Interview: Dan Yemin and Andy Nelson of Paint it Black Talk ‘Famine’ and Why There’s No Such Thing As a Hiatus

Paint It Black have been releasing short, venomous hardcore since 2002. I first heard them on The Philadelphia Sound, a four-way split with Go! For The Throat, The Cursed, and Knives Out.

None of those bands recorded beyond 2002—not a diss, just a reality of the lifespan of angry punk bands.

In 2003, Paint It Black dropped their explosive debut, CVA. Their musical template would be established. The band’s arsenal is raucous with raw guitars, pummeling drums, and tight tracks with schizophrenic tempos. Lyrically, vocalist Dan Yemin—in his raspy snarl—spews sardonic political criticisms via alliterative phrases and rhythmic patterns.

Paint It Black’s newest album, Famine, out now on Revelation Records, comes after a decade’s absence. They released three full-lengths (CVA, Paradise, New Lexicon) on esteemed label Jade Tree. Then, as life progressed, they preferred to use the EP format to maintain productivity and work with a host of other equally impressive labels like Fat Wreck Chords, Bridge Nine, and No Idea.

Famine continues Paint it Black’s legacy and relevance. And this was all part of the plan. “It’s been a long process,” Yemin offers. “What made 2023 the year is that this is when we got everything done and up to our obsessive standards of perfection.”

Nelson adds, “I never consider us to be inactive. It’s always very present in my mind and Dan’s.”

Yemin, “Absolutely. There is no such thing as a hiatus in our history.”

Nelson concurs. “I have always been suspicious of ‘hiatus’ as a status. It always seemed like marketing to me. The length of time between releases has increased over time because what our band is about, in a meta sense, is integrating punk into having a real life as a real person. Our work as a band and as punks informs how we live our lives. That, in turn, comes back and informs the work. As you get older, there are more things on the table: children, families, jobs, and in our case, geography.” (Though very much a Philly band, three of the four members now live in California).

This approach ensures Paint It Black’s urgency and authenticity in their subject matter and the fury of their musical vehicle. Nelson continues, “We are not beholden to anything. We don’t rely on it for income—”

“Thank God!” Yemin interjects.

“That stems back to the fact that we have a different idea of what a band is. The only thing we have to worry about is making the (songs) and playing when we can,” Nelson says.Currently Paint It Black features Yemin on vocals, whose legacy includes Kid Dynamite and Lifetime. He adlso plays with Nelson in Open City (featured last issue in this very magazine). Bassist Nelson played in Dark Blue and Ceremony and with guitarist Josh Agran in Affirmative Action Jackson. On the drums, Jared Shavelson is the final piece. His mesmerizing abilities were honed in Hope Conspiracy, None More Black, and Boysetsfire.

While the formula of Paint It Black is “play fast, play hard,” this is equally defined by time changes, inverted song structures, and idiosyncratic nuances from the instruments—specifically the drums, with cymbal hits, tom fills, and poignant kicks. Noting Shavelson’s skill, Yemin laughs, “It’s obnoxious.” Nelson quips, “It pisses me off!” Recalling a June 2019 practice when Shavelson was out for three days, and the band was listening to his ideas and recorded rehearsals, Nelson says to Yemin, “(It) was a ‘simple, fast song’ and remember you proclaimed, ‘Okay guys. It’s official. Jared is too good at drums. We’re done!’”

Both Nelson and Yemin both also laud the attitude and aptitude of producer Jack Shirley, who recorded Famine’s eight tracks in two and a half days. It was then mastered by yet another master of his craft, Arthur Rizk. As far as preparing the songs for recording, Nelson admits, “We obsess about tiny little drum hits, bass bits, guitar things more than what you think a band should. Sometimes we just play and play and play. We don’t know until we feel it’s there. If we’re not satisfied, it’s not done.”

Paint It Black’s vocals utilize an idiosyncratic cadence. Yemin confesses that he will take years to work on one song’s lyrics. It is an exquisite craft and one can easily picture him focused and editing and changing semantics, breaking down multisyllabic structure. Every word and syllable hits strongly, with literary references and unique patterns.

“I’m not like ‘Oh, everybody has to get what I’m doing.’ On some level, I don’t care as long as it sounds cool and people feel something,” he says. “But it also feels good to know people recognize that. The words are important, but the rhythm is also important. I am glad it comes through.”

Yemin sits in a reflective silence. “Delivery, vocally, is always—not to be reductive, but—Ian, Roger, Ray. (Ian MacKaye, Roger Miret, Ray Cappo. Yemin’s holy trinity of hardcore.) But cadence and internal rhyme schemes and alliteration, it’s Rakim. And KRS, and, of course, Black Thought. Rakim is always there.”

And the music parallels the lyrics. Paint It Black’s targets remain the same. Plus, Yemin is not above a solid pun, obvious in titles such as “Serf City, USA,” “Dominion,” “The Unreasonable Silence.” These tumultuous and infuriating times need Paint It Black’s voice and ferocious feedback. Famine relieves fans that, for the band, “there is no such thing as a hiatus.”

You can order Famine directly from Revelation Records. Follow Paint it Black on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for future updates.

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