This country is unequal still

And history continues itself

Welcome to Welcome to Hell World the newsletter about predatory capitalism the carceral state and addiction and mental health that’s also an emo and post-hardcore music blog for some reason. If you can chip in to support my work please do. Paying subscribers can listen to a recording of this interview here.

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If you’re new here due to today’s musical interlude with the on and off again beloved Massachusetts band Piebald you may appreciate previous pieces like this one with my top 118 emo-ish songs of the decade or this one about YouTube comments being the last sincere place online or this one where I talked to a bunch of punk and emo favorites about the lowest moments in their careers.

Regular Hell World readers will know that from time to time in the midst of relaying one stomach-churning story about police violence or healthcare bankruptcy or what have you I often meander off into stories about my own shitty past including anecdotes about my  cokehead Boston scenester twenties but one thing I forgot to mention is that more often than not the music playing in the background of most of those scenes the diegetic music if you will was from a band called Piebald and in particular their 2002 album We Are the Only Friends That We Have which is pretty much a perfect record start to finish.

Being from Massachusetts and roughly the same age as the band watching them and other bands in the scene like Cave In and Converge develop over the years and go on to bigger things was pretty exciting to behold because people love it when bands who are from where they are from succeed although only up to a point and then fuck them. That’s particularly true in Boston where we all have an inferiority complex combined with an underlying belief that we’re better than you.

To be honest I don’t have a very good sense of to what extent Piebald actually “succeeded” I should ask about that.

Although they’ve popped back up to play some shows here and there over the years including the one in the posts above in Boston in 2016 at which I believe I cried on a couple of occasions their recent release Piebald Presents to You, A Musical Christmas Adventure is their first new music in roughly twelve years or so.

I spoke with the band’s Travis Shettel on the phone from New Orleans where he lives because I guess he thinks he’s too good for Massachusetts now but instead of doing a regular band interview I asked a bunch of other bands who are also fans of Piebald to write the questions themselves which is great because it’s different and also I’m lazy.

Even if you don't know and love Piebald like you should this is a great chat about being a band lifer and sort of making it but not quite and Christmas music and New Orleans vs Boston and LA and what being part of it means and more.

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Cat is out of the bag! Here are some headlining dates we’re playing before and after the Dashboard Confessional tour in February! Party time! #ragewithmyfriends #stuartcannotbetaggedDecember 3, 2019

Before we get to that though you should know that fifty years ago yesterday Fred Hampton was assassinated in his sleep by the pigs in Chicago and here is why.

Imagine that?

Another thing you should know is this week the Trump administration approved a rule that will remove 700,000 people from federal food assistance inserting a work requirement into the program and here is what I think about that.

There are fucking “liberals” who think like this!!  The only thing I tell myself is maybe they can be convinced. Actual conservatives are fucked from birth and doomed to hell and there’s no point talking to them about anything.

Ok let’s talk about music!

I always say the best time to interview a band is right after they’ve been to the dentist.

Yeah… I’ve just been to the dentist. But it’s the LSU Dental School. But it’s the dentist. I got a cavity filled. That’s dental stuff.

I used to do that when I needed a couple root canals, I went to like Tufts up here.

Yeah it’s a lot cheaper.

It’s funny, I’m working on a piece for the newsletter where I ask people to tell me a bunch of their dental nightmare stories. A lot of people, and I’m sure a lot of band dudes especially, never went to the dentist for like ten years in their twenties. Does that apply to you?

Yeah I mean I didn’t go very often. Like every few years. My teeth they feel like they’re made out of oatmeal anyway. I don’t know what’s going on there. I have tons of cavities. They look nice, but they didn’t age nicely.

Yeah I have that thing, people tell me I have nice teeth. Yeah, in the front. In the back it’s like a fucking horror show.

Yeah. Look inside all my teeth. It’s not pretty.

When did you go down to New Orleans?

I moved here three years ago.

For any reason? For a job or family?

No, just cause, every time I had been here it had been a magical experience. And it’s a very unique place. And I didn’t know anybody so it was a big challenge for me. I just felt it was my time to leave Los Angeles.

Do you still get after it at night and stuff?

Yeah for sure, I mean, I’m a bartender. I work at a bar, sometimes my shifts start at midnight here. It’s really kind of wild here.

Jesus Christ.

Yeah it’s a weird… New Orleans is a different land. It’s not the same.

You came through LA, but compared to Boston it’s gotta be like night and day.

It’s very different. It’s very European. Actually though, I would say it’s closer to Boston than it is to LA. Just the vibe, and the historical… It has a lot more age and history than LA does. LA got like mob-built in fifty years. New Orleans and Boston are hundreds of years old.

Right, that part I get. So the idea of this thing is instead a regular boring interview I’d get a bunch of bands who are fans of Piebald to ask questions. But before that I have a couple. If you were going to re-write the first couple lines of King of the Road today, how different would it be?

Not very.

Was that accurate.. mostly accurate?

Yeah some things were a little embellished. But, you know, Andy did get sick of Newbury Comics, and he did go back to school. Aaron is a little heftier than he was when I wrote it. Alex keeps playing drums, but instead of Van Halen he’s in American Nightmare and other bands. Uh, let’s see. John did get married to Laura. I do not teach their kid… I’m probably the furthest off! They had a couple kids, but I don’t teach them. And Luke. He’s here too now. That’s it.

I hear you guys were batting around the idea of doing Christmas covers, but it didn’t work out. Were there some that you tried?

Not really. We had just kicked around the idea before we recorded three of our own songs that we would make one of our own songs and record a Christmas song and then we just never did it. Over ten years ago now when we were doing the Christmas shows in Andover, MA and we did one with Cave In, I think we were on WBCN and I played The Christmas Song… the one that goes “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…” I heard that radio broadcast the other day so maybe I’ll bring that one back.

We had a phone call the other day and I was like So do we want to do any Christmas songs? And Aaron was like we just wrote three what are you talking about? …

So this newsletter is usually political but I’m also a huge fan of punk and emo and hardcore so every now and again we do a music edition. I don’t know that I ever would have thought of you guys as a political band overtly, but was it in there?

Yeah for sure. I think it still is in there. I think there’s like a do things yourself. Make the best of what you can. The system may not look out for you and probably isn’t going to. There’s huge inequalities. I’m trying to spin it in the most positive light in a song  because I gotta be honest, nobody wants to hear political rhetoric for a band’s entire set. I know I don’t. But there are moments where I feel politics needs to be discussed. Songs like the Marcus Garvy song. That was a wake up call to me in college. I’m reading about these people that I’ve never heard about because… Who didn’t want me to tell me? All the people in charge who are rich, mostly white people who have historically controlled this land. That’s why I didn’t hear about it. And that’s sort of how American Hearts is too. I ran into a homeless dude and he started yelling at me because I didn’t have anything to give to him. It was my conversation with a homless guy that really didn’t go that well. So there are moments of political… I don’t think of us as a political band, but it is in there for sure, and I hope that people pick up on some of those things.

It’s sprinkled throughout for sure. And you know, this country is unequal still, of course.

It is. Worse than when I wrote that song. It’s horrifying.

Here’s a weird question — and it’s always awkward to cast yourself as a big fan, but I am, and I don’t usually want to say that because it makes the energy a little different when you’re interviewing somebody — but I don’t have a good sense of how big Piebald ever was if that makes sense. I’m from Boston… I would go to the shows and they would be huge and everyone would be stoked. But was it like that everywhere else?

No. No it was not. Boston is certainly our home and gives us the most props in the nation. Probably the world. That’s like our place. We feel like we’re from there, and Boston lets us know that we’re from there. But we’ve had incredible shows in New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia… But then there are places where it’s not as hot. I also think our popularity has gone in waves over the course of our career. There were times when we were really hot shit. Now I think we’re living off of this, like, people living off of these past emotions. And it’s great. It allows us to have this future and this present. I would not change anything. We’ve had times when we just weren’t as popular. The mid-2000s was a downtime for us. That, I think, caused us to take a big break because it was hard. Well it was hard for me I’ll tell you that much. I can’t really speak for anybody else but I had a tough time with what was happening with Piebald in the mid-2000s.

Well that’s a thing I’ve always been fascinated about, as a music journalist, and a musician myself, never breaking through to the next level, but, I’ve always had that appreciation for bands that like… tasted it a little bit.

Yup. That is pretty much where we’re at. We never made it to like Taking Back Sunday level, or like Jimmy Eat World level. But we are obviously bigger than tons of bands that existed at that time, before, or after. So we’re somewhere in the middle. But we can’t live off it. We do it because we love it. We’ll be able to pay for Piebald, do you know what I mean?

It’s self sustaining?

Exactly. But I don’t think it would be a wise decision for us to quit our day jobs if you know what I mean. But we’re lucky enough to be in positions where people respect our band in the places where we work. They’re like, well you told us from the get-go you were a musician, so, we’ll figure this out.

I have people come into The Saint, and we weren’t very big in New Orleans — maybe Piebald played less than ten shows here — and people will come in and say Are you the dude from Piebald? And like, I can’t believe that’s happening. That happens and it blows my mind.

The bar you work at is The Saint?

Yeah. The Saint is like an awesome dive bar.

Well any New Orleans readers are going to have to come in now. You’ll be happy to hear — I also do Emo Night Boston here — and we get a couple hundred kids. Around midnight or so we’ll play American Hearts, and all the twenty five year old kids seem to know it, so that’s a good sign right?

That’s great! At this point, it’s wild, but I have a feeling older brothers and sisters introduced younger brothers and sisters to it. And parents introduced their kids to it at this point! Which is crazy! I never thought we’d be talking about Piebald in an age… People who went to see Piebald shows in the late 90s have kids that are coming to see the shows now.

It’s crazy. Ok, well I got a lot of questions from other bands so let’s get to them. This first one is from Jeff Rosenstock, who’s great by the way.  “So many of your lyrics are these perfect one-liner immediately quotable non-sequiturs for my friends and I who would say Hey you're part of it! like all the friggin time.  How much editing goes into your lyrics? Is it stream of consciousness straight off the dome stuff or is it an endless quest to find the perfect sounding words? Or is it some sort of third option I'm not considering?”

I think it’s mostly the third one. If I like how something sounds I’ll write it down and sneak it into a song somewhere. Even if it doesn’t really fit the vibe or the construct of the theme of the song. I feel like it’s more about finding the perfect words.

I remember trying to pull lines that felt like they went together to make a song so it seemed like it was a little more streamlined. But I do think it’s more like searching for great one-liners over and over again.

He also wants to know if that changed over the years?

Not intentionally. I feel like that’s how I still am lyrically, or think I am, or feel like we are? I hope we’re witty and full of one-liners still.

Like some of the jokey titling type of stuff you guys were doing. Fall Out Boy and bands like that were doing those long jokey titles too, but were you doing that before?

I don’t know about before all of it. But I remember we put out Friends… and it had all these witty titles. Then I remember — I don’t want to say Taking Back Sunday again — but it was like Cute Without the ‘e’… Songs like that sort of had a similar vibe. It may have been at the same time. I really can’t go back and say we did that first. I think a lot of that was in the same ballpark. Maybe we were sitting on the same things at the same time.

Yeah it was in the air at the time. These next couple are from Christian from The Hotelier, who, if you don’t know, are one of the most exciting bands out of Worcester, MA in the past couple years. He says “So The Hotelier coming out of Worcester was surrounded by a lot of hardcore, and in a sense our music was a response to that scene. I’m wondering, coming up in the Merrimack Valley HC kehd, if you find that Piebald has elements that were honoring, pushing back against, or responding to the local hardcore scene in any way?”

I’d say all of it. All those things. We responded to it. We pushed back against it, but that was after a time. Only musically. Not the vibes of the hardcore scene, but the music. We were like, we started getting into Sunny Day and Weezer and it changed what we wanted to do musically. I was saying this in an interview the other day, we realized you could still be really heavy, but you don’t have to scream. You can walk away from a song and still want to punch a wall, but you can also be singing at the same time. There can be some harmony in there!

My favorite thing in the world is a band that started out as a hardcore band and decided they wanted to write songs. All my favorite bands were hardcore bands who decided, well, maybe we could sing a little bit…

Right. I think it’s just a natural growth. Look, when Piebald started it was 1994. I was sixteen. I just had less life experience and had heard less music, so the hardcore scene was super motivational at the time. And it still is. It’s why any Piebald thing existed and grew us to where we are at now. I am very proud of that history of us, that being what our youth was. Going to all ages shows, VFW halls and seeing touring bands play with Converge and stuff. I don’t know…It was awesome. It was inspiring.

Christian wants to know if there’s anything uniquely New England or specifically North Shore, MA about Piebald.

Not intentionally. But I don’t think you could take that out of us. I didn’t intentionally write Massachusetts or New England vibe songs, but Fear and Loathing on Cape Cod is screaming at me right now. It was just an experience I had on Cape Cod. Because I’m a Massachusetts kid I do think there are some things that are very Massachusetts, Boston, and New England about us.

Did you guys ever play at the Beach Combah kehd?

The Beach Combah! I don’t think we ever did. Sadly. But I’d love to play the Beach Combah.

You missed out. Did you have a Massachusetts accent? And did you lose it as you moved around the country? This is me asking.

No I didn’t really have a whole lot of an accent but I grew, and so did, well Luke grew up in Connecticut, but the rest of the Piebald dudes grew up in Andover, MA. I think it was because it was more of a suburb, so the Masshole accent was around, but I didn’t get it as much because of being in the burbs.

Here’s another one from The Hotelier. “Piebald’s sound feels defined by its humor and playfulness. Sometimes even its sincerity feels like a joke. This is a thing of music where you hear a piano breakdown or key change on the last chorus you think, ‘That’s funny.’ And Piebald has never really shied away from that. I’m interested in hearing about what is in that. What is Piebald’s artist statement, or what do you feel Piebald’s mission is, and how does this humor fit into it?”

Humor is huge. I also think I don’t like when things are a joke of themselves. There is a line. We try to draw it where, yes, we are goofballs, we want to have fun, yes, we laugh at ourselves, yes. But at the end of the day we hope what you remember us for is a really fun show, us being awesome, and everybody singing along. The humor part can be remembered, but I hope that’s not all you take away from it.

Ok this is from Kyle, from a younger band in Boston called Actor/Observer, a really god post-hardcore band. “After 25 years, things in the Boston scene and the overall music business have radically transformed; what would you say is the most striking change and what has changed the least? Both locally here in Boston and in the business?”

OK… the biggest change is how people listen to music. And what has changed the least is that people still love live music. It’s a simple answer but I think that’s really it.

This one is from a dude I think you guys played with, Max, from the band Signals Midwest. “What was it like being in the studio together for the first time in a decade-ish, maybe more? Did you click back into it pretty seamlessly?”

We pretty much clicked back into it. We’ve been playing shows the past couple years, so we’ve warmed up a little bit. So it was pretty natural.

He says “I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about how the band operates these days. As I get older I'm finding myself becoming more and more interested in the longevity of creative projects, especially bands like yours and mine who are separated geographically and who don't do music full-time. For us, the hardest thing isn't coming up with the ideas - it's just making space to be in the same room and get the chemistry going. How do you see this playing out as the band picks back up and re-enters your lives in a bit of a bigger way?”

This one might be hard to answer but… I think the newest thing that Piebald has done, and it shows our maturity because we were never able to do this before, is that all of us help out a little. We all have our tasks. I think that has been turning it around for us lately. We talk to each other regularly now. It’s a phone call every other week… Andy you gotta do this, Stuart rent the van, Luke you gotta do this… I think divvying up tasks and knowing everyone has a role has become an important and powerful thing for us because everybody feels like they have a place in the band. A purpose. Then the music is this other thing that we really get to enjoy. Nobody feels like Oh, I’m doing all the work. I gotta do all this crap and nobody is helping me, which I have felt before, but I don’t any more. I think it’s seriously helping a lot to, not only relieve me or somebody else who’s doing everything, but it also makes people feel like they have a part in this.

It probably also helps being forty three or whatever as opposed to being twenty three.

You’re right that helps too. When you’re all in a more mature state of being. Where we’re like -- well all the other guys in Piebald have kids. I’m the only one who doesn’t have a kid. That alone, that changes who you are! That makes you more mature. Even if I was a fucking little twenty five year old fuck up, I have a kid now, and I gotta pul it together. Not everybody does that, but a lot of people do.

One more thing from him. He talks about touring pre-smart phone days. Do you remember the early days of that and the logistics of touring?

Oh yeah. Everybody had a physical map and you’d have the promoter’s  number. You’d get to the city, find a payphone, and call them to get directions the rest of the way.I also remember scheduling time to call my mom on a payphone too, which sometimes you didn’t find. You’d be like, alright mom, I’ll try to call you, when I think you’re home from church on Sunday, if we stop, and I find a payphone, so… If not I’ll leave a message whenever I can… That was very real. It also coincided with people recording to tape. Now you can record an album that sounds beautiful in your living room. Before you had to book a studio or know enough to make your own studio. Digital things have really made a change in culture and music and everything.

It’s a lot easier in some ways but there’s also this pressure to always be… I follow a lot of younger bands on Twitter and it feels like they have to remind everyone they exist every day or else they’ll…  die.

I think that’s a different thing. It’s less about music now and more about being seen. It’s not the bands’ fault. It’s how we take in data.. Everything, information. How we enjoy things.

This one is from Brendan from a great Boston emo band called Save Ends I really love. “Travis is one of the few musicians to hide under a drum riser during a show. Can you describe the experience?”

Haha I’ve put myself in trash cans too I just go wherever I can. If I fits, I sits, as the cats say, right?

What was that show?

I think it was the Fest in Florida. It was a secret show we played at the Wooly, and I saw I could just squeeze under the drum riser so I did.

This is from Kinsey of the Baltimore-based band Us and Us Only.  “Is it your official opinion that American Hearts should replace The Star Spangled Banner as our National Anthem?

Uh.. No but if he wants to try to push for that I would vote for it. I’ve never thought about that as a question.

They could play it at baseball games and stuff.

Yeah it’s a little less uplifting. It’s still pretty fun. Maybe they can play, like a b-side, like after. It’s still pretty fun. Maybe they can play, like a b-side, like after.

Yeah at the 7th inning stretch they play America the Beautiful. They could replace that.

There we go. Or create a new inning stretch. The 3rd inning stretch.

So he wants to know if the “world is going to end soon? And if not, can you lie and just say that everything is all good?”

Everything is all good!

Just to be clear, you are lying.

Yes I am! I think we’re in trouble. It may not be in my lifetime, but I think we’re kind of screwing ourselves here. Greed has conquered, and I’m not sure there’s a way back from it. I hope so, but I’m not sure.

I don’t think so. Ok what else… In the history of the van, RIP, what was the most frequently played record? These guys also say they play a lot of Weird Al in their van.

There’s probably a few. I remember listening to Queen’s Greatest Hits and Tom Petty’s Greatest Hits a lot. A lot. Jawbreaker Dear To You I remember all of us jamming that.

That’s a great one. I actually saw them on their reunion…

I wish I could have seen them I have not been able to. I’m sure they will play again. No one ever thought that were going to play and they did so I’m sure they’ll keep doing it. I don’t know that they’ll come down to New Orleans though.

It was like this really cliche thing. It was a few months ago. I was exhausted. I didn’t want to be out and I went to the gig. They were playing late. You know I’m pretty old now too and I was like I can’t be out this late. I was trying to sneak out and my friends were like Oh you’re going to come to the next Jawbreaker show?? And I was like fine. You’re right. I stayed and it was great.

Sometimes you need to hear that from your friends, because you can’t see that. You’re like I’m just tired, or I just don’t want to be here. But you need somebody to be like Hey this isn’t going to happen for a while

Well I think that’s how I felt at the Royale a couple years ago when you guys played.

We thought that too. We were like, ok, we don’t know when we’re doing this again. This is possibly a one and done. Then things kept rolling and we kept having little things happen. It won’t be the last time we’re playing in Boston for sure. Well, we’re playing in like two weeks…

Ok these questions are from Pet Symmetry, a great band.

Yeah I know Evan.

Evan’s a big fan I’m told. And he’s all over the place, the new emo scene.

Yeah he does lots of stuff.

They ask “What exactly are we a part of?”

Well, to the man I was talking to, the inequality of humanity. I am a peg in… rich people’s machine, and he called me on it.

It’s weird, that song, it’s like… triumphant and joyous in a way. But it’s also accusatory. This is me asking.

Yes. It’s triumphant cause we hope for change. But it is accusatory because it’s like Hey we are fucking this up. We’re not even giving humans healthcare… and food! Maybe they’d be productive members of society if we took care of them a little bit.

For sure. They also ask “How has your opinion of Holden Caulfield changed over the years?”

I’d need to read the book again. It’s been a very long time. But he was kind of a prick.

Yeah he seems like a prick in retrospect.

And he hates everybody. I think it’s wild  because you’ve never read a book like that before, but looking back on it I think about him… there’s one time he thinks about shooting someone… There’s maybe better ways to deal with this bro… I’d need to read it again to give a full review.

Seems like a prick.

Yeah I’ll stand by that one. My statement.

They talk about King of the Road. “If you were going to write the obituary for your old van in the Boston Globe what would the first line or two?”

Of Melvin? The first line… Thank you for allowing Piebald to go thousands of miles!

Ok one more from them. “Is it hard to write a Christmas song?”

I think it’s easier than writing a Piebald song. With a Christmas song I feel like I was able to throw cares to the wind…With a Christmas song it was like, ok, it should be fun. It should be pretty happy. It should be sing-along-y. It doesn’t really have to do anything with Piebald. The freedom there we had I think helped me feel a little bit better. That’s what is partially scaring me, writing actual Piebald songs.

If I’m anticipating your emotions here a little bit, it’s like, it provided you with a sort of cover. You might have felt anxiety about it being an official Piebald song. With a Christmas song it’s not really…

Yes. You nailed it. I can only speak for myself but it eased my mind about what Piebald is. I’m thinking about it as a holiday EP. We just tried to fit that theme and I didn’t have to worry about how Piebald it was. Was it enough Piebald? Too much Piebald? I didn’t have to think about that.