The San Francisco band was founded by singer/guitarist Ben Murray and fellow singer/guitarist Laura Nichol, both refugees from the metal outfit Light This City. Their impressive debut Until We Surrender was snatched up by indie punk powerhouse Epitaph Records and after a year traversing the world, the band has proven yet again with their follow up Drifter, that punk rock was their true calling after all.
Drifter has weightier themes than their first offering, but is still brimming with catchy, fast punk rock anthems. Murray spoke recently about the new record, their new home at Epitaph and why he doesn’t miss playing metal night after night.
Innocent Words: Second album in, was this one harder or easier to work on than Until We Surrender?
Ben Murray: I think this one was just as easy as Until We Surrender given that we were pretty comfortable with our sound and knew how we wanted to expand it on this record. Until We Surrender was easy because there were no expectations and no pressure from the music world in general, but this one was a lot more fun to write and record. The songs came really easy and we all had a lot of fun realizing how much better these songs were than our first record.
IW: I spoke with you not too long after you signed to Epitaph and you were really looking forward to being on the label. Have you found many benefits to being on a label as powerful as Epitaph?
Murray: Of course! They are the biggest and best indie label in the world, and that really goes a long way when you are one of the bands on their roster. They take amazing care of all their bands, and don’t miss a beat on anything! Most importantly, our music has been reaching people on an international level who probably would have never heard of us otherwise, which is really, really cool. It also really helps having the Epitaph name on your side when it comes to touring and marketing, which for us has been really easy and seamless. I can’t say enough how great they have been and how well they treat their bands.
IW: What can you tell me about the songs on Drifter?
Murray: They are much more mature in my opinion. We have maintained the same fast, melodic, and slightly technical punk style on this record, but I feel like the melodies are more well thought-out, and the riffs are more diverse and eclectic. I would also say that the record is more “riff-driven” as opposed to Until We Surrender, which was a tad more power-chord driven. In terms of the lyrics, this record is a bit more intense and emotional than the last one, given the passing of my father during the writing process. The record is dedicated to him, and about half the songs are about his struggle with brain cancer, and how that affected my views on life, time, and heartache in general.
Murray: We had been friends with Kyle for a few years before he joined the band. We were just buddies who hung out together from time to time, and when the band started, he expressed interest in playing for us one day if we ever needed it. When the band started playing more shows and getting too busy for Steven and Wes from Comadre (who were filling in for us until Kyle and Trey joined), we automatically knew who to call. Kyle has been working out great, and he’s a really solid dude who knows how to have a good time, without any drama. As for Trey, he was living in LA when we played with A Wilhelm Scream in the area, and he also offered his services if we needed them. The next weekend he was in the Bay Area jammin’ with us, and the rest is history! He’s a really amazing drummer and an awesome dude, so both of these guys have really been a major step up for our band. We couldn’t be more stoked.
IW: Do they change the dynamic of the band at all?
Murray: They do in the sense that it actually feels like a band now, as opposed to a project that Laura and I were trying to get going. They have input and weigh into most of our decisions which is great. It’s also nice having two solid members who we can rely on and count on to make us sound awesome.
IW: Did you always know you wanted Strung Out’s Jason Cruz to contribute to “Elements” or did you think of him when you were in the studio?
Murray: If you had told me 10 years ago that he would be on one of my songs, singing with me, I would freaked the fuck out. I still did when he agreed to come into the studio with us! I always knew that I wanted him on our record, but once we went over the songs to feel out which song would fit his style best, “Elements” just seemed to work. He came in and loved the song, and absolutely killed it. It was really surreal, and a total dream come true. We couldn’t be happier with the end product.
IW: Is there a general theme to Drifter?
Murray: Drifter refers to this feeling of being half-awake and going through your day feeling like a zombie, in a dream-like state. Just like wreckage drifts slowly and steadily along the ocean surface, I often feel like I’m just going through the motions in life instead of really living, due to the rigors of work, school, death, and depression in general. All of those feelings culminate to make me feel like shit most of the time, which is what the record is really about. I’d like to think that I put a positive spin on these awful feelings, but really, the band is just an outlet for me to express how terrible I think most aspects of life are, and how it’s hard to take anything seriously when time is so fleeting and nothing really means much, anyways. I know that’s pretty heavy, but that’s what the record is about.
IW: Do you ever miss playing songs from Light This City?
Murray: Definitely not. I love all those songs and love the band, but I don’t miss playing metal at all. It’s an entirely different experience playing metal vs. punk, and I’d definitely say it’s less fun. It’s more rigid, more competitive, and gives you less room to really express certain emotions when you have to sound pissed all of the time. I loved playing live with Light This City, but Laura and I both enjoy this band a lot more. It’s just more relaxed, the crowds are more friendly, and the bands don’t act like they are Metallica despite playing to 60 kids in bumfuck, Kansas, you know?
IW: So what’s next for the band?
Murray: Well, we are out on the road for the rest of the summer supporting this new record, and then we plan on doing a video for a track entitled “Don’t Talk With Your Mouth Open” when we get home. After that it’s off to the Fest 10 to party our asses off for the best weekend of our lives, and then off to the UK and Europe for a bit. We’ll definitely be doing some more US touring in the next year as well, which should be with some rad bands if all goes as planned.