An American rock & roller checks in from his home base in Spain.
It’s been almost 20 years since The Leftovers got together. What’s your perspective on your old band and the early 2000s pop punk scene?
I’m always a bit amazed that people still continue to be interested in and listen to The Leftovers, actually. I’m really proud of the last couple albums we recorded, On the Move and Eager to Please, and the experiences we had shaped my life going forward in music. We had a lot of great adventures on the road and met so so so many cool people along the way. Over the years I’ve continued to stay in touch and crossed paths with a lot of musicians and promoters that I first met during The Leftovers years, and it’s been a trip to see where we have all grown musically.
The Leftovers really picked up when we heard the record Total by Teenage Bottlerocket, and in some respects I think that record really kicked off a new generation of pop punk. Between 2005–2010 that pop punk scene really coalesced with great bands and great records, and the best showcase of that explosion of music was probably the Insubordination Fest which was held in Baltimore during those years. The 90’s had the Lookout Records pop punk scene, and this was like a second wave of sorts. For The Leftovers to be a part of that movement was amazing. However, by the time 2010 rolled around I had noticed that the music in the pop punk scene was morphing into a sound akin to four drunk guys singing altogether in unison, with less emphasis on melody. I had always been driven by the melody in music, and by then I had kinda branched away from just the simple three-chord, Ramones-core thing and wanted to try out a new direction.
So the timing kinda worked out because The Leftovers broke up in 2010 which meant I could start doing my own thing. I’ve often thought it could be great to do a Leftovers reunion, maybe someday it’ll happen?
Speaking of perspective, you’ve lived in Madrid for a six years now. How has your immersion in another culture influenced or changed your relationship to music?
I haven’t had the urge to record a flamenco album, but I must say that the passion that people here have for all things rock & roll has inspired me to dig deeper and discover new music. My friends and bandmates here have turned me on to so much good music from Spain and abroad. I think the most inspiring thing for me is the passion that people here have for the essential and iconic musical genres from the USA and the UK.
Lately, I’ve also delved into a ton of wonderful music from France. The radio in Spain and France is terrific. Here in Spain, the National Radio 3 station has musical programs that make NPR look like a joke. Not to knock NPR, which I love, but for example here you’ve got a radio show called El Sótano, which airs every weekday from 7:00pm–8:00pm—prime time—and they feature all the best contemporary and classic rock & roll, punk, power pop, garage, R&B and more. That’s on the national radio here at prime time! It’s amazing. And the rest of the programs on Radio 3 are more or less great. There is this one where a lady just talks about trees, and it’s all in Spanish, so I usually find that to be a bit boring. But the rest? Awesome. In France, Radio Nova plays a great mix of tunes. So, yeah, just turning on the radio here gives me the desire and motivation to create and write more music.
If anything, living here has given me the opportunity to play, write, and record more. I came here to do exactly that, so I’m pretty happy with how things have worked out.
Your side project, The Gold, was some of my favorite music in 2019. What inspired you to go in that 70s CBGB direction?
I’m really glad you dig The Gold! The band started out as just a fun project, but we did get serious with it in 2018 and decided to finally record a full-length record that came out last year. The band really was born out of the friendships I’ve made here in the center of Madrid. Marky and Oky are two guys that are staples to the “Malasaña Rock & Roll Community” (Malasaña being a neighborhood that’s kind of the epicenter of counterculture with lots of great clubs and a history of being the “Lower East Side” of Madrid). Hanging out in Malasaña, and experiencing life in the city with Marky and Oky, was a big influence for the band. So naturally, we gravitated to those big city rock sounds — Johnny Thunders, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed.
The first record has that vibe going on for sure. I used to live next to Marky, so he would come over and we’d write songs. Marky is a true character, a lovely guy, and he’d always have crazy stories to tell about the night before, some wild party or crazy situation and those narratives became the basis of the songs. Later, our friend Mark, who played in Chixdiggit, joined The Gold and he’s a perfect match because he’s always at the parties with Marky, Oky and I, and just recently our friend David joined the group on bass, another staple to the Malasaña rock & roll scene. And he’s got a lot of tattoos. Haha!
Pop Punk? Power Pop? Punk? What’s your feeling about genres?
It’s really impossible to escape having your music not be labeled or associated with a genre. And those artists whose music defies or bends genres to the extreme are often creating art from outside of the realm of pop or ‘“popular” music. I’ve always been a fan of music that has an element of “pop” to it—not so much “stylistically,” but more based on “accessibility.” Especially in this day and age with algorithms and streaming music services, a genre tag can help expose your music to many new ears.
I really don’t have a problem with any genre, or what genres people associate with my music. I do think it’s up to the listener. A lot of music fans won’t touch a record if it’s deemed by critics as “power pop” or (vice versa) “pop punk,” which for me is more matter of small-mindedness than anything else. A good song is a good song.
What are you listening to these days?
Lately I’ve been getting back into my love for early Ska and rocksteady music. Reggae too. The latest record from The Strokes is really great. Also the latest from the Italian glam rock band Faz Waltz. I really dug the new tune from The Rolling Stones, “Living In a Ghost Town.” It definitely hit the spot considering that for over two months I was living in a real ghost town — Madrid — due to COVID-19. Been listening to a lot of Serge Gainsbourg, and even some early 90’s techno music from Detroit. A mix of everything. I also like the latest stuff Billie Joe Armstrong has been doing with his cover songs, and the last Green Day record is really great.
What music are you working on right now?
I just finished up a brand new record that will be out on Wicked Cool Records this fall. It’s called After Party, and it’s 12 new songs that I co-wrote with my friend Wyatt Funderburk, who also produced the record. We also got the guys from the band that I had back in the States before moving to Spain on the record. So it’s a reunion album of sorts. Kris Rodgers is back on the keys and backing vocals, Geoff from The Connection on guitar, and Craig Sala on drums. After two records with The Kurt Baker Combo, I wanted to change things up, and I was itching to get back to work with my old mates and create something akin to the records we did like Brand New Beat and Play It Cool.
In my opinion, this record tops anything I’ve done previously and I’m very very excited to release it, and—when things are safe again—to tour, play shows, and bring these new tunes to the people. So, since we started writing and recording the record last fall, I’ve been consumed with that, but now the record is being mastered. During the quarantine, I’ve been doing some writing for other groups, and that’s something I’d like to explore more. I love writing songs and making demos, and it’s not only an honor to work with other groups, but it’s a lot of fun to collaborate. If anybody has a case of writer’s block and would like some help, give me a call and we’ll make a fun tune.