Back at Fest last year, we caught a Spanish Love Songs set that blew us away. The Los Angeles band’s style of heartfelt punk rock played to a crowd that seemed to feel every word was so convincing, in fact, that we spoke to them about an Orange endorsement that same night.
Cut to six months or so later, after some of the administrative errors that naturally come with trying to sign a band after a set at a festival (read: Dylan lost the email), the band were now part of the Orange family and in the UK playing two sold-out nights at the New Cross Inn in London to an audience whose hearts were won over by the band’s 2018 album, Schmaltz.
So, we figured we’d get to know ‘em a little better and sat down with guitarists Dylan Slocum and Kyle McAulay to talk their journey in music so far, how they’re secretly a country band that have fooled everyone, and what’s to come from their next record.
Oh, and since this was a little while ago now, they’re a lot further ahead in the process of that new record than they were here so hopefully we won’t have too long to wait to hear it.
SO TO START FROM THE BEGINNING, WHAT COMPELLED EACH OF YOU TO START PLAYING MUSIC?
DYLAN: I don’t know, my dad bought me a guitar when I was eight, like, for no reason – I was playing baseball at the time. I just came home and there was a guitar there and it sat under my bed pretty much until I was thirteen. Then when I was thirteen I was like, ‘Wait, people will think I’m cool if I play guitar’. Then my friend taught me ‘Dammit’ by Blink-182 and I was like, ‘I’m a guitarist now!’. I always loved music but I don’t know why I picked up a guitar other than it was there.
WHAT WAS THE DEAL WITH BASEBALL? DID YOU HAVE AMBITIONS TO PLAY BASEBALL?
DYLAN: Yeah I played baseball through college. Then I got a knee injury and quit to play in a band, which was truly the downfall of my life. Yeah…
A GREAT FINANCIAL DECISION. AND HOW ABOUT YOURS (KYLE), WHY DID YOU PICK UP YOUR FIRST GUITAR?
KYLE: I started playing music in sixth grade on the drumline and I did that all the way through high school, and eventually I knew too many drummers and I had a friend who knew guitar very, very well who taught me bass, and then he moved back to Canada so I learned guitar and taught one of my drummer friends to play bass.
DYLAN: You learned the guitar because you knew too many drummers?
KYLE: Yeah, it’s a very weird problem to have.
DYLAN: That’s so backwards.
KYLE: Yeah, I knew like twelve drummers but nobody that played guitar.
DYLAN: Bunch of nerds… Where I grew up I didn’t play in bands for years at a time cause there were no drummers available. I started programming my own drums cause I didn’t have drummers. My high school band was like a computer dance rock band because of that.
WELL THAT’S ACTUALLY WHAT I WAS GOING TO ASK NEXT, ABOUT FIRST BANDS. WHAT WERE YOU TRYING TO PLAY, AND WAS THERE ANYTHING THAT YOU THINK HOLDS ANY MERIT NOW?
DYLAN: No, absolutely not. My first band was when I was thirteen or fourteen – Forever Zero.
KYLE: Ah, Jeez.
DYLAN: Yeah.. It was like a shouty hardcore – we’d just gotten really into Thursday and so we were, like, doing that but not as talented. Then I played in some emo bands in high school – screamo with a dedicated screamer, which I hated but it was a way to play music. And then I did a band called The Mathletes when I was like eighteen, doing synth-pop computer stuff.
I was ahead of my time (laughs). No, I don’t know, I got very bored just like midi programming drums and just thought ‘I can’t do this anymore?
KYLE: My first bands were when I started drumming in hardcore bands, trying to play as fast as you possibly can. Then my first guitar band was pretty much a blink rip-off band that holds absolutely no merit these days. I have the recordings and they’re awful.
DYLAN: You still have ‘em?
KYLE: Yeah. Nobody will ever hear them. Nobody. Ever. I promise.
DYLAN: I wanna steal them for the next album.
YEAH, LEAK THEM AS SPANISH LOVE SONGS NEW STUFF JUST TO FUCK WITH PEOPLE
KYLE: No. It’s never gonna happen. I password protected them.
DYLAN: That would be so good.
WHEN YOU GREW UP AND STARTED WRITING STUFF MORE TOWARDS WHAT YOU’RE PLAYING NOW, WHO WERE THE SONGWRITERS OR GUITARISTS THAT YOU GUYS TOOK INFLUENCE FROM?
DYLAN: I mean, Tom Delonge. Obviously. The stuff that influences us now is probably the same stuff, it’s like Bruce Springsteen and by virtue of that The Gaslight Anthem were huge. I wasn’t really focused on guitarists though, I never really fancied myself a good guitar player. I was more focused on people who made me feel things, I guess. Third Eye Blind, like Stephan Jenkins I think is amazing. They do some amazing guitar work. I guess it wasn’t Stephan Jenkins on that first album, it was that other guy, but Stephan Jenkins is Third Eye Blind so… Yeah, I think those are the big ones.
Then there’s country music too. My parents used to listen to like Dwight Yoakam and stuff like that, and Hank Williams. Then there’s Blink like I said, Thrice was really big when I was growing up to me. They had great guitar players.
IS IT WEIRD IF I SAY THAT COUNTRY MUSIC MAKES A LOT OF SENSE?
DYLAN: No. We’re a country band that plays punk music. Yeah, it is [the storytelling aspect]. Country music is very specific and that’s where it gets its power from. So I always joke that we’re basically a country band, especially with the depressing lyrics and stuff.
HOW ABOUT YOU KYLE?
KYLE: I mean, a lot of what Dylan already mentioned I share with him. Not even a good guitar player, but one of the reasons why I wanted to start playing guitar was that Johnny Ramone looked so cool playing in all the Ramones videos.
DYLAN: That’s fair.
KYLE: I learned a lot of the power of simplicity through that and how you don’t have to be a virtuoso to connect with people.
DYLAN: I don’t think either of us consider ourselves to be particularly good guitarists…
YOU’RE A PARTICULARLY SELF-DEPRICATING BAND THOUGH…
DYLAN: Yeah, that’s fair. But every time we read a review that mentions the ‘powerful guitar’ or ‘twin guitar leads’ we just laugh.
KYLE: I mean it’s nice, but I don’t get it.
DYLAN: Yeah that was made in the studio cause one of us went ‘ooh, that sounds cool’.
KYLE: Yeah, but that’s how everything’s made. If it doesn’t sound cool, you’re not gonna record it.
DYLAN: We’re actually really lame, cause when we were making the album we were like ‘we’re not gonna put a guitar lead in that you can’t sing’. So, like, we wrote all of our guitar leads by singing them and then playing them.
WHAT DREW YOU TO THAT STORYTELLING, CONFESSIONAL STYLE OF LYRIC WRITING THEN? I FEEL LIKE TO AN EXTENT THAT’S NOT FOR EVERYONE… A LOT OF SONGWRITERS LIKE TO CLOUD THINGS IN METAPHOR BUT YOU’RE VERY DIRECT…
DYLAN: I’m not sure. It just kinda started happening. I’ve always written that way – I don’t love stuff that’s fluffy. I like being direct, I like getting to the point, I like being sincere. I think we’re trapped in a world where being sincere is not valued, and it’s made fun of a lot, and I think that’s dangerous. I was a creative writing major in college, like every other guy in a band, and I was doing a lot of journalism, like longform journalism, and that is very much like ‘get to the point and tell me why this is important’, but in a fun way.
THAT MAKES ME A LOT MORE NERVOUS ABOUT INTERVIEWING YOU
DYLAN: Oh no, I was bad at this. I loved it cause I was so anxious and hated talking to people and I would have to force myself to do it. But I did more like magazine-type stuff. Longform, go live something and do it. My dream job in college would’ve been to be one of those Rolling Stone reporters who goes on tour with the band and lives the Almost Famous moment – even though that doesn’t exist anymore because Twitter has kinda killed the need for that.
WHEN SPANISH LOVE SONGS WAS COMING TOGETHER, WHAT DREW YOU GUYS TO PLAYING WITH EACH OTHER? WERE YOU FRIENDS FIRST, DID YOU MEET THROUGH MUSIC OR…?
DYLAN: No, we met through craigslist – sorry I’m still fighting a cold. He worked at a studio, that really drew us to him.
KYLE: That’s fair.
DYLAN: The story’s kinda been covered but basically he just moved to LA, posted on craigslist looking for people to go to shows with and was, like, ‘also I play guitar’. We were a three-piece when we started, it was me, Ruben (drums) and our then-bassist Gabe and I needed another guitarist cause I wasn’t good enough to do this. Also it’s just limiting. Our songs are incredibly simple, but if you got rid of a guitar they are like sadly simple – like, not-listenable simple. So it was like ‘let’s hit this kid up, he seems cool and we go to all the same shows…’. I think you practiced with us once and we were like, ‘hey, wanna join our band?’
KYLE: Yeah, you had the hard drive in your car.
DYLAN: Yeah, with the original recordings.
KYLE: So I just took those and started mixing them and was like ‘they kinda suck, wanna just re-do ‘em?
DYLAN: ‘At my fancy studio’
KYLE: Yeah, at my fancy studio for free. So that was our first record.
DYLAN: Are we even friends now, I don’t know… Just kidding.
WHEN IT COMES TO SONGWRITING IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU GUYS ARE VERY CHILL, GOING INTO A STUDIO WITHOUT GUITAR LEADS WRITTEN…
DYLAN: That’s not a good thing.
KYLE: Yeah, the reason we could do that is cause I got the time for free.
DYLAN: That’s actually changing now cause we have to do a proper album next and we’re on a budget and we’re on a timeframe and so that’s gonna change real quick.
DYLAN: I think we’re gonna have more time as a whole, cause we’re not gonna have to do it on his days off. And then we’d get to the studio to do guitars and it’s like ‘oh, so and so soundcloud rapper just bumped us’ – y’know, not to name names… So it took us eight months to do Schmaltz, but it was maybe fourteen days of work. Not for him, he had to mix it and stuff, but of in-studio time. It was not a ton of time. On this next one, I think we’re gonna get just about thirty straight days in the studio. Fingers crossed that’s what we’re counting on now at least.
DO YOU THINK HAVING THAT EIGHT MONTHS HELPED AT ALL? LYRICALLY AND THEMATICALLY IT’S A VERY INVOLVED RECORD THAT REFERENCES AROUND ITSELF… DID THAT COME TOGETHER LATER IN THE PROCESS?
DYLAN: Yes, but not because we had eight months. Nothing really changed that much. Mixes and tones would change, but really we’d go to record a lyric the day of and I would flip out in the studio and I’d spend an hour and a half changing the lyrics, but it wasn’t planned or thought out in any grand way. It was pretty dumb the way we did it. I’m a huge proponent of rewriting, but apparently what I mean by that is rewriting while he’s setting up the microphone and shouting ‘DO YOU LIKE THIS RHYME?’ and he’s like ‘NO’, ‘OKAY WHAT ABOUT THIS RHYME?’
SO KYLE, WHY DON’T YOU LIKE HIS RHYMES?
KYLE: They’re just awful.
DYLAN: Yeah, I have some really bad rhymes sometimes. It can be truly terrible.
NOW THAT SCHMALTZ IS DONE, I FEEL LIKE GIVEN THE TWO SONGS YOU’VE JUST PUT OUT ON THE EP, YOU’RE MAYBE MOVING AWAY FROM – OR NOT MOVING AWAY CAUSE I GUESS THE SPIRIT IS THE SAME BUT IT FEELS LIKE YOU’RE REACHING A BIT FURTHER THAN ANYTHING THAT COULD REALLY BE CALLED POP PUNK…
DYLAN: Oh, absolutely.
IS THAT A CONSCIOUS DECISION?
DYLAN: It’s a natural outcome of what we listen to, and also like… we’re not twenty-two anymore. Not that there’s anything wrong with being twenty-two and playing pop punk, or even being thirty-one and playing pop punk, but I haven’t listened to just pop punk in a very long time. The songs that come out of us tend to be pop punk, but we want to be a rock band. When people ask what we play, I just say rock’n’roll now.
It’s intentional and, not like from a cynical point of view, but I don’t understand why you’d want to be in a band and not wanna be in the biggest band on Earth. And the way to do that – or at least the way that we feel comfortable trying to really embrace who we are and do what we want to – is just to write big rock songs in the vein of stuff that we like and listen to. And try to, I don’t know, approach some greatness that we haven’t hit yet.
I think Schmaltz was as far as we could go in this direction with this current group of members and be happy with it. If we were to just re-do it again, it wouldn’t feel great.
AND AS A GUY WHO WORSHIPS TOM DELONGE, HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT, KYLE?
KYLE: I think it’s great. I think with Schmaltz being out, we’ve kinda broken down the walls that say we have to do ‘this’ because we’re part of ‘this’. Now, with the EP, we just kinda sat around and did what we wanted to do without thinking ‘oh, we gotta write this record so we can play this festival’.
DYLAN: And there’s still some self-editing going on, cause ‘Losers’ when it was first written sounded like a The National song and we were like ‘woah, too hard left’. We love The National, but we gotta steer it back towards the middle.
KYLE: Still down to the core they still have to be Spanish Love Songs songs.
DYLAN: I like that, we broke down the walls while also reinforcing them. I’ve had so many people be like ‘you have to keep singing sad songs now forever’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t! You might not like it but…’
YEAH, LOSERS WHEN I HEARD IT MADE A LOT OF SENSE. THAT FIRST GUITAR PART WAS TOTALLY ‘OKAY THIS IS MORE LEANING TOWARDS AMERICANA AND ROCK’N’ROLL NOW’…
DYLAN: I think that guitar riff is the guiding direction for the next few months. I’ve been writing a lot of little noodley riffs like that. Yeah, I guess it’s Americana-punk. To me I hear like, as cheesy as it is, old Chuck Berry riffs. Even though I don’t listen to Chuck Berry. I don’t listen to old guitar rock and go ‘yeah, let me shred on my axe’.
‘THIS IS WHAT CHUCK BERRY PROBABLY SOUNDED LIKE’
DYLAN: (Laughs) I mean I know what Chuck Berry sounds like. You can’t put that on an Orange interview, this guy going ‘oh what does guitar sound like…’
WHAT ELSE WAS DIFFERENT IN THE APPROACH TO THOSE TWO NEW SONGS? WAS THERE MORE FORETHOUGHT THAN THE SONGS ON SCHMALTZ?
DYLAN: (Laughs) Nope. We had a month to do them and he was working six days a week, so we’d take his only day off and get together. I was like ‘I have these songs, they’re half-formed’ and we just did it all in the bedroom and got ‘em done. I don’t know how. I think there was more forethought as we were working on them. Losers was one thing, and then No Reason To Believe was a deliberate effort to do something verse-chorus-verse-chorus, in that kinda realm and try to be… not catchy, but to write a pop song. Y’know, like a classic pop rock song, which we’d never really tried.
SO YOU SAID EARLIER THAT YOU HAVEN’T WRITTEN ANYTHING FOR THE NEW RECORD – AND THIS IS A PRE-EMPTIVE TIME TO ASK AND YOUR MIND IS ALMOST DEFINITELY GONNA CHANGE BY THE TIME YOU ACTUALLY DO IT – BUT IDEAL WORLD, WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE?
DYLAN: We’ve been talking about this constantly. I think we want to hone in on like… My favourite part when we’re playing music is the epic, kinda cinematic stuff, so I think honing in on that.
And then lyrically, finding a way to not just sit around and complain about how bad I feel. It’s getting – not ‘old’, I know a lot of people want to know that other people feel that way, but I think there’s other things we can write about that other people are thinking too. I don’t know, maybe we’ll write a bunch of love songs. That’d be pretty sweet.
I MEAN, IT’D BE ABOUT TIME GIVEN-
DYLAN: Yeah, given our name we probably owe the world some love songs. They won’t ever be ‘happy’ songs, but like we’re writing a rock album and it’d be really cool to capture the spirit of a Born To Run, or Celebration Rock, or The Hold Steady’s albums, of just like… rock’n’roll positivity, but with our cynical look on it. We’ll see.
KYLE: That’s kinda No Reason To Believe in general…
DYLAN: Yeah, it’s a happy rock song that’s like ‘not everything’s good, but maybe it doesn’t matter that everything’s not good cause, I don’t know, the world’s ending let’s fall in love.’ Maybe that’s the vibe.
I don’t know if we’ll go too far over to the happiness side. I love that Culture Abuse album, but I don’t think I’ll ever sing like ‘I’m in love with you and that’s really cool’. That’s not how my mind works, I’m like ‘I’m in love with you, it’s really cool, oh shit you’re gonna leave and also somebody just shot up a school. Wait, that’s Buffalo. I just described Buffalo.
We wanna reach for the positivity, but we’ll probably land somewhere like ‘The world’s bleak, but maybe there’s some cool stuff to go do while it’s slowly crumbling.
I think the guiding principal of the band is making sure that people feel like they’re not alone, but there are other ways to make people feel not alone than just complaining about being depressed. ‘We understand you’re sad Dylan, we’re good.’
It’s dangerous to just sit there and be just like ‘the world is shit, the world is shit’ and yeah it is, but there are bright spots to hold on to. I’d hate for somebody to listen to our music and align to feeling even more alone because of how bad the world is. I hate the phrase ‘building a community’, but I’d rather people come together (laughs)… that’s a synonym, but like y’know.
– ORANGE STUFF –
DYLAN: I didn’t have my first Orange amp until this album. I grew up watching so many pop punk bands play those sweet Thunderverb heads and I was like ‘I want that’. My parents supported my music career and helped me a lot, but that was always one of those items that was Next Level, like when you’re a pro you can have that.
So I ignored it for years and just played my gear, but then I bought a Dual Terror and you bought an OR-15 and now half of our album is an OR-15. Just an OR-15 dimed.
KYLE: At least one side of the rhythm track of Schmaltz is just an OR-15 turned all the way up.
DYLAN: It’s just the coolest tone.
KYLE: The studio, NRG Studios, where I worked and where we did the record, they have a 1974 OR-120 and a matching 4×12 cab. I think that might have been the only cab we used – the studio had like thirty different heads, but that was the one song we used the entire time.
DYLAN: Then after the album, I was like ‘okay well if this album is half Orange amps and half the amp we both already play, I should probably try to do it. So I finally went out and got my own AD30 and I remember the first time I took it to practice, plugged it in and played a chord and it was like ‘Oh, it’s what I always wanted it to be!’
KYLE: That’s how I felt at Fest last year. There was an AD30 head at the High Dive and cause we flew I didn’t have my whole pedalboard or anything, so I just remember plugging in and strumming and being like ‘Oh, this is cool’.
DYLAN: It’s nice when you hear what you wanna hear. I guess subconsciously it’s just always been it for us. I think it’s a very distinct flavour too with the AD30 – it’s that specific British voicing, but with that Orange flavour and overdrive. We’re using a Rockerverb on this tour and that’s great, it’s got a sweet crunch, but I can’t wait to get home and get back to mine. Also mine’s a combo, I’m too old to haul around a half-stack anymore. I can’t wait to get home to my little baby combo, swing it around and get onstage with it.