Punknews 2009 Interview
Here’s an interview for Punknews from 2009. Check it out below, or on their site.
With their inaugural release on Fat Wreck Chords, Collapser, available today, Nick and Nate from Minneapolis’ Banner Pilot spoke with Punknews’ Zack Zeigler regarding the differences betweenCollapser and their last release, Resignation Day, how comments – both positive and negative – from Punksnews’ readers can actually make a difference in the band and the steps Banner Pilot takes to ensure the production of their records don’t fall into the “mall-punk” category.
There are high hopes for your first Fat Wreck Chords’ release; did you feel the pressure during the writing or production of Collapser?
Nate: You know, not really. 99 percent of the writing took place before we signed, and the actual recording process was pretty laid back and fun. I feel like we really prepared for the recording and had everything written and ready to go, so there wasn’t a lot of pressure or stress. We knew we could play the songs and didn’t need to write a ton of parts on the fly or anything.
I guess the first couple days were a little stressful because we thought we’d be banging out four or five songs a day and that didn’t happen. But once we adjusted to the pace of a couple songs a day and accepted the fact that we’d have to book extra days, it was a blast.
It’s interesting though, I guess if we had signed *before* writing any of the songs it would have been a little different. I think there might have been more second-guessing going on while we were working on the songs. As it was, Fat had heard demos for 11 of the 12 songs before we even went into the studio, so there wasn’t the worry of handing the album in and them being like “Oh shit, we didn’t know that you guys totally suck.”
Sometimes punk music all sounds the same, so what will help separate Collapser from slipping into that category?
Nate: I think the fact that we distort our guitars and have gruff vocals should set us apart. Nah, I don’t know. In some ways I don’t think it’ll happen. I think, for example, that if you walked into a nursing home with a boombox and played Simple Plan and then Banner Pilot, you’d have a ton of old people yelling at you to turn it off, you’re waking up the dead, it all sounds the same, etc. You just have to do your best and hope that someone who is actually into punk music will notice any differences.
Nick: Yep – a guy I work with told me we sound just like the Offspring on numerous occasions. Who am I to argue? I usually just tell non-punk fans who ask that we sound kinda like the Ramones or Green Day.
Nate: Also, we definitely didn’t have an attitude of “we need to stand out and be different” with the record. That sort of mindset can lead to weird places where you’re forcing things – “Hey, let’s add…. a… flute?” – into your songs. You should just figure out what you can pull off and try to get really good at it.
Why is Banner Pilot getting popular? No disrespect in the question, but there are bands that never have or never will achieve the same success as you guys. So what makes your band different? Is it your work ethic? The personalities in the band? Do you all have the same goals? Or are you just that good?
Nick: How dare you, sir.
Nate: Well, this isn’t false modesty, but we’re really not that popular. To the extent that there’s some people out there who have heard our band and like it, I guess some of that might be because we do spend a fair amount of time on the songs. For every 50 song ideas I write on my computer at home, we’ll end up using five or six. And I think if we had the mindset of “the first twelve songs we come up with, there’s our album,” less people would like our band than do now.
There’s a line that punk rock fans sometimes obsess over when it comes to an album’s production. How do you guys decide if it’s too much or too little? Did you run into that at all with Collapser? Who – if anyone outside of the band – do you lean on for advice on that?
Nate: It’s definitely something we try to give a lot of attention to. Usually we start by playing the engineer records we like the sound of so they know off the bat what we’re shooting for. Then you kind of sit back a little and trust that the engineer knows what they’re doing, but still pipe up if it seems like something isn’t quite coming together. I think it worked – I’m really, really happy with how Collapser ended up sounding. I do think if we had pushed it too much further it would have bordered on over-produced, but as-is I really like where it’s at.
Of course, there’s also a difference between “really good” and “overproduced.” For example, none of the major label Green Day albums are overproduced; they’re all just really well-recorded. Whereas some of the mall-punk shit is comically overproduced. I like to think we wouldn’t ever end up with something that’s overproduced, even if we had some crazy budget, because none of us like how that shit sounds. I think other bands might aim for it. I mean, I’m guessing a band called something like Autumn’s Fall *wants* to sound like overproduced crap; we don’t, so it’s not that difficult to avoid, even if we had the means to accomplish it.
(Note: I have no idea if there is actually a band called Autumn’s Fall. But if there is, they must suck)
Nick: We definitely wanted to up the production for this record. I wasn’t really happy with the sound on Resignation Day – I kept thinking shit would improve dramatically in mastering but it didn’t work out that way – I came home with my copy and played it alongside songs by bands like the Copyrights and D4 and thought, “Fuck, this is too high-end.” Off With Their Heads’ From the Bottom sounded awesome, and that was recorded by Jacques Wait, who also had done Soviettes’ records (and Dear Landlord this spring). We asked him to record it and basically trusted him to make it sweet. I’m totally stoked on how it turned out.
Do you ever check out the comments on Punknews.org in response to any news about you guys? Do you even care?
Nate: Yeah, I definitely check out the comments; it’s fun to hear feedback on stuff. If someone doesn’t like something, and it’s useful criticism, I’ll keep it in mind for later. With the last album a fair amount of people said the songs sounded too similar, so when I was writing the basic ideas for the songs on this album I tried to force myself to try some new things. So getting that kind of feedback was useful.
On the other hand, if the criticism is “blows. new Thrice album fuckin’ owns this wussy girl music crap”, then…. I mean, that’s cool, you know? It’s worth a shrug or a grin and that’s about it. You’ll never have *everyone* liking something you do. And the other thing is, it’s just music. No one is going to be harmed by your record. If Banner Pilot, instead of making punk records, made pacemakers, I would be totally freaked out if people were like “ugh, these suck.”
Nick: I read the comments, but focus on those by posters with great musical taste like Scarysmurf, nocigar and 14theroad. I remember reading Dan Vapid say he never reads Methadones reviews, but I can’t help myself. Because of that, I’ve also seen such gems as “this CD was so wussy I gave it to my girlfriend” and “Banner Pilot would do better as a punk rock cover band.”
Is the goal as a band to stay the course, keep doing what you’re doing (because it seems to be working out well for you), or are you guys trying to find ways to explore new things?
Nate: One thing bands always run into is whether they should stick to what they know or try new things. Think about how often you see arcs like this:
1. Band X releases a well-received album. It introduces the “Band X Sound”
2. Band X releases a followup. It sounds basically like the first album but it’s not as good.
3. Stung by criticism that they’re a one trick pony, Band X releases a new album, saying “We want to expand our horizons and explore new sonic soundscapes. We don’t want to be restricted by tired old formulas. We’re breaking new ground. Keyboards are sweet now. Blah blah”. Their new album sounds totally different. It also sucks.
4. Band X says “We’re going back to basics. We don’t want to forget our roots. Longtime fans are in for some of the original fury that made Band X shatter preconceived notions of the human experience blah blah blah”
I mean, that happens all the time. So you have to try find the middle ground of not losing why people liked you in the first place, but also not falling into a rut. Finding that sweet spot is tough; not many bands pull it off.
I’d say that Jawbreaker and Against Me are great examples of pulling it off – each of their albums sounds different, but not in a forced way. And even though I like 24 Hour Revenge Therapy the most, I think I’d like Jawbreaker less if instead of releasing what they did, they just released four 24 Hour clones and Unfun/Bivouac/Dear You never existed. Superchunk and Sleater Kinney are two other examples of bands that pulled it off well.
Nick: I feel like we’re just getting better at we do, which is pop-punk, and I’m happy with that – that’s the music I love. On Collapser, we definitely did try to do some new stuff, more mid-tempo like “Starting at an Ending” and “Write it Down” which I was originally thinking could be acoustic when I wrote it. We may still try to cash in on the folk-punk wave though.
Sometimes, the better you become as a band, the more people like to try to tear you down. Is that happening to Banner Pilot? Is that from jealousy? Does that affect you?
Nate: Uh, I guess I haven’t noticed anyone trying to tear us down. Is that happening? Are there people out there trying to destroy us? I’m picturing some guy watching us through a monitor, stroking a cat and saying “Soon, my pretty.”
Nah, I dunno – I guess I haven’t really seen/heard that. If it’s people who are basically just like “We don’t like your band”, then who cares? I suppose something like what Against Me went through would bother me, but that’s not going to happen to a band of our size.
You’re playing The Fest this year. Any bands you want to see that you’ve never seen?
Nate: I need to sit down and go through all the bands on the website. Last year I did that and made a point of seeing as many new bands as possible. It was great. I stumbled on all sorts of great sets from bands I never knew of beforehand.
Nick: 7 Seconds! I played the shit out of The Crew back in high school. Other bands that I don’t see that often that I’ll make a point to check out include Bridge and Tunnel, Lemuria, Monikers, Dopamines, Menzingers and Toys that Kill.
Do you prefer playing festivals or shows? Are the short sets at festivals a positive or a negative draw for Banner Pilot? Or does it not matter as long as you’re playing to a crowd?
Nate: If it’s a fest against a single show, then I prefer a fest, no question. Tons of bands, including bands you don’t usually see live, a bunch of friends from across the country in one place… it’s great! If you’re comparing a fest to a tour, then you have plusses and minuses. Tours have more variety to them, and you have the bonus of being able to check out a new city each day.
But even then, I guess I prefer fests. They’re a lot of fun.
What’s wrong with a band that makes money? It seems, sometimes, that once a band starts to cash-in from their hard work – even without taking any short cuts – there are still ignorant fans that can’t wait to lump that band in with people who take the easy route. What’s up with that?
Nate: There’s nothing wrong with a band making money. Well, if it’s like “Hey, check out it out, Autumn’s Fall has teamed up with Vault soda to quench your thirst in a totally kickass way. Buy their new album Carbonate and get a coupon inside for free ringtones and a 20-oz. soda”, then it’s pretty fucking stupid. But in general, if you’re mad that a band has worked hard enough where they’re able to make some money off of what they do, then you are pretty stupid and spend your time getting worked up about ridiculous things.
Nick: Yep – in my opinion it just shouldn’t be what’s driving you. If you’re changing your music and image to make money, your shit isn’t from the heart and I don’t want to hear it. “Guys, my analysis shows that through the application of eye-liner we can boost sales by five percent” – Sorry, ya lost me.
Which three bands would you like to be mentioned in the same breath with? Which three would you consider an honor to be compared to when your career playing music is over?
Nate: Jawbreaker, Lawrence Arms, and Screeching Weasel would be cool. Those are all bands I’ve liked a lot over the years, and bands that I think kids will still be getting into for years to come.
Nick: Sounds right to me!