INTERVIEW: THE ALBATROSS - T.GUNN
Published July 30, 2012The folks over at xStuck In The Pastx actually asked me to do an interview. Thought about if I should post it all day, and (obviously) I decided it was a good idea. I mean at the very least it's a plug for SITP, right? Click on the link below to read the interview... Tommy Gunn (Communication Redlight, The Albatross webzine) interview
A lot of what The Albatross is kinda just lets me be a nerd. When I was in Communication Redlight, there were a lot of awesome bands that we got to play with. Jeff Caudill, Popeye Vogelsang, Samiam, Ex Number Five, Vision, plus a bunch that I’m not even remembering right now. It was awesome that I was meeting these people who I admired so much when I was a kid and now they’re (kinda) my contemporaries. If I was 14 and tried to hang out with a 21 year old, it would have been a totally different ball game. Around the same time, I was talking to a friend and started talking about the "Cup of Coffee Theory". Basically, I think that there’s a number of musicians who we don’t necessarily want to get nerdy about their bands but we genuinely want to hear their point of view about life. Everyone connects that way with at least one band/musician. You’d just wanna get a cup of coffee with the people you really respect as musicians and as people. Literally, "let’s go get a cup of coffee and talk about life". So the situation came up where I’d really love to have a "cup of coffee" with someone. However, when you’re hanging out and drinking all night at a bar, it’s the last thing you really want to do. So, after a little while, I guess, I just thought about a way that I could ask some really cool people some cool questions. Try to bring out who they are as people (insecurities and all). I wanna know about what makes them write the music that they write. That was, in essence, the birth of The Albatross. I don’t wanna know about where you got your band name. I wanna know about what was going on in the band 10 years ago. I wanna find a connection to why that person's music connects with me so much. So that was kind of the start. The other side of it is getting a retrospective look at why the band failed. You know, you ask a dude why their band broke up a week after it breaks up and you’re going to get a different answer than if you were to ask them 10 years from now. I want that honest look at it and I’ve gotten a plethora of great answers, whether it be someone who finally owns up that they were the ones being a jerk or if it was just the lifestyle. I had done a little bit of research and I didn’t really see any "exclusive" reunion blogs, which kind of goes hand in hand with the interviews that I wanted to do. Sites like Stuck In The Past and some others helped form the idea of going to one spot for specific information on a genre or a scene but I really couldn’t find one source for reunions, interviews and related news. I remember the first time we (Rob from Redlight and I) met Caudill and we had a few drinks and got a little nerdy with him. Towards the end of the night, I asked him if he got weirded out by people being giant fans. He replied that he appreciates it a lot more than he used to. I thought it was a good question but that could have been the alcohol talking. By the end of the night, he started telling us about this new band that he was starting up with Popeye (from Farside). A few months later, we thought he was nice enough, so we sent him an email asking if they wanted to do a split 7" with us. They, of course, said yes.
Discuss the other members of The Albatross's staff.
We kinda just got a rag-tag crew. Right now, it’s mostly just friends who I need help from. For example, in Communication Redlight, we had Nate Gluck (Vision, Ensign, Strength 691, The Fire Still Burns) fill in on bass. Really awesome dude who helped us out a lot in the band. About a year later, Strength 691 did a reunion show and completely blew me away. I remember talking to him after the show and just saying, "man, I’m really angry that no one gave me a Strength tape when I was 15 years old. We need to do an interview for this thing I’m trying to do." The problem there was I wasn’t a fan when I was a kid and when Strength 691 was in their prime. I didn’t know what nerdy drama happened in the band back in the day. I’ve done a few interviews where right off the bat, I tell the band I'm interviewing that I don’t know who they are (I hate trying to fake it - I usually get caught) but I knew that Nate would have a lot of great stuff to say if someone just asked him the right questions. So I asked my buddy Greg (from The Wait, a band that we used to play with) to do the interview for me. He got pretty pumped about it. We attempted to do a video interview for that too. We’re still chipping away at it. I got another kid named Colin who I’ve seen at a few shows who really loves being 'involved' with anything to do with music. So over the past few weeks, he’s been posting too. I hope that it changes sooner or later but right now, I’m doing about 99% of it and it’s time consuming. I end up getting into two hour conversations with people and then have to figure out how to transcribe it. With transcribing, you can either pay someone to do it (but you still have to go through everything) or you can spend about 4-6 hours doing it yourself. Then there’s the regular blog aspect too. I get stressed just thinking about it.
You've conducted interviews with a number of '90s notables (Popeye Vogelsang, Jon Bunch, Sergie Loobkoff, etc.). Do you have any other interviews lined up with '90s people that you can talk about?
They've really been killer so far. You can start to piece a 'whole story' together after the first batch of interviews with dudes from that time period. It’s really fun. There’s also a lot of consistencies and themes that you see run through each of the bands. I kind of focused on the 'post-hardcore' time period because that’s a lot of what I was listening to when I first got into it. Well, that and ska (and I’m alright with that). You watch documentaries like American Hardcore and you see how the East Coast got introduced to the West Coast (and vice versa) and you see a lot of those same types of things happen with the 'post hardcore' era, starting in ’88 and going all the way through the 2000s. There are a bunch of people I’ve interviewed that are still just audio files sitting on my computer. Like I said before, it’s either time or money and I barely have either. I (apparently) do something pretty unique with my interviews and it’s actually pretty un-journalistic. I let the interviewee read their interview and "approve" it before I put it on the site. The way I look at it, I want a sincere story and I want someone to be honest with me when I’m talking to them. I want them to be comfortable and not worry about saying the wrong thing. The funny thing is, the interviews rarely get changed. Any changes that have been made are usually wrong information or facts that the person forgot because it was 20 years ago. I was doing the interview with Kenny Inouye (Marginal Man) and he said that was the first time that he’s ever had someone offer that. That kinda makes me feel like I’m on the right track. If someone’s too worried about giving an "official" answer, I feel like you can always tell. So, the list of interviews on my computer and in my head right now include Texas Is The Reason, Damnation AD, Ex-Number 5, Strength 691, Mace, Split Lip/Chamberlain, Gameface and, of course, part 2 of Popeye’s interview.
As a writer and as an interviewer, who are some of your influences and why?
To be honest, I don’t really consider myself either. I mean, if I end up being good at this, maybe it’ll be because I don’t really know anything. I love watching documentaries because they get to tell a full story and really paint a picture about what’s going on. I was talking about American Hardcore earlier and whether you believe it’s accurate in it's conclusions or not, I believe it did weave a story about how everything was connected in the early '80s. And compared to the book, a lot wasn’t even in the DVD. The other week, we all sat around one night drinking and I think we went through three documentaries while we were all hanging out: Daniel Johnston, Fishbone and American Hardcore. All three tell crazy stories that you can’t even get out in a two hour conversation with someone. I wanna try to squeeze that quality of story into an hour conversation. As far as my writing style, I think that I’ve always been partial to the "conversational" style a la CS Lewis or someone like that. I like to write and read like it’s a conversation. Hell, I’m sure that you can tell that strictly from this interview! I want someone to read an interview like they’re actually asking the questions and reading this stream of thought that comes from the answer.
What are some of the things that make The Albatross stand out from all the other music websites? As far as the interviews? I can only hope that I’m asking questions that a bunch of people are thinking about but have never been answered. Especially from bands that they never thought they’d hear from again. You know, to hear Popeye talk about what "Moral Straightjacket" is about, or hear Jon Bunch talk about how he’s "broken" and wants to give people hope. That’s the kind of stuff that I’m interested in. I don’t want to write interviews, I want to write conversations that two people are having over a cup of coffee (see what I did there?!). I’m trying to expand the blog part without veering too much from what I wanted to do. There’s definitely some cool stuff going on though. I just started a weekly "feature" a couple of weeks ago called "What Are You Doing?!" that just highlights the fact that Popeye and Caudill are in Your Favorite Trainwreck, or Nate from BoySetsFire is in I AM HERESY. That’s all the stuff that we sit at a bar and talk to each other about.
Discuss your now defunct band Communication Redlight.
Aren’t you supposed to wait 10 years or so before you ask that? Communication Redlight broke up last August because it just became time. It was heartbreaking for all of us. We put a lot of time into it and all have great memories of it. When we started, some of the "older" guys kinda took us under their wing because we just acted like it was '96 everytime we played. Hell, when YFT came out, we covered Gameface and Farside songs - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AoJ08L7VZokThat’s kinda what we became and we were alright with that because any time a band from that era was coming through, we’d be asked to play. For me, it was awesome to get pigeonholed like that because part of what I was doing was trying to make those crazy memories (like doing a 7" with the guys from Gameface and Farside). "Do something that you can tell your grandkids about." That was kind of the mantra that I would say to myself any time an opportunity came up. After a while though, stuff just got tougher. Last year, we had played a few reunion shows with our friends in Folly. During those three weekends, one of our guys moved up to the Catskills and another guy lost his car. It would take Frankie (guitar) two hours to get to New Brunswick. There were no two members that were closer than 40 minutes. Practices got harder. I remember we played a show with Weston in Hoboken and we hadn’t practiced in like 5 months. It just got hard, so we decided to end it on good terms before we all started hating or resenting each other. It’s a shame but it was going to happen one way or the other.
What are some of your favorite Communication Redlight songs and why?
It’s gonna sound a little cheesy but I really like all of them for different reasons. "1013" and "One More Song" are my favorites from the first round of songs. I went through a pretty weird and rough divorce when me and Rob (guitar) first started Communication. My ex-wife cheated on me a few weeks before we got married and it (obviously) didn’t end well. I was pretty heartbroken and really messed up, so I turned to music. You know, I always used to say that my first love was music and I gave up on that years ago. So I went back to it and really found a passion that I haven’t felt in about 5 or 6 years. The first round of songs (the One More Song acoustic EP) was mostly about that whole messed up situation of being married and my wife not leaving me but still cheating on me. "Advantage To Crush" was actually a song from me and Rob's old band (the band was actually called advantage to crush) which was a song that was written 8 years earlier when I first had a crush on my ex-wife. After we got Frankie, we got a little "tougher". I was over my ex and as much as I needed that release or therapy at the time, I also hate sulking over stuff. The pity party was over. "I Am The Mercy Factor" and "Intent Proceeds Content" are some of my favorites from the later stuff. I think that they really helped define what we were starting to turn into and where we were going. They started to have the tone (lyrically) of the songs that I used to write. I’m glad that I got back to that. I really hated complaining about girls.
As a singer, who are some of your influences and why?
Bad Brains, Jeff Buckley, Five Iron Frenzy, Supergrub, Jeremy Enigk, The Slackers, Skinnerbox, Sense Field, Farside, Chisel, Descendents... the list could go on and on. There are specific things that I like about each dude, so it's hard to pick a top list. It'd really have to be like a "top 20 list in no specific order" type thing. Being that I never really played an instrument, I always listened for dudes who I thought had great melodies. Even in hardcore, you can hear someone with great melodies. Bands where singers screamed their asses off but you could find a melody and dynamics, not just a tonal center. CIV was great. Walter, Shai Hulud, Strongarm, etc. The anger, emotion or whatever you wanna call it hit me a good portion of the time but when I was younger, I felt that angst in the melodies and words before I realized how brutal the instrumentation was. It took me a long time to listen for a singer as "fitting the band" rather than just sounding good. I think Clutch's self-titled album was the first time I really heard that. I hated his voice on that record when I first listened to it but those grooves were so good, I couldn’t stop listening. Eventually, I couldn’t imagine anyone else singing anything over that record. You know, doing these interviews and hearing some sincere answers to questions and not just a paragraph (or sentence) really makes me want to make this interview long. I don’t really like it and I don’t feel like anyone should listen to me and I don’t have anything good to say. Gives me a new found respect for what I do.
Are you currently doing anything band-wise? If so, please discuss.
Right now, I guess, I’m just taking it easy. I’m having some fun with something called Mase Montana. It was actually a piece of what Communication Redlight really was. I’m basically recording a bunch of acoustic covers with some of the people that I’ve met over the past few years. It’s fun, laid back and I don’t have to write lyrics. Sometimes it’s hard to be just a singer of a band because there’s so many other singers that I would love to be in a band with, but I’m too scared that I’d screw up what they got going. This is a fun way for me to drink a few beers and have fun. There are about 6 songs up there now and I probably have another 5 waiting for me to mix and sing over. I’ve done covers with some great bands too. We’ve done everything from Cyndi Lauper and Sam Cooke to The Descendents and The Lemonheads, with members (oh, I’m totally pluggin') of The Wait, Eyeswan, The Fire Still Burns, Your Favorite Trainwreck, The Scandals, Gaslight Anthem, Not The Bees and a few more that I'm forgetting right now. I’d love for it to be an ongoing project. I don’t think I’ll ever give up playing music again and hopefully soon, I'll be doing another full band. I think that the only other person from Communication who's still doing music (right now at least) is our drummer Brad. He’s doing some heavy stoner rock type stuff. It’s brutal. I think they just booked their first show and, in true punk rock fashion, don’t have a name yet.