Thursday, September 24, 2015

Interview with Kelly from Shook Ones

If you’ve been kicking around punk and hardcore for any length of time, you probably know, or have at least heard of Bellingham, Washington’s Shook Ones. Starting up about ten years ago, the band picked up the mantle of catchy-as-fuck, scratchy voiced hardcore punk ala Lifetime and Kid Dynamite and have been running with it ever since.

They’ve released three LP’S and a slew of splits and ep’s over the years, and while life has kind of gotten in the way in terms of touring and such, they’re still plugging away. As a fellow older dude, it’s always really cool to see people sticking with music, even though they may have to take the foot off the accelerator a little bit.  

Anyway, I randomly sent them an email about doing an interview like a year and a half ago, got a prompt reply but then things fizzled. So it was like a kid on Christmas morning a couple weeks ago when Kelly responded and said “Hey sorry, but let’s do this!

Read on.

Talk a little bit about the origin of Shook Ones. It seems like that NW, Seattle/Vancouver scene all is pretty incestuous. How did you guys come together, what bands (if any) had you done before, etc.?

Shook Ones started in the basement of 1801 D Street in Bellingham, which is where many of the dudes lived at the time. Those same dudes were also playing in Go It Alone, Blue Monday, Ordeal, and a variety of other NW bands of varying degrees of competence. I've been out of the game for a while, but back in those days everything was sort of "incestuous" with bands. I think the first Shooks tour was Shook Ones, Go It Alone, Ordeal, and maybe one other band - and all those bands consisted of some combination of the same 7 or 8 dudes.

In the interest of not embarrassing any of us specifically, I'll refrain from mentioning any of the other bands we played in previously. I know I personally played in an old-school screamo band, a nu-metal band, and a sad-core indie band with a cello, none of which I will name. I will, however, tell you that Shook Ones was always intended as a Lifetime rip-off and was actually even named "Lifespan" for a brief period.

It seems like 06-09 was the most active period for the band, and things have chilled out since then in terms of touring, writing, recording which of course probably has to do with adult responsibilities and such. What's the hardest thing about balancing "real life" with your art, and what's been most important for you guys as a band in getting that balance right?

There was a confluence of factors around then. We had all just graduated college, we had just signed to a "big" label with Revelation Records, we were very tight with Sinking Ships who were in a similar situation, and we didn't have as many real-life responsibilities (bills, relationships, etc.) quite yet. I was also talking to Scott the other day about how that particular age (most of us were around 25-27 years old at the time) really seems to be a prime moment for personal creativity. And having a good metabolism.

That balance you mentioned has always been an especially big challenge for us because we each have varying degrees of ambition when it comes to the band and those other "real life" things. I went through grad school twice, Funds became a lawyer, Scott started his own clothing brand and opened a store, AO played on the new Macklemore single. We're all very different types of people and while we love each other very much, trying to get everyone on the same page for anything when you have so many different levels of interest and ambition and priorities makes it difficult. There was a time when we were all pretty into the idea of going on tour and playing shows and having shitty jobs, but like most people we sort of grew out of that just by getting older and living in the world. We never stopped caring about our band; we just started caring more about things outside of it.

That said, you guys have had a pattern of doing an LP followed by some smaller releases. Since "Unquotable" we've seen an EP and the DING split, does that mean we can expect a new LP any time soon or am I just engaging in wishful thinking?

I don't want to say something that then becomes untrue as we've definitely had a pretty crappy record of flaking out on things over the years, but there have absolutely been many conversations about doing another LP and I'd say we've got at least 5 or 6 songs already pretty fleshed out. We have every intention of doing a new LP, but you know how that real life shit can get in the way - especially when you reach your 30's and have mortgages or children or other crazy responsibilities that make band practice feel kind of trivial. The TLDR version of that: yes, probably, but no guarantees.

There's been a good bit of bouncing around label-wise over the that a function of things not working out at times, you guys wanting to explore different options, or a little of both? Will whatever comes out next likely surface on RFC or will there be further movement?

I think it mostly has to do with the personal relationships we've developed with the people at those various labels over the years - not necessarily in a bad way or a good way, just meeting new people and having new opportunities. The people who run those labels have that same real life shit so sometimes everyone just kind of naturally moved on; sometimes a close friend of ours left a label or started another one, sometimes we said yes to things without really thinking them through. I've been talking to Jeff at RFC a lot since we kind of "reactivated" and while we haven't discussed future plans specifically, working with him has been awesome and I know we would all love to continue to do so. That dude has come a long way from the 19 year old who put out that first Sinking Ships 7". There are few other legitimate independent labels as on top of their game as RFC, for sure.

You started over a decade ago right when the bottom was sort of falling out on a lot of labels with the digital revolution and would you say that has effected things for a band like yourselves and what other changes would you say have been most significant in the wider scene over the course of your run as a band?

As far as us as a band, I can't possibly over-emphasize how beneficial it was. Beyond silly things like having cell phones to call home when on tour and GPS to get from show to show, there's just simply no way as many people would know about our band without the whole "digital revolution." I always tell people that 2 of the best weeks of my life were when we got to tour Japan and I don't think that ever could/would have happened without Myspace (RIP). I know it's been pretty hard on labels, but I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing. A lot of labels essentially function as banks/lenders - they front you money to record and press an album, then they mail it out to people, but that was kind of it. And I say that as someone who had a label. The digital revolution seems to have thinned the herd from those kind of labels that were basically just banking off of bands and not doing any work. If you think about all the labels that were around 10 years ago when we started and which ones are still running strong, it becomes really obvious what an actual good label looks like and why they're important. I'd say the digital revolution didn't kill record labels; it just killed the shitty ones.

The only other wider trend that I've really noticed since those days is the whole reunion thing. And again, I think that's a direct benefit of that digital revolution. The kind of interest that inspires bands to get back together and make more music (or make more money) definitely has a lot to do with the internet and its permanence. That's not always a good thing - cash grabs and rock star attitudes are no fun for anyone - but sometimes it's pretty rad. Not only did I get to see Lifetime play a show, but I got to hear a new record, and we got to tour with them and befriend them. That's such an amazing thing that I never would have imagined happening. I still remember how star-struck I was the first time I shook Dan Yemin's hand, and in a weird but very real way that probably would never have happened without Myspace.

Sorry if that was a little long winded. I saw the Get Up Kids anniversary tour last week (which was tight as hell!) and have been doing a lot of reflecting/reminiscing since then, so a lot of your questions are things that were already on my mind. Getting old is fucking weird.

It seems like almost every band I talk to who has toured overseas says the experience is quite different from doing the States. That said, how was that Japanese run you mentioned in comparison to doing the US (and anywhere else outside the US you guys have been for that matter)

Like I mentioned, personally our Japan tour was 2 of the best weeks of my life. We got to play with Easel, which at one point featured the original Shooks bass player - and he was even able to come with us! We also had the good fortune of having Daiki from Alliance Trax drive/translate/put out a record for us. That dude is rad as shit and made everything about a million times cooler than it would have been without him. And just generally, Japan is amazing. Every night, the people that came out to the shows were super fucking nice and friendly. A ton of the shows basically turned in to dinner parties after - once the show was done, they'd clear the venue space out and bring out tables and we'd all eat together. 

Even outside the shows, I felt like Japan had somehow magically created a jerk-free society. And we got to see a bunch of places that we had never seen before and had no concept of. Europe is rad, too - it's always amazing to go to new places and meet people from a totally different perspective/worldview - but Japan just had this magical friendliness that I've never experienced anywhere else in the world. It was like everyone we met was someone we were already friends with. If I have any regrets with this band, it'd be that we haven't been able to get our shit together enough to go back there again.

Keeping on the international theme, a couple of your splits have been with non-US bands (Easel from Japan and Death is Not Glamorous from Norway). How have those collaborations come together, and what US bands (aside from any Yemin-related projects of course) would you want to work with if you had the chance?

The Easel split came about from that original Shooks bass player, Jimmy. He left Shooks to go be an international investment banker (wise choice) and moved to Japan. He started playing with those dudes so we were familiar with them from the very beginning and totally stoked on their songs. They ended being up amazing human beings, too, but it all started with Jimmy starting a new band in Japan and us being stoked on that. He eventually left Japan for Hong Kong because he's an international playboy, but that connection remained. I'm not sure whose idea it was at first - I feel like it might have just been a scheme on our part to try and make a Japan tour happen. In which case, we are geniuses.

And speaking of international playboys, Christian from DING has been a buddy from the start. I used to do Shooks mail-order out of my apartment and Christian ordered some merch way back when. He also sent us the demo for his band, and it all just kind of went from there. The first time we went to Europe with Sinking Ships was the first chance I got to meet him in person, and he ended up travelling with us for a chunk of it, and we've been buddies ever since. We played shows together over the years whenever we could and he even came to visit me a couple times when he was passing through the states. We had always talked about doing a split together; Eventually we also befriended Steven and Nick from Scotland, who were also buddies with Christian. Between them and the RFC connect between our bands, things just finally fell in to place and it happened.

I can speak only for myself and not Shooks as a whole, but I like doing splits a) with bands that we don't necessarily sound directly like and more importantly, b) bands we're buddies with and respect. That's how that End of a Year split happened. A lot of the bands we became friends with over the years have stopped playing, but there's still tons of bands out there with lovely people who'd be cool to put something out with. Our drummer, AO, also plays in a million other bands (Devotion, Super Crush, just to name a few) and it'd be cool to do something with them. And his sister used to sing in Punch and has some other projects (peep Know Secrets if you haven't already), so that'd be fun to. Anything where there's some kind of cool personal connection. All that said, I doubt there will be any splits any time soon. Were entirely focused on getting our next LP written and recorded, so that's gotta happen first, and it'll probably gonna take a while.

In the ten plus years you've been together your basic song-writing template hasn't changed much, but to my ears anyway, it seems like things have become only more energetic and infectious over time. You were reflecting on aging a moment ago, and it seems that when most bands age they slow down and chill out, use some more delay pedals or whatever, haha but you guys sound as fresh and enthusiastic as ever. How would you say your creative process has changed over the years, and what keeps the octane running on high for you guys?

I think our creative process has actually largely stayed the same; we've just become better at it - both as individuals and as a band. It's basically always the same - someone brings in the outline of a song (minus lyrics, that's solely Scotty) and we flesh it out. Sometimes that just means pulling it together, sometimes that means totally fucking with it and rebuilding it, and sometimes that means throwing it out. I think we've become better songwriters as individuals just by virtue of experience, but we've also become better at getting the best out of each other when it comes to working those songs out together.

We are also very fortunate to have a good friend who has an extremely talented engineer who happens to know our band very well. Everything we've done since the Easel split has been with our buddy Jackson Long and he's made a huge difference in getting recordings that actually sound like we always imagined our band sounded. Not that the other stuff we recorded is bad in any way, just that what Jackson hears and how he records us lines up perfectly with what we hear and how we want to sound. A huge amount of any praise for our "progress" in recordings definitely goes to him.

I think what keeps us going is how much we genuinely enjoy these songs and how much appreciation we have for each other as songwriters. It's always rad to hear the shit that other people have cooked up and watch it come together with us a whole band. Even with songs that don't always click at first ("Order Form" was cut from FFF, and I personally hated "Tip the Weatherman" for the longest time), we're smart enough to know that everybody knows what they're doing and to put a certain amount of trust in each other's songwriting. We're also fortunate to have a band full of pretty competent musicians, so having five people who can pick up a guitar and write something quality definitely helps.

First couple photos by Taylor Jones, the other pulled off the Shooks FB:

1 comment:

  1. That nu-metal band Kelly was in did a kickass cover of Say it Ain't So.