Interview with vocalist/guitarist Tim Browne | By Jason Schreurs
Colorado melodic punks Elway have returned with For the Sake of the Bit, an eight-song offering that marks their fourth album for Red Scare Industries, digitally released April 27 and available on vinyl May 4.
As they head out to tour the Midwest and East Coast with Dead To Me and DMFK following the album’s release, the four members of Elway—vocalist and guitarist Tim Browne, bassist Joe Henderer, drummer Garrett Carr, and guitarist Brian Van Proyen—are being cautious to keep the band fun. In fact, it was either do that or pack it all in, according to Browne. At a crossroads in their career, with everyone holding down solid jobs, the band decided to keep the Elway light alive as long as people cared.
Even though they have been relatively quiet, with only a few short tours since their previous album, 2015’s Better Whenever, the band’s loyal fanbase isn’t waning, a trend that should continue with the infectious, ‘90s-rock-through-a-gruff-punk-lens sounds on For the Sake of the Bit.
The album is nice and short, with eight songs that kind of fly by, and then, you want to listen to it again. Was that the idea?
We wanted to make something short and punchy. It’s not a deeply thematic record and didn’t need a lot of fleshing out, so we just wanted to record all of the songs that we thought were the best. We wanted an album where all of the songs are good and are part of the vague mission statement of the record, and then, it just breezes by.
It sounds like you were considering calling it a day. What inspired the turnaround from that?
The last few years have been pretty lean in terms of Elway shows. Since Better Whenever came out in 2015, we’ve probably played only 20 shows, and that’s just because everyone in the band has their respective careers. We’ve been focusing on having lives as people in our 30s, and it isn’t as though killing ourselves 200 days a year on the road was boding well enough financially for us. Maybe it was a question of economics, which kind of sounds lame and not punk, but I also really enjoy having a semblance of financial security, so that’s what I’ve been focusing on the past few years. We’re trying to be a little bit more discerning than we have in years past, where we’d just quit our jobs to go on tour like it was no big deal.
We got to the point in the band where we were like, “Are we just going to quit playing?” We still love playing music with each other, and we still love playing shows and writing songs, and we wanted to make a new record. There are people out there who like our band, and as long as they’ll still listen, I see no reason why we shouldn’t make music. So, we came up with this group of new songs and decided to just do it.
The album is dedicated to people who “create, cultivate, and support art without pretense, competition, or self-obsession.” Will you explain that?
I see people in other bands treating the endeavor of playing music as an opportunity to shoulder up to the right people and kiss the right asses in order to get on the right tours or labels so that they can be the cool band on the block. I can remember having those sentiments when I was younger and thinking that’s the way you have to navigate the world of punk rock. It’s definitely a buyer’s market and bands are a dime a dozen, so I can remember myself behaving that way, and I see other bands behaving that way, and I think it is just disgusting and antithetical to the DIY punk ethos.
If we are all helping each other out and trying to build a community instead of stepping on each other’s backs in order to open for The Menzingers, then it would be a [much] better place. There’d be a whole lot less shit-talking. There’s no room in punk rock for treating it like it’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” or something. You’re not pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes, you’re writing stupid punk songs. It’s so easy that [even] my band can do it.
Just write music and go out there and be undeniable and make friends and have fun. I wish that somebody would have told me that when I was a young lad starting this band, because I took it way too seriously, and I hate that about myself. And because I’m a shitty hypocrite, I hate that extra in other people.
It seems like the older I get, the more I realize that one of the most poisonous things you can do as a person in a band is to pretend as though you creating these four-chord pop punk songs is your gift to the world and it’s really seriously important. I just never really liked the idea of taking myself that seriously, and there are times that I can pinpoint in my past where I really was taking myself way too seriously. I was pretending that my rinky-dink punk band was something more than just a protracted hobby where I get to travel and share my art with people. It’s incredible that I get to do that, but I’m also not going to win a Nobel Prize and I should stop pretending I’m in the running for one.
Who are you telling to “get fucked” on the first song, “Inches”?
That song is not about other bands. That song is about people who criticize bands publicly or online and act as though that’s important. Playing in a punk rock band and writing songs is cool, but in the grand scheme of things, you’re not Mother Teresa. But people who criticize bands online, who have nothing but shitty things to say and, yet, can’t even start a band of their own, I think that’s hypocrisy in the highest degree, and yeah, ‘Get fucked!’ That was the idea there.
What is the meaning behind the album title, For the Sake of the Bit?You know when you tell a joke and it lands well, and people think it’s funny, so you kind of get caught up in it, where you have to keep doing it, otherwise you’ll lose your momentum. For the sake of the bit—you’ve got to keep the joke going, no matter how sad it gets.
So, you’re poking fun at yourselves for putting out another album?
Yeah, I think that’s what we were going for. A band like ours—with the amount of work we have done since our last record—really have no business still being a band. It’s just the fact that we still love each other and want to keep playing music that we do it. It seems like we are stuck in that cycle where we told the joke and it was funny, and now, we’re just trying to ride it out until it just isn’t funny anymore.
How does this album compare to your other stuff? It seems like you have more complete songs on here, maybe with some more texture and layers?
As we age, we try to do some different things and add different sounds. This is, by no means, our Jets To Brazil-style departure from punk music, because I just don’t think we’re talented enough to do something like that. We have to do everything within a framework of the kind of punk rock that we’ve always played, but we were trying to venture out and get some weird pedals in the mix or just some parts of songs where there are different key changes or chord progressions. There are a lot of sevenths on this record, and that’s the third trick I have in my toolbelt that I’m finally using. But it was still piecemeal experimentation in the framework we’re stuck in, just because we’re such a slacker band.
How does ‘90s rock play into your sound? There’s definitely elements of that on this album.
A lot of that stuff from the ‘90s informs punk rock now, because a lot of punk doesn’t sound like Anti-Flag anymore. Anti-Flag still sounds like Anti-Flag, and that’s good. I don’t want them to sound like a ‘90s alt-rock band, but that marriage between open chords and punk song structure really works well for a band like Elway, and a lot of other bands too, so I did cop some of that style a bit, especially Everclear. I love Everclear. I wish I could write an album half as good as So Much for the Afterglow. That would be incredible. So, yeah, there are a few ‘90s sounds on this album. I was listening to a lot of That Dog., and I always loved David Bazan’s Pedro The Lion and that Northwest emo scene from the late ‘90s, early 2000s. So, that style mixed with your standard raucous four-chord punk rock that I just can’t seem to shake.
You definitely call out the critics and shit-talkers on this album. How do you stay genuine in a punk scene where the norm is knocking each other down on social media?
The worst thing you can do as an artist is take yourself too seriously or act like your shit don’t stink and your art is so awesome. [If] you have to jockey for position to be the coolest band, then you’ve fucked yourself. You’re acting like an asshole, and you’ve revealed to everybody that you are treating your interactions with people like transactions, rather than being part of a community and making friends.
In Fort Collins, Colorado, there wasn’t really a punk scene. We’d play shows at houses and little bars when we were starting out, and there would be all kinds of people there who liked all kinds of music. [They] would come out and have fun, so we’d make friends across the spectrum. We try to treat the band as a hobby that we’re lucky to have had some success with, where we can tour and make music and be able to share what we create with other people. But, man, what we do is not important, and acting like it is [important] is poison for the soul. So, we try really hard not to do that.