Friday 31 August 2012

20 Questions w/ Fight Amp!

Fight Amp 2012


Hey guys.  Aaron here again with another edition of the world famous 20 questions interviews.  This week we bring you the excellent New Jersey noise rock crew, Fight Amp.
I reviewed their amazing split 7" with Burning Love a few weeks ago here and with the impending release of their 3rd full length album, Birth Control, I thought it would be cool to get the band to talk to us.  Too my surprise, Mike McGinnis was kind enough to hook us up and answer some questions.  Its a great interview and I can't thank Mike enough for taking the time to talk to us.  Enjoy
Q). Hey Mike, how are you?  I appreciate you taking the time to talk to talk to us, here at the Sludgelord.
A: Hey, thanks for the review and interview. We're always stoked to work with blogs like yours.
Q). Where are you at the moment and what are you doing, in terms of the band?  You got a new record coming out, presumably you’re preparing for a big tour, right?
A: Basically we're in waiting mode, just counting down until Birth Control comes out. We have an eastern half of the US tour planned for the fall in which we'll hit The Fest 11 in Gainesville and a couple other fests we're playing along the route that have yet to be announced. We're casually writing some new material while we're hanging at home and practicing a couple different sets for when we hit the road.
Q). I recently reviewed you split 7” with Burning Love, which is an amazing disc and package, however for those people who are unfamiliar with your music.   Could you tell me little bit about the history of the band and some of the bands you've played with? Where you’re from, when Fight Amp first formed? Current band members?
A: Thanks for the kind words. We were real happy to be able to work with Hell Comes Home as that's an amazing and ambitious project that Joel put together. It was an added bonus when we found out we were able to do our split with our friends Burning Love. As far as a brief Fight Amp history...we're all originally from West Deptford, NJ, a suburb of Philadelphia. We started in the fall of 2003 and played our first show in January of 2004. Jon and I have been steady members since we started and our current (and hopefully lasting) line-up consists of myself (Mike McGinnis) on guitar and vocals, Jon Dehart on bass and vocals, and our new drummer Dan Smith behind the kit. Dan started playing with us on a national tour we did with Weedeater, Saviours and Bison BC last September/October and has stayed with us since then. We've been touring every year since we started, sometimes as a part of packages and other times by ourselves. Aside from the Weedeater tour we've done packages with Trap Them, Kylesa, Zoroaster, Rosetta, A Life Once Lost, Coliseum, Burning Love and a bunch more. All in all we've been able to do stuff with bands we've been fans of for years so we consider ourselves lucky to be in the position we're in.
Q). Is Fight Amp a full time project, or do have other bands?
A: Fight Amp is definitely full time. Dan, our drummer, is in another band called Prophet Said I as well.
Q). Probably a stupid question, but are you or would you like to be full time musicians? Presumably you work jobs too, right?
A: If given the opportunity we'd quit our day jobs and tour with Fight Amp for the majority of the time, but that's much easier said than done. We all have day jobs (most of the time) but we generally keep the type of jobs that allow us to tour when the opportunity arises.
Q). Are you big fans of rock/metal, if so what are you listening too at the moment?
A: Yeah, those genres are important to us for sure. I'm spinning Talking Heads – Remain In Light while I'm answering these questions and just took Steel Pole Bathtub – Tulip off of the turntable. As far as new bands, I think the record industry may not be what it used to be, but it seems like there are a ton of great current metal bands and rock and roll influenced bands playing right now. I think it's a testament to metal/punk/rock itself that when the industry is in this massive transitional phase that bands like Torche, Red Fang, Kylesa, Weedeater, Baroness and others like them are able to forge past the roadblocks, bring their music to large audiences while still maintaining integrity and creative control.
Q). When you started Fight Amp or Fight Amputation as you were previously known, what were your hopes for the band?
A: I can't speak for the other guys in the band, but we've honestly exceeded the goals I had in 2003/2004. Granted, those goals weren't too lofty. I think when we first started playing the goal was to shed the types of band members that had stopped us from touring and putting out records, and we finally were able to put together a group of people that wanted to do those things. Tour and put out a record or two. We had already gotten a tour and a record under our belts by late 2004 (we did a Black Flag style super messy summer tour with our friends Gunna Vahm that summer and Reptilian Records released a split 7” between the two bands by that winter) so since then it's really just been setting our sights on the next goal and trying to get there. We had no 5 year plan at that point; I was 19 years old and was happy to be in a van with my friends headed out of state. I'm 27 now and still happy to be doing those things, but we're now always in a better position than the year before, so we keep trying to push forward and cover new ground.
Q). If someone was unfamiliar with your band, how would you describe your sound? Has it evolved?
A: I guess it depends who I'm talking to. I generally just keep it simple and tell people punk or metal if they're not too into music beyond the radio or what's popular. Otherwise, I usually say punk/metal influenced noise-rock. We honestly have a pretty hefty hardcore influence too, and that used to show a lot more in our early stuff. That's the evolution that happened, and it was totally inadvertent. We still show hints   of it though, and I think our sound just got more well-rounded. It's almost like once a band blends punk, metal, hardcore and rock and it becomes more seamless is when they get dubbed “noise-rock” or half-jokingly “grunge”. Most of that stuff is generally influenced by a little bit of each of those genres and beyond and those terms almost seem like a place to put bands that don't adhere to one or two genres exclusively. Our buddy Christian from the band Whores has semi-seriously dubbed what his band, Fight Amp and a bunch of others do as “second wave” noise rock. I'm down to push that moniker if he is, it always seems like people can dig something more if they can identify with the label its given.
Q). Why the name, Fight Amp / Amputation?  Where did the name come from?
A: It came from two places really. There's a line that loosely references it in Velvet Underground's “Rock and Roll”, and there's also a His Hero Is Gone song called “Voluntary Amputation” on Fifteen Counts of Arson. Both of those bands are heavy influences on us and I guess we just picked up on the term amputation from both of those records.
Burning Love / Fight Amp Split 7" cover art
Q). What is the scene like in your hometown of New Jersey?
A: Two out of three of us live in Philadelphia right now, and the part of NJ we're from and one of us is currently living is right in the shadow of Philly. We've always fed off of the scene in Philadelphia and shows here are our hometown shows just like when we play in NJ. We've also always tried to support things that happen independently of the city in NJ and have thrown shows there in the past, lived in houses where we've been able to have basement shows often, and tried to generally give it a name of it's own. Honestly though, it's tough without a central city and Philadelphia right in the background. As far as the scene right now in Philly and it's surrounding areas, I'd say it's doing fairly well and there are still good show spots in rotation in most parts of the city. A few new spots have opened recently and new people have been taking the reins of booking here and there. There are also a bunch of good bands playing locally right now like Ladder Devils, Bardus, Bubonic Bear, Cassilis, A Life Once Lost, Sadgiqacea, Far Out Fangtooth, Pissed Jeans, Gholas, Psychic Teens and a bunch more.
Q). What made you start the band?  Did you all know each other before you formed?
A: Like I said before, basically just the urge to tour and put out records. The first line-up of Fight Amp, which included Jon and I and our first drummer Scott, second guitar player Mitchell and singer Sean was basically a coming together of our previous two bands, Funeral Bird and David Is Burning. Neither of those bands were ever able to put out a real record or do a real tour because of personal bullshit, so we just wanted to move past that point. Jon was the only member that wasn't in either of those bands, but he and I actually grew up in the same neighborhood and knew each since as far back as I can remember.
Q). Do you view yourselves as an underground band, if so, Is it a struggle in your hometown and is their camaraderie within the scene?
A: I never really thought about how underground we are honestly. I always view us as having a cult following. We don't have a ton of fans, but the ones that are into us seem to dig us a lot and always support us. Honestly our following is more of a nation-wide thing since we've always toured and just slowly built it up on the road rather than concentrating on our home-town. It's not a struggle here by any means though, we generally play some awesome shows here when we do and can headline smaller venues if the line-up calls for it. Camaraderie is an interesting thing here...there is definitely some that exists, but a lot of it is splintered between different groups. It's always changing and hard to describe really, but it always seemed to me like the scene here used to have really diverse crowds and shows, and lately the genres have sort of separated from each other a bit and metal shows are metal shows, hardcore shows are hardcore shows, etc. That's not to say there isn't camaraderie though, just a bit more separation.
Q). Listening to your music, I felt there is an influence of 90’s noise rock, such as the AmRep bands, such as Helmet and also bands such as Scratch Acid for example. What would you say are your direct influences musically and artistically? Did those influences contribute directly or indirectly to the type of music you write?
A: Helmet and Scratch Acid specifically are pretty big influences on us. Direct influences are hard to say sometimes, because we don't ever try to sound like one genre or one group of bands. All three of us and all of our past members have had pretty large and diverse tastes in music, so it all bleeds through sometimes. You may not hear it, but a lot of it happens within the writing of the song-structure rather than specific riffs or parts. For example, we're huge Pixies fans, huge Sonic Youth fans, and while our music doesn't sound like those bands, we've learned a lot of song-structures and writing techniques from the records those bands have done and a lot of that lies deep in our music. As far as what we wear more visibly on our sleeve, a lot of people say (and I agree on most of these) that we can be similar to Melvins, Karp, Nirvana, Unsane, Cherubs, Helmet, Black Flag and a bunch more.
Q). What are your views of blogs such as the Sludgelord reviewing your records, as opposed to mainstream music magazines?  Has your music reached the mainstream mags, at home or around the world?  Is the mainstream something you aspire too?
A: I love when blogs review and interviews us and cover us at all. There's a way more personal touch than something mainstream, obviously. We have been in a bunch of mainstream magazines though, and that's always cool too. I don't know if we aspire to the mainstream or anything like that, but we'll always take what we can get within reason. Whatever makes what we do easier for us and for people to hear us is fine by me, as long as we maintain our integrity and creative control.
Q). Your split 7” with Burning Love is amazing, as is the Hell Comes Home mail order package, some amazing bands on there.  How did that come about and what are your thoughts about it looking back?  Is the song on there, representative of the direction of your current record, Birth Control?
A: Joel approached us with this incredibly ambitious subscription club. He put together such an awesome group of bands so we were immediately into doing it. It's a lot like the Sub Pop subscription club they did way back, and it's honestly an awesome idea that will introduce a ton of people to a bunch of bands they wouldn't otherwise hear. We're happy to be a part of it. The song we contributed actually is appearing on Birth Control, but it's an alternate version with a different drummer, a little slower and sludgier and recorded to tape rather than digitally like the Hell Comes Home version. We intentionally made it slightly different so it wasn't the same exact thing that appears on the 7”.
Q). Birth Control will be your 4th full length release to date, how does this record compare to your previous records and is it your best work to date?  What can we expect from Birth Control?
A: It's actually our third full length, although we've had so many splits and short releases at this point that they exceed another full length. Birth Control, I think, is the best of both worlds when compared to our records Hungry for Nothing and Manners and Praise. I think we sort of combined elements from both of those records while moving forward and making a record that was more album-oriented with peaks and valleys. I think it's our best work to date without question, but of course I probably said the same thing when asked that question after the other full lengths as well. If you're not saying that on the heels of completing your most recent record, then something isn't quite right. I can say this time though, when I think about each individual element of the album, that it's the best we've done. I think it's our best vocal effort, our best production, our best tones for each individual instrument, our best song writing, and our best album structure. Again though, that's all relative to the listener, so we'll see how people feel about it.
Q). Some of your previous records were produced by Philip Cope of Kylesa fame and Kylesa were actually selling your CDs when I saw them in Sheffield, England in 2010/11.  Seems like he and Kylesa are prominent figures in support of your band, is Philip doing this one (Birth Control) and what was he like to work with?  He’s an amazing talent.
A: That's awesome he was selling Fight Amp CDs. I can't say enough good things about Philip Cope to be honest. I've liked and respected him and his bands since Damad, and I continue to be a Kylesa fan. He and the other members of Kylesa have always supported us and it's been awesome being friends with those guys, they're real good people. Philip did not produce Birth Control. We decided to stay local this time and go to a studio in our backyard and mostly self-produce. I can't say the album wouldn't have come out just as awesome with him at the helm though, I'm sure it would have. Working with him on our previous two full lengths were great experiences, and Philip has knowledge about heavy music, recording and producing that should be shared with other heavy bands and helped make us who we are today as a band. We hope to work and tour with him again in the future.
Q). Does it surprise you when people buy your music and merch?
A: Hah. Sometimes, yes. I'm most surprised when people tell me “Fight Amp is my favorite band.” That's sort of heavy and I'm not sure I even understand the implications of that statement...hah.
 Q). 3 albums and 5 splits since the bands inception, what are some of your highlights so far? What are your aspirations for the future?
A: Most of the highlights come from tours and recording albums. Recording the three full lengths has each been an awesome experience of it's own, from living in The Jam Room crammed in there with Phil Cope, no shower, and nothing but Sam Adams Winter Lager to drink (it was summer) for a couple weeks on end, to getting too drunk for Steve Poponi's comfort in Gradwell Studios. Our early tours were by the skin of our teeth type situations, usually rolling into towns on fumes and hoping to make enough to get to the next city, eating dollar store bread and cans of tuna, so we had a hell of a lot of crazy experiences on those trips. We even cleaned the Emos bathrooms and floors one day for extra money on an early tour. Lately it's the people we meet and the people we tour with more than anything. Spending 7 weeks with Dixie Dave filled my mental notebook with stories. As far as the future, we just want to hit the road for Birth Control and help spread it around as much as possible. We hope to spend some more time with more awesome bands, and hopefully get to Europe in the next year or so.
Q). You’re signed to the awesome Translation Loss label, were you fans of the label before you were signed and how did that come about?
A: Yes, at the time (2007) Translation Loss wasn't as big as they are now, and I knew Drew long before he started the label from playing with his band, Balboa. They had shown interest in us early-on, and I knew Drew as a friend and his label from being local and some of the records that had started to release, so things just worked out. We actually agreed to sign with them during the recording of Hungry For Nothing, as the indie label that was planning on putting that record out dropped out of the project the day before we left for the studio, and TL came to the rescue and did an awesome job promoting Hungry.
Q). Do you have any interesting stories from your tours, favourite’s places you’ve toured and bands you’ve toured with?
A: Well, more stories than I can write down or even remember to be honest. Just for the hell of it, I'll tell you that one time in Montreal, I had a bit too much to drink while in the red light district, quit Fight Amp and fired the other band members at the same time, wandered into the city (I had never been there before in my life), got lost, and slept in an alley for about an hour. We got completely separated, and one of the last things I remember is being freezing cold and finding a hotel. The guy there let me rent a room (I had just enough space left on a credit card that I was saving for bills) and I woke up in a hot-tub the next morning with french TV blaring at me. That was my low moment, figured I'd throw it out there for you. Hah. As far as favorite places, anywhere in Canada is always killer, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco/Oakland, Atlanta, Chicago, New Orleans, Austin....a bunch more have shown us awesome times, but I'd fill this page up if I kept going. Also, I can't say there's a single band we've toured with that we didn't enjoy sharing the road with.
Q). Did you have an agenda or a game plan in terms of what you wanted to write for Birth Control? Does everyone contribute song ideas?
A: This was actually the most we ever planned out the writing of a record. In the past, we've always had a lot of songs and then organized them into a record after the fact (with a few exceptions, especially on Manners and Praise). This time we actually lined up eight ideas as far as theme and lyrics went, and then filled in the blanks from there as we wrote and inserted music into the spaces we created. We also were way more aware of what was missing on the album as we went. As we approached the end of writing it, for example, we realized most of the songs were mid-paced or fast, and we wanted to have peaks and valleys, so we were wrote a couple of slow songs at the end of the process to help round it out. This process was a change for us but it actually really worked for us and I'm sure we'll use it again. We're the type of band where every member contributes to the writing process. Sometimes someone will take the lead and pour out ideas, but it's really whoever has the ideas at the time that brings stuff to the table, then we all shape the song together. I will say that Jon and I have always been the two primary songwriters, but every drummer we've played with has had crucial input on our songs, and every past member has had creative input here and there while playing with us.
Q). How do you feel about the digital era of music and people downloading music for free? Would you or have you ever considered releasing your music for free or ‘pay what you like’ to raise the profile of the band?
A: Personally I think the digital era is inevitable and whether we like it or not it's here to stay. I'd love for more people to be into physical copies, but that's just not the case. I like being able to download music, and I know others do too. It's a double-edged sword, and I think it helps more bands than it hurts, but knowing for sure the positive or negative impacts is impossible. No alternate reality exists where the digital age never happened, so there is no way to judge it for sure, even by looking at rock and roll history. I support music blogs and anything independent, therefore I support the digital era of music, at least to a certain extent. We actually do have a lot of our albums available for name-your-own-price or really cheap on our Bandcamp site. It's just not possible to do that with everything though, as there are labels involved, etc.
Q). What are your plans for the rest of the year and any chance you're coming over to the UK?
A: Basically just do the Birth Control record release tour and prepare for as much touring as possible next year. We'll also be working on new material in our off-time. No solid plans to get over to the UK, but we'd love to if the opportunity existed.
Q). Thanks for answering my questions, but one final question, do you have anything you like to say to your fans?
A: Thank you! I can't say this enough, every time someone asks me this question; thank you to everyone out there that has supported us, come to our shows, bought our records, cooked us dinner, let us sleep on your couch, toured with us, etc etc. Without you guys we'd be nothing but three dudes jamming in our basements.
Again I have to say a massive thank you to Mike McGinnis for hooking us up with this amazing interview.  Top man!  Do yourselves a favour and check out this amazing band.  You can preorder their new album here.  Also check out the link below for more info about the band and the amazing Translation Loss Label