Posted Jun 28, 2010, by The Bear.
Featured Artists: Teenage Bottle Rocket; Genre: Punk;
FIRST BROADCAST LIVE ON THE AIR ON KSCR, LOS ANGELES ON NOV. 4, 2009
Teenage Bottlerocket come from Laramie, Wyoming, and they were on my show while on tour in late fall, 2009. Their album, They Came From the Shadows, was recently out on Fat Wreck Chords and they were on the road supporting it, sharing the stage with Cobra Skull, and, soon to join the tour, the Lawrence Arms. We interviewed Ray Carlisle, one of the co-leaders of the band live by phone on Wednesday, November 4, 2009, from where they were performing that night in Las Cruces, New Mexico. They were slated to hit the Los Angeles area that coming Saturday at the Troubadour, and Sunday at the Chain Reaction, so hopefully the timing of this interview helped spread the word for them in the area (see below for information on shows this July).
Teenage Bottlerocket makes what could be termed old-school pop-punk, in the sense that they definitely have melodies and hooks and write catchy tunes, but they also have the speed. They follow of the tradition of the many bands who have come after the Ramones and the quality of their music shows why such straight-forward pop-punk music endures.
When one comes from Laramie, Wyoming, and especially when one has lived there for many years as Ray has, sooner or later the subject of Matthew Shepard, the gay student who was tied to a fence and beaten to death in Oct. of 1998 is likely to come up. That was certainly true in this interview and it led to some surprising revelations from Ray who, it turns out, was not only acquainted with Matthew Shepard himself, but had also gone to high-school with the two men who killed him.
This element, however, is just one part of the interview. Teenage Bottlerocket itself didn’t form until years later and has become a very good band that is gaining a following in the Punk underground all around the country. If you’ve heard their music you immediately know why that is.
THE BEAR: With me all the way from, I think it’s Las Cruces, New Mexico, is that correct?
RAY: That’s right. That’s where I’m at.
BEAR: We have with us Ray Carlisle who is the guitarist and co-vocalist – well actually I guess you’re the co-guitarist as well of [Teenage] Bottlerocket who are currently on tour now with Cobra Skull and – when does Lawrence Arms join you?
RAY: Tomorrow night in Phoenix.
BEAR: And they will be with you for about a week I think –
RAY: That’s right.
BEAR: – And then you and the other guys will be finishing out the tour without them. So how has the tour been going?
RAY: The tour’s been great. The shows have been really exciting, big turnouts; St. Louis on a Sunday, the day after Halloween, was one of the best shows of the tour, totally surprising. It’s just been a great time every night.
BEAR: How big are the crowds usually?
RAY: Right around 100 people to 200 people.
BEAR: That’s a good Punk crowd.
RAY: But sometimes over 200, sometimes 50.
BEAR: You’re going to be at the Troubadour on Saturday [Nov. 7] and that of course is a couple of hundred people, and the Chain Reaction in Anaheim on Sunday [Nov. 8]. I forget how big the Chain Reaction is but that’s a good underground club too. This is obviously not your first time in L. A., correct?
RAY: That’s correct. It will be our first time at the Troubadour; we’re excited to finally be able to play there.
BEAR: Where have you usually played in the past?
RAY: We played Zen Sushi once, we played the Knitting Factory.
BEAR: Good places. Have you been on the Warped Tour yet?
RAY: No we haven’t.
BEAR: I guess you’ve been touring a lot recently; you have new album out –
RAY: Yeah, we went to Japan, did three shows out there, then came home, and we’ve been on the road ever since the 8th of October.
BEAR: Wow. And this tour will last until when?
RAY: The 18th of November.
BEAR: And then you go home? Do you have another tour after that? Or do you actually get a break?
RAY: We get a break but we’re lining some stuff up for January .
BEAR: Now your newest album is called They Came From the Shadows, or if you happen to be looking at the side of the CD case it is They Came From the Shawows. Is there any specific reason, or is that just a misprint?
RAY: That’s just a misprint. (Laughs)
BEAR: Too bad – oh I better not say what I was going to say or I’m going to offend a lot of people. [NOTE: Guess! - Bear] So how long have you been together as a band? When did you get started?
RAY: Brandon and I started the band in 2001, and we’ve had a couple of member changes. Cody joined up at the end of ‘04, and we released our first record on Red Scare in ‘05, and then our second CD on Red Scare in ‘08, and now here we are on Fat.
BEAR: How did that come about that you got on Fat?
RAY: It was primarily us playing with NOFX on the East Coast, in Richmond, and Baltimore, and Mike called me and showed some interest in the band and we told him we were interested, and it was pretty much as simple as that. We went into the studio and cranked out a record.
BEAR: How’s [Fat] been treating you?
RAY: Great. Everyone at Fat’s awesome; it’s great to be on a label that has a staff where people do and say different things. Not complaining about Toby of Red Scare because we really like Red Scare, and he encouraged us to leave the label because he knew that Fat would be a good move for us, but he still helps out the band tons, and we kind of get the best of both worlds with Toby being around and [our] being on Fat, so it’s almost like we never left Red Scare but at the same time we’re on a new label, so it’s great.
BEAR: And one that has a bit more of an ability to push you. So were you in bands before you formed Teenage Bottlerocket?
RAY: Yeah we were, Brandon and I played in a band called Homeless Wonders. We were on Suburban Home Records out of Denver, and Kody played in the Lillingtons.
BEAR: That much I knew.
RAY: They were on Panic Button. Those are our previous bands. We have some side project bands too. Brandon sings for a band called That Guy, and Zack, the band that we rock with every now and again.
BEAR: And what about Miguel?
RAY: Miguel’s in That Guy.
BEAR: Oh he’s in That Guy?
BEAR: How did you initially get started? I mean in music? What got you into Punk?
RAY: What got me into Punk was Green Day and Dookie.
BEAR: You and everybody else.
RAY: And just from there started tackling the entire Lookout! catalogue and took it all from there. No one’s born with a mohawk; I’d like to say that I went and saw Black Flag in 1984 or something when I was 8; my older brother skated and he had a Black Flag logo on his grip tape on his skateboard, and a DK logo and I was always kind of curious, like “what’s that?” I was familiar with Suicidal Tendencies and stuff but it really wasn’t until Green Day when I got interested in Punk music. Green Day pretty much opened the door for me, like “oh man I love this.”
BEAR: I didn’t see Black Flag in 1984 either so don’t feel bad. I did see the reunion in 2003, that was only here in L. A. I think. But it’s interesting because you come from more of a smaller town area than, say, New York, or Los Angeles, or San Diego, or Chicago, or one of those places. I’m from New York City and until recently we always had CBGBs to go to, and of course in L. A. we’ve got lots of scenes and mini-scenes and the like, but you’re from Laramie. Is that where you’ve always been from?
RAY: I was born in Katy, TX, and I lived there until I was 11; I moved up to Wyoming then. And yeah, I graduated from Laramie High-School, and I graduated from the University of Wyoming. My real job’s based out of Laramie; I say “real job” because that’s the one that pays the bills. I bought a house there, and my son Milo lives in Laramie with me, so yeah, I’m pretty much stuck there for the time being. It’s not the greatest place in the world but it could be worse I guess.
BEAR: Well you’ve got a university up there so there’s always going to be a bit of an eclectic scene.
RAY: Yeah, absolutely, and we’re an hour north of Ft. Collins, Colorado, and two hours north of Denver so most touring bands that are hitting the road go through Denver. We’ll cruise down there and see Dillinger Four or Dead to Me or something; [it’s] the best of the big city and the small city at the same time.
BEAR: Is there much of a music scene in Laramie these days?
RAY: Yeah there is; there’s a lot of bands and it’s not completely unorthodox to have a ska band play with a metal band playing with a punk band at the same show and no one really cares.
BEAR: That’s not supposed to be unorthodox in the first place.
RAY: Yeah, I know; sometimes it just turns out that way and it’s just how ever the night really goes. There’s a ska band playing right now, I was gonna go check ‘em out; not really my cup of tea but I’m not against it.
BEAR: What are they called?
RAY: I’m not sure, I need to memorize their name though because I’m going to go out on stage and I’m going to try to give props.
BEAR: Yeah that’s just good manners. So who are your major influences when you decided to start being a musician yourself? You said Green Day opened the door for you, and who else influenced you along the way?
RAY: Well I think my Dad had a lot of influence on me when I was little just the way the electric guitar looked to me. I was captivated by the electric guitar and I knew that I wanted my life to have something to do with it. My Dad bought me a guitar and it turned out he knew a bunch of Venture songs, and so he taught me “Walk, Don’t Run” and “Pipeline” and “Wipeout” on the guitar and Brandon started playing the drums with me. So really we got our start with my Dad’s encouragement and just him being supportive of us playing music and buying us gear, and I think that had a lot of influence on us later forming a metal band.
BEAR: Oh you were forming a metal band?
RAY: Yeah, we were in a metal band in eighth grade called “Vehicular Homicide.”
BEAR: That’s a good name. I like it. Please tell me you recorded something.
RAY: We did, but I think we accidentally recorded over it. There was one tape that existed and some radio show came on and the rock tape got popped in the radio and we pressed “record” – yeah it would be hard to scrounge something up from that band.
BEAR: Well that’s the way it goes. Someone said for every band you successfully get together there will be five more that didn’t get off the ground. And that’s true, isn’t it?
RAY: I think so. Never heard that before but yeah, I think that is true.
BEAR: I have to ask this, being as how you live in Laramie; were you in Laramie when they made The Laramie Project?
RAY: Yes I was.
BEAR: Were you one of the people they interviewed?
RAY: No I wasn’t.
BEAR: Were you living in Laramie also when Matthew Shepard was killed?
RAY: Yes I was.
BEAR: I mean obviously I don’t expect that you knew him –
RAY: Actually I did.
BEAR: You did?! How did that happen?
RAY: Well he actually had a crush on my roommate, and me and my roommate both worked at Taco John’s in Laramie, and Matthew would come in all the time to get tacos and hang out a little bit; he actually went by “Matt” because we would take names at Taco John’s and when the orders were done we would say “Matt your order’s ready” over the intercom, so I knew him as Matt and I also went to high-school with the idiots that murdered him.
BEAR: Oh God.
RAY: Yeah, so pretty much everyone involved I knew, not like we hung out and drank beers together but I had a couple of classes here and there in high-school with those guys and, like I said, Matthew Shepard would come into Taco John’s about once a week, but beyond that I didn’t have anybody’s phone number on my cell phone or anything.
BEAR: Well okay, I wasn’t going to ask you for that. So you were actually a little closer than I expected to the tragedy that happened. How did it really impact the town and the people you knew?
RAY: Well it’s really cool that Elton John’s come to Laramie a couple of times since Matthew Shepard passed away, and he’s done some benefit shows and raised a lot of money for – I’m not sure the exact cause that he was doing it for but I’m sure it was something against #phobia, so that was really positive; Elton John puts on a helluva concert, as weird as that sounds –
BEAR: Oh no, I believe it.
RAY: – It was totally badass. I guess that’s somewhat positive that’s come out of it. As far as the negativity whenever the band first started getting on the road we’d tell people we’re from Laramie, and like “Oh my God!” then you’d be stereotyped as #phobic or something just from being from the town. It’d be kind of embarrassing to mention where we’re from, but it’s been more than ten years and at this point a lot of people kind of forgot about it. This is the first time it’s been mentioned to me in a couple of years now.
BEAR: Well I should tell you first of all that one, I was also raised as a theater person. Two, Punk people know about this sort of this thing because something very similar happened to Brian Deneke of course. I’m sure you know that story as well. In fact they died exactly ten months apart, which is scary, and three, everybody performs The Laramie Project all over the country and they made a movie about it.
RAY: Yupp, it was filmed in Laramie.
BEAR: That was the Public Theatre [that made it].
RAY: I actually never saw it.
BEAR: Did you ever see the stage show?
RAY: No, but I’ve known several friends that have performed in the stage show.
BEAR: And how do they take it?
RAY: Well I think that they just found it [the actual murder] to be a complete travesty. Actually the one guy that I know, Jed Schultz, he lives in Manhattan now and he works on and off of Broadway, but he got a gig out there in New York doing The Laramie Project for a number of years, and I think that he just felt compelled to be a part of the play because of the tragic thing that had happened in his hometown. I think that he just wanted to be a part of it simply because his heart told him so, I guess you could say.
BEAR: Now obviously I wouldn’t – I mean when you say that some people, you tell them where you’re from and they’re like “ooh” and they assume you’re #phobic –
RAY: Maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration but it can be kind of embarrassing. It happened and there’s nothing that we could have done about it –
BEAR: I don’t think it would have been [an exaggeration] right after it happened, considering the press it got.
BEAR: Okay, let’s get back to your band, although I must ask this other question: when that thing happened did it have any impact on your development musically, artistically, your world view so to speak?
RAY: Well even Homeless Wonders was against #phobia, and I think just getting involved with Punk music and you start listening to Propagandhi and different bands sort of opens your eyes to stupidity, and kind of lay down the law really. It’s cool to be educated about that sort of thing. As far as the way I felt about the murder, you know I saw Matthew Shepard’s face in the paper a couple of days after it happened and I just cried because I knew Matt, and it hit close to home because he was such a nice guy, a harmless kid. So really that was the biggest impact it had on me.
BEAR: I understand. So tell us a little bit about your writing process for the band. Who is the primary songwriter? Or do you all collaborate?
RAY: Well Kody writes the songs that he sings, and I write the songs that I sing. And then we’ll bring them to the band and everyone will add their little ingredients here and there. I’ll add my back-ups to Kody’s songs and he’ll add his back-ups to my songs. So we do collaborate as far as that’s concerned, but for the most part I’ll complete a song and show it to the band and we’ll take it from there, and then Kody’ll do the same.
BEAR: And how does your process work? Do you write the music first? Or do you usually come up with a topic first?
RAY: Well it kind of works both ways for me. Sometimes I’ll come up with something that I think sounds great on the guitar and I’ll just start humming a melody along with it, and then later plug in lyrics to the melody I came up with. Then sometimes I’ll just write lyrics when I’m by myself and don’t even have a guitar around and then I’ll plug in the guitar later, and I know that Kody tends to write his songs with a song title first.
BEAR: That can work too.
RAY: He came up with this song title “Bigger Than Kiss” before he came up with the lyrics.
BEAR: Did it go where he thought it was going to go?
RAY: Yeah, I think that he executed exactly what he wanted to execute.
BEAR: That’s good. Now you were the one who wrote “Skate or Die?”
RAY: No, Kody sings “Skate or Die” and he wrote it, but I did pitch in a little bit here and there with the lyrics. I added “JFA” because Kody was originally singing “DOA” which was cool because we love DOA, but I thought JFA was a little cooler just because they were always known as a skate punk band.
BEAR: It’s pretty much half and half on the album as to which are yours and which are his.
RAY: Yeah. It’s 14 songs; I sing seven and he sings seven.
BEAR: Now we played “Without You” earlier on the show and I’m pretty sure that’s one of yours –
RAY: No that’s Kody as well.
BEAR: (exasperated with myself) Good grief! O-Kay! I’m gettin’ everything wrong!
RAY: (laughing) Strike two!
BEAR: Yeah, strike two indeed! Why don’t you just tell me which ones are yours so I don’t have to go through the CD! (NOTE: Which wouldn’t have helped anyway because the CD liner notes don’t say who wrote which specific songs – Bear.)
RAY: No problem. “Don’t Want To Go” is the second song. I wrote that. “Do What,” the fourth song, I wrote that.
BEAR: Did you write all the even numbered ones?
RAY: No, because sometimes [I’ll] have two in a row.
BEAR: Okay. Keep going.
RAY: “Call in Sick” I wrote. “Fatso Goes Nutzoid” I wrote.
BEAR: I love that one. What were you thinking when you wrote that?
RAY: Actually that was a song that I wrote the guitar part first, and then later I plugged in the lyrics. It’s kind of self-explanatory with the lyrics. It’s just being insecure about the size of your body and just [how] society’s standards get in the way of your confidence. It’s just a fun Punk song to play live; it gets the crowd going, it’s got great energy, there’s not the deepest message behind the lyrics. I think that’s just basically it.
BEAR: Well none of you look fat from what I can tell from the photos in the album.
BEAR: Especially that Ramones [type] picture of yours underneath the CD where you’re all standing straight wearing the leather jackets. You are a Ramones fan, yes? You better say “yes” to this.
RAY: Absolutely. I love the Ramones. I wasn’t ever a fat kid when I was growing up so I can’t really bring it up first hand, but I don’t have the prettiest smile; my teeth are a little [messed] up, so you can really relate [to it].
BEAR: Continuing on, after “Fatso Goes Nutzoid,” the next one –
RAY: After “Fatso Goes Nutzoid, ” let’s see here – I’m trying to think, I don’t have the track right here in front of me – oh year, “Tonguebiter,” and “The Jerk,” and “Todayo.”
BEAR: Oh you wrote “Todayo?” That’s a great song.
BEAR: We’re going to be playing that one later. Where did it come from lyrically? And musically too?
RAY: My guitar lead in “Todayo” we had written for a long time; I was on my computer checking my email one night and felt like I could crank out some good lyrics and went to the room where I usually write lyrics and wrote ‘em out. I think it’s just a love song, and one of my favorite guitar leads I’ve ever come up with. I don’t know how it happened; I liked the song. Right whenever we finished writing it we knew “this should be the last song on the album.” It just had that feel [that] this is a great way to pull it all together at the end and finish it. So even going in the studio we knew “Todayo” was going to be the last song.
BEAR: And it is. It’s a good finisher. I have to ask this: you have three albums now and except for different color schemes all the covers are the same. Is that deliberate?
RAY: Oh yeah, absolutely. Of course.
BEAR: Is it always going to be that way?
RAY: Actually They Came From the Shadows is our fourth full-length. We have a full-length called Another Way that came out in 2003. It’s on vinyl only, but you can also get it on I-Tunes. That was before Cody was in the band but it has the same exact cover art.
BEAR: The title on the top, the picture in the middle – well your [band] name on top, the picture in the middle [NOTE: which features a variation on the skull and crossbones using a skull over a pair of crossed rockets – BEAR] and then the album title underneath. Is it always going to be that way?
RAY: Yeah, I think so. Absolutely.
BEAR: Your signature.
RAY: At this point if we didn’t go that way I think we’d catch a lot of [crap].
BEAR: Anyway I know you didn’t write this song, but what gave Kody the idea to write “Skate or Die” because that’s a great title; you could threaten somebody with that: “Skate or DIE!” I take it he’s a skater.
RAY: Yeah, as far as I know Kody came up with the title before he wrote the lyrics and he showed up and said “I wrote this tune called ‘Skate or Die,’” played it for us, we all loved it, fell down laughing at certain points in the lyrics. I’m not sure if he had anything going on in his head as far as – over the years there’s been a separation between Punk and skateboarding. Skateboarding’s gone more the route of hip-hop and let’s try to bring them back together again – I don’t think that anything like that was going through his head, or any sort of hidden agenda with the lyrics. I think that we’ve always skateboarded, and we’ve always been fans of skateboarding and skateboard videos, and Kody wrote that tune and it turned out perfect.
BEAR: Well you know Skate Punk is a whole separate -genre and the Warped Tour has skate displays – mostly skateboarding, but also biking, and it might have blading too, I forget. I’m not usually over there watching that. I’m usually interviewing bands or watching bands.
RAY: We made Teenage Bottlerocket skateboard jackets for this tour and we sold out.
BEAR: You sold out already?
RAY: We sold out of our skateboard jackets. We only brought six with us but all six of them sold.
BEAR: I’ll bet.
RAY: We’re attracting some skaters now to the shows.
BEAR: I’m not really all that surprised. You’ve got the rest of tour coming up – another two weeks I think – and then you go home, and what’s next for you after that?
RAY: I think that we’re just going to continue to write music and continue to tour with They Came From the Shadows as much as we can. Hopefully make it over to Europe again, hopefully make it over to Japan again, but just continue to write songs as much as we can and hopefully record another record and repeat the touring process with the new record.
BEAR: I suppose it’s kind of – I shouldn’t say “when’s your next record coming out?” when this one only just came out, but some people just can’t get enough. You know how it is: your rabid fans. Do you have any crazy fan stories you want to tell us?
RAY: Not really. Most of our fans are really cool people [but] we refer to some fans as “Punishers” because sometimes you get punished by someone. We have different ways to get away from a punishing conversation, like pretending your cell-phone’s ringing, or saying that you need to use the bathroom. You just learn how to go with it.
BEAR: So a Punisher is someone who talks too much mostly?
RAY: Yeah, a Punisher is someone who talks too much, is just a little overbearing, wants be your best friend because he loves your band or something. And it’s cool because we like to hang out with people but then are those who come up to us and just start talking about sports or something.
BEAR: But you don’t want to take them to bed with you –
BEAR: – Well maybe if they’re a beautiful girl you might, but other than that I know what you mean. You had any crazy shows? The Outside talked about playing a big bonfire show in Texas once where there were strippers and mud fights going on that had very little to do with them. And then they were playing “The Roof is On Fire.” What’s the craziest show you think you can remember?
RAY: Ooh, we played this show in Belgium where I was a little worried about my safety. Cody’s guitar ended up getting smashed by a mic. stand ‘cause an audience member just freaked out entirely too crazy-like. Yeah, that show in Belgium was crazy. We’ve had to break up some fights on the tour, like three or four times now. Sometimes people get too stoked; I don’t know what the deal is, and then all of the sudden a fight breaks out and we stop playing. That always sucks. But there’s been some exciting times on the tour; Cleveland was an amazing show; there was a Dominatrix at the show that ended up going to the hotel, which is a crazy story entirely of its own, but....
BEAR: I have a feeling it will take an hour to tell. Did she tie you up and whip you in the hotel room?
RAY: She did, but mostly Miguel our bass player; he’s into that sort of thing; he’s a sick puppy.
BEAR: Good for him. Well I want to thank you for being with us tonight.
RAY: Thanks for having me.
BEAR: No problem. Are you going to be on – well I guess Cobra Skull’s going to be on first. They’re not on yet I hope.
RAY: Yeah, they just started.
BEAR: Oh they just started? And you’re after them, right?
RAY: Oh yeah, definitely. We’re on.
BEAR: That means that I need to let you go so you can prepare. We’ll see you in L.A. this weekend though, or at least the fans will, and hopefully I will manage it too. Se we’re looking forward to that show – both shows, you, the Lawrence Arms, Cobra Skull, and I don’t remember if there’s going to be a fourth band or not.
RAY: I’m not sure either.
BEAR: But we look foward to seeing you come Saturday and Sunday.
RAY: Awesome. So do we man. Come and say hello if you’re around.
BEAR: I will. So this is Ray Carlisle, the co-guitarist and co-vocalist for Teenage Bottlerocket, whose new album is They Came From the Shadows, available on Fat Wreck Chords now, most likely to be obtained at the show, correct?
RAY: That’s correct.
BEAR: All right. Well go out and BUY it! Ray, thank you for being with us tonight.
RAY: Thanks man. Later.