(this interview originally appeared in issue #4 of Modern Fix Magazine in 2001)

interview by pr!

 

The ninth release of Swingin Utters is out, and after reading this, you will understand why you’ll need to buy it. To a casual fan of the band, one may ask, after eight EP/LP’s, what will they really have to offer? Another record that sounds like “Scared”? Actually, this new album is really unique and shows off the maturity of their music style and the variety of each band member’s talent. While most bands who step away from the main core of their music to spurn a different sound, and end up in an awkward state with a different band altogether, Swingin’ Utters hold true to their roots while gracefully sampling the outer realms of their musical influences like The Clash and The Pogues. Started as a cover band, they have reached many fans of the punk genre, and although never gaining a Rancid-type mainstream popularity, they did achieve notoriety, which is almost better to true music fans (although it pays considerably less).

Swingin’ Utters is a great band. I’m not going to deny that while most interviewers may be unfamiliar with a band’s music and aura, I’m a huge fan, so there is no way the following could BE a bad interview. While I think the bands discography is great, the only way to truly witness their talent is live. Anyone who has seen them knows that the stage presence is just awesome. They play great music all the while holding the audience’s interest like they are your best friends band. No fancy shit, no punker then thou attitude, just good music and a good time. One walks away from a Swingin Utters concert with that good, “I couldn’t have spent $10 any better and I’d do it again if I could” kind of feeling. You can’t hate shit like that, it’s fucking impossible. On with the questions!

I’d like to get a brief rundown on Swingin’ Utters history. Started as a cover band in the late eighties, in Santa Cruz, and you joined in the early 90’s?
Darius: Yeah, the late eighties thing is kinda misleading, though. It’s really hard to say when the band actually started. Johnny, Greg and Kevin, our old bass player, started Johnny Peabucks and the Swingin Utters in the late eighties, but they were just a cover band, and played parties and stuff. We had a couple of releases before ’95, before our record came out, but we didn’t really start touring before ’94.

So when you started, was it a side project, or was it your future employment?
When I joined the band in 1990, it was a side project for everybody. We didn’t play that many shows at all, maybe a few clubs or parties. We slowly started writing originals, Max joined in ’92, and then our first tour ever was in ’94. When we toured with KFUK, our first US tour, we were an official band, and quit our jobs to start this up. We’ve been around for a while, but it took a few years to really be a band.

So it took a few years for you to know this was what you were going to do?
Yeah, totally, we really just went on the tour to get a following going, but before that, I mean, we were really small, and we were in Santa Cruz. So we packed up our shit, quit our jobs and moved to San Francisco.

What were your main influences when you started up?
We all just were into the typical punk bands that everyone would mention, like Clash and shit like that. We all kinda bonded on the whole British thing, we all dug the British punk rock, so we did a lot of covers of like, Stiff Little Fingers and the Clash.

What everyone else was into?
Pretty much. We got our own sound, because we also had old country influences. But yeah, I guess we just listened to what everyone else would say they listened to.

On your first records, in my opinion, you came off as a true punk rock band to the technical term. Meaning, you were punk but with a real subtle rock overture.
Totally! All of us dig ’70s rock, also. I mean, we listen to Bad Finger on the road, still. (laughs) We started out pretty slow, then picked up the speed.

“Juvenile Product (of the Working Class)” was pretty fast.
Fuck yeah, now that’s fast. That might be the fastest record of ours. Our first album was very slow. I can’t even believe how slow we used to be, if I listen to our older shit.

 

Looking forward to the upcoming Warped Tour next spring?
Oh yeah, totally. We’ve never been to Australia.

With all the hype and promotion of the Warped Tour, do you think that exposure brings a significant number of new listeners to your music?
Hmm. I don’t know if it brings a HUGE number of new listeners, but it must, to some point. I mean, we played Japan, and we’d never been there before, and I’m sure, I hope that it affects record sales there, so people are listening to our music more there. We never had been to Japan, and we’ve never been to Australia, so there are going to be some people that have never heard of us at all. Yeah, it’s always good to go somewhere you’ve never been, even if it’s been in the states.

Let me get this question out of the way. I noticed on your site (www.swinginutters.com) you feature three MP3’s. What side does Swingin’ Utters take when it comes to the whole MP3/Napster shit?
Well, (laughs) I guess I can speak for me and Max on this. In a way, I don’t really care… but I think if these people don’t buy the records the it’s kinda lame, and it hurts the band. I don’t know. It sounds greedy when you say stuff like that, but if you download whole albums of people, entire albums, and you don’t buy them, well if everyone did that, the band wouldn’t sell any records. You know, the guys that you listen to wouldn’t sell any records. It’s hard to say…it’s just a difficult thing. For the most part, I don’t really like it. But then I think, I make tapes for people all the time. I guess that’s sort of the same thing, if you make tapes for people they might not buy the record.

So you have mixed views
I kinda have mixed views, but overall, I don’t think it’s a great thing. What’s the deal now, you have to pay a fee or something?

That’s what they’re trying to figure out. There are going to be a lot of little Napsters that will spring up if that happens. I think the technology is out of the box, and the record companies are trying to suppress that, which obviously won’t happen.
I mean, people will get the whole take on how it’s being greedy to not agree with the Napster. I’m not being greedy. I don’t think it hurts my band at all. If it does, it’s obviously not major enough to notice. Bands like Metallica, I mean, come on, give me a fucking break. Those bands will sell millions and millions of records no matter what. I think theoretically, it can hurt bands, but it’s not doing that, at least not now. I do think its fucked up that when a kid has enough money to own a computer and have all the programs or whatever you need to download all these songs, then they probably have enough money to buy the CD’s, you know what I mean? If there just downloading all these songs and have all these albums and not buying them, that’s kind of wrong. It’s sort of obviously illegal. I don’t know though, since I make tapes for people, that’s kinda weird too.

The Internet has allowed fans something they couldn’t do before: reach a large number of people with personal dedications or “Fansites”. Have you seen these/are you in contact with the people that run these?
Yeah, I have seen some. Not lately, actually, I have to get on again and look around ’cause uh, I haven’t seen any new ones that appeared in the last year or so, but there have been a few that have been up for quite awhile.

How cool is that, seeing someone do something like that as devotion towards your band? Got to be a bit of an ego trip, eh?
Oh, fuck yeah. It’s so fuckin’ rad. Before we started our website, we looked around and found five or six of them. It was a total mind trip, just really cool and flattering.

I noticed the EP of “Filthy Thieving Bastards”, your side band with John, is out this month. You want to talk about that?
Sure. It’s me and Johnny, and pretty much whoever else, just rotating people. It’s going to be pretty much acoustic, like 90% acoustic probably. Real country kind of stuff, real Pogues kind of stuff. Lets see, there are nine songs on the CD, seven are acoustic, and the other two are punk songs. A couple songs don’t even have drums on them. We wanted to just do whatever the hell we wanted to do. There’s real slow, kinda sappy songs and then there are faster acoustic songs, and the punk songs.

 

Now, are these songs that didn’t fit in the Swingin’ Utters sound, or…?
Well, kind of. I write a lot, so I have a big backlog of songs. It’s kind of frustrating having all these songs you like and not being able to use them. Some are for my own solo thing I’ll do hopefully in the next few months. It’s pretty much acoustic Swingin’ Utters kind of stuff, but we didn’t want to put THAT much acoustic on a record or people will start thinking we’re a country band. We know what we are and who we are, this is just something different for me. I write primarily acoustic stuff, this is just another outlet for it.

This is available now, on TKO Records?
Yeah, and thru Mortem Records

You have a reputation for having aggressive shows, with a broad audience of skins and punks. Do people hold that over your head?
Not as much as before. I think our shows used to be rougher a few years ago. We know a lot of skinheads from years ago, and it sucks, ’cause I hate to say it, but usually when they come to shows, they start fights. Not always, it’s a total generalization. They don’t want to see bands, they don’t give a shit, they just want to start a fight. Um, we don’t like to see people fight. When your playing, and someone’s in a huge brawl, you think they feel like you’re the soundtrack to their violence. Fights start, we stop.

So when your playing a show, and everyone has their back turned watching the pit and fights…
We stop. We’re not playing for somebody’s fight.

To me, Swingin’ Utters have always been very down to earth band and it feels like you’re the same guys I would drink a beer with at the pub after work. With the moderate success of Swingin’ Utters, you still feel you really COULD sit in a bar and relate to a casual fan?
Oh, totally. We do that all the time. We’re not that successful. We don’t make that much. We can’t really live off the band. I don’t work, I watch my kid. My wife has a killer job, but she won’t be working there forever, so I’m going to have to, I dunno, start cutting fish again. So, we defiantly don’t make money off the band. We’ve been to Europe four times and haven’t brought back any money. So, no, we don’t make a good living. Which is fucking weird, because with the amount of records we sell, you think we’d have money. But with the paying for the record art, design, recording, and this and that, it builds up to a lot of money if you want it to sound the way we do, or something like Fat Mike wants it to sound on his label.

So we won’t see you guys standing next to Limp Bizkit on MTV any time soon?
(laughs) No, I fucking hope not. But yeah, even if we were that successful, there would be no reason why we would hang out with somebody or a band that annoying.

I hear in other countries, like Italy, you get treated like true rock stars.
Yeah, over-seas it’s awesome. Especially in places like Denmark and Germany. In England they treat bands like shit.

Even with your style of music?
Yeah, we do really well in the U.K., but they don’t treat the bands that well, as opposed to other places. Like, “we need more beer” and they’re like, “pshaw, fuck off”. As far as like, if you asked for more beer in Germany, they give you two cases. Just the hospitality in places like that are so much better then in Europe. They give you fucking caviar in fucking Germany. In England they don’t give you shit.

That’s why we started a Democracy!
(laughs) Fuck yeah!

So, besides the US of course, Germany is your favorite place to play?
Damn, I don’t know. They treat you well at the clubs; I still like the UK better though, just because of the crowds. It doesn’t come down to who gives you more beer, it’s all about the people who show up. Italy and France are great places. Madrid was fucking insane, we played there once and it was crazy. Some places are good, some not so good, just like in the states.

Ok, let’s talk about the new album. Fifteen songs, at a bit slower of a pace, with a distinct “Pogues” touch. Do you think as musicians you’ve “matured” from the quicker, punk rock pace of your older albums?
Oh, totally. Yeah, I mean, we write better songs now, and we play our instruments better now. Our influences are the same. We all listen to the same music, and appreciate the same type of shit. As far as influences go, we’re the same. The difference is as musicians, we can vary a little with the style, and act on it. Now that we’re on Fat (Wreck Chords), we can afford the time to really get into it.

You play five instruments on this record.
Yeah, I mean, that’s fun. I love doing that. We have more time to realize what we’re going to do. None of us just want to play the Swingin’ Utters, punk rock type of stuff, exclusively. I don’t think we’ll ever make a “Streets of San Francisco” type of music anymore. We want to mix it up, because it’s not the only type of music that we’re into. We can only go so far, because I don’t want to alienate our fans by becoming another band, because we’re a punk band, but we can change a little, and keep everyone guessing. I guess it’s a lot more interesting to us to try different styles of music.

I like the way you start out, with “Pills and Smoke”…
…a typical Swingin’ Utters song…

…and then it’s all over the place.
Yeah, we just didn’t want it to all sound alike.

How long did the new album take to put together?
Three weeks total.

I saw “Stupid Lullabies” is on the new playstation/dreamcast game, Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX. Are video game soundtracks a new thing for SU?
We got a bunch of offers to do those things in a matter of weeks. It was really strange. Fat (Wreck Chords) called and told us five or six companies wanted us to do this, so we just looked through it. Paid us some money, which doesn’t even go in our pockets, just chips away the debt we have at Fat Wreck Chords.

Was this you’re first video game?
Lets see, uh, no we’re on the Tony Hawk thing too.

Oh, duh, I forgot about that
That game is, I guess, huge. I’m not into video games.

Not a game fan?
I’ll play them, but I don’t own a system or anything. I like to play sports ones and fighting games.

Like wrestling fighting or Street Fighter type games?
Street Fighter kind of stuff and any kind of sports game. I’m a big sports guy.

What’s your most memorable show?
I would say, as a whole, Japan. It was the best tour we’ve ever been on, and just blew our minds away. Our first two nights with NOFX was just great. They’re really good friends of ours and played packed places every time. In Tokyo, we played two nights straight sold out shows. Amazing. The crowds were amazing.

What do you guys do on tour between shows?
Most of the time we don’t have time to do shit. We play our show, then drink all night, sleep and then get kicked out at checkout time. I love golfing on tour. I’m a golf guy and I love just going golfing. We usually don’t do too much of anything. I think unless you make a ton of money on tours, you don’t do much on off-days, because you could be making money. We’re going to try to do a full US tour this time for the record.

Which comes first, lyrics or music?
Both, usually. I’ll just be driving around and think of something and pull out my little tape recorder. I listen to it later and then figure it out. It sort of comes out at the same time.

How is it to have families and being punk rock?
It’s great. More people should do it, because it’s way cooler to raise a kid like this, then be some yuppie type. He’s been to shows. He went to his first show when he was a month old. He sees all these different people and lifestyles and just loves music. He has his own little drum set and guitar. It’s just a good way for a kid to grow up.

Have you pushed him into music?
Not at all, but he’s obviously going to be into music, just because. He’s already singing along to songs.

That’s going to be fun, when he’s in high school. Punk kids are like “Oh, your dads in Swingin’ Utters, huh”?
(laughs) That’s funny. Hopefully we won’t be some forgotten band.

What five CDs are you currently listening to?
I’m always listening to Elliot Smith’s CDs, because he’s fucking amazing. Let’s see, I’ve been listening to the new Distillers record. Steve Earl’s record, Supergrass, and the new Radiohead record. That’s all I guess, right now. I haven’t been really listening to any new punk bands. I like One Man Army a lot, and that Distillers album.

To get political for a moment or two, this whole voter crisis in Florida. Have you been following the election mayhem, or could you care less? Care to divulge who you voted for?
I’m beginning to care less now. I don’t know why they don’t talk about those 19,000 votes that went to (Pat) Buchanan. If they counted those votes, (Al) Gore would totally win, no question.

So, you’re a (Al) Gore supporter?
No, I’m not a (Al) Gore supporter, per say. I support the democrats before the republicans. I think a two party system is pathetic, and I don’t like politicians, because they’re all crooks. This is the first election I’ve actually voted in because I never like these people who are up and can’t bring myself to vote. Now, I felt I had to vote because (George) Bush is a fucking dumbass and (Dick) Cheney is evil.

This is the first election where a vote actually mattered.
Yeah. The Supreme Court justices, four of them I guess, will be elected, and they are in for life. So you got to make sure you look at that aspect. It looks like (George) Bush might win, which is too bad.

Yeah, I’m with you, but in the same sense, Lieberman is against music and video games, something that’s important to my life.
Yeah, I don’t like him either; I guess I sort of went to the lesser evil. I know that’s not the right thing to do, but fuck.

California is a mess right now with marijuana laws. I don’t know if you are aware, but a northern city in California passed a law allowing private citizens to legally grow up to 25 marijuana plants at a time. How you feel about marijuana decriminalization and legalization?
What?!? Where is this?

Damn, typical stoner, I’m blanking the name.
Humboldt?

No, close to there though. It’s some little tiny city where you can do that
Oh my god, that’s crazy.

How do you feel about decriminalization?
No question. I don’t even consider it a real drug. I don’t know, I got to think about it more, but I sort of think all drugs should be legal. I don’t know though, things like speed being legal may not be the greatest thing. You can’t compare the two. But people might not get shot from bad drug deals or whatever. But marijuana should be legal, no question about it. It’s ridiculous that its not.

Before I let you go, my girlfriend had a question she wanted me to ask. At the last Swingin’ Utters shows she went to, she said you don’t play any of the older songs, like “mommy mommy” etc. Not into rehashing some of the older songs?
We don’t play “mommy mommy”. We do play older stuff, but real old songs, like that, no we don’t.

Too many songs to remember?
Well, I think that as you start making more records, you like those songs better then the older songs and you start phasing out the older songs. Then, when Kevin left and Spike joined, he didn’t learn the older songs and we haven’t had a chance to teach him. You just tend to like your newer stuff more. As you grow as a band, you get better, and I think our recent stuff is way better then the older stuff. We like some of the older stuff, and have talked about playing some at shows. We might, it depends on if the fans want to hear the older stuff.

Any message for the fans?
Hang in there, we’ll be in your town soon, hopefully. We will be touring again, maybe not to the extent that we used to, but we’ll be hitting the states soon. Check out the new record, and we’ll see you when we tour.

So, here’s what I learned. Swingin’ Utters have a new self-titled CD on Fat Wreck Chords, Germany gives bands caviar and beer, bar hospitality may have been a key reason we started America, they have a spot on Warped tour next year, new Filthy Thieving Bastards out now on TKO, George Bush is an asshole, video game money is cool, and marijuana should be legal. A big thanks to Darius and to the people at Fat Wreck Chords for helping us out. Go buy this new album, and see them when they come to your town. After all, they ARE Swingin Utters.