The legendary troupe’s lukewarm new effort is only rescued by the band’s reputation… Continue reading
Bowling for Soup are one of music’s really misunderstood acts. I’ll never know why, but certain segments of the media seemed to give up on them somewhere between “1985” and “High School Never Ends”. And it’s a shame, too, because it means that they, along with their readers, may have missed out on the Texan band’s finest hour.
When Bowling For Soup were back in the UK on their annual acoustic tour, I stole a few minutes with Erik Chandler…
Erik Chandler is tired. The last leg of Bowling For Soup’s acoustic tour will be starting in a couple of hours. The culmination of weeks of performing and traveling will soon be upon him. Oh, and I’ve just woken him up.
Sitting in a darkened side room at London’s KOKO, he apologizes for his cracking voice, insisting he’s fit to talk, “We’ve only just got back from doing some filming and our meet and greet starts soon. It’s been a busy day…”
Oh, to be a rock star. Granted, it’s been a long time since either one of the band’s “two big hits” took on the radio waves, but the row of fans already assembled outside would suggest Bowling For Soup are still holding some fine company.
“It’s amazing – people just keep turning up,” laughs Chandler, “Now we’re on doing two tours a year, people have been telling us to back off a bit. But why would we – if people will still come out to see us, we still want to play.”
Yes, you read that right – apparently Bowling For Soup are touring too much. Next they will be releasing too many albums, or maybe their selection of merchandise will become too varied. Who knows.
For Chandler and tour partner Jaret Reddick, the former has been avoided by the band’s split with their label, shortly after the release of Sorry For Partyin’. For a band already doing too much, would looking after themselves prove to be the final straw? It would seem not. Chandler argues that being in control is a healthy development for the band.
“We’re so much more free now. Before we would have an idea, then go through this ritual of rejection, followed by some big shot telling us the original idea was great.
“Now we call the shots. We’re recording what we want and how we want. Yes, we’re still using the same studio, but I think the difference in us is very visible. I think the label split is the best thing that could have happened to us. We haven’t had any outside input – this album is all us. Take “Turbulence”, for example – I honestly think this is the only album of ours it could have gone on.”
If you haven’t yet listened to Fishin’ For Woos, the band’s return to freedom is sublime, with a variety of music styles on display. Take the aforementioned “Turbulence” – a moving acoustic ballad. It’s no longer an ‘acoustic BFS’ song -it’s an acoustic song by Bowling For Soup. It’s not being manipulated to fit any ‘trademark’ sound. Chandler admits the label pressures of the past were creating a stagnant view of the band through industry eyes.
“We’ve never been cool by “industry standards”, but fuck it. We find ourselves moving between stupidest name polls and best punk song polls. That suits us fine. So what if some people don’t like us – we’ve been at this for 17 years, bitches.”
On that triumphant high, our time together comes to an end. Water in hand, Chandler moves toward to the door, greeted by the sound of his fans in a nearby room. I think I’ve made him late. He seems not to care – by now he’s nothing short of a seasoned pro in all things musical, from the press to the fans. With a hearty clearing of the throat, he’s gone.
As the show at the KOKO unfolds, it becomes clear that the acoustic tour has built on last year’s efforts. It may have been a tough act to follow, but Bowling For Soup have managed it. All this time into their career, it’s refreshing to see them still moving forward.
You might argue that BFS are doing a little too much. You might say they’re simply going above and beyond. Either way, there can be no denying the Texan punks are having a glorious time. Here’s to the next 17 years…
I spoke to country-pop starlet Rachel Kays before the release of her debut album, Natural…
Rachel Kays is starting to attract attention. With the release of her debut album Natural just around the corner and a glowing reputation on the Internet, you could forgive the 16-year-old singer for getting a little carried away. This seems not to be the case, however.
Gearing up for our interview (on Skype, no less), Kays confesses to her nerves and admits she turned to her idols for inspiration: “ I’ve been watching interviews with Eminem and Reba McEntire, just to get an idea of what to expect.”
To her credit, any nerves never surface during our chat. Instead, Kays talks with more experience than her fledgling status would normally allow, particularly when conversation turns to the writing process.
“I love Taylor Swift’s writing – it’s pretty, almost poetic,” she says, “At the moment I’m not writing in a particular style. It all depends on what mood I’m in. I’ll just sit in my room with a guitar, and play around with melodies.
“Country is my favourite genre. I think it’s a wholesome style of music. Most songs I write have a country feel – sometimes it’s just because of my voice. I just try not to force it.”
With that sentiment, we move seamlessly into a discussion about Natural, Kays’ debut offering, which is already making waves in music circles. This was always to be expected- Kays has bolstered her web presence with a series of YouTube videos and is keenly embracing her fans on social networking sites. Despite this, She says her popularity has taken her by surprise.
“It’s surreal, knowing how many times my songs have been played, and hearing how much people are liking it and relating to it. I write mostly for myself, to get my emotions out. But I’m glad others are enjoying it.
“My songs are very upbeat now because that’s the outlook I have on life. As I grow, my music will grow and change with me – hopefully my writing skills will grow, too.”
Kays certainly has a promising starting point. It’s hard not to like her songs – upbeat country and pop melodies delivered by her powerful and charming voice. It seems likely, though, that those wanting to see her in the flesh may have a while to wait. Kays admits she is still a few necessities shy of being a complete, tour-ready singer…
“I don’t have a band right now, which would make touring difficult unless I used a backing track,” she says, “I’ve also still got a lot to do – there are so many songs I still want to record. It’s just of case of keeping calm, and trying not to rush into things. I am hopeful of going on a radio tour of Texas, though…”
One thing is for sure – Kays will be worth the wait. Her youthful exuberance is yet to be reigned in by the rituals of making music, leaving plenty of time for indulgences of the outdoor kind.
“I recently got a horse, who I love spending time with, and I’ve always loved lots of different sports. I just love spending time outdoors.”
So, there you have it. Rachel Kays – ‘natural’ through and through. As our conversation draws to a close, it does so begrudgingly. Kays is as enchanting as her music, and we can all be certain of a long and interesting career for this Texan gem.
With Less Than Jake back in the UK, I spoke to Saxophonist Peter “JR” Wasilewski about the stories behind their songs.
When it comes to third-wave ska, there are few higher authorities than Less Than Jake. The Gainesville band has one of the most recognizable sounds of the early 21st Century, and each of the members are regarded as the relative Kings of their genre. Behind the upstroke guitars and happy-go-lucky horn sounds, however, there are concepts that show our favourite court jesters in a very different light.
“I think an outsider’s perception of Less Than Jake might be ‘they are silly on stage, the songs are very major key, ergo the lyrics are about ska and skanking. Lame.’ That couldn’t be further from the truth.” Says saxophonist Peter Wasilewski, ”Our lyrical topics tend to be much darker than the music that surrounds them and I think that’s what may confuse people about our band. If they wanted to scratch the surface any deeper than listening to Johnny Quest, they would see that being a band for nearly 19 years gives you a wealth of topics to write about.”
Granted, their latest release, TV/EP may not demonstrate this, but you only need to glance at its predecessor, GNV FLA to get a feel for the irony in Less Than Jake’s songs. Wasilewski explains:
“Take Malachi Richter’s Liquor’s Quicker. It’s our take on the story of human rights activist Malachi Ritscher. In protest of the Iraq war, he burned himself alive on the side of the Kennedy Expressway in Chicago, during the morning rush hour on November 3, 2006. Part of his manifest is read at the beginning of the track. The event went unnoticed by the media.”
So there it is, the dark behind the light. It is a testament to the combined abilities of Less Than Jake that such stories can find a place in their music, particularly when the genre the band find themselves in is deemed to be such a happy one. The message, Wasilewski says, focuses on a very human emotion, and for such reasons the song’s lyrical content deserves great plaudits.
He said: “I think we have all wanted to change the world. Ritscher’s intentions were to ‘make the evening news’, and make a statement that would make the world ‘wake from its walking dream state’. It went unnoticed. We all wonder what our mark on the world will be. Sometimes we care about it too much. What if you make that mark, will anyone notice?
“I’m not saying I know what it’s like to light myself on fire, but I do know what it’s like to feel the need to take a stand and make a statement. Sometimes no one is listening. Then why say it? Because someone is listening. I think that’s what kept me going all these years: the fact that someone is still listening.”
Food for thought the next time you hear a Less Than Jake song. Just remember: Take care when removing the mask of the court jester you may not like what you find beneath.
As MC Lars released an emotional video for “Twenty-three”, he took a time-out to talk to Angus Marriott.
For MC Lars, the decision to premier the video for new single “Twenty-three” on the American Foundation For Suicide Prevention is one that hits close to the heart.
Despite his persona as a happy-go-lucky laptop rapper, this latest song reflects a darker period in his life, where he was personally affected by suicide.
“That was a really messed up time, when my friend in College killed himself.” He says. Even now, Lars, real name Andrew Nielsen, appears uncomfortable talking about the subject. What had been a relaxed pre-show interview has suddenly become a tense affair, with the rapper quite visibly on edge.
The video, which sees Lars surrounded by pictures of those who have committed suicide, reinforces the emotive nature of the song, and Lars describes the filming process as “really emotional and cathartic.”
“ The photos you see with the names and dates were friends and family members of fans and it was so intense to be that close to people who have gone through the same things Pat’s family and I have.
“During the shoot it was really hard to just keep filming, all the emotion you see coming from me is real, all the tears were really there.”
As the subject moves on to the internal debates that surrounded the writing of this song, we start to see a little relief, and the conversation flows. “When you’re known as a guy who has fun with his beats, of course it’s hard to get this serious sound across,” he says, “but this was so close to my heart, it just flowed.
“Even after writing the song I wasn’t too sure about putting it on This Gigantic Robot Kills. Then I heard the chorus vocals, sung by Amie Miriello… that was what made the song for me.”
Given his educational background (Lars graduated from Stanford University in 2005, and spent a year at Oxford during this period), this sobering tangent does perhaps draw parallels to more classical poets, a comparison that certainly seems to draw more enthusiasm.
“I suppose when you strip down all the layers of music, hip-hop is just poetry. You still need to consider iambic pentameter, rhyming couplets, things like that. As for classical poetry… I think poetry needs a message, and if Twenty-three delivers my message, then I’ll be proud.”
His message is twofold. The first, articulated in the song through the line “Suicide’s an answer but it wasn’t the solution”, mirrors that of the AFPS, who refer to suicide as “a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
“Pat committed suicide because his world crashed in on him- killing himself was not the right answer.” Lars says.
The second message from Lars, while perhaps a little more obvious, is nonetheless a powerful one. As a result, we see this as Lars’ final word on the subject:“We need to be there for our friends.”
As Bowling For Soup celebrated their 15th birthday with an acoustic UK tour, I caught up with bassist Erik Chandler.
Sat backstage at Oxford’s O2 Academy, Erik Chandler cuts a figure of silence and tranquility. He seems almost too wise to only have 15 years of experience in Texan punk band Bowling For Soup. Mention of the sell-out tour him and band-mate Jaret Reddick are on, and the conversation flows.
“It’s amazing. We only put the tour on as a bit of a promotion, for fun, we never expected to sell out 14 shows,” he says, with a suprised tone, “it’s truly awesome to know we have this many dedicated fans.”
You can appreciate his surprise. After 15 years, and ten albums, Bowling For Soup will be remembered, for the most part, as the band behind Girl All The Bad Guys Want and 1985.
Not that Chandler seems to care about any legacy- for the time being he is focused on his music, always thinking about what his next song shall be about.
As the conversation moves onto his writing habits, and inspirations, we start to see a more serious side to Erik than his albums portray. Gone are the jokes, and what many would see as amusing anecdotes. Here we see a man who has been hurt, and isn’t scared to write from the heart.
“A lot of people ask us if our songs are real. They are. We’ve had a lot of fucked up stuff happen to us over the years. Our song Belgium is about a girl I loved who, as the chorus says, was half way round the world to me.”
With their most recent effort, Sorry For Partyin presenting a matured, deeper sound, the question is asked if things are perhaps starting to wind down, to come to a fitting end.
“We always said we’d do this until it wasn’t fun, and at the moment it’s proving to be more fun than ever.” He said, “ Sorry For Partyin, is an album of reflection, deviating from the usual theme of, well, sex and girls. Rest assured, our next album will be vintage BFS.”
Revealing plans to record their eleventh album in June, and with an October tour in the UK, Chandler admits that his own personal growth at times threatens to disrupt his work.
“We all have families, so touring from months on end is much harder. It’ also means I now have “office hours” where I make myself write music, because neither Jaret or I have the flexibility we once did.”
With the acoustic tour approaching it’s close, and a busy summer and autumn ahead, you would expect a period of relaxation for Erik on his return to the USA.
“It’s more a case of returning to everyday life. My wife is great. She knows I need a couple of days to unwind. I try not to take too long, after all she has been without me for the whole tour.”
As our time draws to a close, Chandler once again shows his gratitude to his fans, commenting, “It’s always nice to talk to people, but it’s even better when they don’t just ask about the hits.”
One thing is for sure- whilst the Bowling For Soup party may not be the biggest, it’s far from over. And everyone is invited.