iâm Mike. I play guitar and sing.
Dan: Dan, drums.
So, how was the trip down?
Mike: We flew down.
Oh, you flew down? Then why do you have the Michigan car?
Mike: Our buddy Mike lives here. Our chaperon, basically. Our chauffeur [laughs].
Travis: Weâve known him for 28 years, 30 years, I donât know, weâve known him a long time.
Mike: We got up a sixâ¦right? Yeah, I guess we all got up a six. Met up, got to Detroit. Flew out of Detroit to Orlando, and drove up here. Took the easy way.
Iâm from Chicago, right, so I drove down here for the past 18 hours, so anyway, but I was-
Travis: Damn. How was your trip?
Erâ¦ [laughs] Anyway, I was really excited for the warm weather. How have you guys been acclimating since you got in?
Ben: Itâs a little sticky.
Travis: Oh, wait. Say your name.
Ben: Ben says itâs a little sticky [laughs]. I wasnât that excited actually because the day we left it finally stopped raining. It was really nice and then we came down and its too sticky.
Mike: This is Mike, uh-
Ha, you donât need to say your name every time. I just wanted the initial introduction [laughter].
Mike: Ah. Well, it rained in Michigan for all of like the last two, well, the last day. We drove to the airport and it was raining and weâre like, "yeah, weâll go to Florida, it will be awesome." We flew into Orlando and it was all cloudy and started raining immediately soâ¦the sunâs out now and thatâs all that matters but it is sticky.
Travis: Travis had to shave on the airplane [laughter].
Mike: Third person [laughter].
Iâm leaving that in there just to make you sound arrogant as fuck [laughter].
Mike: [in what is supposed to be the voice of the proverbial caveman] Mike is a caveman. Mike likes it [continued laughter].
Alright, so tell me how a Small Brown Bike decision to get back together happens.
Travis: It was like a year ago, we started…Iâve always been writing songs and I was like, "Man, I got some songs that would probably fit Small Brown Bike." And then Mike, everyoneâs been doing their own projects. We went to a buddies wedding. So it was Mike and his wife, were talking about it, like, "Man, we want to play some loud music". And heâs like, "Iâve been wanting to play some loud music." So weâre both like, "Man, we should see what Danâs thinking, see what Benâs thinking." After a month of that, we talked about it briefly and then Mike said, "Letâs jam, just not as Small Brown Bike but just as buddies." We did that, and then these songs felt like Small Brown Bike. So thatâs kind of how we came about to do Small Brown Bike. It feels good.
Mike: Really, this summer, I guess mid-summer started kind of, "Yeah we should totally just jam." Ben lives in Chicago, Travis lives 45 minutes away, Dan and I both live in Lansing. So it was like, "Letâs jam, man, we like making music together, who knows what itâs going to be." Butâ¦that practice…we just kept jamming. Dan and I had some ideas and it felt really good so it was like, "Alright, lets see what this is." We came down to Chicago and met Ben and thatâs when it was like, it clicked really hard, where the new songs were like super fun and wow. And then it was like well what do weâ¦I mean, this is Small Brown Bike, lets not, you know, put a new name on it and stuff. Itâs tempting butâ¦the name and all that stuff doesnât really matter. The four of us having been writing music together for, oh, I donât knowâ¦ twenty years? Fifteen years? I donât know. So, it was just super natural, felt good.
Travis: Yeah. It was super natural. Extraterrestrial man [laughs]. Alien like.
[Interruption by stage help working the Venue]
So I know you guys just got back together, but do you guys have any idea what your going to do with the new songs?
Mike: Well, the exclusive I guess, for you guys, is we have a new seven inch out on No Idea in the car right now.
No shit [laughter]. Youâre going to sell it today?
Mike: Yeah, this will be the first show weâre selling it at. Its kind ofâ¦weâre really excited.
Travis: We recorded it in Danâs basement.
Mike: Yeah, weâ¦I donât know, it was just one of those things were we started really wanting to have something to come to the Fest and everything and we just got really inspired and Dan just bought a bunch of recording stuff so we picked two songs of the ten that we got and laid them down in Danâs basement and it was superâ¦yeah, it felt good. And then we mixed them with our friend Dave Feeny, who mixed, recorded Nail Yourself To The Ground EP and he recorded River Bed. And then yeah, No Idea, those guys are awesome, they cranked it out. Literally they showed up today so thatâs why we didnât want to say anything. You never know until you have them in your hand. We saw them like two hours ago.
Do you know the color or the pressing amount?
Mike: Right now I think we have 200 and itâs like a gray marble. And yeah, soâ¦yeah. Thatâs whatâs up. And thereâs a lot more stuffâ¦we just practiced in Chicago and weâre trying to still make themâ¦
Travis: Sexy. Can we say that? [laughs]
Sexy is alright. You can say that. It passes. So you guys missed the Fest 2 a while ago. You guys got invited to the Fest 6 because you were doing some reunion shows. So what does it mean to play Fest 8 as an actually reunited band?
Travis: Well this is where it started, for us. 'Cause of No Idea, in a sense, they helped us get to where we are today. They allowed us to put a record out with them, and weâve become great friends and so for me, this celebration of the new, the original four Small Brown Bike members putting out our first seven inch with No Idea, and reinstating, "Hey, weâre back with No Idea where we started, where all these years we were changingâ¦we were trying to change who we are and like man, this is where it is, lets just go back to where everyone really supports us and works and cares for us and a place where our heart has a special place," and for me to come back here.
Ben: Not that we didnât have great relationships with everyone weâve ever worked with.
Travis: No, no, Iâm not saying it like that [laughter]. But just going back to that, as it being us four, you know, as 19-year-olds, 20-year-olds when we first came here, that was for me was pretty cool. Because I was getting scared when we first were coming here with no seven-inch, I was like man. Because would the Fest 8 mean something? It would but it would have been more special had we had that seven-inch. Its kind of like here we are, we got this, this is the new thing, so now you can walk away with- hopefully what we are right now, you can go away with just that, just us being together but its nice to walk away with something cause its like, cool, theyâre here, theyâre doing it. And weâre going to do it at our own pace, weâre old, man. We canât keep up with all these kids down here.
How are the futures - and you can each answer this, respectively - of LaSalle and Able Baker Fox?
Mike: I guess LaSalleâ¦the whole experience with Small Brown Bike has opened my eyes to the fact that bands never really break up, that its kind of sometimes, you knowâ¦well, whatever. So with LaSalle, right now, weâre not active. We havenât played a show in a while andâ¦ I donât know, weâre all busy and now with Small Brown Bike, Iâm focusing a lot of the song writing Iâm doing towards that. But I know Iâll write, like Katie and I, weâll always write songs and have stuff so its like we can always have- who knows what it will be at some point, and I think, you know, the same with Able Baker.
Ben: Yeah, like it was so fun to do, and Iâd loved to do it again, you know, if we all get inspired to do it. You know, I feel the same way. Itâs like, breaking upâ¦you know, I feel like we had to break up when we were Small Brown Bike back whenever it was, 2004 or whatever just because it was like we had to re-situate ourselves because we all just kind of getting…
Ben: Things were getting crazy, we were getting lost in our own lives, you know.
How do you mean lost?
Ben: Well, you know, its like, you knowâ¦well, shit, you want to go there [laughs]. I felt like we were doing our thing, you know, and I always felt like we were somewhere in between being successful but not enough to make a go at being a full time band but at the same time we were too busy with our band to actually have any sort of life at home. So we were just stuck in the middle for long time. It got really hard either way, you know, cause it was hard to be at home because you couldnât actually get a job and make any sort of living and it was hard being away, you know, we werenât one or we werenât the other. And I donât know, and we were allâ¦I think we were all feeling like we needed to try some other stuff. I wanted to finish school, you know. Everyone had these things they wanted to do that we couldnât do because of this.
Travis: Weâve all done our own music projects so I think that was a big part of it. At that level of River Bed, writing so differently, and I think that a was great, that album speaks in volumes about just these guys need to probably like pull away for a minute to do something and then come back. And I think right now I feel, for me personally, the best. Now I know where Iâm at for Small Brown Bike and these three guys [general agreement from the rest of the guys]. Like I know exactly how to communicate with these songs and get these ones, and then the other stuff Iâm trying to do. I think everyone kind of needed that and do that. But I do agree with the breaking up. I donât know if we shouldâve broken up or said we did [laughter] cause it was kind of silly cause we always did talk about it and I always like missed it but I guess we had to.
Mike: We continually hung out. Like we always were together, musical and non-musical, weâd be at each otherâs shows, weddings, parties and all that stuff so it was likeâ¦ you know, it wasnât like, "Iâm not talking to you anymore." It was never that.
So this was like a calculated effort, kind of like the Get Up Kids and Sunny Day Real Estate, where you guys decided in a few years youâd come back and make a lot of money [laughter].
Dan: Wait, the Get Up Kids are back together?
They got back together! They just finished their tour.
Dan: Oh, really. Wow, I didnât know that.
Mike: Who is that?
Dan: Get Up Kids.
Mike: Oh, yeah. It has been a year of a ton of reunions, or the past couple years.
Travis: Sunny Day was the best one, ever.
Ben: Were you in Chicago for that?
Yeah, but I mean, Iâm not going to lie. Sunny Day was awesome and thankfully they knew what to do and played most of their early stuff. But Iâm really happy to see you guys back together.
Travis: I think tonight will be more fun for, say, a person thatâs missed it.
A shit ton of people have missed it.
Travis: I think it will be really fun because youâre going to see the core. Your not going to see a tag off - which we love Jeff to death - but your going to see the four of us playing these songs and its going to be a machine.
Ben: Well donât say that just yet. [laughs]
Travis: Yeah, yeah. Well this machine. Myâ¦my engines still kind of rusty, hopefully I donât forget stuff.
You guys are kind of one of the older bands here and in general. You have easily laid influence to a number of bands at this fest. What does that mean to you?
Ben: Actually I read that today in the pamphlet and I was like, "Really? Oh, weird." Really, I donât know. I donât know how I feel.
Mike: I mean, its super inspiring. I feel lucky and its crazy that weâve had those people that come up to me and say we love your band or asked to cover our songs. Its just unreal because we never really expected that and thatâs notâ¦I donât know, we neverâ¦I donât know. Weâve just always done it kind of in our bubble, so when that stuff happens itâs amazing and itâs a really cool thing to have happen. And itsâ¦I guess its weird, yeah, to be one of the older onesâ¦I think, I feelâ¦with this new era we want to give back to some of the younger bands, like some of the bands we have playing on our shows. Like sometimes, we had friends play a lot, we still want to have friends play our shows. But now, I think, we want to have bands that are out there working, that are younger, and doing stuff like Cheap Girls or Amoebas or stuff like that. Its like, I donât know.
Ben: You know, a lot of people did great stuff for us when we were starting, like Hot Water Music took us out and thatâs what…you know, No Idea and Hot Water, if it wasnât for them we wouldnât have been shit, if it wasnât for those guys. Itâs cool if we can have the opportunity to do that for somebody else.
Travis: And it inspires someone to write something? Thatâs cool, too. I mean, thatâs whatâs nice, to have someone thatâs like, "You guys got me starting doing this, this and this." Itâs like, "Really? Cool." I like that. It feels good.
Ben: Itâs funny, too, cause I was looking at the list of bands and a lot of them did that for us, too. Samiam, 7 Secondsâ¦
Travis: And thatâs the cool thing now. All it is now is about giving it back the best we can. To play with buddies would be great, but a lot of our buddies donât play [laughs]. So now itâs like, man, maybe you should start helping these younger guys out and putting them in front of faces, andâ¦
Mike: But its cool seeing the No Idea scene, and Fest, and all the younger scene, its still inspiringâ¦kind of like with the seven inch. We were kind of like, "Yeah, lets just do it ourselves." So we just recorded it ourselves, like we did our first demo tape and stuff like that and bring it back to No Idea. Itâs kind of the full circle thing. I think its part of it, you know, being inspired by it. Thatâs the fun way of doing it, doing it yourself.
Travis: That was one of the funniest recordings. Very calm. Very fun. Just the four of us hanging outâ¦ It was niceâ¦.Trav said that [group laughs]. I donât know, my voice started going to here [points to discern it was getting lower], I started talking quieter. Usually my nasally voice you can tell, but I went down to Mikeâs voice [group laughs].
You guys, not to reference your age again, but you got your own things going on. Is there going to be a tour in the future, or small runs or you donât even know at this point?
Mike: I think itâs hardâ¦well, Iâm sorry, Iâm notâ¦thatâs the next thing we got to talk aboutâ¦.I canâtâ¦its up in the airâ¦
Mike: Thatâs one of the things Ben brought up when we started working on stuff again. Itâs like, just do stuff thatâs new, do stuff that we never had chance to do or that weâve never done before and those thingsâ¦I donât know if I can see ourselves doing a full scale, you know, month or two U.S. becauseâ¦its hard, you know. We all have lives, jobs, wives, everything, so I think there will be more, like, weekend stuff, short runs, and stuff like that. But, thereâs no definite stuff. Thatâs the nice thing about it, thereâs no set rules or time or anything. We just play shows when it sounds fun, if weâre like, oh that sounds cool. And I think thatâs how we got to do it.
Travis: Yeah. Not saying that the last years weâre so demanding, so hard, but it was enough to likeâ¦ like, your trying to figure stuff out, those timesâ¦like now, its like, man, we know who we are, just do…
Ben: I think sometimes we werenât sure to do things. I think we did things that we werenât sure we wanted to do but we did anyways because we thought we should and then weâd wear ourselves out and stuff like that. So, you know, itâs definitely different than that now.
Travis: I mean, you fight on the floor, get picked up by a good buddy, hang out in the van with these guysâ¦perfect [group laughs]. Just perfect.
Alright, last thing. Now, I was hoping for a better story than, you know, "I called him and then we went down to Chicago." So, letâs make up an alternative story [group laughs]. And it has to have, like, a handle of whiskey or something like that-
Dan: Travis dropped acid [laugh].
There you go!
Travis: Do you want to hear the storyâ¦well, whatâs the story?
The story of how you guys came back together.
Mike: We were walking down an allyâ¦
Travis: I mean, I donât know, this is the stuff we donât like to talk about but we were all bike mechanics and a couple weekends ago we just started working on some bikes…
Ben: No, no.
Mike: Yeah, no.
Travis: No go on that one? How did we get this band? I guess we were parachutingâ¦sky diving, and as we were going doing we said we should join..
Ben: Well, we were skydiving from different planes. And I was like, thatâs Travisâ¦ [group laughs]
Travis: And then I feel Dan grip on my ankles from somewhere else and then Mike was doing flips, full formation. [continued laughing].
Mike: Next thing you know we were all hands tied.
[uh, just assume the rest of the interview is full of remarks and laughing]
Travis: And then we started talking about, man, we should play-
Ben: Sing a capella new songs.
Travis: We were there for a long time.
Mike: We wrote a song. [laughter]