You’ve probably not heard of The Radio Buzzkills. Chances are, even if you’re a big punk fan, the band have still slipped under your radar. In 2017, the St Louis based band celebrated their fifteenth anniversary and they also achieved a career high point when they shared a stage with one of their all time heroes. In January, they stopped by at Real Gone to tell us all about that soon-to-be legendary gig…and more besides.
Hey lads… Thanks for taking time out to talk to us.
Zac: “I broke my right hand on Monday, so thank you for helping forget about the blinding pain. I was involved in a violent altercation with an inaccurate fútball pass. I wish I had a cool story for it like [Parasites head honcho] Dave Parasite. He broke his hand fighting a Jaguar named Maya…that’s pretty punk rock.”
It’s certainly not a story the medical profession would hear on a regular basis!
Zac: “I’ve temporarily switched to bass as it isn’t as painful…and we have a gig this weekend in Bloomington…”
The Buzzkills have just celebrated their fifteenth anniversary. Did you ever expect the band to be a going concern after so long?
Steve: “We’ve evolved so much, but in some ways, the beginning doesn’t seem like it was so long ago. Fifteen years, though…that makes me feel old.”
Zac: “I don’t think we started thinking about the future until the last year or so when people really started to notice us.”
Steve: “I never thought past high school! [laughs] All I wanted was to enjoy the moment.”
Zac: “Steve and Scott are long time friends of mine…we all grew up together. There’s a real bond…we’ve all been in each other’s basements while our parents yelled from upstairs. That is a hard bond to break.”
Scott: “Yeah. At some point you become family…you become like brothers. When you’re little kid you don’t expect that your brother will be with you forever, but you wake up thirty years later and there he is.”
Chris: “I’ve only been with the band literally a year, but It’s definitely more like a family. When you talk and bounce ideas off each other all day, it’s not hard to see that everyone enjoys the band, the process, and all the trash talk.”
Zac: “After this long it’s like a marriage and we have grown to love our little annoying quirks. Like Steve’s obsession with antique furniture or my “no eye contact” rule.”
Zac: “The no eye contact deal is an inside joke about my mental preparations before shows. Before shows I am a mental mess, I sort of go off on my own to a quiet space and mentally prepare myself like an Ultimate Fighter who is getting ready to walk into the octagon. At first people used to come up showing empathetic concern…but now my band-mates know that it is best to just avoid eye contact and leave me complete my pre-show meditation.”
So, you think, in some ways, there’s a mutual understanding and a the bond that’s kept you together?
Zac: “Yeah. That…and it’s still fun. We’re all on our thirties now but when we play it’s like being kids all over again. It’s beyond friendship and much more like a brotherhood. Chris just joined us as bass player about a year ago, but he fit right in. He was one of those people whom I’ve felt like I’ve known him my entire life.”
Scott: “We were truly fortunate to have Chris join us. We get along so well, he’s like a brother that you never knew that you had…except you get to skip to the part where everybody is older and wiser and you actually get along.”
Chris: “Joining The Buzzkills was one of the few things I’ve done that felt right immediately. I don’t think I could ask for a better group of guys to write and perform with. Funny to think it all started with procrastination…”
Zac: “Yes, much procrastination was involved in adding Chris. He was in a band called Poindexter that we played shows with quite a bit, but he was on our short list of guys we wanted. I wanna give a shout out to Zac Paul from the Khulies who was the only other guy on the short list. Also, when I say procrastination, I mean we always wanted Chris for the band…it just took a while for him to join. We’d already been internet buddies for a year.”
You referred to your ‘Quick & The Cheap’ EP from 2016 as a love letter to Screeching Weasel…
Zac: “Everyone one in our and has danced to Screeching Weasel, moshed to Screeching Weasel, or kissed a girl while Screeching Weasel plays in the background. We wanted to capture the sounds of those songs without overtly or literally writing songs about Screeching Weasel. The love letter was a thank you to Ben [Weasel] and John [“Jughead” Pierson]. Without their wild creation I’m not sure what our lives would look like…and ‘The Quick & The Cheap’ was our way of capturing that raw energy from their early records.”
How do you feel the EP compares to your previous work?
Zac: “It’s the best thing we’ve ever produced.”
Steve: “Chris joining us had the biggest impact on our sound. He has added some grit and has helped craft lyrics. That’s really taken us through another evolution as a group.”
Zac: “He instinctively knows when to blast out a driving bass line or to hang back and let guitar part drive the tunes.”
Scott: “As you get older, you’re always looking to improve. The EP has extra guitar leads and backing vocals that add extra color to the songs. I’m always proud when you can hear the all the extra goodness that helps the music stick in your head. As a band we’re really proud of it.”
Zac: “It’s a lot nastier…in a good way. We named it ‘The Quick and the Cheap’ because we assumed we would have to fund everything ourselves. We recorded some rough demos and shopped them around and Todd Parker [the owner of Braindead Records] believed in the songs so he ended up producing it at his home studio over the course of four days. Todd is a chain-smoking technical wizard of punk-pop and his studio has a DIY feel that really adds to the spirit of punk rock. That really worked out for us.”
In some ways, then, Todd has been the instigator to push you to the next level?
Zac: “Well, it took almost fifteen years to find a producer who really understood the sound that we were going for. [Todd] got us to find that passion that always comes out live but is a lot harder to capture in the studio. We wanted the kind of record you could blast at home and feel like you’re at a punk dive bar listening to a local band. Something authentic and raw. We have been playing ‘Comatose Kiss’ and ‘Zombies At The Mall’ in our live set forever, but we never recorded those songs before. All we ever knew was the raw and ruthless versions of those tracks, but the studio takes still came out with the energy we wanted.”
The beginning of 2017 saw The Buzzkills playing a one-off live show as The Twenty Sevens, joined by Screeching Weasel founder John “Jughead” Pierson. Given how you feel about his former band, that’s gotta be a career highlight…?
Steve: “It’s a banner moment for sure. It’s gonna be difficult to top!”
Zac: “I never would have dreamed that one day this would happen. I never thought I would play with the founder of my favourite band…”
Scott: “It’s one amazing thing to open for a big-name band, but it’s totally different experience, as you can imagine, to have someone open themselves up to you; to be your mentor, friend and punk rock historian and guide. Jughead encouraged you to be your best and let you know what you need to change to get there. I have to say, everything we did off the stage, in terms of preparation and getting to know each other, was even more amazing than what we did on stage…”
Steve: “…“I like hot dogs!” [laughs] If John ever reads this he will understand. That’s how it feels to have been a part of this. We have been let into an inside joke with John Jughead. That’s about all you need to know about how amazing the experience was. Such a crazy feeling…”
The important question here is exactly how did that experience come about?
Scott: “Zac thought to ask Jughead and he was kind and adventurous enough to accept our request. Our minds were totally blown and we were – and still are – extremely grateful.”
Chris: “I got a text that said we were playing the show. Then a few spots on the interwebs mentioned it. To be honest, I thought everyone was just having a joke at my expense…until I walked in and met Sir Jughead!”
Zac: “Actually, how it came about was so simple, it almost sounds made up. The booker of Tortured Productions here in St. Louis asked us if we would want to play on his annual tribute night. On this night some of the best punk bands in the area come together and play short sets of covers from classic punk bands, so I asked Cody – the owner of Tortured – if we could do Screeching Weasel. We knew it had to be special and we got to thinking about what we could do on stage. I thought about getting the audience to pelt us with ice in tribute to the fateful show at SXSW. Then, almost as a joke, I sent Jughead a Facebook message asking him if he wanted to come down and play lead guitar with us. Keep in mind that before this message I had never ever spoken with him. I doubted if I would ever receive an answer…it was almost a joke I made to entertain myself. He responded within about thirty seconds with a resounding “yes”. Jughead sort of summarized it best: “When one crazy person presents an idea to another another crazy person, cool shit happens.”
Was there a lot of preparation for the gig itself?
Zac: “We didn’t book other shows; we didn’t practice other music. We just played the setlist for the gig for two months. It was Weasel or bust! We only had one night of rehearsal with John, but he helped us clean up some little nuances that we missed when we listened to the original Weasel records.”
Steve: “Yeah, Jughead was incredible. It all came together in just one evening. That’s how
good he is. He remembered everything.”
Scott: “I know that I can speak for myself and I took off a week for Christmas to visit my in-laws and I kept on sneaking away to hide and go through the set list. Doing a good job is important. During the last few weeks, I neglected anything that wasn’t a high priority so that I could allocate as much time as possible to practice. Thank God for my wife who kept our newborn baby alive! [laughs]”
Zac: “Things had to be tight. We made a pact to stop playing any of our own music and to only play Screeching Weasel numbers for the run up to the gig. I think all of our wives got really sick of hearing ‘Cindy’s on Methadone’ being played over and over again and over again in our respective basements! [laughs]”
What was the audience reaction like on the night?
Scott: “The audience was insane. Zac sounds a lot like Ben Weasel so it was easy to suspend disbelief and let go. The audience was maybe the best part of the entire set.”
Zac: “From the first notes of ‘Guest List’, they were incredible. They danced and moshed through the whole set. We lived out a dream of dedicating the song ‘Totally’ to a beautiful blue haired punk rock girl and then I sang the song from pit. It was surreal.”
Steve: “They were each playing their part right along with us. Between the ice being thrown at us and the mosh pit, we felt like real punk stars…but we knew who they wanted to see…and I’m grateful to have been allowed to play alongside such a legendary guitarist.”
Chris: “Yeah, it’s not every day the chance arises to play with a legend. The crowd was great: ice throwing, shit talking, stage diving and even jumping on stage to sing along. Everything you could hope for from a high energy show.”
Zac: “I think it was a great showcase for us because we’ve been putting these kinds of shows on for year with our real music. Now a lot of new faces know what we bring to a show. For the following twenty four hours I had tons of messages from attendees about how much fun the show was. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
So, you went ahead and actually gave the audience ice to throw at you in tribute to that disastrous Weasel gig?
Zac: “I should point out that we didn’t give the audience the ice! The ice came from the drinks. At this point everyone that loves Screeching Weasel knows of the infamous SXSW incident…and so the ice pelting came fast and furious and pretty much lasted for the entire set. At one point I tried to catch the ice in my mouth!”
Were there any punching incidents in keeping with that SXSW show?!
Zac: “Thankfully no one was punched in the kidneys, although when I went into the pit to sing ‘Totally’, I retrieved some good bumps but also a couple of hugs. The combination of bumps and hugs is about perfect for that song. I did get hit with a rum and coke, though! I picked it up off of the ground, finished it, then threw the empty cup right back into the aduiance. Steve was really happy that he had to dodge a half empty can of Stag Beer. Being pelted with ice and drinks at a punk show is the biggest compliment I can think of…”
Do you think this gig with a hero has helped you up your game?
Chris: “Absolutely! It’s one thing to play your own songs and accidentally – or deliberately – fuck up. It would have been down right disrespectful to bring anything but our “A Game” to rehearsal and practice. Jughead was a phenomenal teacher and had a great sense of humor, which I believe helped us to all be a bit better than expected. I think the experience has made us a lot tighter as a group and has opened our eyes to future opportunities.”
Scott: “We had to try and learn all the songs as perfectly as possible for the gig. That experience alone opened up our eyes to some of the different ways someone might structure a song…and the different ways you can add variety in depth to that song. Also, after playing with Jughead I definitely learned a lot about rhythm guitar and other guitar techniques. So, now I have something to strive for and to try and implement down the road.”
Zac: “I don’t actually think it’s changed us in terms of live performance, though…that part of it has always come very natural to us. I pride ourselves on our live shows…but we did want to make sure we did justice to Jughead’s songs. In terms of playing accurately and being as tight as possible, we tried to strive to play the best we ever had.”
…And do you think you achieved that?
Zac: “Honestly? Yes…and it was without doubt the most fun we’ve ever had.”
Chris: “Of all the shows we’ve played, it was definitely the tightest, and the crowd definitely was into it. Granted, we were sharing the stage with a legend, so ninety to ninety five percent of the credit goes to him, but our five to ten percent was pulled off well!”
Moving on, you’re working on a new album. How’s that sounding?
Zac: “We’ve already written and demoed sixteen tracks, but we put a halt on that once the Screeching Weasel show came up. We’re going back to work on it now. It’s called ‘The Radio Buzzkills Get Fired!’ as I lost my job during the writing process.”
Zac: “Well, not strictly speaking; I quit before they could fire me! That was back in September and at that point, we had an entire album written, but I trashed it. The songs are all about pain, joy, relationship stress and self-doubt that comes with sitting at home all day, being flat broke watching television, reading books, playing guitar and chatting with Dave Parasite. I would send him songs and he would help clean them up, make suggestions, or even tell me when the songs were just a bad concept. He has really helped refine the writing on the record. In the end getting fired was a creative boon and we’ve got a good album in the works.”
Chris: “There are lots of different ideas, from someone stealing my autographed photo of Dick Van Dyke, some horror and schlock inspired songs, to some almost serious love songs.”
Do you have a set way of writing and recording?
Scott: “Yeah. It starts as basic straightforward punk rock then we expand from those bare bones. Zac sort of draws us a coloring book and then we fill in the reds, blues, greens and blacks. We’re such an ego free band and we have a pretty well developed process in that Zac sends a basic rough demo then we do the coloring. The response is never negative. We may decide to use a different color on the page but what we end up with is truly a band effort. That collaboration comes through in the heart and guts and you’ll feel that in our new music.”
Has working with Jughead had an impact on how you approach things?
Steve: “Absolutely. We have already learned more in that one practice session and show than I think we have over the last five years. John has a wealth of knowledge of punk and music in general that allows him to create such interesting nuances, even throughout a one minute song. It takes a real artist to be able to do anything that diverse in such a short time. On top of that, many of those Screeching Weasel songs we played were written so quickly. It makes you re-think the way you create your own albums and how you can bring in some tiny details here and there to differentiate your sound.”
Zac: “I think Jughead really taught us that in punk pop the devil is in the details. He taught us a lot of little tricks and shared a lot of knowledge on how to distinguish certain sections of songs. We were Padawan Learners and Jughead was our Yoda! [laughs]. The lessons we learned are already being put to work. I’d also like to give a shout out to Dave Parasite. He and I have become friends and he really has become my Yoda of song writing. He is, along with Dr. Frank [Portman, Mr. T Experience], the best in the business. The new material is by far the best written stuff we’ve ever put out – Dave and Jughead should get executive production credits!”
Chris: “Pretty sure We’d all love to have Jughead be part of the new record…if he’s not sick of us and our fan-boying yet! [laughs]”
Tell us more about the album as it stands at present.
Steve: “We have some great stuff we have already written that can use a tiny bit more punch, but I think it’s all going to come together with this experience and knowledge behind us. The last fifteen years of our life experience together will give you cauliflower ears when we are finished. [laughs]”
Chris: “I think it’s sounding great, despite only being in the demo process thus far. I believe we have at least twenty demos at this point…”
Chris: “…sixteen demos…and the main concern now is boiling it down to what we feel should be the core ideas for this album. It will definitely draw on what ‘The Quick & The Cheap’ built…and hopefully create some type of beast that will go on to destroy the world of punk rock in the best way possible.”
Zac: “I had a rough 2016, so there are quite a few songs that poke fun at that. The new material is super fun. We have a few more songs about girls this time around, but in the spirit of the Radio Buzzkills, there is a lot of fun behind them. The material is really traditional punk pop, mixed with some weirdness, while being covered in a layer of surgary fun. I love songs about girls that don’t come across as whiny, so in that regard you may hear a little more influence from bands like The Queers or The Buzzcocks. Personally, I have never been more excited to record.”
The Radio Buzzkills are in the studio between March 20th-27th. ‘The Radio Buzzkills Get Fired!’ is expected to be unleashed in June. You can visit the band on Facebook here and on Bandcamp here. You can also read Real Gone’s review of ‘The Quick & The Cheap’ here.