Rewind - The Promise Ring x Evil Beavers Interview (1998)
Photo by Chrissy Piper
BY GREGORY ADAMS
Gut Feeling has just crossed the two-year mark, and to celebrate I'm taking things all the way back to my first-ever interview! This talk was with Milwaukee power pop/emo group the Promise Ring back in the fall of 1998, which I'd done with my friend Zoë Verkuylen Blilie for her 'zine, Evil Beavers.
The Promise Ring were a definite favourite. They'd played downtown eastside all ages spot Crosstown Traffic the previous fall while touring their excellent sophomore LP, Nothing Feels Good (on the eve of my seventeenth birthday, no less). The next year they were set to play a bar show, though, so a few underage friends and I drove down to Seattle so we could actually see them play (we nevertheless managed to sneak into the show at Vancouver's Starfish Room the next night).
If you went to a ton of all ages shows around Vancouver in the mid-to-late '90s, you likely ran across an issue or two of Evil Beavers, a mostly-music related 'zine started up by three writers from the Tsawwassen/Ladner area of the lower mainland. Zoë (aka Ickybonsue) was already a seasoned, chill interviewer by then; I was pretty nervous.
We did the interview outside of the long torn-down RCKNDY venue in downtown Seattle; Icky followed this up a few minutes later by interviewing Jets to Brazil, who were on tour with the Promise Ring. The rest of the issue also featured talks with Tilt, Atom & His Package, and trademark-infringing North Van skatepunks Tommy Middlefinger
This one's a lighthearted interview, featuring some details on the Promise Ring's recent line-up change; contending with rumours; and some pretty '90s kinds of questions (Would you ever consider signing to a major label?).
Lightly edited, loosened somewhat as an anniversary-themed piece around Nothing Feels Good (released 25 years ago this week), and back in print for the first time since the late '90s. Enjoy!
What are your names and what do you play?
Davey Von Bohlen: My name is Davey and I play my throat.
Jason Gnewikow: My name is Jason and I play guitar. Dan [Didier] plays drums, and Scott [Schoenbeck] plays bass.
The Promise Ring have gained a significant amount of popularity over the past year. Have things really changed for you?
D: Not really. I think with popularity there is a real standard line.
What do you think about the exposure you’ve received in Teen People and Playboy?
J: Anything like that surprises you at first, but when you think about it, it’s sort of a coincidence. It’s like, wow…that’s really weird because some person from Playboy probably heard our name from some little girl. You can’t really take it seriously.
D: If I just happened to pick up Teen People, I’d be like, "Oh, this is People Magazine, but for teens and shit." But since it has our name in it, it just seems totally discredited. Like, “This isn’t a real magazine…it’s got us in it!”
J: Probably the best thing about those kinds of things is it’s good for your parents. My mom is like, “Ok, you’ve been doing this since you were 17. You’re 24 now, and you don’t have anything to show for it.” But then I can go, “Hey look, mom — Teen People! People magazine likes us”
D: Playboy likes us! Here mom, we’re in Playboy.
Your lyrics seem to focus on various places. Is that an intentional thing?
D: Yeah…I mean everything we say is somewhat intentional. If I write it down and sing it 8000 times, I think at a certain point it becomes intentional. Why it’s intentional, I don’t know. It’s like the easiest route.
There are a million ways to make things universal. Places are a really easy one of those ways. [They’re] kind of something that everyone [can latch onto]. It’s a setting, and every good story needs a setting. That’s half the battle [with lyrics]. You know, the whole point of the story – the plot – is person to person; the setting is the good stuff. Everything else is just your opinion.
How did you guys hook up with your new bassist, and what happened to the old one [ed. Tim Burton]?
J: The old bass player just didn’t work out, for many different reasons. Not any major blowout, though.
D: He wasn’t really coming from the same place we were.
J: He hadn’t really been in a band in a long time, and he had some warped views about what he wanted and what he thought we wanted. We needed someone to go out on our last American tour, so we asked Scott, who is our roadie’s brother and a friend of ours.
D: Scott has been around for a really long time; we got to know him over the years. When I was 14, I used to go see his bands play — he’s seven years older than I am. He's been in every single band out of Milwaukee, and he is a great bass player.
Are things working out better now, then?
D: Much better.
J: With Tim, it was really rushed. That was the first time we had to get a new member in the band, and that is kind of a scary thing to do.
D: I think we learned a lot.
Do you still keep in touch with your first bassist, Scott Beschta?
D: He just moved to New York, and he’s playing in a band out there. We see him every now and then.
Has MTV exposure changed the response to the band at all?
J: I don’t know.
D: This is our first tour since the [“Why Did Ever We Meet”] video came out.
J: I haven’t really noticed yet. The only way I’d notice would be if people who aren’t really punk rock kids started coming to see us.
D: You really can’t tell, though. I mean, kids look a lot alike. You can’t say, “That person definitely saw our video!”
J: With fan mail you could tell, but we haven’t gotten anything that says, “Hey…I saw your video!” I think maybe in the bigger cities we could see it.
D: If your band is getting bigger, there’ll be different people [at the shows].
J: Around Milwaukee and Chicago, where we’re like the hometown band, you can always tell when the younger kids [start] coming [out].
Why did you decide to record with J. Robbins again for this new Boys & Girls single?
J: The last album [Nothing Feels Good] was so fun to do with him.
D: After that album, it was like, “Let’s never not record with J.”
J: Having him is like having a fifth member with really good ideas join the band.
D: Really good ideas!
J: And he is a really talented sound guy.
D: He’s a hell of a dude.
When do you think you’ll go back to the studio?
J: We don’t know, but hopefully the early part of next year.
D: Like January.
J: We have a whole bunch of new songs that are finished, and a whole bunch that are almost finished, so when we get back from tour we’ll probably finish writing.
So, you’ll be working with J. again?
D: Can’t imagine not.
Jason, you have a design company of some sort?
J: Uh…I did until two weeks ago. I was working with two friends of mine in Chicago, but I told them I was quitting once I get back from tour. It’s called The Collection Agency; it’s more their thing. Like, they originally called me up saying, “We’re going to do this; want to do it?”
I’m just going back to working on my own, [but] I kind of want to look for other people to work with.
How does the band deal with rumours?
D: We deal with them by starting them!
J: I’ve made a conscious effort to not seek out stuff like that. Maybe two years ago I was obsessed with the internet, but not anymore.
D: There are never rumours about people doing ok things. It’s all about bad things. It’s just baloney.
J: It’s like a bad game of telephone. The last rumour I heard was that we were going to have a song in South Park, and people were, like, outraged and insane about it. People have too much free time.
D: And what would be wrong with that [having a song on South Park]? It’s really bizarre. And you can’t really tell four billion people [that the rumour is] wrong, so it’s funny. It’s like, people don’t really know me or what I’m about, but they’ll believe some bullshit.
Would you ever consider signing to a major label?
J: I think it depends, because it’s different for every band. I don’t think it’s entirely evil, like most people think.
I have spent the last however many years with this band, and it’s not that we started [the Promise Ring] with the intent of getting something back, but it is kind of one of those things — like, you go to college, you get a job, and that’s what congratulates you. Of course, there are probably a lot of bad things [about signing to a major label], but I think people get a little too worked up about the music industry.
Are you happy with Jade Tree?
D: Yeah! They picked us up when no one knew who we were.
J: They are good friends of ours, and they work super hard.
What is the grossest thing you’ve ever kissed?
J: I have kissed dogs and cats, but that’s alright. I don’t think that’s gross.
D: I don’t think I’ve kissed anything gross.
J: I definitely have, I just can’t think of anything. Oh…no, it was totally this one girl when I was at the Rollerdome in eighth grade. Her name was Sherri; we called her Scary Sherri.
D: I don’t really kiss stuff, just people.
J: I have this really creepy neighbour; she’s retired and out on her porch 24 hours a day. We have to walk by her house to go anywhere, and she’s the biggest freak.
A couple of days before I left for tour, she started getting nicer and nicer. She grabbed me one day, and was like, “Oh, dear son,” and kissed me on the cheek. That’s not really me kissing someone, but…
D: Gross nonetheless. I have never kissed anything remotely gross.
Reviews for your first couple of singles said that the Promise Ring sound a lot like Sunny Day Real Estate, but lately a lot of younger bands are being compared to the Promise Ring. How do you feel about being considered a definitive band?
D: As silly as it sounds to have been compared to those bands, it’s just as silly as when I hear that these [newer] bands sound like us, ‘cause they never sound remotely like us. Every band is [their own] band, and they do these band things that are pretty cool, and pretty weird!
Do you have anything else to add?
D: I think Vancouver needs a football team up there.
Punitive Damage "Bottom Feeder"
Closing out on a shorter full circle moment, Vancouver's Punitive Damage — whose vocalist, Steph Jerkova, had been Gut Feeling's first published interview — have just delivered their debut album, This Is the Blackout. The record is out today via Atomic Action Records.
Building off the rage of their earlier 7-inches, the record is a sick mix of socio-political screaming, brass knuckled street punk ("Big Man"), harmonically-sound feedback layering ("Pure Blood / Sixth Sunrise"), nitro-gusting hardcore ("Sangre Y Oro / The Blight of Christ"), piano ambiance ("Que? Me Tienes Miedo Ahora?"), and more.
It all rips, but "Bottom Feeder" takes things in a uniquely rapturous, in-the-red direction through some extra gnarled out guitar soloing and a boogie woogie piano uncouthly caving in on itself, as if the ivory was degrading in real time. Top notch madness, across the board.