My Cobra Skulls interview!
How has the feedback been for American Rubicon?
Mixed. No… good. Well, pretty bad. It seems like the whole “It’s not as good as their last album” line is being used a lot, which is definitely disappointing to me because I think American Rubicon is better in every way compared to Sitting Army. I hope it’s just because it’s new and not what people expected. Hopefully AR helps to define our own sound, though I’m not really even sure what our sound is or what it will be in the future.
In a brilliant and hilarious band bio, Brendan Kelly (of the Lawrence Arms) attempts to explain what American Rubicon really means, but he can’t. Could you help us out in understanding the title of the record and whether or not there is a theme to go along with it?
At first I wanted to do a “concept album”, as cheesy as that is, with regards to how our economy, military, and environment are all related. I believe that we can’t make decisions regarding one of those three issues and delude ourselves into thinking that it will not have a direct effect on the other two. Though there are songs with other themes, I feel that the majority of the songs are related to the general “concept” that I mentioned. I thought of the title “American Rubicon” as a way to define our illegal invasion of Iraq and specifically Baghdad. During Pompei’s time in Rome the Rubicon River was used as a boundary over which Julius Caesar could not cross with his army or it would be an act of civil war. He ended up doing just that and “crossing the Rubicon” has been used as a term to describe a “point of no return”. By illegally invading Iraq we committed ourselves to continuing to build more machines that run on oil, perpetuating a war-time economy, and we may never truly leave Iraq in my lifetime, even with our combat troops withdrawn. We are definitely not going to build 14 military bases there and then just leave it all behind once they’re completed. I could go on, but what really pisses me off is that I found out right after we decided on the title that The Sounds’ new album is called Crossing the Rubicon. Come on! Those Swedes are always one step ahead!
How’d you convince Brendan Kelly to do your band bio, anyway?
Really? I think a better question is “How could I have convinced Brendan Kelly not to do our band bio?” I mean, he writes some pretty funny stuff, but most of it didn’t even have anything to do with us or our music. I’ve loved and admired The Lawrence Arms for years and never thought that Brendan would ever be a fan of any band I was in, so that’s really amazing to me, but I’m not sure if his bio makes any sense. (if you’re reading this, Brendan, I love you and please don’t kick us off tour, like you kicked TLA off Warped Tour)
How do you feel about the evolution of Cobra Skulls’ sound throughout the past three full lengths and two 7”s?
It’s actually kind of interesting for me to look back on the past four years. We unintentionally started out sounding like a crappy crust/oi punk band. We just couldn’t play very fast as a group. Chad was a bass player, not a drummer, before we got together. We kinda sounded like a shitty, slow Blitz or something. Our old guitar player and friend Chuck was into metal, but we also shared a soft spot for old country and I remember talking to him about how our sound should be a cross between Hank Williams and Slayer, but I don’t think we ever accomplished anything like that. We’ve grown as people, musicians, and as a songwriter I think we have started to found our niche as a punk rock/rock and roll band that every now and then diverges into something random. We aren’t really doing anything new, but hopefully it’s not boring.
It’s challenging to lump Cobra Skulls into one musical genre because you pull from various influences – rockabilly, folk, rock, pop punk. Is this something Cobra Skulls strives for? What are the advantages and disadvantages to this avoidance of labels?
I think that the advantage is that we have a diverse fan base. I see the people at shows we headline and I cannot say there is one group of people. It’s entertaining to see crusties, pop-punkers, skins, greasers, and even the occasional bro all in the same room, though maybe that’s not a good thing. It’s nice to see people from different schools of thought or scenes come together, but I also think that it can be a bad thing that we are hard to categorizes because some people may like one or two songs that are harder and faster, or more punk, but not like our slower or more rockabilly songs and vice versa.
You guys have an incredible tour schedule of the states and Europe – from now straight through November. What’s the motivation behind this intense plan? How do you plan on relaxing, staying sane, and maintaining friendships during that time?
The motivation is that we are basically homeless and want to be proactive. The band is the only thing we have going on with our lives, really. We moved out of our home last July where we were paying rent in San Francisco and toured until mid December. Then we worked odd jobs and stayed with our parents for a few months, toured and recorded for a month, worked another two months of manual labor or whatever we could find and now we are on tour again. We have had two days off over the past few months and that’s because our show in Longview, WA was cancelled last night because the venue had some issues and a month ago I was losing my voice in Mississippi and had to cancel a house show, which was a bummer. There’s nothing worse than having to cancel a show. Other than that we have five days off before we fly to Europe and six days off when we get back before we meet up with Teenage Bottlerocket for a six-week tour. I don’t believe in doing anything half-assed, and we all agree that if we are spending our time, money, and energy on this band together we might as well play as many shows as we can and tour as much as possible. We love to travel and play music so being in a traveling band is like killing two birds with one stone. It can be hard to be practically joined at the hip with two other people 24/7 for 5 months, even if the people are your best friends, so we try and give each other space when we feel like one of us is going a little crazy from such a strange lifestyle.
On a scale from 1 – 10, how stoked are you on touring Europe in September?
Can we make this go to 11?! It’s our second time touring Europe with Gunner Records. We had a great time last October and can’t wait to play some new countries we didn’t hit last time like England, Italy, and Czech Republic. It will also be interesting to see if word has spread since we were there or if anybody comes back to see us in the towns we are hitting again. Touring Europe was like touring the states for the first time and there was never a boring night. One night in Austria we played with an old anarchist a capella choir in a cave where Jews were hidden from the Nazis during WWII. It was a total surprise and were a little afraid the walls would cave-in, but we were stoked to see and be a part of history like that.
Are you headlining that tour?
We’re headlining most of it, but we are also playing a couple festivals like WT Fest in Southampton in the UK and hope to see some familiar faces.
You’ve stuck with Red Scare for the past three full lengths. What has the label done to impress you and keep you coming back for more?
Red Scare has been really good to us and I consider Toby to be our good friend. For practically our entire span as a band we have done without a booking agent, but Red Scare has hooked us up with some great package tours. I would like to see them embrace the vinyl format a little more. We’ve been asked to sign with other labels, but we’ve never had any reason to leave Red Scare and they’re really supportive of whatever we want to do as a band.
You recently covered Bob Dylan on the split with Andrew Jackson Jihad. What kind of influence has Bob Dylan had on Cobra Skulls?
Suburban Home asked us to do a cover for that split series while we were on tour and we basically learned that song on our last day off and recorded it the day after tour. We have never had a cover song on constant rotation in our sets so we didn’t really know what to do, but we knew we didn’t want to cover a punk song. We just kind of decided on that Bob Dylan song because the rockabilly bass line, the blues-ish guitar rhythm and the vocals mesh in a way that seemed to be good for a three piece (even though there is a little guitar soloing as well).
Your lyrics often touch on political issues. If any, what effects will the new administration have on that aspect of Cobra Skulls lyrics?
Well if you asked me this question before W. was elected I would have not been able to predict all the mistakes he was going to make. I am less interested with Presidents and more interested in people and how the public deal with political and social issues. I think that the fact that Obama was chosen over McCain is a sign that people are more aware of the facts regarding the issues than they were in 2000 and 2004. If people were really interested in what’s going on I think the two front runners in ’08 would have been Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul, but that would have been too entertaining to be true. Hopefully people will pay attention for a while longer and not expect Obama will be able to fix everything.
You just released a new album and you have a long leg of touring ahead, outside of all that or maybe to coincide with those, what are your current goals for yourself and Cobra Skulls?
I hope to stay healthy and have fun. If those two things don’t happen, then touring and Cobra Skulls is pointless. We’re not curing cancer and we’re not making enough money to pay 12 months rent a year, so if we aren’t having a good time and sharing good experiences with other people, then I think we should do something else. Luckily we are all well and enjoying tour. After tour I plan on working at my family’s citrus farm and nursery and writing more music until we tour again. We were asked to tour Australia in the spring, but we’ll have to save up for that if we’re going to do it.
What new (or old) music have you personally been into as of late? What bands would you recommend to the .orgcore punks here?
Oh, shit! This is the .org interview? Brutal. Obviously there is no point in suggesting new music here. Haha, settle down, I’m just kidding! But seriously, I can’t wait to leave the first comment. …hmmm, well lately I’ve been going through all my Grandpa’s old records and listening to old Chess Masters records. And who knew that Harry Belafonte was so good!? I mean, you hear the name and think it must be some pussy shit, but no, it’s kick ass! The problem with new music for me is that it’s rarely new once I finally hear it. I still haven’t been one to download anything without paying and I can’t afford a lot of new music, but maybe I just don’t pay enough attention to what’s new. Well, I have heard the whole new Sidekicks album and it is awesome (not to toot the label horn).
This can also be found on punknews.org