Tony Sly

His band's purported lack of use for one notwithstanding, the recently departed Tony Sly had made quite the name for himself as one of punk's most prolific and enduring songwriters, both at the helm of seminal West coast Fat Wreck Chords outfit No Use For A Name and more recently as a solo artist. This summer Sly reprised a team up with another punk veteran in Lagwagon's Joey Cape for the split record Acoustic Volume 2. In a two-part conversation, staff interviewer G'Ra Asim spoke with each of the legendary frontmen about their contributions to the sequel to 2004's Acoustic. Shortly before his untimely passing on July 31st, the late, great Sly expounded via email on what was to be his final caper with the Caper.

How did you go about selecting the songs for your half of the split?
I found songs that I never played live and put up a vote on my Facebook page. I received a ton of responses. I let fans decide which songs would go on and tried them acoustically. All of them worked. I was really stoked that "Black Box" received so many votes because it’s a great song buried on a poorly recorded record. So I basically tallied the votes, and re arranged the songs. It was fun.

You previously told Punknews that it took awhile to adjust to performing acoustically and making it more than just, "without the band." Walk us through some of the nuances of performing well as a solo acoustic act.

It’s just confidence. Also, playing a lot of shows. I did a lot of warm up shows in [San Francisco] and down south. My first real acoustic gig was in Germany in front of a much bigger crowd and what I call, "a listening crowd". You see there are those kind of shows where people really want to hear the music and almost "study" it in a way, and they are always very quiet and polite. And then there are the rowdy shows, where people have been drinking all day and yell songs like "51 Days" or "Feeding the Fire" in your face. Songs that would not translate to acoustic well. At those shows, I just join in, get wasted, and have fun.

You’ve mentioned how listening to Bad Religion helps you get in the right headspace to write NUFAN songs, or how Rubber Soul-era Beatles helped inspire the solo album. Are there any records you listened to to kind of steer your process with Acoustic volume 2?

Well, I have two solo records. The second one is called Sad Bear . For that record I just felt like I was on couch talking to a therapist the whole time and that was how the really, really depressing lyrics came to surface. A bad time in my life, "Sad Bear". No, the only records I listened to for Acoustic Volume 2 were the original recordings so I could change them and make them work acoustically.

Do you have a favorite moment on the record, or a particular tone or effect on a song that you’re really proud of?
I’m proud of the way I re-constructed and conducted a song called "pre-medicated murder" the instrumentation I think, came out beautifully. I did work with the musicians that I didn’t think I was capable of; notations and re-writing arrangements.

Does making acoustic records in any way influence how you approach writing new No Use material?
Acoustic records always want me to get back into writing punk songs immediately. Like right now, I am writing songs that belong on No Use For A Name records. I guess all the quiet makes me want to get back to the rock sometimes.

You’ve completed a proper solo album between the two acoustic splits with the Caper. How did the recording experience this time around compare to acoustic volume 1 and your solo album? Did you consciously try to improve upon the recipe in any way?
Two solo records, 12 Song Program and Sad Bear. I’m always trying to improve anywhere I can with the solo stuff. Those two records were written in a total stream of conscience. It was strange but all songs for both solo records were written in a month with the exception of a song called "AM" and "Discomfort Inn", written in the studio. I just write whatever comes to mind.

Having had so much longevity playing this music and being a known figure in this subculture, you’re certainly uniquely qualified to observe its development. What surprises you the most about where punk is today? Is there anything about your experience that you completely didn’t expect when you first began playing punk rock?
I didn’t expect the Green Day and Offspring explosion. Those were bands I used to see at Gilman Street and the next year they’re playing arenas. I guess it’s the way Rise Against came up today. But you know, that’s not really our scene anymore, we play clubs and bars with punk bands that are coming up. But there’s a ceiling for them like there’s always been a ceiling for us; to stay in the underground, to fly under the radar at the highest point. I like that. It’s punk.

Are there any goals that you set out with when you began that you’ve still yet to achieve? What keeps you going, in terms of touring and making records?
We never set any goals, yet I’ve played everywhere in the world with my band and support bands that we all became close with, and now we are a family. I never forget anyone in the punk scene. I’m shy but I love punk and the whole scene today. We play huge festivals one day and a bar the next. I’m very lucky to have done this for so long. It was a nice surprise in my life that has lasted for 25 years by next year. That’s amazing. I’m so lucky and appreciate everyone in the scene and all the fans that we’d be nothing without. That’s what keeps me going, this is my life.

Are you still drinking beers through your eye socket lately?
HAHA. Not these days. Injuries and issues are keeping me at bay, currently my back sucks.

Joey told me that you each suggested songs from each others’ bands for inclusion on the split record, but that he’s not sure any of the suggestions made it. What is your favorite Lagwagon jam that he’s yet to do acoustic?
"Violins" of course. I like that first one on the new record also. He’s great.

Is there a No Use song that you’ve tried to re-arrange for the acoustic format but haven’t been able to work out?
Tons of songs don’t work. Look through the catalog and try to imagine it; some would be so bad acoustic. But a lot work as well. It’s nice to have over 100 songs.

Finally, once touring for Acoustic Volume 2 wraps up, what’s next on the board for Tony Sly and/or No Use For A Name?
A new No Use record, and a world tour, and then another world tour. Haha.