After a long journey filled with vinyl pressing delays, The Abruptors are just one day away from releasing their much-anticipated album Noticeably Cheerless. Their second album sees the Buffalo-based band perfecting their soulful ska sound as they dive deep into anxiety, depression, loneliness, and the process of rebuilding life after major life changes with honest lyrics and a healthy dose of hope. The Abruptors will be touring the US and Canada with The Slackers in April and Noticeably Cheerless will be out everywhere on February 24 via Asian Man Records (and you can pre-save it here).
Punknews editor Em Moore caught up with co-vocalists Mike Geraci (who also plays guitar) and Toni LaMantia (who also plays keys and saxophone) over Zoom to talk about the new album, the evolution of the band, therapy goats, Schitt’s Creek, and so much more. Read the interview below!
Your second album Noticeably Cheerless is coming out on February 24 on Asian Man Records after a 14 month delay due to vinyl pressing issues. How does it feel to have your album being released after so long?
Toni: It’s really exciting! A lot of these songs have been written for almost four years and it was recorded almost two years ago now. So we’ve been really anticipating getting it out there and I’m really excited for people to hear the stuff we’ve been working on.
Mike: It’s almost like it’s not real. I still think I’m waiting for it. [laughs]
When will it feel real?
Mike: I think we gotta get out there and play shows with the album in hand and have people come up to us and say, “oh my god! I got this from Asian Man, this is so good!” Right now, it’s still all online stuff so for me it’s not real until it happens in person. [laughs] I know some people are all online, some people don’t play shows anymore, but I think that’s how we connect with people in general.
This album also marks the first time that you’ve worked with a producer. What was this process like?
Mike: I would say it was definitely different. You gotta learn to let go which is kinda hard for us. I wouldn’t say a lot of bad arguments but definitely a lot of arguing.
Toni: I kinda liked it though.
Mike: It made our songs better.
Toni: Yeah, they hear things that you don’t hear and then incorporate it into a song that’s already written but it comes out in a way you didn’t expect. It’s a really cool process.
Was there a song in particular where that happened or was it throughout the whole album?
Mike: Oh, it happened on a bunch. “Anxiety” was one of them.
Toni: That’s the one I was going to call out too.
Mike: It was super slow and our producer [Rick Johnson] was like, “wow this really drags on. There’s a good song there but you have to really speed it up”. He sent us a song by The Selector and was like, “this is what we gotta get it to sound like. I don’t want it to be ska-punk, I don’t want it to be too fast but you have to get it to this pace that they’re at”.
Toni: It’s a completely different song now, in my opinion.
Mike: Oh yeah, it changed the song in a better way for sure. We were struggling at that point anyway with our sound in general.
Toni: It helped a lot.
How were you struggling?
Mike: When we started this band the idea was to be a traditional ska band but it just never really worked out. [laughs] People would be like, “oh you guys are traditional” but then the traditional fans would be like, “that’s not traditional!” and then at some point you’re like, “I just wanna play ska but I don’t want to do what everybody else is doing”. So we didn’t want to be a ska punk band, there was no distortion or anything like that. But at the same time, you don’t want to pigeonhole yourself. You don’t want to not play something faster because you want to stick to something you’re not even really doing. [laughs] So it was nice to have somebody behind us go, “it’s ok, go faster!”
Toni, you play keys, baritone, tenor, and alto saxophone on the record along with sharing vocal duties with Mike. What instrument did you learn how to play first? Do you have a favourite one to play?
Toni: I learned how to play piano first and it’s actually quite funny because I didn’t know how to play ska keys. [laughs] I’ve been playing piano since I was four. When our last keyboard player left the band, I picked up the keys and had to learn how to sing and play at the same time and play the ska style and stuff like that. That’s the instrument I’ve had the longest but it’s interesting because it feels like I’m playing it in a completely different way. I had to re-learn how to play it if that makes sense.
Mike: Spent every Thursday going over ska keyboards.
Toni: Yeah, just drill it in there. [laughs] I enjoy playing keys but I really like playing tenor saxophone live. I think it’s a lot of fun. It’s part of the reason why we haven’t gotten rid of it entirely from the live set. I don’t think it’s because we really need it but it’s because I don’t want to give it up. I switch between keys and tenor while I’m singing throughout the whole set. I said to Mike, “I’m fine playing keys but I don’t wanna stop playing saxophone”.
What’s the most fun thing about playing saxophone live?
Toni: I started playing saxophone when I was really young and I feel like it’s an extension of my body at this point. Because I had to learn ska keys, I had to think about it a little bit more whereas, with saxophone, I can really feel it and move and not have to think about what I’m doing. I’m getting better at that on the keys for sure but I can really get into it on saxophone. I can really not think about it and just enjoy the moment.
How would you describe your songwriting process?
Mike: It’s much different now than it used to be. It’s very collaborative, organic, and natural.
Toni: Yeah. There are some songs where I wrote the words and sent them to Mike and he wrote the music and then we kind of got together and finessed it. He’d have the main musical idea down and then we’d figure out the bridge together or we’d say, “hey, let’s change this a little bit here” and that’s kind of how a couple of the songs were written. “Just Another Day” and “When I Change” were written that way. But there are other songs where Mike wrote both the words and the music and then I would write the bridge. I wrote all the horn lines on the album but I don’t know if I wrote any of the chords or anything like that. I don’t think so, not on this one.
Mike: No, not the chords.
Toni: It’s definitely collaborative, for sure.
Mike: Yeah. It’s different from the first album, where I wrote probably 95% of it and she wrote one song but that was because most of the songs were already written before she joined the band.
Do you notice you’re getting more in-depth with different topics by having both of you work on it?
Toni: For me, my songwriting is always incredibly personal.
Mike: I think it is for me too. When I was younger, I was in a punk band and I would try to write what people wanted me to write about like drinking and stuff like that. I don’t drink, I don’t know what that’s like but I’d write songs about it anyway and it just felt so fake. Now I write songs about events that have happened in my life and what we think people can relate to so I don’t think that part has changed. We just went on to the next chapter of our lives.
The majority of the first album was about bad relationships. Whereas now, this one’s like what happens after that bad relationship or about what you’re feeling now. Anxiety and mental health issues that everybody, no matter who you are, can relate to.
Your lyrics deal with heavier topics but the music is generally upbeat. What do you think of that contrast? Does it allow you to be more honest with your lyrics than you would be otherwise?
Mike: I don’t usually notice it until people point it out. Ska is the genre that I’ve loved for forever and I don’t always think of it as happy. All of my favourite ska bands aren’t very happy lyrically. [laughs] So the music is just music to me, I don’t notice it as anything else.
Toni: I’m a fan of a lot of different genres that have lyrics that are quite heavy and I feel like heavy lyrics can transcend no matter what type of music you’re listening to. It’s all about how you shape it. I’ve never thought it to be weird. I’ve never thought about the contrast really. People point it out though. It is just natural.
You talk about thoughts and feelings that are brought on by anxiety on your song of the same name. What helps you deal with anxiety?
Toni: A lot! I’ve had to do a lot of work throughout my life with it to be quite honest because I’m a worrier by nature and I automatically go to “what’s the worst possible thing that can happen”. So the first thing that helps is lots of deep breathing. [laughs] Really, because your breath is connected to your central nervous system and it helps slow all that down. The other thing is just constantly reminding myself that things are ok or grasping onto the things that are going to be ok or situations that have been similar in the past that I’ve gotten through and it’s been fine, focusing on facts as opposed to all of the problems that could potentially happen. I also tend to catastrophize a lot and reminding myself that not every situation is going to be the worst possible scenario helps. [laughs]
Dealing with life changes is a major theme of the album. What has helped you re-learn how to navigate life after chaos?
Mike: That’s been a learning process through all the writing and up until now. We’ve both had a lot of life changes. [laughs] All good stuff but it’s scary, extremely scary.
Toni: A lot of the songs were written at a point in my life where you feel like you are on this path that you have to be on and you just do the things that you think you’re supposed to be doing and trying to figure out who you are like, “am I actually stuck on this path even though I feel like there’s something better out there for me?”. I feel like I’m still in the part afterward where I’m like, “ok, that wasn’t my life path but what is? What am I doing now?” I still haven’t figured it out. [laughs]
Mike: Music. I think music always solves everything for me whether it really does or not. At least when I’m in the moment everything’s great. [laughs] I tried going to therapy a long time ago and I was like, “this is good for about two weeks”. Then I start writing music and I’m like, “I feel a lot better now!”
Much more cathartic.
Mike: Yeah, for me. Different strokes for different folks. [laughs]
Was there a song on this album that was the most cathartic to write?
Mike: I’d say a lot of them. The one that comes to mind is totally “Best Wishes, Warmest Regards”. That one was a trip. I wrote that as almost therapy, I guess. It was a joke, it wasn’t really meant to be a song. I was sitting at a playground with my son and all these kids are happy and running around, having a great time and I’m writing on my phone and mumbling to myself, “this motherfucker, I swear to God, this piece of shit” and I’m just so mad. It’s funny because when I think back, it was a sunny day, everything was wonderful and kids without a care in the world were having such a wonderful time and I was literally going to kill somebody, I was so mad. I sent that song to Toni and I was like, “woof, that felt kinda good” and she looks at it and she goes, “this is a good song! You just have to change one line. The part about ‘burning in hell’ is probably not great”. So we rewrote that.
Toni: I was like, “that’s a little strong”. [laughs]
Mike: And she wrote the bridge to it and it became a song. Sometimes we’ll do things at shows just to kinda call out the situation of the song. For me, it’s pretty therapeutic because it was pretty traumatizing what happened.
Do you wanna get into the story behind the song?
Mike: Yeah, I’ll try to give you a condensed version. Right before COVID, we were doing these shows with a Stomp Records band and the deal was we would do these shows with them and then the Planet Smashers were going to take us on a tour. We were so excited. It was just like a three-stop festival tour in Quebec and we love Quebec, we always get really good reception over there, and so many wonderful people. It obviously got cacelled because of COVID and so after that, I sat down with Toni and Alex [Schultz], our drummer, and I said, “look, we have got to get rid of some of these people in the band. They’re cancelling all the time, they don’t wanna practice, they don’t wanna improve and it’s been a long time”. We couldn’t do any of that when we still had hundreds of shows to play and we didn’t know what we were going to do but I was like, “nobody’s going anywhere for a long time so let’s retool the band”. I called up Mike Park, I told him the situation, and he was immediately like, “get rid of them if they don’t wanna practice and evolve and change and better the band with everybody. Why would you keep them around? They’re just making things more difficult.” So we let go of three members of the band. When we did that, one of them got very angry and send us a message that just said, “by the way, I trademarked the band name behind your back years ago and I want to let you know that you can’t play your songs anymore”.
Toni: He said, “just so you know, The Abruptors are done”. [laughs]
Mike: So we just laughed, we laughed at him. We were like, “ok tough guy, whatever”. He didn’t write any of the songs, he didn’t come up with the band name. I was like, “this is stupid”. But then we started getting cease and desist letters from a lawyer and then all of our music came down online. Mike Park got a threatening notice from Spotify saying, “if you put up this band again all of Asian Man’s catalog will be removed” and all of us were just shocked. We were like, “first off, how is this even legal or real? This is so stupid. And secondly, if you put this amount of effort into playing in the band you probably wouldn’t have been fired. The amount of effort you are putting into trying to take us down is more effort than you ever put in musically”. [laughs] All the guy did was play saxophone, that was it, and Toni wrote all of his lines for him. It was like, “you didn’t do anything! How could you claim to own this band?” There’s a lot more in between and underneath obviously. We came out on top but it was horrible because you’d wake up one day and your Spotify is gone and then you’d wake up another day and your YouTube is gone. It was a constant, “what the fuck is going on??”
Toni: It was just nerve-wracking because you never knew when you were going to get a letter from a lawyer or when the next thing that you were using to get your music out there was going to be taken down. For Mike and I, it’s not just a hobby, it’s something that we take very seriously and he’s dedicated his life to this.
Mike: I threw away most of my adult life to try to do this band so it’s just like, “how can you take away something from me that you didn’t even really create? You barely showed up and played saxophone poorly and that was your only contribution.” The reason we won was because the documentation we had was pretty hefty. We have photos of him not showing up to shows. How do you claim to own something that you’re not even there for?
I really threw away a lot of my life trying to do this. I shot down ever getting another job just because I had a job where I could leave any time I wanted. I used to say yes to shows before asking the rest of the band because I knew that if anyone said no, we’d just get a fill-in and do it anyways. That’s how we went to California twice in less than two years. That would not happen if I was working a regular job.
Toni: At the end of it all, everything worked out. The sentiment of the song is pretty much, “see ya! We’re happy to say goodbye to you.”
Mike: The money that he would’ve had to spend to do that too is just ridiculous considering we don’t really make any money. [laughs]
Toni: We lose money.
Mike: I don’t know what you’re trying to gain here, you can take our debt if you’d like it. It was very weird.
I’m glad it came out in your favour.
Mike: Me too. We didn’t wanna change our name.
Toni: For a while there we were like, “what are we going to call ourselves now?” We had a lot of really bad ones.
Mike: They were horrible.
What were some?
Toni: We were trying to stick with “abrupt”. I think Abruptones was one.
Mike: Abruptones. Abruptly Rude was shot down immediately.
Toni: That’s a horrible name. [laughs]
Mike: I know, it was horrible. They were all really, really bad.
Toni: Then the trademark lawyer we were working with was like, “well you can’t do any of that anyway because it’s far too close to the original name and then he could argue that you were encroaching on his brand” and we were like, “this is the stupidest thing”.
Mike: It was so dumb. He started creating fake Facebook pages and then he posted a demo that I had sent him five years ago and he goes, “look what I’m working on!” and I was like, “but that’s me! That’s clearly me!” He submitted a picture of me to the trademark thing. [laughs] I don’t know, there was a lot working against him on that one. Mephiskapheles had this happen to them but on a much grander scale. It was interesting to go, “ok, at least other people have dealt with this stupidity”. They had a lot more money wrapped up in it than we did. I felt really horrible that that happened to them.
Toni: We didn’t have any money. We just had, “people know who we are!”
Mike: Yeah, and with the people who did know who we were, I was like, “I don’t want to lose them by changing our name just because this guy is an asshole”. [laughs]
And in the video for that song, you’re filming with therapy goats.
Toni and Mike: We didn’t even think about that!
Toni: I just really like the goat farm. [laughs]
Mike: One day, I was like to Toni, “let me take you to this place I found” and it was a goat farm. Then when Chris Graue, who directed the video, was like, “do you know of anything kind of interesting?” I was like, “what about a goat farm?”
Toni: You did not say, “what about a goat farm”. I said, “anywhere I wanna take you, Chris, you probably don’t want to go” and he said, “try me”. So I said, “let’s go to the goat farm”. [laughs]
Mike: I didn’t want to go to the goat farm because when I took her, all I did was step in goat shit.
Toni: He was so mad that we had to go to the goat farm because he didn’t want to step in poop.
Mike: I don’t like poop.
How was filming with the goats? Were they hard to corral or did they just go along with it?
Toni: I think they’re awesome. The person who runs the Rowandale Goat Farm is like their shepherd, that’s what she says.
Mike: She’s super kind, super nice.
Toni: She’s super cool and they listen pretty well to the things that she tells them. For example, there’s a scene where we’re all running down the hill with the goats and she was like, “I need you all to stand on top of the hill and shake the food and say, ‘goats, goats, goats, goats, goats and they’ll all come running up. Let them eat the food and then you can run down the hill with them”. It was actually really easy to get really good shots with them.
Mike: And she did it all for free. She didn’t ask for anything. Her philosophy is, “if this can help people then I’m going to do it because the goats are here anyways”. She’s super awesome.
Sticking with the goat theme, in your opinion, what band or artist is the ska GOAT?
Toni: Ooh, that’s a tough one. [laughs]
Mike: That’s a question that I don’t even want to answer because I’m sure my mind will change.
Who’s the first one that comes to mind?
Mike: Mike Park. That clearly could be disputed but he was my ska hero growing up so I’m going to stick with that.
Toni: Not going to lie, my brain just panicked and froze up and was like, “you don’t know any ska bands”. [laughs]
Your video for “Waiting Forever” was filmed in a burned-out warehouse. How did you find out about that place? What made you decide to film there?
Mike: That was all Alex. Alex is a firefighter and he had heard about this abandoned factory. Alex is that guy who is probably full of useful information, and probably knows what you’re looking for to a T but he doesn’t bring it up until the last minute. We spent the whole day scouting for literally this location that Chris [Graue] was describing that he wanted and we just didn’t find it. We walked around Buffalo forever. We stop and Alex goes, “I’ve got one more place if you want to check it out”, probably something he should have mentioned eight hours beforehand. When we got there Chris was like, “this was exactly what I was talking about!” Alex is very quiet.
Toni: Alex is a man of very few words.
Mike: Alex had heard on the firefighter’s radio that this place had had a massive fire and he was like, “this is the place where we should go” and it was perfect. Treacherous but perfect. [laughs] We had to have our classiest outfits and our classiest instruments for the most run down place.
Toni: I was very terrified of tetanus. [laughs]
Mike: Yeah, you had to watch where you were stepping so you didn’t fall through the floor.
Toni: And sitting on the crumbling bricks, just covered in brick dust.
You’ll be touring the US and Canada with The Slackers in April and this will be your first time playing in Ithaca, New York. What do you look forward to the most when you’re playing somewhere for the first time?
Mike: It is the first time! Shockingly because we live so close. We look forward to seeing how the people are. It’s always shocking to go from place to place and see the different reactions. So we’re excited to see how Ithaca is going to respond to us.
You’ve also mentioned in the past how, because you’re so close to the border, that you see Canada as a second home and relate more to Canadian media. The single art for “Best Wishes, Warmest Regards” even features David and Stevie from Schitt's Creek! What is your favourite thing about Canada? What is the difference between playing to Canadian and American crowds?
Mike: If you grew up in Buffalo, at least when I grew up, Canada was your second home. You go there for dinner, you go there for groceries, you go there because everybody has a beach house in Crystal Beach, Ontario. Everybody did that. I feel so at home when I go there because I’ve known it my whole life but at the same time, there are parts of Canada that we had never been to until we got into this band like Montreal and Quebec City. There’s something about Canadian crowds to me, they’re just so much more into it. [laughs] We’ve had probably our best shows in Canada.
That’s cool! Why do you think that is?
Mike: I really don’t know. Every time we go to Canada, it’s just a blast. The last time we were in Toronto at Lee’s Palace with the Slackers, it was sold out. We couldn’t move, people were screaming and dancing, it was just incredible. Then we played Chicago with the Slackers recently and people kinda stared at us and then they stared at the Slackers. We were like, “wow, ok, that wasn’t just us.”
Toni: It was a staring show. [laughs]
How would you describe the ska scene in Buffalo?
Mike: If you had asked that question maybe a couple of months ago, I would’ve said, “you’re looking at it” but recently there’s been a couple of really cool bands that have popped up. They’re mostly just from ska bands from years and years ago who are like, “you know what? I’m going to do this again!” It was good they did because they already know it and they’re doing wonderful. The Working Class Stiffs are definitely a band to watch out for. They’re a really great band that I think are getting more and more popular, especially locally. There’s a group called Riot Squad Media who are doing really great stuff. Laura has been working with them and it’s been boosting their popularity for sure. They deserve it, they’re great musicians and a bunch of family guys which is super cool. They all have families and some have kids but at the same time they just love the music and they practice so much and so well. I think they’re great. They’re really super people, that’s what you also have to look for besides good music. [laughs] There’s been a bunch of ska bands that have popped up for about three months around here and they just think that they own the place. It’s just weird. [laughs] They can’t keep their band together and they start trash-talking.
Buffalo’s full of a lot of nu-metal and punk. The metal scene here is massive, that’s all we get. Now we’re finally building up a real ska scene where we can actually book a full show of ska bands. Before it was like, “you better bring some punk and metal bands with you because you don’t have enough”. [laughs]
What are you listening to now?
Toni: Taylor Swift. [laughs] Mike always hates my answers because they’re never ska oriented which is so bad. Old-school Taking Back Sunday is on rotation.
Mike: I’m not currently listening to Taylor Swift.
No Taylor Swift covers coming?
Toni: We did try!
Mike: We tried the song “Red”. It came out fine but I think there was some pushback from other members.
Toni: I think we should just make them do it. [laughs]
Mike: That’s not very nice. [laughs] I’ve been listening to my favourite bands still, the ones I’ve been listening to since I was ten. The Living End are one of my favourite bands of all time. I love them. The Abruptors have been lucky enough to play with them twice which is super awesome. Then all my favourite ska bands, Hepcat, anything Mike Park has done and is still doing.
Toni: You always listen on shuffle.
Mike: I do. I have a massive shuffle that’ll play anything from the Living End to Bruce Lee Band.
Toni: I’ll listen to the same album over and over again for a month and then move on to the next one and come back to the one I was just listening to. [laughs]
Mike: You know what I came back recently to? This actually has to do with our new album, Dan P and The Bricks’ second album, When We Were Fearless.
Toni: I’ve been listening to that too. It’s really good.
Mike: Dan [Potthast] is on both of our albums playing guitar. On this album, he does some vocals with us too. I love that album so much.
Toni: You know who’s the ska GOAT? Dan P.
Mike: He’s pretty amazing.
Toni: He is. I think his music is really, really good.
Mike: He’s one of the nicest people in the world and he’s definitely part of how we even connected with Asian Man. He’s a fun part of that.
Did he introduce you to Mike Park?
Mike: No. The first time I met Mike Park it was Mike P and Dan P, America’s sweethearts, and they were doing solo stuff. Dan was next to Mike the whole time. I’ve always loved Dan and it was just great to see both of them. When I saw Mike again the next year to sign the poster I was just like, “you know Mike, I was talking to Dan P. I was going to do his living room tour but there’s only one problem, I don’t want anybody in my house. I don’t like people”. [laughs] So Mike says, “surprise! You were really talking to me. I was pretending to be Dan P. Do me a favour, you’re in Buffalo, Dan needs a place to stay when he crosses the border. Just put on a show, we won’t hold you to any pricing. I just want Dan to have a place that he can come to”. He convinced me to have Dan stay here. That kinda got me more in with Mike and Dan was amazing. We hung out all night and the next day. Dan bought me dinner which was amazing. [laughs] Dan brought along a friend who was an artist and I started talking to him and he was like, “you’ve been so cool for letting me stay here, let me do some artwork for you for free”. He did the art for this EP that I put out with our drummer Alex called Seven Thirty Seven and it was incredible. He ended up working with Mike Park. His name is Gil. He’s done all of our artwork since including Noticabley Cheerless, that’s all him. We all connected throughout the years through these really cool intertwining connections and meetings. It’s awesome to know that that guy who was sleeping on my couch in the basement is still here doing artwork for us. He’s super supportive and an incredible artist.
Toni: Gil is really supportive.
Mike: I remember for “Best Wishes” I was just like, “here’s this idea I have! I drew this up, it’s super crappy and can you do this?” and he was like, “sure!” He did a great job and listens to our nitpicking.
So Schitt's Creek was always in mind?
Toni and Mike: Oh yeah!
Mike: Toni and I came up with the name of the album, Noticeably Cheerless, because we were binging Schitt's Creek. We would write songs on Saturdays and then we would also watch 90 Day Fiance and Schitt's Creek until we fell asleep on the couch. There was this one scene where Moira says, “it is noticeably cheerless in here” and we just looked at each other and were like, “that’s it! That’s the name!”
Toni: So the album name actually comes from Schitt's Creek too.
Mike: We held onto that for fucking forever.
That’s the best! It’s such a good show. What’s next for The Abruptors?
Toni: Well, we already have some new songs that we have written and we’ve been trying to demo for a while. We keep running into issues with technology and stuff so as soon as we can figure out how to make the technology cooperate we’re going to demo those and send them off to Matt Appleton of Reel Big Fish. We actually saw him at a Goldfinger show.
Mike: We played the Goldfinger show and Matt was looking for us because he liked our music which was super awesome.
Toni: He caught me in like fourteen awkward moments. [laughs] Every time he talked to me I had a mouthful of chips. He came over and said, “hey! I know you from the internet” and I went, “hey! I know you from the internet!”
Mike: We were about to leave and he goes, “before you go, I’d love to work with you guys. Why don’t you send me some demos?” We were floored. There he is playing with Goldfinger, he’s Grammy-nominated, we were like, “really? You want to work with us?” So we’ve been keeping in contact with him. We were supposed to record demos last week but then the computer…
Toni: Died or something.
Mike: We’re going to keep plugging away at that. We’re hoping for a summer tour to work out and obviously, the Slackers tour is coming up. We’re focused on pushing this album as far as we can. It’s over half sold out and we’re talking second pressing already so that’s pretty great.
Mike: Yeah! It hasn’t even been released yet.