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“I’m already over-caffeinated and mentally straining,” begins Night Birds vocalist Brian Gorsegner, as he prepares to discuss his band’s third album and Fat Wreck Chords debut, Mutiny At Muscle Beach. It’s really the perfect way to describe that record—the 12-song, 25-minute LP is an ADD-addled, surf-influenced, punk-rock adventure through Gorsegner & Co.’s experiences dealing with the rampant assholery they encounter in their day-to-day lives in suburban New Jersey and the surrounding areas.
“I work in customer service, which is what fuels the majority of my hatred and my need for punk rock,” the 31-year-old singer explains. “The people I deal with on a daily basis completely destroy any hope I had for humanity. But it’s good; everybody needs fuel for their creativity.”
While there might not be any songs on Mutiny At Muscle Beach about specific customer-service experiences (“We had a set of lyrics for ‘Lapsed Catholics Need Discipline’ about customer service but we scratched it,” he admits), the album is chock-full of pop-culture references, from Kids In The Hall to horror movies to Seinfeld to professional wrestling—the latter of which Gorsegner says he didn’t know much about (he says his bandmates are far more knowledgeable on the topic), but after watching a documentary about now-retired WWE wrestler Mick Foley, he quickly connected with the artform.
“This guy just destroys himself for his craft,” Gorsegner admits. “He doesn’t think about 10 years down the road, he just thinks about now, and he does what he loves to do because he’s passionate about it. He likes to put a smile on peoples’ faces and go out and destroy himself and be reckless—and a lot of punk rock that I love is the same kind of way. You don’t think about, ‘I shouldn’t do this because I might get hurt’ or ‘I shouldn’t write this because I might offend somebody.’”
While Night Birds makes sure to bring that level of chaos to their live show, in the studio, it’s an entirely diferent story. The quartet always records analog, which forces each band member to be as proficient as possible to avoid expensive re-takes.
“All the new digital technology is cool, but shit like that is all part of the experience,” he says. “If you fuck something up, you have to do it again. We have to play everything. I’m fortunate enough to play with three of my favorite musicians who are all great players. It’s a challenge we’re always up to. We’re never gonna have that one song we can’t play live because we cheated in the studio.”
Just like its predecessor, Born To Die In Suburbia, Mutiny At Muscle Beach was recorded at engineer Mitch Rackin’s Seaside Lounge Recording Studio in Brooklyn—but for the first time in their career, Night Birds used a producer, recruiting former Doc Hopper frontman Chris Pierce, who has previously worked with the Ergs, the Measure [SA] and others.
“We had never worked with a producer before because frankly, we’re obnoxious and we know what we want and we think that we’re right most of the time,” Gorsegner says. “So we really had to trust somebody to let them tell us, ‘Hey do this’ or ‘Don’t do that.’ I couldn’t have been happier with how the whole process went.”
Usually, when a band has a killer album in the can and a new label ready to throw its resources at it, the next step is touring—but for Night Birds, it’s not so easy. Various band members have full-time day jobs, significant others and children, making it difficult to drop everything for a month-long tour. Still, Gorsegner anticipates a busy year in support of Mutiny At Muscle Beach, even if it will be in bits and chunks.
“We’re basically just gonna try to destroy ourselves in the next 12 months,” he concludes. “This is what we do for fun and to keep sane and mentally balanced. It’s the only thing we really know how to do. If somehow punk rock finds a way to be 1994 again and make us money, that’s cool, but if we expected that stuff to happen, we’d stop playing in bands 10 years ago. It’s a nice balance of trying to keep myself sane doing what I’ve done since I was 14 and not letting my baby starve to death.”
Tremulous: to display timidity or nervousness, or shake or quiver slightly. It’s an odd word, one not used commonly in the modern English language—you’re far more likely to come across it in James Joyce’s Ulysses, for example, than in your average hardcore record. But here we are, with Western Addiction’s new full-length, Tremulous, an album embodying the anxiety, dread, worry and anguish omnipresent in modern day America. «The word ‘tremulous’ just felt right,” says frontman Jason Hall. “It sums up the theme of the entire record in one word.” Hall puts a premium on the words associated with Western Addiction; every song tells a story, sometimes with uncomfortable specifics and every title and lyric is meant to resonate with the listener on a different level.
While the San Francisco band’s sophomore effort comes nearly 12 years after their debut, Cognicide, don’t think they have grown out of hardcore. Tremulous rips its way through 11 explosive tracks, delivering a consistent sound strongly rooted in the past (picture an alternate universe where Milo Aukerman, Greg Ginn and Fugazi’s rhythm section formed a band) that is plenty aggressive (“Ditch Riders,” “Masscult, Vulgarians and Entitlement”) and surprisingly melodic (“Righteous Lightning,” “Honeycreeper”). It sounds like the same band that made Cognicide, just older, wiser—but still pissed off.
A large part of that consistency can be attributed to the band’s current form, which consists of founding members Hall on vocals, Ken Yamazaki (also of Dead To Me) on guitar and Chad Williams on drums, as well as 2014 recruit Tony Teixeira moving to guitar. When it came time to record Tremulous, Western Addiction re-connected with original bassist, Tyson “Chicken” Annicharico, who was happy to assist his friends in the studio, adding another connection between the band’s past and present. He even had a hand in shaping Tremulous’ most intense song, the album-closing, five-and-a-half-minute dirge “Your Life Is Precious,” written in tribute to friend (and Enemy You frontman) David Jones, whose unexpected death in 2015 had a profound effect on the band.
“I don’t usually write songs in one burst, but I did with that one—every single lyric means something very specific,” Hall says, going on to explain how the song features his first-ever attempt at singing. When he says singing, he really means singing, not your average hardcore throat-bellow. Luckily, he had one of punk’s finest vocalists, Joey Cape, in the producer’s seat for Tremulous, who coaxed him to new heights in his overall performance. “One of the things we asked Joey to work on with us was vocal melodies. He had great input on many songs, especially ‘Ditch Riders,’ ‘Taedium’ and ‘Your Life Is Precious.’”
Tremulous fires off salvo after salvo of incendiary hardcore containing a surprising amount of melodicism, but Cape wasn’t the only member of the Fat Wreck family to offer assistance: Propagandhi’s Todd Kowalski delivers guest vocals on “Taedium” (“Propagandhi has continually influenced and enlightened my life, and I respect Todd as a human,” Hall praises). And while the bulk of the album was recorded with Cape and engineer Ian MacGregor in Los Angeles, the band finished up the vocals in San Francisco with Cape at Fat Mike’s Motor Studios.
Western Addiction turned to an unlikely name to mix Tremulous: Matt Bayles, an esteemed producer whose resume is two decades long and stacked with such major names in metal and hardcore as Mastodon, Botch and Isis. However, it was a different record that put Bayles’ name on Western Addiction’s tongue. “The inspiration for Tremulous was From Ashes Rise’s Nightmares, which Matt produced,” Hall says. “They’re a hardcore band but it sounds so big and well-produced. I wanted to do that. After seeing what Matt could do with my vocals, I was blown away.”
With Tremulous finally out in the world, Hall’s goal for 2017 feels surprisingly attainable while at the same time emotionally exhausting. “I want our band to be understood,” he concludes. “I don’t think we’ve ever found our people. We’re in this netherworld of punk: We’re not poppy, we’re not fun, we’re loud but we’re not a metal band, and the truly crazy hardcore bands would probably think we don’t fit in. I just want to be understood.”
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