Thursday, March 20, 2014
Hello to the new indifferent world and our current population of mental breakdown cases out on sick leave with a handful of Xanax. I always thought people should spend more time making music and hanging out in record stores instead of chasing “job opportunity”. Careers, strategic relationships, and retirement plans are fleeting in nature, creating the perfect distraction from actually having to live your life. By living, I don’t mean the drudgery of career building. I’m talking real life shit, things that inspire and compel you to take part in your most absurd dreams.
With that in mind, I recently had the awesome opportunity to interview Nate Mitchell from Cars Can Be Blue from Athens, Georgia. I reviewed their awesome new release a few weeks back and needed to see what the deal was with these garage-punk noisemakers. Some amazing insight and scathing observations are here for your reading enjoyment. This is an excellent overview of what’s taking place throughout the underground music community and American culture in general. - Kevin
Cars Can Be Blue Interview with Nate Mitchell
Your latest release is more musically aggressive than in the past, what got the band so worked up to crank out this new full length of garage punk hysteria?
Well, I think the musical aggression actually increased more between album #1 (“All the Stuff We Do”) and album #2 (“Doubly Unbeatable”). The first album was written & recorded when Becky and I were listening to stuff like Tullycraft & Dressy Bessy & Go Sailor, so it definitely had more of a classic indie-pop feel to it, but with plenty of dick jokes and Moldy Peaches/Dead Milkmen-type “funny” songs. The second album was less twee and generally faster and more punked up, but still catchy & poppy, even though it’s kind of a “break-up” type album. So, to me, the new album (“Trace the Tension”) is more a continuation of the last one, but with only one hilarious dick joke song (“I am a Slut”) to prove we haven’t totally sold out on the funny stuff.
The song I sing (“Should Be Begging”) on the new album was a 21-gun salute to the music of Mr. Billy Childish and is probably the most overtly “garage punk” song on the record, but Becky doesn’t really care for that scene. A lot of times we’re writing songs with two completely different sensibilities clashing and that tension is what drives the band forward.
We bicker and argue constantly like a goddamn old married couple.
Your lyrical topics range from serious, I would say interpersonal dilemmas, to the everyday absurdities of life. What compels you to write the lyrics and is there a “heavy” underlying meaning?
I think right from the start of CCBB, it was firmly established that our stock in trade was singing foul/bleak/depressing lyrics over the simplest chords and catchiest possible melody and that the words had to be “real talk”, not pretentious cryptic poetry.
I would say that there is a lot of bile-venting going on, which I think is in accordance with the punk tradition, being negative and spiteful, but also giving you a great, catchy, sing-along tune. Right now, pop-punk is kind of a pejorative term, but isn’t that what the Buzzcocks and Ramones were?
Anyway, to answer your question, yeah, I’d say there is definitely some “heavy” shit going on in the lyrics department….depression, alcoholism, waking up everyday next to someone you can’t stand and wishing they would just drop dead, etc. and it all comes from a very real place, but we sugar-coat it with catchy melodies for your listening pleasure.
How does the current economy affect the outlook of the band in regards to selling records and playing shows?
Well, we’ve basically stopped doing both of those things. Athens, GA is a wage-slave paradise where literally everyone you know is struggling financially because they work a minimum wage shit job in a bar or restaurant or whatever. Our song “Poor For Life” sums up the general attitude of our peer group here in town. It’s pretty defeatist. CCBB can’t tour because we can’t afford to take time off from our crappy jobs, so we have boxes of records at home that will probably never sell.
What’s the scene like in Athens, GA? Do you ever tire of the city always being mentioned with REM and the B-52s?
I’m aware that Athens spawned The B-52’s & REM and I think that’s cool, so it doesn’t bother me at all…you can’t fuck with those first two B-52’s albums! I’ve heard recordings of the fourth REM show ever and they are tight as hell, the songs were catchy & great & they kicked ass live & paid serious dues playing total shitholes, so mucho respect for early REM.
I’m actually more encouraged by Athens’ music scene in the last couple years than I have been in a long time, even though the highest profile stuff is generally not my cup of tea. Athens is musically supersaturated with Americana crap, bland “indie” stuff that sounds like a composite of Pitchfork Best New Music bands, bad jam-band/fratty shit, weak dance-pop crap, paint-by-numbers thrashy hardcore and cliché-ridden stoner metal, but if you dig a little deeper, there’s a nice little pocket of good stuff. Bands I would encourage folks out there to check out would be The Humms, Mother The Car, The Cryptides, Timmy & the Tumblers, Axxa/Abraxas, New Sound of Numbers, The Rodney Kings, Sex BBQ, Monsoon, The V.G. Minus, The Fuzzlers, and I guess I will shamelessly plug the other bands I play in: Free Associates, Swag Dick Cats, The DeLux Interiors (Cramps cover band where I imitate Lux) and the band where I write & sing all the songs, which is Nate & the Nightmares.
How did each member get started in music and how did the band meet?
Becky pretty much failed everything in high school except for chorus. She has a really good voice and put a lot of effort into developing those vocal techniques back in the day. We met in the summer of 2000 at the place she was working, Video headquarters in Keene, New Hampshire, when I was renting the GG Allin documentary “Hated” and she pointed out that it was one of her employee picks. She basically picked up the guitar right before CCBB started, so all of the early CCBB songs are the first ones Becky ever wrote. I had played drums in some shitty high school bands, but hadn’t played for about five years until CCBB officially started in September of 2002.
How many releases have you put out so far and which is your favorite?
CCBB has three full-length albums. I don’t know exactly why, but Becky was never much interested in making seven-inch singles. Completists might like to know that we have a split single with the All Girl Summer Fun Band and an upcoming single on the UK label Oddbox Records.
Right now, the first album sounds too wimpy compared to the other two. The second one probably has two songs too many on it. The third one was probably thought about too much, but it’s the right length and has a good mix of songs. Maybe someday we will re-record some old songs and put together a career retrospective “greatest hits”-type package and that will probably be my favorite album of ours.
Do you swear by vinyl, cassette, CD, or none of the above?
I work at Wuxtry Records here in the heart of downtown Athens, GA, so I encourage the kids out there to keep buying vinyl, if only for my own job security.
What are some things that bother you in everyday life and in the music scene?
Oh jesus…where to begin? Becky and I are both crabby people, perhaps downright anti-social…not like violent, but prefer to avoid the masses as much as possible. At the same time, I tend to over-analyze everything, especially “scene politics” and observe a lot of regrettable behavior that transpires in a hipster mecca like Athens.
For one thing, I’m older than most of the UGA/Gen Y/20-somethings here and tend to agree with folks like Doug Stanhope who say that this generation is the first to be significantly less hardcore than their parents were. I don’t think kids really have any clear-cut thing to rebel against anymore. Any legit youth movement is cannibalized by marketing departments, you can dress as ridiculous as you want, tattoo & pierce yourself silly and it’s fine. Nobody cares. “Cool” really has no meaning anymore, cuz you have the internet making everything accessible & easy, but also making people and culture more self-conscious. Drugs are mainstream and ubiquitous and there’s so much pleasant-but-vapid music that reflects that, chillwave/shoegaze-type stuff that just sounds like Xanax and anti-depressants. Like, back when everything was hair metal & spandexed out, a boring band like Galaxie 500 really stood out, but now you got a whole generation that grew up on the internet and know that Galaxie 500 and MBV and Slowdive are “cool” and ape that sound, but it’s hollow because the cultural climate is totally different. It’s a copy of a copy and it’s tasteful and restrained and perfectly graphic designed, but it’s just more shit coming down the pipe with no genuine personality attached.
I hate how careerist bands are these days, although I guess it’s really the only way to claw yourself above the fray: hire a hotshot publicist, boost your numbers on Facebook, amass a Twitter following, etc. etc.
Sometimes a band like White Mystery will come along where I can tell that their hard work & dedication is finally paying off and they’re awesome folks, but most of the time it’s just your generic bunch of bespectacled dipshits with tousled hair.
I could go on and on for hours, but I’ll spare you.
What are your thoughts on the distinctions between punk, garage, and indie rock?
Well, “indie” is a fairly nebulous term, but to me it means Pitchfork Best New Music and a full decade of bands that sound like they are consciously aiming for that accolade and will fit in nicely on the in-store playlist at Urban Outfitters.
Punk is too fractured. I hate the current crop of hardcore bands who are just cookie-cuttering all the classic ‘80s-era stuff, especially preachy P.C./political stuff, but also crust punk/thrash/grind stuff that you typically find featured in MRR. I hate Warped Tour/Fat Wreck/Epitaph-type shit, I hate street punk, fashion punk, whatever you wanna call it.
I grew up in NH, so I saw The Queers play a lot when I was just out of high school and they would bring a lot of bands through town when it was kind of the golden era of the Lookout Records roster: Groovie Ghoulies, Mr. T Experience, The Nobodys, The Hi-Fives, The Parasites, so I do have a soft spot for pop-punk of that era. I like a short, fast, catchy tune with decent lyrics & a good melody, either that or a total fucking mess of genuine antisocial weirdos like GG Allin or the electric eels, who are the punkest band of all time.
Garage rock as a local scene was something that I didn’t really experience until I moved to the south, right when the Black Lips were starting to really blow up and I thought they were great!
There were a few bands like Mr. Airplane Man that would play in the Boston area that I liked, but I didn’t make a connection with a garage scene until I started going to shows in Atlanta and found people who dug ‘60s Back From the Grave-type stuff, but also ‘90s bands like Supercharger and Thee Headcoats. Maybe that scene existed up north, but I just never knew about it.
We played shows with The Coathangers when they were still just starting and those shows were always a blast. Atlanta bands like Baby Dinosaurs Vs. Extinction were folks I felt we had a lot more in common with than the vast majority of Athens groups.
There’s a lot of sameyness in the garage scene, a lot of stuff that’s pretty played-out, like the whole pizza party/beach bum/beer bong aesthetic, but I’ll take a fun, sloppy party band over some boring, mopey, indie band any day.
What does the band have in store for the summer and are you working on a new release?
I don’t really know what’s going on with us. I think we’re on hiatus or something right now. We’re not practicing or writing new songs or playing shows or touring, so right now I think it’s safe to say we ain’t doin’ shit. Becky’s in beauty school and that’s her main thing. I play in all those bands I mentioned earlier, so I’m hoping to have some stuff come out soon with some of them, tapes, a seven-inch, something before this summer. If you liked the song “You Should Be Begging” on the new CCBB album, you’ll probably dig the Nate & the Nightmares stuff.
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