Long-running California act Bracket’s new album, Too Old to Die Young, comes out tomorrow, May 31st on Fat Wreck Chords. Punknews editor Jeff Sorley, who spoke with the band extensively for a story on their history in 2016 prior to the release of The Last Page, got back in touch with band members Angelo Celli and, briefly, Zack Charlos to talk about their new album, the luxury of taking your time when recording it yourselves, growing old and, regretfully, Alanis Morissette.
Hello everyone! This is Jeff from Punknews.org, and I'm here chatting with Angelo Celli, guitarist and backing vocalist of Bracket. How are you doing today, Angelo?
Angelo: I’m doing good! Thanks Jeff! Hope you’re ready for awkwardly worded answers - I’m the best!
Haha! Only if you're ready for awkwardly-worded questions to elicit those awkwardly-worded answers! Let's start by mentioning that you've got a new album coming out soon, right?
Angelo: Right! It’s out May 31st. It’s called Too Old to Die Young (cause we pretty much are) and it’s short and Fat (wreck chords)
Excellent news! I just read on the Facebooks that the colored vinyl is back up for pre-order, which I guess means the first batch sold out? That's good, yeah?
Angelo: I think so… seems like a lot of people are excited about it. I think it kinda warms (some) people’s hearts that we are back on Fat, and this album might be a little more… approachable than the last couple.
Yeah, that kind of leads me a bit bit backward in time, if we can tackle that first? When we last spoke "professionally," it was for the history of Bracket story I wrote up back in 2016 which was right before The Last Page's release. Looking back at the conversations that filled in that story, it ended on this:
”Looking toward the future, they have already begun work on new material and plan on a new album. Despite their 16-year penchant for taking their time, cultivating and tweaking their music until it is just right, Bracket may buck their own trend… Plans are to record and mix these new songs quickly and without too much thought or experimentation.
Maybe the Fat fans will be back on board for this next one?”
So, we kind of landed one of those right… You're back on Fat! But maybe I was a little too hopeful on that first part of a quick turn-around. Can you go a bit into what may have brought that back down to Earth to what many would consider a "normal" amount of time between releases?
Angelo: So you’re asking what the hell took so long right? Hahaha!
"Awkwardly-worded questions" my friend… haha!
Angelo: (laughing) I’ll show you awkward. So, when we talked last we were indeed starting on the next album (this one). We did plan on working with Fat but we couldn’t say that at the time, but you kinda predicted it. What took so long to make the straight-forward, simplified, not-overthought album? Mostly just personal lives honestly. Also, the process ended up being really different than we initially thought I guess. We had song ideas, but we ended up doing a lot of the “fleshing out” of the songs sitting on Marty’s living room floor. We got together when we could to work out songs, write lyrics, and eventually record. It was more intentionally collaborative, which somehow took longer. We overthought under-thinking.
By the time we were finished, we weren’t even sure Fat wanted an album from us anymore, mostly because we have low-band-self-esteem. It had been over three years since Mike had approached us about doing a more “punky” album, but we sent it anyway. And they loved it!
Well, that's cool that it was kind of already in the works to be on Fat, but pulling the wool over my eyes… that hurts, man. (laughter) So, in a way, the craftsmanship that Bracket puts into their songs kind of won out over a "fast, furious, fire and forget" kind of mentality?
Angelo: Ha I’m sorry buddy. But maybe that’s why we felt like we needed to thank you in the liner notes. So, in response to the question…Yeah, kind of. But also it took some deliberate action/effort to write and record music differently than we had been the last several years. And we wanted a particular sound too - raw, and not too clean. Which took some time too, ironically.
Wait maybe that’s not IRONIC but whatever. It’s like rai-ee-aiiiin on your wedding day!
OK, we're gonna digress a moment here: Do you think that Alanis KNOWS that none of the "ironic" things in her song are actually ironic, and that makes the song itself ironic; or did she just not understand irony?
And now I have that song stuck in my head.
Angelo: Oh, like she did it on purpose?! Like she out-irony’d irony? Interesting theory! I’m not a fan but yeah that song’s stuck in my head too.
Getting back to finishing up The Last Page and starting what would become "Too Old to Die Young," could you elaborate more on how that came about? I mean, from what you said Fat Mike approached you for another album, how did you guys react to that?
Angelo: Mike approached us at the Fat 25th anniversary after we played, later that night. We were surprised to hear that he wanted to work with us again, and obviously excited and flattered. We were not done with The Last Page at that point, but his encouragement definitely planted the seed of doing a more “punky” album (his word). We continued to wrap up The Last Page, which of course took longer than expected. But in the meantime we started talking more about the next album being more in the vein of our earlier stuff, and at some point started sharing ideas with each other for Too Old to Die Young. By the time The Last Page was released, we were starting to write and record what would become Too Old to Die Young.
Oh wow, yeah… so that seed was definitely on your minds for a while. Was there any subsequent communication about it… updates or some such? Or were you pretty much free to tackle it as you would and then send it on in when you were ready?
Angelo: It was very…no pressure-y. We sent him and Erin The Last Page to kinda say “so this is what we had already started when you asked about a punk album” haha! We would occasionally update Mike when we were working on it, but they’re busy with a lot more active and successful bands - I think they either figured we gave up or we would send them something when we got around to it. Which we did. Not give up! (laughter)
I can kind of imagine Mike probably got stung a bit by the Nostalgia Bee after your live set, and it is great that they liked the new album enough to put it out. I can just imagine Mike being all "Hey, make me a new album," and then three years later hearing it and being like "Naaahhh!"
Angelo: Oh we were definitely aware of that possibility. I think he may have been caught up in the nostalgia of it, and I think he really has always liked our band. He just wasn’t a fan of the direction our music took in the mid 2000s. We are really grateful that after three years we didn’t get a “nahhhhhh!”
So, listening to the new album, it definitely IS “punky.” At first I thought it was going back to basics, but after a few times through, I’ve come to think it is really just a stripped-down culmination of everything Bracket has learned. Do you think maybe it was too much to ask yourselves to regress, and that’s why it took a bit longer than expected?
Angelo: Maybe? I think that’s one way to explain it. We didn’t want to just half ass it. It seems disingenuous when bands regress for the sake of it, so we wanted to be aware of that. None of us had any interest in making a record that felt insincere, or in making music that felt calculated. So yeah, I think we needed to figure out how to do it in a way that made us happy and also didn’t disappoint fans of our later records.
Well, I can say that it definitely doesn't sound insincere. It DOES, however, sound a lot like Bracket's kind of melancholy aesthetic meets "This is 40." Just from the album title "Too Old to Die Young" you get the sense that growing out of, shall we say, youthful endeavors, is a big part of this album.
No, I'm being a bit serious, though… I mean, looking at the album as a whole, it seems a bit like a mid-life crisis kind of thing (I'm not making any friends here, am I?). A lot of the songs have these clever, silly names that are a play on words, but also the kind of names a REALLY young band would use: "Arting Starvist," "Antisocial Inactivism," etc.; but then the lyrics themselves speak more from a lot of experience and, it seems at some points, reflection. I kind of got the feeling that this album really seemed the most "from the heart" out of all of the Bracket albums to date. Am I barking up the wrong tree with that?
(At this point bassist Zack Charlos steps in for a moment)
Zack: Sorry I’m late to the party. Angelo was doing so well… until now… just kidding… that I was just following along.
You may have nailed it Jeff! A lot of the titles and some of the lyrical content were born from a growing list of potential album titles we have been compiling for a few years. We’ve also been texting each other in that word play style for years so much of it came together that way.
“Arting Starvist” has maybe a tiny hint of bitterness in there at times. Probably stemming from working really really hard for years and not getting the financial independence that most bands do. Cultlike status has its drawbacks I guess. Honestly we just don’t make enough money to be out on the road. We’re all in our 40’s and we need our rest. Now get off our lawn!
Musically, we feel like we’re at our best when we’re doing more involved songwriting. Adding layers and unexpected chord changes is our thing. Our goal is to record something that’s unpredictable but still catchy. Not sure if that’s even possible, but that’s what we try to do.
Songs like “Antisocial Inactivism” are just poking fun not only at how lazy and non-engaged we are, but also how done to death the whole anti establishment anthem theme is. You could say we are more anti anthem than anything. Well, anti-movement anyway. (mostly out of laziness)
Angelo: Yeah, what he said.
Thinking on that "lack of financial independence" part, to me "A Hot Comedy" kind of nails that on the head, too. Maybe a kind of resigned bitterness to that fact, as well? I think the line: "Am I a commodity or just comedy?" hits hard.
Zack: Yes you got it. Seemed to us like a fitting way to end the record.
So what's the story behind "A Perfect Misfit"? I have my thoughts, generalities, really, but I may be off base.
Zack: For the most part, lyrically, these songs were kinda cobbled together. It was almost like, the album had no theme until we were done and suddenly there was the theme. So maybe/apparently subconsciously we were writing about these real feelings under the guise of not taking it too seriously. Not sure if that makes sense…but if I’m looking at that song as objectively as I can, we are probably commenting on the idea of artists disingenuously acting “punk”. We’ve been mocking punk and ourselves since AT LEAST “Me vs. the World” from When All Else Fails.
I guess we figure we can’t take ourselves too seriously, so why should anyone else be able to?
That's kind of the vibe I took from it. Something about being who you are while someone else gets popular/cool/whatever by putting on a persona… something that will wear out its welcome eventually. I've know quite a few people who that song can apply to.
Overall, this is probably one of your "punkiest" albums in a while, nary a string section or mandolin to be heard. It is all pretty upbeat, with the exception of the 80s hardcore punk intro to Warren 29 which, I think, may be the hardest thing you guys have done since "Metal" on 4-Wheel; and then the rest of Warren 29 is probably the slowest song of the bunch (and the most Doo-Wop-y). Was it fun or refreshing to kind just let go?
Angelo: It was fun to just write these songs with a feeling in mind. I don’t know if we ever let ourselves “let go” but we have let ourselves go! (laughter) We started this album with the idea: this album is gonna be punkier! Warren 29 was fun to smash together the thrashiest and the mellowest parts together.
Yeah, that was noisy. My daughter, who is seven and KEEPS ASKING ME TO PLAY "the new album" was a bit unsure about the intro to W29, but got into it after a bit! Keeping in mind some things being a bit different, am I correct in hearing some other lead vocals on one or two of the songs?
Angelo: Haha, yeah. The thrashy vocal part of warren 29 is was a recording of me and Marty screaming in his car into my phone. We did it at about 1 In the morning in a parking lot with (hopefully) no one around.
As for lead vocals: Zack sings lead on “Going out of Style in Style” and I sing lead on “Exit Interview” and “Antisocial Inactivism.”
HAHA! My guess was right! I think those worked out really well.
Angelo: Thank you! I’m glad we convinced Zack to sing lead on his song!
So, looking to wrap this up, I have a question for you specifically, Angelo: I know I've made tongue-in-cheek comments about this being an album about old guys looking back, but you’re the young one of the bunch, not even forty yet (although inching closer!)… how does it feel to be making music with cantankerous old dudes, being such a spry young guy yourself?
Angelo: I am a baby. (laughter)
Well, thanks for taking the time and doing this interview with me. I've had the album for, what, a month now, and I'm loving it! Let's hope it isn't too long until the next Bracket album (hope, hope). Oh yeah, one last question, which always seems to come up in the comments section whenever we run a Bracket story: When is the tour?
Angelo: February 30-31, 2020. (laughter)
Angelo: We will be mildly active later this year.
Like, a few shows in the area? Fest? You playing Fest?!?
Angelo: We will see. Band meeting at Applebee’s on release day. Sellouts.
Bracket’s new album,Too Old to Die Young, is still up for pre-order via Fat Wreck Chords. The band’s previous releases. including the b-sides, outtakes, and demos collections Rare Cuts Vols. 1-3 are also available at the Bracket Bandcamp page.