The multi-platinum guitarist (and friend of Rock Sound) reflects on his journey from hand-made demos to arenas and back again.
Photo credit: Julian Gilbert
Many of you may know me as the furthest thing from "do it yourself". Whether it's through Fall Out Boy or via The Damned Things, you'd probably assume I've had a lot of serious outside help pushing my bands and projects to get the most exposure possible. And for the most part, that's been true for a very long time.
As of 2011, near the tail end of touring with The Damned Things, Josh Newton (ex-ETID, Shiner, The Damned Things, Season To Risk etc etc etcetera!) and I began working on a project of his called With Knives. As it solidified into a band, we seemed to gravitate towards the idea that we wanted to make sure the essence of this band wasn't tainted by outside sources such as the grimy hands of certain record labels. It happens all the time, and can adversely effect the outcome our your art.
So we decided to put 'Schadenfreude', the first With Knives release, out ourselves. It's been over a decade since I released anything myself, booked my own band, made my own shitty merch, and basically ran everything by my lonesome (or at least by the band's lonesome selves). For Josh, it's probably been longer. He's like 1000 years old.
My last point of reference for DIY was everything I used to do at the incarnation of Fall Out Boy. Harkening back to my FOB DIY origins are probably something of folklore to many of you. The idea that we did things ourselves and nobody gave a shit may seem preposterous. Tis true, alas.
I remember recording eight-track demos in our old drummer Ben's basement at his parent's house. They were so so so bad. We would go to the 'local' copy shop (Kinkos) and copy these truly terrible handmade liner notes for the tapes. I probably sold some of them out of a pillow case at school. And NO ONE cared less about my band than people I went to school with.
From there we took it to the 'next level', or 'to the limit', and burned the same terrible tapes to CD. I don't even know how transferred that stuff to be honest. Regardless, we had external CD burners that were ultra slow and half the time the CD never burnt properly. We then bought sleeves at some crappy computer store and did the same rigamarole of making tons of copies of liner notes, cutting them out by hand, and probably giving more away then we could sell.
I remember one time for Valentine's Day we bought pink and red construction paper and made heart shaped CD sleeves that we hand numbered and sold at one of our shows. How cute, right? If I could properly explain the amount of work we put in versus the amount of shits no one gave it'd probably make you not want to do your crappy band anymore (all of our bands are crappy by the way, even the good ones, so don't take it too hard).
And then went the other labors we had to endure on our own: make, print and hand out our own fliers for shows, design and print our own merch, borrow parent's cars to get to shows until we could afford a $1500 'rape van', wheat paste our own promotional posters around Chicago in the coldest of winters, book our own unsold out/unattended tour across the country (with Spitalfield actually, who we did one of our first UK tours with). There's so much more I'm missing, probably because I've had no coffee and this Ty Segall record I'm listening to right now is shaking my skull to bits.
Regardless, I now need to reference this stuff when doing With Knives. It worked before, somehow. So we'll put this EP out on a label. But it's OUR label. All that means is we made up a name for it and made a logo and slapped it somewhere near the record. We fund it ourselves. Just like the old days. We've been bugging promoters to get shows. Just like the old days. We made our own album art/layout, have been designing our own merch and hauling around our gear in several cars for now. Just like the old days. I think the only thing that isn't like 'the old days' is the amount of social networking and the importance of utilizing it to promote your band. I can't tell if it makes things easier or harder. I'd lean towards harder considering that regardless of who we are/were, we're vying against all the other bands on Facebook for your momentary attention.
Doing almost everything ourselves is a crazy wake up call. It's the coldest of showers, the prickliest of pears, the smelliest of dog farts. In all seriousness, it makes me fully realise what I've always known: it doesn't matter what I've done, it matters what I'm doing now and whether or not I'm willing to drudge through the thick of it to make it work out. Like I said, it worked before, somehow. I thought I'd never forget how hard it is to do a band with literally no help, from the ground up. At the same time, I'm thriving off it. Hey, maybe one day I'll be discovered?