Interview with vocalist/guitarist Sal Ellington | By Doug Nunnally
Boston’s Rebuilder is quickly amassing a huge following, mostly due to the sleeper success of their debut record Rock and Roll in America—out now on Panic State Records. The overwhelmingly positive reaction is clearly due to the band’s sound, a more “mature” take on pop punk. It’s easy for most people to dismiss the entire genre as juvenile and unsophisticated, but Rebuilder’s polished, sensible, and thorough brand of pop punk has something for everyone.
Rebuilder came about after vocalist and guitarist Sal Ellington wrote some songs he felt demanded a full band. The result, their self-titled EP in July of 2013, set the stage for their contemplative dive into pop punk, even if Ellington wasn’t totally sold on the genre. “I guess I just didn’t consider ourselves a pop punk band,” he says. “When people would ask what we sound like, it was kind of hard to put a label on it, which I’m sure is the case for a lot of bands. When I heard that people were calling us matured pop punk, it was something I could instantly get behind.”
His previous band, Dead Ellington, was more by the book punk, which came natural to Ellington, who grew up listening to NOFX and Pennywise. However, it was the desire to fuse punk with classic rock and Americana that led to Rebuilder’s sound, a fusion Ellington credits Against Me! with popularizing. “After doing pop punk for six years with Dead Ellington, I just wanted to do something… not that,” Ellington elaborates. “I think forcing us to write in a way that wasn’t utilizing the typical structure is what led to us having that distinct sound.”
For their debut record, the band sought out Jay Maas of Defeater fame as a producer. Years of idolizing his technique made Maas the first choice for the band, something that seemed feasible after their keyboardist Rick Smith sat in on a session with him. “I didn’t know if we could get him because he’s a bigger name,” admits Ellington, “but Rick e-mailed him, and Jay surprisingly had a break in his schedule. He helped us out big time and really worked around our budget. He ended up recording, mixing, and mastering the whole record. He was just so efficient at everything. It made it easily the best recording session I’ve ever been a part of it.”
With Maas’s intelligence progressing things in the background, the record came together quickly, as did the title itself. “I had to look and see if it was taken by Bob Seger or Bruce Springsteen since it really is this bad ass name for a record,” Ellington laughs. “For us, we’re not a band that shreds on guitar, so it’s very tongue in cheek. People who know us will really think it’s funny. People who don’t will probably get to know us and realize the name isn’t as serious as it sounds.”
While Boston shines through most of the record—“Empty Streets” could pass as a new age Massachusetts state song—it was designed to be universal. “When we write, we do try to make it so anyone anywhere can listen and relate, so it’s not just a Boston or Massachusetts record,” clarifies Ellington. On “Lukewarm,” which Ellington describes as their “most ambitious song,” the band tackle a universal feeling of wanting face to face interaction. Lyrics like “Anything’s better than New Jersey” evoke a feeling of wanting to be “anywhere but here,” even if some people don’t take it that way. “We don’t hate Jersey,” laughs Ellington. “Our label is from Jersey and a bunch of our friends from there actually love that lyric. Still, I saw online that a bunch of people were telling us to fuck off for shitting on Jersey. Oh well.”
It’s that attitude that makes Rebuilder special. “We’re a band that definitely contradicts ourselves. We write serious songs, but we really just want to have fun and not take ourselves seriously.” That outlook puts the band’s mature sound in full focus. They retain the youthful and vibrant energy of pop punk, while contradictorily tackling concepts that seem too grand for the genre. Even when the band lament becoming adults later in the record, it doesn’t seem like Peter Pan Syndrome, but instead, a Who-inspired ideology about what “growing up” means. With keen ideas like that, Rebuilder are pushing pop punk to grow up alongside them, otherwise the scene risks being eclipsed by the wide shadow of the band’s unique sound.