Sunday, December 27, 2009


The more things change…

By Jason Schreurs

They’ve often been called The Milemarker Collective due to the revolving nature of their band lineup and constantly evolving sound. But one thing that’s remained constant with Chicago-based post-hardcore band Milemarker over the years is the close friendship and collaborative dedication of original members Dave Laney and Al Burian.

“We’ve been friends for a very long time. And we’ve been stuck in a van together for a very long time,” explains Laney. “Sometimes the proximity of a lot of years spent together let’s you be a little more critical… because it’s almost like part of the family. It gives you a thicker skin, until the knife cuts in too deep.”

Laney is only joking about the knife part. He and Burian (also known for his Burn Collector writings) have found endless ways to inspire and motivate each other over the years.

Formed in 1997 by Laney and Burian, along with drummer Ben Davis, Milemarker has gone through many players in the course of five albums and a couple of EPs. The member shuffling became so chronic Laney and Burian eventually decided to implement an open door policy allowing people to leave and return at their will.

This was handy for Davis, who recently came back to the band to help write their new album, Ominosity, after an extended hiatus while he and his partner had a baby. Davis will not be touring for Ominosity but, as mentioned, there’s always someone from the ranks of past (or future) Milemarker members to take his place.

“Something that we’ve always tried to do is keep it a little bit looser with the potential to mold it around whatever’s happening,” says Laney. “Whoever’s in the band is whoever’s playing with the band at that moment.”

One noticeable shift on Ominosity is its epic collection of seven or eight-minute dark epics; Laney is clear the band was trying to move away from the “synth-poppy” material of previous albums. Even more evident is the absence of vocalist/synth player Roby Newton. The lack of her piercing wail and sultry lilt could have been insurmountable voids, but with the help of three guest female vocalists and the many different textures Ominosity offers, it’s not a growing concern.

“She definitely was a big element of the band, and a lot of people have said, ‘Where the hell’s Roby?’” says Laney. “But her leaving was just something that happened. She was in and out of the band since the band started. She is missed, you know, and definitely having a female element to the band is important to us.”

Milemarker are perhaps best remembered for being staunch critics of the fashion-conscious hardcore scene of the late ‘90s, using their Frigid Forms Sell album motif to comment on just how silly the style over substance trend had become. Oddly, only a few years later, the band’s worst fears have been realized.

“[Frigid] looked like a lot of record covers actually look now,” marvels Laney. “They do promo photos where someone comes in for $500 to do a photo shoot… It’s all so slimy, the whole industry of it.”

And while countless bands today are content being cogs in a larger machine, Milemarker measures success on their own meter of happiness.

“I feel good about the music that we’re making right now. I feel good about the live show and it’s pretty exciting to me,” says Laney. “But I think everyone that makes music feels like their thing is important. They either think they are the best band in the world or they think they’re the worst band. Either you’re self-hating or you are a Superman-complex person.”

And which one are they? “Probably more towards the self-hating. I’m not gonna call up Rolling Stone and say, ‘Hey, you guys gotta put us on the cover. Do you know what you’re missing?! Here’s our press package. Check it out. Get back with me,’ he laughs. “I never understood it like that.”

Milemarker’s secret of uncompromising success is the consistency and longtime devotion of Laney and Burian to a project they obviously hold dear to their hearts. They even formed another project called Challenger, releasing and album and an EP in the past two years during an off-time for Milemarker. But this begs the question of whether Milemarker would continue if one of them ever left the band.

“Yeah, I don’t think it could go on. That would be pretty weird…” imagines Laney, “but, whatever, bands do weird stuff. There’s a festival coming up in Chicago and the bands are The Misfits, The Germs, and, what is the other band… Black Flag…”

“No, wait,” he interjects with another imposter band, “it’s The Dead Kennedys.”
“I don’t think we’ll ever be in that position…” chuckles Laney. “That’s not gonna happen with Milemarker.”

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Can't believe I found this little ditty; it often haunts me to this day. Rollins Band in their prime, playing live in Toronto at the MuchMusic studios. Some seriously weird shit goes down here, first in the "you talkin' to me" ode to Taxi Driver, then in the extendo-jam "bad, bad monkey" section. Scary and thrilling, all at once. Ah, Rollins...

Monday, December 21, 2009


Originally published: Monday Magazine

Random thoughts: I really can't believe I missed their live show in town. One of those write-about-them-but-get-sick-before-show dealies. I've heard they are one of the best live bands, as the YouTube clip below will attest.

The Anti-Cool
Akron/Family avoid rock trappings for a whole lot of love and joy

By Jason Schreurs

Let’s face it; rock shows are a bummer sometimes. Some greased-up fools on stage, sweating and spitting, while the cooler-than-thous in the crowd stand sneering with their arms crossed. But a select few bands, such as Brooklyn’s folk/noise troupe Akron/Family, are interested in a live show that transcends the bad vibes.
“Our approach is trying to have a sense of community as opposed to a lot of rock shows where you’ll go and the band will just sort of play at the crowd,” explains multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Dana Janssen. “We like to entice the crowd to sing along, clap their hands, and really join in on the show and be part of the experience.”
And with their feel-good reputation preceding them, Akron/Family excel in their alternately mellow and jarring hopped-up-hymns in a more improv-friendly live setting. The foursome’s recorded output is free-form and inventive enough as it is, but the band must get downright giddy at the thought of jamming out more on stage.
“Oh, totally,” gushes Janssen. “I’m sure I could be happy doing the same show every night, but it would definitely get old. With this band, it’s a blessing, man. Totally a blessing...”
Um, blessing? Janssen likes to throw that word around, furthering the theory that Akron/Family is some kind of beardo religious cult disguised as a folk/noise/improv band. Let’s test the theory on Janssen: “No, no…” he lets out a high-pitched laugh. “That’s a myth. People take things and they just run with it. Some of the guys practice Buddhism, but besides that there’s no cult or formed religion.”
Okay, maybe not, but there’s certainly a strong mantra going on here. One listen to sing-along numbers like the gonzo-gospel “Blessing Force” and the phenomenally uplifting “The Rider (Dolphin Song)” and it’s clear the band has a message in mind.
“Joy, love… love, joy. That’s the message,” confirms Janssen. “I don’t know if people don’t have time for those two things, or people just fail to recognize them in every day life. Our message is to wake that up in people and make them recognize that joy and love can be found everywhere.”
Okay, got it, an Akron/Family live show is the polar opposite to the typical sex, drugs, and rock and roll. “A lot of bands want to be too cool, and kind of standoffish, and that doesn’t make any sense,” says Janssen.
So Akron/Family is the anti-cool? Does that work? “Totally man,” beams Janssen. “I like it!”

Friday, December 18, 2009


Originally published in: The Nerve (Vancouver, BC)

Random thoughts: I don't usually do Q&A style interviews, but when I do I always thoroughly enjoy them. This one was with a vastly underrated punk band from the UK called Snuff. I love reading these old Q&As; they are always a blast (even when they are done by email and aren't particularly thrilling). I plan to hunt around for some more Q&As I've done to prove that I can deliver some really thought-provoking ones. That's my 2010 challenge.



The Nerve recently caught up with Duncan from Snuff. We found him in Japan. What the bloke was doing there, well, no one really knows. Duncan was patient enough to answer my prodding, fan-boy-like questions about the new Snuff double CD on Fat Wreck Chords.

Nerve: Are you happy with how the double CD turned out?
Yes I am happy but, to be honest, the running order I would have used would have been slightly different. This isn’t really a problem, it’s just that everyone had a different idea and this list reflects the songs that got the most votes.
Nerve: Disc two is a bit of a mish-mash. More of a collector's thing, innit?
Yes, really this is for collectors and for fans that may not have certain songs released in different parts of the world.

Nerve: What's your vote for best ever Snuff song?
Duncan: Sorry, but I really can’t answer that one. There have been so many songs over the years I have really enjoyed playing that I can’t really pick just one.

Nerve: Snuff was known for your obscenely loud live shows (I'm still deaf from a show in the early '90s). How did you guys manage to play so bloody loud?
It’s good to play loud live as it feels good onstage, but what the audience hears is down to the soundman, so I guess you should blame him for your deafness.

Nerve: You guys always seemed happier than pigs in shit when playing in Snuff. You ever miss those days?
Yes, I have always enjoyed playing live and I don’t miss it so much as I am currently playing live with my side project, Billy No Mates.

Nerve: Any plans for a Snuff reunion? Fuckin' please?
Right now Snuff is sleeping and there are no plans to tour or record right now, but I`m sure one of these mornings the alarm bell will ring and we will be off again.

-Jason Schreurs

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Originally published in: Chord Magazine

Random thoughts: A really good band who I remember being excited to interview, just on the basis that their music was so interesting and it wasn't another Warped Tour interview (this was around the same time I was interviewing multiple Warped Tour bands for Chord.... uggh).

These Arms Are Snakes
A different kind of Easter

By Jason Schreurs

One of the most noticeable things on Easter, the latest from Seattle art-noise rockers These Arms Are Snakes, is the expansive guitar work of Ryan Frederiksen. He’s a bit of a guitar god on this, their second album, with an impressive array of solos, crazy noise sections, and melodic interludes.
“Um,” chuckles Frederiksen, “thanks… I think. I made a conscious effort to not do the exact same things I did last time. It was important for all of us not to rewrite [2004’s] Oxeneers. We got to demo a lot of this record and it enabled us to take a step back and decide what worked and what didn’t. As a result I got to think about my guitar parts a lot more.”
Another big difference on Easter is the variation among the 12 songs. Oxeneers felt a little samey, but this one is all over the place in sonic experimentation.
“It was way more thought out,” explains Frederiksen. “We made a conscious effort to slow some parts down here and there, and we tried to make it as varied as possible, whereas Oxeneers was all go, all the time.”
It helped that the band had a new recruit within their ranks. Drummer Chris Common joined Frederiksen, vocalist Steve Snere (ex-Killsadie), and bassist Brian Cook (ex-Botch), bringing more than just his drum sticks into the studio. Turns out the band not only landed a new member, but also a worthy producer. Common and his new band teamed up to record the album in Seattle at Red Room Recording.
“We had a lot more time with this record and actually having a real drummer this time around, when we didn’t before, we were able to say, ‘Well, this record seems to be lacking this sort of song… maybe a little breather here. We should consciously explore that and write something.’ It was just a little more prepared when we went into the studio to actually record it.”
While past fill-in drummers included Minus the Bear’s Erin Tate and ex-Harkonen dude Ben Verellen, These Arms Are Snakes are excited to finally have a permanent skin-beater, especially one of Common’s caliber.
“He’s a phenomenal fucking drummer,” gushes Frederiksen. “He has insane technical ability and he’s able to really wrap his head around a part. He brings tons of ideas to the table without being too over the top. It’s a perfect fit.”
Despite the changes, fans of These Arms Are Snakes can still expect angular, challenging arrangements and piercing Snere screams. Another thing intact is that eerie feeling given off by the classic albums by Chicago noise rock purveyors The Jesus Lizard. We’re not talking copycat at all; just a similar sound and vibe.
“I loooove The Jesus Lizard and that definitely comes through in my playing,” confirms Frederiksen. “Yeah, I’ve always loved that band, and continue to love that band.”
A deep admiration of such a monumental band is one thing, but it must be a little difficult being constantly compared to other bands, especially considering These Arms Are Snakes are still creating a sound very much their own.
“It’s an honor, but we do have our own thing going on, so I don’t think about it too much. Obviously The Jesus Lizard have a big place in my heart musically, but I also have a huge hole in my heart for bands like Doves, who I try to take a similar approach to. It’s not like we sit there and figure out how to play their songs and then say, ‘Alright, let’s change one note and then it won’t be us ripping it off,’” laughs Frederiksen. “We just try to take similar approaches and ideas to songs, and then apply our own ideas to them.”
Being part of the Seattle scene is something the band relishes, with many great bands currently coming out of a town notorious for its music over the years.
“It’s definitely a great place right now for music. It’s flourishing,” says Frederiksen. “It became dormant there for awhile, no bands were really doing much of anything, and it sucks that we lost bands like Botch and Murder City Devils. But so many bands just popped up out of those ashes, and more and more people started moving to Seattle.”
One band in particular has always shared a kinship with These Arms Are Snakes, and that’s Minus the Bear. Members of the two bands are the best of friends.
“We’ve all shared bands with them in the past. It’s good to be lumped in with those guys. It’s an honor because those guys are all awesome.”
But are the feelings mutual?
“Um,” laughs Frederiksen, “well, you’d have to ask them…”

Friday, November 20, 2009


Originally published in: Chord Magazine, Caustic Truths, ??

Random thoughts: I had a complete obsession with this Philadelphia hardcore band for a few months after Paradise came out (okay, the obsession never really stopped) and ended up writing about them three times in a very short span. For the life of me, I can't remember which of these stories printed where, but I do remember a long, intense conversation with Dan Yemin in my laundry room as I fumbled with my backup tape recorder because we played phone tag and I had to the interview from home instead of my office. Still, despite the tech difficulties, it was rad to talk to the dude!

Momma Yemin knows best

By Jason Schreurs

Paradise, the second album by Philadelphia hardcore band Paint It Black, is pretty much the polar opposite of their 2003 debut, CVA. Featuring lead vocals by ex-Kid Dynamite/Lifetime guitarist Dan Yemin, not only are Paint It Black’s new songs more developed and memorable, the messages are more hopeful, refining Yemin’s blistering condemnations on CVA into powerful rallying anthems on Paradise. And, according to the 30-something Yemin, the change is due in part to his mom.

“When my mom got the last record she was really upset. She said, ‘Do you really feel that everything is this dismal? Where’s the hope?’ And I hadn’t realized that the last record sounded so hopeless until she pointed it out. That shook me up a little bit. If you ask me on any given day, ‘Do you feel hopeless?’ the answer would be no. And I certainly didn’t mean to impart that on the first record, I feel like it was an accidental thing.”
So it took Yemin’s mom to set him straight on the lyrical path to Paradise?
“Absolutely, it took mom to remind me that there had to be room for hope, and it had to be somewhat more explicit. Just because you are hopeful doesn’t mean it’s coming across in the music.”
Explicit hope (for a seemingly hopeless world) is actually a perfect way to describe the ironically titled Paradise, which is a return to the positive energy perfected by the classic DC-punk bands (Faith, Minor Threat, Embrace, Rites of Spring, etc.), but also the kind of hardcore record that definitely isn’t generic or useless in 2005. In other words, although it is a personal and political record, this ain’t no “stabbed me in the back,” “fuck the world” batch of songs.
“I feel like it’s really self-indulgent to just wallow in darkness and negativity,” explains Yemin. “Yeah, things are fucked up, but then to embrace despair and use that as a way to justify nihilism is a cop-out.”
When Yemin’s previous band, the dynamic and vastly popular Philly act Kid Dynamite, fell apart in their positive hardcore prime in 1999, Yemin stepped away from the scene to pursue a career in psychology.
He was living a normal, 9-5 type life when, out of nowhere, he suffered a severe stroke and admitted himself to the hospital. After a full recovery, Yemin realized how much he missed being in a hardcore band and how important it was to his life.
He quickly grabbed a microphone and notepad and Paint It Black was born. So, nearly four years after a near-death experience, how’s he feeling?
“I got really lucky,” says Yemin. “I had no permanent damage from the stroke. I take blood thinners so I don’t have any more clots but, in terms of my activity, I still work out five days a week, I ride my bike everywhere, and I lift weights. And obviously I run around screaming at the top of my lungs [at live shows], and running into the walls, and running into other people, and that sort of thing. I’m pretty active, pretty hyperactive in a lot of ways, and I didn’t have to sacrifice anything.”
These days Yemin carefully balances his career and band, something he was never able to do while on extensive tours with Lifetime and Kid Dynamite. So does he consider Paint It Black a project that he can just put as much time as he can spare into?
“I don’t want to call it a project,” insists Yemin, “because we definitely tour, but we just have to do it in short bursts. I work for myself, so I can leave when I want to leave, but I can’t leave for long periods of time.”
Which kinda works out well for the other members of the band –- drummer David Wagenschutz (who also drummed in Kid Dynamite), bassist Andy Nelson, and new guitarist Colin McGinniss (ex-guitarist Dave Hause left to form Hot Water Music clones The Loved Ones) --- especially Wagenschutz who is also busy keeping the beat in Good Riddance and None More Black. Coincidentally, None More Black was formed by another ex-Kid Dynamite member, singer Jason Shevchuck.
But back to Paint It Black and Yemin’s rejuvenated love for writing and playing music. It’s a hard one to ask, but one last, important question looms. If he didn’t have that stroke, would he even be singing in a hardcore band right now?
“Who knows what would have happened if I didn’t have the stroke,” he answers. “It puts things in perspective and the awareness of your mortality is always kind of there in your peripheral vision.”
Paradise drops Mar. 8 on Jade Tree Records and, if they know what’s good for them, hardcore fans best line up for a copy of this one. Check for mp3 samples, gig info, and more.

Paint It Black
Finding Paradise

By Jason Schreurs

It’s already being heralded as the best hardcore CD in recent memory (and not just by me), so how was Paint It Black singer Dan Yemin feeling when he put the amazing new album, Paradise, to bed?
“You’re kind of filled with doubt,” remembers Yemin. “I felt great about the songs, but we took a lot of risks and it wasn’t obvious how it was going to come together until it was all mixed. But when we started mixing, I knew it was golden. I haven’t been this excited about something I’ve worked on since Lifetime’s Hello Bastards.”
The ex-member of Lifetime and Kid Dynamite has always been involved in uncompromising hardcore bands, and his latest mixes old school sensibilities with a post-hardcore melody and vibrancy. CVA, Paint It Black’s 2003 debut, stuck to the tried and true, but Paradise is “a whole different animal,” says Yemin, with a sound that sticks out in today’s watered-down hardcore scene.
“To be honest, I’m almost considering just giving up on that word hardcore altogether, because it’s come to be associated with so many things I find limiting and disgusting,” says Yemin.

“Maybe let the fashion police and the metal people have the word hardcore and we can think of something else to call it. It’s aggressive, interesting, and political music, and there’s no place for that in what people are calling hardcore these days.”
When Kid Dynamite broke up in 1999, Yemin decided to leave music and pursue his medical career. But, after a severe stroke, he realized how important being in a band was to him and Paint It Black was born. So, with all that flip-flopping, does Yemin ever second guess his decision to return?
“Not for a minute, no. I think about what my life was missing when I wasn’t playing music and I don’t second guess it at all. Sometimes I second guess how the hell I allowed myself to slip out of it.”

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Originally published in: Chord Magazine

Random thoughts: I barely remember this interview, but I do remember Pall Jenkins being a nice fellow to chat with.

A sad and beautiful world

By Jason Schreurs

One thing you can always count on from Pall Jenkins, leader of The Black Heart Procession, is a detailed explanation of his records. The San Diego collective’s fifth album, The Spell, takes listeners on another desperate yet hopeful journey, one that Jenkins is quick to divulge.
“The common thread is love and war,” begins Jenkins, “the idea of being captivated or feeling like you’re in a spell. You can read this record as a political record, or a love record. The spell is the concept of being helpless and feeling controlled. That’s why The Spell is a very appropriate title for the record; being tangled in things and not being able to move.”
If that sounds like aural punishment, it’s not. Really. The essence of The Black Heart Procession’s sound may be morose, dark, downtrodden… even haunting, but it’s hopefulness that always finds a way to peek through the despair, if only momentarily.
“I think we throw those elements into each one of our records. We look at our music as a journey where you go through a series of emotions and ideas,” explains Jenkins. “With each one of our records it gets really dark—it gets light as well…”
Jenkins hesitates, then adds, “Traditionally we’re not very light, we’re always on the darker side of things.”
The group, which began as the side project of Jenkins and guitarist/piano player Tobias Nathaniel after their other band, Three Mile Pilot, went on an extended hiatus, has swelled into a five-piece with the additions of drummer Joe Plummer (Modest Mouse), bassist Jimmy LaValle, and violinist Matt Resovich (both of The Album Leaf).
Although the songs on The Spell might create the impression that Jenkins and Nathaniel are coming full circle and returning to the style of their previous band, nothing is ever as it seems in the disturbed world of The Black Heart Procession.
In fact, it’s more likely their next album will see more lineup shuffling and a return to the bare minimum sounds of their trilogy of albums, appropriately titled One, Two, and Three, which were probably best known for using the melancholy sounds of a manipulated saw and pieces of sheet metal.
“I think our next record will probably be even more different. This one we wrote on purpose as a full band. I’m curious to see what our next record will be,” muses Jenkins. “Who knows, it might just be back to a two-piece and really eerie. This record we didn’t put the saw on very much because it just didn’t need it, and now I’m kind of itching to go back in this other direction where it’s the saw and all the spooky stuff.”
In the meantime, we have The Spell, an album that once again illustrates how this band’s music seems to come together in a séance of spirits from the musical netherworld. With melodies lurching and stumbling and piano keys echoing, it’s Jenkin’s pensive lyrics that complete the sordid lullabies.
“I try not to fight too hard against my words. I avoid really having to struggle hard to have the perfect lyrics. I just let the song start dictating itself and I’m there as a medium to the song,” says Jenkins.
As songs develop, Jenkins says the lyrics are added at different times, but only when he feels the mood is right. The analogy he makes is to a key unlocking a door, and he extends that analogy to its brink while explaining his unique writing process.
“A lot of it is about being patient and waiting for that time when it dawns on you. With every album and every song there’s a key, and you’re searching for that key and waiting to open the door to the song. Sometimes you have a bunch of keys on a key-ring and you’re trying different things, just to find the right vibe, or mood, or idea. Eventually it starts unfolding and you start opening all the doors and everything comes together.”
The analogies don’t end there. Jenkins also likens the band’s creative process to the making of an elaborate puzzle. “We don’t have a lot of preconceived notions and it’s kind of like making a puzzle. It’s not my fault; we’re just putting the puzzle pieces together,” he laughs. “We just opened this box from Toys R Us and this is the puzzle. Let’s put it together. That’s how I look at it.”
Ask most bands to describe their sound to potential listeners and genre names are usually thrown around, but describing The Black Heart Procession is nearly impossible, even for Jenkins. Luckily, he pulls out the perfect answer.
“I don’t like to think of us as one style of music. I like to look at our music as world music; it’s for the world and made by the world with elements of the world.”