Posted by: Addison – Oct 10, 2012
Since 2004, Worn In Red has consistently churned out material that recalls both the moody post-hardcore of Hoover or Four Hundred Years and the triumphant rock-based approach of Hot Water Music or Planes Mistaken For Stars. Through years of steady touring, the band has refined their approach, evolving more and more with each successive release. Banshees, their second full-length, was just released on No Idea Records in time for a three-week tour. I managed to get in a few questions with drummer Brad Perry and bassist/vocalist Matt Neagle.
You guys started in Charlottesville and now half of you are Richmond-based. How do you feel the two environments compare with each other in terms of nurturing what you do?
Brad: In Charlottesville, we started at the tail end of what was a really awesome scene centered around the Tokyo Rose, which is still there in name but they've gutted it and changed owners. I think our second show was their last show. I used to book there and it was one of those places that people would just come to whether or not they knew the bands. That's awesome, it doesn't happen in every town.
When that died, it became a lot harder to get people to give a shit about loud bands. Most of them broke up except for a few UVA bands scattered here and there. But a few people in town realized that they didn't want to just get old and listen to bluegrass or jam bands, which are the big things in Charlottesville, so all these other bands popped up and we built a cool little scene. This past Saturday night, we played our record release show and almost 150 people came out to support a screamy-ass punk band. And that blows my mind, because that would never have happened when we started. So if you have the right people booking your show, you can have one that's every bit as appreciated as in Richmond.
But Richmond, unlike Charlottesville, where people will come out for a band they know and give a fair chance to any other band that's playing, seems more plugged into, “Oh, this touring band's coming through, I don't care who the local is, I'm just going for the headliner.” That's just the nature of being a bigger city.
Matt: Having more options.
Brad: Having those options forces you to get to know what's up rather than just going to the one loud rock show that happens that month. They both have their strong suits--Charlottesville's got a really tight-knit community of people that will come out and support those bands that have been at it for a while, whereas in Richmond there's so much going on that it's hard to convince people to give a shit, even people who might otherwise like a band.
Matt: I have a lot of old friends too. They're getting too old for it. [affects tired older person voice] “Ah sorry, Big Bang Theory marathon's on.” [laughs] Which I can understand, but they just gotta be reminded that going to a show's awesome.
It took me a minute to figure out whether you were saying “old friends” in the sense of people you've known for a long time who support you or people that are just chronologically advanced.
Brad: [laughs] Well, we're older than most touring punk bands.
Matt: But not that old.
In punk years, you're nearing grandfather age.
Brad: Yeah. I like that I remember some of Richmond's history. Growing up in Fredericksburg, I used to come to shows here and in DC.
Matt: Strange Matter's the only place I still have that's been here since I was a kid. [affects a weepy, maudlin tone] My parents don't live in the same house but I can go back to where Twisters was and that's the only place I have like that. And now they put video games in and shit.
The sound you guys have on your last few recordings reminds me of a lot of mid- to late-90s bands – Maximillian Colby, Four Hundred Years, Hoover, Hot Water Music, that sort of thing. What does that era of music mean to you?
Brad: Growing up in Fredericksburg, I was exposed to whatever DC and Richmond bands played there. Through skate videos I was already into Minor Threat, Black Flag, Descendents--all the basics. Then I heard Fugazi because they're related to Minor Threat. And I heard Avail because they were playing all the time in Virginia back then. But even those bands weren't playing house shows at that point, so seeing Maximillian Colby in somebody's living room, just ending up in a pile on top of each other, I thought it was fucking insane. Dumb as it might sound to people who are more learned about bands, because I know there were plenty of bands doing that before them, [but] that was the band that opened my eyes to that kind of stuff. It sort of re-invented punk for me and opened up my eyes to a whole slew of bands. And Hot Water Music, seeing them play basements when I was in school in Harrisonburg was the same thing. That you can have a melodic punk band that isn't poppy. You don't have to be the Queers to still have melody and to have--I hate to use the term because it's so loaded--an emotional element.
Matt: I think they're calling it emo these days, Brad. [laughs]
Brad: I just happened to be the right age to catch that stuff when it was around. Going to school in Harrisonburg in the mid- to late-90s, that was the shit there. And, as uncool as this will sound in our message board generation, there was a real sincerity to those bands. They were singing about things that mattered to them. In retrospect some of it might seem stilted, but it felt real to everyone who was there when it was blowing up. And that's something indelible. I've never connected with anything since then on the same level.
Matt: It comes in waves. When you're nineteen or twenty you're full of emotions anyways. I remember seeing, cheesy as it is to admit, Jimmy Eat World and thinking that shit was awesome. Or Converge, people piling up and screaming their asses off. [feigns crying, voice cracking] It was fucking awesome.
You're really helping your emo credibility there.
Matt: There was an interview with one of my old bands that said “Matt Neagle, Moby of emo.” [laughs]
You look more like Moby and Ambrose Burnside mixed together. Confederate Moby.
Brad: That's the next band I'm starting. Fife and drum techno.
So your newest album seems a little more uptempo and rock-oriented than your previous work. What motivated the shift in tone?
Brad: It's more fun to play that stuff live.
Matt: Those were also the first songs that the four of us wrote all together.
Brad: The album before this had some songs that were written before Matt was in the band, so this is the first collection of songs that were written by all of us.
Matt: Most of these songs were also developed playing live. We toured across the country with them before recording them, I've never gotten to do that.
How has the songwriting approach evolved since Matt's been in the band?
Matt: The guitars, man. Joe and Brendan come in with these riffs and Brad and I, since we're five years into it, knock it out. That's the great thing about being so familiar, you know what everybody wants.
Brad: And we've had songs just come out of screwing around at the beginning of practice. I know that's not revolutionary or anything.
Matt: [assuming the gravelly voice of an aging rocker dude] I mean, it's like the music gods were talkin' man.
Brad: But I don't think the way we approach songwriting is vastly different from most other punk or hardcore bands.
Matt: It just took us a long time to figure out that we just need to let the guitarists write the songs.
Brad: I will say that we're more picky than any band I've ever played with. We'll dick around with a part for months. We don't just throw shit out there, everybody has to be one hundred percent on board.
Matt: I even had some lyrics for one of the songs on the record that were really bad. I hadn't shown 'em to anybody, just been doing them on my four-track. It was kinda Mike Patton-ish but really bad.
Brad: You mean there's good Mike Patton?
Matt: I couldn't tell if it was actually bad. I just had to ask somebody.
Brad: So we told him. [laughs]
Your new album is the second you've done on No Idea Records. I know that's a big selling point for a lot of bands, and have seen the logo on your flyers before. What does that label mean to you?
Matt: I feel like No Idea's one of the only really punk labels still around. None of the bands are getting money for putting records out. You have to pay for the recording, but they put it out and it helps a band tour.
Brad: I've always called it the Dischord of the South. Same model – handshake arrangements. If you don't want to get into the business side of things, you better trust each other. It's pretty rad for a label that's where they are, which is a decent level. Since the downfall of ILC/ILD, they've become a pretty massive distribution base. They've been at it for over twenty-five years and it's pretty rare for a label to have sustained itself at that level through all the ups and downs and the bullshit. We love them as people and a lot of the bands they've put out.
Matt: [feigns getting choked up]
You had been a band for a half-decade before putting out a full-length. How did that extended gestation affect how you developed?
Brad: We actually had recorded a full-length with our old lineup which will never, ever be heard. [laughs] If you've ever been in a band where you didn't have a PA and the first time you ever really heard the vocals was when they were recorded, you suddenly realize, “Oh my God, what the fuck is going on?” That was what happened. I don't know how it affected things, other than [the fact] that I had a chance to get better at drums before anybody could hear me recorded. This was the first band I've played drums in, so that was helpful. Because studio nerves exist.
Also, all the earlier stuff that nobody really has ever heard or will ever hear was stuff that Joe wrote before this was even a band, done in the style of X or Y band. And the songs were good, but they definitely sounded like those other bands. So by the time we put something out with the real Worn In Red lineup, we were able to do stuff that was more indicative of what we were trying to accomplish.
Matt: It was a rock opera. [laughs]
Brad: I prefer to think of it as a smooth jazz movement in B.
Matt: [whispering dramatically] Sketches Of Richmond.
Brad: Neagle's Brew.
One thing that was mentioned earlier was that in punk years you guys are practically grandparents. With that adulthood usually comes certain responsibilities, employment-wise. How do your respective work situations inform and accommodate what you do as musicians?
Brad: Up until recently, we toured in the winter months a lot because Matt runs a food cart downtown and doesn't work in the winter. So that's just one less person that has to ask off work. I'm back in school now, but my old job was pretty flexible about when I could get off. Brendan works for himself doing web design and Joe works in a restaurant, so it didn't really matter much, it wasn't seasonal. As far as what we do, I feel like Matt's job probably informs a lot of the lyrics.
Matt: Yeah, I work across the street from Cooch [Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli], I see him roll down with his entourage. And I've gotten to know some of his employees and they can be fucking awesome. One's a metalhead, it's kinda cool. But you see both sides. It's weird knowing that there are cool Republicans.
Brad: Up until recently I was doing work on sexual and domestic violence issues. I saw and heard enough doing that kind of work that it kept me wanting to listen to loud, cathartic music.
Matt: A lot of the songs on the new one were inspired by interactions I had during the whole Occupy movement. I'd have these guys come up to my cart and I'd take their order and they'd just start in on “you know what I want to do is just take my SUV and run right over those guys.” And when I explained those were my friends they'd just move on to, “Oh, can I just get some chicken salad?” It enraged me, but there's a couple songs about how the Occupy movement really did inspire me, just how ordinary people could go after what's really wrong, the banks and all that.
Brad: Which you also are working right next to.
Matt: In the shadow of Suntrust.
What have been some high points of the band's existence so far?
Brad: Getting to tour Europe.
Matt: Bunch of the Fests [The Fest is a yearly punk festival held in Gainesville, FL].
Brad: Especially the year we played there when our first record came out. We played a 3 A.M. post-Fest show and I didn't think anybody was going to be awake at that point, but we had a big group of people come out who went apeshit and gave it the last little bit that they had.
Where do you see Worn In Red heading?
Brad: I think Guy Fieri said it best...
Brad: …we're on a one-way bus to flavor town. [laughs]
Matt: We'll just keep writing. We've got the right people to play and write songs.
Brad: We're all such good friends, I don't foresee anything standing in the way. If we have to take time off, so be it. It's not like when you're in your twenties and you have some problems and immediately resort to, “Ah fuck it, the band's done.” I always want to play with these dudes. We leave for tour in forty-eight hours. After that, I don't know. We always have short-term goals, if you could even call them goals at all. Just write more songs and try to get people to hear them.
Interview by Graham Scala, Live Photos by Dave Klingthing