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Life Stinks interview with Chad, Whitney and Vinnie

© Monique R

Life Stinks is everything that is right and holy about punk music, all the while channeling the recent psych garage rock revival by turning it on it’s head.  A little atonal sometimes and certainly confrontational at points, Life Stinks not only has audible lyrics but they didn’t mix their album on a children’s cassette recorder so you can hear every dissonant, brash chord that’s strummed or string that’s picked.  Harsh, brutal, distorted guitar riffs do an excellent job of carrying the songs, while you can hear the drums thrashing around in the background keeping frantic time a points much like The Stooges or MC5.  And that’s another thing, it’s been forever since I heard an actual punk band that bothered to write real lyrics or give any sort of thought to vocal delivery.  There’s definitely a sense of, “who gives a shit about all of this” that drips off of the music, but it belies an incredibly strong performance in a genre famous for its shortcomings particularly in that area.  It’s interesting to hear The Velvet Underground run through the perspective of Iggy Pop or the Germs, and it’s damned catchy I might add.  For all of the comparisons that I could draw and names I could drop, I’d rather concentrate on the fact that songs like “Cemeteries” lodged themselves like a tumor in my brain refusing to go away.  I haven’t heard a punk band that kicked me in the balls this hard and didn’t take away their foot since I was in high school.  They’ve been perfecting their own VU-worshipping punk rock technique for a while now and recently unleashed their righteous Self-Titled debut album on S-S Records, it was time.  I had to talk to this band.  Three members of the band including one of the founding members, bassist Whitney, along with two other members, drummer Vinnie and lead singer Chad agreed to sit down and talk shop with me.  Despite their name, and what song titles and lyrics may imply, Life Stinks is anything but just another cathartic half-assed punk band, plodding through the same four chords over and over again screaming about how their mother yelled at them and their childhoods sucked.  It’s more than all of that, in an important sense.  Life Stinks might be one of the last real punk bands in the great tradition of The Stooges, Germs and Flipper.  People who had absolutely no fucking clue how to play music other than they’re gut instincts and reactions to what’s happening around them.  It’s music in its rawest and truest sense.  Catch a sense of self-loathing and get some killer tunes stuck in your head at the same time, come on, what else have you got to do anyways?  Life Stinks…

© Rick Ele

What’s Life Stinks lineup these days?  Have you gone through any changes since the band began?

Chad:  The lineup as of right now, is myself on vocals and occasional guitar, Troy on guitar, Whitney on bass, and Justin and Vinnie on drums.  We’ll be losing a drummer in a month as Vinnie’s going to be moving to New York though.  The band was started by Whitney and Eric Holmgren of Daggerman Records.  Eric was our first drummer.  He’s in Austin, Texas now.  We also had another guitar player for a few months along the way as well.

I love playing musical connect the dots but there’s nothing that beats cheating.  Are any of you in any other active bands at this point?  Have you released any music with anyone else?  If so can you tell us about that?

Vinnie:  I sang in a hardcore punk band called ROT SHIT before I moved to San Francisco.

Where are you originally from?

Chad:  Honolulu, Hawaii.

Vinnie:  Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Whitney:  Pacifica, California.

How would you describe the local music scene where you grew up?  Did you go to a lot of shows when you were growing up?  Do you feel like it played a large role in your childhood, your musical tastes or how you play today?

Chad:  I started out going to punk shows in high school.  This was in the 90’s, so there was a lot of pop punk and hardcore going on then.  A lot of the stuff I was into musically back then I wouldn’t touch now, but for what it was worth it gave me an outlet and helped me find an identity.  Getting into all that definitely changed my life.  Playing in bands and making music with people has been a big thing to me ever since.

Vinnie:  Pittsburgh is a very hardcore town, always two to four years behind the trends, dating all the way back to the Swamp Rats who sounded like a mediocre Sonics two years after the Sonics had broken up.  When my friends and I first started going to shows the scene was very straight laced and we were more into getting drunk, smoking pot, experimenting with LSD and putting powder up our noses.  Everyone hated us.

Whitney:  Not much was going on, went to some shitty local shows at the Boys and Girls Club in town.  As soon as I could drive, I would make my way into San Francisco to go to shows.

 © Paris

Was your household very musical when you were growing up?  Were either of your parents or any of your relatives musicians or extremely involved or interested in music?

Chad:  Music was not a big part of my family.  My musical tastes were self-discovered or introduced to me by friends very gradually.

Vinnie:  My dad played in bands when he was in high school but nothing ever serious.  Music was very big in my house growing up, my mother always had the radio on while cooking and cleaning and my dad saw a bunch of good bands in the 60’s and 70’s including The Velvet Underground, Grateful Dead, The Band, The Doors and many others I’m sure.

Whitney:  Music wasn't a real big deal in our house, but my Dad would listen to the local classic rock radio station a lot at home and in the car.

What was your first real exposure to music?

Chad:  The first record I can remember myself playing repeatedly was the soundtrack to Star Wars when I was about four or five, I guess.

Vinnie:  I remember being really into “Dude Looks Like A Lady” by Aerosmith as a child.

Whitney:  One of my earliest memories is going through my parent’s small record collection and asking my mom to play Michael Jackson's record, Thriller over and over again for me.  And also staring at Bruce Springsteen's butt on the cover of Born in the U.S.A.

If you had to pick one defining moment of music in your life that changed everything and opened the doors to all of the infinite possibilities that music can offer, what would it be?

Chad:  I heard “Beat On The Brat” on the radio when was fourteen or so and went, “Whoa!”

Vinnie:  I was hanging in my friend’s garage one evening smoking pot and drinking 40s, and my friend at the time, Jon Scott, brought in this tape he had dubbed off his brother and we listened to it about thirty times in a row.  It was Minor Threat’s discography.  Later that night when we were done hanging out I broke into the garage and stole the tape.  The riff of “Small Man Big Mouth” was one of the first times I ever realized how angry I was at the world for no apparent reason.

When and why did you decide that you wanted to start writing your own music?

Chad:  From the very beginning, playing in bands for me has been about writing my own songs.  Never played many covers.

When and how did you all originally meet?

Chad:  We’ve all known each other for a few years now.  All prior to forming the band, but we’ve definitely gotten to know each other better doing this.

Vinnie:  When I first moved here Troy and I shared a room together for a couple months.  That’s when I learned how heavy of a sleeper I am, as I never heard him screwing once.

Whitney:  Pretty sure we all met around four years ago.

What led to the formation of Life Stinks and when exactly was that?

Whitney:  One drunken night Eric, our original drummer, and I got to talking about how we should start a band together.  He had never played drums before and I’d never played bass.  When we told Chad about our idea he agreed to sing vocals, but suggested that we get someone else to play guitar.  Eric and Troy were roommates at the time, and Eric had overheard Troy wanking away on the guitar in his room.  Troy had never played guitar in a band before, so it was a perfect fit.  Three people who had no idea what they were doing and Chad singing over the sloppy chaos.  The band first started in late 2011.

Is there any shared creed, code, ideal or mantra that the band lives by?

Chad:  Life stinks.

Vinnie:  “When you ain’t got nothin’, you ain’t got nothin’ to lose.”

Whitney:  Do we have enough beer, or should we buy a couple of tall cans?

It would seem apparent what the sentiments of your name would imply but I’m curious why Life Stinks means or refers to from your perspective?  Who came up with the name and how did you go about choosing it?

Chad:  I came up with it.  It’s the truth.  Anyone who hears the name and goes, “pffft’” or “well, if you think life stinks so much why don’t you do something to fix it, or kill yourself?” is obviously not going to get this band and’s most likely someone I do not want to know.

Whitney:  We had been throwing around some other horrible band names before Chad came up with Life Stinks.  We were about to play our first show and still hadn't really decided on a name, so we went with the best one we could come up with.  Glad we ended up with it.

Where are you all located at these days?

Chad:  We’re based in San Francisco.

How would you describe the local music scene where you’re located at these days?

Chad:  There’s a little less going on right now.  The cost of living and tech thing is taking its toll on bands since most people in bands are poor.  As far as music goes, like anywhere else, I would say that there are a few good bands here, and a lot more shitty ones.

Vinnie:  I don’t think much about it.  I have friends who play in bands and I’ll go and support them but there isn’t much going on otherwise.  People who don’t live here think it’s this big garage party, and that Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall are at every show partying it up, but truth be told it’s nothing like that at all.  As long as I’ve lived here I’ve always thought the San Francisco scene was pretty mild.

Whitney:  San Francisco is definitely in the middle of a dry spell as far as music goes.  Hopefully some more good bands pop up, we need more people to play shows with.

Are you very involved in the local music scene?  Do you book or attend a lot of local shows?  Do you help to record and or release and local music?  If so can you tell us a little bit about that?

Vinnie:  I’ve booked some of our shows, I’ll go see Bronze or Swiftumz if they’re playing and I don’t have work the next morning, and I can walk home afterwards.

Do you feel like the local scene has played a large or important role in the history or the way that Life Stinks sounds?  Or do you think you all could be doing what you’re doing and sound the way that you do regardless of you location or surroundings?

Chad:  I don’t think anything that’s gone on here in the last ten years has had anything to do with what we’re doing as far as the type of band we decided to work on.  Then again, maybe it’s been a reaction against what’s been going on, but with the same people involved this band could’ve happened in any city.  We aren’t a part of any type of musical trend happening here.

Vinnie:  I think being from San Francisco’s good for us because it separates us from the pack a little bit.  Although this new “angry San Francisco” band tag is getting thrown around, no one else in town really sounds like us.  Whereas in other cities in America, more bands are going for the same vibe we are and probably just not hitting the mark as well.

Whitney:  Our music sounds the way it does because that’s the only way we could play, especially in the beginning since the three of us playing instruments didn't technically know how to play them.

The one part of my job with Psychedelic Baby that I just don’t think I’m any good at is describing how a band sounds.  I just end up coming up with these bizarre and ultimately confusing statements that don’t always make a lot of sense.  Rather than me making some awkward attempt at describing your sound, how would you describe yourselves to our readers who might not have heard Life Stinks yet?

Chad:  We’re a punk band.

Vinnie:  I’ve always considered us a guitar band.

You guys have a really interesting sound that kind of transcends a lot of different genres and I think the more you pay attention to the music the more that you can hear kicking around in there.  I’m curious who you would cite as your major musical influences?  What about major influences on the bands as whole rather than individually?

Chad:  We got together with an idea of what our limitations were and combined that with some of our musical tastes to try to come up with a sound that we could achieve.  So we were using stuff like The Germs, The Stooges, Flipper, early Cleveland punk bands as a jumping off point.  Not that any of that stuff is necessarily “easy” to play music, but with what we could do technically, we thought we could hit upon some of the vibes those bands put out.  Everyone has a pretty wide variety of tastes so that all naturally makes it’s way into the sound of the band.

Vinnie:  Although we all argue about music a lot our common ground certainly reflects our output, which would be The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, Flipper, The Germs, The Mirrors and Electric Eels.

Can you tell us a little bit about the songwriting process with Life Stinks?  Is there someone who comes to the rest of the band with a riff or more finished idea to work out and compose with the rest of the band or is there a lot of jamming and exchange of ideas that you all work together and kind of distill into a song?

Chad:  Different songs have happened in different ways.  A couple songs I brought pretty much completed.  Some songs Troy had a part, and some Whitney did.  The best ones, I think, came out of sticking with a part we liked and just riding that riff for a couple hours and molding a song out of it by grooving and being patient with it.

What about recording?  Do you enjoy recording?  I know that there’s not a lot in the world that can beat holding an album in your hands knowing that it’s your and that no one can ever take that away from you.  Getting to that point though, getting everything recorded and mixed, especially when it comes to doing all of that with an entire band can be a little bit stressful to say the least.  How is it in the studio for you all?

Chad:  We haven’t spent a lot of time recording as a band up to this point, but the process with this band has been the most enjoyable for me compared to any other band I’ve recorded with.

Vinnie:  The two recording sessions I’ve been involved with in Life Stinks have been very easygoing, almost makes me wish we recorded more often.

Whitney:  Yeah, recording is pretty mellow for us.  Haven't run into any stressful situations yet.

Does Life Stinks utilize studio environments when your’ recording or is it a DIY prospect where you things more on your own?

Chad:  We did the first single on Justin’s 4-track ourselves.  The LP was done at Kelley Stoltz’s studio, and the next single we recorded ourselves on an 8-track reel-to-reel.

Do you all do a lot of prep work before you record getting arrangement and compositions sounding just the way that you want them and stuff?  Or is the recording process more of an organic process where things have some breathing room and change a little bit?

Chad:  We try to get the songs figured out beforehand so that recording is just that; going in there and playing the songs how we know and getting the best take we can before people get tired of playing it and the performance starts deteriorating.  We did do a little bit of studio jamming on the LP though.

Vinnie:  I feel like, at least for this next single, we were inspired a lot after recording the basic tracks and had a good brainstorming session of what needed to be added and what didn’t.

Let’s talk a little bit about your back catalog, the first release that I know of was the Shadow On The Wall 7” on Total Punk Records.  Can you share some of your memories of recording that first material?  When and where was it recorded?  Who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used?

Chad:  As I said, the first single was done at our rehearsal space on a 4-track.  Justin did most of the recording.  We did that one real quick.  Troy was leaving to go to New York for a while, so we got that one done right beforehand.  He laid down his guitar the morning after our last show before he left.  We’d been up all night getting wasted.  I love his guitar solo on “Shadow On The Wall”.  It’s pretty fucked up.

Whitney:  I'm pretty sure we recorded that 7" in late November of 2012.

You followed up the Shadow On The Wall single with the recent Life Stinks full-length on S-S Records this past year (2013).  Was the recording of the material for that very similar to the session(s) for your earlier single?  Was that a fun, pleasurable experience for you all?  What can our readers expect from the Self-Titled full-length?  When was that material recorded?  Where was it recorded and who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used?

Chad:  This was pretty different from recording the single.  We were lucky enough to be able to record at Kelley Stoltz’s home-studio with him and Mikey Young.  We did the whole thing in two days, basically went in and played live.  It was a good time.  Those guys were easy to work with and fun to be around.  Cool fact: Troy played on an amp that used to belong to James Williamson.

Vinnie:  We recorded the LP on June 13th, 2013 after Total Control was done with tour and Mikey had about a week to hang in San Francisco.  Before he came out here, I sent him some live recordings we had done and asked if he’d be interested in recording our full-length when he was out here, and he liked the stuff and agreed to do it.  Mikey and Kelley are very professional about this whole thing, so I kind of felt bad that one of us didn’t even take off work for it, but luckily they had everything ready and we were very well rehearsed and played everything live and got through all the tracking in a couple hours.   It was recorded on Kelley’s Tascam 388 which can be credited as the pioneer of the “San Francisco Sound” as no one in town really had one of them until Kelley did.  We used multiple Elvis looking mics and Mikey had the good idea of recording the drums facing each other with one shared kick mic.  I think we got a great room sound out of it and the whole record sounds great.  Like “Sister Ray” before it, I don’t know if we’ll ever play a better “My My My” than the one that is featured on the LP.  Good thing the tape was rolling, I guess.

Whitney:  One of my favorite parts of recording the LP was watching Kelly play a huge metal sheet of flattened Campbell soup cans and rhythmically spraying a Dust Off can during the song "Drag You".

Does Life Stinks have any music that we haven’t talked to yet, maybe a single or a song on a comp that I missed?

Chad:  We’re working on the next single now.

Whitney:  We did record once before we recorded the first single.  It was with the original lineup, with Eric on drums and Justin actually recorded that stuff too.  Not sure where that’s disappeared to though.

Where’s the best place for your US readers to pick up copies of your music?

With the completely mad international postage rate increases this last year I try to provide our readers with as many possible options for picking up import releases as I can.  Where’s the best place for our international and overseas readers to pick up your music?

Vinnie:  Couldn’t tell you.

And where’s the best place for fans to keep up on the latest news like upcoming shows and album releases at?

Chad:  It would have to be Facebook right now.

Vinnie:  Don’t we have a tumblr?

Do you remember what the first song that Life Stinks ever played was?  Where and when was that?

Chad:  First song we came up with was “Creepazoid”.  It almost made the album, but looks like it’s been lost to the scrap heap.  I came up with the progression and Daggerman came up with the first line, “You’re a fast talking faggot, but you’re starting to slip…” and we took it from there.  Still think it’s a cool song.

Whitney:  Yup, it was "Creepazoid".  I think we first got that song together sometime in January of 2012.

What, if anything, do you all have planned as far as touring goes for 2014 so far?

Chad:  We’re going to get on the road for a bit, but there’s nothing planned as of yet.  It’s going to happen though.

Do you all do a lot of touring?  Do you enjoy life on the road?  What’s it like being out on tour with Life Stinks?

Chad:  We haven’t done a tour yet.  Went to SXSW, and did a couple short trips to Portland and Seattle, one of them with UV Race.  I had a good time.  We all get along pretty well.  One of my favorite interactions: Justin (referring to Troy and Vinnie): “I’m going to kill these motherfuckers in their sleep.”  Chad: “Which one should I kill first?”  Me: “The one that you think is gonna make the least amount of noise.”  Vinnie: “Well, you better kill me last ‘cause I’m going to squeal like a stuck pig.”

Vinnie:  I love going out of town as I don’t drive, so I just get to sit back and smoke weed.  On our trip with UV Race I got the drunkest I did the entire weekend in the van from Seattle or San Francisco.  I got a six-pack every time we stopped.        

Whitney:  The small trips we’ve done have always been fun, lots of talking shit about each other, to each other.  Favorite moments on the road so far would have to be when Chad almost killed us all driving like a maniac in the rain because he had to take a shit so bad, and listening to Justin and Vinnie prank call multiple Applebee's inquiring about the source of their Ribblets.            

Who are some of your personal favorite bands that you all have had a chance to share a bill with so far?

Vinnie:  UV Race, Bronze, Swiftumz.

Do you have any funny or interesting stories from live shows or performances that you’d like to share with our readers here? 

© Rick Ele

Chad:  I pissed off one guy in Austin when I tossed a beer glass into the air and swung the microphone at it.  He came up and grabbed me because I smashed it in the direction of his girlfriend.  The thing is, it took me three tries to hit it, so she had more than enough time to move.

Vinnie:  At our last show I did speed in the afternoon, then found a beret in my room that a girl left there the night before and decided I was going to wear it.  I blacked out before I even got to the show.  The next morning I texted Whitney asking how we played and she said, “Pretty good”.

© Ruby Perez

Whitney:  Chad picking up a stack of baseball cards that Vinnie had found on the street earlier that day, and throwing them into the crowd thinking that they would disburse, but ended up hitting one of the only people in the room square in the forehead, whipping his head back.  Ouch!  Sorry dude.

Do you all give a lot, or any for that matter, thought to the artwork that represents the band like flyers, posters and artwork?  Do you have a go to artist for your stuff?  If so how did you originally get hooked up with them?

Chad:  We haven’t spent a lot of quality time with the art yet.  Troy put the cover for the single together, and I picked out that comic panel that’s on the cover of the LP.  Scott Soriano, Vinnie, and I put the back cover together with the help of Mark Murmann who took the photo.  I’d like for us to work on art ideas as a band a little more in the future.

With all of the various mediums that are available to artists today I’m always curious why they choose and prefer the various mediums that they do.  Do you have a preferred medium of release for your own music?  What about when you’re listening to and or purchasing music?  If so, why?

Chad:  Vinyl.  It’s the only format that people who care about owning a physical copy of the music will want to purchase.  We have done tapes though, and SS printed up some CDs too.

Whitney:  I can't remember the last time I bought anything that wasn't a record or a tape.

Do you have a music collection at all?  If so can you tell us a little bit about it?

Chad:  I’ve got a modest collection of records that grows slowly, month to month.

Vinnie:  The majority of my records haven’t been with me in years.  What I have here is pretty much what I’ve bought since moving to San Francisco.  I haven’t been buying anything recently however.

Whitney:  Yes, I’ve been collecting records since high school.

I grew up around a pretty big collection of music and I was encouraged from a young age to listen to anything that I wanted.  There was always something magical about wandering up to the seemingly endless shelves of music and pulling something off at random, sticking it into the player, reading the liner notes, staring at the artwork and letting the music transport me off to another dimension.  Having something physical to hold in my hands, something experience along with the music always made for a more complete listening experience for me.  Do you have any such connection with physically released music?

Chad:  Oh, yeah.  I’ve done the same thing over the years.  I like having things.  I don’t really listen to a lot of music unless I have it on record.  I miss out on a lot of things because I just won’t click on it to hear it, I’ll wait ‘til I can get a copy for myself.

Whitney:  It just isn't the same experience if you don't have the actual album in front of you.

As much as I love my music collection there’s always been one major problem for me, portability.  Even with the advent of CDs and cassettes I couldn’t really take enough stuff with me on the go to keep me happy on road trips and stuff.  Digital music has all but eliminated that problem overnight and when teamed with the internet has proven to be a real game changer.  It seems to be levelling the playing field somewhat for independent artists willing to promote and maintain an online presence and exposing people to a world of music that they otherwise would have been completely blind to.  On the other hand illegal downloading is running rampant these days and the face of the music industry as most of us knew it in the past is rapidly changing to say the least.  As an artist during the reign of the digital era what’s your opinion on digital music and distribution?

Chad:  I really haven’t paid much attention.  As far as it killing off the record industry, I don’t think it was a big loss.  I’ve never made money off of music so it’s never been an issue with me.  A digital copy of a song is worthless to me.  Not as far as the music goes, but as far as the product.  If someone wants the record, they have to buy it.  But if they want to go download a digital file they can have it.  But then, if someone is going to make money off of these things it should be the band, I’ll have to start playing a little more attention I suppose.

Vinnie:  I’m fine with digital copies of music.  I have two iPods full of music.  One with music and the other just with Grateful Dead live sets on it.  I only hate this set-up when something goes wrong and I have no idea what to do since I don’t know shit about computers.  When I’m at home I prefer to listen to records, but a lot of the music I listen to is only available to me digitally, so there’s nothing else I can do.  As far as ripping off artists, that also has no bearing on me as I’ve been a fan of bootleg records since I was a teenager.  I think it would be awesome if someone came to one of our shows, recorded it and released it, as long as it sounded good.

I try to keep up with as much good music as I possibly can and with so much amazing stuff being so readily available these days it would seem like that would be a relatively attainable goal but I’m slowly losing my mind trying to keep up with the constant flood of amazing music out there!  I ask everyone I talk to this question in hopes of keep up with at least one-percent of the amazing stuff that’s out there right now.  Is there anyone from your local scene or area that I might not have heard of before?

Vinnie:  Not much.  As I’ve already mentioned in this interview I like Bronze, Swiftumz, my roommate Matt’s band is pretty cool; Violent Change.  And Justin’s other band CCR Headcleaner is good.

What about nationally and internationally?

Vinnie:  Total Control and East Link from Melbourne, Australia.  Illegals from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Home Blitz from Princeton, New Jersey and Blues Control from Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Thanks so much for taking the time to finish this, I know my interviews aren’t short but I hope it was at least cool to look back on everything that you’ve managed to accomplish and get done in the last few years.  Before we sign off, is there anything that I might have missed or that you’d like to discuss with me or talk to our readers about?

Chad:  We’ll have a single coming out soon, hopefully another LP, and we’ll get a tour or two in before the years done.  Thanks.

Vinnie:  Very stoked on the new single and new songs, some of our best yet!  Sad to be leaving the band for personal reasons, but hope it isn’t the last time we play together as that has resulted in most of my favorite times living in San Francisco.

Whitney:  We’re planning on making it out to the East Coast finally this year, so keep an eye out for that!

© Monique R

(2013)  Life Stinks – Shadow On The Wall – 7” – Total Punk Records
(2013)  Life Stinks – Life Stinks – digital, CD, 12” – S-S Records

Interview made by Roman Rathert/2014
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