Interview with Zach Quinn and Brian Wahlstrom | Words By Joshua Maranhas
As musical genres burn up like Goodyears on a Camaro, Bandaid Brigade are hitting the gas on a Z28 straight out of 1982. They’re bringing a different punk rock idea—emphasis on rock—to the streets in the form of their debut release, I’m Separate. The music video for their first single, “Travel Light,” hits June 27.
Vocalist, guitarist, and bassist Zach Quinn—best known as the vocalist for PEARS—says of Bandaid Brigade’s coming of age, “Me and [vocalist and pianist] Brian [Wahlstrom] started touring together, doing One Week [Records] stuff with Joey Cape, and we kind of had a mutual love for all kinds of things musical. We started writing stuff together, and I don’t know—it kind of just fell into place. We wanted to be partners.”
Bandaid Brigade offer late ’70s and early ’80s rock influence with a backbeat provided by Paul Rucker of Armchair Martian. Wahlstrom, who also plays in Gods Of Mount Olympus, says, “It started to define itself after the drums started to get laid down. I’d say that involving Paul was like a critical kind of moment. His style—he loves ’80s rock. That’s kind of what he did. He grew up in the punk scene, but ’80s, ’70s rock, that’s his thing. It just totally fit for him; we were doing that.”
The band recorded in Denver with Chris Fogal of The Gamits at Fogal’s studio, Black In Bluhm Music. “I think it was one of those things where the whole time leading up to when we were going to go to the studio, we just hoped that it would work out, because we were doing something we’ve never done before,” Quinn says. “We’ve never been like, ‘OK, this, this part is going to be like Genesis.’ I’ve never done that before. So, that was absolutely—I mean, the whole thing was a leap of faith.”
Quinn explains that he doesn’t see it as a shocker in comparison to his work with PEARS but, rather, as a progression of his musical ability and interests. He views Bandaid Brigade as an outlet for other musical ideas in his head. “The thing that I kept thinking about the whole time was how much it reminded me a lot of a post-first-album Clash,” he shares, “but then, I also thought to myself, ‘This is also way easier to listen to than Sandinista! ever was.’ Shit, what I like to think about it is, it’s kind of like we had the advantage of being able to look retrospectively over decades of rock and pop, and we were kind of able to pull from all of that—all the good stuff and leave all the bad stuff out. You know, one band that kept coming up as we were making the record is Genesis, but Genesis songs are sometimes eight minutes long. We were like, ‘Well, that’s not necessary. We don’t need to do that.’ I feel like there were elements of that, all different examples of that.”
Fans of Quinn, Wahlstrom, and Rucker’s other bands may wonder if this is a joke. It’s a very creative idea and an artistic sound. It’s what one might hear on a Rodney Dangerfield DJ playlist on the set of “Caddyshack.” Maybe less Journey and more Gary Numan beating Emerson, Lake & Palmer in a knife fight and taking their stuff. There are no Keith Emerson organ solos here. This is not a joke. It’s tight. The music has a sense of humor, but it comes from a cathartic place.
“I literally, physically, drove into Colorado one person and came out a totally different person,” Wahlstrom says. “Basically, I drove in and my car just fucking blew up two hours outside of Denver. I had to get a tow truck to the studio. They had a broken-down car in the parking lot for a week, trying to figure out what to do with that. Meanwhile, [we’re] trying to work on the beginnings of a record, and then, the second day, my wife just decided to bail. That was rough, but it’s crazy because of the people who I had around me at that time.”
In the studio in Denver, with emotions and creativity flowing from so much loss, Quinn and Wahlstrom wrote the lyrics for I’m Separate on the fly. They put their lives on permanent historical display, and Fogal mixed it down. The catharsis is real, pure, and enduring for both musicians. “It was easily the most magical, effortless experience I’ve had in the studio,” Quinn says.
“There was a point where we just looked at each other,” Wahlstrom expands, “[and] I think everyone just kind of realized, ‘God, this is so fucking easy, and it should not be easy. This is hard stuff we’re doing.’ There was no drama at all really, and it was just, ‘Oh, that’s a cool idea’ or ‘What about this? Great, let’s lay it down.’ Everyone was kind of ready to just do whatever they needed to do at the moment to make [it] progress.”
Progress was made with the recording and, in parallel, in their lives. It got dark during their studio time, but Bandaid Brigade emerged with a light, fun sound and a record full of deep themes. “There’s a track on there about my wife,” Wahlstrom says, “but for the most part, we came up with ideas together. There were definitely times where Zach would be like, ‘Oh, we need a chorus. Hold on, let me go puff a cigarette and come up with the chorus.’”
The creation of I’m Separate became a life-altering, positive approach to finding peace of mind after car breakdowns and marital breakups. It’s funny to find that buried in some incredible roller-skating jams.
“I don’t know just how much was because of the album or vice versa, but this—it happened at a time where I think both my and Brian’s lives are fundamentally different than when we first started demoing for this,” Quinn says. “So, it kind of will always mean that to me: destruction and then creation. I mean, just to start from scratch, square one, just embarking on something.”
Conversely, Bandaid Brigade had nothing but fun putting together the music video for “Travel Light,” and it shows on the screen. “That’s kind of the secret, you know?” Quinn says. “I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned in the last 10 years is to trust your gut. When you’re just too busy having fun to even notice that you’re getting work done is when you’re doing the right shit.”