INTERVIEW: the Billbondsmen
MATW: While it's a rather unadventurous first question, I have to admit I don't know that much about you guys and am rather curious: how long have the Bill Bondsmen been around and under what circumstances did you get together?
Rob: Ugh......I think things got underway in 03? Amado and I have been playing together for years in the Bump N Uglies and he was talking about starting a side project and he asked if i was interested, to which i replied with a "yes". At the time it was Tony, Amado, Nick Chunks (who quit after the first show) and I. Shortly afterwards Bunny joined for a piece of time and we decided we needed a more aggressive drummer, enter Mark aka Lobo.
Gabby: I can't recall the exact month or anything but I know it was still cold out and we were only together with that line up for a little while before we played out. I think our first show was on Mother's Day with Damage Deposit and Any Last Words.
I was spinning records at a few local clubs for money and free drinks after i muscled my way into it because I was pretty tired of the weak stuff that got played at "punk nights" at bars here. After a while I got Amado on board so I could enjoy more free drinks (and half the pay). Regardless, I wanted to start a band and Amado is probably the best guitar player i've ever heard so I asked. He got Rob on board and we went thru two other drummers (Chunks and Bunny) before we met Mark and the line up has been stable since 2004.
I think we just wanted to start a good shitbag hardcore punk band and see what happened.
MATW: I have heard you guys have been together for a good while, but your recorded output is a bit limited. Why is that?
Rob: I wouldn't really say it's limited. We were together for about 2 years before we really got a solid line-up that we were comfortable with, which naturally is going to slow things down a wee bit as far as recording and whatnot..
G : Well, not too limited. There's 21-22 songs out as the release of the ".--. | ..--.. | ... | ..--.. | | -.-- --- ..- | .-. . | ..-. ..- -.-. -.- . -.." 12", depending on how you're counting, and two songs covered. It took Black Flag from 76 or 77 to 81 to do 29 songs and a cover. We're only .3 songs off the mark!
I dunno. I think it's us not wanting to put out filler. We're all pretty committed to not writing the same song over and over just to have more songs. I'd rather have the amount we have and be happy with how they sound rather than just record stuff to fill space. We all spend a lot of time on our portions of the process. Whether anyone can tell I don't know but it means something to us.
Lobo : We've had stuff recorded but with the exception of the 1st 7" that Gabby and Rob put out and the second ep on Acme, we had some delays with getting our stuff out for various reasons, but now we have 3 releases that came out almost all at once and the next one will come out soon.
MATW: What was it like recording with Jim Diamond at Ghetto Recorders for your recent records? Given his work going back to the Gories, I would think the guy had a great ear for loud, raw music and would be a shoo in for recording more hardcore gems. Do you know if he's recorded any other hardcore bands besides you guys at this point?
G: We've actually recorded everything, except two demos and one aborted session that's been Stalinized at an unnamed location, with Jim. He understands what we are doing and what we want as far as the sonic and asthetic aspects. He's recorded some stuff that I really love and he is great to work with. I also like the idea of recording to two inch tape because i'm an analog snob.
L: It's laid back recording with Jim. We set up in a big room that used to be a chicken slaughter house and record all the music together live, usually one take. It's simple and quick which is great because I hate recording.
Rob: It's a breeze recording with the Gentleman. The Bump N Uglies have been recording with him for years, so Amado and I were already familiar with how he ran things. He lends an honest ear and knows what we're looking for. It's a pretty layed back atmosphere. He's recorded everything that we've released thus far and i would imagine he'll continue to do so.
MATW: Did he have any other influence or production-type input in what you recorded with him or did he just work as an engineer?
Rob: Like I typed, he's got an honest ear. If something sound a wee bit wonky, he'll let us know about it. He'll offer suggestions and sometimes have a rough mix ready for us when we show up to mix, after that its just a matter of tweaking everything until we're happy with it.
G: He's pretty much engineering for us. He has definately given us some great suggestions regarding equipment and he knows how to capture the sound but we usually come in pretty set on what we want sound wise. Basically, mixdowns are all of us and Jim sitting in the board room listening to playbacks and we tell him what we want as far as levels, sound, effect, etc. None of us works the board but I think that's pretty common for most studios. I mean, would you let us mess around with something you own that costs thousands?
L: We sit with him during the mixing and just tell him we want everything louder for an hour. Our recordings are a work in progress. I think they sound better each time we make a new one. We crank through it pretty quick. Hopefully I'll figure out how to make my drums sound the way I want. Maybe by the 10th record.
MATW: I checked out the "F.A.Q." section you had set up on your myspace page and had a bit of a chuckle over the description of your "demands" regarding playing shows. Most seemed rather straight forward and down to earth; have you had to deal with a lot of problematic shows which lead you to put that together on your page?
G : Since putting that up I have received at least 10 additional emails asking to play shows a week to two weeks away, people wanting to mail order records to countries where distributors have the records available at cheaper prices, etc.
We have never really had any problems with this band but it’s happened with other bands we’ve been in. I’m pretty hard nosed about making sure we don’t deal with people who shouldn’t organize anything more complex than an aquarium. That’s not to say we won’t deal with people who are new to setting up shows. We played a show in Denmark with Cola Freaks and Asshole Parade that was the promoters first show and she did an incredible job.
Rob: I wouldn't say "problematic", but when you show up and they ask you if you've brought a P.A...........
MATW: Another thing I noticed about this aforementioned FAQ section is that you seemed tired of people asking about your past bands. On the one hand, it's obvious that you don't want people harping on past accomplishments. On the other, it's kind of cool to have a culture that keeps folks interested in past bands that might otherwise fall into obscurity. What specifically bothers you about people asking you about it?
G : Good question. We have all been in various bands (some still are) to varying degrees of success. We make no secret of it but we don't want it used as a marketing tool. It's cheap. Because, if you like those other bands you may not like us at all. I can think of a recent time I went to see a band because they were listed as "ex _____" and it disappointed me because it was nothing like what I was expecting. I'd rather let the music do the talking. Again, we make no secrets of prior or current bands but I think we all agree it doesn't belong on a flyer.
Rob: I don't mind at all when people ask about bands we've been in. As far as I know, Amado and I are the only ones in the Bill Bondsmen that have released anything while in other bands or played more than a handful of shows so I don't even know why that's an issue. If people do bring it up, it's usually a comparison on how the 2 bands differ. I have no problem with it.
MATW: The vibe I get from you guys is that you're a bit older than your typical punker at shows. Am I accurate in this estimation? It gets harder to juggle playing music and regular life as you get older; how do you guys manage to handle it, still getting to do all that stuff bands try to do (touring, playing shows, recording, etc)?
Rob: Its just a matter of making time for what you think is important in your life. My work is aware that i might need a day off here or there, and to their credit, put up with a lot of my shit. It hasn't posed a problem yet as long as i tell them the date(s) far enough in advance.
G : Yes. We're all in our 30's which put's us outside the average age I guess. It can be tiring and it requires more thought than if we were all 18 again but whatever. Hardcore punk has always meant "do something" to me. Standing by the sidelines and just watching was never really an option. I've stepped back my activity over the years but I don't think I could give it up and live like most people.
MATW: How do you find your motivations and reasons for playing have changed over the years?
Rob: Personally i don't think the reasons have changed at all. I started out playing music because it was fun and it was a release. Simple as that.
G : Not really. The only thing that I think has changed at all is that it's not as "whatever" anymore. We're not some well oiled machine but we work a bit more at making sure the wheels don't fall off than we did in the past.
L : Yeah, the motivation is the same, to create something and have fun.
MATW: There seems to be a recent interest in hardcore bands from other music scenes (I'm thinking here of the success of a band like Fucked Up). For the most part, the hardcore scene is very insular, and while the Bill Bondsmen are pretty undeniably a hardcore band, there's enough going on music- and composition-wise, that it might appeal to a similar kind of audience crossing over from other styles of music. Folks not involved in the hardcore scene liking some hardcore bands is not entirely a novel idea, but it seems to pop up every now and again. Do you have any particular thoughts on this phenomena? Would you be interested in taking the Bill Bondsmen to a similar level if the opportunity arose (which would obviously mean touring a lot more and the like)?
Rob: I guess you would have to have to more accurately define "a similar level". If we could tour a few months out of the year, not starve, and pay all our bills, I'd do it in a heartbeat. But I wouldn't be willing to put everything we've done in the hands of someone else.
G : Ahhh! The hypothetical/theoretical question! I don't think you could take all the hardcore punk related records' sales figures together and come up with a gold record so it’s all relatively insignificant to discuss.
The music will come and go out of style. If anyone is going to get rich off of it or "take it to the next level" it'll be some thick necked jockcore band. We’re too fucking weird, I think, to even semi “cross over” not to mention not really having a “look” or a “marketing scene”.
L : I don't think we could cross-over it we tried. The people who like us like diy hardcore punk. It's an acquired taste and it's not marketable. Just the way we like it.
MATW: Since you guys hail from the Detroit area, I have to admit; in the past 15 years I can hardly think of any hardcore bands from Detroit, in spite of Detroit's important hardcore pedigree. Seems like there's a lot more garage rock and noisy type shit than hardcore punk. What's the hardcore scene like in Detroit, and is my ignorance of the Detroit hardcore scene unjustified? Is there any interaction between those scenes?
Rob : I think as far as the 90's went in Detroit, it was pretty lackluster. It was almost like a changing of the guards in some ways. A lot of older bands were breaking up or fading away and a lot of younger bands were coming up with a different approach to do things. There were a lot of fights at shows, and even somewhat of a gang mentality. People would say "support the scene", and then you'd go see a show and the same guy is starting fights, which I'm sure turned away people that might've come to see their first local show. There were a lot of good bands too, but unfortunately i don't think many of them had much ambition to do much outside Detroit, with the exception of a few bands. I think part of it was that the generation of punks before were more self destructive. There was always a fire burning, it might not have been very visible at times, but it was there.
G : That's probably because nobody toured for the longest beyond a select few. There were some great bands here post the whole T & G thing. S.B.L.C., Feisty Cadavers, the original Cold As Life, Catfish, Epileptix, Ottawa, Herb Tarlicks, etc all come to mind. But, there was a bad time where a lot of bad things happened and things kind of died out. Mosh metal kung fu bands cropped up etc. Same thing seems to have happened all over as bands like Acme, Coalesce, Converge, Earth Crisis, etc got big. I don't think you're unjustified because a lot of what happened here, stayed here. Some of that with good reason. Some with no reason at all.
There never was a garage scene or any other scene here. People think of Detroit as a city but the reality is that the "Detroit music scene" is actually spread out over three counties that comprise "metro Detroit". Everyone is from Detroit but very few are literally from Detroit if you follow. There's very little communication between everyone because it would be impossible. The thing that happens though is that you get bands that wouldn't play together in other places do play together here and people that would normally only go to a certain type of show will go see other stuff. Hence, electro new wave dudes having a dance off between sets by us, Under Pressure, Dry Rot, and Deathskin Razors last Saturday or us playing a bill with Human Eye and Upstab. Weird things happen here because Detroit's just not that hung up.
We usually play to a buncha ragers who just wanna have fun. A lot of them don't look the part. Technically, neither do we. So be it. I like playing to a bunch of people who just want to have some fun and get crazy better than people who have their score cards out to see who's up to snuff by today's standards.
MATW: What's the economics of doing a band in Detroit like? I know from experience in New York, nowadays at least, is really tough. It's an expensive city, practicing is expensive, most people don't own their own cars or vans, so you have to be wily about dealing with the ins and outs of being in a band (or be rich), and a lot of NY bands over the years just can't/ don't tour. My ass is in Montreal these days--- it's a lot easier, but here you have to deal with borders if you want to get to the States, and long drives if you want to cross Canada. What kind of band hardships (or advantages, for that matter) do folks experience in Detroit? How about the Bill Bondsment specifically?
Rob: Detroit's always seemed to be hit or miss. The Midwest is nice though because everything is relatively close. Chicago is 4 hours, Cleveland is a little over 2. Sometimes getting people out is a challenge.
G : Well, we practice in Lobo's basement and we usually play places that we know won't fuck us. It's not bad here. It's just hard getting people out because there's so many people and it's hard to get the word out since the whole internet thing. People don't go to record stores looking for flyers like they used to and the grapevine is whatever messageboard people are looking at or if people check their myspace bulletins or their invites. You pretty much have your work cut out for you to get people out some times. We do well enough to not struggle to do things like pay to record etc.
We're also really lucky to live where we do because we can hit places like Chicago, Cleveland, Milwaukee, etc and it's not that far. We don't have a van but it's never hurt us.
L : Being in a band is easy around here. Lots of houses with basements you can get for cheap. You can make all the noise you want and won't get hassled.
MATW: I hear you guys just did a European tour. Any highlights from there you'd like to share? Any final words to leave us with?
Rob: We did 4 weeks in Europe. To sum it up in one word? AMAZING! For fear of forgetting someone, i just want to thank everyone that fed us, gave us a place to sleep, gave us directions, came to see us and to all the bands we played with. Thank You! I can't wait to go back and remember, we'll always have wherever we were.
G : Way too many. Playing with Cola Freaks, Idiots Rule, A.N.S., Dean Dirg, Rats, Feeding Time, Lost Boys, et al and meeting people there (IFFI!!!!) was incredible. Pretty much every show was great and we had a blast. We'll be back soon. Thanks! New record out now, more stuff very soon, etc etc etc.