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 theyâre made to be acoustic and not a punk song thatâs then made into an acoustic song. A lot people are saying this new record is more folky and itâs not what they expected because it doesnât sounds like NUFAN stuff at all, except for the singing. With the split I did with Joey youâre kinda pigeon holed into doing one thing because youâre trying to take these punk songs and putting them into a format thatâs acoustic. It sounds good once you get it right, but at the same time those songs werenât 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.
Itâs really bare bones. Itâs just me and my guitar and very little instrumentation on the record. Compared to NUFAN itâs a lot different. Itâs a big step out for me. A lot of people that I have played it for already have said, "Wow, this isnât really at all what I expected." I think thatâs because the influences are different. When Iâm 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 havenât called on in a long time - or ever, maybe. Iâm 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 youâll 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 didnât play it, but Darius from the Swinginâ Utters played it. Itâs cool because heâs 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 didnât want to dictate. A lot of times a NUFAN record can be very - we have these songs from the demos, this is how itâs going to be exactly and itâs 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 Iâm like, "Play it like you. I donât 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 wasnât a big deal. Jamie McMann who is the chief engineer at Motorcities [Studios] now, heâs really quick. We didnât 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 itâs 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, Iâm the songwriter for NUFAN, so I guess theyâre NUFAN songs too, but I was like I want to put out something different. But NUFAN has a pretty loyal fanbase and I didnât 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 couldnât 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 thereâs a time for that too. Thereâs a time for writing punk rock songs for NUFAN and thereâs a time for this and the time for this is now apparently. Even though, I wanted to do this years ago and now that Iâm doing it at the time that it just looks like Iâm 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 Iâm just following the trend, but Iâm really not. I didnât 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 itâs 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 thatâs true. I just donât want people to go, "Oh god, thereâs another singer/songwriter guy being a solo artist." Because Iâve caught myself doing that at some points when you see a guy saying, "Oh Iâm putting out a solo record" and youâre like, "Oh really? How original." So I just donât want someone to say that about me unless theyâve heard the record because what Iâve really tried to do is make it sound not like NUFAN, because if Iâm 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 youâre going to continue pursing making acoustic music?
I know that Iâll 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 Iâm pretty much doing a world tour as a solo artist. I havenât started yet and Iâm a little nervous about it just because itâs new, itâs different, itâs weird, Iâm by myself, but at the same time Iâm really excited about it. Iâm not going to know if this is for me until a few months from now I think. Then Iâll be able to decide, but in no way will I ever let this take over NUFAN because I know without NUFAN I wouldnât 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, "Letâs tour together!" It all just happened really quickly.
Tell us more about this upcoming tour.
Weâre going to Europe together and weâre doing it Revival Tour style with three and half hours straight with no breaks and you play on each otherâs sets. So I had to learn six or seven Lagwagon songs and a couple of Jon [Snodgrass, from Drag the River] songs too. So thatâs 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 heâs been really cool about it.
Meaning youâll 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 Iâm not going to, it wouldnât take up more than 30 minutes of space and I gotta play for an hour. Itâs funny because you go to a show, and itâs inevitable, Joey was telling me you can be like, "Iâm 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 youâve got to be ready to play them. Iâm totally into it. We did this in 2004 and Iâm constantly trying to figure out new ways to play NUFAN songs acoustically. I really didnât want to do it at first, but Joey was like, "Just get used to it, because theyâre 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 canât just sit there and yell. I was doing that at first and it just sounded like me without the band and thatâs 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. Weâll see what happens when I get out there. Itâs 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 whatâs 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 weâre going to have to keep playing. Well, Iâve gone through every NUFAN song and every Lagwagon song and all your solo songs and all of my solo songs, whatâs left? And heâs like, "Well we could come out and just play covers." So we have some ideas. I think weâre playing Jawbreaker. Weâre doing "Boxcar" which is kind of the obvious song to play, but at the same time itâs kind of cool and it works for what weâre doing. But itâs a good acoustic song. Weâre also doing "Linoleum" by NOFX.
Segueing into more about Joey Cape, I understand you are putting out another split?
Itâs coming out March 1. Itâs a split 7". Itâs one song he didnât use on his solo album and one song I didnât use on mine and we drew each otherâs 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 itâs a stick figure thatâs supposed to be me. Itâs a stick figure playing a guitar on top of an airplane. I donât like to fly, so I think heâs 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, "Iâll take the chemical upgrade." Itâs all stick figure stuff. Itâs 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 donât really have a sales pitch per se, but for the record, this is just me being 100% honest. Thereâs 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 itâs pretty funny, itâs -- If you like good songs, youâll like this CD and if you donât like good songs, this CD is probably not for you.
Ha. Well both work. Just two different tones there.
Itâs true. Itâs just me and a guitar. Thereâs 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 Iâm none of those things, but I think I write pretty good songs. So if you like pretty good songs, youâll like it.
I have two follow-up questions to that. First off, thereâs a track on your new album that is my name, but itâs spelled wrong, "Keira" - I donât spell it with an "e" - but who is that?
Thatâs my daughter. Sheâs 19 months old and basically that song was a lullaby that I would sing for her and hum a melody but I didnât 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 didnât 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 donât 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 donât get to listen to them, but this time I did and I got the new Teenage Bottlerocket and Iâm totally stoked on that record. I think itâs so good. So I crank that in my car. My kids love it. Itâs great. Itâs just such a good punk CD. Good old fashion punk, which is cool because Iâm going to be touring with them and NOFX in April and May. Thereâs another band called Banner Pilot and I think theyâre really good. Theyâre one of those new and upcoming bands. And Poor Habit, theyâre on Fat too. I know it sounds like Iâm 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; itâs really good.
Hereâs 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] Thatâs true.
Do you know who this commenter is - or is this a party trick you share with many people?
Yeah it is. Oh man. Thatâs so funny. You get to a certain part of the night, and youâve got to be having a really good time, because sometimes Iâm just too tired on tour, but if itâs 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 donât even understand that though! I canât 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, "Youâre 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 whatâs the trick?
I dump it in my eyelid and it goes into my face. It just disappears into my face. I donât know. I think it works the same way Botox works or something. I donât 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 donât even know how this trick came up. It started like three years ago. I donât know where that person is from, but theyâre telling the truth.
Well good to confirm things that are on message boards.