Interview: Yuppicide Balance Lyricism with Political and Personal Interests

Interview with vocalist Jesse KFW Jones and guitarist Steve Karp | By Hutch

The mid ‘90s Yuppicide albums brought a mix of NYHC bounce with a rugged punk and Oi! sound. They were hard to define, but always confrontational. Their lyrics represented larger issues through smaller stories. Their live show—with their flair for costumes and unbridled energy—secured their legend. Some reunion shows and a 2012 EP, American Oblivion, woke their audience from the dead. Now, they’ve released their new full-length, Revenge Regret Repeat, via Dead City Records.

It’s 2015. A new Yuppicide full-length. How does that feel?

JJ: It feels great. It took us a while to get the songs written and ready to record, and actually, a few were still being tweaked in the recording studio, so its great to finally have it out and in the hands of the people who want to hear it. When we were working on the American Oblivion EP back in 2012, we considered holding off and waiting until we had enough material for an album, but we weren’t sure how long that would take. We’re all busy with family and work responsibilities outside of the band, so writing material can be a slow process.

SK: It feels fucking amazing. We defied the odds and created a masterpiece. 

Was there a different or specific mindset going into recording Revenge Regret Repeat?

JJ: We discussed different approaches, more for the recording style, but we decided to try things and then decide if we wanted to work on it more. We do our best not to let outside opinions influence what we do. Out producer, Glen Lorieo, had some great ideas, and we have a very democratic approach where everyone can voice their opinion, but the player has the final say on their instrument. We didn’t all agree and there were some edits that we weren’t all happy with—poor Glen—but overall, we are really happy with the results.

SK: I think we really wanted to learn from the process of recording American Oblivion and expand and improve on that. We really wanted to create something we in the band are really stoked on.

How long did it take to write and record this album?

JJ: Some of my lyrics precede us reforming as a band. I have always kept notebooks with ideas and snippets. Whenever we are working on new material, I will revisit those notebooks and see if anything sticks. The song that became “You’re Gonna Get It” was originally something Steve was playing around with for another project. He had lyrics for it, but was cool with me rewriting them, so I wrote a whole set of lyrics that, in the end, still didn’t work. So, I rewrote it again, as it is now, and we came up with some additions in the studio.

SK: We started kicking around new songs pretty much right after American Oblivion came out, but I think we really got serious and productive in the second half of 2014, especially once we committed to the idea of releasing an LP. We started talking with Glen about recording a few months before actually nailing down recording dates. He had ideas, having just finished the incredible Caught In A Trap LP, and we had ideas, having had time to digest American Oblivion and listen to Caught In A Trap’s Goodnight New York. Once we actually started recording, it went pretty well; I’m glad we took the time to bounce ideas off of Glen ahead of time. When it came time to do the guitars, I went back to 1990 and hauled my entire live rig into the live studio, and we recorded 99 percent of the guitars in a monster 11 hour session. The actual entire recording process took a while, because we were really nitpicky with the LP and there was a lot of back-and-forth with all the band members in regards to lyrics and arrangements and things like that. Glen should really wear a tall, pointy hat, because the kid is a fucking wizard when it comes to engineering and production.

JJ: It was great working with Glen again! We got to know each other recording the American Oblivion EP, and now, we’re friends. We recorded the drums and guitars at Frequency in White Plains, N.Y., and the rest we did in Glen’s home studio in Harlem. I worked with him a lot, going in multiple times to record a couple of songs at a time. We would play around and experiment, and he was really open to trying things and had great suggestions. He also brought the ‘”science,” which means he could fix my fuck ups, which I’m grateful for.

You have kept your sound basically the same since the old days: solid writing, catchy and hard!

JJ: The core band is the same: Steve, [bassist] Joe [Keefe], and myself. Jay [Rogan]—aka “El Guapo”—brings a great drum sound to it, and he’s always played fast and hard. I’m using all my usual techniques. I try to come up with vocal hooks if they make sense. Steve has never stopped writing and it shows.

SK: Thanks! Truthfully, that’s the only way we know how to write. We write what we know and what we like. We’re our own toughest critics. We seem to suffer from a kind of “musical multiple personality disorder.” We have bits and pieces of so many different kinds of music that fall under the bigger umbrella of “punk rock”: Oi! bits, D-beat bits, garage punk bits, U.S. ‘82 hardcore bits, 2 tone bits…

Have you been playing shows since American Oblivion?

JJ: We have been playing mostly local shows every few months. With our limited free time, we had to decide to work on new material or practice for shows, so we didn’t play a lot while writing the record. Now, we’re excited to play the new songs out.

SK: We have. We even toured Europe quickly to promote the American Oblivion EP in 2012. Since then, we played sporadically, but we made a conscious decision to try to not play out during the process leading up to recording and during the recording process itself. We really wanted to stay on track and get the LP done with as little distraction as possible. Well, outside of the unavoidable “distractions” of work, family, and all the other “40-something” obligations that get in the way of being old ass punk rockers! I think we noticed that the less we played live, and the more strategic we were/are with gigging, the more we appreciate it, and hopefully, the less people get tired of us playing.

I love the lyrics to “Insolence,” but might be one of the people you are trying to motivate. It’s tough to balance a proper wage and feeling fulfilled.

JJ: The lyrics on “Insolence” were a collaboration between Steve and I. It’s about being frustrated and unhappy in your work and personal life. Steve wrote the original version, and I think it was written from a very personal perspective. Corporate cubicle life is a reality for a lot of us, so the lyrics are aimed at ourselves as much as anyone else. The second verse—which is more about personal relationships—was suggested by Joe Keefe, our bassist, so I wrote about how we stay in toxic relationships, because we’re used to the misery. And yes, that’s from some personal experiences as well!

SK: Tough? I think it’s impossible. But knowing that fact is half the battle. I’ve found that it’s necessary to separate oneself in a sense: to seek “fulfillment” from one’s own interests and pursuits, and then, to treat a job like a job. Let’s face it, a lot of the people who one can work for don’t give a damn about their workers; we’re replaceable cogs in their eyes. We take that frustration and channel it into our music and lyrics and artwork; that’s what fulfills us. A paycheck is a paycheck, it pays the rent or mortgage, it puts food on the table, etc. Money really ruins everything, especially when it comes to creative pursuits like art or music. Which is why we always pay for the recording process ourselves, so that we’re not beholden to anyone for how we want to create our songs or do our graphics. We have complete artistic control and freedom. We never worry about whether a song will sell or an album will sell, because we have day jobs. The music is our hobby, and we get to create stuff without compromising for anyone outside of the band. Luckily enough, we have the good fortune to work with John [Franko] from Dead City and [OJ] Bader with Cupcake [Records]. They trust us and believe in who we are and what we do, and they have the same passion for the purity of the music as we do.

With the socio-political critique in full swing on “Political Game” and “Spread the Infection,” how do you feel about our county’s current climate?

JJ: I wrote “Political Game,” and its mostly about how lobbyists control legislation. They donate huge sums of money and do backdoor deals so that the congressmen end up with high paid jobs at the corporations. But it’s also about the fact that we, now, have two governments in this country: the one you vote for, and the other one that doesn’t change and that controls security and foreign policy.

SK: Sometimes, I’m hopeful, because there seems to be a groundswell of people fed up with living under a corrupt government and tired of a system designed to enrich the wealthy and keep us worker drones in a perpetual state of fear and anxiety. People who seek answers and ask tough questions and aren’t afraid to buck the status quo. And then, other times, things seem hopeless because of the apathy of the masses and how willingly people let fear allow themselves to fall under the spell of kooks like the religious right and so on. People who want to set our country back hundreds of years and openly pursue policies of bigotry, misogyny, racism…

Jesse: Steve and I collaborated on “Spread the Infection,” and it’s about how quickly people stop thinking for themselves and fall in line, especially when motivated by fear. I think what’s happening now with how people are reacting to the refugee situation is a perfect example. What’s really surprising is that presidential candidates aren’t even factchecking themselves now; they’re just saying whatever crazy ideas they have and people are agreeing with them. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t terrifying.

Police violence? Presidential candidates? Minimum sentences? War on the poor? So much fodder to vent about…

JJ: Police violence: I think there has been a core perspective shift in how the police are being trained. At one time, they were seen as an asset to the community—probably not by everyone, but in general. Now, it seems they are there to control the community. Also, if you are being arrested and resist in any way, even in a small way, then they can assault you and maybe kill you and most likely get away with it. The militarization of the police is terrifying. They are being sold surplus military equipment by arms dealers, and they are finding any excuse to use it. They often lack the training to use it as well.

SK: Too true. We try to balance our lyrical content with political and personal subject matter. I guess, for some people, we’re too political, and for others, not political enough. Then again, with a confrontational name like “Yuppicide,” you kind of know you’re not getting an album of pop punk teenage love songs. We’ve made a career, so to speak, out of rubbing people the wrong way, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. The issues you mention are not new issues by any stretch; since this country’s inception, there’s been a constant struggle against centralized control and individual freedoms. There’s always been a class war, and there always will be a desire to keep the masses under control with fears of internal and external threats.

JJ: Regarding presidential candidates: most of them seem like caricatures, [and] many have no political experience. Ignorance and arrogance seem to be the most important qualities. As a voter, if your apathy makes you opt out of the process, then you may have just helped a nutjob win. Also, the penal system in the country is out of control, and it’s a huge business. One in 99 people in America are incarcerated. The three strikes policy creates a slave labor situation used to compete with countries without a minimum wage.

I have sampled the George Carlin bit you included on this record; so have hip hop artists. What is so universal about it? And why don’t we learn anything from it?

JJ: George Carlin was able to communicate very intense and alternative ideas to a huge audience. He was able to camouflage revolutionary ideas with his more general criticism of modern life. Jay, our drummer, felt that the sample was overused, but I felt people should still hear it. Can a comedian change your mind? Can a song? I think they can chip away and hopefully eventually something shifts.

SK: It’s universal, because it’s true. Every word of it is true, and Carlin’s delivery is spot-on, because he doesn’t sugarcoat it. People hear it and agree, and then do nothing to change, because it’s easier to complain than to actually do anything about the status quo.

Have you seen any Black Friday fights on YouTube or social media? Or comments about these disgusting plays of materialistic consumers fiending for scraps in true “bread and circuses” form?

JJ: There are so many of these videos, and sadly what happens most is we just judge the participants. But it’s a system of materialism the plays into greed and gluttony, that we all play our part in. It’s always depressing to experience people behaving badly, people abandoning their humanity, trying to fill the ever-growing void with more shit and empty promises. But, unless we are doing something very different, maybe we should focus on just improving ourselves first and have a bit more empathy.

SK: As Americans, it’s hammered into us since birth to consume, consume, consume. Very few people stop to wonder if this mindset is wrong, and anyone who questions the “consume, consume, consume” mindset is immediately ostracized. It’s shameful, but it plays right into the hands of those who want to keep us helpless and docile and controlled. Rather than fix something yourself, just throw it out and get something new! You have to have the latest and greatest whatever-the-hell-it-is!

Pick up Revenge Regret Repeat here.

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