The Lawrence Arms

The Lawrence Arms - Brendan Kelly

  • May 27th, 2006
  • Starlite Room - Edmonton, Alberta

I had thought that my interview with Derek Grant of Alkaline Trio went well a few hours before, but this one blew that interview out of the water. Brendan was a really nice guy, we went outside, sat in a small park outside the venue and just chatted in the fresh air about all sorts – drunken games, drunken tattoos, his enthusiastic hatred for Warped Tour, his life changing concerts and more. It was a great interview and the concert that night was absolutely mind blowing and I hope I can see them again sometime.

All live photos taken by Chris Wedman.

Bobby: So first off, you guys have been on this tour with Alkaline Trio for a few weeks now, how’s that going?

Brendan: It’s great. We’re all old friends, we all grew up together and stuff. And strangely enough, we’ve never really toured together. We’ve done shows, but we’ve never really toured together, so good times. It’s just nice to go into it knowing everybody and knowing that we’re all friends and not have to worry about any weird bullshit, you know? All the shows have been great, you know, they’re a big band so there’s really no stress – high fun.

Bobby: Has there been any really memorable moments from the tour so far?

Brendan: There’s been a lot of moments where nobody remembers what happens. *laughs* But no, you know what, it’s been pretty casual. We do a lot… it’s sort of a big thing for The Lawrence Arms. We always try to go out and have fun and whatever band we’re with we always try to bring them around and party with them as much as possible. Obviously the Trio is no exception, and we have this game where we get wasted and draw mustaches on each other.

The Lawrence ArmsBobby: Is that the motivation for the picture on the CD?

Brendan: Yeah, yeah, for sure. And we’ve had a few nights of pretty awesome mustache parties on this tour. Some really, really great pictures; last night was one of them. Yeah. We had another good one in Ottawa.

Bobby: Last time you guys were in Canada, the border guard stopped you, took your money, took your merch and then didn’t let you guys in. Was this time a lot smoother?

Brendan: This time was like nothing, man. We came up, we had all the paperwork worked out. We didn’t bring merch, we bought merch from a Canadian company so we had no merch at all. We didn’t want to fuck with that this time. So yeah, it was no problem at all.

Bobby: That’s good. All over the place you guys have the little logo called “Flappy”, where did you guys come up with that idea?

Brendan: I have a good friend who’s a really good artist, and he’s the guy who actually drew The Lawrence Arms logo, like the way the words are written. And he’s done a lot of stuff for us and we went to college together and he just had that in his sketchbook and I’m like “That thing’s really cool, would you mind if we used that for a t-shirt?” And then we just kind of kept putting it everywhere. It wasn’t the sort of thing where we set out to have like a logo, but we just kept putting it on stuff because we thought it looked cool; and then eventually, I mean, at this point now it’s obviously synonymous with our band name. So now it’s definitely like a logo. Yeah, we just thought it looked cool, that’s all.

Bobby: Throughout your career you’ve released a few b-sides on compilations and the internet and stuff, of course, most of them were re-released last year on Cocktails & Dreams on Asian Man. But two of those songs, “Presenting The Dancing Machine” and “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” were released on Cocktails & Dreams under new names, why did you decide to rename them?

Brendan: Well, the one “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been”, Chris actually addresses that in the CD. He named it that not really realizing that… like he knew it was a title but not realizing that it came from Joyce Carol Oates. And he was sort of bummed out because he’s not a big a Joyce Carol Oates fan, so he renamed it to sort of recapitulate his position on Joyce Carol Oates. Rather than being like “I’m a huge fan, I name stuff after her work” it’s more like “she’s a boring old biddy, I’m not a fan at all.” It was sort of, maybe, a lapse, a stoner lapse. And the other one, “Presenting the Dancing Machine” is actually the same name. It was in Italian the first time we released and then in English the second time. So we didn’t really change it.

Bobby: Okay, for Oh Calcutta! your new CD, you have a bonus song called “The Rabbit and The Rooster” which you can only get if you buy it from iTunes. Why did you decide to give it to iTunes?

Brendan: It was just an idea that the label had. We had a bunch of extra songs left over and that was like the one song, we thought it was going to go on the record and then some other songs turned out better than we thought so that one kind of got bumped. And we just had it finished, and iTunes will do little features about your band or whatever if you give them an exclusive track, and so we did. You can get it just by itself, you don’t need to buy the whole record to get it. It’s like a buck for a song, whatever. I think anybody who’s smart enough to download it for a buck, I think, is probably smart enough to download it for free. So I didn’t really think about it, just to get the song out there.

Bobby: Do you think you’ll ever re-release it on a mix CD or something or will it just be an iTunes exclusive?

Brendan: We have enough material for an EP that we recorded along with Oh Calcutta! And hopefully that stuff will all come to life. I don’t know. I don’t know exactly when or in what capacity. It’s not completely finished, it’s not mixed and some of the vocals still need to be done; but the stuff’s all there.

Bobby: Personally, I love my iPod and the ability to bring my music with me wherever I go, but I’m not a huge fan of iTunes, what do you think of iTunes and all of that?

Brendan: I have no opinion on iTunes because I have CDs and a Discman. I’m completely stupid when it comes to computers. Yeah, I don’t know.

The Lawrence ArmsBobby: On Oh Calcutta! A lot of the vocal duties were mixed between you and Chris; was it a lot harder for writing the songs?

Brendan: No, it was just something that sort of came naturally. I mean, it just sort of coincides with a few things. The times when we would sing together on all the old stuff was always the parts I thought were the most dynamic and the best sounding. So we were just trying to maximize that, and I mean, thematically, this record is so much about the unity of friendship and raising your voice together. Just thematically, it made sense that we sing the songs together. In terms of writing style, it was easy actually. A lot of things had been written for us to go back and forth and we just sort of ended up singing a lot more stuff together. We just kind of fucked a bit in the practice space until we got it the way we wanted it to go.

Bobby: Was it hard for Chris to come with the harder singing style of was it just natural for him?

Brendan: No, I mean, it’s natural. Chris definitely has a tradition of being a very aggressive vocalist, and on the last couple of releases that we’ve done, he sort of explored a softer side. But people forget that he’s a punk rock guy, like we grew up, his old band, Tricky Dick before the Broadways was like a really fast, almost like crusty band. Chris comes from a tradition of punk rock; it’s very natural for him. If anything, I think it’s a compliment to what a talented singer he is that he’s so natural at doing the emotive and melancholy stuff.

Bobby: Okay, the bonus song on Oh Calcutta, “Warped Sumer Extravaganza (Super Excellent);” first off, why did you decide to do with the country twang type feel for it?

Brendan: I wrote that song as a fast song. It was like Warped Tour, Fat Wreck Chords speed, because I thought the irony was kind of funny. And then one day in practice, we were just kind of jamming it and I started singing it like that and it was like “wow, that’s actually pretty cool.” I’ve always been a huge fan of country music, it’s just such a huge part of what the American tradition of music is. I mean, Rock’N’Roll is married to country in a way that can’t be ignored. Some of these old story tellers are so instrumental to the way I feel about music and the way I feel about song writing. And it just seemed right. It was one of those things where everything clicked. Now, we did record the other version also, and that will come out sometime. But that one I’m not singing soft and clean, I’m singing hard and screaming.

Bobby: The song is, of course, a big giant Fuck You to Warped Tour and Kevin Lynman and stuff, and you’ve been quoted before as calling Warped Tour “The biggest tragedy ever to happen to punk rock.”

Brendan: Yeah, yeah, for sure.

Bobby: Why such the anti-Warped stance?

Brendan: Well, it has to do with the fact that Warped Tour, it’s destroying the economy of DIY; and it’s doing it very methodically and very successfully in that [the] summer touring season used to involve a bunch of bands, like Alkaline Trio for example, jumping on buses and taking smaller bands, like us and the Black Maria for example, on tour. There would be all these bands that would do that, so all these support bands would have great tours to go on. Kids in every town would have a bunch of different shows to go see, like over the summer. Small clubs would have big, good shows at least once a week if not twice a week, three times a week; and kids would have stuff to do. Now, all those big bands go on the Warped Tour. When they come to town, it’s for one day. It’s in a band shell, small clubs all across the US are closing down, they can’t offered to be open. Bands like us have to tour against the Warped Tour, which sucks; or tour on the Warped Tour, which sucks even more. And you know it’s in a fucking big band shell; and the fact is, every single person who would read this interview, got into this at least in a tiny, little way thought there was something cooler than going to a band shell and buying twelve dollar bottles of water and standing there watching your favorite band play from like a million feet away. Now people talk about the Warped Tour like it’s the greatest thing to ever happen to punk rock, it’s not the greatest thing to ever happen to punk rock – it’s single handedly dismantling the whole thing we’ve been fucking building for all this time and nobody gives a fuck. And bands, big bands that play the Warped Tour say things like “Oh, it’s great, you only have to play it for half an hour” and it’s like “Fuck you! This is your job, I don’t care how hard you don’t have to work in order to get paid; like you’re fucking everybody!” And that’s why it’s the biggest tragedy. And that’s why it’s the worst thing to ever happen to punk rock, or DIY music in general.

Bobby: Okay, I like that answer. So have you guys ever done it? I’m assuming you never will?

Brendan: We did like seven days of it and we got kicked off it, banned for life.

Bobby: For what? What were you doing?

Brendan: Just, you know, pointing out the obvious flaws of the Warped Tour, on stage while the people running the Warped Tour were watching us. So it didn’t go over very well.

Bobby: According to the site Wikipedia, it says that you guys originally formed without the intent of ever playing a live show – is that true?

Brendan: Well, you know, that makes it sound little more romantic than it really is. We just sort of formed because we were three friends that played music. We didn’t have the intention of playing live, but we didn’t have the intention of not playing live. You know what I mean? It was definitely not like “okay, let’s get some songs together so we can have a show and be a band,” it was more like “I got some instruments down in the basement, do you wanna go jam?” So we’d go downstairs and we’d play.

Bobby: I was reading an interview with A Wilhelm Scream and they said how when you guys were on tour together, you convinced them all to go out and get a tattoo on the back of the leg with the word “Tour” in the middle of a heart. Have you guys ever done anything else crazy and spontaneous like that? Like get random tattoos or something?

Brendan: Um, yeah. I got this tattoo *points at his arm* It says “Rambling Boys Of Pleasure”. Tom from Against Me!, we got these in Austin. I don’t remember getting it and he doesn’t remember getting it, and we woke up…No! We got them in Dallas and then we both blacked out and we woke up in Austin in a bed together, like fully dressed – still with our coats and winter hats on. And I don’t know. Oh, I got this tattoo here, the drunk pelican hanging himself, me and the guys from Hot Water Music got real drunk one night and decided that would be a good idea. I mean, we always do stupid stuff like this *laughs*.I got this tattoo actually the guy, Marc Desalvo, he did the cover for Heavy Petting Zoo, the NOFX record – he did this backstage at a show and a friend of mine got his Lawrence Arms tattoo. This is an American Steel tattoo; it’s a band from East Bay area. Like we were piss drunk when we got these tattoos. Yeah, just lots of different tattoos, I’ve got loads.*laughs*

Bobby: Yeah, you’ve got some nice ones. *Points at one on his right arm* That one’s cool.

[You can see the tatto we are talking about in this picture, taken from this webshots site, it is the green face on his right arm.]

Brendan: Yeah, that’s the last one for this arm. It’s the oldest traditional tattoo in the world.

The Lawrence ArmsBobby: Oh really?

Brendan: My first Japanese tat. I think it has something to do with…. It has the version of a devil… This isn’t exactly right and anybody that knows this is probably going to laugh at this explanation, but it’s like a mask that has something to do with the devil and also a woman who’s been scorned and sort of becomes this sort of devil. So it’s like a jealousy devil thing. I don’t know, but the dude that did the tattoo really wanted to do one. He did this arm for me for free and it was something he really wanted to try.

Bobby: It turned out good though. When do you think the next Falcon record is going to come out?

Brendan: September.

Bobby: Was it recorded in the same type of way? Or did you actually go to a studio?

Brendan: No, we want to Atlas where we recorded Oh Calcutta!. It was fun. It was just the three of us this time, we couldn’t get Todd in. Todd, he’s still fully in the band, but like, he missed the recording so I did all the guitars. Neil did a little bit of the guitars stuff too actually. The really, really good guitars are Neil; and all the other stuff is me.

Bobby: Okay, I love going to concerts. I try to go to as many as I can, but of course, there are always some which are a bit more memorable than others. So thinking back, what are some concerts that you went to that are really memorable for you?

Brendan: The first thing that comes to my mind is when I saw this local band from Chicago called Oblivion. They played this show, and the lead singer’s like six foot six and he wore this full length like grandma house dress and their roadie had this stuffed dummy, actual size man dummy, and he just beat the shit out of it for the entire forty minutes. Besides that, they were like – at the time, they went on and eventually became pretty bad – but when they first started… I would say to this day, one of the top three best bands I’ve ever seen, ever heard. Like they were… I can not over emphasized the influence that band had on me, and that show, in particular, was the most eye-opening, amazing experience. I had a very similar experience seeing the Smoking Popes. It was about a month later and in the same venue. I had seen the Smoking Popes before and they were terrible because they opened for Jawbreaker and I was just there to see Jawbreaker. I was stranded at this club and I couldn’t get home, my friend was supposed to met me – Chris actually was supposed to met me – and for whatever reason he got lost or something. He had a car and I didn’t have a car. This girl told me she would give me a ride home if I stayed around and watched the Smoking Popes with her. I was like “they suck, I don’t want to see this” – they played and I was like “Oh God, I was so wrong.” They were amazing. I mean, the stuff that’s really memorable for me is the local stuff that changed my life. I’ve been to so many concerts now that just putting on a good show doesn’t mean shit to me anymore. A great show’s a great show, but the ones that really stand out are the ones that formulated my opinion about what is good.

Bobby: Now onto a bit more unusual questions that I just like to ask at all my interviews.

Brendan: Sure, sure man.

Bobby: First off, if you guys were stranded on a desert island as a band, with no food and nothing to eat, which one of the band members would you eat first to survive and why?

Brendan: *laughs* Well, Chris is pretty skinny. So I’m afraid we’d have to go with Neil, because I think we’d both survive of Neil for a little bit longer. He’s a big muscular dude. *laughs*

Bobby: If you were the member of the opposite sex for a day, week, month, however long you wanted, what would you do and why?

Brendan: Have sex with men, constantly. *laughs* I mean, I think sex is the only rational answer. Find out what it’s like to be a member of the opposite sex, I mean, sex is really the only big difference. So yeah.

Bobby: Could you tell us something about the band or one of its members that not many people know about? Like a little quirk they do on the road or something like that?

Brendan: Neil recently told me that the reason he orders tuna melts every day for lunch is because it’s one of the only foods that he actually knows what it is and can imagine. And when it comes to ordering food, he really can’t picture most items on the menu. He doesn’t know how to think about food, so he orders tuna melts *laughs*.

Bobby: Okay, if you could have one thing at this moment, anything at all, what would you have and why?

Brendan: I’d have my wife here, because I really like her quite a bit. Pretty much everything else in this world that I want is more or less at my finger tips. Like I can go inside and get a glass of whiskey, you know? I got my best friends here. I’m a simple man of simple pleasures, but my wife is very far away.

Bobby: I guess that’s about it, thanks a lot for doing it. Do you have final thoughts you’d like to add?

Brendan: Nah, this is great. My first time in Edmonton, so I think it’s gonna be a good time.

Bobby: It will be; thanks a lot.