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Dumpster Babies interview

Sometimes the stars just seem to align when you listen to a band.  You expectantly click on a link, drop the needle on the record or stick in that new CD and the tones that slither and crawl, belching and squeaking out of the speakers are everything you want.  But sometimes, just sometimes, the music is even more than that.  From the opening tape hiss on the title track I knew that there was something special about Dumpster Babies.  The lo-fi, DIY spirit of the music spoke to me.  These guys got it, they really got it.  You get in, you do your damage and you get out.  No need to meander around and overstay your welcome, a simple one, two combination and you leave the listener flat on their ass!  That’s exactly the kind of mantra I can get behind and the sort of philosophy that the Dumpster Babies seem to live by.  In light of the recent release of their debut self-titled Dumpster Babies LP on Tall Pat Records, I decided it was high time I tracked down these windy city residents and got the skinny on just what a Dumpster Baby is, what it does and how it went about recording one of the best albums I’ve heard in a long time! 

How would you describe the local scene?  Are you guys very involved?  Has it played a large role in Dumpster Babies history or evolution?

Paul:  It's as vibrant as ever with tons of talent bouncing around all over and there's a genuine hardened edge to it.  Chicago bands, we play our hearts out at every show.  Are we involved?  I'd say at the very least we've been around.  We’ve all been playing and or going to shows forever, and in a way, grew up with a lot of people we've met at shows over the years, many of which who've become dear friends and now make up a large part of the local scene.  Also, I've been doing band and poster art for several years as well, so yeah, it's definitely played a large role.  I honestly don't think that we'd have a record, or be the band we are for that matter, if it wasn't for us being so involved. 

Kevin:  Bands in Chicago look out for each other.  We've gotten by on other bands helping us when we've needed support and we've tried to reciprocate as best we can.  The Chicago scene played a huge role in me wanting to play in a band.  Seven, eight years ago Paul and I would go to a lot of shows Cal's, Empty Bottle, Schubas, The Note, Double Door, The Mutiny, Ronnie's.  There were all these places to go see bands and that would get us really excited about rock and roll.  We'd have conversations about how we could do that if we tried.  Headache City was a band that I thought was absolutely perfect.  M.O.T.O. was another band that when I would see them play I would think about being in a band obsessively.

Tom:  There are a few main venues that have been around for a while, and consistently have good shows, other than that there are a lot of venues that pop up and disappear quickly.  A lot of house shows, which, I don't know, get busted or people move out.  The bands fluctuate a lot, but they've always been great.

What’s the band’s lineup?  Is this your original lineup?

Kevin:  Right now, it's me (Kev-oH) on rhythm guitar, Tom on lead, Pauly on drums and Johnny on bass, we all sing, which is fun.  Our original bass player was our friend Mo Estrada; he's actually on a few of the recordings on the album.  He plays in Get Up With The Get Downs and Giant Squid Autopsy, he’s a hyper-talented musician.

Are any of you in any other bands?  Have you been in any bands that released anything?

Paul:  I've been playing in various projects over the years with my buddy Jason Ewers, most notably the now defunct Ornery Little Darlings who released an EP and LP, and most recently in La Kaza who have an EP in the works.
J:  The Billy Carter Band, German Girls, Rattattack, and Dynasty of Poseidon.  Tom and Kevin have started a new band called "Peasant SnaXXX"; they just released a new single Nummy nums.

How did you meet?  When and how did Dumpster Babies become a band?

Kevin:  Paul and I met about ten years ago at work.  We didn't like each other.  I thought he was a tool and he thought I was a pussy.  He showed up one day with a copy of Please Kill Me by Legs McNeal, so we started talking about MC5 and the Clash and found out maybe we did like each other.  I had been playing guitar since puberty and Paul was just learning to play drums.  We would get together and try and play songs, just the two of us.  One day he told me he promised his friend we would play his party.  I was mad ‘cause I'd never played in front of people before, but felt pretty good about what we were playing and in the end it turned out to be really fun, I caught the bug and wanted to keep playing to those who would listen.  So, we started a band called Action Finger and played for a few years.  When that band ended, Paul's little brother Tom had just finished college and was hangin' around.  He had been playing guitar for a bit and was really into the same bands.  It was a blast hangin' out with him so we decided to start a band together.

Tom:  They kept waking me up with their "practice" while I was trying to sleep in my parent’s basement and eventually I just picked up a guitar.

Paul:  Kevin pretty much covered it.  Tom and I are brothers, we're city kids, born and raised in Chicago.  Growing up we always shared the same interests in music and art and frequently worked together on various projects.  As far as John goes, we've been friends with him for years, part of the old bar crew.  He's been kicking around the scene longer than any of us and has played in a bunch of awesome bands.  As a matter of fact, I don't even think I was playing drums yet when he was in the Billy Carter Band, who I used to try and catch every chance I could, now that was a fun band to see.  To be exact, Dumpster Babies started in the winter of 2008.  Kevin and I had our side project, a guitar/drum duo called Mother's Bread, and we'd play shows that our other band, Action Finger, wouldn't or couldn't play.  A light bulb kind of went off one night when our pal AJ from Radar Eyes asked us if we'd like to jump on a bill with them and Plastic Crimewave Sound.  Before that point it hadn’t occurred to us that we had something going in our rawer, more punk side project than our main gig.  So we decided to convince Tom to jump on board and it really clicked.  By May 2009 our buddy Mo joined in on bass just in time to play our first show as Dumpster Babies at the Cobra Lounge with The Hussy, The Half Rats, and The Wanton Looks.

John:  I had known these turds for a while from the bar but I can't remember exactly when they asked me to play, sometime in early 2010 I think.  I was busy as shit and thought it was only gonna be for a show or two, so I never really learned how to play any of the songs.  Three years later little has changed.

I know you’ve gone through at least one name change.  What was your original name?  What led to the name change?  What does the name Dumpster Babies mean or refer to?

Kevin:  Our original name was something Paul came up with, and I thought it was great.  We were trying to come up with names when he just blurted out "Thee Magic Johnson and His Aides".  I laughed so hard we had to go with it.  We played maybe two shows as "Thee Magic Johnson and His Aides" when we realized it was not getting it's just due.  It was written in one publication as "Magic Johnson and His”…  At one of our early shows we were thanked on the mic by another band as "Magic Johnson and His 'You Know What’s".  So we thought of something less offensive.  Tom and I had written a song about being Dumpster Babies that had nothing but their own rock and roll.  We enjoy trying to crack each other up so we went with that.  I'm pretty sure it's been a disadvantage to us.  Lots of respected opinions have told us it's a dumb name but it's a little late for that.  So fuck 'em.

Paul:  We were watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on VHS when I came up with that one.  When I try to rationalize our name it always sounds silly because it wasn't a serious decision at all, we definitely thought about it but I don't think we ever thought about having to explain it.  I think the name is a prime example of why we're such great friends, the simple fact that we just crack each other up!

Tom:  This is kinda far-fetched, but to me it's kinda like an existentialist thing.  Like this city's a giant dumpster and we're these helpless little beings.  We don't stand a chance but were gonna make the most outta what we got and get some kicks while we’re at it.  Also in Chicago, growing up, there's nowhere to play so all the neighborhood kids end up playing in the alleys and by the time you're five you've spent countless hours in the alley, fucking around, using dumpsters as makeshift bumper cars and all types of shit...  It’s pure nostalgia.

You have an unapologetically rock sound that you fuse with some serious punk attitude but I can hear plenty of other stuff kicking around in there.  Can you tell us who some of your personal musical influences are?  How about the band as a whole?

John:  It starts, with me anyway, driving to the liquor store with my dad while he's blastin' the oldies station, like loud ass Everly Brothers and Dion.  Then you find the Ramones.  And we feel no need to ever apologize for being rock and roll; it should be the other way around.

Paul:  Tom and I grew up listening to our parents’ records, classic rock and the oldies station on the radio.  Also, our Dad plays guitar and piano and writes his own music as well.  He actually wrote songs for me and each one of my other five siblings.  He even wrote a song called "Friday Night is Pizza Night" way before pizza was hip.  I've always loved the unabashed primal sound of Rock 'n' Roll.  As I got older I sought out the more obscure stuff that wasn't played on the radio particularly in the punk vein, pick my friends brains, and hit the record and book stores to dig as deep as I could.  Monumental influences that come to mind are the Sonics, Stooges, MC5, Monks, Ramones, Kinks, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Johnny Thunders, Link Wray, Dead Moon, Screaming Lord Sutch, King Kahn and The BBQ etc.

Kevin:  I grew up in a house full of women, no brothers.  I can sing a lot of words to the Dirty Dancing Soundtrack.  My mom grew up in Michigan in the 60's listening to Motown and all the girl groups of that era; I adore those sounds.  My dad liked listening to country music and he loved The Guess Who and Grand Funk Railroad.  Being from Michigan Bob Seger albums are issued to you at baptism.  I would discover bands from my oldest sister's boyfriends.  They would make her mix tapes and I would steal them.  I discovered punk the way most suburban white kids of my generation did.  Nirvana was huge for me.  I was completely fixated with that first album.  When I found out about The Clash, it was as if new doors had been opened.  I found out about the Ramones after getting into The Clash.  Then Iggy and The Stooges, MC5.  It was a very backward transition in the space time continuum.  Some of the songs I write are directly influenced by other songs, The Nerves, Gentlemen Jesse and His Men, The Half Rats and Eddy Current Suppression Ring were really influencing me when I was writing the songs on our current album.

John:  I think we've all listened to a shitload of Ramones and Stooges and Dictators.  Recently there’s been a lot of Nobunny and Personal and the Pizzas.  The Spits and The Black Lips get mentioned a lot in the practice space.  I think we all had a pretty serious Eddy Current Suppression Ring problem for a while.  M.O.T.O. has a lot to do with it as well.

Tom:  A lot of my influences may not be directly manifested in our music.  The Wipers, Billy Childish, The Real Kids, Germs, Jay Reatard, Dead Moon... plus Wu-Tang Clan and all that other 90s Hip-Hop.

I don’t like to label or classify music; I think it defies explanation in that sense.  Can you describe Dumpster Babies sound to someone who’s never heard you before?

John:  Anthony Cozzi of Radar Eyes coined our sound as 'dum-dum rock', and that's fucking perfect.  Think: "The Beach Boys if they were street level drunks and/or sniffed glue."  Honestly we're not trying to be retarded, this is just the best we can do.  Scouts honor.

Kevin:  It's true.  We’re not trying to be retarded.  It's entirely possible that we are though.

Tom:  It's just kinda goofy garage-punk rock and or roll.  It gets hard to label.  I guess a lot of our stuff is kinda trans-genre, but not in a rap-rock sorta way.  We have a song we jokingly refer to as Caribbean/beach/punk, but that actually describes it pretty well.  The whole genre thing gets a little ridiculous if you take it too far.

Can you talk a little bit about the songwriting process for the band?

John:  Step one: Purchase 30 to 40 beers.  Step two: Write song.  Step three: Spend two months trying to remember it and yelling at everybody else for forgetting it even though you know that you're the one fucking it up.  I don't know.  We all write our own songs and bring 'em from time to time, and we're pretty democratic about playing everybody's songs.  We’ve got "Tom" songs, and "Kevo" songs, and "Johnny" songs, etcetera.  Come with an idea, we'll play it.  Never think about it too hard, I guess. That’s our motto.

Kevin:  We have a really good balance of influences between us all.  Tom, John or I will bring a song that has lyrics and a chord progression in to practice.  Everybody comes up with their own parts; it's really fun when songs come together.  Paul has an invaluable role in the song writing process as the discerning ear.  He can hear the songs in a way that we can't and offers insights that make the songs better.  Paul will often sing out a transition or intro/outro that he hears in his head and we will laugh at him for singing it out.  Then we'll try it ‘cause it's a good idea and it will become a part of the song.  I have a blast when we are all into a new song that somebody has brought to the table.

You just released your debut, self-titled 12” LP, Dumpster Babies.  Was it a pleasurable experience?  Do you all enjoy being in the studio? 

Tom:  It was a pleasurable experience for sure.  We'll let you know if we ever record in a studio.  I've seen a few, they look cool.

Kevin:  It was a good time.  I know we've mentioned him quite a bit in this interview, but Anthony Cozzi has been so good to us over the years.  When we started recording he didn't really want anything other than for us to have an album.  He's always been that way as a person; he’s a very selfless guy.  I may be embarrassing him right now but whatever.  It's hard not to enjoy yourself when AJ is hanging out.  He's a hunk.

Can you tell me a little about the recording of the album?  Where was it recorded?  Who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used?

Tom:  The first recording we ever did together the result of a pickle we got into while booking ourselves an appearance on Chica-Go-Go.  We realized quite late that the show doesn't record live and that we needed a pre-existing recording so we could lip sync to.  We ended up calling just about everyone we knew that might be able to get us a recording.  Tyler Brock from The Half Rats, who was playing in Cococoma at the time and also happened to be appearing in the episode we were going to be on, was able to get "No Ghosts" in a day and have it ready for the morning shoot of the show.  The rest of the recordings were done over two separate sessions with Anthony; one with Mo and one with John.  Both were done basically live with older analog equipment, 4 tracks and 8 tracks.

Who’s putting the album out and where can our readers get a copy?

Paul:  Tall Pat Records is putting out the album.  You can buy it in Chicago at Permanent Records, Laurie's Planet Of Sound, Saki, Unchartered Books, and Bucket O' Blood.  You can buy it online at  We're working on getting it everywhere else. 

Do Dumpster Babies have any other music available?  Are there any plans for a follow up single, split or anything for the rest of the year?

John:  This record is it so far.  We're ready to record another LP's worth of music, we’ve just been busy getting this one done.  We'll have new recordings as soon as we can.

Paul:  We have a bunch of new stuff that we plan on getting out as soon as we can, it's a pretty exciting place to be in at the moment.

Kevin:  We have enough songs right now to record two LP's.  But, yeah, we've had our hands full with completing this project.  We'll be recording again soon enough and hopefully releasing another LP before the end of the year.

What do you have planned as far as touring goes for the rest of the year?

Paul:  We have to make 'em short but sweet and do as many weekend trips as we can hitting up our friends in Memphis, St. Louis, New York, Wisconsin.

John:  I have a baby that's about to turn one, so these guys have been super cool about staying close to town recently.  We may pop up to Milwaukee or Minneapolis this summer, nothing major, but we’re tentatively looking at something big next summer once the baby gets a job and moves out.

Kevin:  I suggested that he perhaps find the baby a nice dumpster.

Tom:  We're gonna go to Norway and burn some churches with some black metal death bands.

You have played with some killer bands; can you list a few of them?  Who are some of your favorites?

Kevin:  The Man or Astro-Man show at Empty Bottle was one of my favorites.  We played a show with The Woolen Kits from Melbourne.  That was a good night.  Any time we play with The Fuck Knights from Minneapolis it's a blast, especially the show with Creepy Band a couple of years ago, that was pretty fantastic.

John:  Mind Spiders was cool.  Sueves show was cool.  Outer Minds was cool.

Do you have a funny or interesting story from a show that you’d like to share with our readers?      

Kevin:  We played a show a while back at Crown Tap here in Chicago.  It was a place where working class Latinos would drink and enjoy the music of their culture on the jukebox up until about 10pm when the gringos would enter and it would become a rock venue.  Often times, some of them would stick around and get down with everything and make shit a lot more fun.  After we played this one particular night, there was a very sweet middle aged Hispanic woman who was very intoxicated.  She was just standing in front of me while a bunch of us were just bullshitting.  She said nothing, I don't believe she spoke much English but she had a very sweet smile on her face so I started dancing with her.  I danced with her as if I were dancing with my mother, nothing disrespectful.  People were getting a kick out of it and she and I enjoyed our moment together.  I stopped dancing and she then proceeded to follow me around the rest of the night.  When we were leaving and loading all of our gear she came out of the bar and stood by me.  By this point she was smashed and a bit wobbly.  She fell into the side of the car and landed between the curb and the vehicle.  We were all mortified as she just laid there.  A couple of us picked her up and tried to figure out what to do, no one had any idea other than to put her in a cab, so we did.  I hope she’s doing well.

Where’s the best place for our readers to keep up with the latest news about Dumpster Babies?

John:  Check out Tall Pat Records online for updates about recordings or where to buy music and our Facebook page for most other news.

I am very much a physical release guy.  I love having a digital copy of the album but there’s something indispensable about holding an album in your hands while you listen to it.  Do you have such connection with physical releases?

Tom:  Yeah I definitely share that sentiment.  Not only do I prefer the sound on vinyl but the album artwork seems more legitimate being bigger and all.  Growing up on tapes and CDs, sometimes when I listen to albums I’ve never heard before on vinyl for the first time it becomes a completely new experience.

Kevin:  I'm all for a physical release.  It's good for the prostate.

I’m always curious with the multitude of choices available to musicians today, why artists choose the mediums that they do to release their products.  What led to the album being released on vinyl as opposed to CD or cassette tape?

Tom:  Well we all listen to vinyl and most of our favorite bands albums are on vinyl.  It's definitely the hardest most expensive medium to transmit your music through but it has its rewards.  Anyone can burn a few CDs or tapes.  Pressing vinyl is like starting a small business or something, it’s a lot more of an investment.  We actually had some of these songs on a CD at one point and it just didn't feel like a finished product.  With vinyl, I feel like people are less likely to toss it aside minutes after you give it to them.  Although I do think tapes have a certain charm to them.

Kevin:  Vinyl does have that kind of cliché thing, "it sounds so much better", but Tom makes a good point that CDs are a dime-a-dozen.  You'll never be stopped on a side walk in a popular neighborhood by a fledgling musician, a la hip-hop artist, trying to sell you his vinyl!

What’s your take on digital music and the rapidly changing face of the music industry?

Tom:  It makes everything so disposable.  It can make it more accessible if artists put the effort into it but I think audiences on a computer have a shorter attention span and are less likely to listen to a whole album.  People can download days’ worth of music in hours, whereas back in the day, before I was born, people would buy an album and listen to it in its entirety for days.  It makes it all the better when you see a scene of people emerging and starting stuff and interacting in real life.

Kevin:  My take is that life in general is unpredictable and nothing is certain.  I love hearing music and I love playing it just as much.  You will always be able to hear good sounds regardless of the medium in this country, you just have to try and find it.  Things that are amazing don't always just fall in your lap, unless you're really into bird shit.  When I hear discussions on the music industry and how it’s so difficult to do whatever it is that’s being discussed, I get so bored.  Things change constantly.  So for those who are disheartened or upset by the industry I can only advise finding someone to talcum powder your ass for you and quit whining because, at this point, you sound really boring.

I ask everyone I talk to this question so please feel free to list as many or as few as you’d like, but what bands should or readers be listening to from your local area that they might not have heard of?

Kevin:  Radar Eyes, The Sueves, The Runnies, The Bingers, Heavy Times, Uh Bones, Slushy, Magic Milk, Vamos, Negative Scanner, Outer Minds, Football, We Repel Each Other, The Yolks, The Blast Beats, Rabble Rabble, Claw Toe, The Half Rats, Bare Mutants, Absolutely Not.

John:  Some older bands that aren't around anymore: Headache City, Cococoma, M.O.T.O., Ratattack, Tyler Jon Tyler, Veedee.

What about nationally and internationally?

Kevin:  Woolen Kits, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Mean Jeans, The Tough Shits, The Hussy, Fuck Knights.

Is there anything that I missed or that you’d like to discuss?

John:  Yes.  In the last 4 hours we scored a DVD collection and a sixty-gallon aquarium from the trash; strangely fitting.

Tom:  I lost my soul in a bet on a game of racquetball in the summer of 2010.

Kevin:  I am really good at racquetball.

(2013)  Dumpster Babies – Dumpster Babies – 12” – Tall Pat Records

Interview made by Roman Rathert/2013
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