Interview: Outsmarting Simon

interview by brian greenaway

Honesty is a word that gets kicked around quite a bit these days. Where can you find an honest sentiment? Politics? Hollywood? The newspapers? It often seems like the more you look for honesty, the less likely you are to find it. Which, if you’re like the rest of us, means you go out looking for honesty in your music. Be it the brutal truth of the ghetto’s streets or the soft stylings of a simple guitar. Outsmarting Simon is an honest band from New Jersey. They’re honest about being who they are, a bunch of guys who like to have fun together, drinking beer, traveling around the country with some close friends and, oh yeah, making some beautifully honest music in the process. I caught up with the foursome a few days out of New Brunswick in the cold, blinding snow.

So, how’s the tour going?
Brian: It’s going really well. The tour is sort of in pieces and we’re kind of on the first piece right now. We’re in upstate New York with our good friends Denver in Dallas.
PJ: They’re a great bunch of kids and everyone should be listening to them ( They have so much passion for what they’re doing.

Who’s the most annoying in the van?
PJ: I don’t think there’s a most annoying guy, really. We all just have annoying habits.
Brian: Yeah right, I’m the most annoying.
PJ: I can be a really shitty person at times, too. And Greg gets really defensive if you say something negative to him. Like if you say, “You were shitty last night,” he’ll hit you. But Greg and I bought a gun yesterday, so everybody’s pretty much in check.

Oh shit.
PJ: Well, it’s a BB gun, it’s not like a real gun. But to keep ourselves sane we’ve been shooting the members of Denver in Dallas.
Brian: Oh, and sometimes we take weird medicines that we shouldn’t.
PJ: Yeah, we got a new one that increases your penis size and we’ve been charting that all out.

Yeah, I got that medicine, too.
Greg: Did you get the Longitude one?

No, I got the girth one.
Greg: Did it work?

PJ: See, we’re trying to have a scientific experiment with like a flaccid and erect penis. Like we already got the before measurements and now we’re going to track our progress like every day.

All in the name of Science, I guess. Well, since you’ve already answered all of my penis questions, why don’t you tell us about your new release, “Silent, Sober, and Sound”.
Brian: Well, we originally recorded and released the album ourselves about a year ago. So we put it out and started touring around and we kind of caught the attention of Triple Crown along the way. We’d put quite a bit of time into the album and we didn’t just want to brush it aside, so we re-released it with pretty much the same artwork and everything but now we’ve got a reputable label pushing it, so that makes it a lot easier for us to get stuff done.

How has it been working with Triple Crown?
Brian: It’s been awesome so far. Barry, the guy who pretty much runs everything at Triple Crown is pretty cool. We’re trying to convince him that we’re a bunch of weirdos but he sees through everything. He’ll probably get a bunch of dead animals for Hanukkah and then our relationship with Triple Crown will go south very quickly.

There’s a lot of varied sounds on “SSS”, which songs are your favorite to play?
Brian: Um, I think “Drive By Monologue”, because there’s a sick drum solo.
PJ: I guess “Drive By Monologue” because it’s a pretty varied song. I feel that song in particular runs the gamut of a lot of the different kinds of things that we do. I like the stuff that incorporates some drive and punch in it and you get both of those things in that song.

Did anything about the album turn out differently than you thought it would? Is there anything that you’d rather do differently?
PJ: On the next record I’d definitely like to work with someone who has a better idea of drum sound. Some people have listened to the record and they’re using adjectives like, “sleepy” or “spacey” to describe it which isn’t bad but definitely makes it sound like we’re really subdued, but out live shows tend to be pretty energetic and I think the power difference in the drums is a part of the issue. Still though, the record turned out way better than we expected. It’s fairly conceptual and reasonably coherent and that’s a big accomplishment for a band that was pretty unheard of.

You said Outsmarting Simon live is more of a rocking experience than is captured on the album. What exactly can we expect when we see you in California?
Brian: Yeah, we move around tons and we’re all up in each others’ faces having fun. People at our shows tell us that they’re fun because they can tell we’re having fun doing it. There’s some bands that get up there and are just like, “why even bother?” and there’s other bands that sort of get off by talking shit to the kids and that’s pretty fucked up. We’re just kids playing music because we love it and we’re happy to do it.

So when you guys aren’t doing the penis medicine and you’re not playing music, what do you do?
Brian: Oh, usually pretty terrible stuff. When we get bored we dare each other like Subway sandwiches to do stuff.

What kind of stuff?
PJ: Offensive things. Is Brian’s mom going to read this?

Everybody’s going to read this. It’s going to be huge.
Brian: Oh man, you shouldn’t say all that stuff.
PJ: It’s pretty horrible. Urine drinking, pants pooping. We’re obnoxious twenty-something guys, you know? We’re doing the same thing every other twenty-two year old is doing, really-offensive things involving alcohol and penises.

What’s the best thing about being in a band?
PJ: I love the democracy in our band. I love taking something out of myself and combining it with the best of my band mates and making something that’s much bigger than the sum of us all.
Brian: I think for me it’s the ability to travel. A lot of my friends got out of school and went to some killer grad school somewhere or got some job making a lot of money and it sort of sucks that I’m living with my mom and I’m broke but I’ve seen some pretty cool stuff and met some pretty cool people.

What’s the worst thing?
Brian: Being stuck in a shitty town on a shitty night. We were in Mobile, Alabama once and I ate some Popeys that gave me the shits and I hadn’t talked to my mom in a while and usually being able to play cheers me up but other times it’s just like, “I wanna go home.” And plus, diarrhea makes everything worse.

You guys are from New Jersey, a state known mostly for hair bands and power ballads. How does a thoughtful, progressive indie rock band come out of that environment?
Brian: Well, it’s sort of embarrassing but Poison’s “Open Up and Say Ahhh” was the first record I ever bought.

That one is sick.
Brian: Yeah, I feel like a little bit of that influence has made it into our music, even if you’d never really notice it. There’s a lot of shredding, a lot of screeching leads and sometimes when we’re playing, we get down all back to back and light our guitars on fire. It’s all in the pants, too.
Greg: Hey, this is a serious interview, you’re not being serious enough.
Brian: Come one man, it was a goofy question I can do whatever I want. Seriously though, Jersey has a ton of pop-punk bands and it’s tough to know which ones are good and which ones suck.

Anything really bother you about the state of music right now?
Brian: Well, you know how trends always get started by maybe one or two bands and then the rest all jump on board? That always bothers me. Take Thursday, for example. As far as that scene goes, they were doing something a little different and once they broke out and got pretty big, everyone and their mom sounds like Thursday now. It sucks the originality and creativity out of the whole scene. Also, bands that try to separate themselves from the people at their show. We’ve seen a lot of bands do pretty shitty things to some of the kids at their shows, like put themselves up on a pedestal and they try and create some kind of separation that takes the fun out of the whole experience.
PJ: Yeah, nothing really bothers me too much about music in general, except for some of the stuff that’s happening under the pop-punk umbrella. You get a bunch of bands that are doing their best to sound like a bunch of early-mid-90s screamo bands, and they seem to be doing it for the wrong reasons.

Yeah, a lot of bands seem to be copying the sound just because it’s popular.

PJ: Totally. I don’t get it. I’ve never been able to write a song where I tried to sound like someone else. Believe me, I tried when I was younger, when I was listening to lots of Nirvana I tried to write like them, but it just couldn’t happen because it wasn’t honest. Granted, what I might write is an amalgamation of these other bands that I like, but it’s still my voice and when the four of us are together we just play the music that comes out naturally.

Right, so everything’s becoming a derivative of a derivative and it loses whatever meaning it once had. So who’s to blame? Bands that make the music, kids that buy it, record companies that push it, what?
Brian: All of the above.
PJ: It’s really the age-old question of pop culture, isn’t it? Do people like Reality Shows or are they just popular because they’re on?

You guys get compared to just about every single band playing right now. Do you ever read any of these reviews or whatever and go like, “Oh my gosh, those guys suck! We don’t sound anything like them!”
PJ: Yeah, I usually don’t know what to make of stuff like that. We were once compared to The Starting Line and…
Brian:…Dude, don’t start talking shit.
PJ: No, I’m not talking shit, they’re a cool band if you’re into pop-punk, you know? I like that one song of theirs that goes, (falsetto) “I’m sorry girl…” you know that one? But regardless, whether you like pop-punk or not, The Starting Line sounds nothing like us. I’ve heard people make comparisons to Penfold, Mineral, Sunny Day Real Estate, stuff like that and I think that’s okay.

So I’ve been talking to you guys for a while now and I’ve read through your lyrics and it’s pretty clear that you guys have got a decent amount going on upstairs. There’s some serious thought that goes into your songs. Where does that come from?
PJ: I think it’s a lot of different things. One, we were all lucky enough to come from families where education was an important thing. Not in an oppressive sort of way or anything, but just something that was encouraged. We’ve all learned to love reading and because of that it’s given us the opportunity to have fun but also know what’s going on around us. Also, bands like Penfold, who happen to be from my hometown, write such good lyrics and I was lucky enough to grow up listening to those sentiments and now we try to emulate some of those same emotions in our own music.

What are Outsmarting Simon’s upcoming plans?
PJ: We’re in California in a few weeks, then we’re home and I get my wisdom teeth out so we’ll take a little break, then another short tour after that. We’d like to tour with a few bigger bands, too. We’ve got a goal to start playing shows of a reasonable size and we’d like to share our music with people. We’re really lucky to have fans who just see us as regular people, since that’s all we really are.

Anyone you’d like to thank?
Brian: My mom.
PJ: All of our friends and all of our families for sure. And the kids, too. We don’t even think of the kids as our fans, we think of them as more of our friends that we get to see when we’re really lucky.
Greg: And Barry, too.
PJ: Yeah, Barry and the people who let us do what we do.