Symphony of Distraction are, for my money, the best skate punk band of the modern era. Guitarist and vocalist, Jay, talked to me about the band, the shape of punk today, and what it's like to be an aging punk rocker.
What are SOD doing these days, are you writing any new material?
What are SOD doing these days, are you writing any new material?
Nothing specific right now. After we finished the last record and did a short tour, I moved to New York City, so I live across the country from everyone else in the band. We’ve had some conversations about doing some recording in the not too distant future, but as of yet nothing specific is planned.
What is the song writing process for you guys?
Steve and I split the song writing. When we had some song ideas, we’d get together and get right to recording guitar parts. We found that being able to listen to the guitar tracks helped us really hear the songs better than just playing them over and over. We were pretty much writing the songs all the way until they were done. The whole writing and recording happened in parallel. There weren’t any songs where I finished the lyrics more than a few minutes before I started recording the vocals. It’s a much better process for me than trying to write a whole record up front and not really hear any of it until I get into the studio. There’s so many times that I thought I had written a really great song and didn’t realize it sucked until I started recording it. Recording as you write helps avoid that situation
Some of your lyrics deal with frustrations and insecurities of every day life. Are your lyrics an important part of a cathartic process or do you just need to fill in the songs?
For me the lyrics definitely come secondary to the music, but I still consider them an important part. Bad lyrics can ruin an otherwise good song, so I always keep that in mind when I’m trying to rush through lyric writing. I think Steve takes it more seriously because a lot of his songs relate to what’s going on in his life when he writes them. I usually have a couple of lines of words that I find work well with a melody and then write around them. It creates for some random topics..
Speaking of which, 'New Cliches' struck a particularly loud chord with me. How are you finding becoming an adult and an adult punk guy?
I kind of relate getting older in the punk scene to the stages of grief. At first you’re in denial, then you’re angry and finally you just have to accept it. You get older and there’s nothing you can do about it. Punk rock is definitely a young person’s game but that doesn’t mean you have to stop listening to it or stop going to shows. For me growing older just meant that I didn’t have the urge to throw it in everyone’s face all the time anymore. I don’t need to have blue hair and piercings and wear a Sex Pistols shirt so that some stranger can tell how cool I am. The best part of aging is that you truly, honestly just stop giving a fuck what anyone thinks.
In terms of new music, personally I don't really get the whole hipster, retro, cassette tape trend, but I know that older people at the time hated bands like Nofx and Strung Out so I try not to get overly concerned about it..
Yeah, I had a conversation with someone not too long ago that was trying to tell me that cassette tapes sound better than CDs. I wanted to slap him in the face. I could see cassettes being cool from a collector’s standpoint, but to say they sound better is just stupid. But you’re right, everybody thinks that their generation of music is better than the next so it’s gets really hard to judge what’s legitimately appealing to the youth as you get older.
What are your thoughts on the future of the music industry and how do you feel about piracy?
Piracy is a bummer. It hurts the musicians, and I think it hurts the listener too. You can definitely have too much of a good thing. I’ve heard people brag about how they have 50 thousand songs in their mp3 library. Almost all of which are pirated. What’s the point of having 50 thousand songs? You can’t ever listen to them. It just perpetuates the short attention span that everybody has. So now you basically have access to all music and don’t give a shit about any of it. That being said, I’ve pirated some music that I was excited to hear and didn’t want to wait til the release date. So I’m not claiming innocence, but I’d happily give up access to free music if it meant that everybody else did too.
Who are your biggest influences and favourite bands, past and present?
As I’m sure you can tell by the music, we’re mid 90s skate punk nerds. Fat Wreck, Epitaph, Vagrant bands. Bands like Weezer, Green Day and Ben Folds Five. Really anyone that could write a great melody is what I was into in my most obsessive music phase. These days it’s more rare that I feel like a band would be a huge influence to me when I’m writing punk music. My writing habits are too hard wired at this point. I can still get inspired by a song, but it’s much more random how that happens now. It could be a Britney Spears song I hear in a movie that triggers a melody idea for me. Then I take that and just throw it over my old influences.
Had you guys got a set sound in mind when you started the band, and how did the band come together?
Steve was in SecondShot when it first started. We always wrote well together, but it just wasn’t working out at that point for other reasons and Steve got kicked out and went on to do some other projects. We didn’t talk for a couple years. When we finally did, we got drunk and talked about the idea of trying to record an EP by ourselves. Neither of us had any recording experience and I never really thought we’d do it. Some time later, I decided I wanted to demo out some songs and bought some cheap recording gear. After learning a bit, we got together and recorded the guitar parts to a song that Steve was messing around with, and we thought it sounded good. So we decided to go for it. Steve had been in a band called Allergic to Idiots that had Jimmy and Pat in it. We just recruited them to fill out the band and made the EP.
As far as the sound, we were pretty specific. All fast. We weren’t going to try to bother with making the record balanced. We wanted to do all fast songs, and that’s how the EP ended up being. There are a couple mid tempo songs on Call It Off, but it’s still generally a really fast record.
How did the name come about? Are you all just fans of Dave Mustaine and his work?
No. It’s a terrible band name and we came up with it when we were really drunk and thought it was funny.
To me, your music is exactly how punk from California and West coast America should sound. So, I gotta say, it's pretty weird that you guys seem more appreciated in Asia than at home. What was your Asian tour like and why do you think skate punk is still so popular there?
Yeah, when we first moved to the Bay Area, we thought that since it was the home of Fat Wreck, that people would be crazy for that style of music, but it just wasn’t the case at all. I think maybe southern California would have been better for us, but who knows. Asian tour was awesome. I love going over there. They have great fans. They come to the show before the first band starts, and don’t leave til the show is over. I don’t have an answer to why skate punk still does well over there.
What is it about this kind of punk that attracts you? Is there any other genres that you listen to or would like to play?
The attraction to punk music for me has always been that the songs are more streamlined than a lot of other types of music. You have a good melody and some good music behind it, you repeat it 3 times and you’re done. Obviously that’s a huge generalization and not many of our songs actually do that, but I’ve always loved how punk songs eliminate a lot of fluff from a song so that the core idea of a is the most important thing. As far as other genres, I tried to learn piano when I was young and failed miserably. So now I actually play a lot of jazz piano. I’m not sure if I like it or It’s just a personal challenge, but lately, that’s where most of my musical energy has been going. Once I’m good enough, I want to have a band that plays old punk songs in jazz style. No idea if that will ever happen.
(Image source: Symphony of Distraction Facebook)