Ask not for whom the bells tolls, for it tolls for thee… Brian Gorsegner of Night Birds knows this truism well, so he's set his sights to making the most of the moment. The singer and his band just released their fourth album, the strategically compact Roll Credits , and the whole crew is punking it up as much as they can while facing that other golden ideal- raising a happy and healthy family.
That is to say, Gorsegner might be a standard bearer of neo-hardcore, belting out lyrics about insanity, insidious government oppression and serial killers, but he's also a dad and a husband, and trying to make these two forces work in conjunction instead of opposition. And if that's not difficult enough, while he's trying to complete that juggling act, the grim reaper, the foul grinning fiend, looms permanently in the back of his mind. So, to see what brews under that furrowed brow, Punknews' John Gentile spoke to Gorsegner about the new Night Birds platter, how to collect records, and Thanatos himself.
The new album is a bit ominous in its title, Roll Credits and it ends with an instrumental song of the same name. To “roll credits” means to wrap something up and end it. Is this the end of the Night Birds? No, I don’t think so… that’s not a very concise answer, is it? Every time we write a record, we think we’ll never be able to write another one. As time passes, this is not our career. I had a daughter a couple of years ago. [Bassist] Joe Keller just had twins. Everyone is getting older and poorer and things seem to close in a little bit more as the world moves on.
As we did bands at 17, there was nothing really stopping you. As we get older, it gets more and more difficult for us to do stuff. But, in that same regard, it becomes more important for us to do this thing we do. So, we always think our record will be our last record because of hoe much effort it takes. But no, I think we all need this in our lives.
So to you, Night Birds is a recharge for your battery, rather than something that sucks you away or wears you down. Yes, absolutely. An re-charge to life/civilian battery. Living in the environment that we are al living in, in 2018, would be a very difficult thing to do without some sort of artistic output. With all the negative vibes flowing, you have to have some sort of a way to get that shit out. Not to mention the daily struggles of financially getting by and trying to raise a well-balanced happy child- it’s a lot man. It’s heavy stuff. Being able to get out there, and do this thing we do- I’m speaking for myself but I think my bandmates would agree- it’s very important to us.
Brian, the state of the world. Are we past the point of no return, or can things be changed for the better? Is it doom and gloom from here on out? It kind of depends what hour of the day you catch me. Today is Sunday. I just had my first cup of coffee. I’m feeling optimistic right now. So, I’ll say we are not completely doomed and the good of the world will prevail. But, if you ask me again in another three hours, I may very well disagree with that assessment and say we will be dead by 2019.
Brian, overall, are you a happy person? Uh…”Happy”… that’s so subjective. Yes. I would say overall I am very happy. It does not come easy for me to be happy, but I work very hard to achieve happiness.
Let’s say you live to 95, and you pass away peacefully, surrounded by your family. You get to the Heavenly Gates, and Saint Peter says to you, “Brian, you did a great job. Come on in!” What’s your plot in heaven gonna look like? Oh my God… that’s heavy. I guess I should preface my answer by saying I don’t believe in that stuff. So, if it does happen, it kind of doesn’t matter. Fear of death is something looms in my brain every day. I think anything- I would be okay with anything because of how much I do not think any of that exists.
So, then, what if Saint Peter is like , “Brian, you did a great job! You get to work in the post office for the next ten and half billion years!” I don’t know. I struggle to think of stuff like that. On one hand, I think I’d be content with just mopping bathroom floors because of how much the concept of total nothingness freaks me out. But, at the same time, I’m sure there’s some peace that comes with that total nothingness. That shit is deep.
A lot of these zen guys, they’re like, “Death, in any form is peaceful, because you are at one with the universe.” I’m not down woth that. “No way, man! You’re dead and it’s as if you never existed! It’s total bleak destruction!” It’s not cool or “peaceful!” Yes… I definitely agree with that. [long pause, awkward for both participants.]
Let’s lighten it up. “My dad is the BTK.” I love the video and how it’s kind of a throwback to the funny videos of the 80s and 90s- like Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.” Was that by design or out of necessity? I think a nice balance of the two. We don’t need some sort of high end budget video. I think doing a low end budget video can come out way funnier anyway. We had a really, really fun time doing that video. It’s just getting together for a full day, and eating, and just having fun with your friends. It’s pretty much the best.
I really like the bit with the “Not the FBI pizza” where you are yelling at the other cops. That’s clearly just us trying to write a SNL skit. I would say aside from music, comedy is the thing that ties our band the most together. When we’re not talking about old records, we are talking about old SNL sits. We had so much fun coming up with stuff. There were so many stupid jokes that got cut out. That plays into our element- if not writing or recording, that’s what connects us. We’ve got a couple of ideas for future things as well
Likewise, the new album is described as a “mini-lp.” Was that a tactical artistic decision, or was it by necessity because you all have other time constraints? It was a little bit of both. We had wanted to do a proper 12-inch EP for a while. But, I think what the term EP used to mean and what it means now are two different things. It was something as well thought out as a proper full length is, but we knew it wasn’t as many songs as a proper full length. So, we coined it a “mini-LP” so people don’t judge it on whether its an LP or EP. Group Sex by the Circle Jerks is shorter than Roll Credits. Do you think Group Sex is a full length album or an EP?
I think, without question, you have to argue that Group Sex is a full length album. It’s more than three songs. The band states it is an album. It exists as a collection of expressions that fit together to create a complete statement. Okay, do you think Out of Step by Minor Threat is a full length or an EP?
That’s the better question, if you ask me. Out of Step is more unclear. I think it is fitting of the rare distinction of “mini-LP.” It’s more than an EP, but it’s not a full statement. I’d argue that the first Minor Threat EP is more of a full statement than Out of Step. Yes, so it’s a fair argument. It was kind of a tough thing. EP, you hear that, and you say, “oh, it’s an in between thing.” We worked on this for two and half years. We worked on this steadily. It was a well thought out piece. I think calling it an EP sells it short and didn’t sit totally short. A proper full ength is supposed to be 30 minutes, and an EP is supposed to be less than that. I think we were trying to find some sub-genre in which to stick.
Jerry A of Poison Idea is on the new album. What does he mean to you? Jerry A is my single favorite hardcore vocalist of all time. We don’t do stuff like that “to add sales value to a record.” Really, it’s just an excuse to get to work with people that I grew up listening to. The fact that Jerry digs our band enough to record a song with us- if I’m able to make that happen, I’m going to do it just because he’s my favorite vocalist and that kind of thing means the world to me. We had CJ Ramone on the last album. We had Eric from the New Bomb Turks on one. That’s really just us seeing how far we can push out nerd-ery.
I’m interested in your mental perception of Jerry A. In your brain, when you approach Jerry A, are you approaching “Jerry A of Poison Idea” or “my friend Jerry who I know.” It’s pretty hard for me to not look at someone like that and it not being a very large source of making me want to do what we do now. As things go on, and you learn that they’re just rad people- when you meet Jerry A or CJ Ramone and you find out that they are actually as cool as you would hope, it’s kind of the coolest thing in the whole world. It’s pretty awesome. It’s one of those things that “Wow, if you told me at 14 that I’d be on a song with Jerry ‘ and sharing the stage with the Descendents”- that sense of awe never changed. That matters as much to 35 year old me as it would 14 year old me.
Let’s look at an alternate hypothesis. A lot of the music we like is not nice music. The lyrics are not “nice,” and the presentation is not nice. Is it unfair to expect these people to be nice? For example, Morrissey has a lot of songs where he plays the part of a bad guy or a jerk. Let’s say you meet Morrissey and he is a dick. Is it fair to hold Morrissey’s dickiness against him when that’s a foundational part of his art? Maybe it is cool if Morrissey is a dick in real life. No, I don’t really think that it’s cool. I have met people who I grew up listening to and who were huge inspirations, and I was let down by the personal encounter. I didn’t leave the situation disliking the band. It’s not like those people owe me anything. It’s more like, I leave the encounter, that’s just how that person is. It kind of just crosses out in my brain. I don’t dislike the person unless they were a total asshole.
But, when you meet a person and they are cool, it does up the value of that person or the band. They don’t have this ego trip, and will take the time to shoot the shit and answer some of my ridiculous record questions. It’s like any person. If they’re an asshole, you’re not going to like them.
One of the things that I like most about Night Birds is that you do sometimes embrace the darkness, as it were. A lot of time, punk bands will explore a dark idea, and then tag a message of hope or solitary with that message. Sometimes, not all the time, Night Birds will simply embrace the nihilism and not soften the message. Do you agree with that? I do. This band for us, and punk rock as musical expression and an outlet, is a way to filter out the bad stuff. Like everything going on in the world, to sit down and write a song and yell about it, can be very therapeutic. What we are actually saying in the moment might be bleak, and there are many bleak, dark punk rock songs, but it’s not a how to manual. An album like Damaged by Black Flag, that is a way of sweating out all of the toxins.
Why did you guys bring Mike Hunchback back into the band and make the band a five piece? I had kicked around the idea of making the band a five piece with Joe for a while. Most of our records have multiple guitar parts and there was just never quite the right person to join in. Mike moved back to the Jersey shore where Joe, PJ, and myself live. We were hanging out and getting together to watch movies and the idea came for him to be on the new album. He really hit it off in the studio with us. We really just had a lot of fun. The idea started to have him doing Fall and Winter shows with us with just him doing a block of songs with us- a couple old ones and a couple new ones- and then we’ve been practicing together and it just took off from there. It was really organic and we’re just seeing how it goes for now.
Brian, you’ve got a legendary record collection. What is the secret to scooping up the ultra rarities? I have a lot of fortune with a lot of the cool stuff that I’ve gotten, just with some older friends who have hooked me up with some good stuff or passed some down. Honestly, you just need to always be on the hunt. It’s out there, but you just have to keep looking.
Where’s the line between being a collector and being a fetishist? There’s this one guy, he has Johnny Thunders’ boots, but he keeps them in a closet so no one steals them. Plus, they might be Johnny Thunders’ boots, but they’re just a pair of boots. Johnny Thunders’ isn’t a deity. Does excessive collecting conflict with the punk value that everyone is equal and that rock stars aren’t gods? You know what John, if it makes you happy, then it can’t be that bad.