The Gang’s All Here (Hellcat)
An interview with bassist Ken Casey
by Scott Hefflon
live photos by Jay Hale
I hear the recording process of The Gang’s All Here (Hellcat) was a little different than usual.
It was recorded in three different sessions. The first in August, after Al (Barr) joined the band in May, we recorded a couple singles in early June, then went back on the road. We recorded the basic tracks in August, but we had scheduling problems with Lars (Fredrickson of Rancid, producer of both The Gang’s All Here and Do or Die) because Rancid was on the road and so were we. Then we went back out with AF (Agnostic Front) until December, so we got back in the studio in early December, then went to Europe for a few weeks, then right after New Years, we went back in and mixed the record in January. So it was finished in January, but it was started in August. A little different from Do or Die, which was done in ten days. But that was a lot easier because a lot of those songs we’d recorded before.
Are any of the songs on The Gang’s All Here on previous 7″s?
We put out a promo single on TKO, with Hellcat helping, as soon as we came up with the title for the record. And we did a split with Oxymoron, from Germany, on my label, Flat. And all the songs we re-recorded for the album, changing lyrics and stuff like that.
What’s with the military theme on this record?
It’s not that we’re pro-military, but we decided on the album art long before the record was finished. Saving Private Ryan was out, and I’ve always been into the World War II propaganda poster art. When we decided to do “The Fighting 69th,” we realized “Devil’s Brigade” – even though it has nothing to do with it – is also the title of a war movie, and at that point, we decided just to go with the theme. But not really with any deep meaning, ya know?
“10 Tears of Service” is about unions, not the military, right?
Yeah, but it’s not just about unions, it’s about corporate downsizing. The generation before us could work with their hands and make a living, provide for their family, and feel a sense of security. And that’s not the case today. Now you’re almost forced to go to college, spend all this money, work your ass off, and then you get into a work force that’s even more cutthroat. The loyalty is to the almighty dollar and not to the working man. I’ve been out of high school for 10 years, so I was thinking what my options would be if I’d stayed in the life I was in: working construction and going to college. And it’s kind of funny that, for the time being, I’m working the shittiest business of them all: the music business. But we don’t run in those circles. We stay hands-on, but we don’t get involved in the major label radio politics game. But that song, to finish up, is looking at the state of the work force going into the next century. It’s kinda scary.
I got a real kick out of “Pipebomb on Lansdowne.”
Yeah, that’s caused some waves. I heard the Lyons brothers were kinda uptight about it, but that was only word-of-mouth. There’s the saying about not letting people know they’re getting under your skin when they’re getting under your skin, because then they win. But the public statement was something about not being able to understand the lyrics anyway, and thinking it was kinda funny. Something like that. And while I hate the music and the people, I really wouldn’t waste my breath bitching about the “rave” scene or whatever. In a city like Boston, you have the potential for one of the best all-ages scenes in the country, but there’s almost nowhere that’ll let you put on a show, or more than one show, ya know. Church halls and so forth don’t want to deal with it, and the clubs that are set up to do this sort of thing don’t give back to a city that’s supposed to have such a thriving music scene. Where are the next bands going to come from if they have no place to play? I certainly didn’t expect the Lyons brothers to hear the song and say, “Ya know, we really should have all-ages shows and embrace the younger music community.” Even if they did have the shows, they’d still have their security guards smashing kids in the head with flashlights.
I like your disclaimer that says, “The problem with the world today is that no one can take a joke anymore.”
Yeah, this is punk rock. I grew up in Boston listening to The Freeze, with sick, twisted lyrics, and no one writes songs like that anymore. No one has a sense of humor about this anymore. God forbid I ever say anything favorable about Marilyn Manson – I’d like to see someone throw a pipebomb at him – but he canceled his show in Colorado after those kids murdered kids, but the NRA didn’t cancel their convention. We actually played Denver that night. They canceled the baseball game and the basketball game, but we were done with soundcheck before we found out it happened. The city was still kinda in shock, and a couple kids at our show had been at that school that day.
Did your show go over weird or anything?
No, it went fine, but it seemed like people were looking to get away from it, or something. It was also Hitler’s birthday, and Denver has a bad Nazi skinhead scene, so when we first heard about it, we thought it was a skinhead thing. But that’s supposed to be clearing up now I guess. At least the Goths’ll take the flack for a while instead of the punks and the skinheads.
Someone told me today they were having doubts about booking a band in Boston because of all the gang trouble here, and I was thinking, “What gang trouble?” Shows in Boston are more tame, not to mention with less gang intimidation, than any city I’ve ever been in.
I don’t see gang problems in the music scene in Boston as a problem at all. It’s a helluva lot worse out on tour then at home in Boston. There’s just no place to play anymore. There are smaller shows going on, and I don’t mean to insult the kids who’re putting on the shows, but the number one way to lose a hall is to have a big show. The First or Second Church was allowing shows when they brought in 100 kids or so, but then The Trouble had their record release party with Anti-Flag and someone else and 7-800 kids showed up. Everyone freaked and kids who couldn’t get in were roaming the streets. That’s one of the reasons we haven’t been able to play a lot of those shows recently. We don’t want to be the band that gets the hall closed down.
There’s a quote in your CD booklet, after the special thanks, that says, “Get off your computer and get a life!” And while I feel disgust toward the cattiness of chat rooms, the safely anonymous girl’s locker room of the ’90s, I think email lists and band web pages have opened new doors to kids looking for shows and trying to get info on bands.
People have said, “I hope you don’t hate me cuz I have a computer,” and that’s not the case at all. The band has a computer for inventory and stuff. It’s the rumors and gossip that gets to me. When I have 30 kids in the last few weeks asking me as we go on if Al quit the band and the singer for Blank 77 is filling in, that’s when I have to wonder what the youth of America is coming to, when the gossip they read on the web is fact, and they spend 90% of their time online instead of out getting some fresh air with their friends, playing ball or something.
Tell me about recent and future tours.
The record came out Tuesday, March 16th, and Wednesday, March 17th, we started a tour in New York that ends May 1st in Boston. Then Monday, May 3rd, we leave for Vancouver to start a tour with Motörhead that begins May 6th. We finish that June 2nd at the Worcester Palladium, then leave June 5th for Europe where we stay ’til the 18th, then we get off the plane and play a festival the next day, then we leave to drive to Texas to start the Warped tour. We’re not off ’til August and we’re just taking it one show at a time.
How’d you hook up with the Motörhead tour?
They had a package booked with Motörhead, Nashville Pussy, and Hatebreed, and Nashville Pussy bailed to go on tour with Marilyn Manson. Nashville Pussy, a band who’s gotten where they are playing Motörhead-style music, bails to tour with Marilyn Manson. But it gave us the opportunity, and we jumped at it.
I liked your track on the Built for Speed comp, but I never really thought Motörhead was all that big an influence for you.
Yeah, well, you can’t really say your a fan of punk rock and AC/DC without including Motörhead. Maybe we don’t mention them in our list of influences, but it’s probably because it’s so obvious. Sound-wise we’re probably not that similar, but that’s why we were really excited to do the tribute. I think it came out well considering Victory lost our original DAT and we had to send them the shitty rough mix that had no ending – it was supposed to fade out at the end, and there were a million other things different – but whatever. And even though it’s not credited, Dicky Barrett does the third verse and him and Al trade back and forth on the way out. A lot of people don’t notice because of the way Al sings on that song, he sounds kinda like Dicky anyway. Dicky’s voice was made for singing Motörhead.
Your records usually have “covers,” but it’s not the same thing…
We do obvious covers on singles and comps, but for full-length albums, I think bands really ought to do either their own songs or something traditional that they put their own twist on or something. But we do so many singles, I think we get it all out of our system by the time we record an album.
On “Amazing Grace,” by the way, is it my fucked up stereo or are the vocals little more than a hint in the background?
They’re there, and we printed the lyrics, but we wanted people to wonder… Just so you don’t think you’re going crazy, they are there, they’re just way, way in the back. We wanted to do it instrumental, with kind of a ghostly feeling to the vocals.
And “The Fighting 69th” is great, too. It’s such an awesome story…
That’s my favorite song on the record, and it’s my favorite to play live.