Monday, February 2, 2009

Darius Koski (Swingin' Utters) Interview (January 2009)

By the time this tour rolls through Chicago it will have been five and a half years since the last time I saw the Swingin' Utters. Damn. Obviously an email interview but it gets the job done.

Bill Molloy: First off, just out of curiosity, what is the current count of side projects emanating from members of the Swingin’ Utters? My last count had it around nine or so but I’m pretty sure I’m missing some.

Darius Koski: Here's a little breakdown... There are 6 at the moment (7 if you count the Utters), but I think it was around 8 or so a while ago... It's kind of convoluted and incestuous, but we're a San Francisco band, and that's just how we do it out here...

Darius: Filthy Thieving Bastards, Re-Volts

Jack: Dead To Me, Re-Volts

Spike: Filthy Thieving Bastards, Gimme Gimmes, Re-Volts

Johnny: Druglords of the Avenues, Filthy Thieving Bastards

Greg: Viva Hate

Bill: I’ve read different reports on when the band actually formed, but based on the several dates I’ve seen thrown around you guys have passed your 20th anniversary as a band within the last year or two. Was there any sort of celebration for it? I’d seen something online about Kevin Wickersham coming back and playing a show or two, was that true/related to the anniversary?

Darius: Kevin just filled in for a show that Spike couldn't make... which was fun, and the first time we'd played on a stage with him in 12 years, I think. It would have been nice to have some sort of celebration, but I've always thought it was kind of tricky to nail down exactly when we started. Greg, Kevin, Johnny and Aric Mckenna started Johnny Peebucks and the Swingin' Utters in '88. From '88-90 they were a cover band that played mostly parties and a few small shows. I joined in '90, Aric left soon thereafter, and we started writing originals pretty immediately, and playing more shows. Our first release was, I think in '91, maybe '92... We had 2 singles and a 9-song 10-inch before our first full length, which was in '95... so, I don't know, I guess it's been twenty years... It's pretty much been the same band for that whole time. Kind of. I don't know, see what I mean?

Bill: What was the impetus behind the recent b-sides collection? Is there anything missing from the compilation that you know of?

Darius: I've been wanting to compile all this stuff and release it for several years now. We recorded a lot of stuff from '90-'95, before our first full length release, and since then there have been songs on 7-inch singles and compilations that most people haven't heard-- a lot of them didn't make the record we were recording at the time, but I think a bunch of them should have... There are also some really badly recorded (like, recorded on a ghetto blaster at a practice session) songs that have never been released, mostly because they're just not good songs. I've saved everything over the years (like all those cassette recordings of our practices.... YAWN). There are also plenty of different versions of previously released songs--we released several of these on Hatest Grits, but we didn't want to release them all, because really it gets a little redundant. We tried to pick versions that really were different in some real way, no just "different" versions because they were from another recording session... It wouldn't have been all that interesting, believe me. So, I think there's always gonna be some stuff that people won't here, but I think it's, uh... for the better.

Bill: Darius, in an interview with AMP Magazine a few years ago, maybe late 2005, during the promo period for the last two Filthy Thieving Bastards records you mentioned that you don’t really listen too much punk rock any more. Was that in reaction to preparing and promoting the folksier project, and now that the Utters seem to be getting more active have you been delving more into punk again? Are there any younger bands out there that you’ve gotten into lately?

Darius: I almost regret saying that, because it sounds like I just don't like punk rock anymore, which would make my being involved in the Swingin' Utters kind of silly... but really I don't listen to a whole lot of punk rock, mostly because I'm so fucking judgmental of music in general, and there just aren't a lot of (new) punk rock bands I like all that much. I like the Spits, and I like a bunch of songs by the Soviettes. There's a band out of Sacramento called Boats! that are pretty cool... I don't know, I'm not really obsessing over any new punk band at the moment, but that's probably because I don't really go out that much, and the only bands I really see are either my friends' bands that come to town, or bands that are playing with one of my projects.

Bill: During the downtime of the last few years how active have the Utters been?

Darius: We play every few months, really just long weekends. We never really completely stopped playing live for more than, I don't know, maybe we went for a 10 month stretch or something. I mean, when you're not making records, you're just not an active band, are you? But we've basically covered the west coast--mostly northern and southern California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona... not much, which is frustrating because I REALLY miss touring... but we were just in Texas a couple of months ago for the first time in several years, and it was great.

Bill: Dead Flowers, Bottles Bluegrass and Bones seemed to be noticeably faster and harder than your previous albums. Was this a reaction to the forming of the Filthy Thieving Bastards and having a different outlet for some of the softer material?

Darius: I pretty purposely wrote harder songs for that record, because it just felt like that's what we needed to do. I don't really know why, it just seemed like it was actually a different direction for us or something. I mean, there's only so much "experimentation" that you can do when you're a punk rock band. There was the hard stuff, like Elation or No Pariah, but then If You Want Me To and Shadows and Lies were really soft, really mellow. I like that contrast, and that's what I've always gone for, as far as the songs I've written for the band. We all have really eclectic tastes in music--we all listen to just about every genre. I don't care if it's traditional Greek music, big band, rap, soundtracks or Throbbing Gristle--if I like it, I like it. I like listening to music. Filthy Thieving Bastards has made it a lot easier, though. I write a lot of country/folk/pop/mellow kind of stuff--way more than I write punk rock--but in the last few years I know which songs are Utters songs and which songs are FTB songs.

Bill: How do you decide what band your songs go to? Is the writing process different for each band?

Darius: I generally consider FTB to be my "country" band, or kind of also my "pop" band, as in more or a 60's, Kinks kind of pop. Johnny writes punk stuff for that band as well, but I just refuse to write any punk for that band, because I don't really think of it as that kind of band at all--but Johnny writes pretty much in every genre for that band, which I love. He's really raised the bar, as far as songwriting goes for the Filthy Thieving Bastards. I haven't written much for the Re-Volts. That's got a bit of a more specific post-punk kinda vibe to it, I think. I don't know, it can get a little confusing I guess.

Bill: How long exactly has Jack been with the band? Has the dynamic changed with getting someone a bit younger?

Darius: Jack's been with us since either late '03 or early '04.... and I think we sound better than we ever have. I know that sounds like something some asshole rock star or professional athlete would say, but it's true. He's an old friend of ours, he's an awesome rhythm player, has a beautiful voice, and we all just adore the guy to death... oh and HA! I always thought he was a lot younger than us as well, but I'm only 6 months older than him.

Bill: How involved is the band with the upcoming tribute record on Red Scare Records? What was your initial reaction when Toby pitched the idea? Is there any information you can confirm about the status of it?

Darius: I'm not all that involved in it. I've been asked to be more involved, but that feels a little weird and self-important to me. I have no idea what the status is, as far as when it's coming out or anything. It's really flattering.

Bill: Are there plans for any new Utters releases in the near future?

Darius: I'm hoping that we'll be in the studio in May, for a new full length on Fat.... but who knows if it's gonna happen in May, so I'd say you can expect a new record somewhere between fall '09-early spring '10.

Bill: It’s been over five years since the band last hit the Midwest; has it been that long for the East Coast as well? Do you have any hopes or expectations for this upcoming tour after such an absence?

Darius: I'm just really excited. We're going to be touring more regularly again, finally. I really just want to be a real band again, that releases records and goes on tours--so as long as the Utters exist as a band, we'll be doing what we're supposed to do--touring and recording. Maybe not as much as a lot of other bands do, but as much as we can--we've got jobs and kids, etc. so it's not as easy for us, but we're all into it and we're all ready.

Bill: Now that Bush is finally out of office, will Spike have to retire the “Fuck Bu$h” stickers on his bass? On a more serious note, the Utters have always been extremely outspoken advocates of the working class. Are you optimistic about the incoming administration’s ability to deal with this economic crisis or are we already too far down?

Darius: I've got stickers on my guitars as well! I think we should take blow dryers to them and retire them. Be done with that piece of shit, finally... What a fucking stain on our country's history. I'm as optimistic as a reasonable person can be about Obama. I like the guy, but I only trust politicians so much. Either he's for real (like, a real person), or he's just another great politician like Clinton or Kennedy--which isn't always a great thing to be, as far as I'm concerned. I like to think somebody like MLK was for real, you know... and everybody's got this wish that Obama is gonna be that guy... As far as the economy, I can't really say I'm very educated about economics, but... recessions always end, don't they? I'm not sure it's going to be Obama that digs us out, but I'm sure things will get better, economically at least, in the next couple of years. In all other areas, I think the future is pretty bleak and kind of terrifying, what with the environment, and people hating us and all, but that's another discussion entirely...

Bill: Any last words or thoughts?

Darius: Fuck Bush?

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