Tony Sly
Contributed by kiraface, Posted by Interviews

Punkrock veteran Tony Sly has been holding it down as No Use For A Name's frontman for 20 years now. He recently released his first solo full length titled 12 Song Program on February 16th on Fat Wreck Chords. Punknews interviewer Kira Wisniewski spoke to Tony about the new record, the upcoming tour and drinking beer through your eye socket.

How does the new solo album compare to the first split with Joey Cape?

Well those were just different versions of No Use For a Name [NUFAN] stuff, really just stripped down versions. These songs are different because they’re made to be acoustic and not a punk song that’s then made into an acoustic song. A lot people are saying this new record is more folky and it’s not what they expected because it doesn’t sounds like NUFAN stuff at all, except for the singing. With the split I did with Joey you’re kinda pigeon holed into doing one thing because you’re trying to take these punk songs and putting them into a format that’s acoustic. It sounds good once you get it right, but at the same time those songs weren’t really meant to be heard that way, so I think the big difference is the songs on the new record are meant to be heard that way.

That leads well into my next question, for NUFAN fans that aren't familiar with your solo work, how do you think you would describe it to them? I know you started to touch on that, but maybe you could explain a little more.

It’s really bare bones. It’s just me and my guitar and very little instrumentation on the record. Compared to NUFAN it’s a lot different. It’s a big step out for me. A lot of people that I have played it for already have said, "Wow, this isn’t really at all what I expected." I think that’s because the influences are different. When I’m writing for a NUFAN record I listen to a lot of Bad Religion because it brings me back to that nostalgic punk rock phase which made me fall in love with punk rock to begin with. When I heard Suffer, I was just blown away that a band was using distorted guitars and doing three-part harmonies at the same time. For this album, I called on some inspiration I haven’t called on in a long time - or ever, maybe. I’m not a huge Bob Dylan fan or 60s folk fan, but I liked the Beatles interpretation of that and albums like Rubber Soul, where the Beatles kind of went folk rock. I think that it was inspired by that and if you like that kind of stuff you’ll probably hear the influences right away.

As mentioned you did some collaborations on this album, additionally on this album you used what I guess could be considered non-traditional NUFAN instruments, can you talk about that?

I used an accordion for the first time on this album, well I didn’t play it, but Darius from the Swingin’ Utters played it. It’s cool because he’s from a punk band too. Fat Mike came in and played bass on it. It was just different styles of music and I was kind of letting everyone do what they wanted to. I didn’t want to dictate. A lot of times a NUFAN record can be very - we have these songs from the demos, this is how it’s going to be exactly and it’s all worked out ahead of time. When these guys came in, it was more them asking, "How do you want me to sing this? How do you want me to play this?" And I’m like, "Play it like you. I don’t want to tell you how to play it. I want you to just play it." I think it was a pretty open experience in the studio.

How long were you in the studio for this album?

Two weeks. All I had to do is lay down a guitar track and do a single vocal. So that wasn’t a big deal. Jamie McMann who is the chief engineer at Motorcities [Studios] now, he’s really quick. We didn’t need to go off the deep end with effects or anything like this. It was a really cool recording experience because it was so far removed from what I normally do.

So what made you decide to do a solo album after all these years doing NUFAN?

Joey and I did that split in 2004 and I got a little taste of what it’s like. After that I had that idea kicking around in my head about doing a whole album like that but not NUFAN songs. I mean, I’m the songwriter for NUFAN, so I guess they’re NUFAN songs too, but I was like I want to put out something different. But NUFAN has a pretty loyal fanbase and I didn’t want to bum them out by putting out a record of all folky music and things that were really influenced by the 60s and the Beatles. We couldn’t release a 12-song acoustic guitar record and say "Hey this is the new the NUFAN record. Sorry." I know that and I love punk rock so there’s a time for that too. There’s a time for writing punk rock songs for NUFAN and there’s a time for this and the time for this is now apparently. Even though, I wanted to do this years ago and now that I’m doing it at the time that it just looks like I’m being trendy, because Joey has done it and Tim Barry from Avail and Chuck Ragan from Hot Water Music, you know? So it looks like I’m just following the trend, but I’m really not. I didn’t plan it this way at all. It just kinda happened. Last year I had a big break with the NUFAN touring schedule and wrote 16 songs in a month and picked 12 of them and put the rest of seven inches. Then when I got home from a NUFAN Asia tours and I went into the studio and knocked it out.

But it might be a bit of an advantage that it’s a trend now -being that people might be a little more receptive to it. Or maybe not - I guess it could go either way.

No that’s true. I just don’t want people to go, "Oh god, there’s another singer/songwriter guy being a solo artist." Because I’ve caught myself doing that at some points when you see a guy saying, "Oh I’m putting out a solo record" and you’re like, "Oh really? How original." So I just don’t want someone to say that about me unless they’ve heard the record because what I’ve really tried to do is make it sound not like NUFAN, because if I’m going to write songs that sound like NUFAN for a side project/solo project, I should have the other guys in NUFAN play on it as well and call it NUFAN.

This album - is this a one-time thing? Or do you think you’re going to continue pursing making acoustic music?

I know that I’ll pursue making my own acoustic music. When you make a record there is a demand to be on tour and the label wants you to go on tour too, so you can sell records. So I’m pretty much doing a world tour as a solo artist. I haven’t started yet and I’m a little nervous about it just because it’s new, it’s different, it’s weird, I’m by myself, but at the same time I’m really excited about it. I’m not going to know if this is for me until a few months from now I think. Then I’ll be able to decide, but in no way will I ever let this take over NUFAN because I know without NUFAN I wouldn’t have as many opportunities as I do right now. I put the album out on Fat and it was real easy and Joey called me and was like, "Let’s tour together!" It all just happened really quickly.

Tell us more about this upcoming tour.

We’re going to Europe together and we’re doing it Revival Tour style with three and half hours straight with no breaks and you play on each other’s sets. So I had to learn six or seven Lagwagon songs and a couple of Jon [Snodgrass, from Drag the River] songs too. So that’s different for me. I was familiar with Lagwagon songs, but not playing them. So for the first time I was learning a song rather than teaching it.

Do you like that?

Yeah I do. And Joey had to learn some of my songs too and he’s been really cool about it.

Meaning you’ll be covering NUFAN songs on this tour too?

Yeah. My new record is only a half hour long so even if I played the whole thing, which I’m not going to, it wouldn’t take up more than 30 minutes of space and I gotta play for an hour. It’s funny because you go to a show, and it’s inevitable, Joey was telling me you can be like, "I’m going to play the new songs from my new record," but people are drinking at these shows and they start calling out songs like, "Not Your Savior" and you’ve got to be ready to play them. I’m totally into it. We did this in 2004 and I’m constantly trying to figure out new ways to play NUFAN songs acoustically. I really didn’t want to do it at first, but Joey was like, "Just get used to it, because they’re going to keep asking you to play." You have to change everything, you have to change the key and you have to go down and your voice has to go down because you can’t just sit there and yell. I was doing that at first and it just sounded like me without the band and that’s not really that rad. So I striped down a lot of the NUFAN songs and made them really different. I kind of hope that people will appreciate that. We’ll see what happens when I get out there. It’s all hearsay until then.

I recently saw Dave Hause and Brain Fallon doing a solo show - they both played songs of The Loved Ones and Gaslight Anthem, respectively - but for the encore they came out and did some cover songs together - they did Tegan and Sara, Johnny Cash and the Bouncing Souls - do you have anything planned like that?

You know what’s funny is we do. We have our encore set up already, but Joey was saying there are going to be some nights when people want to stay later and we’re going to have to keep playing. Well, I’ve gone through every NUFAN song and every Lagwagon song and all your solo songs and all of my solo songs, what’s left? And he’s like, "Well we could come out and just play covers." So we have some ideas. I think we’re playing Jawbreaker. We’re doing "Boxcar" which is kind of the obvious song to play, but at the same time it’s kind of cool and it works for what we’re doing. But it’s a good acoustic song. We’re also doing "Linoleum" by NOFX.

Segueing into more about Joey Cape, I understand you are putting out another split?

It’s coming out March 1. It’s a split 7". It’s one song he didn’t use on his solo album and one song I didn’t use on mine and we drew each other’s covers.

Ha. Tell us about your artistic ability.

Stick figures. I can draw a palm tree. So I drew a palm tree for his side.

Nice. What does his drawing for your side look like? Have you seen it?

I think it’s a stick figure that’s supposed to be me. It’s a stick figure playing a guitar on top of an airplane. I don’t like to fly, so I think he’s making fun of me. Plus the song is called "Chemical Upgrade" which is a term that I use when I go on planes, because I take sedatives to go on planes because I hate it so much. So I just started saying, "I’ll take the chemical upgrade." It’s all stick figure stuff. It’s great.

So give me your sales pitch on why you think readers should go pick up your new album or go see you on tour.

I don’t really have a sales pitch per se, but for the record, this is just me being 100% honest. There’s no bullshit. Here are 12 songs that I wrote that I think are good. The lyrics are really meaningful to me and personal. My original sales pitch, it sounds cocky, but I think it’s pretty funny, it’s -- If you like good songs, you’ll like this CD and if you don’t like good songs, this CD is probably not for you.

Ha. Well both work. Just two different tones there.

It’s true. It’s just me and a guitar. There’s barely any production on it. Sometimes I think people like bands because of image and production. You know it sounds great, the band looks cool. Well I’m none of those things, but I think I write pretty good songs. So if you like pretty good songs, you’ll like it.

I have two follow-up questions to that. First off, there’s a track on your new album that is my name, but it’s spelled wrong, "Keira" - I don’t spell it with an "e" - but who is that?

That’s my daughter. She’s 19 months old and basically that song was a lullaby that I would sing for her and hum a melody but I didn’t have lyrics. I would always play the little riff for her over and over again to get her to go to sleep. And then I wrote lyrics for it and I think it was Fat Mike that said, "Yeah, you should put that on the record."

I had a suspicion it was for a daughter, but didn’t want to make the assumption and then be completely wrong.

It is and I know a lot people write songs for the kids and stuff.

But I like the personal story behind it, that it actually came from a riff you would play for her.

Yeah, it was an actual lullaby. Something you don’t record. Something you just have. But I was like, "this is good." And it just got more and more complex with the chord progression and the fingering picking.

Awesome. So my second follow-up question to the question about the sales pitch and your response about listening to good music - who are you listening to these days?

I had to take a long time when we were mixing and mastering so I was listening to my record a lot. Just last night I was like, "I really need to listen to new music in my life." I just bought stuff last night off of iTunes. One of them was the latest Muse CD, because I just missed the boat last time. A lot of the CDs I get in the mail from Fat Wreck Chords I just put them aside and don’t get to listen to them, but this time I did and I got the new Teenage Bottlerocket and I’m totally stoked on that record. I think it’s so good. So I crank that in my car. My kids love it. It’s great. It’s just such a good punk CD. Good old fashion punk, which is cool because I’m going to be touring with them and NOFX in April and May. There’s another band called Banner Pilot and I think they’re really good. They’re one of those new and upcoming bands. And Poor Habit, they’re on Fat too. I know it sounds like I’m being a suck up, but I really feel like those three bands are going to be carrying the torch. Other than that I listen to a lot of mellow stuff. Like I just bought the new Magnetic Fields album last night; it’s really good.

Here’s the big last question. I was poking around the punknews site when I was preparing for this interview and saw a comment on the post about your new solo project and it said, "Tony Sly once showed me how to drink beer through the eye socket. Love that guy." Is this true?

[Laughs] That’s true.

Do you know who this commenter is - or is this a party trick you share with many people?

Yeah it is. Oh man. That’s so funny. You get to a certain part of the night, and you’ve got to be having a really good time, because sometimes I’m just too tired on tour, but if it’s a party night, you just end up at a bar and after a little while I just end up drinking alcohol through my eye socket.

I don’t even understand that though! I can’t even picture how this works.

First it was a joke. It would always pour out down the side of my face and Matt, our bass player, he was like, "You’re not really doing that. Taking shots." So I started working on it. Trying to perfect it and I swear I can get beer in my eye now without it coming out.

So what’s the trick?

I dump it in my eyelid and it goes into my face. It just disappears into my face. I don’t know. I think it works the same way Botox works or something. I don’t know where it goes. It goes somewhere. I guess it goes into your skull. [laughs] The last time was this last NUFAN tour in Asia. Someone challenged me. So I did hot sake.

In your eye? Oh my goodness.

I totally pulled it off. I don’t even know how this trick came up. It started like three years ago. I don’t know where that person is from, but they’re telling the truth.

Well good to confirm things that are on message boards.