The Libyans album A Common Place was the first record I bought from Sorry State Records. I remember that the song "Paralyzed," one of my top 25 songs of all time floored me. It was seriously a transcendental experience. I went back into the store and bought all the Sorry State Records I could find - Double Negative's Daydreamnation, the Shitty Limits' Speculate/Accumulate, the Whatever Brains LP, and a bunch of other stuff. If you don't get it at this point, Sorry State Records is my favorite label. I buy everything that comes out of that camp and have never been let down. A really incredible label run by the best dude, Daniel Lupton, and host of a bunch of rad bands that have always been nice to me, which goes a long way for me at least.
The Libyans record didn't leave my turntable for days. It still vacations on my turntable for extended periods and we're talking about having bought it two years ago. Libyans, The Clash, and The Descendents basically got me into punk music. And those are three bands demonstrate completely different ways of playing punk, which showed me that punk was an entirely dynamic and varied genre. I was hooked. I'm still on that punk-ass fishing line (HA!).
Libyans are a band originally from Boston, though they are pretty split up now, having their vocalist Liz live in Chicago and the rest scattered about. I've never seen them live but a boy can dream. Hearing their plans for tours after their new album comes out has me giddy as a schoolgirl. Hopefully through this interview, you will also become giddy. If not, you can get the hell out!
Jordan: So for those who are maybe unfamiliar with Libyans, tell us a little bit about your band. Who’s in the band and how did you all start?
Aaron: I think we started in 2007. It was me, Aaron, playing bass and my roommate Dan at the time was playing drums. Liz came along and we had a friend named Marcus who was the guitarist. Basically, Dan wanted to be in a band with me cause we were living together. If I remember correctly, we got drunk and had access to a practice space and weren’t playing Libyans stuff but making noise. Liz had just moved Boston and Marcus, who’s in the band Brainkiller, had moved from Albany. We just kind of met and started playing music. At the time there was another band with Dan and Liz that was a garage-rock outlet. We were just supposed to do a tour with them but the band broke up right before the tour, so Libyans toured.
A: Fast-forward two years and Marcus is moving to Texas. Kevin who had recorded our original stuff - the Demo and the Welcome to Neighborhood 7” said he’d be in the band so that’s the short history.
J: Had you guys played together before? How did you meet?
A: I was working as an intern with one of Dan’s best friends from High School and I met Dan through him. I had never been in a band before and we just hit it off one night geeking out about the Minutemen. Liz had been in bands before and Kevin had been in bands - he was from Western Mass. Liz knew bands from around the place. I had played drums before, not in other bands. Bass was new to me. It was definitely a learning experience and continues to be.
J: Was there a big punk scene in Boston when you all were meeting up?
A: Yeah, it was pretty healthy around then. Seemed like there were a ton of bands. There was a tattoo place “Regeneration” in Alston and they used to have shows there. It seemed like every week there was a show and that was a good meeting spot. There were always a ton of basements and houses doing shows at the time. It waxes and wains especially in Boston. Just recently, it seems like every basement or punk house got shut down. We were supposed to play in Boston two days ago but the venue we were supposed to play fell through and the other places were already booked. We ended up playing Western Mass, which was a good place to play. That was our first show of the year.
J: How often do you guys play shows?
A: It varies. Liz moved to Chicago about a year ago because she had finished grad school and we were working on the newest album for a while. Last summer we did a full U.S. tour from Seattle to Kentucky. Most of us have full-time jobs so we try to do ten or twelve day tours once or twice a year because of vacation time. Last year we did a small U.S. tour and went to Japan to play shows.
J: What was Japan like?
A: It was pretty cool. We didn’t know what to expect. We had toured Europe a year before and just figured we ought to go to Japan. It’s pretty nice over there because the venues have a backline of drums and bass and everything so you pretty much just need to show up with guitars, cymbals, and sticks. It’s pretty amazing in those respects. People seemed pretty receptive to us. The bands there can fucking play, too. It was like “holy shit!” Everyone basically had the story where they had been playing for fifteen years and only recently felt confident enough to play in a band. In the U.S. it was more like pick up an instrument and we’ll figure it out along the way. Everybody seemed pretty adept at their instruments there.
J: What were some of the good bands you all played with?
A: Most of the shows had around five bands. We played with this band Fightback. They were super noisy and I remember thinking “Holy shit, that’s the best band I’ve seen in years.” I think they were members of the Japanese band Forward. But a lot of the bands we played with were famous Japanese bands. Right now I can’t remember many band names but Fightback was incredible.
J: Who have you guys played with in the United States that you really enjoy playing with?
A: Frankly, I like playing with a lot of the Sorry State bands. I think it’s a like-minded set of people. I’m not really the best guy to ask about who we like playing with - it’s usually like I have friends at the show and haven’t seen people in a long time. When those people have bands seeing them and getting back together is great.
A: But we just played with Broken Prayer in Chicago, which is Liz’s other band, and they’re on Sorry State and just released an LP. They’re a pretty cool group. There’s a bunch of people from the Raleigh area that moved to Chicago.
J: Yeah, we have an awesome punk scene here. A lot of punk houses and basements and even some venues and restaurants are hip to having punk shows, which is great.
A: Yeah, I was out there last fall, but there were a lot of cool shows. I saw a Huey Lewis cover band at a place in Logan Square. It was a Mexican restaurant, but I mean, it was a Huey Lewis cover band so it was amazing. Guys from Canadian Rifle were doing Bruce Springsteen covers. It was pretty cool. Chicago’s a pretty cool city.
J: Boston actually reminds me a lot of Chicago. I haven’t been there in a few years, but when I was, I thought it kind of had the big vibe of having stuff to do but you didn’t feel isolated since it was impersonal.
A: In June I moved to Providence, so I probably go to Boston once a week, but anymore none of Libyans are in Boston.
J: How’s Providence?
A: I like it a lot. It’s cheaper down here and you get way more for what you pay for. I have a backyard and get to live alone. I had four roommates in Boston and I lived there for seven years. There were a ton of people going in and out and it got to be a lot.
A: But there’s a lot of Music and art in Providence. Not all hardcore. And I appreciate it. A lot of times there will be an electronic band playing with a punk band and then a dude with an acoustic guitar. It makes the shows more interesting. I imagine Raleigh is sometimes like that. In Boston there will be a super aggressive hardcore show where the bands are similar. I prefer shows where the bands are all different but the people are like-minded.
J: So how’s the recording process for the new LP been?
A: We mapped out most of it the week between Christmas and New Years. Liz flew out and we recorded at Kevin’s house in Western Mass. He basically has a recording studio out of his house. We haven’t mixed it but everything’s pretty much done. I think it came out pretty well. I’m really excited to let other people hear it. Some of these songs are more than a year old at this point. We played a bunch of them on tour for years and it’s good to have a document of it instead of hearing a song in your head.
J: When do you think the record will be out?
A: Hopefully by summer. I know we’ve talked about doing a tour this summer because Dan is in grad school right now so his time off is based on school cycles. We’re going to do it on Sorry State again for sure. Daniel Lupton has been really supportive of us and been psyched about what we do.
J: What are the songs like?
A: I think, if anything, it’s still moving forward. I’ve become a better bass player and that shows on the album. I think we can really play as a band now whereas in the past, even before A Common Place, we were trying to figure out how to play. I think it’s pretty cohesive as far as playing together goes. Also, the songs are really good. It’s our best album to come out this year.
J: Nice! I can dig that.
A: Yeah. (laughs)
J: So how does a song get done by you guys? Do you each do your own parts or are there full ideas?
A: It’s never really full ideas. A lot of times I’ll record something at home with an acoustic guitar. I’ll come in with a part and then people will flesh it out and things get changed around so someone will come in with a riff or two or an idea and we go back and forth until we’re happy with it. That’s been the songwriting process all the way through. A lot of times someone will bring something in and we’re pretty harsh on each other. At this point we’ll be like “Oh, that sucks.” (Jordan laughs) And it’ll be like, “Oh, I’ve been working on this for like three weeks!” So you have to go back to the drawing board, at the least. But the stuff that’s good that makes it through the process has to be pretty good.
J: Well, that’s cool that you guys are okay with that. I guess?
A: Yeah, it just makes things better, I suppose. That idea of nothing being sacred. It’s a good way to work through things. If someone says something sucks, maybe the person will try to work through the song and come back with the good things.
J: What’s the longest song you guys have written?
A: I don’t know. That “Crash Course” song is close to three minutes, but it’s kind of slower. There’s a two and a half minute song on the new album, maybe. It might be like 2:16. Maybe we all have really short attention spans, but when we’re playing a two and a half minute song we’ll think “whoa, that song is really long.” I guess some of the older songs are longer.
J: Have you thought of making music that isn’t punk-oriented?
A: I’m not sure. We all play in different bands. I’m playing in a group that’s more slowed down and less punk but with punk aesthetics. I think Libyans works well when everyone is playing as fast as we can. We’ve tried slower stuff in practice, but it seems to just fall apart for some reason. We haven’t really pushed away from the punk stuff, though what everyone listens to for the most part isn’t punk.
J: So what do you guys listen to, if you had to categorize it, or is it just a huge variety?
A: Well, I can speak for myself. I’ve been pretty into darker country music from the 50s right now. This guy Jody Reynolds. He’s got a lot of bullshit, but he also has five or six songs that are amazing. He wrote this “Fire of Love” song that The Gun Club covered. There’s a song “The Girl with the Long Black Raven Hair” that’s just amazing. But they’re categorized as the original death-rockers since it’s gloomy.
A: I’ll listen to stuff like that and other stuff. I really like Mission of Burma. I just saw them a couple weeks ago and I still think they’re incredible. But when we’re driving we just play whatever anyone is into at the moment. It’s a pretty big range of rock spectrum. Rock and country. Not a whole lot of hip hop.
A: Definitely check out Jody Reynolds. There’s another song called “Endless Sleep.” Some of his stuff is total bullshit like “Tight Capris” [Jordan: Yikes] where it’s total bubblegum but four or five songs are really amazing. I like a lot of that. I think Liz is more into powerpop stuff and anything from New Zealand or Australia. Stuff like the Clean and the Bats. Dan’s been into Grateful Dead for a while now too.
J: That is not what I would have expected.
A: It’s just stuff that’s just sonically different than distorted guitars all the time. Your ears need a break if you always go to those shows. It’s always good to not be too into one genre of music all the time. There’s a lot out there.
J: That’s what I have. Anything else?
A: I don’t think so. Kind of weird doing a phone interview. But, I think it went well. You’re gonna edit the fuck out of this, right? Make it really good?
J: Never when you swear.
A: All right. Cool.