Citing his family and friends as his own "scene" more so than any other, Walter Schreifels continues to contribute greatly to punk, hardcore and post-punk - scenes he's had a definitive role in shaping since the late 80s. Between touring with Rival Schools and occasionally playing with Quicksand and Gorilla Biscuits, he's a label owner, producer, solo act and father. He is hitting the road solo this month with Saves the Day. Punknews interviewer Stephanie Thornton had the pleasure of speaking to him about the challenges he faces jumping from project to project -- both at home and in Germany, the evolution of his lyrical inspiration throughout the years from straight-edge hardcore in Gorilla Biscuits to his solo acoustic releases, his stance on straight edge and how Title Fight deserves even more popularity.
Youâre about to hit the road with Saves the Day, have you toured with them before?
I played -- we did a festival tour together. They were on the same festival so I kind of befriended them there. They were just super cool and we played shows on the festival and outside the festival and they were just super cool so we just got to be friends with them.
Youâve just finished a short stint through Germany, Belgium, Holland and the UK with Rival Schools. How was that?
It was really fun. We had a different guitar -- a new guitar player, a guy named Matt Whyte who used to play in a band called Earl Greyhound, and we just kinda needed to get out there and do something -- try to create some sort of new spark to make a new record, and it was really great for that. Jimmy Eat World guys asked us to go on tour with them and theyâre super cool and we were playing big rooms and we had our fans there too and it was a great atmosphere . . . because we were playing big rooms and itâs not your audience so that kind of takes some of the pressure off and it lets you play in a big way. So it worked really well for us. When youâre playing your own shows -- which we did, and it was just a very homey vibe… I think itâs good to open for bands sometimes because, especially if theyâre a really popular band -- and Jimmy Eat World is pretty popular over there in Europe, because you have that chance to play for people that donât necessarily have an opinion about it one way or the other. So itâs a chance to kind of win people over and also itâs basically someone youâd never meet anyway, so it takes the pressure off in another way.
Right, I get what you mean. Yeah, Iâve noticed that you stick to Germany quite a bit while youâre over there and I know that you lived in Berlin at some point. How long were you living in Berlin and what prompted your affinity for Germany?
The first time I toured Europe, I never thought Iâd get to go to Europe for music. I was always amazed, I was always interested in it, and a lot of the shows I did in Europe were in Germany because Germany has a really great -- itâs not a big country, but thereâs lots of little towns with cool little clubs to play, so my first time to Europe I played maybe 30 shows. I played every one of those little towns in Germany and I made a lot of friends and a lot of people who were at those shows went on to become -- to form bands or become booking agents or yâknow run the clubs themselves. So I kind of grew up -- I had a parallel coming of age over there, so Iâm really tight with a lot of people over there and just as a general thing too. Playing in Germany is good -- they take care of bands and the drives arenât long and itâs a good place to play. And Berlin, I lived there for three years. I still keep an apartment there… I go back there whenever I can usually in the summer time with my family and itâs just awesome. My apartment there is beautiful and I just have great friends there and itâs just a great city.
So are you pretty fluent in German then?
Oh, fuck no. Not at all. Itâs funny when my friends hit me up in an e-mail all in German and I can kind of figure it out, and some little things I can. I do understand quite a bit âcause I lived there long enough. I took some classes and picked up some of the necessary, need-to-know information as far as language. As far as talking with my friends in German, I never got that far. I would love to. I mean itâs just a matter of… discipline. Also, because so many people speak English there, itâs awesome, but youâre not forced to speak the language so youâd rather speak to your friends in a normal way. You donât want to be like, "Hey…howâ¦isâ¦theâ¦weatherâ¦today?… Ok we exchanged three sentences, good. Good."
Laughs Yeah, itâs a pretty difficult language
Itâs cool. I really love exposure to different culture and I definitely know, I can definitely imitate German people really well. I do a mean German accent, but thatâs about all I got.
Laughs Thatâs awesome, ok. I was actually living in Prague for a year and a half and I got the chance to go to Germany a couple times for shows and I actually found that the crowds are a little bit lackluster…
Thatâs a city thing… 'Cause Berlin honestly has cool shit happening every night. It -- every band plays through and I find the audiences to be warm, but I also find New York audiences to be warm and people say that these places are "too cool" and I think it has to do with the amount of shows people are seeing or are available to them. Whereas in a smaller town like Prague, not everyone goes through Prague…
Yeah. Unfortunately. So yeah, youâve definitely covered a lot of ground through your various projects worldwide. Are there any places you are still looking forward to visiting that you havenât gotten a chance to play?
To play, thereâs not too many left. Thereâs places Iâd like to visit, not necessarily to play. Iâve always wanted to go to New Zealand and Iâve never made it there. Iâd like to explore South America a little bit more. Iâd like to go to -- Iâve been to Argentina and Brazil. Iâd like to go to Colombia and Chile. I enjoy traveling and music because when youâre playing music you get to meet people in the towns and you just get a real insiderâs view of that place if youâre interested. I like it and they donât have to be super exotic or real far away for me to get into it.
So you wrapped up a tour with Rival Schools and youâre heading out solo with Saves the Day in a couple weeks. What challenges do you face when youâre working on multiple projects back to back?
Iâm just kinda dealing with that. Trying to figure out how to get it all organized. I guess I do them all in little short bursts but it is a lot to keep track of. Iâm trying to get some new music out so I can really focus on that. The Saves the Day thing, I went to their show and they asked me to come out, which sounded like fun so I said yes, not thinking too much about if Iâm away for two weeks then Iâm not working on this other thing. You just kind of have to be there when youâre there and get into it. I get offered a lot of cool things that I wanna do, and I donât have a great system yet but the thing that Iâm working on most intently when Iâm not doing these tours is finishing this solo record that I started in the beginning of the summer and Iâm actually going to record tomorrow and hopefully have that ready certainly by the spring of next year, and then I can really focus in on supporting that because the way that it is now, thereâs -- Iâm getting offers for every single thing that Iâve ever done and theyâre just all coming in and Iâm just trying to look at my calendar and figure out how to make them all work.
Right, so can we expect to hear some of the new stuff on this upcoming tour?
Yeah Iâll probably play a few songs from the new stuff that Iâve been doing. I gotta feel it out. I went to the Saves the Day show -- the one I went to in Brooklyn, and it was a really great audience, and I just gotta figure out what works in that atmosphere. I donât know what people are into exactly. Iâm looking forward to what I donât know.
So you can play it by ear when youâre doing it solo.
I think so, yeah.
Thatâs cool. Youâve worked on so many projects over the years, and probably learned a lot from each including producing and stuff so what do you think has been your most valuable learning experience as a musician?
As a musician I guess itâs good to -- donât censor yourself too much. Let yourself -- the mistakes that Iâve made have always been like "shit, that was good, why didnât I just go for that," you know? And I think that you need to have quality control but you should also not be fearful of going for things and trying to get out of your comfort zones. I do that. I changed my style I changed the names of the bands that Iâm working with and the people Iâm working with and in that way I think Iâve gotten to do a lot of different cool things but I always feel like I should be doing more. I usually learn that from when I produce bands, y'know? I was just listening to Title Fight today, their new album, and I really feel like the stuff that we were doing together on their first album -- they took it and just ran with it in a really cool way and Iâm really digging their new record a lot for that reason.
Oh yeah, me too, I love it. Do you end up second-guessing yourself in the writing process orâ¦?
Itâs funny how thereâs certain songs that I always wanna take off the records and they always end up being the ones that the fans are like "how come you didnât put that song on the record?", yâknow? And it might be something stylistically, and I might be thinking "oh, thatâs too this or too that" or something like that, and I donât -- I wouldnât put it in the category of regret or anything like that but itâs just the way it is and I think you need to, as an artist especially if youâve been doing it for a while, you need to challenge yourself and take chances. If you donât take chances you kind of -- youâre kinda stuck, I think.
I see what youâre saying. Do you feel like youâre more connected to any one of your projects on a personal level even more so than the others?
Theyâre more about time periods and the people that Iâm working with. The thing I probably feel most connected with is the, my solo record probably because it was a totally different thing. I donât know, Iâm into all of them in different ways. Theyâre all different moments in time and groups of people and you know… I donât necessarily always listen to them but when I do hear them Iâm like "oh shit, that was cool" or "maybe that couldâve been better but Iâm kinda cool with it." Itâs a place and itâs a moment in time.
Ok. Youâve worked with some pretty big names like Hot Water Music and Title Fight with your production efforts. Do you have one that youâre most proud of?
Gosh, I mean itâs like trying to pick a kid that youâre most proud of. I get a lot of people that are more interested in working with me because of certain records more than others. Definitely Hot Water Music, a lot of people -- that record, I mean I always think itâs their best and people would tell me that… Except for the people that donât think itâs their best.
But I think that that one made a certain impact, and the Title Fight record. The First Step I get a lot, Rebecca Shieffman. They all have something. I feel like I learned something from each of them. I always go in as a sort of fifth member with a big mouth. I donât ever try to screw with the bands. Iâm trying to learn something from them and give them some suggestions and kind of cheer-lead them through a process and I know some tricks because Iâve been doing it for a long time and I also love music and I have an opinion so a lot of times having someone with an opinion helps. I take that, and every band that Iâve worked with, Iâve made great friendships and itâs a lot about hanging out. So you get into this spirit of what it is but the cool thing about producing is that you donât really have to do the heavy lifting. The band does. So you just root them on. Itâs nice, I always enjoy it.
Do you feel like the different roles youâve experienced as a band member and producer and part-time owner, do these roles influence each other?
Yeah itâs all part of the same thing. Like all of the different bands and activities that Iâm doing are just all part of stuff that I do. I donât really -- playing live, recording, rehearsing, making album covers, writing lyrics, organizing shit, booking airplane tickets, like, itâs all just part of the same thing to me and I love and am challenged by aspects of all of it.
Yeah. Are you working with any bands right now to produce?
Iâm working with a band in Germany called the Beatsteaks that are, theyâre a great band from Berlin and Iâm just doing a little -- theyâre writing in English so Iâm just helping with some of that, some of their vocal stuff. Iâm trying to help them get something that maybe hits more to an English ear.
Yeah, werenât they on Epitaph?
They were on Epitaph, I donât know if they still are. They are an amazing band. Theyâre kind of mostly a German speaking phenomenon but their lyrics are in English and I think they write great hooks. They called me and asked me to hang out and help out with that. So Iâm looking forward, Iâll be over there in January working with them. Iâm not the producer or anything, Iâm just working with the singer because heâs a friend of mine.
Oh right, ok. Yeah so back to Rival Schools, so Found has been referred to as Rival Schoolsâ true "second album." Do you agree?
Yeah, you know I like it more now than I did then. I was never really happy about them being out because they were just demos. To me, I think if we recorded them after this last tour I think it would be something that Iâd be even more excited about but itâs just -- it is what it is. I think it sort of is the misstep between that and Pedals, but it was just a tough time. We had been touring a lot and we were having troubles with the record label and I was just kind of fed up with the whole experience at that point and so said "hey, I would prefer to pick this up at another time." But people would come up to me and say "hey I heard that on the Internet". Iâd be like "Fuckâ¦"
And eventually, you know everyone has had positive things to say about it. I have to credit our drummer Sam for making sure that it came out. Ultimately I feel glad and Iâm happy to play the songs. It really makes playing in Rival Schools a lot more fun, to be honest. I think the material -- I think it couldâve been something else but I probably think that about everything that I do.
Do you think the success of Pedals and Found is gonna push Rival Schools to keep collaborating together a little more frequently?
Yeah I feel like weâre set to do something really great, you know. We kinda came out, and the first album was really cool and people really dug it, and especially over in Europe and the UK, and here as well but in a different way. Pedals was kind of cool, like we managed to get back together and make something really good and people love that album and I was really happy with it, and I feel like with Found, weâve just kind of covered a lot of ground and I really am looking forward to doing something just, I think we can do anything right now. I donât feel beholden to "Used for Glue" or anything like that.
Yeah, so how does going solo compare to collaborating with a band?
Itâs cool because you donât have to debate anything out with anybody, you just do it and make it up as you go along. The other side is that you donât have that sounding board so you have to do it. Itâs challenging and in some ways easier and in some ways much more difficult. I enjoy it and Iâm working with a band I put together for this new record and Iâm loving it. I think weâre doing some really cool stuff.
So you are credited with most of the lyrics and music behind Youth of Today and Gorilla Biscuits and some of CIV. Was it strange at all to hear your lyrics sung by others for years and how does that compare to being able to sing them yourself?
Yeah I mean, because I set it up that way it wasnât strange but -- Youth of Today I didnât write the lyrics, I wrote some music, but Gorilla Biscuits and CIV I did. We set it up where Civ was the singer and I wanted to write the lyrics, so I was writing the music so I wanted to write the lyrics, too. It was cool because I was writing with Civâs voice in mind and it was sort of a collaboration, but I love the lyrics for that because itâs all upbeat, positive and fun. And I think Iâve done -- there was one tour in Brazil where Civ broke his ankle and I got to actually sing the whole Brazilian tour and it was so much fun. It was really really great, but itâs not something -- itâs a little dangerous to sing for a hardcore band like Gorilla Biscuits. You could get killed. Y'know?
Civ broke his ankle. I think it was inspiring to write, it felt good for me to write -- I donât know, if I was gonna sing those words if I would write them in the same way, yâknow? But knowing that someone else was gonna sing them Iâm really happy with the way they came out, I think that they just hit the mark. I mean Iâm very proud of the CIV record and all of the Gorilla Biscuits stuff.
So when you sing that stuff now do you feel like youâre covering a song or reclaiming a song that was yours in the first place?
I mean "reclaiming" sounds like thereâs some sort of -- more behind it. I just like singing them and theyâre my words so itâs fun. Yeah, itâs in some way itâs reclaiming it, but Iâm happy with where itâs at as well.
So aside from your own previous projects, youâve covered bands like Agnostic Front, The Smiths, and My Bloody Valentine. What kind of songs would you say you most enjoy covering?
I guess I like hearing, in hardcore, with the ones you just mentioned, I guess I like hearing the song underneath all the turmoil of Agnostic Front or My Bloody Valentine. I like hearing, I think thatâs what I like about that stuff, about bands like that, is that thereâs this surface distraction or, not distraction but ornamentation that says something about the time or the mood, but at the core of it thereâs something that just works anyway. Thatâs the part of it thatâs affecting me anyway, so if Iâm gonna do a cover of something, I try to narrow it down to that. Especially with me doing acoustic guitar, thatâs what itâs all about so. I think thatâs fun. I think people, when I hear a cover, I trip on -- I never appreciate a cover that sounds like the artist that theyâre covering. I always like an interpretation and I always try to make whatever Iâm interpreting to be very personal to me, to be about my relationship to the song and I feel like thatâs what good covers are made out of.
I guess you get a lot of freedom with that doing your solo stuff.
Yeah, and thatâs the great thing. Also when you learn someone elseâs song and you understand it, youâre teaching yourself how to do what they do a little bit. If you take apart a My Bloody Valentine song and you can sing it and play it, you understand how theyâre doing it, really. Something that youâre teaching yourself. You canât… Thereâ s a lot more to it than that of course, but on a basic level thatâs whatâs happening.
Itâs nice to be able to decipher the words as well.
Yeah and get the words! If you listen to AF, I liked it because it was like "This music sounds terrible and scary." No one in my high school would even know what to say this is, but I understand it. Iâm connecting to it. I have that. My Bloody Valentine when I first heard it… If I played it for someone theyâd be like "I donât even know what that is, thatâs just static." And Iâm hearing something else. And knowing that, and hearing that, and feeling that is that intimacy and thatâs what you want. I also like things that are immediate and obvious too but I guess in the things that Iâm covering I think thatâs maybe a cool trick -- to take away the things that make it seem difficult.
Right. What do you most admire in other lyricists?
Other lyricists. All kinds of different qualities. I mean I donât really read the lyrics for lyrics' sake. I meanâ¦ Well someone like Morrissey is just an amazing lyricist and I definitely, from early on, even Gorilla Biscuits lyrics are taking a lot from the Smiths like the sense of humor and…
Veganism, yeah, thatâs another connection, but yeah I always liked how his lyrics are funny and serious, but funny. In all of my lyrics Iâm saying something funny. At least funny to meâ¦ So I like his lyrics but I think thatâs a pretty obvious example. I like lyrics that just work on a kind of sensational level. Like Robert Plant, maybe his lyrics arenât good, but they work and they donât interfere with the song, and maybe Thom Yorke -- Iâm not sure that his lyrics are necessarily great, but they never take away from the song. They always allow me to feel something is going on and I can kind of fill in the blanks on that, and I think thatâs a cool thing to be able to do. I have to struggle with that a bit more. I feel like I have more of an instinct to tell a story or something or get into it more, but… It doesnât always have to be one way or another. But… Nick Cave writes cool lyrics, theyâre sensational and packed with power -- like he uses powerful words and they just open up. I like that sensational aspect as well.
Yeah I had a chance to see him over the summer, heâs a great frontman.
Oh shit I wouldâve loved to have gone, I was out of town when he played in New York… Oh yeah! Bob Dylan lyrics of course!
Has your lyrical inspiration changed throughout the years?
Yeah, yeah. I mean I wasnât listening to Nick Cave when I was writing for Gorilla Biscuits, I wasnât listening to Bob Dylan when I was writing for Quicksand. Those things kind of made sense to me later and different ways of looking at lyrics, Iâve written pretty much -- thereâs the eight topics I feel comfortable writing about and I feel like Iâve covered them probably in the first two or three albums, maybe on the whole Gorilla Biscuits album. I kind of covered everything except there isnât too much about love between people, itâs more about the group. Anyway, once you write through those subjects you have to think of different ways of writing about them, or it just becomes really just tough, a real slog, and you really have to kind of challenge yourself, change your angle. And that has to evolve with your personality, where youâre at, whatâs going on in your life, and the kind of song you would write about holding your ground when youâre in your teenage years is gonna be different from the song you write about holding your ground now, but it can still be about holding your ground, yâknow? And it doesnât necessarily have to be esoteric, yâknow? You have to change your angle. I find that I kind go to the same topics or feelings a lot of times and I try to consciously go for different ones, but I also think itâs fine to just be into the things that youâre into.
I read that you hoped to kind of introduce your daughter to straight edge bands to assist her in making smart, healthy decisions while sheâs growing up. How successful have youâ¦?
Well, sheâs only six.
So thatâs a little ahead of her, but if my daughter was straight edge, thatâd be awesome. Thatâd be great, but Iâd also be fine, I mean itâs also totally normal to go to parties and get drunk and try to sneak home without getting busted. I think with kids, for me straight edge was just a really positive alternate world where I met so many people, I traveled the world and I feel like I picked up certain things that still I carry with me. And that has been helpful through life. I think thereâs some stuff that I, thereâs other stuff I couldâve been into that wouldâve been cool too but as far as that time of my life I think that was a really good fit. So, I think it isnât just for teenagers. Thereâs people that are my age that got into -- decided that they didnât wanna drink at that time, and thereâs lots of reasons for that. Thereâs people that come from families that -- with alcoholic parents, or have seen addiction -- Iâve learned more personal lessons from that, that wasnât something that I was dealing with, but -- and have carried that through, and thatâs super great. Thereâs also where youâre in high school and you think itâs cool to be straight edge and you get into it. You maybe lord it over other people for a while and then you go to college and you know you get a cool girlfriend or boyfriend and you change your ideas about that, and that happens too. And I donât think that that ruins it, itâs just the way that people travel through life.
Rightâ¦ I know you donât identify as straight edge anymore so what would you say to some fans who might be disappointed with you just because you were so influential in your older bands?
I would have to correct that, itâs not that I donât identify with straight edge. I identify with straight edge in a very strong way. Itâs just that Iâm not straight edge. Iâm not thinking about being a part of a community for making those kinds of decisions. I just feel theyâre more questions of addiction, not even of addiction but even finding your places in this world full of distractions. Iâve been working on not reading The New York Times, I feel that is my form of straight edge. Just people get hooked into the news or hooked into their phones, hooked into all these different things that could have you missing the point of whatâs really going on. Whatâs -- you know, being in the moment. Those things became more personal for me, but as far as straight edge, I highly identify with it. Iâm super -- my work started in hardcore and I thought straight edge was the coolest thing. The hardcore bands that I loved, the best one, I thought, was well, Negative Approach, but Minor Threat. I thought, when I first got into hardcore, "Fuck, why isnât Minor Threat around?" Like, I wanna be living in that world. So I identify with it, but Iâm not in the scene really. 'Cause Iâm not in any scene, really. Iâm just in my scene and my family and my friends.
How does your rapport with audiences change depending on the band youâre performing with?
Itâs a real difference, a real contrast. The people are getting into different things for different reasons. The audiences -- the great majority of the audiences for any project is only slightly aware of the other things that Iâve done, maybe 20-percen crossover. People who are interested in Gorilla Biscuits might not know or be interested in Quicksand and vice versa, and they might not follow onto Rival Schools and might not know I was in Youth of Today or that I wrote the first CIV album, or care that I have a solo album. Or that I made an album called "Walking Concert," that I produced Hot Water Music -- they donât connect those dots, and I think that when I play solo I kind of connect those dots a little bit.
Right. Do you feel that youâve introduced listeners to other genres of music that they wouldnât have otherwise known?
Iâd like to think so. Thatâs not really my goal but Iâd like to think that Iâm expanding peopleâs horizons in some way, y'know? That Iâm taking people along for a ride a little bit because, I mean, the things that Iâve done all exis,t are fine and safe and sound, you know? I canât undo them and I wouldnât try, but what I do when I play solo -- thatâsâ kind of me throwing it together for myself and for the people that are interested as well.
Have you been listening to anything new these days that youâd like to recommend?
I havenât, shit. I always get stuck…
You get stuck on this question? You did talk about the new Title Fight record…
Yeah, Title Fight would be an easy go-to.
I like… Guards. They have a perfect pop song. I just hung out with them this weekend, they have a great song called "Silver Linings." They just toured with Queens of the Stone Age which was an interesting paring. You know who I really love? The Alps. Theyâre an all instrumental band, and thatâs the record Iâve really been listening to the most in the last six months, I just love it. I like another band called White Fences. Thatâs a few and Title Fight, of course. Title Fight, as popular as they are, I feel they should be more popular.
Yeah? Theyâre pretty fucking popular.
I feel like theyâre not popular enough. They will be if they keep at it.
I just -- I didnât expect them to sell out and they played at the Royale in Boston and I didnât expect it to sell out cause Iâm an idiot and I went there andâ¦
Couldnât get in, thatâs a shame.