Off With Their Heads frontman Ryan Young spoke with Punknews staff writer Adam Sever a few days before their 10 year anniversary / record release show to discuss the new album, the history of the band and the weirdness that comes with selling a tour van on Craigslist.
You've got a ten year anniversary and record release show coming up this weekend at the Triple Rock in Minneapolis. Tell us a little about that with past members coming to play with you on stage.
We've had so many people in the band that all live here and they all basically didn't want to tour, so that's why there usually isn't too much bad blood. I just asked a few of the guys if they wanted to do it and it's turning out to be way harder to try and organize than I had thought. We came here a week early to practice with everyone and so far we haven't practiced at all and we've been here three days. I think we are going to try and do it on the fly, like we always used to, so it's probably going to suck and I feel like I shouldn't have even brought it up, but it will be fun. It's like all my friends from the last 15 years of living in Minneapolis. We get to play again one more time, so that will be cool. We're even going to do some Cleveland Bound Death Sentence stuff, so that'll be fun.
Will you be playing just stuff off Home or stuff from your past albums, too?
We are going to play Home in its entirety for the first time ever at the Triple Rock. I think we are going to open with that and then we are going to go back and play old weird stuff, just stuff we've never really done before and then just the regular stuff that we always do. It'll be a little different, but it's time to do something different.
Was it difficult to get everyone on board with so many different schedules to account for?
Yeah! I still don't think anyone is going to actually do it. We used to have this thing where if we would show up to a show on tour and it was like a redneck bar or something where we knew it was going to suck, we would just be like "Bail? Bail?" "Sure, let's bail." One of the guys was like, "I think I'm going to tell you I'm going to do it and I'm going to bail on you." We'll see what happens. Like I said, I think we're going to have a long sound check at the Triple Rock for whoever shows up. We will maybe get to run through some stuff, but it's probably going to be just us playing like half a song and then completely going off the rails and being "Well, that was a bad idea."
Since this weekend also marks the tenth anniversary of the band, what do you think has been the defining moment for you and the band in the last ten years?
I think there is a series of them, but one of the biggest things is the fact that our dumb band, that is me and whoever is around at the time and who wants to be a part of it, has been able to travel the world by what started as a joke. That was the goal, we were just like, "Imagine if we could get this in Japan, we can play this stuff in Japan." That happened. And Australia and Europe, all over the place. It's been a really cool thing to be able to do that. Obviously it started as a joke for like a week and then I was like, this actually isn't that funny. It's just really sad and weird. I don't know if you've heard our really really old stuff, but it's really technical and melodramatic. We could only write four of those songs until we were like "This is fucking boring, I don't want to do this anymore." That's when I was like "Well, I've got this song" and it was "Die Today" and everyone just kind of smiled and said "This is hilarious, let's do this." It was all a happy accident.
The new album Home comes out this month, what's the album about and does it relate to the album title?
The whole theme of it is basically how over the last five years of the band, none of us who have stuck with it have really had a home or anything and [it] kind of questions whether or not there is one anyway. I live in Los Angeles with my girlfriend but I'm never there, so I guess that's my home. It's a ton of different versions of the meaning of what a home is. It wasn't really an intentional thing, it was just that I always write my lyrics at the last minute to make sure that they're fresh and that's what was kind of on my mind at that time. It just made sense. We never titled the record or anything until it was done and I realized that that theme kept coming up. I was like, "Cool, simple, let's go with that."
You've said it before where people best like the songs on your albums that you write in the studio, not the ones written beforehand. How many songs on Home were written in the studio?
This one, we were actually the least prepared that we've ever been. We got together a week before, all the guys that were going to record and we practiced like three times. I was like, "This is what I got, I don't know, let's try to make something out of this." I think we went into the Blasting Room with ten songs, ten parts of songs and just worked on them for a week, and then we wrote "Alter Boy" and one that is not on the record that I told them to delete. It was seriously the dumbest song that we've ever written and we knew it the whole time. The lyrics were just really stupid and it sounded like "Walking On Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves. Bill kept calling it "Katrina," that was the title of the song. I said "Dude, can we please not put this on the record because I think everyone will like it and it's going to bum me out."
You should've put it on the end of the album after a few minutes of silence, like a hidden song or something.
I know, I was thinking about that, but nobody listens to music that way anymore so, it would just be another track. I don't even know if Epitaph has heard it or not, I'm not sure what happened, but if at some point it gets out there I want to go on record and say we thought it was dumb, too.
I saw a comment on YouTube for the "Nightlife" video where someone said that they were glad the new music was still sad and angry, how do you feel about that?
I guess I'm still that shitty, sad, angry guy, so it's not phony or anything, it's just different problems arise every year so there is never any shortage of things to write about. I'm probably one of the most negative people in the world, so that's a constant well of inspiration for me to write stuff. It is funny when people say things like that like, "I'm glad Ryan's still super pissed and sad, it makes for a good record!"
The "Start Walking" video was pretty great, were most people really smacking you hard?
That video we just did on the fly. I flew out to Florida, 'cause Andrew Seward was like "Hey, if you fly out here, we can do this winter theme park video." So we did that, and it was like, "Jesus, I can't believe we topped how dumb we can be." Andrew was like, "Well, hey man, if you wanna come to Gainesville, we can do your idea." My idea was to have people punch me in the face as hard as they could and I really wanted to do it, but Andrew was afraid, he was like "If someone punches you as hard as they can, you're going to turn and punch them," which I would've done out of habit, so he said "Let's do slaps." So he puts up on Facebook a couple hours before, "Meet at the bar" whatever that bar is called, Palomino or something in Gainesville. I thought maybe ten people would show up, but like 35 people came to the thing. They were all old Gainesville friends that were like, "I've been waiting to slap you for sooo long!" Fuck! Andrew lined them up and I told everyone "Do not hold back, like actually get me, get me good, get me as hard as you can and we're going to do this once and that's it." People did hold back a little bit, but you can tell which ones didn't, just by the look on my face where I'm like "Arghhhhh!" We were just trying to be dumb again and that one was kind of funny. The pizza guy, we just went into that pizza place and we were like "Hey, will you just slap me with this piece of pizza?" and he was like "Yeah, let me throw some flour on it too."
It's almost like that pizza guy had done it before, like let me just prepare this real quick.
Yeah he's like, "Oh, classic pizza slap, no problem!"
If you had done the punching video, it would've been cool to see you start out fresh faced then being a bloody pulp by the end of the video.
I actually did have bruises on my face after we did that video with the slaps. That was kind of the whole point, to get that bruised face. That probably would've sucked, because I would have had to got on a plane looking like Fight Club or something.
Instead of working with Jacques Wait on your latest album, you worked with Bill Stevenson, why the switch in producers and what was it like working with Bill?
We just decided with Bill because I've always wanted to record out there and I think the records he does sound good. I guess you gotta do something different every now and again. Jacques is just a really, really nice guy and he is really good at what he does, but this is our last chance probably, so we might as well do this one thing with the guy from the Descendents while we have the chance.
Do you think the album would've turned out differently had Jacques recorded the album and not Bill?
Yeah definitely, and that's why I think this whole thing worked out for the best. I think that the outcome of Bill and I just fighting the entire time made that record so angry. That's kind of what I liked about it. He and I weren't getting along for the first half of the session. We've never worked with an actual producer before. Jacques would just record, that was just his thing. He gave us input here and there, but he would just kind of stand back and be like "Whatever you want to do" and Bill was the polar opposite of that. It definitely made a huge difference.
Off With Their Heads have been known for extensive touring and now that you've done it for so long, does it feel weird when you are at home not touring?
Yes, totally! That's kind of one of the themes of the record too, I'm so used to being out doing this, when I'm home I don't have anything to do and I'm just sitting there being like, "Goddammit how did I get so old?" Being out and playing shows with the guys is how we maintain our dwindling youth. That's a temporary fix to a problem that is not going away.
Since you've played so many shows, do you rotate the set list of songs each night? Are there any songs that you refuse to pay?
Yeah, there is a bunch of them. I remember we covered that Replacements song "God Damn Job" and every fucking show for a while people would yell that song at us and that's how we would pick the guy to avoid after the show. We recorded it as a joke. "God Damn Job" we won't play and a lot of that old stuff, where we are just like "This is so dumb." Not saying that everything else since then is some stroke of genius, it's just like, extra dumb. We are actually really charged up playing our whole new record for these next few shows.
Had you not been gone into music, what other avenues of employment would have taken and what do you think you'd be doing now?
Before I did this, I had my own house painting business in Minneapolis. I somehow stumbled into a bunch of work and would hire all the guys that I lived with at the Alamo House. That was a pretty good source of employment for a while. I hate to say it, but I'd probably be doing that now. Either that or I would've gone to school. I've always loved music so much that I want to find something to do in that, in the business, but there really isn't a business anymore. I don't like reviewing records. I like writing, but I don't like sharing my opinion about other people's bands. I don't like cutting people down about what they do even though half the time that's what I'm thinking. It's like "Stop being such an asshole." What do you do in music? I don't want to take advantage of anyone. The music business sucks and Epitaph has been real good to us, but there is no money anywhere in it, which is fine, and I guess the last thing I could possibly do is be in a band. So, probably next year I'll be painting houses in Minneapolis.
Do you do interior or exterior of houses?
Both. I had a couple of property management companies that would own places and just be like "Go do this" and I'd say "Aright, give me $10,000" and they're like "OK."
I live in the area and if I need my house painted next year, I'm definitely giving you a call.
Awesome, cool. I'll be looking forward to that.
What do you think is the biggest misconception people have of Off WIth Their Heads?
A lot people hear the songs and think that I can help them with their problems. I get a lot of emails asking for advice and it's just like I don't understand why you would turn to me for advice. Listen to the band, I'm not doing good here, I can't tell you what to do. I'm not a therapist at all. That's actually where that song title ("Seek Advice Elsewhere") came from. That's one misconception. I guess a lot of people say "You guys are dicks!" Sometimes I guess, but who isn't sometimes. We are actually really friendly, all of us, we just happen to have sarcastic senses of humor, that's all. That and I don't really party as much as I used to. Everybody always wants to do shots and stuff and if I do a shot of Jameson now, I have a hangover for four days.
You've got a tour starting this weekend and you've got your tour van up for sale on Craigslist right now. Do you have other transportation already lined up for this tour?
We got a new van. That's why we are trying to get rid of that other one.
How has your experience been with selling the van on Craigslist so far?
We are filming this entire year to try and cut it down into an hour long Home DVD and the first guy that emailed me about buying that van was like "I only have $1,500 cash, but I have all four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" figurines in their original boxes, including Master Splinter and and Eagles Tour shirt from the '70s." That was our first offer for the van and I think we are actually going to take it because we have to film that. What kind of guy is going to trade Ninja Turtles for a van?