|Photo by Joe Bottari|
Universal Truth Machine have been playing several shows in the New York area lately, including a show with The Undead at Tompkins Square Park in the Lower East Side. Who else played there and how well did the show go for the band?
The lineup was a very strong one, not only featuring The Undead but also including some excellent NYC rock veterans (Skitzopolis and Sewage) as well as The Omega Men who were really high-energy and entertaining. The show was a fun one for us for a number of reasons... of course, performing in such good company had our spirits up, and it's always great to play shows that are organized by The Shadow magazine as they illuminate a lot of the themes we discuss in our songs (the cool new Time Warp Zine who were co-supporting the show is a great addition to the fight for free speech as well). Tompkins Square is a marvelous microcosmic melting pot, and a beautiful day was made even lovelier when we saw so many different kinds of people enjoying the show. Punks, preps, rich, poor, tourists, natives, lurkers, workers... so many people gathered as they strolled by, it was great to see. I swear I even saw a particularly rock 'n roll-looking bulldog bobbing his jowls to the beat. The shows in Tompkins are a blast! Since it was Memorial Day, we dedicated some music to our fighting forces, for whom I have tremendous respect. I've heard reports of some of our songs being used as motivational music in various vehicles on missions in the Middle East - particularly "It's Always Fucking Something" - and I take that as a huge compliment.
What did the current status quo in the U.S. have to do with naming the band Universal Truth Machine? What do you mean by describing the band as “apocalypse rock”?
The status quo in the United States is currently that of a shell shocked surveillance state. So many of us are two paychecks or one medical emergency away from abject poverty, and yet we just keep our heads down and don’t make trouble, because we think then we’ll be safe or at least somehow content. There are so many avenues where a concerted effort could compel really productive change, but many people are too cowed or disinterested to attempt any innovations. Our teachers aren’t allowed to teach students how to learn (rather, they’re compelled to force common core “education”). Our law enforcement aren’t allowed to take certain actions that would ultimately protect people (like allowing marijuana use instead of dangerous painkillers). Our banking system doesn’t safeguard our money. Our government makes laws for corporations, who they take more care of than many actual people (hey, if corporations WERE actually people, as the government pretends, wouldn’t they have to pay taxes?). Basically, it’s a morass of cognitive dissonance – so many things are the opposite of what they are intended to be, and it’s so widespread, people are overwhelmed. A “Universal Truth Machine” is a device which cannot exist, but we expect the servitude of our technology to provide us with answers (rather than the people who are actively seeking to find them or create them). Look at Watson the Computer… it’s “brilliant” as a calculating machine or a memory bank, it won Jeopardy, it even has a website where people want it to run for president… but can it tell you if you’re honestly in love? The essence of the Universal Truth Machine, which was first postulated by the mathematician Kurt Godel, that it is both a necessity and an impossibility. This mirrors our society’s actions, and we want the reflection - be it shocking, or difficult to see - to compel positive changes from those who are looking.
At how many Shadow-organized shows has UTM played? Have you performed with Sewage and Skitzopolis before?
We've played several shows organized by The Shadow, and we're happy to help people search all avenues that their freedoms of speech and thought can adventure along. Their illumination of the constantly-expanding surveillance state - which is being carried out against millions of innocent citizens while our own government continues to hide some of the most reprehensible crimes imaginable - is currently a major focus that we share. The title song of our most recent EP, “Art Of The State", deals with this topic in depth. So many people are fine with sacrificing their personal liberty for a false sense of security, and it's not helping anything.
We've played with Sewage and Skitzopolis, and it's great to see the members of the classic NYC scene still doing their thing, making an impact and inspiring people. The spirit is still strong, and that's something that no gentricide or overpriced real estate can take away. We've also played a lot with Iconicide (whom our bassist TJ Frawls is currently side-gigging with) and their vociferousness and vitriol concerning the state of the world is as fresh and pertinent as ever. Their association with The Shadow in creating, booking, hyping, and overall masterminding the various Tompkins shows is outstandingly valuable to the NYC music scene.
Is the band regular readers of The Shadow magazine? Which of its themes are similar to those covered by UTM? Are you personally acquainted with any of the staff members?
I'm a big fan of The Shadow, as they made no secret of talking about things that are important to keep in the public dialogue. UTM is an "apocalypse rock" band, and the word "apocalypse" traditionally means "to reveal"... that's what The Shadow does, be it government, financial, or other plots that deserve more attention. Chris Flash and his team are critical advocates for true freedom.
So many people want to malign those who seek harsh truths as "conspiracy theorists", but in reality there's a lot of skullduggery out there that warrants closer examination from the thinking public. As we say in our song, "State Of The Art", "If you've got a way with it, you've gotta get away with it." I wrote that as a tribute to those who work hard to achieve what they set out for... unfortunately it also applies to those who continually pull the wool over society's eyes.
I’ve heard of Time Warp but haven’t read it yet. How long has it existed and how does it relate to freedom of speech?
The Time Warp zine is a new publication but it speaks to sustaining the great things about the music scene and the style of the city in general. They take the idea of "someone should do something!" and make demands of their readers to do so. We like to do the same with our music...even if that "something" only entails keeping yourself more aware of the world around you, or even just raising a glass.
How often have you gotten to see Spike perform with Sewage and Scott perform with his bands?
I’ve seen Spike and Scott perform for several years now, and their shows always pack a punch. I’ve had more people approach me and chat over the Sewage patch on my vest than for nearly any other band. I initially grew up in the Boston punk scene around the turn of the century, which was the inception for bands like Dropkick Murphys, The Unseen, and A Wilhelm Scream, and so when I came to NYC in ’05 I wanted to seek out similar sentinels of the scene. I’ve learned a lot watching the standard bearers do their thing.
What bands do you particularly like playing live with these days? Any road tales you want to share on the subject?
Currently our favorite band to perform with is Danse de Sade. We opened for them for several dates on the “Satan In The Sun” tour in Florida this summer, and it was an absolute blast. They are a great mix of hellacious hedonism and marvelous musicianship, and we’re proud to be allied with them. Our drummer Jimmy is currently performing with them, and he was a champ at pulling double-duty on the drums for both bands while we were on tour. Father James Mitchell, the wrestling announcer known as The Sinister Minister, did the introductions for both of our bands on some of the tour dates, and he said there was so much good energy, he was enjoying it like he was at the Beatles show at Shea Stadium. That was a tremendous compliment.
Where in Florida did the Satan In The Sun tour visit? What kind of hellacious hedonism goes on at a Danse de Sade show?
We played in Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, and Cape Coral on the “Satan In The Sun” tour. Danse de Sade couldn’t have been more fun to travel and perform with. Their music encompasses all sorts of hedonistic tendencies (from black magic to alcohol adoration to sexual voraciousness), which they live up to and then some in real life, and onstage their live show is amazing. The band is full of different personalities that add up to a feast for the senses - I’m particularly partial to their seven-foot-tall, executioner-hooded beast of a bassist known as The Monster - and they hold nothing back. They even brought a fire-breathing belly dancer to further enflame the audiences’ passions. I wish we could be on the road wreaking havoc with them in perpetuity, like missionaries of mayhem.
Was Satan In The Sun the band’s first Florida date? How would you describe the punk scenes there?
Satan In The Sun was UTM’s first time. The scene down there was full of frenzied fun and some really motivated music lovers. The first night, we played in what was essentially a storage unit (it had previously been a small automotive/motorcycle workshop) that sold beer out of a fridge like the one in your kitchen. We had to be careful not to drink too far down the alley outside, so as not to anger the anti-alcohol bikers’ club down the block.
There was a target painted on the outside wall that had clearly taken more than a few practice rounds, and the walls inside the venue were covered in superlatively spray painted skull murals. The seating ranged from lawn furniture to an executioner’s chair. The owner made his own hot sauce (which we ended up doing shots of with Rebel Yell whiskey later on) and the bartender was a trauma nurse by day – these were great, enthusiastic people who were running the show out of love. There was no AC, which was brutal for Florida, but people were still dancing and thrashing around.
One of the bands, Cheap Plastic, was a wonderfully spirited punk band whose cover of “Blitzkrieg Bop” made us feel right at home. Their frontman Frank also offered our bassist some good advice on loud growling – “breathe like you’re about to get punched in the stomach” – and thus TJ was able to summon vocal demons with ease for the whole tour! The closing band, The Zoo Peculiar, had no guitars but used keys and other instruments to create some eclectic but extremely engaging music – very different from what the “normal” scene down there must be, but good stuff.
In Orlando, we played with several bands who all maintained a strong rock vibe, but my favorite were called Jesus’s Penises. They were dressed like members of the clergy (including a male nun), had their logo on a toilet bowl onstage, shot the audience with dildo squirt guns and played songs from their excellent album “Tulips On The Organ” which I’ve played about a hundred times since I’ve been home. Songs like “Eating Fried Chicken With Jesus” were sacrelicious!
Hedonism has been a part of punk rock since Wendy O Williams and the Plasmatics. Why has there been a connection between the two for so long?
Rock just seems to be the best soundtrack for all kinds of hedonism. It’s the best to get the blood flowing and your bones jumping; I think that’s why the two have gone hand-in-hand (or organ-in-organ) since the beginning of the genre. The spirited live shows, the volume, the proclivity to include sex and drugs and alcohol in the mix… it all factors in the fun. When you include themes that evoke strong reactions, things escalate even further. Rock and roll is its own form of worship; to me it is superior to a religion. You get a worldwide community and incredible music, but also constant innovation, artistic creation, and a means to express important things that society otherwise might not bring to light. That’s more than I’ve experienced any religion giving its flock. If you want or need to be “saved” from the desperation and sadness and vile things that pervade existence, I can’t think of a better “god” than rock ‘n roll.
There are many who have described music as a religious experience of sorts; do you think this could be the reason self-serving preachers campaign against rock as “the devil’s music”?
Self-serving preachers will campaign against anyone or anything that gives them a run for their money and/or presents a form of competition. It’s easy to dangle nebulous threats over peoples’ heads – most of society is imbued with treacherous amounts of guilt and shame already, anyway. When you offer a complete reprieve from that, a celebration of the fact that we can be flawed and ugly and hedonistic and crazy and outside of conventional means of thought, it scares those who would use those things to wield power over you. The sad thing is, with the sort of clout many of those mega-religious figures have, they COULD be using it to preach any sort of decency, charity, or other goodwill amongst their flock… but they don’t. It’s just fear mongering, in a world where we already have plenty of that. People need to learn more self-discipline rather than just be threatened with eternal doom, although I do see how that could be a strong motivator… if it were in any way real.
When appearing at Tompkins Park shows, has UTM made contact with many others in the local area?
UTM has made lots of friends playing shows at Tompkins... it's always a wonderful collaborative effort, and excellent to see who else is out there fighting the good fight, rocking the good rock. In addition to the bands I mentioned that we played with at the last Tompkins show, we've also rocked out with Lucifer Jones, The Graveyard School, Miscegenator, The Deceivers, and Purple Pam and The Flesh Eaters (all of whom have played shows at Tompkins). Recently we performed with The Wurst (whom we met at a Shadow/Iconicide-curated Tompkins show last year) in Lindenhurst, Long Island on September 24.
How did your show with The Wurst go last September?
The bands all threw down mightily, and the punks of Long Island showed up in force. I really liked The Wurst's song about the various irksome reasons for not wanting to live in the city anymore (although damned if I'm giving up and going anywhere else now!). Iconicide ripped it up as usual. Abandoned Vessels and Yo!Scunt had a lot of energy and really got the crowd psyched up. It's not just the namesake iced teas that do it... Long Island can party!
How long have you been attending the free shows in Tompkins as a fan? What attracted you when you started?
I like catching all sorts of shows at Tompkins. Earlier this summer I even went to see David Peel, which is definitely more on the folksy side, and I stayed to watch a badass bluegrass band called When East Meets West follow him. Their spirit was as punk and party-prone as the rockers, and their DIY ethic was awesome. They accepted donations for home-made spray-painted patches, and gave away CDs with photocopied covers in folded-over paper bags. It’s one of the best CDs I’ve heard in recent years, and I completely respected their homegrown marketing strategy.
I’ve heard of David Peel and have watched a few of his live shows on Youtube. Is When East Meets West part of a larger bluegrass scene in New York City?
When East Meets West had traveled here from Pennsylvania, but NYC has had a few very interesting bands that encompass a more country-ish ethic. I’m a tremendous fan of the Doc Marshalls, whose country-Cajun sound was a fascinating addition to the NYC scene and made places like Rodeo Bar or Hill Country seem like you’d been transported to an awesome honky-tonk. They had tremendous skill with song craft and lyrics and were all-around cool guys. Their kickass drummer Doug Clark even produced “Art Of The State” for us at his home studio! Another notable act is Tall Tall Trees, who have got some badass banjo action going on, and I dig their frontman Mike Savino’s song stylings quite a bit. Also, when we were touring in Boston earlier this year, we played a show with our friends The Four Point Restraints, who are rockers that incorporate several Johnny Cash-styled tunes, and Old Hat, who are a terrific trio that absolutely scorched some punk-tinged bluegrass. So there’s definitely a fine variation of classic Americana sounds infiltrating various modern acts.
Of all the dates you have played at Tompkins, and all the bands you have shared the stage with, which shows have been the most memorable so far? Where else in the city has the band played?
We’ve been around for a decade in various incarnations, so we’ve had a lot of memorable shows. We’ve played everything from open mics to full-on festivals; we’ve performed at comedy shows, poetry readings, clubs, bars, parks, theatres, rehearsal studio showcases, and private residences (shout out to the late, great Ghetto Gallery!) We had a residency at Dinosaur BBQ, but that got terminated not long after the Harlem Chamber of Commerce complained due to our boisterous St. Pat’s show. We played at the legendary Chance Theater on my birthday a few years ago, that was one hell of a blast. It was so great seeing all the leather and lunacy charging around the floor there…upstate has some kickass, committed rockers.
As for recently, in the city, I got a kick out of playing the Pine Box Rock Shop earlier this year – there was something so marvelously macabre and yet life-affirming about performing in a former coffin factory, and also it was a great bill (including The Thrill Sergeants, Live Ones, and Purple Pam and the Flesh Eaters.) But we enjoy most any environment where the rock can be rolled out – we’ve played prestigious venues like The Bitter End and classic venues like The Memory Motel, but also unique hideaways like Otto’s Shrunken Head. We’ve played at band battles that included some serious other talent, like with The Narrowbacks at the Parkside Lounge (neither of us won, but we’ve both gone on to have exciting continued careers, so it’s great to see the creativity continually compelled).
How many local bands do you know of with similar homegrown marketing techniques? How important do you consider such strategies to punk in general?
I think homegrown marketing is extremely important, because unless you want to be in some record company’s pocket and doing what they tell you to, you’ve got to drum up a fan base. Yes, there’s a lot of competition, but there are so many avenues to get your music and message out there. Of course social media is a big one, but I like the little bits of memorable merchandise… we’ve sold a bunch of UTM beer koozies, Danse de Sade gives away condoms, etc. Something functional and fun that might have more use or impact than just a sticker (although we have lots of those too, as well as shirts and pins). Of course, this is all just secondary to making great music, but I like to think that every little bit of outreach helps. The real question is how to take it to the next level without the classic bemoaning of “selling out”, and I think that’s something a lot of bands struggle with. We all want to reach the next level of exposure, and it’s difficult to cut through a lot of the commercialism without becoming a part of it. It’s something that we’re still strategizing on – A&R departments are so depleted now, so who will take their place, and how can we reach them so that we can reach more listeners? I mean, we don’t want to have to instigate a riot or sell a song to a car commercial just to get our sound further out there, but figuring out a modern means to do this while still retaining artistic autonomy (and also making at least enough money to support the mission) is something that I want to work harder on. I’d hoped that performing incessantly around NYC and elsewhere would lend more answers to this, but as we progress with cutting our third EP, it might take a PR agent or something of that ilk to raise the bar. We’re good at working hard on the music, so it behooves us to have someone who’s good at working hard on the business. I’d be interested to hear how other bands are going about this, too.
In what ways do free shows help the scenes in New York and other states, as far as introducing new bands to the fans?
The shows at Tompkins were and are invaluable to the punk scene for introducing new bands to fans, because the shows are not only free and a hell of a good time, but they’re always high-energy, well-curated as far as talent goes, and let’s face it – it’s SUPPOSED to be the neighborhood standard down there! People who come to that area were traditionally ready to EXPECT real-life rockers out there, kicking ass and screaming names, and we’re happy to continue that tradition. Peoples’ children, parents, grandparents, old friends, new friends, random hookups, bike groups, yoga collectives, travel mates, drug dealers… WHOEVER they want to meet or bring to the park, these shows are going to consistently entertain and energize them. Sure, NYC is changing, and art and tastes change with it, and maybe a lot of it isn’t for the greater good of opening minds to new experiences… but if the Big Apple is going to be crushed, we’re going to distill that juice into the highest-proof cider, chug some, pass the growler around, and then throw one hell of a show!
We all know NYC lost many clubs and record stores due to gentrification. Is this one of the issues the band is concerned with? What else in the city are topics of concern?
The loss of NYC’s clubs and record stores is incalculable. We’re supposed to be setting a worldwide example, not just for musicians but for neighborhoods and communities who want to routinely engage in the arts, and people are paying huge money to live here while being denied an increasing swath of the creative spectrum. For instance, uptown Manhattan is one of the most popular places to live now, but there are basically no music venues. Tons of musical artists, but no major spaces for them to really let loose. There was the delightful Ding Dong Lounge, where we played numerous shows and shot our video for “The Trouble Is…” (huge props to our director John Kelly and Beacon Digital Cinema), but that went the way of the wind. There are plenty of places to play in Brooklyn and a few good ones still downtown, but promoters who don’t promote and clubs who gouge you on drinks and cover (while not paying their artists) get stale, for the bands and their fans. This is a common complaint and I’m not sure how to solve the problem, but we keep getting out there and performing to try to keep things mobilized. Overall, the issue is that on the community level, the day-to-day level, it’s getting harder for bands and fans to enjoy creating their craft locally, on a more personal level than the big-name clubs. People will pay crazy money to have handmade random crafts or carefully-cultivated local organic foods, but they’ll completely ignore the human beings who are brewing fresh art right on their block. The languishing club scene only serves to widen this divide. We need small venues that are like farmer’s markets or organic bodegas that serve the arts.
We’ve played at so many places that have since shut down, we used to call their closings “the curse of UTM”… as though we’d started it, but now it’s clear that’s due to deviousness even deeper than our own doing (still, we’ll always remember places like Soundz, The Ding Dong Lounge, Fontana’s, Trash Bar, Crash Mansion, Tammany Hall, Lit Lounge, The Beachcomber, and sadly, so many more). I’ll sincerely miss throwing the Punk Rock Matinees at Ding Dong, those were some of the most raw, real, ripping rock shows that brought in some truly exceptional talent (Baby Brother, Grinning Dog, The Black Fires, SO many more… also getting to connect with bands like Bedpan Fight and Iconicide at other shows thrown there was really great).
But despite spots closing, we’re still operating, and even if we can’t be performing, there are so many wonderful people on the scene that keep the fires lit – one time TJ and I walked into a venue uptown, and DJ La La Linda (a delightful DJ friend who had booked and promoted our “Art Of The State” release party) immediately cheered and spun “The Trouble Is…” – that’s just goddamn joyous.
Fortunately some spots are still championing the music – Desmond’s, Arlene’s Grocery, Lucky 13 Saloon, Hank’s Saloon, Shrine - and that leads to other cool connections. We cross a lot of what peoples’ idea of genres are, so it’s always nice when we’re invited to join bills that we might theoretically not completely fit with – like when we played with Urban Sun at Le Poisson Rouge, or with SuperKing Armor at Funkadelic Studios, or last year when we got to play Purge Festival at Santos Party House. That was mostly metal bands (Lucifer Jones, Sweet Magma, and some other great ones), but then, we also had another show uptown where some of The New York City Brass Brothers jumped in on a few songs. It’s all about extending the efforts to make every show excellent, whatever the other entertainment may entail.
I had no idea there were still so many clubs supporting NYC punk. But I have noticed that punk and hardcore shows are drawing more and more fans of late. Examples are the Dr. Know (Bad Brains) benefit at Tompkins with Cro Mags, Token Entry, Maximum Penalty, and Sick Of It All’s 30th anniversary at Webster Hall. What big shows have you heard about of late?
I'm actually not too involved in the hardcore scene, at least as a musician. I'll check out a really good hardcore show if I hear about one, but since I live so far away from most of the venues, it's usually just reports on Facebook after the fact. It seems that a lot of the really good hardcore shows are being held either in Jersey or further upstate these days, but I'm not an authority on that. As far as big punk shows go, I try to assiduously follow what the bands I follow on Facebook post, as well as their friends and bands who post to NYC Punk pages... it doesn't seem like there's a big overarching means to unite the community anymore other than social media to reach out for shows, fliers obtained at said shows to tell you about others, and, of course, just chasing the good bands/music. The punk shows I look forward to are the Tompkins shows, anything curated by Iconicide, any Celtic Punk stuff that happens around St. Pat’s, or any grassroots ones that appear for a cause (like the Dr. Know benefit show, or anything that benefits other musicians, veterans, workers, political change efforts, etc... I don't currently know about any, though). Punk Island has had some notable acts in the past as well, and I'm told the Rebellion Fest in England is great. I don't go to the big-box "punk" things like Warped Tour; I'd prefer a difference experience than that.
Do you know of any Celtic punk bands you would recommend to the readers?
The seasoned Celtic punk bands always get my blood going – The Dropkick Murphys, Black 47, Flogging Molly – but the new guard are kicking arse as well. I think the Narrowbacks make exciting, entertaining music that totally lives up to their slogan “Fire It Up!” I saw them on St. Pat’s in the Webster Hall studio and they scorched. They have great talent as musicians, a wonderful ear for what works in their style of music, and just seem like all-around happy-go-lucky dudes. They released a new record on October 15th and I can’t wait to see what that album will be like. Their cohorts in Girsa – who are a dominantly female band – also show a lot of spirit. They’re more straight-ahead Celtic-influenced music rather than punk rock, but they do some numbers that got the crowd stomping for sure… I loved their cover of “Jolene.”
How well do you generally think punk and Celtic music work together?
I think that punk and Celtic music go very well together… there’s a certain kind of joy to it, an upbeat spirit that gets your mind psyched up and your feet moving – the punks have pogoing, the Irish have step-dancing. Both cultures use the music as a means of telling stories, often difficult ones that would be difficult or depressing to relate in another medium. There’s a strong sense of community and belonging in both cultures. It’s stereotypical of me to claim that violence is inherent to either the punk or the Irish mindset, but in truth there are some great rallying cries to battle that emanate from both styles of music. Ditto drinking.
How many Punk Island events have you been to altogether?
I went to the Punk Islands in 2008, 2009, and 2010, when Governor’s Island was still that weird patch of time-travelly land lurking in the harbor. There was a great spirit of exploration in the early ones, as it was very spread out, and the whole island had this apocalyptic, abandoned feel – which was perfect for punk-spelunking. I remember riding my bike around one of the massive vacant lots and following a killer sound until I found the band that was performing such a cool set… turns out it was The Blame, who were playing in the yard of one of the old military buildings. They’re one of my favorites now, but at the time, I was just following a sound on the wind. In 2009, TJ and I saw Iconicide there for the first time, and that led to a whole host of epic events.
What shows are Iconicide currently scheduling in the city and elsewhere?
Iconicide are next scheduled to host a “Demolition Exhibition” (October 22 at Rivington Music Rehearsal Studios) of artists and musicians who are protesting the rampant closing of venues. There's a lot of people involved, and it's cool to see the community speaking out on issues that affect us like this.
Any memorable experiences playing Ding Dong Lounge, Arlene’s Grocery or the other clubs you mentioned?
I wish I could say I had particularly memorable experiences from the gigs I mentioned, but it's really all-encompassing. We show up and do our jobs, for and with great people, and the each experience is singular and special. I know that sounds cheesy, but it's true. People have told us that we've made them more interested in rock 'n roll and/or the current state of the world, and that's a fantastic feeling. Starting a dialogue and exposing people to new things is the essence of sharing knowledge and learning, so that makes it seem like something is going right in this ridiculous realm of reality. We've never had a crazy fight break out, or a death, or a major celebrity sighting, or anything really out of the ordinary, but we always manage to have a great time. Maybe in this crazy world, that's something out of the ordinary, in itself.
Did you get a chance to play ABC No Rio before they closed temporarily to renovate? How about Otto’s Shrunken Head?
Never played ABC No Rio. We've performed at Otto's a few times, the first of which was with Iconicide's "Witches Night Out" series, which are always excellent collections of female-fronted bands. That's actually where we met Danse de Sade, who had an incredible impact and have since become awesome allies. I think they got in trouble for using their pyrotechnic works there, but it was so worth it for the show and spirit! Otto's just has that vibe where all sorts of oddities and outrageousness can happen at any moment. Plus, you've gotta love any place with terrific Tiki drinks and pufferfish as bar lights!
Describe the songwriting process for the tracks included on Art Of The State. What were the lyrics of each about?
The songwriting process for “Art Of The State” involved a lot of elements. TJ, our bassist, wrote the title track as well as “It’s Always Fucking Something.” For the song “Art Of The State”, it was a companion piece to the title track of our first EP, “State Of The Art” (which is available in full for free download from our website, www.utm-nyc.com, or via our Facebook). The song “Art Of The State” had been written well before Edward Snowden made his bombshell announcements regarding our pervasive surveillance state, and people had thought we were being crazy or paranoid to talk about it before then. Suddenly it was not only accepted as the norm, but people were (and are) inexplicably okay with it. The “if I’m not doing anything wrong, why worry?” mentality is very troubling. There’s always some bit of private knowledge that could be used against you, or a member of your family, if the powers-that-be wanted to push it. And even if they didn’t, it behooves you to keep secure for its own sake… even if you don’t have much worth stealing, you still lock the door when you leave the house, right?
“It’s Always Fucking Something” was the response to all the overabundant infuriating things that plague our daily lives. It really resonates with people. We were going to make it about little, trifling things that add up to be terrible and obnoxious, but really, there were better things to rant about.
The music to “Piggy” was written by TJ, and he and I collaborated on the lyrics. It’s very important to note that it is not a blanket statement about all cops. I have a number of friends who serve on police forces all around the country, and I’ve had some exceptionally helpful experiences with the NYPD, but the number of prominent bad apples really warranted artistic observation. “Protect and serve” should be exactly that, and as any number of different activists will tell you, that’s getting far from the situation in many cases. Police should not be militarized… we have an entire, well-funded military for that. It seems that daily, we’re seeing less “Law And Order”-style proper justice, and more vigilante mayhem. The song isn’t just about police overreach though… it also goes out to the unscrupulous bankers, poisonous ad men, apathetic governmental figures, and anyone else who is treating our society like their own personal sty. The “sweeee” parts in the chorus are how some farmer friends of mine taught me to call pigs when you’re about to serve their slops.
“The Trouble Is…” was written while I was on RAGBRAI, which is a bike ride that crosses the state of Iowa over the course of a week. Thousands of people participate, with a lot of drinking and partying going on in the small towns we stopped at, but during the ride itself there are many, many miles of cornfields to roll through. I wrote the music to the cadence I was pedaling at. The lyrics speak to how if you go looking for trouble, you’re likely going to find a lot more of it than you intend to, and if you don’t go looking for trouble, it still might find you. One of my favorite lines is from a painting in the Met, Pieter Van Laer’s “Magic Scene With Self Portrait.” The artist is depicted with spell books and a skull brewing something over hot coals, like he’s conducting a ritual, but he’s freaking out. From the corner of the painting, two Satanic-looking claws are reaching towards him, and the look on his face clearly indicates that things have gotten out of control. A small incantation at the bottom of the painting is written with some music notes, reading “The Devil does not jest, no, the Devil, he does not play games.” Anyone who has tangled with something devilish knows just how brutally true this is… particularly when it SEEMS like the evil is just having a bit of fun with you (or when you’re just having a bit of fun with something considered evil). The line in the chorus referencing “You’d have me burn down the entire world, just to dance on the rubble” came from a direct quote that a United States general told Congress when he was seeking more money for bombs. Congress told him that the military already had enough money to bomb the entire world into rubble. The general replied that he wanted to see the rubbledance.
I personally think there’s room for all sorts of transgressions and experiments and magic rituals in life… all things in moderation, including moderation. But when we start making the rubble dance, or threatening to hurt the devil’s feelings, we need to be wary of how far things can go wrong. It’s that sort of recklessness that becomes really hard to undo the damage from, and the last thing human beings need right now are more problems that require attention and care and thoughtfulness to solve – those things are in short supply, and we should be able to spend them more directly, amongst each other.
How much press has Art Of The State received since it was released? Is the band currently working on a new release?
“Art Of The State” hasn’t had a great deal of press, but we have received an amazing number of first-person compliments and hearsays-of-plays. We’ve used a few different internet radio sites to get the sound out there, so it’s cool to see the likes and comments from all around the world, but of course we always want to escalate that momentum. We’re rolling that stone. I’ve seen our stickers crop up in places I’ve never been to. People that we don’t know will compliment other people for wearing our buttons or shirts. It’s all about persistence and perfecting the pieces. If we continue to do that to the best of our ability, it stands to reason that the public and press will respond. We work hard to make music that will motivate our fans, and disseminating that intel for the public is important to us – so thanks for reading and/or writing about UTM!
We are currently working on a new EP, which is as of yet untitled. Our lead guitarist JD is producing it, and it's sounding spectacular so far. It will include four songs of mine – “Excommunicate”, “Black And Blues”, “Hold Sway”, and a new original one, “Theory Of Revolution.” It will also feature “Pirate Jenny”, a vintage song that TJ translated from the original German version. That particular song is a little different from what we usually do – it has a certain storytelling bombast to it that is almost theatrical – but I think it will resonate with a lot of people, particularly those who are stuck in jobs that they hate. The premise of the song is that a girl who works a bunch of service jobs at a hotel acts nice to her customers, as folks in the service industry must do (regardless of whether this kindness is warranted), but she is secretly plotting about the day that her pirate friends are going to arrive in their huge black freighter, lay siege to the town, reclaim her as one of theirs, murder those who’d mocked her, and then sail off into the sunset. It’s a certain kind of love story that I think we’ll tell well.
The other songs involve fine-tuning some wider themes we like exploring: religion’s supposed “love” and “wisdom” actually being very exclusionary, depression being so stifling and hateful that all you can do is attempt to be happy to prove it wrong, and the nature of how half-assed “awareness” isn’t going to be helpful at all when your body and mind are being targeted by forces that would require insurrection to surmount. Oh, and the new song’s about science, and the progress and perseverance it imbues. I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like science. It seems to be the only thing that’s really a hope for our continued capable future, right now. Society’s supposed “humanity” isn’t really pulling its ever-escalating weight. But these things can be fixed, and talking about them and listening to songs about them might just compel people to take a closer look at how that could happen. We can’t solve the world’s problems with music, but we can make people think about how they can do their part to help. And we can also provide them with some nice drinking and partying tunes for when that work is done!
It shows that you channel a great deal of effort into your lyrics. From what you have seen and heard, are your lyrics reaching people and getting them to think?
I think some of our lyrics are reaching people, particularly songs that a lot of people can relate to, like “The Trouble Is…” or “It’s Always Fucking Something.” I’ve heard of those being played in bars, construction sites, road trips gone awry, war zones, all over the place where trouble or ridiculousness might strike (despite peoples’ best efforts). I’ve been told that “Tempting Fate” is extremely romantic, which is good, because I wrote it that way, although we jokingly introduce it as a love song that’s about drinking (or a drinking song about being in love)… but it hit its intended mark. I sincerely hope that people are paying attention when we make music about the surveillance state or hyper hand-wringing, fear-mongering modern media, because these are issues that aren’t going to go away unless the people on the receiving end of these actions do something to combat them.
Even the little things we try to make count, lyrically…the “sweeeee” part in “Piggy” is how some farmer friends of mine indicated was the proper way to call hogs to the trough. Anyway, we try to keep things diverse, and if some element of that positively resonates with people – be it the music, lyrics, whatever – then we’ve done good work. We can’t force or even really rouse people to compel change, but we can document where it should probably be happening, and spread the word to instigate fresh ideas about what maybe could be done. I don’t think we need to water the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants just yet, but we as a society can get more nourishment from its fruits by not neglecting or poisoning the fertile grounds of possibility.
All in all, is the punk scene in New York City going to continue to gain ground in the future despite the setbacks it experienced? What can be done to ensure that happens?
Nothing can kill the punk scene, not in NYC or anywhere else. It might go further underground, it might take different shapes or styles, but nothing kills it. If the world flourishes and we all become enlightened, punk will be part of that plethora. If the apocalypse goes down and we’re living underground in bunkers, you can bet someone’s going to be knocking out angry anti-nuke (or anti-alien, or anti-zombie) songs on a battered guitar… hell, a nuke bunker might even be nicer than some of the apartments I’ve lived in here. If the status quo is maintained, punks will rail against that, because it feels too much like entropy. So there’s definitely still the motives and means for it to thrive. It’d be great if some strong venues were able to stay viable, but if not, the music will find a way. Jurassic Punks. “Life finds a way.” So will the music.
To ensure that happens, it’s all about the people. Musicians need to keep kicking out the jams, fans need to keep rocking out, great bills and tours and showcases need to circulate the scene. NASA has used radio telescopes to listen in on countless stars and astronomical phenomena… they’ve proved music can, and will, exist in a void… but why make it come to that? Go to a punk matinee and rock out all day. Go to a free show in the park. Check out some weird music bars’ fliers and then Youtube those bands’ work… maybe you’d really like catching their next show! Ask people wearing crazy pins or patches or shirts what bands they’re into. When was the last time you heard a great new record? Everyone appreciates that suddenly stupendous feeling, stumbling across an amazing new act... well, there’s lots of us out there! Go on sonic safari, be an audio adventurer! The worst that can happen is that you stick with your usual playlist. But maybe, just maybe, you’ll find some fresh fascination. Or at least a few songs for when everything goes to hell.
Universal Truth Machine