Interview: Defeater

Ten months ago, Boston’s Defeater were playing to only a handful of familiar people, while opening for Polar Bear Club. This time round, though, they have returned to a sold out headline show in Leeds, and Faye caught up with them for yet another lengthy chat. Here’s how it went down…

Faye: Can you say your name and what you do?
Jay: I’m Jay, I play guitar so hard that I get blood all over my guitar.
Mike: I’m Mike, I play bass.
Jake: I’m Jake, I play guitar.
Derek: I’m Derek, I sing.
Andy: I’m Andy, I play the drums.

Faye: You were last over in June, what have you been up to since?
Mike: Well, right after the UK tour with Polar Bear Club and Ruiner, we started a European tour with Comeback Kid. Then after that, we got home and recorded, and put out Lost Ground. We did a few short US tours, we haven’t done a full US tour since then, though.
Derek: We did a short east coast tour for The Fest, which was incredible, then the west coast with All Teeth, which again was amazing, and then we did a tour a couple of weeks ago and South By South West, kind of just by ourselves, we met up with a few friends here and there, then a couple of weeks later, we got on a plane to do this.

Faye: You recently played Groezrock and there was an issue with some dude coming up to you on stage, what happened there?
Derek: This guy got on stage during like the first song, and kids were going crazy, stage-diving, it was the biggest crowd we’ve ever played to and I don’t even know the numbers, it looked like a 1000 people, it was fucking crazy, or more. I don’t even know how to calculate that, it was just overwhelming. We were all having fun playing and kids were going crazy, stage-diving their asses off, and this guy got up on stage and grabbed me. He screamed in my ear, and what I heard him say was, “You need to let people sing more.” And he was this big dude, and kind of pushed himself off me and stage-dived, and I was like, “Ehhh…” So, we finished the song, we kind of kept going, and then I keep singing, and seem him in the crowd keep flipping me off or holding an imaginary mic to his face, and I was so scared that he was going to come back on stage and beat me up, he had a few inches on me and definitely a lot of pounds on me. Then he turned out to be the nicest guy in the world, because he came over afterwards and I was like, “I don’t know what I did to make you upset.” and he was like, “You didn’t make me upset, I just wanted you to sing more. I love Defeater! I love your albums! You weren’t singing enough, no one could here you, the crowd was singing for you.” But that’s pretty much what happened there, I got really scared.

Faye: Didn’t you forget to bring your inhaler on stage too?
Derek: Yeah, I didn’t bring my inhaler on stage and I made Mike, our driver, to run back and grab my jacket, because I thought it was in my pocket, but it wasn’t. So, I didn’t have any wind for basically the whole set, so we cut a song or two in the set. I felt like an asshole, but we played for 10-minutes shorter than we should have maybe. Basically, I ruined Groezrock for everyone. [laughs] Shitty set. Then when we did that ‘encore’, that was pretty cool, because immediately when we went off stage, everything started to buzz again. We played, we had a lot of fun, we met a lot of really nice people, we saw Strike Anywhere, saw a bunch of bands we always wanted to see. Mike got to see Millencolin, 16-year-old Mike Poulin was fucking pumped.

Faye: At Groezrock, it seemed that people were more into the Lost Ground songs, as opposed to the songs from Travels, is that a common thing wherever you go now?
Derek: Yeah, it’s kinda weird, I mean, some of the songs off Travels still do, like the songs that got the best responses when we only had that record out, still get the really good responses. Who knows what’s that to do with, maybe it’s just what we had up on the Internet or what really catches people on the record, anyways. But Lost Ground seems to have done something, I don’t know what it is, but kids seem to like it, we enjoy it.

Faye: Do you feel that there’s more hype around Defeater since the last time you were over?
Jay: Can we not answer that question? I mean, we love all the ‘hype’ we have… [laughs]
Derek: Enter sarcasm here. [laughs]
Jay: We’re just grateful that people come to the shows, we grateful that people sing-a-long and that people seem to care, and I look around and there’s fucking free food and someone cares enough to ask us questions about this music we make when I’m on the other side of the ocean, so we’re just grateful to be here, we’re having a great time. We just try to make honest music if people feed off that and like that, then that’s just a dream come true.

Faye: Have you been having a better reaction in the UK this time round?
Mike: Yeah, definitely. Last time in the UK wasn’t bad by any means, but it was our first time over.
Derek: We still weren’t used to touring, that was one of our first tours, we were still babies. We had all been bands basically through our whole adolescence and young twenties, but we never hit that spot where we were always on the road, and then when that happened, I think we were all just a bit taken back. Getting into the rhythm of touring, I think it’s because we’re all fucking awkward weirdos. [laughs] A little bit stranger than most bands. We’re still a young band.
Jay: A good way to put it is, on the last UK tour, I had basically no blood on my guitar and, now, on this tour, I’m only a few shows in and my guitar is covered in fucking blood. So, just imagine the next tour, I’ll have the guitar made of goat’s blood, mixed with my own.

Faye: How have you been getting on with Dead Swans and More Than Life?
Mike: After the first night of touring with them, we were like, “Holy shit, it’s only been one day?” Nick from Dead Swans, going to bed on the first night, he was like, “I already feel like we’ve been on tour for a month.” I looked at the clock, and we picked him up 8-hours before. [laughs] We had been to his house for 8-hours.

Faye: Is Defeater a part-time or full-time thing for you?
Derek: It’s like that second job, where you love that full-time job, but you fucking hate it and you can’t wait to get to your second job, because your friends work there, it’s like a skate store.
Mike: You don’t exactly need the money from your second job, because there’s really no money at all. [laughs]
Derek: You’re up way later than you need to be, because you’ve already worked an 8-hour day.
Mike: So, it’s a fucking pain in the ass second job, basically.
Jay: But then you get paid and then you’re like, “That’s cool.”
Mike: That’s like every job I’ve had in my life, really. I can’t think of any job that I’ve had where I’ve felt like walking out on. I’m always like, “Why the fuck do I do this?” Then I get there and I’m like, “Meh, it’s alright.”
Jay: I worked at PacSun and I walked out.

Faye: Mike, you’re in Make Do and Mend as well, how does that work out?
Mike: It’s a lot of work, there’s definitely times where I’m like, “Why did I sign up to be in two fucking bands that both want to be pretty active?” At the end of the day, it just comes down to the fact that I want to do it. There’s definitely days where I’m going to Make Do and Mend practice where I’m like, “Fuck, why am I doing this?” I would say the same thing about Defeater practice, but Defeater doesn’t practice. [laughs] There’s definitely days where I feel there’s too much and I feel overwhelmed, but I always come to the conclusion that I want to do both. It works out.

Faye: Is Defeater your priority?
Derek: That’s an interesting question!
All: [laughs]
Jay: If it’s not an instant yes, it’s a no.
Mike: No, one isn’t a priority over the other. Maybe at different times, like when we had to book the South By South West tour, I took the day off work to stay at home and get everything ready to do for that tour, just to make sure that Defeater had shows lined-up and all that. So, at that point in time, Defeater were sort of my first priority, but as soon as we get home from this tour, I think I’m home for two or three weeks, and then Make Do and Mend goes into the studio to record a full-length for a whole month, so it’s all going to be Make Do and Mend pretty much for the rest of the summer.

Faye: Defeater doesn’t tour as relentlessly as other bands, why is that?
Derek: Because we all have that first job.
Mike: We’re all old and too responsible, and have other stuff that we want to do.
Jay: Yeah, and I think, to be fair, when you look at bands like Converge. I think they’re a band that everyone respects for being an honest band who’s always just made what they wanted and now are clearly a huge name, and being friends with those guys, I get to know about their history and past, and they’ve never been tour juggernauts, they don’t go on tons of them, then don’t go on super long ones. I think part of maintaining a band and if we want this band to last, to keep creating what we do, it needs to work for everybody involved. So, if everyone is constantly sacrificing when they shouldn’t be for the sake of the band, it’s not really for the sake of the band, because you’re going to cut the band’s life short. You’re going to lose key members and people that are really important and influential in creating what we create.

Faye: Is that why you think hardcore bands today don’t really last that long?
Jay: Yeah, super short. I definitely don’t consider Defeater a hardcore band, I never have, I know we get lumped in there and we have a label that has put out so many recognisable hardcore releases, but at the same time, I think especially when people hear the new record, and if you listen to even a little bit hard to our music, you’ll find elements that are very not hardcore. We truly just make what we want to make. People will always sub-gernre-lise – that’s not a word [laughs], what anyone does, but, for us, I don’t think we’re a hardcore band and all I care about is making music we like, and we’ll just see what other people think too.

Faye: Are any else of you in other bands?
Jake: I’m in a band called Dreamtigers, it’s kind of a rock band.
Mike: Derek has his acoustic thing, Alcoa, I never know how to describe it.
Derek: I haven’t done anything with it, like I haven’t recorded anything in probably four years, and the stuff that I have up on the Internet, is stuff from when I was fucking afraid to sing and don’t even listen to it, it’s shitty. If I could do it all over again, I would never have recorded those songs, if I’m totally honest. [laughs] But I do it occasionally, it’s good. I did open mic last night, but we got shut off at midnight, they made the whole tour go down stairs and Jake played a couple of songs. I’ve never heard of a bar closing at midnight. And Andy, he’ll play with other bands, but his priority is definitely GreenVans.
Andy: Yeah, I’m over it, I’m not playing with any other bands anymore – that’s honest to God, I was playing in like four different bands, like two years ago, and I decided that, that was too much. I had a business to run and I wanted to make Defeater a priority. I would just rather play my own music, stuff that we write, rather than play in other people’s bands. If I was in another band, I’d just be on the road all the time and I don’t want to do that anymore. I did four years ago when I was young, and I didn’t know shit about shit, but, yeah, I’m over it. It’s cool.

Faye: Do you not have any interest in pushing your acoustic stuff since the acoustic part to Prophet in Plain Clothes seems to be pretty popular?
Derek: Me and Jay have tried to get together, and just record some stuff. I mean, I’ve been sitting on tens of fifty-something songs for a long time. I don’t really have a lot of initiative to do it, but we’ll see, eventually. We’ll sort it out.
Jay: What a bullshit answer that was.
Derek: [laughs] We have plans

Faye: How’s GreenVans doing these days?
Andy: It’s going well, it’s really busy.
Derek: Andy is literally the busiest person we’ve ever met in our lives. I think he sleeps an hour or two hours a day.
Mike: Between fixing a van’s transmission and changing the oil.
Derek: And flying to Atlanta to pick up another van, then driving it home.
Mike: Here’s the thing, when we first started the band, we used to play a game called, ‘Where’s Andy?’ because Andy was always gone. We’d literally park the van, unload, go to ask him a question, can’t find him anyway and be like, ‘Oh, where’s Andy?’ Now we might as play the game when we’re at home because he could be in another country for all we know. Like I could call Andy on Tuesday and he’s like, “Maybe I’ll give you a call if I want to come out tonight.” Call him on Wednesday, and he’s like, “Ah, no, dude, I had to go to Florida.” [laughs]
Derek: It’s pretty legit. We had a point system for ‘Where’s Andy?’
Jay: Then at the end of the game, if you say, “Where’s Andy?” Now if no one knows where he is, you can get a point. However, if someone can say where he is, you lose a point, but if you think you know where Andy is, but he’s not where you said he was, then you lose 5 points.

Faye: Do you all care as much about the environment as Andy?
Jay: No one cares more about the earth than Andy Reitz. [laughs]
Andy: They have to, because they’re in my band.
Derek: It’s part of the reason I’m vegan, and Jay is a crazy recycling Nazi over our artwork.
Jay: Making sure that everything is done on recycling paper. We care, we think that if everyone did their part just a little bit more, then there’d be a huge impact, it doesn’t take much.
Derek: Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.

Faye: Didn’t you produce Travels in like a month, did you go about Lost Ground differently?
Jay: Travels, we wrote the music over a duration of time, we just through Derek in the guillotine and said write and vocal all the vocals in a month’s time, and that’s what happened with that. This time, he did all the vocals of Lost Ground in like two sessions, but I pulled all my hair out and lost my mind when we recorded that recorded. I think we did like six or seven days on drums, Andy and I almost stopped being friends on almost a few occasions. One time, it took a pizza and an episode of American Loggers to keep the band together. [laughs] Many trips to Starbucks, a couple of therapists, but we got through it. The thing is, we just kept writing parts. We spent the whole day on the bridge to The Red, White and Blues for 10-hours, just thinking of different ideas, arguing as to why my idea or his idea sucks, and then one of us forced the other to record it to see if it sucks. Eventually, I think we got pretty close to what we wanted.
Derek: And then we got very close to what we wanted. Three of us are Virgos in the band and we’re always super critical of ourselves, and I think everyone is critical, but Jay’s like hyper critical, and I’m a close second, but he was at the helm of recording and writing it, pulling his hair out. It is 99.9% of what we want out of that record.
Jay: 95%.

Faye: Really? What would you change?
Jay: We don’t have time. [laughs] There’s some production things that maybe I would have changed, which is funny because sometimes the production things that I would have changed, I have emails from people asking me questions how I did it, because they like it so much. It’s just a matter of taste. There’s just a few things with the impact and dynamics on a couple spots, that I think we could have done better, most compositions are really good. I hate the last song on the record a lot, but that’s just me. I was in the Bridge Nine office with two copies of the master and I was like, “Can we please use the one with five songs? I don’t want to use the sixth song, I hate it.” and they said, “No, fuck you, we’re using it because if you want a double 7-inch then you need that much time of music.” and it completes the story, so we had to. It was just one of those things, I had a really strong vision about what that song was gonna sound like, and when it was done, that’s not what it sounds like. However, with people who didn’t have my vision, I can understand why people might be into it, but because I didn’t really hit the nail on the head with where it was going, I was kind of like, “Ehhh…”

Faye: Since Travels received really good reviews, was there much pressure to top it?
Jay: Yes!
Derek: I think all of us kind of went crazy about that.
Mike: Once Lost Ground was submitted, and sorted of all done with it, I think all of us were like, “Woah, wait, let’s get that back here!” but it was too late. I think up until it came out, we were all super nervous.
Derek: We were sweating bullets.
Jay: I just didn’t think it was good. I just thought it was bad. Andy and I were just like, “I think it’s bad.” and I wouldn’t listen to it for a week, then I’d put it in and think it was good. Then I’d listen to it later and think it was bad.
Derek: You drove an hour to my house to give to me, we sat and listened to it, and then like 5-seconds in, you were like, “I gotta go, I’m going in the living room.”
Jay: Now I like certain tracks off of it, it’s just hard for me to like it. Personally, I almost don’t like anything, so for me to say I like my own thing is very difficult, but I do think it’s close to where I want it to go and I’m happy it’s out, I’m proud of it.
Derek: It’s like the acoustic song on Travels, I’m like, “Meh.” I could have done that a little better, I’ve done a lot of things better, but it’s just us making it and like Jay said, we’re not fond of anything anyway. Hyper critical assholes.
Mike: Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of Travels, I think the songs on Lost Ground are better songs. I don’t know if I would put it in and listen to that record if I wasn’t in the band.

Faye: Since Jay produces lots of other records, do you feel that Defeater has an advantage?
Jay: Sometimes it’s cool, I think it’s neat because I can take an idea from the inception of my mind and bring it all the way into what’s on the final product, and that’s neat because you steer the shit the entire time. However, there’s engineers that I’d love to work with, because I respect what they’ve done and took stuff, we can’t afford to go to those engineers, so I think it’s an advantage on a budget level, for sure. But maybe it’s a slight disadvantage, because we never have to go out of our way to go work with some cool producer, because it just makes the most sense for me to do it. I want to do it all anyway, because I make money and I like having control.

Faye: I read someone say, “’Defeater would be the greatest band if they were relatable.”, how do you feel about that?
Jay: Oh, really? That’s what’s stopping us? [laughs] “Their lyrics aren’t even about stuff, fuck them!”
Derek: “I didn’t fight in World War II, I don’t know what that shit’s about!”
Jay: That comment alone has just changed the entire outcome of the next record. The next record is going to be purely about stuff.
Derek: There will be nothing that isn’t stuff inclusive on the next record.
Mike: Boston has a real lack of bands that sing about stuff, like personal problems.

Faye: Why did you keep changing guitarist for a while? Is Jake a permanent member now?
Mike: Yeah! For a while, we sort of jokingly called Defeater ‘a collection of friends.’ What happened was that both of our guitar players for a while couldn’t really commit to doing every tour, we’d have Jay on one tour, but then we’d have a fill-in. Then we’d have no Jay and Gus would come, it was just like back and forth for a while, and then Jake just sort of showed up, so we thought it’d be cool, and now Jake’s in the band. We’re still going to have rotating guitar players, probably bass players now, but it’s more fun that way, I think. I hope we don’t bum anyone out, I hope kids aren’t coming to the show like, “Man, I really hope Jay’s there tonight… Jay’s not playing guitar? Fuck that band.” So, I hope kids aren’t bummed out, but we’re probably going to continue to have rotating members.
Jay: This is the second tour where all actual members are on the tour.

Faye: So, what’s next for Defeater after this tour?
Derek: We’re just sorting out recording right now.
Jay: There’s definitely stuff that we can do, but we need to figure out about recording. There’s a couple of opportunities that we hope we get and there’s some overseas stuff we’re talking about, going to places that we haven’t been, and that’ll probably be later this year/early next year. Once we get home, our focus is the new record, and our booking agent is telling us that we have to come back here already.

Faye: Change the record, who should we be listening to?
Derek: Touche Amore.
Mike: I’m way into this band called La Dispute, they’re coming over pretty soon. All Teeth.
Derek: We just hung out with the Strike Anywhere dudes, obviously I love Strike Anywhere and we’re really good friends now, which is awesome. Third Eye Blind.
Jay: Colin Bugbee.
Derek: Colin Bugbee! This dude is from Alabama, we picked him up on tour, like literally stole him from his home for like a week and a half, we never met him before. He opened for us and he was incredible, but, yeah, Colin Bugbee and All Teeth. Boom. Done.

Faye Turnbull.

Many thanks to Defeater for the interview, for more on the band, visit: www.myspace.com/defeater

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