With bands like Deadfall, Out Cold, Strung Out and Annihilation Time bringing genuine HC back to the forefront of the punk scene, Gravy talks to Detroits new pioneers of HC the Bill Bondsmen.
Interview by Conan Troutman
Gravy: Introduce yourselves
Gabby: That would be me yelling on the records. Other members include Amado, Mark, and Rob on guitar, drums, and bass.
Gravy: Bill Bondsmen....?
Gabby: Y'know... Moments like these I wish we woulda picked a simpler name... I have had to explain this more times than I can count... Here goes... Bill Bonds used to do the news here. So we figured Bill Bonds + Bail Bondsmen = Bill Bondsmen. Detroit people get the joke, but a lot don't.
Gravy: You seem like very angry young men?
Gabby: Well, we're not really that young. I'm the youngest at 29. I guess i'm just very cynical and pessimistic so lyrically it comes off that way. Musically, hardcorepunk should sound angry. It wouldn't be hardcorepunk if it sounded like a Donovan record. Nothing against the sunshine superman or anything.
Gravy: How would you describe the sound of the Bill Bondsmen?
Gabby: Fuck, that's a tough one. There's no set sound. One of the things we've shot for is that every song sort of has something different to it but it's still uniform. You can tell what band it is but it's not all the exact same. I hate having to say "it sounds like ________ or ___________". We've been compared to a pretty wide mix of things. Fine by me. I guess people will just have to listen and pick what we sound like based on what's in their record collection...
Gravy: Comparisons have been made to early Poison Idea and methinks there's a little bit of the Dead Kennedys about the guitars too; accurate?
Gabby: If that's to say that we play somewhat diverse hardcorepunk that is still rock and roll based then that's somewhat accurate. Do we sound exactly like either band? Not to me. We don't try to sound like anything besides us.
There are twists and different influences thruout everything we do which is something both of those bands have in common. But, in my eyes, that's what made them good. Record to record, song to song they evolved. Sometimes they succeeded, sometimes they failed. But, at least they tried to do something besides write the same song over and over again. Both bands were filled with people who were all into different stuff on top of things they had in common. That's a great basis for a band.
Gravy: Do you find it limiting to be described as a hardcore band?
Gabby: Not really. On one hand it sucks that people think Hatebreed or whatever when they hear the word hardcore. On the other we sure make a lousy swing band.
Gravy: Is hardcore still relevant today?
Gabby: Sort of. There are still bands that understand the ideas this whole thing was based on. Punk rock was a haven for people who didn't fit in right? Hardcorepunk was and is just taking "that sound" and pushing it over the top. Bands add things to it or turn it on it's ear and, of course, some dilute it by turning it into a cartoon but what can you do? For every 100 bands that could care less about the roots of it and who don't really feel like I feel about it or your average kid feels about it there are at least 10 bands that do get it and do care. That makes it relevant.
Unfortunately, the terms all get perverted and diluted with time. Not too long ago a certain "hardcore" band that was pretty heavily associated with that whole Hatebreed scene got on a major and were actually willing to be marketed as "urban metal" which I think really says it all. Of course they should have been marketed as "suburban metal" but that's another story.
Think about how much it has all changed as it's become more accessable and acceptable. After the danger of society not understanding was eliminated and most of the more unsavory elements were removed you wound up with a lot of people who want to live out some violent jock fantasy which is pretty boring. It's sort of become music for the exact people I wanted to get the hell away from in a lot of ways. I don't feel much attachment to modern hardcore because of that. I don't dress us like i'm in an Eminem video and i'm not constantly looking to prove my manhood. I can't say I relate to being "stabbed in the back" by "my brothers". I'm an outcast. A misfit. I barely leave my house beyond work because I don't deal well with "the normals". To me that's more "core" than living out some "Boyz In The Hood" fantasy.
Gravy: You don't feel that it kinda run out of steam by the mid 80s?
Gabby: Naw, people always say that I don't totally get it. Sure you had the great "Planet Of The Apes" NYHC masturbation fantasy period which ran along side the ultra boring positive thing which was nowhere. But, What about a band like Raw Power? Gauze? And so on. Those bands were flying the flag after 85 when it was supposedly dead.
When American hardcore was busy trying to convince people it was as safe as heavy metal (not that there's anything wrong with metal but with few exceptions it's a pretty safe bet to get involved in especially back then) you had bands that took tons of chances and did things we would have never done. Basically people think that because they only think American or English bands can play punk rock when in reality some of the greatest bands ever came from other places.
The other thing is that people forget that just because something isn't drawing 1000's of people doesn't mean it's not still happening. I'd rather be part of something small and organic. It keeps it honest. There's no carrot dangling overhead to fuck things up. Besides, look what happened to all the bands that took the jump for the cash. They watered down and dulled the sound until it had little to nothing to do with where they started.
Gravy: You guys seem to draw from a more ecelectic source of inspiration than a lot of HC bands; paraphrasing Pink Floyd's 'The Wall' on 'Comfortably Dumb' 70S Rock, psychedelia; how do you incorporate these influences into the Bill Bondsmen?
Gabby: There's other stuff in there beyond that. You didn't even mention the song about "The Dark Crystal". A lot of people don't catch it or only catch part of it. I always like when bands put thought into things. I also love when you catch little hints and things of that sort. Fuck, the new record has so much of that stuff. One song (it's actually two together) references Miles Davis, Genesis, The Cult Heros, Lucille Ball (I Love Lucy) going on tv saying the Russians were sending her signals thru the fillings in her teeth, and a few other things.
The whole point of "Comfortably Dumb" was that we played a show and some "Hammerskins" showed up. Now, I haven't seen a nazi skinhead in years. Seriously. They're like seeing bigfoot or something around these parts. So the Hammerskins have a logo for themselves and it's the fucking crossed hammers from the skinhead scene in "The Wall". No shit! So I couldn't help but think how funny it is that these big tough skinheads wear something thought up by a bunch of hippies. Pretty ironic. Anyways, that should explain the title pretty well. The whole chorus is based on one of the guys there who had "white pride" or "power" or something on his fucking forehead and a buddy of mine and me were debating going up to him and asking him how the job hunt was going. At least he was nice enough to let you see he was stupid so you didn't need to wonder about it.
Regardless, I have a pretty wide well of influences and ideas and i'm constantly thinking of shit and obsessing over stuff that most people don't. To give you an idea I spent about a half and hour talking about "The Gong Show" and The Unknown Comic today. So dumb shit makes it's way into the lyrics.
Gravy: The song writing process seems pretty time consuming?
Gabby It can be. Sometimes a song will go thru multiple rewrites before they are done and take months much to everyone's frustration. Others get written in minutes. I think about what I want to write about well in advance and kind of keep the songs in a mental file cabinet if you will. Eventually, I hear the music the band writes and I kind of pull things together based on what I hear.
Amado has also contributed to the lyrics by writing 2 songs on the first ep and 1 on the new one. He's basically a song writing machine though. He'll come into practice and usually have several ideas for songs. We'll work on them and they either make the cut or don't. We actually have about 5 or 6 songs that got shit canned before being played out. It's all about quality control.
Gravy: You have had a pretty positive reaction to your music so far right?
Gabby: Yeah, we were able to sell the records pretty quick and distributors were able to sell them. It was pretty great to us. Not to sound like a sap but it's great to be able to put yourself into your music and have other people dig it. Lame as that sounds.
Regardless, I was pretty impressed that despite some ho hum reviews most of them were positive and people seem to like it. Cool.
Gravy: How important has electronic media become to reaching a wider audiance; do you feel its gradually replacing older mediums like paper based zines and global tours?
Gabby: Well, it's put us in touch with a lot of people like yourself that we would have never touched base with any other way. That's great. Of course, just like any other open, public thing you have a lot of lame people out there. But, it's garbage in, garbage out. It's all what you put into it.
I think it's made it easier for people to book tours and sell their zines. Sure, zines have somewhat died out but the old timers like MRR, Suburban Voice, etc will always be there in some form. I still recall the feeling of dread when I got fooled by MRR's notorious April fools prank about them becoming a strictly electronic zine. The one thing I really miss about the change is the dumbing down of trading records and record auctions. People have electronic trade lists and Ebay now. I've sold records thru the internet though (not on Ebay) so i'm just as guilty.
Gravy: Have BB played outside of the States?
Gabby: Nope. Eventually we will work it out. We all have jobs and bills and all that. Unfortunately, as an example, where I work I work with one other person handling a very big assortment of things. If I take off even one day things get crazy and it fucks him over. Also, some of us have criminal records and it makes even playing Canada difficult because every border is now set on whatever the color is for "ultra paranoid".
Gravy: Any plans to tour outside the US?
Gabby: In the future. When we've gotten a bit further on. We do everything slower than most because we're from the Midwest and especially being from Detroit. Bands don't get popular overnight here. Most of them break up before they even get a record out. Hell, we existed for about 2 years before we put a record out. Besides, bands from America often head overseas with little to nothing out and are treated great. Put the shoe on the other foot and it ain't like that. Look at Japan. So many bands we think are new because their first record is out have existed for 5-10 years. That's a great thing yet shitty at the same time. It's great that they make this "ultimate statement" and the whole thing is brilliant, but, it would be cool to hear more from Japan, Europe, South America, etc in it's infancy.
Gravy: How do you feel about 'Living in the USA' in 2006?
Gabby: Fucking paranoid. I could go on and on and bore people with my world view but that sucks for most people who just wanna read about whatever. Let's just say that things are no more fucked up than they were before it's just less hidden thanks to 24 hour access to news, blogs, etc.Going back to your question of electronics and whatnot I truely believe that they are putting more power back in the hands of "the people". As an example, a news story that the regular media may gloss over can be forced to the forefront by regular people using networks of blogs. Sure, you have to wade thru the bullshit and political slants to get the truth but it's easier to do when you can sift thru it all in 20 minutes.
Regardless, back to the question... I'm a big news junkie so I spend half my days with feelings of dread and fear. I could isolate hundreds of reasons but if you're not already scared you're either tuning in to the feel good Pravda-esque news channels and believing all those jury rigged polls they present you or you're just not paying attention to what's going on.
Gravy: Is it becoming difficult to operate as an alternative/underground artist?
Gabby: Depends on what your goals are. We don't really have any. We go into every situation looking to not lose money but beyond that we have no real aspirations or dreams of rock stardom. We enjoy the appreciation of our peers and what have you but we're not going to change our ways if people were to, say, change their opinions of us or expect something different. We just go into it expecting to have a good time, meet some people, and play our songs. We're not living thru the things that a band like Black Flag went thru where they had to fight to be heard. The trails have already been blazed so there's no real reason for it to be hard. Sometimes we can't get a gig in whatever town or whatever but that's life. If they don't want you in whatever town you just go somewhere else.
Now, if we were trying to make some sort of career out of this that would be a totally different story. To me, that's a waste of time. Those chances are so slim and unless your whole band is willing to "make it at any cost" meaning change your "image", your sound, etc it's gonna be next to impossible and it just don't look fun anyhow. If this did turn into a career for me I would probably hate it. Going thru the motions with this would kill all the fun. And to repeat what everyone always says, if we became successful on our own terms I wouldn't complain but that just ain't gonna happen.
Gravy: Do you feel that movements like PunkVoter.com and the Rock Against Bush albums were effective or essentially just naive?
Gabby: I dunno. To me, on one hand, at least they're saying something. On the other I wonder how much of it is real and how much of it is just a play into the idea that punk is a bunch of really lefty types that all think the same that was propagated by MRR in the early 80's. I think that it's somewhat silly for all these bands to just come out and say "George Bush is a big fat jerk!" Why? "Well, because (repeat the party line)!" If you're going to come out political I would say that you should have more to say than a bunch of slogans that ring emptier and emptier every time they are spoken. It's like the early to mid 80's when all the sudden the whole "anarchy" thing was huge yet most people had no idea. "You don't even know what anarchy is/you never will, you never did" and whatnot.
I just kind of see the whole thing as a piss in the ocean. Sure, you got a bunch of teenage kids who think Bush is a big jerk but do they understand why you feel he's a big jerk? Probably not. And I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that the bands that spearheaded this "movement" were and are bands that are of the "good times, fun in the sun" sort. What kind of kids listen to that stuff? Kids that just want a good time and probably haven't thought much about it all.
Which also brings up the whole Anti Flag thing. Here's a band who made a career out of bullshit. They started out ripping off bands like Aus Rotten, The Pist, Conflict, etc and playing pogo punk. Hell, look at their album titles. They always seem to rip off a band that is better at what they want to be that has a record out around the same time. Ie Aus Rotten puts out "The System Works... For Them" and they put out "Their System Doesn't Work For You". And then they sign to Sony who are involved in the very same weapons manufacturing they were decrying a record ago. It's as silly as John Lennon cutting "Imagine" for EMI and decrying human suffering etc while keeping a seperate apartment for his wife's (but I do have to say Yoko was the only true Beatle!) fur collection.
Gravy: How about the conservative punk movement?
Gabby: Hasn't that been going on as long as the whole lefty punk thing? Look back to the early Oi! movement, Rock Against Communism, "working class", etc. It's nothing new. Not to say Oi! as a whole was right wing but there were plenty of right wing types there from the start. Once again, see above but just change the opinions. I've talked to all sides of this and they all sound the same to me. Any time you get a bunch of angry kids you're going to get extreme views and behavior. It's not going to be all one range.
Gravy: Is is possible to be conservative and punk?
Gabby: I guess so... After all they've always been there. It all comes down to one thing - ignorance. On both sides. I've cringed at the comments from both sides. Whether it was the band that said "This is about bombing the red Chinese!" or the band who said "This one is called "Don't Question Authority! (Now with the deep crusty vocals) DESTROY IT!" The whole thing makes me ill.
It seems like you want an answer on the band's political stance. There really isn't one. We all have different views on how things should be. We generally lean to what, in America, would be the left but I think we're pretty realistic and try to tolerate people's views even if we don't agree beyond an obvious non acceptance of people that are "ist" (racist, sexist, homophobes, etc). I don't have time to explain my views to everyone I disagree with and I generally find discussing the big two (religion and politics)to be in poor taste on a personal level. Whether it's the guy who's sloppy drunk grabbing my shirt and yelling "But what about animal rights!" right after we finished playing or people who have said shit that is just blatantly racist or what have you. If you really need to know what I think i'll tell you but it's usually a given we won't see eye to eye. If you need to fit me into a neat little political slot I guess i'm an anarchist but more than anything i'm a realist.
Gravy: How much of a part do the lyrics play in the Bill Bondsmen; They Won and Human Veal seem to be more social commentary than political?
Gabby: That's true. "They Won" is actually partially based on a letter I saw on a site for people that cut themselves. I've had family and friends who have gone thru it and i've also had my share of mental problems as a youth. So it's something I feel very strongly about. Of course, on the other hand i'm in no position to tell you or anyone what's right or wrong.
"Human Veal" was about a job I had. Of course, a lot of people have jobs like that. Regardless, the whole idea at this job was to keep you at your desk as much as possible. They would always buy these fatty foods like pizza etc and give them to us which lead to a lot of people getting all fat (I gained about 20 pounds between not moving, eating bad food, and stress). It just made me think of veal calves who, for those not in the know, are kept in boxes that restrain their movement so their muscles don't develop and are fed more food than should be ingested so that they can be served up to rich people who can afford to reap the benefits of their suffering. I know that sounds awfully animal rights of me and truth be told I eat meat but that shit is just way disturbing and something I carried over from when I didn't eat meat.
I just didn't want to write a bunch of songs strictly about how I feel about something political. I would rather you read what's said and think about it and draw your own conclusions. And while I love a lot of political bands you look back at the lyrics and a lot of times they are dated. Reagan and Thatcher are no longer a menace. And, besides, if you need a punk rock band to tell you what to believe you need serious help!
Gravy: You have a new EP in the pipeline right?
Gabby: Yes indeed! On the mighty Acme Records out of the Boston, Mass area. Run by John from the even mightier Out Cold. We haven't got enough right now to do it ourselves and John has been supportive since the band started and is an all around good guy so we felt super comfortable working with him.
Gravy: This is the second EP?
Gabby: Yes. There has been one ep before that is out of print, and two compilations.
Gravy: Any plans for a full length album?
Gabby:Some day. We take our time writing songs. Too often I buy an lp and I can just tell that the band rushed thru most of the songs. There's always a few lemons in the mix. On the other hand there are bands that can kick a full length out, because they either took the time or are just brilliant, that is amazing from end to end. You interviewed Annihilation Time recently and they put out a flawless album not too long ago. Just well executed and one that I feel will stand the test of time. Same with Out Cold. Every album they do is solid because they're top notch musicians and can convey a feeling in a unified way despite the songs all being a little different from each other.
We just don't want to screw over the public by putting out crap. We've talked about doing a 12"/cd with whatever is done up to that point plus some new stuff. Like maybe one side old, one new but that's a ways off I think.
Gravy:. Has punks democratisation of music led to a situation where good bands are obscured by a dirth of inarticulate and unoriginal acts?
Gabby: Absolutely! It sucks when great bands just go by unnoticed. I can seriously rattle off at least 20 bands that I think deserve more attention than half the stuff that gets passed off as "good". It's always been that way though. From the moment people start a band just to start a band to the moment they're being assholes and trying to get the best "slot" on a show and demanding all the door money to them flooding the market with their crappy music. It would be great to see more bands "hone their craft" before creating a glut of substandard garbage. I don't think it's limited to hardcore punk or punk in general. Look at the death metal scene or the rock scene in general. Too many bands and it just turns people off. How do you keep up? I can't count how many times i've been burned into buying a shitty record by a band that obviously just wants to ape whatever bands they like and haven't thought about even semi originality. I always want to send them a bill for my wasted time along with a demand for a full refund.
Gravy: LOL - Have you ever got your refund?
Gabby: No, to be honest i'm too lazy. In case you can't tell there's a running thread of obsession and apathy that runs thru my life. On one hand I get almost Bangs/Meltzer esque about music but on the other I realize that we're about 30 decades past the point of no return for music. The cat's out of the bag unfortunately. Luckily, there are still maniacs out there that throw it all on the line, heart and soul, and create intense music. I'm not just talking intense as in hardcore punk but just intense music that makes your mind race and gives you "that feeling" that is almost orgasmic or hallucinagenic.
I figure wading thru mountains of crap to get to a band that does that is worth it and there's always someone out there that thinks my head is up my ass that will buy the offending items from me when we come play to their little scene.
Gravy: What seperates the Bill Bondsmen from the chafe?
Gabby: I'm not sure what does. I know this is supposed to be the time to do some horn tooting, back patting, etc but I just don't know. I suppose some people probably hear something there that excites them just like I get excited when I hear a band I totally dig. Maybe it's just being honest and not trying to be something bigger than we are. Who knows? Maybe it's the fact that we all get genuinely excited by music. We're all super into a lot of different types of music and get very excited by it. Guess maybe that would be it.
Gravy: Parting shots?
Gabby: I can't think of anything snarky to say so thanks for the interview. Hello to all our friends all over. R.I.P. Pig Champion.
Gravy: How can people get in touch?
Gabby: Depends on who they want to reach. http://myspace.com/thebillbondsmen is a good start. I run it so you can reach me direct there. Our record label can be reached at http://acmerecords.net
Thanks to Gabby for doing this interview. The new EP is available from www.acmerecords.net