Thursday, July 3, 2014

Interview with Jason Soejoto of Young Turks

In my opinion, Young Turks are one of the most criminally under-rated bands going right now. The Portland 5 piece plays an awesome mix of hardcore and punk that incorporates elements of bands like American Nightmare, The Suicide File, Kid Dynamite, etc.  In other words, they should be huge but I never hear anyone talking about them. When they played here in the Fall of 2012 they put on a passionate, air-tight performance, despite the fact that I think I was probably the only person in attendance who paid that night )-:
At any rate, I’ll take a sincere, awesome band that no one cares about over a 100 hype bands every time, so for those who are unfamiliar, do yourself a favor and check out Young Turks.
Guitarist Jason Soejoto was kind enough to answer a few questions.
Talk a little bit about the formation of the did you guys all meet, how long had you known each other when you decided to start jamming, and what was the initial vision of the band, both sonically and in terms of ideas/ethics, etc.?
When the band started, it was kind of like an arranged marriage. I knew Matt from his constant touring with Broadway Calls and got to know all of those guys better after their big tour with my best friends band Set It Straight. Bryan I knew through my friend Luke who played bass in my band before YT, hell&reason. Our original drummer was Curtis Ide, a homie from Redding, CA that moved up with some friends of mine and Matt's. At our first practice, I had two songs written ("Control" and "Sleep"). I kind of glued the pieces together of the original lineup, we recorded “Halfhearted”, and as we started booking shows we needed a bass player, so I turned to my friend Gareth. I met Gareth through hell&reason playing shows with his band Profits, and while both bands were kind of a heavier style (FFO: Converge, Botch, Cursed, etc), we both had a background and interest in punk and hardcore. So after a few shows, we strong-armed him into the band. Curtis moved back to Redding, so Matt called his best friend Mason, and we whipped him into shape and he became our new drummer. 

When we started it was just to basically pay homage to the bands that meant the most to us: American Nightmare, Hope Con, Go It Alone, Killing The Dream, The Suicide File, Kid Dynamite, and Propagandhi to name a few. 

After Mason’s first tour with us (filling in on bass while Gareth stayed home to track with his band Profits, who recorded one of the best records to never come out) he decided to be vegan. When Mason came in on drums after Curtis left, we were an all- vegan band. That definitely has played a role in our personal politics as compassionate human beings. We have been, and always will be, pro-animal rights, pro-human rights, and pro-sexual equality. 

I feel like you guys are a bit of a throwback; sonically to the early-mid 2000's, and idea-wise probably back to the 90's. I know for me while there are still a lot of bands that I get excited about, it seems like to a large degree the stuff that's gaining traction right now for the most part is really generic, boring, and certainly doesn't offer much of substance. How would you assess the current state of hardcore punk and where do you see yourselves fitting in?

There's always been a certain crowd we appeal to, and it seems to be at times on the fringe between punk and hardcore. I would say that we fit in a lot of places. We were fortunate enough to play The Fest in Gainesville three years in a row, which is more of a punk band thing, and last year we were honored to represent Portland at Seattle's Rainfest, which is more of a hardcore fest. We all grew up in punk, and found our way to hardcore. I think that shows in our music and ethics. 

In the last six months or so you guys have gotten to play some pretty awesome shows; AN, Trial, Bane, you've got Ceremony coming up. What have been the highlights of those shows for you and how do gigs like that compare to smaller jams where you guys might be headlining for example?

We are incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to play with all of the bands you mentioned. Playing with Trial is always awesome because our values are so closely tied. The most recent Bane show was totally bonkers. But the AN show takes the cake. I remember walking in and hearing them sound check with "Love American" and it felt like the first time I heard it. Totally unreal. 

The bigger shows we've had the chance to play have all been awesome, it's always good to have someone come tell you it's their first time seeing you or hearing you. But the small shows we play are just as good, if not better. A room full of friends is irreplaceable, especially the friends we have made in Portland, and in this band. We are a bunch of lucky motherfuckers. 

At this point in the band you guys have two 7 inches and an LP, what's the next logical step release-wise? Maybe a split with someone or LP number 2?

It's not a secret that there has been a shift in the momentum for this band. We see every message, comment, and tweet about how we aren't touring as much or as active in general. It hurts because it felt like we were just taking off, but sometimes life gets in the way. This band means the world to me, but supporting my friends in their personal lives and helping them with their goals is even more important. I think that personally, we are closer friends than we ever have been. We argue like brothers, and we love each other like brothers. 

Every one of us has been writing. Whether it's going to end up in YT is still to be seen. We all have music we do on our own, we all have pipe dreams of side projects, but we always bring our best to YT. I think we finished a new song last night actually, and it's good. I'm happy with it at least. When you're consumed with real life, being an adult, and not trying to dig your claws into your youth and hanging on to every last moment, it can be hard to focus on something like writing. For me, it's always been a critical part of my life; expressing myself through music, that is. I don't think I'll ever stop. Sorry, I know I'm kind of wandering, but when somebody asks me "what's next?" it's hard to give them a straight answer without explaining where we are at. So simply, we are writing. I don't know what we are writing for specifically. I feel like we will hit our stride writing this summer, and I’m crossing my fingers it'll turn into another full-length. I feel like with all of the real life, adult bullshit we have all been through in the past year, it'll feel good to get some shit off our chests. 

Talk a little bit about how you guys hooked up with Matt from Animal Style and how that relationship has developed over the years. I know it sounds like a lot is up in the air with respect to future releases, but do you imagine you guys will stick with him or do you foresee pursuing another label home potentially?

Our singer Matt was the one who got us connected with Matt at Animal Style. Our relationship has been incredibly simple, constantly supportive, and based on a real friendship. Matt is an industry guy and runs a fantastic label, makes smart business decisions, and I have a lot of respect for him. But the way he treats us has never been about what we’re putting in his pocket (thankfully, because he would be disappointed) but has been about what we bring to his roster and what we do as a band. From there we built a friendship with him like he was in the band. It's all inside jokes and our combined terrible humor (van sanctuary should be mentioned), and truly is more of a friendship than a business relationship. As far as our future with Matt, he will do what's best for him and help us as much as he possibly can. We haven't talked about doing our next release on Animal Style because it's not done. When it is, he will have the first opportunity to put it out, and we certainly hope he does, but we aren't going to pressure him. We aren't the tour monsters we used to be, and that's part of supporting a record. 

I've always wondered about your annual pilgrimage to The must be what, like 3,000 miles for you guys? Do you feel like you get a decent amount of exposure or is it easy to feel like you get lost in a sea of awesome bands from all over the world?

Our three treks to Fest go in this order:

Incredibly ridiculous

Pretty ridiculous

Incredibly comfortable. 

Our first trek out we couldn't take too much time away from our jobs so we made the run to Fest, hung out for three days, and toured home in a total of 12 days if I remember correctly. We drove from Portland to Gainesville in less than five days, and played four shows along the way.

The second trip was a 3 1/2 week tour and included east coast dates. The tour itself was pretty rough, but we had a good time not being as rushed. However, in our "tour harder, not smarter" approach, we did drives from Missoula, MT to Fargo, ND, Detroit to Brooklyn, and the worst of them all; Orlando to Houston (after two shows out to Texas were cancelled). 

The third trip Tony just flew us out. We had a blast. But honestly, I wish we could have toured. 

Playing Fest is an honor. You're among living legends and a ton of up and coming bands. We played big shows every year, we got a great response every year, and I absolutely think that if it weren't for the first Fest in particular, we would have never garnered enough interest to get on Animal Style and get to the higher points of our existence. If you're reading this Tony, thank you so much. 

As an outsider, it seems like the Northwest doesn't have the sheer number of bands as compared to other parts of the country, but it does seem like those bands are often more likely to be comprised of lifers (I'm thinking you guys, Unrestrained, Trial/BEAS, etc.) who have a little bit more of a socio-political edge to their lyrics and overall consciousness. What's it like up in the Northwest and how does it compare to other parts of the country you guys have toured through?

The Pacific Northwest is an amazing place. I really do love living here and being part of the music scene. The bands you mentioned are great examples of that particular sect of socio-political themed bands, not to mention friends of ours. But there's a lot more to NWHC than that honestly; we are more outliers in that sense. Portland has always had more of a punk and metal scene than a hardcore one, which is a great backbone to why Poison Idea is from here (and so god damn good). I could go on forever about bands from Washington and how great NWHC is. But as much as we are a part of NWHC, Portland had always been the lesser of the two cities in terms of the amount of people involved with hardcore. But in certain ways, I like that there is almost a forced diversity of bills here. It gives power to the bands that are dedicated to their style, and equally encourages more fence-walking between genres. There's the early 2000s Boston sound, the late 80s and 90s NYHC sound, the early 2000s Rivalry records/Bay Area sound, and Portland doesn't really have that. In that sense, I feel like Portland has a unique character compared to other cities with stronger scenes that are more dedicated to specific styles of music. Maybe it's less focused, but it's also more fluid. 

You guys recently had "Halfhearted" re-issued on fancy vinyl over in Europe. How did you hook up with Rich at Speedowax, and to what extent (if at all) is touring Europe an aspiration for you?

Rich basically contacted us and said "Let me put out a record for you." Easy as that. Most down to earth, chill guy, who just really, really, really likes music and playing his part in making a record. We do have loose plans to play some shows overseas, just figuring out some of the logistics and how we can make it all work. It's definitely on the bucket list for this band. 

The phrase "young hearts be free tonite" seems to have become sort of the slogan for the band. Talk about what that means for you personally and ultimately what you hope it could come to mean for other kids who may check out Young Turks.

We named the band after the Rod Stewart song, just so we are all clear here. We're not necessarily saying that everyone needs to love a little Rod as much as we do, but that song in particular has a couple strong themes in the lyrics (not to mention a hell of an 80s dance track behind it). The song is about kids wanting to make their own decisions and take control of their lives but they still seek the approval of their parents, so after a disagreement they leave home together, embarking on their first taste of adulthood and romantic partnership. So the lyric "Young hearts be free tonight," is powerful because it's the clarion call to leave youth behind. Obviously the two kids in the song are still kids, but they're able to pursue the life that they want together. It's romantic, but the girl in the song could be anything. It's about finding out what you want in life, who you want to be, or who you want to be with, and pursuing it with everything you have. So to have this song, that on the surface is just a dance track saying, "do whatever you want because you're young," seems silly to me because the ramifications of the two characters decisions led to growing up, changing, and having a kid. The track has a lot of teenage themes, but it really is about understanding that you're too young to fit into the adult mold, but you're old enough to make your own decisions and be your own person. I think that hardcore is the place where I found exactly that. The encouragement to be hopelessly young, and the confidence to be my own person. 

Stop Sleeping and Jam This Shit!

1 comment:

  1. Cool interview - I've seen Young Turks in Minneapolis on 2 separate tours, great musicians who connect big-time with their audiences.