Interview with vocalist/guitarist Adam Becker | By Janelle Jones
With the release of their latest album, Nonage, it was a perfect time to talk to fierce punk rock stalwarts Autistic Youth. Adam Becker was kind enough to give us some details behind the fabulous new record and the band’s beginnings some 10 years ago.
I haven’t heard anything you put out before. Would you say there’s been a progression?
Totally. We’ve been a band for a long time. We actually wrote this record in two or three months this time and we were a lot more collaborative; we all wrote it together as opposed to one or two of us bringing songs to the table. And I think it sounds a lot more polished but the actual production is kind of more raw. I think it sounds more mature than five years ago.
Even like you’re saying everyone contributes, is that lyrically too?
Mostly musically. Me and the other guitar player Alex did most of the lyric writing together so it’s all fairly thematic about disillusionment in the world we live in. And “Nonage” is a term that comes from Kant’s essay What Is Enlightenment? and it’s a self-imposed immaturity which limits individual enlightenment and it’s associated with a reliance on systems and rules, and just kind of about how that’s bullshit. So kind of themes of breaking away from the world around you. But the music itself we spent just a couple months with everybody chiming in and writing songs.
One thing about this record, it flows really well, there’s no filler, if you will. Every song is awesome. So I’m wondering how you pieced it together track-wise if it was hard.
That was a pretty quick decision too. When we were all done we just sorta listened to it and said this should go first, this should go next. But we actually ended up recording three more songs that didn’t end up on the record so it actually would’ve ended up being longer if we’d not cut those out so maybe that’s why it feels like there’s not filler. We were totally okay with scrapping the material that we didn’t feel was good enough to go on there.
I saw you’ll have a 7” out in 2014. Is that any of the songs you were going to put on here?
Yeah, that’s three of the songs from the sessions that didn’t end up on the record.
Oh cool, so at least they’re getting out there.
Yeah. That’s gonna be a single in Europe for our tour.
Also I saw you guys have been around for 10 years…
We started when me and the drummer [Seve] and the guitar player [Alex] were in high school and we met Nick [bass] a couple years later so he’s been playing with us since we were about 16 or 17. I think that’s part of what we were saying before about it being kind of a progression. It’s still the original line-up and that’s kinda crazy too. You don’t often get to play music that long with people you still get along with creatively.
Idle Minds was on Dirtnap too but then you have another one, Landmine Beach, was that self-released or what was that?
That was a really limited press on this label called Johnny Cat from Portland who did 500 records or something. That’s how we got in touch with Taken By Surprise in Europe. A friend of ours, Keith who runs Black Water Records, gave a copy of Landmine Beach we did I think when we were like 15 to this German guy who started Taken By Surprise and we were his first release.
And then how did it happen to get with Dirtnap? I mean, I guess you guys are local with them, but…
Yeah, I’ve known that dude for a long time just from buying records and being a teenager, just buying Dead Boys records when I was 15. And Nick was maybe closer with him because he was in the band THE DISCHORDS and I think Ken knew him from that band. But yeah we just asked him one day if he’d be interested in working with us and I think he’d seen us just from being in Portland.
That’s one thing. [Laughs] Whenever you get a promo from Dirtnap, you know it’s gonna be good.
Yeah, they’re not always the same band but it’s his personality that ties them together ‘cause he’s got really good taste. Yeah, we all love Ken. Absolutely.
How did you guys get together in the first place? Through liking the same bands or something?
Me and the drummer have been friends since grade school. The guitar player and I met and we were just listening to Reagan Youth in his shitty old Toyota pick-up. Or maybe we were listening to the Screamers or something. We were definitely listening to some garage-ier sounding lo-fi music and we decided we wanted to start a band that was just both of us playing guitar and a drum machine and we wanted it to sound specifically really shitty. And then it didn’t make sense to play in a band with just a drum machine so we decided to ask the drummer we’d known for a long time if he wanted to play drums and that’s when it actually morphed into a real band.
When you had it with just the drum machine did you do any demos? Are there archives of this?! [Laughs─I was trying to be funny…!]
I think they exist but they don’t exist in any real capacity. That was just a very early thing. But a few months later we started making actual punk music and it was definitely a lot more raw because we were like 15 years old and did not know our instruments.
When did you first start playing out, live shows?
We grew up in the suburbs and there were a couple small venues in the city that we’d ask people if we could play with their bands, so it was probably a year later or something. The Workers Collective and there was this venue downtown called The Paris.
Do you do a lot of shows around home anymore?
Totally. We’re kinda playing a little less just ‘cause we were trying to finish up the record. We have a ton of great bands in town and we get a chance to play with them. THE ESTRANGED are on Dirtnap also and they’re from Portland.
Yeah, I saw they’re gonna have another record out soon…
The drummer of The Estranged runs Black Water Records, which is a record label and record store in Portland. It has a venue space there and it’s awesome.
But back to the record, sometimes the way you guys compose the songs I like how you have the─I always refer to it as the “oohs and ahhs” from how Bad Religion called it. Is that something you try to include or it just happens?
That’s totally on purpose and I absolutely take a lot of [inaudible] from a lot of Scandinavian bands and definitely Bad Religion.
Oh and one more thing, “Moral Uniform,” I love how you end that song, with the guitar riff. There’s just something about that to me it’s really affecting for some reason!
Yeah, and that was actually kind of a battle we went through because the other dudes really just wanted to let that fade out and I always thought fadeouts were kinda cheating. But because I like that riff so much I think it was actually a really great idea. So the other guys totally changed their minds on the fadeout. But yeah I like the way that ends too and it’s kind of like a totally emotional change really quickly from being a fast song to being very slow. I think it’s a cool way to just get out all these emotions really quickly.
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