"In my head, I feel like my voice is getting weaker," says Paint It Black lead singer Dan Yemin, "because the busier my life gets, the less we play and I have to get my voice back to where I want it to be. It can be hard getting back to that level when we play shows after not screaming for six months."
Paint it Black's most recent release, Invisible, doesn't show any signs of subdual, with the songs and vocals being louder than before. But he's right, Yemin doesn't get to scream as much as he used to. With full-time gigs as a father and a psychologist, it's not easy to find the time for music, especially when it's with at least three bands.
Because all of Paint It Black's members have their restless hands in a number of projects, the stars need to align for the guys to come together to make a record, which, after four years since their last EP, has finally happened.
Yemin found some time in his crazy schedule to chat with Punknews interviewer Gen Handley about how adulthood has influenced his music, the similarities between hip hop and hardcore and the joys of recording their latest release.
I read that this EP has been in the works for a while now.
In my head, Iâve been working on it for three years. I donât want to make too much of it, but our drummer (Jared Shavelson) lives in Los Angeles – heâs on tour for like eight months out of the year, and Andyâs (Nelson) in a really serious band so itâs a good chance when Jaredâs available, which is not very often, Andy might be doing something with Ceremony. And then Josh (Agran), our guitar player, is in a lot of other bands too – heâs got a lot going on – and Iâm in like four bands and have two kids and a full-time job.
So logistically, itâs pretty tough to pull off a Paint It Black record then.
Itâs really tough. For this two-week period when Jared was out here in December, we had been trying to orchestrate it since last January.
But aside from the scheduling dilemmas, Paint It Black is doing pretty good?
Yeah, weâre always working on the next thing, weâre fired up – itâs just that the time span is a lot longer. When we do get together, itâs a fucking thrill; the collaborative energy is amazing. When we get together, itâs the most efficient and dedicated group of people Iâve ever played with. It just takes a long time to get together [Laughs.] I do most of the writing on my own and then I send demos to everybody and they just kind of rearrange everything. Like, I demo everything, send it to everybody, [and] theyâll have six or seven practices without me and then we all get together and almost always, what theyâve done with the songs is better.
Over these past few years, what shaped the writing for these songs?
Well lyrically, itâs always been where my head is at. When I was younger, I didnât realize how much youâre still growing when youâreâ¦not young anymore. [Laughs.] Like, youâre still changing and growing and maturing in all of these ways and a lot of that has to do with family and the struggle to stay engaged with the world when you have a family – family can make you really insular because it takes so much out of you and you focus so much on your home. And to stay engaged with the rest of the world, especially if you consider yourself politically engaged, becomes much more of a challenge – I find that I have to work twice as hard. The best [way] to put it would be that itâs recontextualizing. I know make a lot of these adjectives up, like when I wrote that thing when we put out the record, but writing for punk music has always come from this place of alienation and outrage for me and I know I said that two weeks ago. I think that being older and having a family, those feelings are still there, still a part of me and how I see the world, but theyâre recontextualized because of what my priorities are now.
Like, I engage sexism in a very different way now because I have a daughter. Itâs always been something that Iâve been freaked out about and pissed about and tried to write about, but itâs totally different because Iâm thinking about how itâs going to affect her. Itâs important to be pissed about sexism and itâs important to be a feminist – itâs not like Iâm saying Iâm serious about it [just] because Iâve got a daughter – itâs that the perspective is different because Iâm thinking about her life, in a visceral way thatâs different from how I felt about it before. So the feelings that are sort of being grappled with and the ways I talk about how the world is broken, I experience all of that differently because Iâm raising kids.
Are these feelings, the emotions amplified as a father?
Theyâre amplified and theyâre recontextualized. Thereâs also a struggle with cynicism as you get older. Having kids also makes you think about the future in a really positive way. Itâs always been about this balance of outrage, critique and hope. And hope is, again, something Iâm experiencing in a new light because when you have kids, you see the future in a different way.
So where does the title Invisible fit into all of this?
Actually, the title Invisible came from somebody that commented on a set of lyrics I posted, which were really directly about sexism. Iâve always felt a little problematic, as a man, writing about sexism. Like in the 90s, DIY-political-hardcore bands wrote about feminism from a male perspective and I always felt it was a bit clumsy and heavy-handed a lot of the time. But I was feeling like, Iâm not sure itâs appropriate to try to write from a female perspective either because it felt condescending – the only time I think it was pulled off was that Fugazi song on the first record called "Suggestion."
So I had these lyrics with certain lines trying to take on a female perspective and I posted it on Facebook and wrote about what I was struggling with – how I was struggling with what voice to use. I wanted feedback, especially from women and I got a lot of it – it was amazing. Most women felt that trying to speak in a female voice would be inauthentic. It was in many ways recreating the worst aspects of men speaking to women, which is a problem. So I took that advice, kept the skeleton of the lyrics and changed it so it was in my voice and was talking about sexism but also about the problems of male power and the ways in which judgement and perspective can work to empower some people while dis-empowering others – with sexism being one of the many contexts where that manifests. One of the comments from one of the women who answered was "You should call it âInvisibleâ because thatâs how I feel sometimes."
But also, we are always looking at ways to erase the boundaries between audience and band. So I liked the idea of the people who support Paint It Black helping me write the record and helping me title the record. Also, the other way we did this was having the Philly scene do backup vocals for the record. We played a show in this DIY venue in west Philly before New Yearâs – there were about 250 kids there – and we just recorded this song. You know how thereâs this standard part in a hardcore song where thereâs either a breakdown into a slow part or a breakaway into a fast part and somebody yells, "go?" You know, the classic hardcore "go" backup vocal? Well I wanted the Philly scene to yell "go" on this record so I took out my iPhone and counted to three and everybody yelled, "go" and I put it on the record. I love the idea of the kids who listen to us helping us write the record and help record the record. Itâs all about community and communication and finding new ways to realize that and new ways to actually make that happen.
So that was a long way of telling that story, but I feel that itâs the most important story of the record.
The last two Paint It Black releases were EPs as well. Is Invisible the third in a trilogy?
Yeah, I would call it a trilogy for sure.
And aesthetically, the album covers are all pretty similarâ¦
That was deliberate, definitely. I very much like the idea of continuity of design.
I just want to say one thing, even thought itâs not in response to a question, is that the people who write about punk and who write about this band have a really strong tendency to talk about Paint It Black as my band and say "Yemin and company." I really want to make it clear in this interview that I donât think of the band that way – I donât think of it as my band. The things that Andy Nelson, Josh Agran and Jared Shavelson contribute to the band are just as important as what I bring to the band and in some ways, more important. Thereâs no way I could do it with any other group of people and it is not about me – the creative impulse starts with me, but the other guys enable it in away that couldnât happen with anyone else.
Sorry, I digress – I just had to say that.
So what is about about EPs that you like so much?
There are two main reasons. Basically, the first is that we did three full-lengths and I donât really know any punk bands that did more than three fantastic full-lengths. I donât know if ours were fantastic, but I do know that Iâm not arrogant enough to think weâre going to be the band that pulls it off, continuing to make full-length records that are challenging and interesting when traditionally punk and hardcore bands havenât been able to do that.
Based on the stuff that I grew up on, the 7-inch EP is the perfect format for this kind of music. As much as people are accustomed to thinking of the Minor Threat discography as being all on one CD or as being two 12-inches, the Minor Threat album is just two 7-inches that went out of print and were repressed as a 12-inch. There are bands in the 80s where the 7-inch was just a complete piece of work and I didnât need anything else from them. Thinking of bands in the 80s that did six-song and eight-song 7-inches that were complete pieces of work and never left me feeling, "Aw, I canât believe they didnât do an LP." Itâs short, fast music in a format thatâs kind of perfect for that.
So in a lot of ways Iâm a traditionalist and it appealed to me [Laughs.]
You mentioned on your site about having a renewed sense of purpose with the new EP. Can you explain what you meant by that?
I just think that any time we can get together and create something new, thereâs an energy that starts and continues with all of the conversations about mixing and mastering and design and whoâs putting it out and then people start to hear it and we get feedback - it creates this whole feedback loop of excitement. Itâs just as exciting now as when I did my first record with my first band; itâs always like starting fresh, like starting over in a really positive way.
Why did you pick Will Yip to produce this one?
It was really important in terms of our process to start recording locally. The days of getting out of town to record hours away are over because of the realities of day-to-day life. So I was looking to do it locally and a lot of friends of mine had worked with Will and spoken really, really highly of his skill and his ear and his chill attitude and his civility (Iâm pretty sure this is "flexibility," not "civility") with time – those were all things we really needed. Also, heâs done a lot of hip hop stuff and anybody whoâs read anything about this band knows that Iâm pretty obsessed with hip hop and very interested in the process of how it gets made and how different it is from what we do. So I was really interested in working with somebody who had a lot of experience making that kind of music – someone who really understands the importance of vocal cadence and the importance of bass, like low-end. All of those things, together, made him seem like a really good choice.
So I got in touch with him and he was like, "Oh yeah, Iâve always wanted to work with you guys and now Iâm going to make it really easy." [Laughs.] And it was really easy - heâs great. Heâs got a fantastic ear and everythingâs really chill, but somehow it happens at a really quick pace.
Well anybody who has recorded knows that you spend a good amount of time getting the right sounds, on the front end, before you even start playing. So we got drum sounds, bass sounds, guitar sounds and tracked all six songs in two days. And weâre perfectionists. [Laughs.] So that felt really fast and I went in and did vocals one night after work and one Sunday afternoon – and I played some guitar overdubs as well. Then he mixed it without us and sent us links to the mixes and weâd listen to them, sending him comments and then heâd adjust and send us new mixes. It just went really smoothly.
By contrast, there was another punk band working in the studio who we were working around. They had a full month booked to do an album and I thought it was a really cool contrast that we banged this whole thing out in two days plus a couple of extra nights.
Do you think there are similarities between hardcore and hip hop?
Yeah, thereâs definitely a similar aggressive vibe. I also think that in pop music and melodic punk, the hook is a vocal melody a lot of the time. In aggressive hardcore and hip hop, the hook comes from the way the syllables are mapped out across the music; what Iâd call the vocal cadence. So those are both important elements that bind the two together. Also, as much as hip hop is probably the dominant cultural force in pop music now, it very much came out of the underground in a lot of the same ways that punk did. In some ways, I think it also was formed in the crucible of the Reagan era in the same way that American hardcore was. Also, in the late and mid-80s, most people who listened to hardcore were also into rap music – maybe not most, but there was a lot of crossover.
Armaliteâs probably on pause, maybe very long-term pause because one of us lives in California and I donât think we have the same kind of will or continuity that Paint It Black has. I wonât say that you wonât ever hear from us again but thereâs no plan right now to do anything.
With Lifetime, we play from time to time, but havenât played since August – it was six days after my son was born and that was really fun. I donât know. Weâve talked about writing new music, Iâve written some, but weâll see where it goes. And then Iâm working on a new band with Andy from Paint It Black, my friend Chris (Wilson) who plays drums with Ted Leo and Pharmacists and our friend George (Hirsch) who sings for Blacklisted. Thatâs a lot of fun and Iâm playing guitar for that – we should start playing this spring and Iâm really excited about where thatâs heading.
Whatâs this band called?
We donât have a name. Thatâs the hardest part. Hopefully weâll be ready to play by May. Weâve been working on it, on and off, for over a year. But things have their own pace in our lives and sometimes it can take a long time and then all of a sudden "boom" and weâre ready to roll. Now that the Paint It Black albumâs done, thereâs a renewed sense of focus on that – Iâm actually headed to meet them now.
Itâs hardcore as well?
Yeah, a different kind of hardcore, but definitely hardcore and I guess punk. I donât really appreciate the distinction between hardcore and punk much. To me itâs hardcore punk, two words – to me, thereâs no one without the other, really. Iâd say this band is going to be much more Washington, D.C.-influenced than anything else Iâve done before?
What do you love most about hardcore punk?
Itâs really hard to pick. [Laughs.] I really love the whole DIY ethic. Itâs important more now than ever with the amount of corporate consolidation and the sheer number of things having to do with cultural production. But I think DIY is also thriving more than ever because there is so much big business. Also, I like the energy, the community, and the potential for exchange of ideas.
Does the music side of your life complement your life has a psychologist at all?
Yeah, I think they inform each other constantly. They both have to do with connecting with people on a very intimate level.
Photo credit: Rachel Wassum/WassPhotography