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.
You‚??re 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.
You‚??ve 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 they‚??re 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 it‚??s 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 you‚??re playing your own shows -- which we did, and it was just a very homey vibe… I think it‚??s good to open for bands sometimes because, especially if they‚??re 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 don‚??t necessarily have an opinion about it one way or the other. So it‚??s a chance to kind of win people over and also it‚??s basically someone you‚??d never meet anyway, so it takes the pressure off in another way.
Right, I get what you mean. Yeah, I‚??ve noticed that you stick to Germany quite a bit while you‚??re 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 I‚??d 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 -- it‚??s not a big country, but there‚??s 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 y‚??know run the clubs themselves. So I kind of grew up -- I had a parallel coming of age over there, so I‚??m 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 aren‚??t long and it‚??s 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 it‚??s just awesome. My apartment there is beautiful and I just have great friends there and it‚??s just a great city.
So are you pretty fluent in German then?
Oh, fuck no. Not at all. It‚??s 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 ‚??cause 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 it‚??s just a matter of… discipline. Also, because so many people speak English there, it‚??s awesome, but you‚??re not forced to speak the language so you‚??d rather speak to your friends in a normal way. You don‚??t want to be like, "Hey…how‚?¶is‚?¶the‚?¶weather‚?¶today?… Ok we exchanged three sentences, good. Good."
Laughs Yeah, it‚??s a pretty difficult language
It‚??s 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 that‚??s about all I got.
Laughs That‚??s 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…
That‚??s 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, you‚??ve definitely covered a lot of ground through your various projects worldwide. Are there any places you are still looking forward to visiting that you haven‚??t gotten a chance to play?
To play, there‚??s not too many left. There‚??s places I‚??d like to visit, not necessarily to play. I‚??ve always wanted to go to New Zealand and I‚??ve never made it there. I‚??d like to explore South America a little bit more. I‚??d like to go to -- I‚??ve been to Argentina and Brazil. I‚??d like to go to Colombia and Chile. I enjoy traveling and music because when you‚??re playing music you get to meet people in the towns and you just get a real insider‚??s view of that place if you‚??re interested. I like it and they don‚??t 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 you‚??re heading out solo with Saves the Day in a couple weeks. What challenges do you face when you‚??re working on multiple projects back to back?
I‚??m 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. I‚??m 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 I‚??m away for two weeks then I‚??m not working on this other thing. You just kind of have to be there when you‚??re there and get into it. I get offered a lot of cool things that I wanna do, and I don‚??t have a great system yet but the thing that I‚??m working on most intently when I‚??m not doing these tours is finishing this solo record that I started in the beginning of the summer and I‚??m 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, there‚??s -- I‚??m getting offers for every single thing that I‚??ve ever done and they‚??re just all coming in and I‚??m 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 I‚??ll probably play a few songs from the new stuff that I‚??ve 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 don‚??t know what people are into exactly. I‚??m looking forward to what I don‚??t know.
So you can play it by ear when you‚??re doing it solo.
I think so, yeah.
That‚??s cool. You‚??ve 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 it‚??s good to -- don‚??t censor yourself too much. Let yourself -- the mistakes that I‚??ve made have always been like "shit, that was good, why didn‚??t 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 I‚??m working with and the people I‚??m working with and in that way I think I‚??ve 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 I‚??m 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 or‚?¶?
It‚??s funny how there‚??s 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 didn‚??t put that song on the record?", y‚??know? And it might be something stylistically, and I might be thinking "oh, that‚??s too this or too that" or something like that, and I don‚??t -- I wouldn‚??t put it in the category of regret or anything like that but it‚??s just the way it is and I think you need to, as an artist especially if you‚??ve been doing it for a while, you need to challenge yourself and take chances. If you don‚??t take chances you kind of -- you‚??re kinda stuck, I think.
I see what you‚??re saying. Do you feel like you‚??re more connected to any one of your projects on a personal level even more so than the others?
They‚??re more about time periods and the people that I‚??m working with. The thing I probably feel most connected with is the, my solo record probably because it was a totally different thing. I don‚??t know, I‚??m into all of them in different ways. They‚??re all different moments in time and groups of people and you know… I don‚??t necessarily always listen to them but when I do hear them I‚??m like "oh shit, that was cool" or "maybe that could‚??ve been better but I‚??m kinda cool with it." It‚??s a place and it‚??s a moment in time.
Ok. You‚??ve worked with some pretty big names like Hot Water Music and Title Fight with your production efforts. Do you have one that you‚??re most proud of?
Gosh, I mean it‚??s like trying to pick a kid that you‚??re 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 it‚??s their best and people would tell me that… Except for the people that don‚??t think it‚??s 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 don‚??t ever try to screw with the bands. I‚??m 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 I‚??ve 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 I‚??ve worked with, I‚??ve made great friendships and it‚??s a lot about hanging out. So you get into this spirit of what it is but the cool thing about producing is that you don‚??t really have to do the heavy lifting. The band does. So you just root them on. It‚??s nice, I always enjoy it.
Do you feel like the different roles you‚??ve experienced as a band member and producer and part-time owner, do these roles influence each other?
Yeah it‚??s all part of the same thing. Like all of the different bands and activities that I‚??m doing are just all part of stuff that I do. I don‚??t really -- playing live, recording, rehearsing, making album covers, writing lyrics, organizing shit, booking airplane tickets, like, it‚??s 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?
I‚??m working with a band in Germany called the Beatsteaks that are, they‚??re a great band from Berlin and I‚??m just doing a little -- they‚??re writing in English so I‚??m just helping with some of that, some of their vocal stuff. I‚??m trying to help them get something that maybe hits more to an English ear.
Yeah, weren‚??t they on Epitaph?
They were on Epitaph, I don‚??t know if they still are. They are an amazing band. They‚??re 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 I‚??m looking forward, I‚??ll be over there in January working with them. I‚??m not the producer or anything, I‚??m just working with the singer because he‚??s a friend of mine.
Oh right, ok. Yeah so back to Rival Schools, so Found has been referred to as Rival Schools‚?? 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 I‚??d be even more excited about but it‚??s 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". I‚??d be like "Fuck‚?¶"
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 I‚??m 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 could‚??ve 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 we‚??re 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, we‚??ve 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 don‚??t feel beholden to "Used for Glue" or anything like that.
Yeah, so how does going solo compare to collaborating with a band?
It‚??s cool because you don‚??t 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 don‚??t have that sounding board so you have to do it. It‚??s challenging and in some ways easier and in some ways much more difficult. I enjoy it and I‚??m working with a band I put together for this new record and I‚??m loving it. I think we‚??re 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 wasn‚??t strange but -- Youth of Today I didn‚??t 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 Civ‚??s voice in mind and it was sort of a collaboration, but I love the lyrics for that because it‚??s all upbeat, positive and fun. And I think I‚??ve 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 it‚??s not something -- it‚??s 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 don‚??t know, if I was gonna sing those words if I would write them in the same way, y‚??know? But knowing that someone else was gonna sing them I‚??m really happy with the way they came out, I think that they just hit the mark. I mean I‚??m very proud of the CIV record and all of the Gorilla Biscuits stuff.
So when you sing that stuff now do you feel like you‚??re covering a song or reclaiming a song that was yours in the first place?
I mean "reclaiming" sounds like there‚??s some sort of -- more behind it. I just like singing them and they‚??re my words so it‚??s fun. Yeah, it‚??s in some way it‚??s reclaiming it, but I‚??m happy with where it‚??s at as well.
So aside from your own previous projects, you‚??ve 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 that‚??s what I like about that stuff, about bands like that, is that there‚??s this surface distraction or, not distraction but ornamentation that says something about the time or the mood, but at the core of it there‚??s something that just works anyway. That‚??s the part of it that‚??s affecting me anyway, so if I‚??m gonna do a cover of something, I try to narrow it down to that. Especially with me doing acoustic guitar, that‚??s what it‚??s all about so. I think that‚??s fun. I think people, when I hear a cover, I trip on -- I never appreciate a cover that sounds like the artist that they‚??re covering. I always like an interpretation and I always try to make whatever I‚??m interpreting to be very personal to me, to be about my relationship to the song and I feel like that‚??s what good covers are made out of.
I guess you get a lot of freedom with that doing your solo stuff.
Yeah, and that‚??s the great thing. Also when you learn someone else‚??s song and you understand it, you‚??re 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 they‚??re doing it, really. Something that you‚??re teaching yourself. You can‚??t… There‚?? s a lot more to it than that of course, but on a basic level that‚??s what‚??s happening.
It‚??s 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. I‚??m connecting to it. I have that. My Bloody Valentine when I first heard it… If I played it for someone they‚??d be like "I don‚??t even know what that is, that‚??s just static." And I‚??m hearing something else. And knowing that, and hearing that, and feeling that is that intimacy and that‚??s what you want. I also like things that are immediate and obvious too but I guess in the things that I‚??m covering I think that‚??s 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 don‚??t really read the lyrics for lyrics' sake. I mean‚?¶ 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, that‚??s another connection, but yeah I always liked how his lyrics are funny and serious, but funny. In all of my lyrics I‚??m saying something funny. At least funny to me‚?¶ So I like his lyrics but I think that‚??s a pretty obvious example. I like lyrics that just work on a kind of sensational level. Like Robert Plant, maybe his lyrics aren‚??t good, but they work and they don‚??t interfere with the song, and maybe Thom Yorke -- I‚??m 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 that‚??s 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 doesn‚??t always have to be one way or another. But… Nick Cave writes cool lyrics, they‚??re 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, he‚??s a great frontman.
Oh shit I would‚??ve 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 wasn‚??t listening to Nick Cave when I was writing for Gorilla Biscuits, I wasn‚??t 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, I‚??ve written pretty much -- there‚??s the eight topics I feel comfortable writing about and I feel like I‚??ve covered them probably in the first two or three albums, maybe on the whole Gorilla Biscuits album. I kind of covered everything except there isn‚??t too much about love between people, it‚??s 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 you‚??re at, what‚??s going on in your life, and the kind of song you would write about holding your ground when you‚??re 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, y‚??know? And it doesn‚??t necessarily have to be esoteric, y‚??know? 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 it‚??s fine to just be into the things that you‚??re 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 she‚??s growing up. How successful have you‚?¶?
Well, she‚??s only six.
So that‚??s a little ahead of her, but if my daughter was straight edge, that‚??d be awesome. That‚??d be great, but I‚??d also be fine, I mean it‚??s 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 there‚??s some stuff that I, there‚??s other stuff I could‚??ve been into that would‚??ve been cool too but as far as that time of my life I think that was a really good fit. So, I think it isn‚??t just for teenagers. There‚??s people that are my age that got into -- decided that they didn‚??t wanna drink at that time, and there‚??s lots of reasons for that. There‚??s people that come from families that -- with alcoholic parents, or have seen addiction -- I‚??ve learned more personal lessons from that, that wasn‚??t something that I was dealing with, but -- and have carried that through, and that‚??s super great. There‚??s also where you‚??re in high school and you think it‚??s 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 don‚??t think that that ruins it, it‚??s just the way that people travel through life.
Right‚?¶ I know you don‚??t 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, it‚??s not that I don‚??t identify with straight edge. I identify with straight edge in a very strong way. It‚??s just that I‚??m not straight edge. I‚??m not thinking about being a part of a community for making those kinds of decisions. I just feel they‚??re more questions of addiction, not even of addiction but even finding your places in this world full of distractions. I‚??ve 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 what‚??s really going on. What‚??s -- you know, being in the moment. Those things became more personal for me, but as far as straight edge, I highly identify with it. I‚??m 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 isn‚??t Minor Threat around?" Like, I wanna be living in that world. So I identify with it, but I‚??m not in the scene really. 'Cause I‚??m not in any scene, really. I‚??m just in my scene and my family and my friends.
How does your rapport with audiences change depending on the band you‚??re performing with?
It‚??s 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 I‚??ve 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 don‚??t 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 you‚??ve introduced listeners to other genres of music that they wouldn‚??t have otherwise known?
I‚??d like to think so. That‚??s not really my goal but I‚??d like to think that I‚??m expanding people‚??s horizons in some way, y'know? That I‚??m taking people along for a ride a little bit because, I mean, the things that I‚??ve done all exis,t are fine and safe and sound, you know? I can‚??t undo them and I wouldn‚??t try, but what I do when I play solo -- that‚??s‚?? 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 you‚??d like to recommend?
I haven‚??t, 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. They‚??re an all instrumental band, and that‚??s the record I‚??ve really been listening to the most in the last six months, I just love it. I like another band called White Fences. That‚??s a few and Title Fight, of course. Title Fight, as popular as they are, I feel they should be more popular.
Yeah? They‚??re pretty fucking popular.
I feel like they‚??re not popular enough. They will be if they keep at it.
I just -- I didn‚??t expect them to sell out and they played at the Royale in Boston and I didn‚??t expect it to sell out cause I‚??m an idiot and I went there and‚?¶
Couldn‚??t get in, that‚??s a shame.