No Use For A Name
Keep Them Confused (Fat)
An interview with guitarist/vocalist Tony Sly
By Tim Den
In my book, Bad Religion, Lagwagon, and No Use For A Name make up the melodic punk Axis of Awesome. And since all three nowadays take their sweet time putting out new music, heavy anticipation awaits each record. Will there be a time when any or all of the Axis fail to deliver the goods? Not when the likes of Keep Them Confused continue to uphold the standard.
Hard Rock Bottom took me a while to warm up to. All the songs felt too similar, painting the entire album an all-encompassing color. Apparently, the band felt similarly, cuz Keep Them Confused is by far No Use For A Name’s most diverse work to date. Yes, the chord progressions still juggle the same liaison between heartbreaky minors and majors, but the execution has been broadened exponentially to make sure each song has its own sonic identity. “Check for a Pulse” rides upon a stringy bass line, “It’s Tragic” incorporates jangly open chords into its anti-war sentiments, “Overdue” utilizes some retract-and-release chugging palm mutes to accentuate the hooks, etc. All subtle touches, but in a genre where the smallest of effort can propel one craftsman over another, they’re crucial. Throw in a short interlude (“Failing Is Easier [Part Three]”) and a lo-fi pop ditty (“Divine Let Down”), and you’ve got a melodic punk album for grown ups. It’s mature, level-headed, confident, and – as always – fucking catchy as hell.
Personally, what I love best about Keep Them Confused is its overall “dark” feel. From the artwork to the song structures, No Use For A Name have chosen to eliminate any sort of “feel good sunshine SoCal” characteristics from this new album. You won’t find the likes of “Why Doesn’t Anybody Like Me?” or “Dumb Reminders” here. Instead, “Apparition” tackles an ego in crisis, “For Fiona” the weight of fatherhood, and “Killing Time” the horrors of justified murder. No happy major-chorded power pop in sight, just a line that sums up the nature of the album: “If an angel earns its wings every time somebody dies, then today the angels black out the blue sky.”
Seems like all the older Fat bands like you and Lagwagon are taking longer to write albums. Any reason? What is your creative process like these days?
I think it’s just coincidence more than anything. For me, before this last album, I had a baby. (laughs) Yeah, that kind of made me very busy. And before that, we were touring a lot more behind the last two albums. When I came home, my wife said “I’m preganant,” so that kind of stopped the wheels.
Nowadays, I like to take my time with songs anyway. I couldn’t write when we were touring all the time because I don’t like to write on the road.
Your daughter’s name is Fiona – as in “For Fiona” – I take it?
What happened with the EP that was supposed to accompany Keep Them Confused?
It was cancelled due to release schedule issues with the album. What we’re gonna do now is take those three leftover songs and put them on an EP next January. I’m going to write a few more to add to it, make it five or six songs.
Will it include the “band” version of “Stunt Double” (acoustic version on the Acoustic split with Joey Cape; currently available as an iTunes exclusive download)?
Maybe, we haven’t decided yet. It might be the fifth or sixth song on there. We want to include a couple of covers, too.
Speaking of Acoustic, how has the response been? I personally loved it.
It was really split. The label, of course, loved it, and so did my friends and family. But it really split the fans. A lot of them didn’t understand it. I’d say 70% hated it, and 30% liked it.
Really? That drastic?
That’s the impression I get, yeah. It seems like it was something the fans didn’t want to hear. Maybe if it was all new recordings, they might’ve been like “okay, this is cool, I can appreciate it for what it is.” But because they were No Use For A Name songs redone, maybe they felt like the songs were violated…
Have you ever considered making “slower music” with another band? Or doing mellower solo work?
Yeah, sure. I’d love to do something like that in the future. I have a lot of songs that I’ve recorded at home, and some of them don’t sound like No Use For A Name at all. Some of them do, of course, since I’m the main songwriter in the band. Writing songs is my favorite thing about being in a band. I mean, I love playing and I love being in front of an audience, but writing songs is definitely why I do this. I have so many songs, I don’t even know what to do with them! One of the things that I’d like to maybe try down the road is write songs for other people.
Sure, Bob Dylan and Gram Parsons traded songs all the time!
I gotta ask this: In 20 years, bands like No Use For A Name and Lagwagon will be remembered as “songwriting” bands more than “punk” bands, unlike the crop of fecal matter that’s currently clogging up the airwaves. So why do you still put yourselves in this genre that’s become a joke?
For me, it’s the idea that we haven’t written our best record yet. Whenever we record a new album and go out and tour a bunch behind it, I always look back and am never 100% satisfied with it. So that’s motivation for me to keep going, to keep doing better. As for songwriting, it’s not like I sit down and think “oh, I can and can’t write this way for No Use For A Name,” cuz even when I’m writing, I don’t care what people think. What it comes down to is the other guys in the band. They have an idea of where they would like the sound to go, and I have to be a part of that. Plus, I really enjoy playing for people and the energy that loud guitars and heavy drums provide.
I know you must be sick of this question, but what do you think about your genre these days?
Well, we’re kind of in a weird spot cuz, here we are, on Warped Tour. Bands like Hawthorne Heights, The All-American Rejects, The Starting Line… Some of them are the nicest dudes, even though I don’t like all of their music. Don’t get me wrong, they have some great songs, but I just think the market right now is way oversaturated. People care about image and not the quality of songwriting.
Unlike other artistic fields such as film and writing, the music world disposes of “older” talents just as they’re perfecting their craft in exchange for the latest 21 year-old, just because “the kids” will “relate” more.
Yeah, in terms of film, some of the oversaturated bands are like the latest Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster…
But you don’t see a Bruckheimer copycat come out, barely legal to drink, make a film, and take attention away from the new Coppola film, right?
(laughs) A lot of it is about visibility. They’re on major labels and have the budget to be everywhere. We’re just not in that position. Let’s say Purevolume.com, which gets millions of viewers every day. A banner on that site is like $600 a day. It’s major label stuff! But, you know, we have a good attitude about it, we’re not bitter. After all, we do pretty well, and I’ve been able to make this my job all these years. It’s just weird cuz I don’t even really consider all of this stuff punk rock anymore…
It’s just like hair metal was in the ’80s.
Yeah, that’s exactly what it is! I’m sure that, if you put a checklist of ’80s glam bands on one side and today’s punk bands on the other, eight out of 10 of those checks will match up.
All the kids who liked Backstreet Boys a few years ago are into screaming and heavy guitars and drums now… Strange…
You were on the first Warped Tour, with bands like Orange 9mm, Quicksand, Civ, Into Another, L7, and Fluf. All great bands that aren’t around anymore. Do you still feel a part of the fest?
We feel connected more to Warped Tour itself than to the bands. But we’re playing to more people now than we’ve ever played to on Warped Tour. You can play at 1pm and there’ll still be 6000 kids watching! I’m finding a lot more new kids coming to the booth and saying “I’ve never heard of you guys, but I want to buy a CD.”
Really!? How unbelievable!
Yeah! Whereas when we played with Lagwagon, Bad Religion, and NOFX in 2002, it was a totally different audience. It was people who were familiar with us, preaching to the converted, kind of.
As an experiment, we put a little “age” bracket next to our mailing list at the booth. And the average age came out to be 15 – 22, most of whom didn’t know who we were.
That’s crazy! I wonder where all the older punks go: Sub Pop and Matador?
Well, they’re not gonna pay $35 just to see us and Strung Out. Some people do because they love the band, but they always ask “when are you coming on your own headlining tour?” Some people say “I can’t believe you’re still doing this, you should be headlining over all these bands!” But when Hawthorne Heights is selling 400,000 copies… (laughs)
Some of the younger bands have come up to us and said “Dude, you guys are our favorite band ever. We wouldn’t even be in a band if it wasn’t for you.” That stuff blows my mind.
I know you’re a huge Elliott Smith fan: How did his passing effect you?
Oh, it was a total bummer. I love his music so much and it was hard to accept that I’m not gonna be hearing great music from him every couple of years anymore. I feel like he never got his due. To me, he’s one of the top songwriters of all time. He’s a genius.
People like Rufus Wainwright and Ben Folds wrote songs about him on their latest records…
So did we. (laughs) It’s the last song, “Overdue.”