Interview with Old Wounds guitarist Zak Kessler, bassist Michael Weintraub, drummer Brandon Gallagher | By Bridjet Mendyuk
Standing in a rickety Kentucky basement in late 2013, Old Wounds absorbed the bumping energy from everyone in the room, about 30 people. Booming with power, the group delivered a hardcore band with a new face to the world, like AFI meets Hatebreed, romantic and heavy as fuck. Now, they stand on stages in over 40 cities in the summer heat, delivering some of the hardest music on the 2016 Warped Tour bill. While the New Jersey band released their sophomore album, The Suffering Spirit, via Good Fight Music on June 30, 2015, new fans emerge at every date, which is a new feeling for Old Wounds. During their Chicago stop, we caught up with guitarist Zak Kessler, bassist Michael Weintraub, and drummer Brandon Gallagher to see how Warped Tour is going, how they’ve grown as a band, and to ask about their latest album and standing up against hate.
When I saw you guys a couple years ago in Covington, Kentucky, in a basement with Hollow Earth, it was such a great show. You all had so much energy. How is it different getting to share a stage with these huge bands now compared to back then?
ZK: It’s definitely a cool feeling. It feels like we’re doing something right having this opportunity. Not every band gets to play Warped Tour. I feel honored to be here.
MW: It’s definitely cool to be on tour with bands we were listening to in middle school and onward. As far as actually being on the tour with those bands, it’s not really much different than other tours. At the end of the day, we’re all just people, we’re just musicians. We’re all in the same boat, no one is really above anyone else. It’s very relaxed.
ZK: It’s just way hotter.
How does it feel to be playing in front of new crowds every day?
BG: It’s given me a different perspective on touring, because it’s not similar to anything else we’ve ever done. It’s good and bad—it’s not so much bad, it’s just given me a different perspective. Touring with pop punk bands, nu-metal bands, and rock bands, it’s a little out of our comfort zone, so it’s interesting seeing how different genres work.
How has it been being one of the new bands on tour?
MW: The majority of the people coming to these shows definitely have no idea who we are, which isn’t so unfamiliar.
ZK: At every show, there’s been five to 10 people who actually have heard of us and are stoked to see us. It’s cool, because I’ve noticed kids I would see at a hardcore show coming to Warped Tour and hanging out, mixing. It’s cool.
BG: I think it’s literally just people who are coming to see us, and then, everyone else. When I [say] people who are coming to see us, like Zack said, five to 10 people. It’s still cool, because there are some people who’ve said, “I wouldn’t have come to Warped Tour, but I came to see you guys.”
Who were some of your influences for The Suffering Spirit?
BG: Eighteen Visions.
ZK: AFI, Poison The Well, Integrity, Danzig, Type O Negative.
What are some of the songs about?
BG: Dark romantic, metaphorical. The lyrics are literally about candles and spooky shit.
ZK: I don’t know [laughs]. It depends on the song. Some of the songs have more distinct meaning like being an underdog and nobody really understanding you, growing up being a fucking weirdo. “Rest in Piss” is a beef track. Other than that, a lot of poetic [stuff]. [Vocalist] Kevin [Lavaroni] is big AFI/Davey Havok fan, so a lot of the lyrics are eloquent and you can’t tell what it’s about, but there is a type of meaning.
Since your first record, how have you guys grown as a band?
BG: We can play our instruments a little better, that’s for sure.
ZK: I feel like in the studio, since [the 2013 debut, From Where We Came Is Where We’ll Rest], we have a better idea of what we’re doing when we’re recording. We’ve definitely gotten better at writing songs as far as having structure and knowing where certain things will fit [or] won’t fit. Even as people, [we’ve grown]. Some of the songs from From Where We Came Is Where We’ll Rest, half of the songs on that record we wrote when we were 18. We’re all 23, 24 now, and it’s a big change. We’re still idiots, but we’re not the same idiots.
How has it been getting so many new fans on Warped?
MW: It’s pretty wild: we finish our set, we pack up and go to our tent, and there’s people waiting there to meet us. They want their photo taken, they want autographs—which, to us, aren’t worth shit and it’s kind of confusing. I try to look back to when I was 15 or 16, and when I saw a band, I would get star-struck; even if I didn’t know who they were, it’d be like, “That’s so cool, they’re up there on the stage playing. I got to get them to sign something!” I think understanding that much is enough to not think it’s totally corny—it’s not. It makes these kids happy, which I’m all about. Whatever they want, fuck it. I’ll cut off my finger and give it to them since they took the time to watch us play and support us. Whatever they want, they can have.
BG: It’s weird too, because it happened to us with some bands we look up to. Now, they’re becoming peers to us, and even that is pretty wild. I feel that wouldn’t have happened unless we were on a tour like this. Hearing people who are in huge bands hearing our band, it’s pretty humbling as well. It’s definitely different; we’ve never done a tour like this. If people want our autograph and to hang out with us, that’s sick.
ZK: It’s crazy to me that one person watches our set and likes it. The fact that—today specifically—there was a lot of younger kids in our crowd, which is awesome. They probably would’ve never come to see us in someone’s basement. I’m sure their parents wouldn’t have dropped them off at some weird address you have to ask for on the internet, so that’s why Warped Tour is cool for us.
Were you guys nervous before heading out on Warped?
[Inaudible screaming child in the background]
MW: That’s how I felt [laughs]. It was like any other tour we’ve done, but on a much bigger scale. Trying to figure out what the fuck we were doing for merch, for new things we would’ve never done like drawstring backpacks and all the logistical stuff. [Figuring out] how we were going to sleep in the van…
BG: Loading in gear that’s a mile away. The fact that we’re selling merch out of a tent. Any other time, we’d throw some shit on a table. You actually need to be prepared for it. You can’t show up with your shirts in a duffle bag. I take every show the same way, [though]. I don’t care if it’s Warped Tour or a house show.
Were they just like, “Okay, you got all dates. Figure it out!”
MW: Pretty much. We agreed to do it with no knowledge of how the tour worked. Now that we’re here seeing how it functions, it’s an enormous production. How quickly everything gets set up and torn down every day, it’s nuts.
It’s important for bands to have a message, and there’re some bands in the scene who aren’t doing their part by being a positive influence to people. You have a rainbow flag for sale in your store and have been vocal about The Trevor Project. Do you guys think it’s important to be a part of your mantra?
MW: I think it’s an important part of hardcore and punk in general. Stand for something, what are you doing?
ZK: There’s so many bands that come out nowadays that don’t stand for anything. They play heavy music to play heavy music, but there’s no emotion or feeling behind it. It’s not really fine; I think if you’re a hardcore punk band you should stand for something.
MW: Part of the idea about being in a band like that is to represent the idea that you’re a human being. Everyone will say hardcore and punk is about looking after one another, and I don’t think you can say that and not take action of some sort.