We were recently given the chance to speak with rising punk aficionados Off With Their Heads. Among the topics discussed were the band's little known yet extensive history, new album In Desolation, inspirations in life, and making out with sheep. Enjoy!
Denis@RRR: I’m here with Off With Their Heads. Thanks for taking the time to do this interview! For the record, could you introduce yourself and your role in the band?
Ryan Young: I am Ryan and I sing and play guitar and write the songs.
Denis@RRR: For those just being introduced to Off With Their Heads, could you quickly do a rundown of the band’s history?
Ryan Young: Well we started in 2003, and since then have put out over 20 7-inch releases, two full-lengths, and once 12-inch EP. Almost 25 releases [laughs]. We've toured the US about 30 times, and this is our last day of our fourth European trip. One time in Japan as well. And we've spent the last two years straight on the road - nobody works or anything, we just tour for two months, then take a week off. That's about it.
Denis@RRR: It that tough?
Ryan Young: It is. It is because there's really no money in music unless you breakthrough. We were joking about it yesterday how somehow, we've managed to live off 10 dollars a day for two years [laughs]. It makes you appreciate certain things more.
Denis@RRR: On that note though, 2010 has been very kind to the band. In February, you signed with Epitaph Records and on June 1st you released your debut album In Desolation. What are some of your favorite memories from this year?
Ryan Young: This year, the US touring has been awesome - in certain areas - it always sucks for everybody in certain areas - but it was... our second show of the tour was in Chicago and it sold-out a giant club. That's the first time that's ever happened for the band, and it's just insane. That was our standing memory. The entire East Coast was awesome. Even over here [UK] every show has been twice as good as the last time we came around.
Denis@RRR: As stated earlier, you signed with Epitaph. How did the deal with them come about? What appealed to you most about Epitaph?
Ryan Young: Well, we were on tour with Against Me! in April of 2009 I believe it was, and that's when I got a call from Brett [Gurewitz, Epitaph Records Owner] and I didn't believe it was him and I cut off [laughs]. But then he called back and was like, "If you want to talk to me, give me a call at the office," so I did, and he said he liked the band and to keep in touch with them. We were going to put out our own record before he called us, because we tour so much, I didn't see the point in staying at the same level we are and having a label put out our record for us when we sell most of them. But when an opportunity like that knocks, you usually don't turn it down. And then we met him at his house, he had us over for lunch, and he sat there and he's like, "Look, I know you don't like a lot of music I've put out recently...", and we all just started laughing, "Okay good, so we can have this conversation!". He went through his spiel about that, and how likes the band, he said he didn't expect us to sell tons of records or anything, but he wants to get back to things that he likes. It took about 10 months for us finally to be like, "Ok, cool, we'll do this".
Denis@RRR: Were Epitaph Records the first label to approach you, or...
Ryan Young: Yeah. I mean, we'd done records with No Idea Records, we did records with tons of different labels with all our seven inches, they would always just say "do you want to do this?", and we'd be like "yeah yeah". But with No Idea [Records] and how hard we were working, we were just like... I dunno. They have their way of doing things, and it works for them, but when nobody's buying records anymore, that size label, it does good for certain things, but not what we wanted to do anymore. Plus, we just wanted to try something different. But yeah, as far as bigger labels, [Epitaph Records] were one of two, and I can't remember what the other one was. When the word got out that we were going to do the Epitaph thing, then all of a sudden a couple other ones were like, "hey, keep us in the loop", but we just went with Epitaph.
Denis@RRR: Epitaph Records have always viewed traditionally as a punk-rock label, but you're the first punk band to sign with them for quite a while. How do you feel about that?
Ryan Young: That is true. I think that's awesome. Brett's [Gurewtiz] quote was something like "Off With Their Heads might be the best punk band going right now". To hear a guy like that, who was in Bad Religion, say something like that - I think he meant it too - that's really cool. I don't believe it, there's way better bands than us, but we all just smiled and were like "wow, that's crazy".
Denis@RRR: As I said, In Desolation came out in June. What fueled the album – tell us about the writing process?
Ryan Young: Originally, I think about half of those songs were going to be on a split with Dillinger Four, and they don't ever do anything, so actually had some of those songs recorded before. They never came through on their end, so I had that done. Then, this came up [signing to Epitaph Records], and about a week before we were going into the studio for it, I hurried up and finish the rest of it, so I wrote five or six songs a week before we went in to record In Desolation. Most of those songs are just about being gone, and not really having a home to go to, or what life can be like for a crazy person that has no stability.
Denis@RRR: Tell us about the recording process?
Ryan Young: It was awesome, because every other time we've been in the studio, it's been three days maximum.
Denis@RRR: Three days for a full-length?
Ryan Young: Yeah
Denis@RRR: You're kidding? [shocked]
Ryan Young: Yeah. That all we've done. This time, we had I think it was 20 days or something like that.
Denis@RRR: You can't do a full-length it three days?
Ryan Young: We did!
Denis@RRR: With a producer, or...?
Ryan Young: We've never really used a producer before. The last record we did, From The Bottom, we didn't even have demos for the songs. We just practiced them for a week. I think that they have been what made some of that stuff... it stood out a little bit more, because there was so much pressure. I mean, we were in there for 20 hours a day. It sucked. It was terrible. But going back to spending 20 days doing it, it was a nice studio, it wasn't just a hole in the wall like we're used to doing, and it gave us... we spent a little too much time on things we probably shouldn't have, and we had to add a couple of days at the end. I have no idea how we could've done those other records in such a short amount of time. Next time, I want to do a month! I was great, it was a totally different thing. With regards to production, the guy that recorded In Desolation is the same guy that did From The Bottom, Jacques Wait, and we like working with him because he knows how to make us sound good. We're really bad, it's fun to watch, but...
Denis@RRR: Don't say that, I'm excited to see you play!
Ryan Young: You'll see what I mean though. It's fun to watch, but as far as precision and all that goes, it's a little rough. Some of the guys are good, and I'm not very good - like, I don't play guitar on the record, I just sing, but I play when we play.
Denis@RRR: That's not that rare
Ryan Young: Okay, good, good to know. I didn't know that.
Denis@RRR: Lyrically, the record can be dark at times, and it showcases you with your heart on your sleeve. What events or experiences inspired the conceptual aspect of the record?
Ryan Young: Just the crazy things that go on in my head every day. I guess not every day, but everybody has bad times, and if you have bad times, and you do what we do, it makes them even a little harder, so I take those, and turn them into songs, and then things aren't so bad.
Denis@RRR: Especially when making a personal album, it is easy for one to become self-conscious with how people receive it. How do you think fans and critics alike have responded to In Desolation?
Ryan Young: It seems like, for the most part, everybody's into it. Some of the people that liked the last records don't like it because it sounds better. I think the songs are essentially in the same vein, a little different here and there, but you've got to do that when you're writing songs, you don't want to write the same exact record over and over again. But there's always going to be people that are just going to drop off and hate you for either moving on, or becoming slightly more popular, because everybody wants their own little secret, and I've experienced a little bit of that, but honestly, it's been all really positive.
Denis@RRR: What do you want listeners to take away from lyrical messages of In Desolation?
Ryan Young: I don't write it thinking of what other people will take away from it, I just write it for myself, but I do get a lot of people coming up to me and saying "wow, that song totally...". One guy said "the song "Drive" saved my life, man," that was in Belgium a couple of days ago, and I was like, "really, wow, that's crazy, because I didn't write that for you or for anyone else, I wrote it for me," you know what I mean? [laughs] So, it's cool to know that there's other people that have the same, or at least can interpret my problems into their life. That always helps, to hear a song like that, for me, at least.
Denis@RRR: On that note, if you could share some wisdom with those who may be struggling with adversity, what would it be?
Ryan Young: Adversity... like how?
Denis@RRR: Difficulty. Tough times.
Ryan Young: That's a tough question. I don't know. I can't ever speak or give advice to anybody because I'm in no position to be giving advice as I'm almost 30 years old and I make ten dollars a day [laughs]. But, I don't know, you just gotta get past all that bullshit. Do something crazy, I guess is the best thing I can say. Just do something crazy and feel weird about it, and that's the best part about this sort of stuff that I do, it's like "oh, I'm going to do something really stupid" and then I laugh about it. That's the best thing I can say. Not all the time, don't do that all the time, just ever now and again.
Denis@RRR: The record contains the somber “My Episodes”. For a punk band, a slow song such as this one deviates from the norm. Why did you decide to compose the track in this fashion? Were you ever worried for how your fans would receive it?
Ryan Young: I did that because I don't give a shit about punk at all, and I do not, really. I think if you're so wrapped up and worried about what's punk and what's not, then you're just afraid to actually do what you want to do. I don't really listen to that much punk anymore, because it's all so boring. That's why Against Me!, you know what I mean, they do whatever they want to at any time, and it's always different. A lot of people hate it, a lot of people like it. They never made a record that sounded the same. And that song was actually inspired by Tom's [Gabel] stuff; it kind of sounds like it. It was actually the song "Joy" off Searching For A Former Clarity, I remember in my head, when we were recording it, I was like "I kind of want to go for that sort of vibe," and we recorded it, then we listened to "Joy," and they used the floor organ for the bassstuff, and so did I. I didn't know that, and I was like, "Goddammit, they're going to make fun of me for that". And they did; 'very good work on that, totally ripped off "Joy"". But yeah, I don't really care what anyone thinks about that sort of stuff. What, am I going start another band to do that sort of stuff? No. Why?
Denis@RRR: This fall, you are opening for Bad Religion. Wow. What are your thoughts and feelings leading up to the tour?
Ryan Young: I cannot wait to get out with those guys. They are all really awesome - it blows my mind that they asked us to do all seven weeks of their record release tour, and also the Bouncing Souls are doing it too, and they're friends of ours. It should be fun. It's definitely the biggest thing we've ever done, and to have it be a childhood hero band like that, and have them watching us at festivals and stuff, high-fiving afterwards, it's cool, you know? [laughs]. There's no shame in touring with Bad Religion for me!
Denis@RRR: What are your plans for after the Bad Religion tour? Do you plan on doing a headlining tour, or?
Ryan Young: Against Me! is doing a US tour in January and February, and I told them that if they don't bring us on that tour, that I'm going to kill myself. They just smiled and they smiled and said... [laughs] they smiled and didn't say yes or no. So, talk to those guys, I don't know, we'll see, maybe the band will be done after that! But, yeah, we will be doing a headlining tour next year sometime. We're going to take December off, I think we've earned that, tonight's the last show of three months solid, without a break.
Denis@RRR: After all the touring you've done through the years, you must have some great tour stories to share. Feel free to tell us the wildest one you can think of. Previous stories involve strippers, FBI agents... I could go on.
Ryan Young: I have my favorite story. We were playing a festival in Holland somewhere, and this guy gave us these pills which turned out of be ecstasy. I didn't understand at the time and I didn't care because we were having fun, and he took one, so I was like, "okay, cool, it's safe". That was my logic at that point. But, our bass player, who's not with us now - he just came on that tour - he took one, disappeared, and then the next morning came back to where we were sleeping, and said "I lost my wallet, we have to go back to the camp ground". So, we go back to the camp ground. It's not there. We go back to the venue and wait for the guy to come back and open it up, and a farmer walks by and has Josh's wallet, and says something in Dutch. He said he found this in the mouth of his sheep. And so, all ecstasy abused, no one really knows what he was doing hanging around a bunch of sheep. Believe me, to this day, we still make fun of him about that, and he will not tell us what happened. Basically, I think he made out with a sheep. [laughs]. His name's Josh Jordan. You can print that.
Denis@RRR: Way to call your friend out!
Ryan Young: Oh yeah. Trust me, his deserves it! [laughs] Hey Zack, I just told the sheep story
Zack Gontard [from other room]: Yeah, look up Josh Jordan on Facebook.com [all laugh].
Denis@RRR: Well, that's the end of the interview. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us.
Ryan Young: No problem!
Denis@RRR: Is there anything you'd like to add?
Ryan Young: No. I don't know. I can't wait to get home. Actually, I can't wait to play tonight, I love playing in London. Always awesome.
In Desolation is out now, via Epitaph Records. Our review can be read here. Support punk music.