By Poppy Tohill
I was fooled by the classic ‘punk musician stereotype' when trying to spot Auckland hardcore punk band,Parents guitarist Jono in a cafe yesterday afternoon. As we sat down, we joked about the fact that if you were meeting him for the first time (which I was) and you had no idea he was in a band, a punk one at that, it would probably take a little convincing for one to believe.
In fact, during our little chat prior to the interview beginning, the more he told me about himself the more it became harder for me to actually imagine him being in any form of hardcore punk band.
Jokes, and banter aside however we went on to have a great chat, where Jono filled me in on what the punk scene is like in Auckland, the early beginnings of Parents and their upcoming album ‘Low Life' which is released this Friday, August 1.
With punk music probably being one of the main genres I know least about, I had to begin by admitting this and asking Jono to fill me in a little bit on what the punk scene is actually like in Auckland. "It's kind of like a lot of scenes in Auckland and New Zealand," he began. "There's always lots of great bands. There's 15-16 year olds starting up great bands in their garages with crappy gear and then there are older people starting great bands. But I think the one thing that really characterises it, is that it's so DIY, and everyone's working completely on their own and all the bands work together really closely to put on shows, help each other out and lend each other gear. If you go to a punk show in New Zealand it's just got this real community feel to it and it's all been put on by people who have helped each other out. You're never going to go to a punk show where there's a back green room you know, everyone hangs out together and it's just really inclusive," he explained.
With this in mind, we went on to chat about how he originally got into punk music and the early days of Parents. "It's all a bit of a blur really," he began laughing. "I've always been into heaps of music, but I remember when I was about 15 years old I found a couple of bands that opened up this whole world for me and I just thought, ‘wow, these bands are so cool, they're doing something themselves and it's all underground.' The idea of something being underground is so cool when you're 15 too, and when I found some local bands doing it that was even cooler because they were close to home," he went on to explain. "At one point I was really into a group called The Summer Set. So it was all quite melodic and poppy stuff, but then as you get older you kind of want something a bit angrier so you push the envelope and start listening to hardcore punk bands. Then after that it's just about exploring other stuff and I started listening to metal and then as it goes on you're just into heaps of stuff. Like when we started Parents we didn't just want to be like a normal straight out punk band, we wanted to make it really interesting and have different pieces that other bands didn't have, especially locally," he exclaimed. "But yeah, we just kind of listened to one gateway band to another and then you learn a little bit more and before you know it you've got this huge repertoire of music and it's great."
"I first met Simon (vocalist) when I was about 18 years old and he must have been about 25. He was working at this little DIY punk shop and just showed me all these bands. He was a super nice guy, considering I was a kid who didn't really know anything, and then after that we just kept in touch," Jono explained. "Then Simon and I started working together about three years later, as his first band were winding down, so we were like, ‘yeah, lets start something.' So we got Brent who had already been playing with Simon in his band, and then this other guy called Stefan who played drums with us on tour in 2012, before our other drummer Will took over," he concluded.
So after forming in 2009, it wasn't until four years later that the first Parents release came in the form of their self-titled debut album. Jono went on to explain the early intentions of the band and what they got up to between forming and releasing their first album.
"We'd all played in bands before and we knew how the punk thing worked and how the local music scene worked as well, and it's always about fun, it's still about fun and we're always going to do it for fun because we're probably not going to make heaps of money or anything like that, because it's just not the sort of music for it," he remarked, "but we kind of always knew that we wanted to take it quite seriously, take it to the next level and actually work on it and try and tour and stuff like that, but it just took so much time really," he admits. "We played a few shows in 2009 just after we formed, then we released an EP in 2010 and another one in 2011, but they were just little demo CD's and we kind of always waited for the right time to put out an album. But we sort of just had to take the plunge really, and put a lot of resources into it. Especially because we knew that we wanted to do it ourselves, we didn't want to put it out through a label. We wanted to have 100 percent control and produce it all ourselves," Jono confessed. "To do that, fund it, organized the tours and get in touch with the press and stuff like that just takes a lot of time," he continued. "We also wanted to put out an album that we're really proud of as well, so we did spend a lot of time writing the music and just making sure that it was all really good, and had nice balance between everything. I mean by the time the album came out we had 37 songs, and we cut it down to 10 for the album, so we spent a lot of time testing out songs live."
Again with my genre stereotyping, I'd come to notice that in (the small amount of punk music I've listened to) the actual music and instrumentation is the predominant focus over the lyrics, so Jono went on to let me know if this was the case for Parents. "Simon is just our vocalist, he doesn't play any instruments, so he puts a lot of time into the lyrics to make sure that they work well and that he really likes them," he remarked. "I think thematically, they're not as important because it's very straight to the point, like we don't try and tackle big issues like social or political things. It's more just very urgent stuff about dissatisfaction of general everyday things and then other crazy stuff like zombie movies. But Simon puts heaps of time into the phrasing and making sure they sound great, and I think even though thematically, they're maybe not so important, there's definitely a craft to it which he really puts heaps of effort into."
Following this, Jono went on to describe the bands' songwriting process. "I think usually it is pretty riff based," he began. "When we first started I used to write a whole song on guitar and be like, ‘this is the song, drums should probably be like this and maybe you could play this on the bass, but now it's still kind of like that but it's more centred around one guitar riff and then from there we'll just do what feels right. We jam a lot to make sure we all have our piece, because we've all got different ideas. So it is very guitar based, but still very collaborative as well," he proclaimed.
Moving on, we began chatting about ‘Low Life,' the bands upcoming album and what to expect from it, how it's different from the bands previous release and what they learnt from making their debut album that helped them in the creation process of their second release. "I think ‘Low Life' is a lot more straight forward than our first album. It's really straight to the point, it's a little bit angrier and a little bit noisier," Jono began. "With this new release we just tried to write songs that are really fun to play live. Stuff that you can have a party to that is just really loud and crazy," he laughed. "With our first album being our first proper release we thought we'd get really artistic on it and we put heaps of time into it, but with this album it's just almost like something that we need to get off our chests. Personally all of us have gone through a lot of crap situations in the past six months and this is just all about externalising that, writing something really straight to the point and angry. So you can put it on and it's very chaotic," he explained.
"One of the things we learnt from our debut album, is that putting together an album can just take so much time and I think we were a little bit hung over it taking so much time that by the time it was out it didn't feel fresh to us when we toured it live anymore. So we really tried to nail that down with this one, getting it out as quick as possible and being really rigid about it. So when we play these songs they still feel new and exciting to us," Jono continued.
"Self-producing is kind of like that DIY thing I was talking about earlier," Jono replied when asked what the experience of self-producing both of theiralbums was like. "It's just really taking it to the extreme, that we can make all of it ourselves, from writing the songs to actually being in the studio and figuring out how we want to record them and put them out," he went on. "Then communicating with pressing companies and doing all that ourselves. It's just a really great process because it means we can do exactly what we want and then when it comes out we can say, ‘we're really proud of this, we did this.' It doesn't mean we won't work with a label one day, but New Zealand's so small anyway, we just looked into and thought, ‘yeah, we can do this ourselves.'
"I think just really classic 80s hardcore bands like, Black Flag and Minor Threat. Then some newer metal bands like Nails and punk bands as well," Jono replied when asked who some of their musical influences were when working on the album. "I think our first album as well is very guitar based, but with this one I really wanted it to be about rhythm and the bass of the drums are really holding it down and the guitar is just going hard over the top, and there's this band called Fugazi who do that really well, so I thought a lot about them when we were working on the album," he continued. "But overall, the musical influences were there and that's what we as a band were loving at the time, but it was more about a feeling when we wrote the songs. When we started writing we came up with the idea to call it Low Life and it's going to be really crazy, angry and immediate, so it was more about wiring songs that would fit into that idea. So the musical influences were just stuff that we were listening to that inspired us, but it was kind of more the idea that drove the sound more than anything," he clarified.
The next topic we had a chat about was the awesome cover artwork for the album. After admitting and laughing about how much we both liked skulls, Jono went on confessing, "I'm pretty sure every release we've ever had, has had a skull on it," he laughed. "Our first album had a white cover with a black skull in the middle and for ‘Low Life' we kind of wanted to match that, but we also wanted to match the change in the album, and I think if you look at the two albums, the way that the new one looks different is kind of similar to the way it feels. As this one looks so much grimier and darker, and that's exactly what the music is like as well. So we got our buddy Ryan to do the artwork and it's all done by hand, he's an amazing drawer and we really like it."
As well as being digitally released, the album is also going to be released on vinyl 7" as was their first release which came out on 12." Jono filled me in on why they're releasing it this way and not in CD form. "We've kind of thought about it, but we just don't really get as much demand from CD's, so it's not worth the effort," he declared. "For us, CD's are so disposable and throw away now too. They're so easy and cheap to make that they don't really say as much about a band as putting it out on vinyl and being really physical does. Vinyl's just a great product, because with CD's people just go home and put it on their laptop's and iPhones anyway, so we figured digital would cover that side of things and then the vinyl gives people something really cool they can buy and keep."
Sticking to the visual theme of music, Jono and I went on to chat about the possibility of a Parents music video and the craziness of their live shows. "Most punk bands don't release music videos, but we really want to do one. We've got heaps of ideas, it just depends when it happens. We've been talking to our friend Ian from a band called Dad Jokes about possibly doing something, cause I think it would be great. Nothing too serious, just something insane, crazy and fun," Jono replied. After admitting that the craziest show I've ever been to is Pennywise, Jono laughed, replying, "I can guarantee we've never had anything as crazy as what would go on at a Pennywise gig, because their fans are insane," he laughed again. "But every show is a party. We've had people crowd surf and we've played a few house parties where people have jumped off the fireplace onto everyone else and stuff like that, but just general chaos really," he went on. "I'm very centred in what I'm doing when I play, so I just go with the flow. We've been going to these shows for about ten years too, and when you're a little kid you're insanely frightened seeing people hurt each other. I mean I still go to shows and stand down the back because I just want to be safe when I watch a band," he laughed, "but the general chaos just comes with the territory really. It's loud music at the end of that day so people should have a good time and we encourage everyone to rock out to it."
With the mention of Pennywise and playing shows, Jono filled me in on what it was like supporting American hardcore band Suicidal Tendencies. "That was awesome," he admits. "We were so surprised that that even happened. I still can't believe it. It was pretty amazing, because they're such a legendary band. I think they're great, but our singer Simon is just head over heals for them. He thinks they're the coolest thing. Supporting them was great though, for a band like us to play the Powerstation... we'd never played in a venue that size and it was pretty crazy."
"Dream band makes it really hard because then I start thinking about bands that aren't around anymore and there is just too many great bands," Jono replied when asked who his dream band to support or tour with would be. "But there's one band called Loma Prieta who've been one of my favourite bands for so long and we actually brought them over to New Zealand and toured with them at the beginning of 2012, and more than any other band, I just want to hang out with them again and play heaps of shows with them," he continued. "They're still one of my favourite bands, but also they're just the nicest guys and we had such a great time playing with them, I'd just love to open for them again and hang out."
In terms of what the rest of 2014 has in store for Parents, Jono stated, "We're doing a New Zealand tour next month, but then after that our drummer Will is going away to Europe until December, so that doesn't leave a lot left. We really want to tour Australia again because we played some shows there last year which was heaps of fun and then we're going to look further abroad because we really want to tour further internationally which is a whole other thing but we really need to do it. We're always kind of talking about the States or Europe. We're probably leaning more towards the States, but the other place we're really into is East Asia, because there's some really good bands there that people just don't know about until you go there. But it's all about who you know and what opportunities are there and it's something we need to have a think about," he exclaimed.
"I'd really like to have another album out on vinyl," Jono remarked when asked where he'd like to see Parents in three years time. "We've kind of started thinking about what we're going to do sound wise and we're going to start writing for that soon so I'd love for that to happen and I would love to have played some shows further abroad. Really just play heaps of shows and to hopefully play with some more international bands," he continued.
As our coffees were beginning to get cold and we both needed to get back to work, the interview drew to an end as Jono shared a bit of advice for any one wanting to form or start a punk band. "Just do it! It's probably the easiest music to play. Don't worry about how it sounds, just do it. Work hard, practice hard, and don't be afraid to talk to other bands. Never think that a band is going to be too cool to talk to you, because we love to help out young bands and put them on shows and stuff like that. So just get involved in the scene."
Don't miss Parents live!