By Carl C. Sundberg
Ben Weasel is best known as the frontman and guitarist of veteran Chicago punk band Screeching Weasel, which has been active on and off since 1986. He’s also the guitarist and frontman of The Riverdales, another Chicago punk that entered the scene in the mid 90s.
The Riverdales recently released their fourth studio album, Invasion USA, their first in six years, featuring songs based on old science fiction movies. On top of this, Weasel became a brand new father of twin girls and is currently reforming Screeching Weasel with original member Dan Vapid.
We spoke with him about being a new father, his plans with The Rivedrdales and Screeching Weasel and the state of punk rock music.
Q: You are a busy man…
A:Yeah, lately. I have a tendency to take on more than I ought to, which I’ve gotten a little bit better at, but with the kids arriving, that’s more than a handful right there.
Q: Congratulations, are they taking after their dad a little bit, or can you tell yet?
A: They’re farting a lot, so I guess they’re taking after their dad. No they’re actually very surprisingly well behaved. They only cry when they need something. I was prepared for the worst - a lot of crying, but they eat a little, cry and eat a little more, but other than that they’ve been pretty easy to deal with. The only real issue is that there’s two of them. As easy as it is to deal with, it’s still a lot of work.
Q: That’s gotta be hectic, as a musician, isn’t it difficult to do the family thing?
A: It would have been years ago, but at this point, naaa…the only real issue is the financial instability of this line of work. But that’s gonna be an issue no matter what, I’m gonna have bills to pay, I’m gonna have to hustle and do whatever I can to earn a living. Logistically it’s a bit more challenging to figure out how to schedule rehearsals, demo sessions, recording, all that kind of stuff but we’re gonna figure it out as we go. I have some gigs coming up in the fall and winter, but we’re gonna do what we can to make sure they’re looked after and I can still work. It’s challenging, sure. But it’s always something.
Q: With the gigs are you referring to The Riverdales or Screeching Weasel?
A: Both. We’re doing Riotfest in Chicago in October with Screeching Weasel and then after the New Year we’re doing a Riverdale’s gig in Chicago as well, probably in January. I would actually like to do more Riverdale’s gigs than we’re probably really able to do, but the band’s just not popular enough to justify flying and touring. It’s just out of the question. I mean, touring is what caused the band to breakup in the 90s, so we’re not going down that road again.
Q: The Riverdales have a new album out, Invasion USA, the fourth album, what is this disc about?
A: We wrote from titles primarily from old movies that had been lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000, which a long time ago I wrote for this fanzine and I was recommended this show by Jonny Ramone when I interviewed him, and up until then I had not been interested in this show, I thought it was dumb, and he said, ‘no you gotta see it, it’s funny, you gotta see it’ so I started watching it and so it was Jonny Ramone’s recommendation that got me into it and I’ve been a fan for a long time, so I thought it would be fun to write about. Vapid, who writes most of the songs, was a little bit wary of doing the band again, he thought there’s a lot of bands doing a similar thing now, where there weren’t so many when we were active in the 90s. He thought it was a bit played out. My argument was that we’re a lot better at it than most of these bands doing it. We’re better songwriters so I suggested a bunch of titles that we should write songs based off these titles and that did the trick He came up with a really great batch of songs and it was a lot of fun. It was a good experience and we’re looking forward to doing the follow-up.
Q: You’re looked at by a lot of people as being a very knowledgeable person on the scene, what do you think about the state of punk rock in this day and age?
A: I think it’s as bad as it’s ever been. It’s never been good as far as I can recall. It’s silly. The fans don’t realize…there’s something about punk rock in particular as opposed to most genres of music, punk is absolutely married to the idea of presenting this genuine image, down to earth, no bullshit, and the irony is that it’s totally bullshit. Nothing but complete fake ass bullshit. From A to Z, with these bands. And most of the fans don’t realize, and they probably don’t want to realize this, but the pettiness, the competition, the backstabbing, the gossip and the drama in the world of punk rock is unfuckingbelievable. I think that a lot of bands feel the need to sort of present a different picture to the world, but its very ugly. Very ugly. Being a musician, I’m aware of that side of it, which I’ve always found repulsive, I’ve never played well with others. I don’t have a lot of musician friends, I don’t like musicians. In fact I think they’re all self-involved little crybabies. But as far as the music goes, there’s always some idiotic, moronic trend and usually the most popular bands, at any given moment are not gonna be remembered in ten years. And probably the most obnoxious trend is this dog-barking cadence-core stuff that just could not exist without the Dillinger Four and Toys That Kill. It’s this fucking gang-filled razor cake beard bike-riding fucking horseshit. These guys can’t write a fucking tune, it’s all about chanting, there’s something vaguely fascist about the tone they take. It’s like every song has to be this rousing fucking anthem to get people’s fists pumping. And of course what goes along with that is this faux-irreverence, like ‘we don’t give a shit’ and I’m here to tell you, those people give a shit more than anybody. They oughtta fucking all get fucking tattoos on their foreheads saying ‘please like us’. It’s desperate, it’s shamefully unoriginal and lacking in any kind of character, it’s just cookie-cutter fucking bullshit. People who were into punk would look at mainstream pop and criticize it because it was all the same, well the same thing happens in punk. That’s what you’re seeing with all these Dillinger Four copy bands. It’s people who are just scared to death to do anything that goes outside the boundaries of what is safe in punk. People who didn’t fit in in high school and who desperately want to fit in in punk rock are scared to death that somebody might not think they’re cool so they just do whatever everyone else is doing and that’s how you end up with people doing idiotic shit like putting PBR labels on records and t-shirts glorifying fucking drinking, it might as well be a frat party with funny haircuts. The thing that I got into about punk was that I saw it as, more than anything else, was I saw it as a vehicle to take my own perspective and basically put it to music and create something else, whether people liked it or not, it didn’t matter to me as much. But out of the gate, I copied bands too much and I was learning how to write a song, learning how to be in a band, and when we started out, we had a bit more success than bands usually do because we did a demo tape and within 6 months of going out and playing we had gotten signed to a local label. Most bands were doing EPs, multiple demos. We went from demo to album. The unfortunate part of that was I wasn’t really ready to do an album, so it was very bad, it was very derivative of everything, but the thing I was concerned about, and it became easier to as I did it more, was expressing myself, my personality, basically putting my world view up on stage and on a record set to music, for better or worse. If people liked it or didn’t like it, it wasn’t as important to me as it was that I was doing something honest. I’m not patting myself on the back, I’m just saying there’s a big difference between what I do and what guys like Joe King do and what the Ramones did versus what most of what these fucking shitty bands are doing today. Don’t get me wrong; it was the same five years ago as it was five years ago before that. Most punk bands suck. Most bands are taking the safe route. And they always will. The thing that I’m proud that I’ve done over the years is I never tried to get involved in these in-crowds, these cliques. I never gave a fuck. I’m not friends with them. Outside of my band, the only real musician friend I have is Joe King from the Queers; everybody else can go fuck themselves. I don’t want them to think I’m cool. I don’t give a fuck. To me, that’s not what this was ever about. I’m not into music for that. “Oh it’s Punk Rock Bowling in Hollywood!” Oh go fuck yourselves you fucking fairies. You know all that shit. Go have fucking fun. Leave me the fuck out of it.
Originally published on 101d.com