Published Jun 28, 2010For the past eight years, Minneapolis, MN-based outfit Off With Their Heads have been both blowing away and outright confusing punks with their seemingly dichotomous approach. It's a situation that has garnered much attention because while the quartet pen virulently bouncy music that long-time heroes such as Screeching Weasel and the Descendents would die to claim as their own, topically, they are so melancholy Morrissey comes across as an optimist. Understandably, the idea isn't entirely new, seeing as Alkaline Trio wouldn't have a career without this concept, but few bands are capable of crafting such inherently captivating, yet depressing, tunes, as evidenced on Epitaph debut In Desolation. OWTH's disgustingly upbeat, catchy, major chord pop punk has melded seamlessly with weighty themes hosting some of the most emotionally gripping lyrics this side of a suicide note: drug addiction, depression and trauma. Together, the chocolate-in-peanut butter sentiment makes for what is easily their strongest work to date, empowered by the fact that after their early years marked by unwitting influence via the hardcore-tinged attack of fellow Minnesotans Dillinger Four, In Desolation draws them into their own territory. In Desolation is OWTH's assertion of a confident, post-pubescent voice ready to incite and upset all in the same moment.
How do you amalgamate such serious subject matter with equally as catchy music? The two things are so opposing.
Vocalist Ryan Young: It all happened by accident. We used to have that kind of music when we started: tunes that were really moody, dark songs. They were also longer and slower, but we just couldn't write stuff like that anymore.
So, one day you just up and reversed it all?
Yup, but that was a long time ago. We said, "Fuck it" and wrote the poppiest song we could and I put dark lyrics on it. It worked and all of a sudden it melded. People really dug the first record so we kept with it.
Is it frustrating that on a whim, you tried something so odd that worked to a point where nowadays you're regarded as an influence on other bands?
Nah, it's flattering, actually. It's weird to see that we played a role in that kind of music, which is poppy, but kind of depressing. You'd have to agree that it does work, but it shouldn't. It's just crazy how easily it comes to us.
There's a tangible excitement on In Desolation that I haven't experienced with your past releases.
Most of this stuff came from our two-year tour leading up to the break for recording that album. It was all of the things that can happen to a person who literally lives on the road for that long. Nobody in the band has a home or anything like that. We still don't and that definitely played a large part in it. That, and since I write all the lyrics, I've had a girlfriend for the entire time and it can get rough.
She must be very understanding to stay together with you when you're doing this much touring.
Yeah, she does okay with her job so she can come visit on the road. That helps. Plus, she'd probably hate me if I were around too much.
Does being on the road constantly generate that much hardship even after doing it for eight years?
It certainly can. I'm sure I've also got other problems that add to it. But never ever knowing what's around the corner factors in quite a bit.
Suffer for your art?
Kind of; it's more that I don't know what else to do. The only thing we're all good at ― we might find something in the future ― is the band. We've found a good groove, working relationship and way to live together while doing something unique. If we weren't doing this though, we probably wouldn't be doing much anyway.
Tell me more about the writing process. I still find it unusual that you link these divergent paths so easily.
People don't believe how easily they come to us. It's a bizarre balance of writing catchy stuff and then putting my bad day on top of it. It takes less effort than what may come across. Three songs from In Desolation were written a couple of days before we went into the studio.
That's no easy task.
Yeah, and those are the songs that people tend to like the most, which is somewhat defeating. Whatever; I'll take that. But we work really well under that pressure. We can't sleep because we have to get it done. A big label put a lot of money behind it so we should probably do really well. At least, the best we can. From that comes this torturous pressure, which usually makes us do our best thing at the last minute.
If it works...
It's probably not the best system, but if a bunch of schmucks like us can be where we're at, it must work. (Epitaph)