Ska/Punk legends the The Suicide Machines dropped Revolution Spring this Spring, marking the band's first release in over 15 years. Punknews's Mike Elfers spoke with singer Jay Navarro to discuss the current state of our planet, the future of ska/punk, and funemployment, all soundtracked with the fitting social commentary that orbits the band's killer revival album. Check it out below.
First of all, the new record is great/ Thanks! I'm glad you dig it! You know what? Let me tell you right now. Rich has always been my favorite bass players of all time. I would go watch his other band just so I could see him play bass, because I couldn't really enjoy it in Suicide Machines. So I always go see him play in his other bands. Up until recently, he quit Basterdous, but I'd always go see them, because I could actually sit back and watch him play. It was so nice to see like words about him like that.
He's just incredible! I mean I'll get I'll get into it in the interview, I kind of prepared some things, but… Yeah, but that seriously hyped me up because I 100 percent feel like he's one of my favorite bass players of the whole punk rock world.
That's great! The tone is good, and I'm happy that you do that, too. I've had the opportunity of playing music with some incredibly talented people, and you're totally right. Like sometimes it's great when they have other projects. I'm sure watching Derek play drums in all of his other projects is… Oh yeah, dude. I love watching him play drums. I'm sorry to interrupt. But 100% dude I love watching him.
That's great man. So one random thing. I wanted to tell you that I was required by a guitar player in one of my bands… You guys played at either the Cog factory or the Ranch Bowl in Omaha, and you signed his detention card when he was in high school. [laughter] You wrote "This is wack" on his detention card and he went to like, Catholic school. So that's hilarious. Oh, man, that is really fucking funny. I never got cards when I got sent to detention.
Yeah, me neither, but I didn't go to Catholic school. I was raised in a small town where they just made you stare at a wall for an hour. Yeah straight up dude, I was in public school until they kicked me out. So I guess, you know, I mean, I get it.
Alright let's get started! When War Profiteering came out, it was 2005/George Bush's White House/Iraq War, and the album is fucking bleak. I remember listening to it and being active in politics and bumming out, listening to it, enjoying it thoroughly of course, but at the same time, just saying, "Wow, this is a horrible time and it is so important as a listener for these guys to have a take on it and have an album to discuss it." Like many fans and listeners of your band, as soon as I heard that you were doing a new album and called dibs on reviewing it, I kind of laughed to myself. We tend to laugh to ourselves anymore when we hear that older bands like Anti-Flag are coming out with new records because we say, "OK, well, what's their take going to be on what the FUCK happened to the United States in the between the amount of time since your last record came out?!" As far as War Profiteering… I kind of realized at that point in my life that, you know, the White House, our government is completely… It can be bought and sold. You could buy yourself into the presidency, and I don't think that's not obvious, but Donald Trump to the common person who doesn't really follow politics and understand, I think it's easy to see that that's the case. A lot of people have been like, oh, you know, "but Obama!" and I'm like, "you know, Obama, his first job was interning and Henry Kissinger kind of brought him up. I didn't vote for him either. I didn't believe in any of those people. So at the time, to me, it was taught that the White House is for sale. It always will be, and that was the moment I realized it. That was the moment I realized this is a big, gigantic. "Fuck you, this isn't working, and it's not gonna work," and given the choices right now. I mean, I do believe in someone like Bernie. I don't think he will get the nomination, but given the situation, it's nothing different. It's going to be another 50 years of the same bullshit. So from that record to this one, I tried to think, I've become a lot more of an activist in the past 15 years.
I don't dwell on punk rock a lot. It's not a big part of my focus anymore, which is maybe why the new record is as it is. That was the whole thing. I mean, the opening track, I wasn't trying to point fingers. What I wanted to do was take a track like "Bully in Blue." I didn't want it to be another anti-cop song. I wanted it to be like, "Oh, really? So you think this way? You think that "that doesn't exist, racism in the police force doesn't exist. There's black cops or "All Lives Matter."" Okay, that's cool. If that's the way you want to think, how about you put yourself in another person's shoes." I'm talking to the white people. Put yourself in another person's shoes, in a black person shoes, in a situation where maybe you're in the wrong neighborhood, the right time. Tell me how comfortable you're really going to feel. I mean, be honest with yourself, like, really put yourself in another person's shoes, you know? That's what I was trying to attempt with songs like that. I didn't want it to be like War Profiteering, where War Profiteering was just pointing a middle finger at everybody and being like, "the world sucks and these people fucking suck." I wanted people to think about themselves and how they're reacting to things a little more now. I think that's where I've become who I am at 46 years old.
Well put. I appreciate that. I think I mentioned in the review, too, there's a lot of moments on this record that feel a little more more personal from you. Yeah, that's one of the two biggest differences, if you listen to the old Suicide Machines, a lot of those songs that touch on more of personal situations were usually my songs, and not say, like, Dan's, because Dan wrote a lot of the songs too. So this aspect, this record, you're going to hear a lot of me. There is one other song written by someone in the band lyrically. That was it. Everything else, I've written the lyrics. So yeah, it's kind of like a personal outlook of who I've become and why? And can you relate and put yourself in these shoes?
What was the song written by somebody else? If you don't mind me asking? It was "Internal Contrarian," and was written by Rich our bass player, and this is how it always works. Even with the old Suicide Machines. I always liked everybody else's songs way better than mine. That is 100 percent my favorite song on the album. Hands down, dude. That's how it always kind of works in this band. I hate all my songs, and then when I hear it, I always like someone else's better. Never fails.
Right on! So 16 songs, 35 minutes, that's a feat! Great job. How many songs did you write for the album? Did you cut anything? Or did you release the entirety of the session? We had 28 keepers, and one that just was not even a keeper, so I think we had twenty nine total. We had a bunch of bits and pieces all put together besides that, but there were twenty nine with lyrics, and twenty eight were passable and pretty fucking awesome. It was really hard to choose for this record because we actually cut a lot of really good songs. You know, as a democracy, which is funny to say, but between the four of us, Roger, and Marc from the Code, we really picked out and voted what we thought were the songs, and there were no arguments like that. Okay, cool. These are the songs.
Yeah, no, that's great. I've I've never had that luxury. It's like, "OK, I got the 13th song written man. Let's go to the studio! I got like one hundred and seventy bucks saved! It was amazing, like, there were three different writing sessions, and what I mean by that, it was it was like everyone puked out a bunch of songs and then it stopped for a while. Everyone puked out a bunch of songs. It was done for a while. We puked out a bunch more songs and realize, really? Holy crap. Frickin twenty nine songs.
That's great. Yeah, cool! Though that made the picking and choosing experience really interesting if they were in different tiers and things like that. Yes it was silly man, we actually made a poll, to where you could text out to our group of six people. There were all the cells by which song you liked, and the songs that got the most votes are the ones that won, and there were no arguments, it was like, "Yep, okay! Use these 16. Done."
Who engineered the album? You know, Marc Jacob Hudson helped out a little bit, he's in Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers. He did a little bit of this stuff, but it was mostly Roger. Roger did a lot, Roger Lima from Less Than Jake did a lot of the engineering. When things would come up Marc would jump in.
And what's the studio called? It was called Recordo Rancho. It's out in the woods dude, you can, like, bring out like assault rifles and fire them off in the woods and stuff and nobody says shit, it's pretty, pretty rad. [laughter]
I've always wanted a condenser mic recording of, like a chainsaw or something. 100% you could there, and not worry about anything.
Something that I've always appreciated about your band, is that every album kind of has its own, I'm using the word flavor profile, which is kind of weird, but if you put your discography on shuffle, as soon as the song kicks on and you hear the guitar tone, be it distorted, heavy stuff, or even just the cleaner ska stuff, you know, almost immediately which Suicide Machines album it's off of. I was curious how much methodology goes into that. It is a lot of its time and place. You know, I'll throw this example out there for everyone to understand, like take the self-titled album: Everyone was smokin' weed and listen to like the Beatles, you know what I mean? Or take Steal This Record: we all hate each other we wouldn't even talk to each other. So I think things affect every album, you know what I'm saying? I can't really explain it any other way. It's time and place, 110%.
That makes perfect sense, and you know personally, I felt, and I admittedly needed some positivity yesterday when I was finally done juggling a quarantined family and working from home, I took a walk so I could, you know, really start deep, deep diving into your new record for the review and interview. I felt a cohesiveness and positivity to it, and that translated into the refreshing mix as well. For me, anyways. I'm not high, I promise. [laughter] But it's damn good, and the mix is great. It's rich. It's exciting, and there's kind of a drive to it that I really enjoyed and needed this week. So… thank you! I'm assuming tours are all up in the air right now. Will you be or have you been joining in on kind of the guerrilla style livestreams and makeshift performances that are taking place? Yes. I've been doing a solo band called J. Navarro & the Traitors. Our keyboard player Eric. He's been doing a lot of really cool things. He's a deejay around here, and he has his own sound system. So he sets up and does crazy reggae-dub kinda ska shows. I've been watching him live via his actual living room and he's got his turntables out, and this mixer. He does proper dub reggae/ska, like he'll dub it out, add echoes, reverbs and all kinds of crazy stuff while he's deejaying. So I've been watching him a lot, which has been really cool. Someone asked me recently to do some sort of acoustic thing and I kind of just said, "Nah, I don't see the Suicide Machines as acoustic."
Yeah, that's probably true. You know, I mean, it's like that's you know, it just sounds like a bad idea, but there was something else that I watched recently that I was really stoked on. Oh! Yeah, I know what I watched. I watched Kyle Green. He and I had a band together called Break Anchor, and he did a live acoustic thing from his living room, and god he has such a beautiful voice, I love watching him play acoustic. I watched him jam through requests live, like requesting stuff live us on Facebook and he was jamming acoustically, and it really enjoyable to watch for sure.
Hell yeah. I got hammered the other day and decided I was going to play "How to Clean Everything" front to back on guitar via Facebook live. As soon as I hit play, I realized that I hadn't even thought about playing those songs on guitar since I was in high school in 2000. Ha! Oh shit. Oh shit. Ha ha!
I just kinda shit though them, and all my friends kind of passed in and out, but I don't know, it's the general interaction. Everybody needs each other right now and it's funny that we're adopting all of these technologies that have been available to us for 10 years. We've been able to go live or FaceTime each other, but until now nobody has given a shit about it. It's kind of fun. I think that's the problem, man. I think we all do really need each other at the moment. I just hope this [sighs] I hope that this pandemic shows the rest of the world that that is the case. If there's any eye opener right now. We need each other, we need to take care of each other, and that the government does not give a fucking shit about you. Now is the time to, please: Open your eyes, it is in front of you. To process. It's in front of you to process. Just think about it.
Millions of Americans became socialists today, so we'll see, right? I hope so. I hope so, and that's the funny thing to me, like everyone is saying Bernie's a socialist! He's a commie! And I'm like, you know what? Come on, America. Do you really think he wants to model our government after Russia? Fuck off. Not only would that never be allowed to happen, but that's not what it is. That's just the easy way out from any propaganda online or on television, everything has been shoved down your throat to make you think that is the case, which it is not.
You know, it's interesting. All right. Well, I'm try not to be too pandemic, heavy. It's just such a bummer. Oh I know. You know like I said before the interview, people probably hate me for the fact that I'm still going out and feeding the homeless, but I'm still going out there. I'm taking precautions/rubber gloves/wearing a mask/we have a hand-washing station for food, for people to wash their hands and stuff and sanitize, grab their food, but a lot of people are like, "Oh, you're not sticking to the quarantine?" Well, who's going to feed these people? I feed like 150 people a day. What are they going to do in this situation. They got nothing. I'm 46. I've made it far enough.
Well and you should ask any of those people if they're in enjoying their Prime packages that they're ordering daily right now, and who's sending those Prime packages to them? I'm risking my life and I'm staying away from my own family, to make sure other people can, can fucking even eat. You know?
Well, I applaud that. You're a good dude! So now it's like Easter egg round. What do you mean by that? Do you mean that video game thing?
Exactly! the Tony Hawk Pro Skater thing, yep. Oh shit… Ha ha ha! Alright!
I'll keep it really light. That's okay! I love Tony.
I was the "pussy ska kid" in my small town, and I was fortunate enough to know a lot about you guys before the game came out, but for me, entering high school was when that game was released and it launched a shit ton of new punk rock listeners. I'm really only bringing it up because I wrote a Punknews review about the soundtrack a couple of months ago when we were doing some sort of throwback thing, and while taking the time to listen to it again, it kind of jogged this funny memory of mine. I remembered a bunch, like, dickhead sports kids that all bought your records because of the game, but I was happy. Oh shit, I guess so right?
But I was happy that they were buying your records. You know? I knew enough about how the music industry worked to know, "Hey, this is great for everybody!" but I had a really funny memory of this asshole kid, that, he fucked my girlfriend in high school, but he was on Netscape in our computer lab in our small town, like researching you guys. He found out you were playing in Omaha, which was about two and half hours away, and he looked at me and he said, "Do you think Dead Kennedys are opening for them?" Ha ha ha! Oh god. That's just a human being trying to be cool. [laughter] I didn't even wanna call him a human being because it sounds like he's a fucking dickhead.
I remembered that when I was reviewing the soundtrack, like three or four months ago, and I said, God damn, I would love to tell them that story. Oh that's fucking great. Thank you for telling me that. I wish I could see him face to face. I do. I do. I don't even know what I'd do, because I don't even know what to think about something like that. The word poser comes to mind a little bit. You know, who knows?
Well, that's funny. I'm talking to my wife about our upcoming interview and that memory and she's like, "If you call somebody a poser… You're a 36 year old dad. If you're still calling people posers, and she brought up a picture of those Goth Southpark kids. Ha ha ha! You know what? I'm forty six, and I'm calling him a poser. Ha ha ha!
So, yeah, back to Punknews inspiration, I guess. One of the huge "thank you's" that I've given to the Punknews family for letting me be involved with them for a little under a year. Is just the chance to kind of step outside of that rut that you fall in with your favorite bands and discover new ones. I was curious if you had some up and coming bands, some younger bands that you're stoked on? Yeah. You know I don't even know where to start. So I love CatBite. I don't know if you've ever heard of CatBite at all.
Nope! I absolutely think that they're fantastic. The CatBite is kick ass. I love Kill Lincoln. Kill Lincoln is a band I really thought was excellent. I'm talking about maybe passing the torch in the "ska punk world" I guess. I love Escuelagrind, like a grindcore crust band from Boston. They've completely blown my mind as of recently, and I think they're pretty phenomenal man. I love the Redemption from Japan. They remind me of a more reggae version of The Clash, and I love Protege from Jamaica. It's like good kind of dance hall reggae. I mean, there's so much good new music going on, and that's one of my biggest fears. I think that pertaining back to the Suicide Machines, my biggest fear right now is there's so many new ska oriented bands. I don't want them to get lost in the mix of, you know, what is happening. I see there's this weird, like nostalgia thing going on. I don't want to see all these new young up and coming bands that are super good, to kind of get lost by the wayside. There's so much good new punk rock, or ska punk, or even just ska coming out… Like there's not a fourth wave, there's never gonna be forth wave. If you're going to say something like that, you haven't been paying attention to this genre anyways, so you can fuck off, but I feel like there's so much good stuff right now, and I feel like a band like ours is going to take away from that. I don't want that to happen. Oh and yeah! Scotch Bonnets! Scotch Bonnets are fantastic.
Yeah, I'm a fan of them. The Skints from England? I love Skints, I just don't want to see this next generation disappear and get thrown to the wayside, because of a band like us and the nostalgia bullshit of it. There's so many good new bands out there.
Yeah definitely, and I like I said, admittedly I started writing with Punknews and my buddy Jeff "Hey, you should review this new band "insert any of them you've never heard of." I was like, holy shit! There are new punk bands? Yeah man. It's pretty impressive how many god damn amazingly good bands are coming up right now. I don't want bands like us to put out this record, and now you're all on to us, and not them.
Well, I think. I don't know. I mean… you're plugging them right now, in an interview. Ha ha ha! I know, but it worries me because, you know, there's people doing it to live for it, and now that there's not really, you can say that there's this weird uprising underground about it, but you know what? There's not a lot of people go to the shows. These bands are doing it because they love it and believe in it.
Yeah, and none of them are going to hit the punk rock paydays that used to exist, and that's really unfortunate. Right. Right. You know, it appears to me that our, whatever the fuck you want to call it may shadow over them and I don't want to see that.
Well, this interview got fucking bleak. No, it's not bleak at all! I think that the beautiful thing is they're so fucking good, I don't feel like I have to worry about that but I do, but there's nothing bleak about it, I mean, the next generation of bands doing this is 20 times better than most of the old bands.
Well, I spoke to the drummer from PEARS in an interview. I love the PEARS. I love the PEARS.
Jesus, right? Great! I was talking the drummer and and he's talking about, you know, Milo watching them play. Dave Raun watching him play, and I'm like, have you seen you play drums? Dude? Exactly. Fucking exactly, that's the thing. Fuck that new video that Pears dropped, "Comfortably Dumb!".
That was kind of a bummer, man. I got to check out that album and talk to their drummer and talk to him about their fucking world tour that they were planning, and then the album dropped and then all this shit happened like a week later, and now their like, "Hey, we're gonna make a music video at our Meemaw's house…." Ha ha ha! Well, you know, here's the thing, man. No one wants my advice, but I'm about to give it. You know, listen, this could be the alcohol, sorry… or the bag of mushrooms. We had a record called Steal This Record, that totally sucks. You know, I'm not going to blame the fact that it failed upon this, but 9/11 happened and our single that came out for the record, was called "The Killing Blow." Everyone was like, "Nope, we're not playing that shit." Ha ha ha!
This shit changes the world, but eventually we get around to the point where we move on, things move in the world again. PEARS will be fine. They're epic. Dude, that "Go To Prison" record is probably one of my favorite records in the past 20 years.
I'm sure they'll be really happy to know that. Dude, that record is fucking brilliant.
Yeah, I've been listening to their stuff a lot, and just, you know how do something the same way for so long and then suddenly somebody comes along and does it in a completely different way that you don't even understand how they're able to do it. Yep. Dude, that record… and we played with them one night, I think we were in Denver and they opened up for us, and this was right around when "Go To Prison," which I think Ryan from Off With Their Heads put out that record maybe? Dude they just like one hundred and ten percent floored me. It's like "Dude I'm in love with this band." I think they were weirded out because I went up to their table and bought their record. "They were like "Dude you can have it!" I don't wanna have it! Take my money! I'm buying your record. It's fucking great. Yeah, it blew my mind. They're fucking fantastic.
Well, I guess normally in this part of the interview, we would kind of close it up by asking, you know, what the plans are, what you guys are up to, how the tour is looking, but uhh…. So let me explain something to you dude. The four of us, I mean I don't know, I mean I think I may have lost my job as of today, but the four of us are all very working class people. We are that way. Yes, I lean towards activism and, I don't know, I guess you could throw out the word anarchism, but like, you know, I work! How anarchist could I be if I work a job, right? So I work, and all four of us are very blue collar people. I think that might be one of the brilliant things about our new record, is the fact that we don't rely on this band as an income. Which is not knocking bands that do. Yes, some bands are truly capitalist pigs, no different than the politician, but a lot of bands are brilliant human beings and this is what they rely on to make a living. Well, we never relied on that for this record. That might be the reason why it has what it has. That being said, we don't have to worry about touring. [laughter] You know what I mean? So who knows what happens? The future is up in the air. You know, we've canceled everything all the way into June. We didn't, but everyone else did, understandably so. We do have a West Coast tour booked for fall, a European tour booked tour fall. We'll see if we even get to that. Oh, in Florida in November? Yeah, like three or four shows in Florida, but, you know, who knows what the future holds at this point?