Off with Their Heads

After three continuous years of touring, Minneapolis, Minnesota's Off with Their Heads is bigger than they've ever been, playing alongside bands like Bad Religion and Dropkick Murphys while headlining their own shows with the likes of Riverboat Gamblers and Dead to Me, who joined the band on a nationwide summer tour. Punknews writer Tyler Barrett caught up with frontman Ryan Young at the Triple Rock Social Club to talk about the tour, what it's like to be on Epitaph Records, and what he really thinks of Against Me!.

Does Minneapolis still feel like home to you and do shows here feel like a homecoming at all?
I moved to Chicago three or four years ago. And then San Diego and now Los Angeles, so I’m way past this when I come here. It’s good to see everyone! But I don’t know most of the new people, and it’s weird because when we used to play here before no one ever came to see us. Now when we come back there’s all these new kids. It’s awesome, I like it. So it’s a good mix of kind of a new town, plus still a lot of my friends.

So it’s kind of like a high school reunion where you can come back and say, "Screw you!" to the people who never came out because now you’re filling the Triple Rock?
Yeah…could, but there’s no attitude about it [laughs]. ‘Cause we used to do house shows here forever and I met all my friends in touring bands by helping them out here and through that I still have a ton of friends. It was funny, I went and got pizza today at Mesa Pizza in Dinkytown and the guy that served me was like, "Hey man…I used to go to shows at your house seven years ago!" I’m like, "Whoa, that’s crazy."

Did you live at the Alamo [House]?
Yeah that was my house. Me and the guys from Rivethead and Dear Landlord.

You’ve been on tour for pretty much the last three years. You and [bassist] Robbie [Swartwood] have been the two constants since then. Do you feel like you two are more made for touring as opposed to a lot of other people who might not really be cut out for it?
Yeah, it’s definitely not for everyone. I think me and Robbie are just so far into it that we don’t know what else to do. We’re so used to it now and it gets better and better every time you go around, and it’s just awesome now. It killed off a lot of people and it’s really hard to get along with people in such a small space all the time. But I don’t know, I still like it, and we’re busy the rest of this year too, which is weird. It all just kind of filled up in the last couple days. We were supposed to have like three months off and now that’s filled up.

How have things changed for Off With Their Heads since signing with Epitaph and releasing In Desolation?
You know…the only thing that really changed was it just opened it up to a broader audience. We sold less records on Epitaph than we did with No Idea. But, more people have the record. Mr. Brett told me that the music industry is a tenth the size of what it was ten years ago. In terms of labels, people putting out records, people buying records…it’s just dwindling down into where you have to have a t-shirt company with your label to get by now. It’s like the only way to make any money now [laughs]. I dunno…it’s good, it’s cool. We’re gonna do our next record with Brett Gurewitz, which is rad because, you know, he did Rancid’s …And Out Come the Wolves, that’s a good sounding record. He’s done a lot of cool shit. We’ve never had a producer before so I think it’ll be kind of fun to have him do that.

Is there any kind of interesting story behind how the deal with Epitaph came about?
[Brett] just called me. It was weird because I didn’t believe it was him. I was like, "yeah…whatever." And then he emailed me and was like, "Yeah man, I really like the band, if you wanna talk here’s my office number." And I looked it up and was actually that office and I was like, "Whoa." We just talked for like six months and eventually went and banged out a record and he said he liked it.

Have you had anything cool happen since signing with Epitaph, like have you gotten to play with Rancid or meet Tim Armstrong or anything? You’re a pretty big Rancid fan, aren’t you?
Yeah [shrugs disinterestedly]. Yeah, totally [laughs]. I actually met Rancid through the Riverboat Gamblers because they were on tour with those guys and Rise Against and I told them about our Epitaph thing. Tim actually talks like that. He said, "Whet’s the name o’ yo’ band? Off Wit’ They Heads?" I couldn’t even talk after that. But yeah, we’ve gotten to do a lot of cool shit like that. Bad Religion, Dropkick Murphys, lots of bands I loved when I started listening to this music. So that’s pretty awesome.

I know a lot of people were looking forward to the hilariously titled 69 Sound collection, whatever happened with that?
That was never real, I just kind of tricked No Idea’s publicist in doing that because I thought it was funny. And then someone compiled a bunch of the songs that weren’t released and it was just like, "Eh….let’s just skip it." The Gaslight Anthem did hear about that though. I ran into the drummer in Europe and he was like, "What the fuck, man?" I just said, "You gotta admit, it’s kind of funny." He was like, "Yeah, I know, it’s totally funny." I don’t think the singer of that band has much of a sense of humor, which is understandable because he probably catches a lot of shit [laughs].

You guys always put out a ton of stuff every year, but unless I missed something, there hasn’t been much—if anything—this year.
No, not at all. When you sign something with a label like Epitaph you’re technically only supposed to put records out on that label and they don’t really do seven-inches and stuff like that. Even though Brett told me, "You can do seven-inches and stuff like that, go ahead." But we’ve just been busy, you know what I mean? I haven’t had time to write anything. But we’re starting to form that now, hopefully we’ll have some stuff coming out.

And that’ll probably be a full-length on Epitaph?
Yeah, yeah, we definitely have to do that. That’s the next big priority.

You already touched on it a little bit with Bad Religion and Dropkick Murphys, but what are some other bands that have been your favorites or notable in some way, maybe that your fifteen-year-old self wouldn’t believe you’d be playing with?
Against Me! They’re the first band to ever take us on tour. And then they took us to Australia this year and they were on that Dropkick Murphys tour. Tom [Gabel] was like, "Goddammit, you guys are fucking everywhere!" I fuck with him a lot. He doesn’t dislike me…I don’t think. But I do kind of get under his skin a little bit. Someone’s got to! I mean, on a personal level, not just the Internet. But I highly respect that guy and that band and all they’ve done for us. I do really like them. I say their guitarist looks like a giant baby.

Which is true!
But he gets really pissed about it. He’s like, "You’re being such a dick to me!" I’m like, "You look like a giant baby!" [laughs]. Beside that, other notables…Bouncing Souls are great, Youth Brigade became like, super good pals of mine, so that’s really cool growing up loving that band. Kinda live in the same town as them. We don’t hang out too much but every time I get to see them it’s rad. They do their Punk Rock Bowling thing and always hook us up with that and it’s awesome.

You guys were able to take In Defence out on tour last year. What was the main reason you wanted to bring them out and how did your fans react to a hardcore/thrash band opening for you guys?
I’ve been friends with all those dudes for a long time and I love their band. I like [vocalist] Ben [Crew], he’s crazy, and [guitarist] Tom [Burt]. And we don’t like being super predictable with the shows. That’s we toured with Municipal Waste, we were just like, "Yeah, we’ll do it." I wanna tour with Cancer Bats, just like weird stuff like that. I don’t really listen to a lot of pop-punk stuff outside of Dillinger Four, Dear Landlord and stuff like that. So it’s pretty rad to throw a curveball like In Defence. And I thought the same thing, like, "I wonder if anyone’s even gonna like this." And people loved it. They’re such an entertaining band. Even if you don’t like the music, there’s the in-between shit. Ben—in Portland, on stage—drank a whole bottle of ranch dressing and then said for a dollar anyone could come up on stage while they did this song and slap him in the stomach and if he threw up, whoever made him throw up got the pot.

Did he puke?
He did not, but he shit his pants on the way back to where we were staying.

Off With Their Heads doesn’t have a ton of overtly political stuff. By default does that mean the bulk of songs are more personal in nature?

Has there been any songs that you’ve had to retire because of either painful memories or just kind of being done with that part of your life?
Yeah, there’s a lot of ‘em but if people really wanna hear ‘em I’ll do it. But if it ain’t there, it ain’t there. There’s definitely a handful of those, or ones that we’ve never even played because of that reason. They’re just on the record.

So it’s more like a release to be writing those and then you’re done with it?
Yeah, totally. We usually make those really difficult to play so it’s an excuse to not play them. But yeah, that’s totally true, nice observation.

One song that is a little bit political is "Terrorist Attack?" which is about media coverage of the 35W Bridge collapse. That’s always been one of my favorite songs, but I could never put my finger on why until I realized the whole song is only one chord. Was that something where you had the idea to do a song like that before, or how did that song come into fruition?
Yeah, we decided that it’s so simple what were going for…it’s so simple not to blow things out of proportion like the news did that day. That song’s about Fox News saying on the caption, "Terrorist Attack?" And I just can’t believe they did that, it’s so fucking crazy. So in the simplest form we wanted to have that song and it was like, here, check this out. And we did it and it was pretty funny. That whole record had a lot of that kinda shit, just real simple stuff, but those are always the ones people like.

Have you ever considered doing any side projects or solo stuff? Or will Off With Their Heads the primary vehicle for your creative output?
Well that’s the thing, it is my thing. It’s been me and Robbie for a long time and Justin doesn’t tour with us anymore but he and I write songs. But I don’t know…if I did solo shit I’d just label it Off With Their Heads because my name doesn’t have that ring to it. But I do want to play in someone else’s band just to keep busy so I might do that at some point.

How’s it been playing and touring with Dead to Me and Riverboat Gamblers?
Awesome. This whole thing was kinda my idea where we were like, "Let’s get three bands that are of roughly equal draw, we’ll switch who plays last each night and we’ll split all the money. And then we’ll hook up a band like the Humanoids and they can do a leg of the tour so there’s like four or five different bands doing that, and then we try and have a local every day so that the local bands can play the show too." Everyone was a little scared how the money was gonna work out but it’s just been awesome. Everyone’s doing really well, everyone’s having fun, everyone’s getting along. With the help of everyone kind of organizing stuff on their own, it was a good idea. We’re talking about doing a similar thing next summer to kind of keep things going.

I think I read an interview in AMP Magazine where Chicken from Dead to Me referred to the Riverboat Gamblers as "sweethearts." Is that accurate?
I think "giant man-children" might be the best way of describing. But yeah, they totally are, they’re very cool. You get a little whiskey in those guys […laughs]

You mentioned the full-length coming up and tour at the end of this year, what else is going on for Off With Their Heads?
We are going to Europe with Samiam immediately following this. That’s cool. Samiam’s guitarist just called up Robbie and was like, "Our European booking agent wants us to bring some Promise Ring band and we think that’s stupid. Do you wanna go?" So we were like, "Fuck yeah!" I’ve always loved that band. We don’t really like going to Europe because we’ve been there five times and it’s really isolated and if something goes wrong or you’re not getting along, you’re stuck there. But with this it’s like, "Man, this’ll be great." The last couple tours have really put a shot in us where we’re like, "Yeah, this is good." And then we’re gonna do the Fest again, and then something else which I would have been able to talk about tomorrow maybe because I don’t know if it’s for sure. And then Street Dogs tour in December--that just got finished off today.

Wrapping this up, answer this question with a story, if you can. Who parties harder on stage, [Dillinger Four’s] Paddy Costello or [the Slow Death’s] Jesse Thorson?
Whoa [laughs]. Um…I’ve seen both do horrible, awful things. Since Paddy’s older, he has more experience in such things in front of a crowd…I’m gonna do a two-part answer. I’m gonna say Paddy. He played here when this place just opened with the Epoxies and hit his bass and then passed out on his feet. And that was it, that was the whole Dillinger Four show. Now Jesse Thorson, on the other hand, is just a maniac. Not so much anymore, but I’m trying to think of something that he’s done. Apparently on the Fourth of July show, Jesse cleared the room because he was yelling at everyone.

I’ve witnessed that!
Yeah, he just belittles everybody. It’s kind of funny. You have to know him to know he’s just a grumpy weirdo. I think it’s awesome but if you take it personally, you’re not gonna like Jesse Thorson. I didn’t like Jesse Thorson for like the first three years I knew him! Then we became really good friends.