MEB staffer Austin Gordon caught up with vocalist Derek Archambault of Defeater at the end of Warped Tour to answer the deep questions, talk about their newest record Letters Home, punk rock, and more.
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MEB: Near the start of Warped Tour, I had read in an earlier interview that people weren’t exactly welcoming to the response of you guys joining Warped Tour. After putting it out there why you guys did, which of course is a perfectly logical reason to be a part of this, has the response changed? I’d surely hope so.
Derek Archambault: I didn’t know that there was any negative repercussions of us saying that we were joining Warped Tour. We were just apprehensive because as much as we knew that a bunch of our friends were going to be on this tour and it was going to be great no matter what, we just didn’t think that other bands would like us, or that we had enough crossover with kids who come to Warped Tour to see bands that have been around forever, bands that have been around for 10, 15 years putting out solid records. We’ve only been a band for five years and we’re a hardcore band. We made our stay playing basements and playing halls. If there was anything negative it was just some kids being like “fucking sellouts”.
The people that work on this tour, have been in punk rock for fucking ever.
I don’t think people that talk shit really even know what Warped Tour is.
At this point, the people that are behind the scenes, are just the fucking raddest people. We’ve made a lot of friends on this tour with bands we thought we never would, it’s been an opening, welcoming experience. Fuck it.
Now getting to your most recent record, Letters Home, it is so much faster and “heavier” than Empty Days & Sleepless Nights, although “heavier” can be interpreted in many different ways. Whose decision was it to take this approach with the record?
It was kind of all of us. I don’t know where we were, but we were on tour, and I was talking to Alyssa, my fiancée, and we were talking about the new record, and she was like, “it better be fast, and pissed.” That’s what we wanted to do too. We always talked about the Dad’s record being a very aggressive record, because of just where the story was going to go. No matter what I decided to write about in the end, because I don’t ever really decide about the fine details until I’m in there, getting songs, and coming up with ideas. We have a general outline written. We discuss things as a band, what we want to do with the records. We always say we wanted the Dad’s record to be a heavy record, and with Joe [Longobardi, drummer] in the fold, it just really turned into what it needed to be. Who knows, with the whole lineup of the band, and Andy [Reitz]. Andy’s a phenomenal drummer, but he’s so crazy. His drumming is insane. Joey can play circles around most people, but on record he knows how to write a song. The songwriting was super easy on this one. Jay [Mass, guitarist] and him just really busted out skeletons in a couple weeks.
To answer the question, it was a collective thing. We all wanted this record to be heavy because of the subject matter, and when I finally started writing the real subject matter, it all just made sense. That’s just the way that Defeater has always worked anyways. With Travels, they had that record written instrumentally before I was even in the band; that was written for their old band, that Mikey [Poulin] used to sing for. We made it our own. We turned it into a Defeater record, we started a new band, new name, and I figured out a different song order for what we wanted, storyline-wise. Everything coincidentally works itself out. With this one, Jason sent some songs over. “Rabbit Foot” was one of the first songs that he wrote that he and Joe sussed out. I was like, “it’s so fucking math-y, it’s going to be Empty Days part two.” I did not want that. At the time [of Empty Days] we weren’t really functioning as a band, and not really talking about anything. We were constantly touring, and Jay had recording projects at home all the time. He was constantly at home, he couldn’t tour with us. We had scabs. We joked that it was called “Scabfeeder” (laughs). It was a difficult time. Me and Jay were hardly friends at that point, and now that we’re all close again, this record just came out perfectly. Joey just fucking nailed it.
What is the typical recording style for Defeater? Is it usually jammed out in a room live or written piece by piece?
This was the first one that was just like Joe, Jake, and Jay in a room just sussing out songs. We have never functioned like that. Andy would go play drums, and Jay would be like, “That part rules, record it. I’m going to write something to it.” We all compose songs in weird ways. It feels like a real band. We’re all writing songs and editing songs together, and lyrical ideas are being done together, and we didn’t function like that for a long time. Most of the time, it was like the individuals do their thing, we go and track our shit, and then that’s the record.
Now it’s different.
It’s different. It feels like a band.
Lyrically, tell me about where Letters Home has gone with the story arc that all of the previous records have followed too.
So Letters Home is a two-year period, I wrote it backwards. I wrote it as letters to his wife at home. The first song is a suicide note that he never acts upon. I don’t know if I’ll ever touch upon that part of the story. I wanted people to figure that out, but I don’t think anybody’s going to figure it out. It’s too…
It’s too thorough. (laughs)
Yeah, it’s too large of a story, too many minute details of a bigger story. Letters Home is two years to the day of the father in the story deploying to WWII and losing his brother. His brother’s in the Navy, and his brother’s going down in Well Canal, and then him in the ship, in the trenches, almost dying, going to the hospital, meeting a character from an old record – which if you figure that out, good on you. George’s [Hirsch] guest spot is pretty much the same as Sean’s [Murphy] guest spot [on Travels], which he fucking killed. George has the best voice in the world. Then he comes back home, and in the hospital when he’s half-dead, he gets a letter from his wife saying that she’s been paying for her addiction through “taking it” from her drug dealer, and then she’s pregnant. When he gets sent back home, because he’s hurt, he goes home and stews about it and drinks his fucking face off – the same way he deals with everything. He goes and kills the drug dealer, and he feels so remorseful about the whole thing because he’s now about to raise a son that isn’t his own, and feels so much pity for himself; that’s why he writes his suicide note.
That makes sense.
If you had to pick a song that you identify with the most on the new record, what would it be?
It’s probably “No Saviour”. It’s pretty much written for my Mom’s Dad, between Lost Ground and Letters Home, it’s my two grandfathers. My Mom’s Dad lost his brother, when he was shot down.
That song’s like an homage. Paying respect.
It’s for my family, my uncle Jerry, my uncle, and my grandfather.
Could you tell us without revealing anything in too much detail where the next part of the story arc is going? Or is it even written yet?
There’s outlines and stuff, but we’re going to sit on this for a while. I’m going to make it perfect; put [in] more twists and turns yet.
As if it’s not complicated already.
Yeah, I gotta make it more complicated. We constantly try to outdo ourselves. There will be more twists and turns.
Changing pace, did you guys go into the music scene with a certain idea of what “hardcore” is and what it means to you? Although this could be a relatively common question, I feel like it’s difficult to answer because everyone’s interpretation of what “hardcore” is, is different across the board. You guys are all older, how does that affect what you are seeing younger kids rally around?
That’s a weighted question. When we started the band, I wasn’t really listening to anything heavy anymore. The only hardcore band that was still playing at the time that I really listened to, there were two, and they were Mod-Life (Modern Life Is War) and This Is Hell, and they were the only two that I gave a damn about. With Mod-life, a lot of people say this, but they kept hardcore alive for me. I thought they were one of the only bands that were doing it well. That’s around the time Defeater started. I went into it wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, being like “shit, I get to be in a hardcore band again.” It was like 2006, or end of 2007. I hadn’t been in a hardcore band in seven years, I was just stoked to play heavy music again. The bands that I did after high school, I was in a band called Transistor, Transistor, playing guitar and singing, then I joined a pop band. My musical direction kind of went everywhere. The scene from even just like three years prior to that was so much different – kids were younger, kids were a lot less grateful for shows, I felt like kids weren’t coming out at all. Everybody grows up. You got like a five-year lifespan as a hardcore band. As generations go, it’s like five years. Kids change their mind instantly about everything. We’re just grateful that people still like us, and there’s friends we’ve made through this band that we’ve known the entire lifespan of the band, and they haven’t gone anywhere. It’s amazing. I never thought I’d be in a fucking hardcore band at 31 years old, and here I am.
Going bigger than that, where do you see the music industry going in general? The state of things is very up-in-the-air for many musicians and scenes, and most people don’t really understand what it’s actually like.
I don’t know. I work at a record store back home, and it’s crazy to me that people don’t buy records anymore. People just want to have it on their iPod, or on their phone, and they just want it immediately. I think physical media will still exist the same way that it has existed for years. People all of the time are asking me at work, “You guys carry records? I thought that ended.” I’m just like “shut the fuck up.” (laughs) The people in hip-hop, the people in punk, the people in hardcore, the people in jazz, they never stopped. “You just weren’t aware.” In pop-rock, there were records that weren’t put out on LP because they thought it wasn’t a viable option. From ’92, to 2002 or ’03, there’s so many bands that never stopped that were huge, and people were just so unaware. This digital boom just took over everything. People still want to see live music. When that goes, when people don’t care anymore and they just want to sit in the living room and watch it on TV –
That’s when it’s gone.
I mean, yeah, you can do that.
Who wants to watch Defeater play on TV? Go to a show.
Yeah, the subcultures, they are always going to be there. I think the fucking industry will eventually collapse as far as pop, big huge labels – it will all fall one day. Nothing lasts forever. The subculture music will always exist. Always. That’s just the way it is. There’s always going to be some rapper hawking his records on the side of the street.
That’s the culture that’s existed up until now, and it still will.
Yeah, and like I was saying with Chess & Sun [Records], those were quote “underground” labels at one point, and they discovered some of the most influential artists in American blues, and rock & roll, and country music. It comes in waves, it comes and goes. People stop buying records, people keep buying records, people do the digital thing; the vinyl boom right now with every pressing plant being super busy, and new pressing plants opening. In 10 years, it’ll probably stop again. Then, every kid that’s buying up every pressing of every record is going to be like, “shit, I have no money. I’m going to start selling this.” That’s what’s going to happen to everybody. Then you look online and see some vinyl presses for ’90s rock records, and it’s fucking unreal, like unreal, and it’s just because it’s what’s cool right now. It’ll all fucking die away. But, I think that the industry, punk rock, and underground music is still going to be there.
I would surely hope so, that’s how Warped Tour is still going. That’s the grassroots, that’s how it started, that’s how it’s going to go.
What’s next for Defeater after Warped? Tour plans?
Yeah, we’re doing a full US tour in the fall.
Who’s on it?
It’s not announced yet.
*It has recently been announced as a full US run with August Burns Red, Beartooth, and Blessthefall.
Thanks for joining us here on Mind Equals Blown, anything you would like to close this interview with?
No, I’m bad at that part. (laughs)
Thanks to Derek for the great interview. Make sure to catch Defeater on their upcoming tour, and go check out their fantastic new record, Letters Home.