Words by Erin Wolf
Pop-punk bands have it tough. They write songs to tight time constrictions (most songs are about two-three minutes long), need to be able to have two really good singers who can harmonize to fast and loud music, and then…the hooks! Every song has to have a hook that makes it, well, pop. It’s no wonder that after a few years, this gets tiring enough to make band members change their minds and eventually, the whole band throws the towel in: but that’s all speculation. Chinese Telephones, a pop-punk mainstay in Milwaukee for years, talks about the true reasons why they’ve found when to say when as they prepare for their last show tonight at the Borg Ward.
When/why did the band decided to break up?
Andy: Well, we’ve tried to break up like five other times but our fans wouldn’t let us. It’s looking like this time we’ll finally be able to sneak away, unnoticed. We’ll see how long it takes before someone throws up a wad of cash to do another reunion show or invites us to tour Japan.
Daniel: After Gorky quit, we tried doing it with a different drummer, which was fun. I’m kind of interested to see how it would have worked out. When it came down to it, though, I don’t think that I had the time to commit to the band that other people such as Justin would have liked. I was trying to book a tour for another band I’m in, finishing school, and I’m a boring old guy with a wedding to pay for and stuff. I kind of felt that if I was gonna continue being in Chinese Telephones, it would really be at a disservice to the rest of the band. I couldn’t commit to touring for at least a year, and we’d already been going pretty half-speed before that. I told Justin that if he wanted to keep doing it without me, I wouldn’t be offended. I just hope Justin starts a new band, ’cause he writes some great songs. It’ll just be weird not getting to be a part of them.
Justin: Ever since Gorky joined on drums a few years ago, I felt he was an irreplaceable part of the band. Songwriting worked perfectly with him, because I could write a song and he would come with great drum parts that fit perfectly and were usually better than what I had in my head. So, when he quit, we talked about finding a new drummer and I started practicing wit one guy, but I never really thought we would continue, because it just wouldn’t be the same. I figured it was worth a shot, but in the end, I think the band had just run its course. Then Dan said he didn’t really have time, anyway, so I think we were all kind of on the same page.
It seems like pop-punk is fading with long-time bands like the Ergs! breaking up recently, too. Do you think there’s any reason why?
Andy: Bands come and go for all sorts of reason. The reasons are completely unrelated, although (come to think of it) rather similar. The irreplaceable lead guitarists decided that they weren’t into it anymore and wanted to focus their talents elsewhere. We love the Ergs!
Daniel: I don’t think pop-punk’s really fading — I think people who are into punk music are kind of short attention-spanned by nature, and it’s easy to get bored of playing the same songs forever. I’m sure Mikey’s gonna eventually start a new band that’s as good, if not better than the Ergs!. It just seems kind of stale right now ’cause the Ergs! were really the best band doing what they were doing. Now that they’re broken up, we’re stuck with a handful of bands that aren’t as interesting and don’t write as good of songs. I don’t wanna name names or nothing, but as far as that style of pop-punk bands of the last decade, no one can really touch what the Ergs! did. Oh yeah, and the new Green Day album looks like it’s gonna suck, hard.
Justin: It’s just a coincidence that bands are breaking up. There’s still a lot of pop-punk out there, but only a few bands are actually good. Too many bands are still just writing the same song over and over again, or copying some Queers song over and over again, and for some reason, there are still some people out there that are into it. We ended up lumped in with that crowd to some extent, so we had to play with a lot of terrible bands as a result. We met a lot of great ones, too, though — and a lot of nice people.
Most of your releases were 7″s. Does the new and final release (Democracy) have some of those releases on it?
Andy: It has all of our non-LP vinyl appearances except for the most recent 7″ in the Art of the Underground singles series.
Daniel: Democracy is all previously released material. With the exception of one song from the AOTU single and the s/t LP, it collects every thing we’ve released on one handy, little compact disc.
Justin: Yeah, Andy’s wrong. It does have one song from that single, but it’s unlisted for copyright reasons. We didn’t put the Queers cover on there, because we shouldn’t have done it in the first place.
Andy: I wasn’t in the band. That recording happened after I quit and before I rejoined, so it felt like he was singing the backups that I shoulda been. We love Jeff!
Daniel: It was great. One of the first shows I ever played was opening up for the Reds, and it was pretty awesome getting to have Jeff play bass in our band for those two shows. He’s a totally awesome dude and an amazing musician. Plus, Mark fixed the intonation on my guitar: I’m not smart enough to do that, myself.
Justin: That was great … I think we’re all fans of his music and are good friends with him so I felt comfortable doing the recording, there. I feel weird recording because I have to sing without loud music behind it, so that’s the only thing anyone in the place, hears. I’m not very open about what I write about (which is why I don’t print the lyrics), so i feel uncomfortable when someone hears it all clearly, but I have no problem with him because we’re pretty close friends. I’ve always liked how their recordings sound, which is why I asked Jeff to record our album. I didn’t know if he’d be interested, because he’d never recorded any bands that he didn’t play in (that I know of), but he said he would and that we should have Mark (also of Marked Men) help record, too. So, it worked out well, and I think the album sounds great. A few people have complained about the recording quality, but that’s exactly how we, or at least I, wanted it to sound. We didn’t want a really slick recording.
Are any of you playing music in other bands right now?
Andy: Yes. I’ve been in a punk band called Holy Shit! We’re around.
Daniel: I’m mainly involved in the Daniel James Gang right now, which is supposed to be sort’ve a power-pop influenced punk band, but really relying on the riffs and shit. We’re touring out East this summer and we’re also playing the totally awesome Windy City Sound Clash festival at Reggie’s in Chicago. I also occasionally play bass in a band called Jack Moves, but we’re pretty inactive most of the time. We still call a song we wrote a year and a half ago “the new one”. I’m supposed to start playing drums in a band with my friend Kevin, but we haven’t actually practiced yet. If that doesn’t work out, I really wanna play drums in a band, but I’m not that good, so my options are really limited.
Justin: I’m just busy with school. I recently switched to the film program, which I really enjoy, and that keeps me pretty busy. There are plans to start another band with Andy and Eric (the drummer I started practicing with for Chinese Telephones), but we haven’t done anything yet. I’ve started working on a few songs that seem like they could be decent. There needs to be a guitarist that’s a lot better than me, because I can only do rhythm.
What are the details on Thursday’s show?
Andy: It’s on Thursday, February 26th at the Borg Ward at 6 p.m. These bands are playing: Killer Dreamer from Los Angeles, Dopamines from Ohio, No Babies from Hawaii, Pigs on Ice, Jambox and Possible Fathers from Milwaukee. I think there’s going to be party subs. Sorry if you gave up subs for Lent.
Daniel: There’s way too many bands for a weekday show, and I don’t even know what venue it’s at anymore.
Justin: Killer Dreamer are great. If anyone reads this before the show, come check them out.