Toronto, Ontario's Junior Battles have managed to tap into something so many aging punk rock fans seem to have lost or hide well -- that youthful spirit and energy that made you make poor decisions as a teenager that resulted in those unforgettable stories that you still reminisce about years later. Their debut E.P. Hotel Bibles garnered rave reviews from music critics both in the United States and Canada, and their recently released self-titled E.P. has done the same. Sean Jain caught up with singer/guitarist Sam Sutherland and singer/guitarist Aaron Zorgel to get the latest on Junior Battles forthcoming split with O Pioneers!!!, their past and future plans, and realities of balancing one's youthful ideals with the modern day workplace.
The last time Punknews spoke with you guys was around the time of the Fest last year. What have you been up to since?
Sam Sutherland: We recorded and released a four-song 7" which is available on rad colored vinyl from Square Up Records and as a free digital download from If You Make It. We played the last North Lincoln show, did a short tour with This Is A Standoff, recorded a song for a split 7" with O Pioneers!!!, and bought a beastly looking 1989 Chevrolet Gladiator with wood paneling inside. Also, I bought some new jeans and all of us started working out for some reason.
Aaron Zorgel: Yeah, I read somewhere that BeyoncÃ© wonât go on tour unless she can run on the treadmill and sing her latest album twice back to back. So Iâve been playing guitar and singing along to our latest hot jams on a stationary bike in my shitty one bedroom apartment. It sounds and looks insane, but thatâs how deep my dedication goes.
How did you guys hook up with O Pioneers!!! for your forthcoming split?
Sutherland: We met Eric on our first ever tour last June. Anyone whoâs met him knows heâs one of the nicest dudes in this whole community, even though he barks about sad stuff all the time like a big, mean oaf. We just stayed in touch after that; he helped us get a few shows in the States before the Fest last fall, and we helped him with the paperwork to get into Canada and hooked up a few shows for OP!!! last winter. He kept saying he wanted to do a split but we thought he was just being polite. Turns out he was kind of serious.
Do you feel that the songs on the split reflect a lot of the same themes as your self-titled EP or has your sound changed at all?
Sutherland: Weâre writing songs with very un-punk lengths these days, so weâve only got one song on the split. Itâs called "Passing Out". Itâs about growing up and trying to figure out how to balance all the Propagandhi-bred punk ideals you were raised on with the sudden and surprisingly very real need to make enough money to pay your rent and eat sometimes. I work in a small niche of the Canadian music industry and mostly get to work with amazing people and do really cool things, but that song came out of a flirtation with bigger ideas and bigger organizations, when I came home from a meeting where a guy in a suit jacket and jeans literally said to me, "My understanding is that some bands are âindieâ because theyâre just new, and some are âindieâ because they want to be for some reason. I donât think I get that, can you explain it to me?" I didnât walk out of the meeting on the spot, hated myself for it, and when I came home, I wanted to burn all my clothes, form a Ghost Mice cover band, and move to a kibbutz or something. I was really conflicted in a brutal, 16-year-old kind of way about the direction I was going to take my life, because I didnât know if I could keep working in music if I was going to have to make these kind of soul-douching sacrifices in order to make any livable amount of money. Thankfully I came out of my cove of self-reflection with this BANGING PUNK SMASH HIT, and I never talked to those people again. Conceptually, I think that the song really follows the stuff Aaron and I were both dealing with on the 7"; weâre really just emotionally stunted man-boys who have a serious need to work out our issues with growing up through pop-punk, apparently.
Are you guys still on track to start recording a full-length this summer?
Sutherland: Probably not. Weâve become real detail-oriented dinks when it comes to writing; we write skeletons of songs and then spend days tweaking really minor parts that Iâm sure no one even ends up giving a shit about just because weâre all huge nerds. We have plans for a handful of full weekend writing retreats this summer, and the new goal is to focus on our 7", this split, and maybe another split or something else small this year, and have a full-length ready to go by the spring.
Zorgel: We were originally super pumped on being prolific and releasing stuff really quickly, but we donât want to be that band that just farts stuff out into the universe, and no one really hears it. I think the self-titled 7" and the song from the split both have legs, so Iâm down with focusing on writing for the next few months, then dropping a brain-bending life-altering full-length in Spring.
Your music seems to really capture a sort of youthful energy that keeps your sound sincere. How do you guys tap into that energy?
Sutherland: Ritual killings and videos of sick new mosh moves on YouTube. Also Joel is pretty young and a vegetarian who exercises regularly. The rest of us are old and slow. But I like to think we never stopped being wide-eyed and excitable about music, and we never got overly cynical. I didnât grow up and become inexplicably and suddenly embarrassed that I know all the words to every song on Dude Ranch. At some point I think I became really proud of the fact that I hadnât totally turned my back on my teenage passions; I still love Blade Runner and a few too many songs by Lit, you know? Even though everyone in the band doesnât listen to the same bands all the time, I think that lack of cynicism and the genuine excitement we feel for all the strange opportunities being in a band affords us keeps our energy at really embarrassingly high levels most of time, and I hope that come across in what weâre writing.
Zorgel: No joke, I recently bought The Best of Lit for TWO DOLLARS. I was like, "Thereâs no way Iâm going to know more than, like, two of these songs." But then I knew the words to almost everything front to back. At first I was embarrassed, but then I thought seriously about growing a goatee and getting flame decals and fuzzy dice for our new van.
Your recent self-titled 7" is available via digital download for free. What was the idea behind offering up the release in both vinyl and freely-available digital formats?
Sutherland: Colored vinyl is super fucking cool, and everyone steals music. Why not just go with it? We wanted to be able to offer something collectable and tangible for people who care, and be able to get the music that we spent so much time writing into the hands of everyone willing to take a few minutes to download it. The added bonus of being able to work with amazing people on both frontsâSquare Up Records and If You Make Itâjust sweetens the sweetest deal.
Is your forthcoming split with O Pioneers!!! going to be along the same lines, vinyl and free-digital download?
Sutherland: The vinyl part of the split is confirmed, and right now Iâm just waiting to see how Kiss of Death wants to handle to digital stuff. Stay tuned!
You guys were recently named in Alternative Pressâs "100 Bands You Need To Know In 2010." Are you surprised about how receptive people have been to your music?
Sutherland: The last year has been pretty fucked up, honestly. Weâve all played in bands since we were kids, but nothing weâve ever done ever really moved out of our parentsâ basements. Junior Battles was started as an excuse to hang out and play music together, and so the goals for the band were really small. Playing the Fest last year was our first big expedition into, "Real Band Territory," and we honestly had the best time of our lives and really felt like we were actually a part of something incredible. Since then weâve just had a string of shocking stuff happen; nothing large-scale shocking, but mind-blowing to us, personally. Getting asked to play the last North Lincoln show was really special for us, and Kiss of Death putting out this split is utterly brain-bending. Weâre fans first and kind of outsiders simply because weâre from Canada, so every time someone knows the words to one of our songs, writes something nice about us on the internet, or orders our 7" from somewhere far away, we get giddy and spend hours at band practice talking about it. I think itâs surprising to us because even those small things have all happened really naturally and without a huge push from us. The best feeling has been realizing that there are people that are actually into what weâre doing musically; for a while, we just assumed everyone was being nice to us because weâre polite and Canadian.
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
Sutherland: Right now weâre focused on getting in game shape for our upcoming U.S. tour with O Pioneers!!! down to Rad Fest. After that, weâre diving into writing for a full-length and keeping that van on the road as much as possible with some weekend tours and another big State-side trip by the end of the summer. I also plan to watch the every season of Lost between now and the series finale, and I know Justin plans to have a lot of bonfires at his new house.
Has it been easy to transition Junior Battles from a more part-time band to the full-time touring/recording machine that you are now?
Sutherland: Junior Battles is more of a Part Time Deluxe band than a properly unionized full-time operation. Weâre like Wal-Mart greeters who work a few hours less than whatever would get us dental insurance and a weekâs paid vacation. The hardest part of that transition is figuring out how to keep your real life running when your brain is pretty much in band-mode 24/7. And the financial part adds up; suddenly youâve got rent on your practice space, insurance on your van, and a bill for a recording engineer. But this is our hobby, some people build model trains, we build ROCK ANTHEMS. And eat a lot of Taco Bell.
Zorgel: Taco Bell, Rock Anthems. Itâs a chicken & egg scenario. What came first, the gordita supreme or the pop-punk ballad? Personally, I donât want to know.
Who writes most of the music in Junior Battles or is it more of a collaborative effort?
Sutherland: The writing process in the band has changed a lot over the last few months. For our first EP, Hotel Bibles, I had a lot of completed songs that we re-worked pretty quickly just to be able to play some shows; now Aaron writes really actively, too, and I mostly just write little sketches of verse and chorus ideas that get smashed apart and put back together by everyone. Sometimes weâll just bang out a riff at practice and start writing around that. Itâs become a way more interesting and rewarding process to attempt to write collaboratively, and I think the results are a lot more interesting than if itâs just me or Aaron trying to re-write "The Boat Dreams From The Hill" ten times.
Zorgel: Actually, Iâm trying to re-write Life Is Peachy by KoRn. Itâs really tough, because I donât think Justinâs bass will tune down that low without breaking in half.
Finally, thoughts on who's going to win the Stanley Cup this year?
Sutherland: Youâre asking the wrong guy in the band. I just texted Joel. He says Phoenix, and I quote, "Because theyâre the underdogs and almost got sold to Jim Balsillie. Theyâre traditionally a bad team that couldnât get a fan base going, but this year itâs the dream season." That dude is smart. Take that shit to the bank.