Self-empowerment lessons and battling sickness with MakeWar
by Interviews

On Friday, October 11th, Punknews editor Jeff Sorley met up with MakeWar at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ before their set to talk about their new album, their new drummer, and the power of positive thinking. There was serious discussion, a lot of laughter, and maybe too much ribbing of Matty the new drummer for looking so young.

A transcript of that interview, lightly edited, follows.

PN: Hello, this is Jeff from, and I am here with MakeWar at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ. How are you guys doing today? Edwin: Good, man.
Matty: Good.
Jose: Good. I’m finally starting to get a little better, I’ve been sick this whole tour.

PN: That’s not good. Jose: That’s not good.

PN: You know, it’s been going around. A lot of people have been sick… Jose: I don’t know. I’ve been in the van the whole time. I don’t know what happens outside in the world. (laughter)

PN: You know, maybe you’re the one that’s been spreading it around? Jose: Yeah? It’s been recycling in the van.

Edwin: It’s been recycling in the air. (laughter)

PN: It’s like Captain Trips from The Stand: spreading the disease. Jose: I don’t know that… (laughter)

PN: Yeah, Anthrax wrote a song about it. Jose: OK?

PN: OK. (laughter) First off: you guys are from a lot of places. Matty, I’m not sure where you’re from? Matty: I’m from New Jersey.

Edwin: He’s a native.

PN: OK, Matty’s from the Starland Ballroom. Jose: Yeah, he was born here. (laughter)

PN: The Hunka Bunka Club! (ed. -former name of the Starland Ballroom) Jose: Yeah he was born in the Hunka Bunka Club! (laughter)

PN: So Jersey? What part? Matty: Near Morristown. It’s a little bit up north.

PN: OK, So I’m pretty much north of Trenton right now. So, you guys are from pretty much all over the place. Jose, you lived in Venezuela for a while, but from Florida. Jose: Yeah, I was born in Miami, raised in Venezuela in Caracas, and then moved back to Miami when I was 18. Eighteen years ago, so I’ve been back here about half of my life.

PN: Edwin, you are from Colombia? Edwin: Yeah, I’m from Colombia, born and raised. I moved here when I was… 19, I think.

Jose: Yeah, you’ve been around for about the same time, about 18 years?

Edwin: Yeah… well shit. (laughter) I keep saying I just got here…

Jose: “Like, 13 years ago!” Every time he keeps saying it, like “13 years ago.” (laughter)

PN: It’s like my mom, every year she was the same age… (laughter) …and like, I just never got it when I was a kid! Edwin: I just never think about it.

PN: Really quick: Do you still have family in Venezuela? Jose: I do. Mom, dad, little brother.

PN: Do you still keep in touch? Jose: We do. We talk all of the time.

PN: How are things going with them? Jose: They’re fine. They’re struggling, but they are kind of used to it. I feel like the people that live there are so used to whatever is happening. It’s really bad but… you know.

PN: When we were living in France I had to take language classes, because I didn’t speak French, my wife does. And in one of those classes I became really good friends with a guy, Carlos, who is from Venezuela. He eventually went back and we’d keep in touch through Facebook, and he’d go blank for, like, three or four months and I’d be like “oh, is he still alive?” He’d pop up again, but things were pretty hairy for him, too.

So, two nights ago you played in Brooklyn, which was kind of a hometown show for you. How did that go? Jose: It was OK. I feel like our friends and fans in Brooklyn are struggling to pay, like, $45 on tickets right now. We still had a good show. I woke up at home with a 102 fever. That was my highest point in my sickness so, for me, Brooklyn was like “fuck, I can’t fucking party, and I’m here in my hometown.” (laughter) I had to go to a, uhh… not an emergency room, what are they called?

Everyone: Urgent care.

Jose: Yeah, urgent care. And they stuck these fucking things through my nose to see if I had the flu, and everything came out negative. I just have some type of fucking tour sickness or something. (laughter)

PN: That sounds awful Jose: Yeah, but our new record isn’t out just yet. So people were stoked on the two new singles, and once the new record comes out…

PN: Do you have a lot of new songs on the set? Jose: Yeah, we’re playing four new songs on the set.

PN: But I don’t want to get to the new album just yet. I had read before, and went back and refreshed on it, your interview with Broken Headphones and your aspirations for (your band when you first got back to the States) the Go Go Punkers and I think one interesting thing that you had talked about then was that you had come… and you had talked about these lofty aspirations and were like “yeah, show up, get on Epitaph,” that’s sort of thing. Edwin: It’s hilarious man. Do you know the story about his letter? He got a letter from Fat when he sent his record of the Go Go Punkers, and he got a letter that said “sorry, we’re not interested…”

Jose: Yeah, I got a letter… “Not interested, but here’s a bunch of stickers and a bunch of posters.” (laughter)

Edwin: And I almost wish he had this letter.

Jose: I wish I had that letter. (laughter)

Edwin: Yeah, and then like ten years later be like… (laughter)

Jose: So this was around 2002 or ’03, so I want to think that it was Toby (Red Scare) that sent me that letter. Cuz he used to work at Fat. (laughter) I want to think that.

PN: It is interesting. I mean, you build your band up, you have these aspirations. And you have worked your way up. I mean Red Scare, Toby… and now signing to Fat. How has that process been for you? Do you feel better for it? Jose: Well… we’re on tour with Lagwagon and Face to Face. (laughter)

PN: So in a way you start by sending this record to Fat and their like “no thanks,” you get your stickers and posters and stuff, and you write some more music, and this kinda did fall into place. As you said, your kind of impromptu acoustic gig with with Brendan (Kelly of The Lawrence Arms) during the blizzard kind of set these things in motion. And then Red Scare and now… what was the jump to Fat like? Did they come to you, did you go to them? Edwin: It was a normal process. We had the record.

Jose: Yeah, it was a normal process. We had finished the record, and I met Erin (Kelly-Burkett of Fat) at Kody’s wedding… Kody from Teenage Bottlerocket… and she saw us play at The Fest, too. So when the record was done we called Toby and Brendan, and we showed them the record first, and then we were like “hey, how do you feel about us showing it to Fat? We just want to see what’s up., if they’d buy it” We had a long conversation, and we were all on the same page, and at the end we showed it to Erin, and Erin showed it to the office, and everyone loved it. Then Erin showed it to Mike, and Mike loved it, too. And Mike called me, and that’s the thing: it was a beautiful day.

Edwin: And now we’re on fucking Fat! (laughter)

PN: It is kind of a vindication of your music and who you are as a band to be recognized at each next level. And like you said, you’re out on tour with Lagwagon and Face to Face, which is really cool! Jose: It’s super-cool.

PN: I like your albums… a lot. And one thing I really enjoy about them is that there’s a lot of positivity in your songs… they sound positive. They can sometimes dabble into difficult subjects, but I feel like there is a lot of empowerment in the music, like a guide for self-affirmation. Like “you are awesome” kind of thing. Jose: Yeah: “You are OK. Everything is going to be fine.”

PN: I really dig that, in fact I’m getting chills thinking about it now. That’s what that music makes you think of.

The progression from the self-titled to Get It Together, how do you feel like your music has changed? Jose: I feel that the self-titled and Developing a Theory of Integrity are very, very personal records. The self-titled In was dealing with a really bad breakup, and Developing a Theory of Integrity I was dealing with a lot of anxiety, maybe coming from that breakup or maybe coming from a lot of other shit going on in my life. So to me, at least, personally it was my way of coping with those emotions I was feeling. Just writing them down and singing them out loud, and it just made me feel better. Like you were saying, a kind of way of self-affirmation.

PN: And also kind of a catharsis, you know? Get on stage and just belt this out. Jose: Yeah, yeah. So for Get It Together it was a bit different cuz our lives are a bit different. Plus, there’s a lot of shit going on the world right now. I want to think that, for me, this record is half-personal and half “fuck we have to do something about everything that is happening in the world right now.”

Edwin: Or, at least, talk about it. At the same time, also, the message is to keep being positive. It’s OK. Empowerment. It’s OK. You just got to get it together and move on.

PN: It’s almost like this slap of reality. “IT’S OK!” Edwin: This is happening. This is what’s happening right now.

Jose: But we can actually do better, and we know this. Whatever you can do, whatever it is: as little or as big, you can do something. We made this record and hope that people can “get it” and be “all right, I can do something, too.”

PN: I like the sound of that… Matty! How are you doing? (laughter) So, Matty, you’re the new drummer in the band. Matty: Yep!

PN: So, uhhh… what happened to Greg? Jose: Greg decided to become a doctor of philosophy and psychology. I think? Do those two go together?

Edwin: Yeah, he’s doing the psychology and he’s going for the medical.

Jose: Well, you know, Greg recorded this record with us. He wrote this record with us. On this tour he came on three shows, and we told him we wanted him to see Matty play. And then we wanted Matty to see him play. So he played Portland, and then he saw Matty play a couple of shows, and they both were kind of like “this is cool, all right.” He’ll probably play some shows with us still, because we fucking love Greg, and he’s still our brother. But he’s got to deal with, like, eight or nine more years of school. (laughter)

Edwin: Yeah, he’s gotta do grad school and then something like a year of patients.

Jose: He already has patients. I’m like “what the fuck!” (laughter) I told him “You’re too young to be a psychologist!” When I want to talk to someone, I need them to be waaay older than me. (laughter) At least grey hair, reading glasses!

Edwin: Look wiser! (laughter)

Jose: You have to look way wiser. Unless he goes to work with really young people, which would be vey cool. He’s a very wise man. I’m sure he’s going to help a lot of people, especially in the music industry.

PN: You’re right. The music industry needs it. So, Matty, you’re now in the band. And you’re on Fat Wreck Chords. How does that feel? (laughter) Are you 12? Matty: I’m 24.

PN: You look so young! Like, I feel old now… Edwin: That’s how we feel.

PN: If I had to guess, you guys are… and sorry about this… early to mid-30s? Edwin: Yeah, 36. Both of us.

Matty: I feel pretty lucky, or fortunate, you might say. My last band broke up this past November, and it was a pretty big bummer.

PN: And which band was that? Matty: It was called The Moms. Local Jersey band. We had the same producer as MakeWar, and when I told Brett (Romnes) that the band broke up, he was bummed, but he was like “I’ll be looking for a new band for you” for the next couple of months. He called me a few weeks later and I came out to see them open for his band I Am The Avalanche down in Philly. We started talking about playing together. Six months later we’re signed to Fat… (laughter) Going on tour with Lagwagon…

PN: All things considered, even though you didn’t play on the new album… maybe its Matty? Jose: (laughing) Don’t tell him that! His head’ll get so big, I don’t wanna… (laughter)

Matty: I’m the good luck charm!

PN: “Our young boy in the band.” Edwin: We’ve been calling him “youngblood.” (laughter)

PN: So you’re on a national tour with these guys. How does it feel?” Matty: I’ve done touring in the past. I went to England last year with my other band and we’ve done a bunch of US stuff, but we’ve gone the farthest out west I’ve ever been. And these are the largest venues that I’ve been consistently toured on.

Edwin: And you’re playing Starland Ballroom.

Matty: Yeah, I’m playing Starland Ballroom. I’ve played here before, but I’ve never been on a tour that comes to this venue. So this is fucking wild for me. I saw one of my very first shows here when I was 10… it was Hawthorne Heights, Silverstein, and Bayside. Those guys are one of my all-time favorites.

PN: That’s really cool. That’s really good news for all of you guys. I was talking to Jose before and I mentioned that I had heard of him before, from when Brendan Kelly posted on Facebook about being snowed out in New York, and putting that gig together, and he mentioned afterwards… Jose: Yeah, the next day.

PN: And now here I am talking to you guys. Edwin: That’s crazy right?

PN: That’s how it works. Jose: We always have this motto, I’ve heard it from many bands and many friends: “You can’t say no to anything.” Try to say yes to any show, any gig, any opportunity you get. Because you never know when the right person or the right thing is going to happen. And that’s what’s been happening for us. We usually never say no to anything, and we want to do everything. And so it has just been happening.

MakeWar’s new album, Get It Together is out November 1st via Fat Wreck Chords. You can see MakeWar next month at The Fest 18, as well as opening for Red City Radio in Brooklyn.

Nov 01The Fest 18 / Jose solo set / Civic Media Center (10:20pm)Gainseville, FL
Nov 01The Fest 18 / High Dive (5:00pm)Gainseville, FL
Nov 07Saint Vitus w/ Red City RadioBrooklyn, NY