Interview with Flatfoot 56 vocalist/guitarist/lyricist Tobin Bawinkel | By J. Poet
Odd Boat – the seventh album from Chicago-based Celtic punk band, Flatfoot 56, out now via Sailor’s Grave – captures the blistering energy of their live shows. The music is unrelenting, every track building toward a cathartic, emotional release. Slower, quieter songs like “KPM” and album closer, “A Voice,” only accentuate the fierce energy of the other tracks, an avalanche of distorted guitar driven by the breakneck rhythms of drummer Conrad Allsworth and bassist Kyle Bawinkel. The poetic realism of the lyrics depicts the day-to-day struggles of working people, but they often get lost in the mix – which is just what the band wanted.
“People tell us that we’re known for our live show experience, but [our other] albums didn’t capture that,” vocalist and guitarist Tobin Bawinkel says. “The vocals are down in the mix to give the feeling of the live show. When you see us live, the lyrics are there, but you’re not there to analyze the lyrics. You’re there feeling the drumbeat on your chest and the energy in the music.”
“This is the first record we’ve done all live,” he continues. “It’s the way [producer] Matt Allison prefers doing it: drums, bass, and rhythm guitar at the same time. When you don’t have a click-track timing the record perfectly, it gives the music a hurrah feel. We wanted the feel of a live show, rather than the perfection of an overly engineered album. The whole band was in the studio for a week and a half, just plowing through it.”
The songs on Odd Boat are personal and slightly autobiographical. They can be easily interpreted as political statements, but Bawinkel says that wasn’t his intention. “We stay as far from politics as possible, but we come from a blue-collar, working-class neighborhood in Chicago,” he says. “It’s not an affluent area. We try to address the concerns of the people and not get distracted with the bigger political figures. We’re aware of the people around us and what can we do to make changes for people in our local community. Odd Boat was written a year before [the election], but now we’re having a lot of conversations with people who have suddenly pulled their head out of the sand and see the way things are going.”
“We went through some pretty heavy personal stuff over the past couple of years,” Bawinkel adds. “It took us out of touring mode, and we lived a regular life in our homes. When you’re touring, you don’t have time to investigate normal daily life; your world is focused on the club environment. You don’t write as much about regular people’s lives as you do when you’re living at home. We all have day jobs, and we live in a neighborhood that tourists aren’t likely to come and visit. We write about what we know. Life has a tendency to kick the crap out of you, so a lot of the songs have the idea of gasping for breath and the fight to survive.”
“We don’t have time anymore to be fake or selfish,” Bawinkel concludes. “Things are too dire in our lives and in the community. It’s time to grow up, which is weird coming from a punk band, but when you get the shit kicked out of you, you have to respond. I like to think hope is at the core of everything we do. I don’t want to write songs that make someone want to off themselves or discourage them. I want to give people hope.”