Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Paint It Black {Volcalist} & Lifetime {Guitarist} interview: Daniel Yemin. September 13, 2010.


Vista: Hey Dan.The first question that I have for you is, at was your first introduction to Punk/Hardcore? How old were you & what were those first bands that really grabbed your attention? Also, what was the first show that you ever attended and what year was that?
      
Dan: In 8th grade I was mostly listening to older stuff like Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, and the Who, and some older and newer Prog (Yes, King Crimson & Rush), but I was also really into some current top 40 new wave like the Cars, Blondie and Devo. A friend of mine with a smart older brother introduced me to the Clash, and from then on my life was ruined. I got really curious really quick, and wanted to know everything. The local record store was limited, but that’s where I found the Sex Pistols, the Misfits, and Squirrel Bait.  There was no internet in those days, so our only options for finding out about underground music were (1) cool older brothers (I didn’t have one of those), (2) taking the train into Manhattan to scour the record stores there, and (3) obsessively listening to college radio stations. The third option is how I found the first bands that really made a difference for me: Minor Threat, Husker Du, Generation X, and Circle Jerks.  At the same time I was also getting really into the Cure, Psychedelic Furs, Smiths, New Order, Jesus & Mary Chain, etc. As fixated as I was on Minor Threat, I was also trying to figure out Robert Smith’s and Johnny Marr’s guitar techniques.  First show was Reagan Youth, 1984.

Vista: There are a bunch of questions that I want to ask, just cause I've thought about them for so friggin' long now! O.K., I read that at one time you were in Ressurection? How did that come about & how long were you in that band? Any memories that really stick out for this time era?
      
Dan: Ari and I were both in Resurrection for the first 7” and the first compilation track.  Rob and Ari were best friends from High School, and he had just ended things with Release. Rob had actually gotten in touch with me even before Ari did to try to sing for the band that would later become Lifetime. Rob and I met a couple of times, and then he disappeared for a few months with my 4-track, my microphone, and the demo I made of a bunch of songs. Ari called eventually wanting to talk about doing a band, and he got my stuff back from Rob for me. Rob wanted to do another straight edge band, and although I was never edge, he asked me to join anyway. He used to tell everyone that because I was more posi-core than any of his straight edge friends, it was OK, and since he was “Rob Release” that explanation seemed to suffice for everyone. Lifetime and Resurrection shared a practice space in Rob’s dad’s garage. Between both bands I was down there 4 nights a week after work. We had a lot of fun, and I liked that Ari’s beats on the first 7” were more inspired by the 2nd Beastie Boys album, Public Enemy’s “…Nation of Millions…”, and Bl’ast than by any traditional straight edge bands.  It gave everything a really unique feel, especially because everyone else at the time either wanted to sound like Chain of Strength or Quicksand. We got to open for Gorilla Biscuits at the Unisound in Reading, PA, even though it was the lame 1991 lineup with Capone on guitar and Porcell on Bass. One of the standout memories was that Rob and Ari’s sketchy friends robbed our practice space! 

Vista: I didn't know this either, but I heard that in 2000 you suffered a stroke? Instead of resting, you formed Paint It Black!? What doctor prescribed that!? Really, that must have been horrible! Did you ever think that, "shit, I'm never going to be in a band again"?
      
Dan: I’m the doctor that prescribed that. Starting a new band seemed like the most life-affirming thing I could do after an early confrontation with mortality. When they stuck me in the tiny plastic coffin of the MRI machine and told me I had to lie perfectly still for a little over 20 minutes, I just sang the “Start Today” LP to myself, I finished “Cats & Dogs” just as they pulled me out.  No one had been able to track down my family yet at this point and I was scared shitless and alone, so you could say that HC pulled me through when there was no one else there.  Once word got out though, my family and friends were there 24/7.  And for the record, the only time I ever thought to myself, “Shit I’m never going to be in a band again,” was when Kid Dynamite broke up. 

Vista: Speaking of Paint It Black...How did that band come about? Can you give us a brief history of the band? As far as influences, what were some inspirations for this project?
      
Dan: P.I.B. was a direct result of having had a stroke in 2001. An experience like that makes you take a long hard look at your life and re-evaluate your priorities, the things you’re living for. After Kid Dynamite ended, which was only 3 years after Lifetime broke up, I’d been really frustrated with being in bands, like, “hey, I can’t seem to keep a band together, maybe this just wasn’t meant to be.” I threw myself into my career, and soon found myself working 60 hours a week. I thought that the days of doing a serious band were behind me. It’s hard to believe that at this point we’ve been together longer than either of my previous bands.

Vista: Vocally, who are your direct influences? Was there a singer or a band that really inspired you to want to sing in a band? On that note...As a guitarist, who are your influences? How old were you when you first started playing guitar?
      
Dan: Vocally my influences are Ian MacKaye, Dez Cadena, Kevin Seconds, Martine Sorrondeguy, Aesop Rock, MF Doom, Chuck D., all of whom contributed to inspiring me to “sing” in a band. But the real reason I decided to take over the vocals was that I didn’t trust anyone else to write the lyrics for a band that was basically inspired by my stay in the hospital, and how reflecting on death radically changed my life. Also, I wanted the lyrics to be fairly political and I didn’t want anyone else to misrepresent me in that regard. As far as trying to play guitar goes, I was originally influenced by tons of people, including Robert Smith, Johnny Marr, Jimi Hendrix, Andy Summers, and Mick Jones.  In the world of Punk and Hardcore I would say I’m most influenced by Brian Baker’s playing in Dag Nasty, Pete Chramiec from Verbal Assault, Gavin from Absolution and Burn, and Thurston Moore & Lee Ranaldo from Sonic Youth, who really made playing guitar look like an adventure. Ian’s guitar work in Fugazi is, has been, and probably always will be, very inspirational. I could give a shit about metal guitarists. Not in the least bit impressed.

Vista: I love asking this question to guitar players, just because answers vary so much...What was the first song that you learned on the guitar?

Dan: “I Can’t Explain,” by the Who.

Vista: What are your thoughts on the famous topic of the entire universe downloading every damn song on earth? Are you for it or against it? Is it, "just the way it is"? As a person that is in a band that in all likelihood doesn't make Metallica-level money, does it piss you off when you see a new recording of your band on a website three months before its official release, or do you just not stress over it?

Dan: I’ve shifted my views on this somewhat. I used to be really outspoken in opposition to illegal downloading. I looked at it as stealing, and I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that I didn’t grow up with this technology and this kind of access to information.  What bothered me the most was that people seemed to feel entitled to have total access to the music they wanted without paying for it, with no realization of how much it costs the bands and the labels to create these albums, and I couldn’t relate to that way of thinking. I had pretty much paid for every record that I ever owned and felt others should do the same. I had also been really proud of my various friends who had found a way to make a living off of the record labels they’d started out of their closets, since the ultimate in punk rock adulthood is being self-employed.  When downloading became the norm and record sales dropped  to 20% of what they used to be, all of these people had to go back to working for other people. Also, as a musician, it was nice to make a little money off of record sales after having spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars preparing a new album. I never counted on it or felt entitled to it, but I feel as if having some compensation for hard work keeps people from burning out prematurely. I was so vehemently against it I would just say in interviews: “if you don’t pay for the music you have on your computer or iPod, you’re a fucking thief, end of story,” and I think I may have alienated a lot of people that way. Andy made a really good point that the ease of access means that a lot more people know about your band, and especially for people with very limited funds, the cost of CD’s and vinyl is prohibitive and cuts off access to music. In the long run, the more people who hear your album, paid for or not, the more people come to your shows and support your band and the more people get in touch with you to talk about your music and lyrics, and that’s the stuff that really matters to me. Additionally, I’m a big advocate for free admission to art museums for people with limited incomes, so in theory that should extend to music as well. And regarding my friends’ record labels, if we’re being honest, they were generally much more interesting when they were just operated out of a closet or the trunk of a car. Final point: I’m an idealist at heart, but at the end of the day I can be a realist as well, and the bottom line is that at this point in history, being opposed to people downloading music for free is sort of like being angry about the wind.  In terms of futile struggles, I’ll choose waging war on Babylon over the war against free downloading, right?

Vista: What are your top 10 favorite bands/albums of all-time? It doesn't matter what genre...Just your personal, essential top 10, stuck on a deserted island faves?

Dan: Not sure I can really do this, but I’ll try. I’ll tell you what: 10 is too hard. I’ll give you a top 20 essentials…
Minor Threat- “Out of Step”
The Clash- s/t
The Smiths- “Hatful of Hollow” (technically not an album, but a collection of singles and superior Peel Session versions of songs from the first album)
Fugazi- “In On the Kill Taker”
A Tribe Called Quest- “the Low End Theory”
Gorilla Biscuits- “Start Today”
Nas- “Illmatic”
Wu-Tang Clan- “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
Dinosaur Jr.- “You’re Living All Over Me”
Sonic Youth- “Sister”
Joy Division- “Unknown Pleasures”
The Cure-“Pornography”
MF Doom- “Operation Doomsday”
De La Soul- “Buhloone Mindstate”
Dillinger Four- “Midwestern Songs…”
Elvis Costello- “This Year’s Model”
Jackson 5- “Greatest Hits” (I know that collections are a copout but…)
Jawbreaker- “Unfun”
Naked Raygun- “Throb Throb”
KMD- “Black Bastards”

Vista: You have been in a band as a guitarist and as vocalist...Which do you prefer? What are the pros & cons of the two? It must be great, as a vocalist...Just showing up at a show that you are playing & just saying something like, "O.K., I'm here...I brought my instrument"...While watching the other guys in the band schlepping their guitars/amps/drums/cymbals/pedals up & down stairs!? Ha!

Dan: Hard to say which I prefer. There are things that I love and things that I hate about each role. Vocals are more physically and emotionally challenging, in that breath control takes a lot of work, and screaming while you’re running around is hard and gets more difficult the older I get. It’s also a bigger responsibility, because the things you say between songs make all the difference in terms of how people perceive the band. Playing guitar is more difficult because you can’t really make any major mistakes, or things will just sound bad. If the singer forgets a line and leaves it out, no one cares, or at least its pretty easy to cover up. If you forget a part on guitar, there’s really no way to rescue it. And as a member of a band, regardless of what instrument you play, you share responsibility for the work. If a singer doesn’t help the other members of the band carry equipment, he’s just an asshole.  That’s not me. If you’re an asshole, however, being the singer is probably a pretty sweet deal.

Vista: I know that you & your wife now have a child. Is this your first child? How many Black Flag albums does she have!? Haha. Really, how is it being a father? Also, has becoming a parent made it more difficult to juggle your time with being in a band? Now that I'm on this subject...How the hell are you able to do all this stuff? Husband, father, band member, job, life, sleep, eat, crap!? Haha.

Dan: Being a father is definitely the most challenging of the roles that I find myself in. This is our first child, and she’s hilarious, such a funny monkey! She’s got 8 Black Flag records, but that includes 3 copies of “My War,” and 2 copies of “Everything Went Black”. How two people got married and ended up with three copies of “My War” is still perplexing to me, unless the fates just knew that our daughter would need a copy for herself.  Oddly enough this is not the only record that we ended up with more than two copies of when we combined our record collection. Being a dad has meant that band stuff slows down a lot, but that’s life, you know?

Vista: Lifetime, Kid Dynamite, Paint It Black....All songs included, and I'm sure this may be a difficult question...Maybe not....Is there one song that you can pick that is your favorite & why? I mean, is there a song that is so to the point & lyrically just defines a moment or a feeling perfectly ?

Dan: There’s no way to pick a favorite, but there are songs that seem to have more importance to me because of what they signify.  “*69” represented a turning point for Lifetime, where Ari and I could play to each other’s strengths instead of working against each other; “Irony is for Suckers” was this crucial collaboration between all of us, and Dave and I were able to write around each other’s parts in a way that set the stage for a lot of future collaboration. I remember that we were stuck on that one when practice ended, and Dave and Ari finished it and sang it into my voicemail. I saved that message for over a year. “News at 11” felt really important because it was the first really brutal Kid Dynamite song that I had written, and it went a direction that I’d never had the freedom to go in Lifetime.  Love the bass breakdown in that song. “Two for Flinching” has verse, chorus, and breakdown all in 10 seconds. In Paint It Black, “Exit Wounds,” “Memorial Day,” “Past Tense, Future Perfect,” are the personal songs I’m most proud of, and on the other end of the spectrum “New Brutality,” “Dead Precedents,” and “Salem,” are the political songs that I’m most proud of.

Vista: Speaking of Lifetime, was there ever a time when you were sick of all the praise that came AFTER the band broke-up? I mean, you guys really put out such great material that didn't sound like every band in the 90's time era...And perhaps that's why you guys weren't a "big" or popular while Lifetime was active? Yet, as time went on...Lifetime became bigger than when you were active. Did that bother you at all, ever?

Dan: It’s a waste of time to worry about why your band isn’t popular. I don’t think it’s surprising that a band that’s doing something different doesn’t get really popular in their own time.

Vista: How was it when Lifetime reformed a few years back? How did that happen to begin with, reforming & doing those initial reunion shows? Was Lifetime beginning again have more to do with Petey Wentz or was it something that would have happened anyways?

Dan: I have no idea what you mean about Pete Wentz. Lifetime was back together for over 6 months before we even met him. The Lifetime reunion has been talked about over and over again so many times, I’d rather you just look up interviews from 2006. But basically this annual festival had been offering us tons of money for several years to try to get us to play, and we kept saying “no.”  Then in 2005 they offered to donate $20,000 to the charity of our choice if we played, plus they were going to pay us a generous amount as well.We agreed, practiced a lot, but the fest got cancelled, so we played a bunch of smaller shows in Philly and NJ instead. It was fun, we decided to play more shows and write some songs. Pete W. offered to pay for the recording, which we wanted to spend a lot of time on. No one else was willing to pay for it with no strings attached, and by “strings” I mean a hectic touring schedule and a huge time commitment, neither of which we were interested in. That’s it.

Vista: As far as the record that was recorded for
Decaydance...What memories come to mind about the writing and recording session? How was that experience, over-all? Also, Did you guys tour after the release of the album? Why didn't you continue with Lifetime?
      
Dan: It was a great experience, because our plan was to really stay true to our original mission, and so we wrote and rehearsed everything in New Brunswick, even though we live all over the place now, and we recorded at the same studio in South River, NJ, with the same person who recorded all our stuff back in the 90’s. The differences were that we were all 10 years older, and we were recording for 4 weeks instead of one week. When we first started writing, none of us were sure that we’d be able to make another Lifetime album, so the first song that we worked on, which was “Haircuts and T-Shirts,” we really obsessed over the arrangements and every little detail. When we were done with that one and we started playing it live, we were like, “Fuck yeah, this song really works! It made us happy and excited. The rest of the writing was pretty effortless, except for “Northbound Breakdown,” which was somewhat of a struggle. The coolest part for me was that Dave had been working in the medium of electronic music for several years, and his approach to arranging the new Lifetime songs was clearly informed by his experience with using samplers. Someone would play a part they had written, and he would single out a particular section, not necessarily on the beat, and start playing that piece as if it were it’s own part, as if he were sampling and looping a small piece of it, and certain songs evolved out of that. In retrospect I don’t think that Decaydance was the best place for us, but they did give us total freedom with minimal commitment on our parts. We toured after that record came out: West Coast, East Coast, Midwest, Japan, Australia. All the tours were nice and short. And Lifetime is still a band, we just don’t play very often. I’m writing new stuff right now.
  
Vista: I asked you earlier about your first introduction to the Punk/Hardcore scene, but what was your first introduction to music in general? What groups were you into as a small kid & as a teenager? I mean, mine as a small kid was The Beatles and Elvis. Then...Twisted Fuckin' Sister was the first band that spoke to me as a teenager. Shit, I'm old. That was 1983! Ha! What were your first favs?

Dan: Kiss was my first favorite band, followed by Led Zeppelin and Rush and then the Clash. The first hardcore band that really spoke to me (and for me) was Minor Threat, which is still my favorite to this day. If every band ripped off Minor Threat or Side By Side instead of the Cro Mags, I would leave the house a lot more often.

Vista: Outside of band stuff, as well as family {I'm sure family takes up all your free time}, what are your hobbies and interests? Do you have a hobby that helps you decompress from everything that you do? Or is that what the band is for? Hmm?

Dan: That’s basically what the band is for, but I also read a lot of literature, and I like to nerd out with my literary friends and talk about authors and books and whatever. We used to have a book club where we drank whiskey and argued about books but Thomas Pynchon basically destroyed us.
  
Vista: Dan, thank you for your time. I appreciate you taking time to do this interview. Is there anything else you'd like to say? You're a guy from the 90's..Any SHOUT-OUTS!? Ha! Also, what is the best way to get in contact with you & Paint It Black?

Dan: Haha! Make no mistake, I‘m a guys from the 80’s. Pre-“shout-outs.” I guess the 80’s catchphrase that I’m most fond of would be “Fuck Reagan,” or “Meese is a Pig” or something like that. Thanks so much for supporting and taking an interest in our band.  Get in touch at paintitblack.org

1 comment:

  1. I just wanna say that I love Thomas Pynchon, but it would be hard to have a book club with his best stuff.

    ReplyDelete