Interview: Beach Rats’ Ari Katz Reflects on Band History Ahead of New Record

Rolling out of the sands of the Atlantic Ocean, Rat Beat, out now on Epitaph Records, is quick, punchy, hardcore punk rock ‘n’ roll from a crew of mostly New Jersey-born musicians who put punk rock on the world map. They may call themselves Beach Rats, but few bands today can tout the sheer amount of legacy as what is collectively contained by the members.

Reaching back the furthest is guitarist Brian Baker, who has played in Minor Threat, Dag Nasty, Samhain, The Meatmen, Government Issue, and Bad Religion. Guitarist Pete Steinkopf and bassist Bryan Kienlen founded Jersey’s pride, the Bouncing Souls. Adding a backbeat is Daniel Windas, Dubs,” of Let It Burn, on drums. And finally, there’s Lifetime’s wordsmith and Beach Rat’s singer Ari Katz who gives context to their beginnings. 

“I’m in Asbury Park, and I’m at work right now, says Katz. “I’m about five blocks from the beach. I can smell the ocean. It’s sunny out, beautiful. It’s very strange. We all grew up in a town called New Brunswick, and that’s where our bands were from, but it seems like almost the entire scene through time has moved down here. So, like, everybody I know is here. It’s very strange. I don’t know, there’s some kind of calling. There’s something about the beach in New Jersey… that pulls certain people.” 

When the Bouncing Souls guys “immigrated” from New Brunswick it opened the door to do a band. “We were around. We’re all friends, and we just decided to start playing. And then once we started going in the basement, it really felt like—it feels like your first band, you know, just, like, in a room writing songs with each other. And I know for a fact none of our bands, our main bands, operate that way anymore! Bouncing souls, Lifetime, Bad Religion, they’re not all sitting in a room and writing a record together, you know, ‘cuz everybody’s so spread out, and technology and whatever. So it was really special to sit in a room for a few hours, and then to have a song at the end of it. It’s pretty magical.” 

The magic of sunny days and the salty air through the open basement practice space windows shaped a more relaxed and easy-going vibe. Katz says, “I sort of decided when the Beach Rats started, that I didn’t want it to be this serious thing that boxed us in a corner of seriousness. I wanted – and I think everybody wanted – it to just be light. We just wanted to play fast hardcore, that’s all—just play fast music.” 

Shipping noise into the briny sea breeze like a heavy freighter, blasting tunes at the gulls like a ship’s horn from just off Asbury Park’s boardwalk, eventually their music—the singles—found human ears and interest. 

“The first EP, I think, it’s a little bit more all over the place. I think the LP is a lot more cohesive,” Katz admits. “I’m glad that our first thing wasn’t a full-length record. The second we announced ourselves a lot of people were like, ‘super group, this, that,’ but we wrote the songs and recorded them on our own dime without telling anybody. Then once we had it, we thought we should probably play it for some labels and see if somebody wants to put it out. But it was very much, we just did it because we could, and we had the time.” 

He credits all the Rats with their creativity.  

“In a way, no one person wrote one song. Somebody would have a riff, and then at practice somebody would come up with the other riff. [Bryan] Kienlen would do the bass and Dubs [Daniel Windas] is an awesome drummer, he’s really good to write with. He has tons of good ideas, and everybody just was like going for it. I think my favorite song is “Bikes Out.” That, to me, is the funnest song to play on the whole record. And that’s one of the first ones we wrote. So that was kind of exciting.” 

In fact, everything about the project is exciting to Katz at this stage of his already illustrious career.  

“This is a complete life highlight. I’m 50. The fact that I’ve been able to keep making records is sick. The fact that those guys wanted to do a band with me, I never would’ve imagined it,” marvels Katz. “I met Brian Baker at our first rehearsal. I didn’t know him. The guys from the Souls were like, ‘Hey, Brian wants to play.’ And I was like, ‘What?!’ I didn’t believe it until I saw him at the first practice. This is a complete highlight. I’ve never been on Epitaph Records. Everything is just fun and awesome. I’m so excited.” 

The music on Rat Beat is fun and fast, but it’s personal to Katz as well. The songs are weathered like beach rock being hit with uneasy Atlantic Ocean waves. 

“The lyrics are definitely the darkest I’ve ever written, At the same time, there’s a lot of fun going on. There’s light stuff to keep it from being such a heavy affair. It’s supposed to be fun. I approach anything I write lyrics for one way. Whatever comes out, comes out. I don’t think, ‘in this band, I’m gonna write this’ or ‘I’m gonna write that.’ It’s all just whatever kind of happens… with the vibe of the Souls.” 

With his kids at home, his marriage on his mind and in his texts, COVID outside the front door, and an uncertain future in many ways, Katz gets very personal for a minute, saying it was, “A very good time for me to write a punk record.” 

He elaborates, “When I was in the studio doing vocals, I was going through, between takes, texting back and forth with my wife. I don’t know, it was just such a crazy, intense time. There’s some songs that aren’t, but if you just look at some of the lyrics, there’s a lot of about things ending and closing. When we were recording, it was the end of the beach season. The town really undergoes this transformation. The beach is closed and they start putting everything away— everything just changes. That coincided with my relationship and with COVID. It took a lot of meditation to get through it without losing my mind.” 

With the dark, offshore clouds rolling in and the thunder imminent, Katz harnessed his words, his power, and his talent, and put it into Rat Beat. He battened down the hatches and closed those basement windows. While the internal storm raged, he and Beach Rats hit back at Poseidon, writing 12 quick bangers averaging 1:30 a piece. Once that sun’s back in the sky, the ocean air is sweet again, and the boardwalk’s raging at sunset Rat Beat is the fun, hardcore punk album of the summer of 2022.  

Katz concludes, “I think the reason why people write such short songs is it’s really fun. As a songwriter you have to take this really short thing and there’s only a few parts, a few changes and a few opportunities to make it interesting. When you can make a minute and something song, a bunch of things happen in that and keep it interesting, kind of take you on this little journey that is fun. I love writing hardcore songs. And it’s not that it’s my only interest musically. I do all other kinds of music, but I’ll never get bored of writing short, fast hardcore songs.” 

Watch the video for “Rat Beat” here:

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Photo courtesy of Matthew Gere

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