(Decaydance/Fueled by Ramen)
An interview with guitarist Dan Yemin
By Tim Den
I understand that you’re a practicing psychologist. How do you balance multiple bands (Lifetime, Paint It Black, the occasional Armalite stuff) with your professional career?
My schedule is pretty sporadic. The mornings consist of meetings, but I don’t usually see clients until the early afternoon. Most weekdays I work ’til 8 or 9 pm, sometimes as late as 10:30 pm, and then I have band practice. Fridays I don’t go into the office at all, just because it gets too stressful. I need Fridays to be able to do music stuff. When you’re in a functioning band that can’t tour all the time, the weekend is the only chance you have to play shows and do things. I also record on Fridays.
How have you been able to keep both your psychology pursuits and bands going simultaneously all these years?
It’s like asking fish what water tastes like: I’ve done it for so long now, that I don’t know life any other way. Sometimes I get down on myself when I feel like I’m being lazy or unproductive, but then someone will say, “What are you talking about? You work more than anyone I know!” Not to mention, I don’t think of music as “work” because I love doing it so much. I guess, like most people who grew up around the notion of working to consume/working a routine, I’ve always wanted to not hate my job.
Technology has also made music-making easier. I can demo at home and email it to everyone. It’s how a lot of Paint It Black stuff is done, as well as some of Lifetime’s.
How did your family react when you decided to do both music and psychology?
They were surprisingly cool. Most punks grow up having problems with their parents and family, but my parents were bleeding heart Lefties who were nothing but supportive. When I dropped out of grad school to tour full time with Lifetime, they were a bit worried, but they were just afraid that I wouldn’t finish my degree. I was four years into my Doctorate, there was no way I wasn’t going to finish.
Around what Lifetime album was this?
Hello Bastards. The way my dad said it was, “I’m sure you’ll be successful doing music, but it would still be nice if you finished your degree.” Even his worrying was stated positively! Most dads are like “you’re wasting your time;” mine was “I’m sure you’ll be successful.”
You started Lifetime when you were around 21, a relatively old age for hardcore/punk. Was it your first serious band?
Lifetime was my first serious band. I’d been in bands since I was 13, but none of them ever played shows or put out even a 7″. When I was in high school, it was a lot harder to put out your own music, unlike today. Today, anyone can put out a CD. The only labels I knew of back then were Dischord and SST. Epitaph wasn’t a real label yet, and Touch and Go might’ve released a few 7″s, but I wasn’t really in with that scene. Plus, almost everyone I was friends with in high school – and played in bands with – wanted to go to college. Doing music just wasn’t an option. So we all went to college.
After I turned 18 was when I really became obsessed with punk and hardcore. I was mail-ordering a ton of records from MaximumRock’N’Roll, racing home everyday to catch the mailman. I was going to college in Michigan and returning home to New Jersey during the holidays, going to four shows every week, but I never stayed long enough to start a serious band. And in Michigan, most people were into the early Sub Pop stuff. Everyone wanted to sound like Mudhoney, while I wanted to sound like 7 Seconds. (laughs) So when I graduated around ’90, I thought, “I’m moving back to New Jersey and starting a band. We’ll play some shows and maybe put out a 7″. That would be my dream come true.”
After all these years of playing in beloved hardcore bands, do you still have that kind of obsession with it?
Hardcore is the only music I’m excited about playing. I don’t listen to a lot of the “top-tiered” bands because they’re unrecognizable as hardcore to me. I don’t want to be a hater, but they sound more like bad metal. There are definitely a lot of great bands out there, but as far as my personal tastes go, hardcore is a small sliver of what I listen to.
But you never think, “Since I don’t listen to much of it anymore, maybe I should try playing another style of music?”
No. It’s the only exciting form of music to play for me. I think that hardcore has the ability to connect on a visceral level. It can be emotional, cerebral, intimate, exciting.
Okay, now for the standard Lifetime questions that I’m sure you’ve answered a thousand times: How was it first reuniting? What finally pushed you guys over the edge into agreeing to reunite? How was writing new songs together after almost 10 years apart?
For the members who were reluctant to reform, Hellfest’s offer to donate an incredible amount of money to charity was the final factor to push us into doing it. The bands I loved were all political – The Clash, first and foremost – and having come up in the hardcore/punk community, I personally couldn’t turn down something that proposed to contribute to such a good cause. But when Hellfest fell apart and we played those three intimate shows at clubs was when we felt we could keep doing this. Hellfest not happening was the best thing that could’ve happened. We wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t fallen apart. It was gonna take place in a hockey arena. We would’ve played it, felt strange and out of place, and that would’ve been it. Instead, we had a ton of fun, the problems that existed within the band disappeared with us growing older and wiser, and we simply worked better as a band now.
After a while, having played only the old stuff, we naturally wanted to write new material, because otherwise, you risk becoming a cover band. And to me, being in a real band is always about continuing to make music.
It must’ve also felt nice to see people going apeshit over you after all these years.
“People give a shit now!” Yeah, I can’t lie, it’s great. I mean, I’d read about Lifetime developing a rabid cult following we broke up, but seeing it live is a whole other thing. I know the notion of artists struggling in obscurity is a noble one, but don’t let anyone fool you: It sucks. That song “How We Are” (off of Jersey’s Best Dancers)? It wasn’t us being funny. (laughs) It really was what we were experiencing. We’d play to 200 kids one night and three the next. We couldn’t make sense of it. At the time, the only other melodic hardcore band was Dag Nasty. On the other end of the spectrum, there was pop punk like NOFX, but we definitely weren’t a part of that scene, so people didn’t know how to react to us. It was like (staring audience) “What is this?”
But the response to the new album has been almost unanimously good, no?
Yeah, most of what I’ve read has been positive. I try not to read press too much, because some of them can be really mean – and it’s hard not to take it personally – but I’m pretty happy with the reception it’s gotten.
And now, the geeky fanboy questions: What happened to all of your numerous ex-members? Are you in touch with any of them? Did you hear about Linda (ex-bassist) getting arrested for “possession of human remains”?
Yeah, I read about that. As for the other guys, I see (original drummer, also ex-Texas Is The Reason) Chris Daly from time to time. I don’t keep in touch with him, but we run into each other pretty often. Pete (Martin, guitarist) played with him in Jets To Brazil for a while. I got in touch with Scott (ex-guitarist) and Justin (ex-bassist) when we were putting together the artwork for Somewhere in the Swamps of Jersey so that they could have their say. We’ve also played with their bands recently. Dave Rosenberg, technically our third drummer (Ari [Katz, vocalist] was the second drummer, having recorded all the drums on the first 7″), I ran into totally by chance in San Francisco. He was working for my college roommate. Crispy (original bassist Chris Corvino) I haven’t seen in at least 10 years, though he and Dave Rosenberg went on to start Deadguy after leaving Lifetime.