Saturday, December 11, 2010

We Are The Union (Part I)

Signed to Paper + Plastick records, Detroit natives We Are The Union are a band breaking out of the current musical mold of Myspace scenesters and Facebook hipsters, by creating their own unique style.  These guys have a mixture of influence from ska to pop punk, and even hardcore.  Check out this interview with trombonist/vocalist Matt Belanger and bassist/vocalist Brandon Benson as the two discuss the current state of ska music, playing with The Suicide Machines, and working with Matt Allison.

WATU is heavily ska influenced, who are some of your favorite ska bands? 

Matt: Less Than Jake and Rx Bandits, but honestly we don’t listen to ska bands that much anymore. Back in the day we used to listen to everything from Reel Big Fish to Mustard Plug. Reed and I were in a total third wave sounding band when we were in high school, we’d do The Aquabats and Mustard Plug covers. Now the only stuff that gets spun on the regular is Rx Bandits or this band Sonic Boom Six from the UK, who are a really dope, up and coming band. We still listen to everything else once in awhile though.  

You don’t hear about many ska influenced bands these days, what’s your input on the current ska scene? 

Brandon: The current ska scene is kind of inexistent, but there are still high school bands that play ska and still play the same Mustard Plug Songs.
Matt: Yeah, there are bands that do the ska covers that Reed and I used to play. 
Brandon: Plus, there are a few bands in the UK that still play ska and they’re a little bit more popular than they are in the states. Ska bands that used to do really well in the 90s in the states do really well overseas now. For example, we’re doing a Less Than Jake tour in the fall and there are a ton of pre-sold tickets, so it should be a pretty good tour.
Matt: It’s like all the bands that were big when it was big are still around, but there’s nobody up and coming doing that style of music that are hitting the road really hard and getting attention.
Brandon: Aside from Fatter Than Albert, who were good friends of ours for a long time, and they are still one of my favorite ska related bands. They put on an amazing live show. And there are The Flaming Tsunamis and A Billion Ernies, who we still play shows with.
Matt: There are tons of bands in the self-contained scene almost. There’s a bunch of bands that are younger who are touring occasionally and doing stuff with the style, but for the most part there hasn’t been anybody that came out and crossed over from that self-contained indie/ska scene to being on a tour or even on a label. Everybody assumes if you’re in a ska band it’s going to be goofy and songs about my dog and pizza, there’s a stigma about ska music. The Aquabats and Reel Big Fish are the top two reasons, even though those bands are great, why no one takes it seriously anymore. They’re doing their thing and it’s tight, but people grab onto the goofy aspect of it and that’s their picture of the whole scene. A lot of people just aren’t into it and even if you do ska mixed with something else, sometimes they automatically write you off because of the stigma.  
Brandon: We spent a lot of time getting out of that scene, getting people to see that we’re not just a ska band.
Matt: Not even getting out of it, just getting people to...
Brandon: To listen! 
Matt: And to get...
Brandon: The fact that there is a point to this.
Matt: Exactly! To get that there is a point and that this is actually legit and cool, and serious! Well, relatively serious.

Speaking of ska influence, what was your experience like playing with The Suicide Machines at their reunion show in your hometown? 

Brandon: Dude, that was probably one of my top five favorite shows of all time. 
Matt: Definitely.   
Brandon: That place was so packed, they didn’t have any fans on and it was dripping from the ceiling. Everybody was so anxious for that show. 
Matt: It was oversold like three-hundred tickets. It was the first announced show they had done since the band broke up and it was a huge fucking deal. 
Brandon: And I got to play!
Matt: Yeah, and Jason Navarro asked me to play trombone with them on a couple songs, which I hope I didn’t fuck up too bad!
Brandon: No dude, it sounded great!  
Matt: They had all kinds of great things to say. They played our cd release, it was like a secret show back in March and they did like five songs. Then at the reunion show Jason Navarro gets on the mic and is like “This band is like the new Detroit ska/punk band. We’re old and we’re not doing it seriously anymore, but We Are The Union is fucking awesome and we’re passing the torch to them.” I would never go so far as to put ourselves anywhere on the same level as The Suicide Machines because that’s like the first real show I think I ever went to. That band is so completely untouchable in my mind. 
Brandon: It’s like a childhood dream realized. The Suicide Machines were always one of my favorite bands as a kid, so to hear something like that from one of my idols back in the day was a really cool thing for me to be a part of. 
Matt: And the fact that they are from Detroit too, I mean I’m an equally huge fan of other ska/punk bands we listen to, but that was a band from our general area that went out and did that style of music. I don’t know how you define success but as far as inspiring other people, they inspired us to go do that shit. It was totally unreal to play with them five years after I thought I’d never see them play again.   

WATU tours with everyone and play shows with every kind of genre from ska to hardcore, do you want to back up this claim and explain the importance of touring?

Brandon: In my book, in order to gain any respect from the community you have to spend some time on the road and hit the streets with your music. Sell your music, play your music, that’s the only way to really get anywhere. And the internet just changed the entire music industry as a whole, the internet helps bands get out tour date information, rather than just word of mouth or flyers.
Matt: We booked whole tours on myspace, just messaging random people.
Brandon: That’s how we started out, messaging random people!
Matt: Punk and ska don’t have mainstream visibility anymore, like bands don’t get recognized in the scene anymore for selling a shit ton of records or having videos on MTV, because MTV doesn’t fucking play videos anymore and nobody sells records anymore. So the only way anyone will pay attention to you is if you go out there on the road and get in front of them.
Brandon: Touring is all about making friends, it’s all about talking to people and making connections, that’s one of the most important things a band can do. Hanging out with bands and it doesn’t matter how bad your band is or how much the other bands don’t like your music, if you hang out with them and mesh with them, and become friends...
Matt: Well, I don’t know if it doesn’t matter 100%....but it makes a huge difference to network and know people in the industry. Really for us it’s been kind of cool because like you said, we tour with all sorts of different bands, because there are a handful of bands that exist in our sub-sub-sub genre and most of them only tour a handful of times. So if we’re trying to go out and hit the road all the time we’re just gonna have to tour with punk bands, or pop/punk bands, or hardcore bands. It’s kind of liberating in a way to be the band that no one is gonna be stoked on right off the bat, there’s no hype-machine like that for ska bands. It’s almost better, people have no preconceived notions for what you’re going to sound like at all, except for what Reel Big Fish sounds like, and then you go out there and play. I think most of them are surprised at the kind of music we’re playing and get stoke on it.
Brandon: That’s why it’s good we’re on a tour with a band like Strung Out because they’ve been around for a long time and they have diehard fans that come to all of their shows and we try to appeal to some of those guys, hopefully.

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