ver since I first heard Death By Stereo I have been intrigued by their incredibly unique sound, and after seeing the energy and insanity of their live set, they fast became one of my favorite bands. With their new album “Day Of Death” hitting the streets earlier this year on Epitaph, Death By Stereo have really taken off – they now sit on Epitaph Records and hold a permanent slot in my regular playlist. I caught up with the band’s two guitarists, Jim and Dan, at their show on April 14th with Sick Of It All in Washington, DC (review) and got to chat for a while…
Kevin: Are you guys stoked to be going out on tour with Sick Of It All?
Jim: We’re very excited, because over the course of the last month, we’ve gotten to know Sick Of It All a little bit, we’re getting to know the Hope Conspiracy guys, and we’ve done a tour with Boy Sets Fire before, so it feels like a big family that we’re going to be touring with, so it’ll be a lot of fun.
Dan: You really couldn’t ask for a better tour. <Armand from Sick Of It All walks by> Except for having to put up with this guy named Armand.
Armand: …The way he harasses people with broccoli.
Dan: Yeah, I don’t know what’s up with that. <Armand leaves>
Jim: But yeah, we’re stoked. I’ve been a fan of Sick Of It All for years, so it feels like getting to tour with our heroes.
Kevin: How does this tour compare to the Snapcase tour?
Jim: I’m sure this tour will be at least as big, if not bigger in most cities, but in general I’d say it’s about the same in terms of magnitude – Snapcase and Sick Of It All are kinda on the same level as hardcore bands go.
Kevin: So how did you like doing the tour with Snapcase?
Jim: It was fun, but a lot of it, we felt we got the shit-end of the stick because we had to play first on a lot of shows, and that ruined a lot of things for us.
Dan: We would have to play when kids were just barely getting into the place, so we didn’t really get to play for a whole crowd.
Kevin: I was at the Richmond show, I don’t know if you remember that one specifically. I thought the crowd was pretty excited for you all.
Jim: Richmond was awesome, we’ve never had anything but good times in Richmond.
Dan: Yeah, Richmond’s got an awesome scene.
Kevin: What makes a good circle pit song?
Jim: Fast beat, aggression of the song – when the crowd feels the same emotion that the band puts into the song.
Dan: And death metal vocals.
Kevin: I think your songs are the perfect circle pit songs.
Jim: I guess it’s where we’re from – people still know what a circle pit is. A lot of places we go, especially Canada, you ask them to do a circle pit… kids don’t know what a fuckin’ circle is.
Kevin: So are the receptions still a lot bigger out west?
Jim: For the most part, but it’s getting better out east, like last night in Philly, we had a great time.
Dan: We tour the west twice as much as the east, so you kinda expect the crowds to be a little bigger, and of course we’re from out west.
Jim: Yeah, naturally, being from Southern California, the crowds are always great for shows out there.
Kevin: How’s the reception at shows been since the record came out? A lot bigger?
Jim: Definitely. Being on Epitaph has allowed our record to reach a lot of people that we wouldn’t otherwise reach.
Dan: Totally, like in Canada, we were getting magazine and radio interviews – we just got a ton of press in Canada.
Kevin: Do you know how the record’s selling?
Jim: In the about 10 weeks since it’s been out, we’ve sold about as many as the other record sold in about a year and a half, so, we can’t complain.
Kevin: What’s your relationship with Indecision Records now?
Dan: We still release on them, we’re on great terms – they’re just good friends of ours. We still talk to Dave from Indecision as much as we talk with Epitaph.
Kevin: I definitely think Indecision is, if not the best, certianly one of the best hardcore labels out there.
Dan: The vinyl of the new record is actually on Indecision, so we plan to continue our relationship with them.
Kevin: And you did the Ensign split – what brought that about?
Dan: We’re friends with them. Plus, I played guitar for Ensign for a week. Their guitarist had gotten arrested, so I was a fill-in.
Jim: I think Indecision will be around for a good long time, because Dave Mandel has more integrity than anyone you’ll ever meet. He just really has the best interest in the scene.
Kevin: Yeah, I don’t know that Indecision has ever put out a bad record.
Jim: You heard the new Faded Grey record? Those guys are fuckin awesome.
Kevin: Definitely. Any other 7″ or split projects in the works for Indecision?
Dan: We’d love to, but nothing’s going on right now.
Jim: All we’re concerned with right now is getting home and writing another full-length for Epitaph.
Kevin: Do you think there are people upset that you signed with Epitaph?
Dan: No, not at all. We actually haven’t gotten any of that “sell out” thing, it’s awesome.
Jim: The major backlash, if there is any.. well I guess it’s not a major backlash… We hear a few people complaining that Epitaph albums cost a dollar or two more at the record store, but that’s really out of our control anyway. Plus, being on Epitaph allows our music to reach a lot more people, so I think it’s a decent tradeoff.
Kevin: So what’s with the “Holocausts?” I hear you have a whole bunch.
Dan: Well, we have five in our “regular rotation,” but we only really play two of them. It’s just the same music with a couple different lyrics.
Jim: Yeah, they’re just jokes – like, little inside jokes. For example, on our last tour, we played “Snapcase Holocaust.” We just think of something stupid the day of a show sometimes, and then play it, like we did “Dodge Ram Holocaust” once.
Dan: When we were writing songs for the split, we were just out of ideas, so we thought about playing “Spanish Bomb,” a Clash cover, and then we came up with the music for “Hippie Holocaust” and were were like, fuck the cover song, we’re doing “Hippie Holocaust.”
Kevin: I remember the first time I saw you back last summer, and like no one was paying attention, but when you played “Hippie Holocaust,” you got a nice rise from the crowd.
Dan: Not to metion the fact that we played that song at a food co-op…
Kevin: Who does Death By Stereo get compared to the most frequently?
Dan: We get compared to System of a Down… a lot. I guess because Efrem sounds kinda like their singer.
Jim: It’s exciting that we get compared to a lot of different bands, which means it’s clear that no one thinks we’re like a dead rip of some band. Everything from Faith No More, we get compared to AFI, which is cool, because they’re a huge influence in my music. Bad Brains too. They’re all great compliments I think.
Dan: We’ve been called a crossover band, which I think is a really cool compliment.
Kevin: So you’d say that Death By Stereo doesn’t really have a label on their music?
Jim: Yeah, we don’t really care. I guess there’s a certain attitude or style that goes along with being called a hardcore band, and I don’t think any of us are really “hardcore kids” so to speak, except for our bassist, my brother… People can call us whatever they want, it doesn’t matter.
Kevin: How long has this lineup been together?
Jim: Well, Death By Stereo has been around for about three years, but the lineup we have now, about a year and a half. Our first guitar player quit to go on a Mormon mission, and then our drummer quit to go to school in Boston.
Kevin: Was that Jarrod? The one that played for American Nightmare?
Jim: Yeah, he’s an amazing drummer. So then our other guitar player quit because he wanted to play in another band, and blah blah…
Dan: Actually that guitarist, the one I replaced, plays for Hope Conpsiracy now – he moved to Boston and he’s playing with them now.
Kevin: And so you’ve been friends with Indecision pretty much since the band started?
Jim: Yup – we’ve been friends with Dave for a while, so we asked him to put out our record, and they did.
Kevin: How have the reviews been for the new record?
Dan: I haven’t seen too many, but the ones I’ve seen have been really good. We got a good review in Kerrang, and then in some of those metal mags.
Jim: I didn’t see it, but I heard Alternative Press gave us a good review. Thing thing about reviews though, is that it doesn’t really matter to us if they’re good or bad. It’s just one person’s opinion, and nine times out of ten it seems to be an uninformed opinion. There was one magazine – they gave us a great review but gave the new Propagandhi record a shitty review, and we all think that’s a fuckin amazing record.
Kevin: How would you compare “Day of Death” to “If Looks Could Kill…”?
Dan: On the new record, the songwriting has matured a little bit, and it’s more focused on the songs. The first one was really oriented around the drums, they were all over the place.
Kevin: When did you actually write “Day of Death?”
Dan: Not that long after the first record came out actually. We recorded it way back in April 2000, but it just kept getting pushed back because of mixing and stuff, like, we really worked on the record to definitely make it sound good. We really didn’t want to put out a crappy record.
Kevin: So soundwise, would you say it’s very similar?
Dan: I think the style is very similar – we definitely didn’t conciously depart from our style. I guess some people would say there’s more metal on the new record.
Jim: The new album is a little bit less “hardcore” I guess.
Kevin: So what inspires songs like “Desperation Train” and “Testorsterone Makes The World Go Round?” Because I think it’s clear that the demeanor of those songs is a lot different.
Jim: Well, both of those songs, and some of the similar ones, the main idea came from the drummer. Jarrod, our first drummer, always would bring this crazy beat to practice, that that turned into “Desperation Train.”
Kevin: The drumming in Death By Stereo might be the best drumming I’ve ever heard from hardcore bands. Anyway, so how has the overall experience with Epitaph been? I assume it’s worked out really well?
Jim: It’s been just awesome. It was Brett that took a personal interest in us, he came to see us and invited us to come play for his label, and we were thrilled to death. We really have nothing but nice things to say about Brett and about Epitaph in general. They are completely supportive of us, and I’m sure they will continue to be. They really have their shit together, and they do everything they can to support all of their bands.
Dan: It’s golden being on Epitaph. Anytime we have a problem or need anything, they’ve been right there for us.
Kevin: Well, Epitaph is like a launching pad for major record sales – are you a band that would love to be really huge? Or is there some sort of appeal to staying semi-underground?
Dan: We’d love to be huge, and I think if anyone says otherwise, they’re lying.
Jim: We just got off the Sno-Jam tour in Canada – playing with AFI, with the kind of audiences they draw, that would be so amazing to reach that kind of level. And even AFI, I guess to some extent is still underground. I think in general, we would just love to be able to do this strictly as a career and get rewarded for our efforts, because we have to work right now in addition to doing the band.
Kevin: Well, I was talking more like big situations – like At the Drive-In. They got big, made some money, and now they’re either broken up or taking a really nice, long vacation. I don’t think people want you to go on vacation, heh.
Jim: If you get popular doing what you do, which is pretty much what happened to At The Drive-In, there’s nothing wrong with that. It just so happened that they decided they wanted to take some time off. We’re going to be on the road until we burn out physically.
Kevin: This is Sick Of It All’s first US tour in a couple years, so I guess there’s a stereotype that hardcore bands don’t stay constantly in the van.
Jim: Well, I’d say Sick Of It All is probably the most enduring hardcore band of all time.
Dan: Yeah, they tour Europe, Japan.. fuckin South America.
Jim: Yeah, they’re constantly moving – just because they don’t tour the US doesn’t mean they’re lazy. They just happen to be having more success overseas right now. I think Death By Stereo is going to stay on the road as much as possible.
Kevin: You think you’ll get tired of it?
Dan: We’ll definitely get tired of it – there are so many things about touring to get tired of, especially on 3-month tours.
Kevin: How long has this tour been going so far?
Jim: About six weeks, we left on March 2nd. We did the Sno-Jam tour, which was most of that, and this whole time pretty much has been with Sick Of It All.
Kevin: You still enjoying watching them play every night?
Jim: They’re so amazing – it’s perfect every night.
Dan: They’re really nice guys too.
Jim: Even last night, watching them play in Philly, I still got shivers like it was my first time seeing them.
Kevin: So what’s it like in the van? Cramped?
Jim: We’re okay… being in the van is by far the shittiest part of being on tour – you’re always in there and it gets old real fast.
Kevin: What’s in the cd player right now?
Jim: Wow, we got quite a variety.
Dan: We’ve got everything from Soilwork, like Swedish death metal, to jazz, to solo flamenco guitar, to Hot Water Music.
Kevin: Nice, I can see some of the reasons your music would be so unique.
Jim: Everything you listen to, whether directly or indirectly influences you somehow. It’s more musical knowledge for when you sit down to write songs.
Dan: There’s nothing more boring than a hardcore band that’s only influenced by other hardcore bands.
Jim: Especially in this day in age – kids really seem to be craving something new.
Kevin: Well, there are always the bands that find a formula that works.
Jim: To a degree, the cookie-cutter hardcore bands will always be around, the bands that don’t even try to do anything new, because they have a built-in audience. But we’re not like that, we don’t really listen to cookie-cutter hardcore.
Kevin: Yeah, I’m sure you know that Victory gets all kinds of shit for that.
Dan: Well, I think bands like Grade, Catch 22, and Thursday are definitely not cookie cutter at all.
Jim: For a while, Epitaph got those complaints, that they only put out pop stuff. Epitaph’s been branching out, just like Victory.
Kevin: So are there bands on Epitaph that you’re really stoked to call your label mates?
Dan: Joe Strummer – I grew up as a huge Clash fan, and to be on the same label as Joe Strummer, that’s just amazing.
Kevin: Is the Punkorama tour in your future?
Jim: Epitaph has so many bands now, so who knows. Hopefully we’d get offered it – it’d be awesome to go on a tour that gets that kind of hype and promotion.
Dan: We actually were offered the current one.
Jim: Shut the fuck up. Really?
Dan: Yeah, the one coming up, with Guttermouth. But we were doing the Sick Of It All tour.
Kevin: Thank God for that.
Jim: Well, one day hopefully it’ll work out.
Kevin: Are there specific bands you’d like to tour with? I guess Sick Of It All would have been on that list.
Dan: Totally, maybe Soilwork.
Dan: Oh fuck yeah, play with Slayer? Sepultura? Hell yeah. That’d be fuckin awesome.
Jim: Honestly, one day we’d really love to tour with Avail. We’ve been kicking that around for awhile, they’re really nice guys.
Kevin: Any real memorable dates on this tour so far?
Jim: The show in Winnipeg was amazing – like 1000 kids. Every band got an amazing reception. It’s the greatest feeling to go 2000 miles from home and have 1000 kids just go nuts to your music.
Kevin: Is that part of your motivation for doing Death By Stereo in the first place?
Jim: I think we doing it because we can’t do anything else.
Kevin: Yeah, I’ve heard that one before.
Jim: Well, seriously, this is stuff that naturally comes out of us.
Kevin: How long are you going to play in a hardcore band?
Jim: I wouldn’t call Death By Stereo a hardcore band, but I see what you’re getting at. I guess we’ve been lumped into the hardcore scene because when we started, those are the kids who were our friends and came out to our shows. And there’s nothing wrong with that at all, I wouldn’t trade that for any other scene, although if we can brach out and reach even more people, that’s all the better. Like, we were across the street at KFC earlier, and there were kids in line talking about how awesome it was going to be to see Death By Stereo tonight. They had no idea we were standing behind them in line. That’s an awesome feeling – we’re in Washington, DC and there are kids here talking about how much they love Death By Stereo. That’s one of the big reasons that I love doing this so much – it’s great motivation when you know that people appreciate what you’re doing.
Dan: We’ll keep doing this as long as it’s fresh and exciting for us.
Kevin: Rest of your life?
Dan: I can’t imagine myself being 60 and playing Death By Stereo still, but just being a musician, yeah that’d be awesome.
Jim: To have the longevity of AFI and Sick Of It All would be a dream come true.
Kevin: When did you start playing your instruments?
Jim: I’ve been playing guitar for ten years.
Dan: I started as a bass player, but I’ve been playing guitar for six years.
Kevin: Self taught?
Dan: I started taking some classical guitar lessons, and I’m taking guitar lessons from this long-haried dude who rides a Harley – I figured he could teach me how to play some wicked solos.
Kevin: So you like to solo a lot?
Jim: We love it. It seems like, at least to us, that a lot of hardcore bands are just metal bands that can’t solo. Since we kind of have the ability to do that, we like to throw ’em in there.
Kevin: Yeah, I remember when I first got into hardcore I was wondering where the solos were.
Dan: Well, a couple bands use them. Agnostic Front, Side By Side…
Kevin: I think in my experiences, of the bands that don’t solo, the best ones are the ones that don’t make you notice, or if you miss the solos, then they’re probably doing something wrong.
Jim: That’s definitely a good way to look at it.
Kevin: You get much free time on tour?
Jim: Not enough, never enough.
Kevin: You get to do anything around DC?
Dan: We wanted to, but we were stuck in traffic. I had to go to guitar center for a part, but it took so long to get there – that wasted probably two hours.
Kevin: The traffic in DC sucks.
Jim: It’s like that for the whole tour – you think you’re gonna get to go to all these exotic places, but in reality, all you get to see are the fuckin’ ghettos of big cities. The Snapcase dudes were telling us that they’ve been to Europe, like, 10 times, and they’ve never seen the Eiffel Tower. You just don’t get to do a lot of the stuff you’d like to.
Kevin: That’s not disheartening at all?
Jim: It is, but you make your own fun playing shows.
Dan: I can see the Capitol Building from here, that’s not bad.
Kevin: So you don’t really get to do any signtseeing?
Jim: We try, you know. Those are the things you remember about a tour. Like we got to go to the big mall in Edmonton, and go on the waterslides and stuff.
Dan: Yeah, when we were in Dallas, we went to where JFK got shot. The little things like that are always memorable.
Jim: If we woke up earlier, we probably could have hung out in Philly, or gone and done stuff in DC, but after a few weeks on tour you really start to appreciate your sleep.
Dan: You get to a point where laundry’s your number one priority.
Kevin: Is there anything you hope to see during the rest of the tour?
Jim: I hope to see more practical jokes at the expense of our drummer. Sick Of It All “managed” to find out that he hates certain stupid things, so they just like to mess with him. I can’t wait to see what they’re gonna do. I guess expanding on that, we’re really just looking forward to the friendships that we’re going to build with the other bands on tour and the good times we’re going to share with them.
Kevin: You’re big fans of Sick Of It All, you think they’re digging your music?
Jim: I wouldn’t dare put words in their mouths.
Dan: They’re definitely supportive of us, let’s put it that way. Whether they think we kick ass musically isn’t that important.
Jim: We played at CBGB’s in New York the other night without Sick Of It All, and Pete from Sick Of It All came to the show to hang out and watch us. They’re super-nice guys.
Kevin: There any CDs that have come out recently that you guys really dig? Besides Faded Grey…
Dan: Soilwork – Swedish metal band… Amazing. The new In Flames is awesome. The Haunted.
Jim: And Meshuggah, they’re sick. I heard their new album was created entirely on a calculator.
Kevin: You’ve probably done enough interviews now, or at very least gotten entirely sick of me… are there any interview questions you hate being asked?
Dan: Not really – just really simple stuff like, what’s your name and what do you do?
Jim: Off the wall questions are kind of amusing.
Kevin: I can never handle that. I suck.
Dan: Well, at the same time, you can be so off the wall that it’s just stupid. Like if someone asks, paper or plastic? I mean, who the fuck cares?
Kevin: So do you guys keep up with the internet much?
Jim: Not really, it’s hard to get to a computer on tour. Paul updates the website, but that’s about it. But can you tell everyone to check out deathbystereo.net? You can see pictures of us in Speedos on there. It looks like Most Precious Blood is starting to play here.
Kevin: Yeah, I’ll stop wasting your time. Thanks for the interview.
Interview by : Kevin at the rockin’ www.punkrocks.net