Ace guitarist Sean Bonnette on the Arizona band’s take on acoustic punk as well as achieving high profile status as the latest signing to venerable punk label SideOneDummy.
BY JOHN B. MOORE
Acoustic punk rock is not exactly a new idea. Billy Bragg has been doing it for decades and folks like Chuck Ragan and Frank Turner have managed to completely remake their careers by simply pulling out the plug. So what does an acoustic punk band have to do to stand out in 2014? Writing bizarrely hysterical songs certainly helps, like Andrew Jackson Jihad’s “The Michael Jordan of Drunk Driving.”
The Arizona band has enjoyed cult status since their first record in 2005 and playing on some high profile tours, like The Queers and Against Me!, helped bring the band to venues across the globe.
Now recently signed to SideOneDummy, the upper echelon of independent punk rock labels (with a roster that has included folks like Gaslight Anthem and Flogging Molly), and a fantastic new record, Christmas Island, the band is in for a big 2014.
Guitarist/singer Sean Bonnette took some time recently to answer a few questions about the new record, their new label and being taken seriously while still writing quirky songs.
BLURT: This year marks a decade that the band has been in existence – at least for two of you (Bonnette and Ben Gallaty, upright bass). Did you have any idea you guys would get this big and still be going after 10 years?
SEAN BONNETTE: Nope! We started this band with very low expectations, everything that has happened since has been amazing and rather unexpected.
Can you talk a little bit about writing this album? Did you do anything different? Did it take longer than previous records?
The answer to both of those questions is yes. It did take longer, and I think that’s because I was initially trying to write an album instead of trying to write songs. Things really got cooking after John reminded me to just write songs as they come and not think of them in terms of their place in an album. Writing an album is intimidating, whereas writing songs is fun.
When people talk about the band they always use terms like goofy and fun, but there are also some serious elements to your music, with this record in particular. Is that a conscious decision you made to try and balance the moods?
I wouldn’t say it’s a decision I am aware of because most of the times I consciously try to write something it turns out wrong. The best songs are the ones where I have the least amount of mental control, when I’m in the zone. That said, I think a sense of humor is a great thing to have, it allows one to broach uncomfortable subjects a lot easier. I think I learned that from my family.
Can you talk about the inspiration behind “Linda Ronstadt” – probably my favorite song from the record? [Random Trivia Ed. note: while I lived in Tucson, the titular Ms. Ronstadt resided on the street behind the record store where I worked and was a regular customer there, as was a brother of hers.]
Thanks! That one’s probably my favorite too. That song is unique to the rest of our catalogue in the sense that the song is about the inspiration. I actually wrote it on the same day that it happened.
You guys spent a lot of time touring last year and put out the live record. This year seems to be just as busy. How do you manage to stay sane when you are constantly in a different place each day?
Rumors of our breakneck touring schedule are greatly exaggerated, we only toured for about three weeks last year, but we love that people think we tour more than we do. This year is going to be more intense, probably about three months of touring. Here is some free advice on how to stay sane on tour: drink lots of water, bring plenty of pillows, and reserve time to talk with loved ones on the phone.
Was this year first time recording with John Congleton?
This was our first time and hopefully not our last.
How was the experience?
John is amazing. He kept us on track and excited for the whole process, didn’t let anyone agonize over small details, and I think he made us a better band. His philosophy behind this record was to make the AJJ record he wanted to hear, to embolden the things about us that are unique, and I love that.
You guys have been on Asian Man Records for years. How did you connect with the folks at SideOne?
We’ve known people at SideOne for years. I first met Joe Sib when he invited me out to his California Calling show in Phoenix. We’ve known Matty B. (Matt Baldwin, who handles SideOne tours) for a long time as well. They are all amazing people. We started talking about putting out the record with them in November, when Kenny (Czadzeck, who handles digital marketing for the label) hit us up the day after we played VLHS in Pomona, California.
What’s next for the band?
We are touring the US and Canada this summer and going overseas in the fall, after that, who knows? All the while I plan on joyfully writing songs.
John B. Moore’s regular BLURT column on all things punk is titled “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up.” Get into the pit with him – such as this recent entry – at your own risk.