The Swingin’ Utters played a part in setting off the once-burgeoning California punk rock scene after forming in the late ’80s. They were a part of the original Vans Warped Tour, and have toured with the likes of Rancid and the Dropkick Murphys. After a seven-year split that ended in 2010, the band recently released its second post-hiatus full-length, Poorly Formed, which mixes the traditional punk that the band is known for with new influences that may sound foreign to some long-time fans. Guitarist Darius Koski phoned in to talk about the new album and their upcoming tour.
How did the process of writing the band’s latest album, Poorly Formed, differ from those in the past?
The writing process was like we’ve never done it before. We finally got Jack [Dalrymple] to write some songs, and him and Johnny [Bonnel] wrote half the album, which was really cool. Jack just gave Johnny music, and he wrote the lyrics and melody to that. We don’t generally write songs like, and it ended up sounding totally different than anything we’ve ever done before. It was good to do things differently; we’re trying to mix things up a bit.
The song “I’m a Little Bit Country” is essentially a country song. What inspired you guys to write a song that sounds so different?
We’ve always had a pretty heavy country influence, even from our first record. It comes from everywhere, like Johnny Cash and The Pogues. When I say country, some people think I’m talking about this shit they call country, which I think has nothing to do with the actual music at all but more with Bud Light and Ford commercials. But we’ve always been pretty heavily influenced by the music.
Then I assume you guys played the banjo and steel guitar I hear on the track?
That was a guy that we use all the time since [1998’s] Five Lessons Learned and I think on every record he’s on at least a song. He does pedal steel, mandolin and banjo, but he’s done some baritone guitar for us. He’s just kind of a ripper; he’s really good. Especially at pedal steel.
How do you plan on playing new songs like “I’m a Little Bit Country” and “Greener Grass” when you tour when you guys use softer instruments like acoustic guitar or violin in the recordings?
We’re probably not going to play “Greener Grass” now, though we intend to eventually. We do a lot of songs with cleaner guitar rather than acoustic anymore because it’s kind of a pain in the ass when you don’t have roadies to do all the instrument changes and stuff because I think it just kind of takes away from the show. We used to have that with the accordion and acoustic guitar, and it just creates this dead spot in the show. We have a crew and that’s a lot different because they just kind of hand you stuff and you don’t even notice that you have an acoustic guitar all of a sudden, but we’ve been talking about bringing that aspect back into it and that varies the set a little bit.
You guys are kicking off your tour at the Punk Rock Bowling music festival. What’s that kind of show like?
It’ll be our fourth or fifth time playing it, but we played the first one and a lot of the early ones and two since it’s gotten bigger. Now it’s just like this really big music festival that happens to have bowling. It used to be a bowling tournament and we’d have a show, so it’s kind of turned into a really full-blown music festival now, which is really cool. I sort of miss when it was smaller, but it’s also kind of cool that we get to play with bands like Devo, which is insane. They play the same stage that we play on the same nights, and it’s always nice to play to a crowd like that.
Did you guys originally plan to start your tour with that gig?
Not really, it just sort of happened that way. We were sort of scheduling the tour around that time anyway, and we were asked to do it, so we said yeah and it works out perfect because we’re going to fly out and leave the next day. It worked out really well that way.
There’s a venue in Cleveland, Mahall’s 20 Lanes, that often has punk bands playing live while people bowl. What is it about the two that makes them such a good pairing?
I don’t know, I think it’s just a cheap place to put on shows for people, and they usually have a bar. We’ve played a lot of bowling alleys, like Asbury Lanes in New Jersey and the Fireside in Chicago, which was around for a million years.
Where are your favorite places to tour?
I’m really dying to go back to Japan; we’ve only been these once for some reason even though it was the best tour we’ve been on. We really like going to Europe where they respect you more and treat bands way better at the clubs. As far as the states go, I guess I kind of like touring everywhere, especially the Midwest and East coast because it’s nice to go somewhere I see less frequently. I think the south is really amazing too because everything there is so foreign to me and looks so cool. I don’t like the desert, but that’s about it. Our drummer loves it but I can’t stand it.
It’s always interesting to me when I hear that bands love going to Japan because the culture seems so different. What was it that you liked about touring there so much?
That’s one of the things I like about it is that it’s so foreign and totally different. It was total culture shock. It was strange, not a lot of people spoke English and the crowds reacted different. I liked it because it was totally different, and that’s what I like about touring. It’s just cool to be in that climate, and I love just seeing different things every day.
Do you guys ever tour the Midwest in the winter? I’m sure the weather changes are something you aren’t used to coming from California.
I remember once with the wind-chill in Milwaukee it was 30 below and it was the coldest place we have ever been. We kind of made the decision several years ago to avoid winter tours, because we’re in a van or have a trailer and it’s just sketchy. Ice and snow can slow you down to where you can miss shows, and its just seems dangerous.
Do you have any distinct memories from playing in Cleveland?
We’ve been to Cleveland a lot. It’s cool to be back at the Grog Shop because I don’t think we’ve been there in 10 years. It’s definitely one of those cities we will always hit. I like Cleveland and I think it’s kind of a cool city that gets a bad rep from a lot of people.
How do you feel about the state of the street punk scene today? It seems as though it was a lot more prevalent in the past.
It seems pretty thriving to me. I think the state of punk rock in general is always the same. It’s obviously not as popular as it was in the ’90s when there were bigger shows, and I don’t think kids are as into it. That’s the way it seems to me, but I’m sure if it’s just because our band has been around a long time. It’s still one of those things where a lot of kids think punk rock is these bands with a lot of tattoos and cute haircuts or whatever, which is totally gross to me and let’s not even get into a conversation about that. But that’s bound to happen when the Green Day thing happened, which was great, but after something gets that popular a certain part of it is dead. I’m totally fine with it because I don’t care about the subculture as much as I care about the music. It’s just not the same as it was.
Swingin’ Utters, The Goddam Gallows, American Werewolves, Scoliosis Jones
8:30 p.m. Monday, June 3
2785 Euclid Heights Blvd.