Sunday, March 24, 2013

Interview with Tenement

I first got into Tenement when I read about them in Razorcake a while back, but I didn't get to see them until a few weeks ago at the Not Normal showcase, where Ralph from Not Normal was celebrating the release of his wonderful compilation album "Welcome to 13," a reflection on the world not ending in December of 2012, but continuing on (for better or for worse) at a time when that seemed just about all a body could do. The Not Normal showcase lasted over six hours in two segments that were roughly three hours each. About twelve bands played from the new gruffly aggressive Skrapyard to the frenzied fun-dripping Lumpy and the Dumpers. Tenement, as they later state, was kind of the odd man out, in terms of music style. Tenement plays a sound much more rooted in pop-sensibility.

What amazed me about Tenement's set was that even though the circle pit became less violent, the pogo of the punx simply changed to a different movement. And everyone at Swerp Mansion seemed to know all the lyrics of the songs, which was awesome. People were crowd surfing and moshing in one big conglomerate rather than the free form every man for himself pit I had been used to. It was really cool to see all the hardcore kids get into a band that was so different from the rest of the groups (and there were a lot of bands).

Tenement's album Napalm Dream is a furious blast of rock n' roll mixed with punk rock energy. The first song "Stupid Werld" is an anthemic rager ending with a sing-along chorus crooning "Living in, living, living in a Napalm Dream." For some reason it just makes a lot of sense. When I hear it, I think "yeah, I kind of am living in a napalm dream" (once again - for better or for worse). Tenement is a band that is really fun, first off, but it's a band that I find that people find impossible to dislike.

You can check out their Facebook page HERE, their Tumblr page HERE, and their bandcamp page HERE

Who all is in Tenement? How did you guys start? Did you know each other before starting the band for a while?
Jesse: Right now it's Amos, Eric, and I.  We've had some line up changes over the last 6 years but the core has been Amos and I.  I suspect we've found a stable line up.  We all grew up in Wisconsin. Amos and I went to the same high school in Neenah.  During high school we got into the typical punk/hardcore stuff and went to shows all around Wisconsin.  Around the time I was in my freshman year of college, Amos got ahold of me to play some music. And we've been playing in Tenement ever since.  We picked up Eric after some unfortunate shit happened and we needed a competent like minded drummer.

What was it like starting a band in Appleton, Wisconsin? Are there many bands there that you guys play with or enjoy listening to?

Jesse: We grew up in a small town and that was our scene and we don't really know any better.

Eric: I grew up in Hartford, about an hour south of Appleton. There were no bands except for crappy high school jam bands. There was a ska band called "Straight Edge Crack Whores" from the nineties. 

Amos: Jesse and I spent our adolescence going to crust/hardcore punk shows. And that was really the only kind of "scene" that existed in Appleton at the time. No less, it was really important to us, and what we probably took away from it most was the urgency in the sound and presentation. There was one really great pop group in the Appleton area when we were growing up called Yesterday's Kids. Their LP, "Can't Hear Nothin", is still one of my favorite modern Rock N Roll / Power Pop / Pop-Punk records. Lookout! released it, and to us, that was a mark of prestige, or something. That record is probably the reason why I wasn't ashamed to listen to stuff like The Beatles or Big Star even as I was so infatuated with punk and hardcore. They suffered a premature break up and reformed as The Obsoletes, with more alt. country influence. And they were still great. And as a seventeen year old kid, I spent alot of time sneaking into bars to watch them drunkenly slur through the songs that defined that period of my life and the town I grew up in. 

What all have you guys released? What labels have you been on? How has it been working with the labels or people from them?

Amos: Tenement has two proper LPs and a handful of singles and EPs. "Napalm Dream" was released on vinyl through Mandible Records from Brooklyn, New York. They approached us about releasing it after coming to see us at Death By Audio in 2007. That should give you a good idea of how long that record took to materialize. Hang Up Records from La Crosse, Wisconsin did the CD version which was quite a gamble, considering CDs are so difficult to sell in America right now. He straight up payed for us to record drums for "Napalm Dream", and we're very grateful to have worked with such a generous, honest guy. Cowabunga Records from Chicago did the vinyl for "The Blind Wink", after picking up a copy of the hand dubbed cassette version we were passing around in 2011. We met him in 2010, at a show in Chicago we played with some big shot pop-punk band that will go unnamed. Drugged Conscience, Burger, and Dead Broke have all given our full length records cassette release, and they're all really wonderful people that we've become friends with over the past few years. And I think that's important. You should be able to trust and respect them; whether they're making you millions or not. 

What is the recording process of songs like? Do you guys have specific roles in terms of songwriting and recording?

Jesse: The song writing process is funny. Most of the time Amos writes the bulk of the material, which is then filtered through  the rest of us. I'll do my own bass parts or add/subtract to a suggested one Amos might have in mind.  Then we might record it right away and never play it live, or Amos will just write and record the entire thing by his lonesome. Alternately we may write it then play the hell out of it and through that process change the song in some regard. The recording process for the last LP was that Amos recorded a bunch of demos, and I provided a song that Amos helped with.  We then went through the demos and got them ready for studio treatment if you will. I personally really like writing a song, then playing it a lot live and making those changes and finally recording it.  But I also know Amos has a different outlook on that type of stuff than I do.

Amos: Sometimes a recording will be a really compulsive thing that I undertake by myself, while writing the song. If it ends up with some sort of exciting quality or energy, it might end up on the final record eventually. I'm of the opinion that a song should be dealt with in a way in which suits it, even if it means that some of us play something unusual or don't play at all. Drums are my first instrument and my most natural creative outlet, so I can be rather picky about the drum parts. Which is probably hellish for Eric. 

Eric: It's kinda funny, but everytime I record drums for a song, I learn it the same day. I have not had any creative input toward songwriting so far, but my brain is churning.

What do you guys record on?

Jesse: A little bit of everything really. Refer to Amos.

Amos: Whatever suits the song, or is most available at the moment... be it eight track machine, Pro Tools, or cassette. 

Do you guys record in a studio? Your records sound pretty polished. Would you ever record in a studio if you have not?

Amos: We sometimes record in a studio setting, if it's decided that it will be the proper treatment for whatever we're working on. Napalm Dream was recorded at several studios around Wisconsin by our friend Justin Perkins, who has produced alot of other great records too. He puts his mark on everything he does, and It's a mark I've come to love over the years. It works really well for some of the music we write.

When I saw you guys perform at the Not Normal showcase in Chicago, you played a house show with a bunch of hardcore bands. Is this indicative of a Tenement performance?

Jesse: We'd gotten some practice in and the backlined gear sounded a lot like our own. I think it was a good example of a Tenement set.  However, it lacked a "Moment".  But i'm glad all the hardcore kids got into it. I felt we were the odd band out that night.

Eric: My favorite style of music is hardcore, so getting to play with HC bands all the time is great. It makes us play harder; maybe faster. 

Amos: Out of tune...out of key...RAW POWER. Most of the punx are tone deaf anyway, am I right???

You guys are clearly punk influenced and rock n roll influenced. What or who do you think has impacted or influenced your songs or recordings the most?

Jesse: Early on I think the really obvious stuff stuck out a lot, but at this point we're really influenced by a ton of stuff outside of the punk/HC/pop realm.  We've always been into the visceral power of a live hardcore band and feeling of Black Flag, which has informed the way we play live.  But now 6 years down the line we're all into some wild bullshit music nerd shit, be it skronky free jazz, house, R&B/SOUL, rock, pop, experimental classical, whatever... it all manages to show up some where.  

Amos: Black Flag and The Ramones have been very stationary influences with this band since day one. They probably always will be. Some of the more subtle influences that are no less important right now are folks like Ray Charles and Charles Mingus. Masters in mood. I've been listening to alot of lounge, exotica, third stream jazz, and ballad vocal stylings by the likes of Clyde McPhatter and other soul/jazz singers of the period. Those will all probably have an effect on our next record in some way or another. Some people probably won't like that. It's been a long time since I stopped caring about what everyone else liked. 

What do you think of the punk scene that you guys have encountered so far? I personally think it's alive and vibrant with people who really care. But do you think there's anything missing in it or stuff that your band can do that other bands don't do as much?

Jesse: A lot of punks are ignorant people in some regard.  Punk at times feels like a rigid dogma.  But at the same time it has undefinable qualities that still attract me to it.  This might sound silly, but I think punks in general should develop a stronger understanding of jazz music. It's more like "punk" than one might think.  Obviously this isn't the rule, and most of my friends I've made in my adult life have been through some affiliation with punk. 

Eric: Punk will always be like mold growing. If you remove yourself from the underground, the underground will still always remain. The internet has ruined going to shows in a sense. Instead of having to go to a show to hear what a band sounds like, you can have their whole discography downloaded in a few minutes. There is nothing we can do that other bands can't. Make sacrifices and take chances. 

Amos: The punk scene in America has been very kind to us, and we've got to be grateful for that. However, I feel like alot of folks involved with DIY punk have really self righteous attitudes and morals, and the social cliques at alot of punk shows have made them feel no different than the halls of a high school, or any other facet of normal society.

What have been some of your best experiences playing live? How do you judge a successful live show?

Jesse: The best times are when we have a moment... where something unique and unscripted takes shape.  Sometimes it's when an audience expresses their distaste for us. Like when we played with screeching weasel and some people didn't like some noise. As long as we leave an impression on someone, good or bad.

What is in the future for Tenement? More live shows and records? Any specifics?

Jesse: More music.

Anything else you guys would like to say?

Eric: Listen to Uh Oh (WI), White Wash (Canada), and Lumpy and the Dumpers (MO).