By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
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By Jack Spencer
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Home is a pretty nebulous concept for Off With Their Heads. Frontman Ryan Young moved away from Minnesota over four years ago to reside in Los Angeles, but he spends much more time in the van than in any stationary location. On average, the punk band is on the road nine to ten months each year.
The four-piece returns to the Triple Rock on Friday to toast their tenth anniversary and release Home, their second full-length on Epitaph Records, and third overall. No deviation from form, the album explores the concept of home — be it in physical form or emotional comfort zone. Young bares conflicted emotions in "Don't Make Me Go," which was written in the southwest Minneapolis suburb of Savage. He laments, "Don't make me go home/Face everything that made me who I am."
When Young is asked if the road is where he is most comfortable, he deflects a concise answer. "It definitely leans toward being what I call home, but it's hard to officially call a place that doesn't have a front door a home."
Off With Their Heads celebrate their 10-year anniversary on Friday, March 8, at Triple Rock Social Club; 612.333.7399
A career in rock 'n' roll generally puts one's personal life in an awkward middle, between the stationary life of others and life on the road. It offers escape from the drudgery, but also creates a new set of relationship problems. "The road that has brought us together/Takes me away from you," he laments in "Stolen Away," reflecting on how little he sees his longtime girlfriend, who he met during his travels.
"To play in a band like this takes less talent, but more mental strength," Young explains. The amount of road time isn't for everyone and, consequently, the band's membership is in constant flux. More than 20 musicians have joined over the years. They even recruited legendary bassist Mike Watt (Minutemen, the Stooges) to play on a recent 7-inch. Currently filling out the lineup are Robbie Swartwood, Ryan Fisher, and John Polydoros. Young adds, "It just never made sense to start a new band that would essentially sound the same [with each member change]."
Through the membership changes, the band remains steady behind Young's songwriting, which is deeply personal in subject, yet universal in its depiction of alienation and despair. The songs explore harrowing personal conflict but numb the painful tendencies with upbeat, punk progressions. Rather than sounding whiny, the empowering and cathartic anthems for loners are alternately proud and self-deprecating. The record even closes to a backing "whoa-oh" over Young's desperate plea of "Help me find a home." "It's the song that kind of begs for someone to solve my problems for me," he states honestly.
Formed in 2003, Off With Their Heads didn't always live on the road. Before their 2008 breakout album, From the Bottom, Young lived in Minneapolis and played in the active basement scene. Young remembers the band's first show at a house in the Lyndale neighborhood. (A young rapper named P.O.S. was also on the bill.) "We were horrible," he recounts, "but it was fun." Somebody called the police and said there was a gun at the party. "Cops stormed into the house with guns drawn, pushing people out of the way.... I just thought it was funny and left."
After a decade of recruiting musicians for the group, tour stops often see previous members take the stage for a song or two. "We are definitely getting away from doing that in the future," Young admits, "but this one is different."
The spontaneous sets are often sloppy and unpracticed, and he aims to give local fans the same in-sync musicianship other cities get from a touring lineup. As such, the anniversary show is a chance to spotlight some former members — one last time.
"I'm not really sure how I'm going to do it," Young says. He plans to hit town five days prior to the show to contact as many musicians as possible. Without divulging a firm number of lineups set to play on Friday, the ex-members confirmed by Young to play are Paddy Costello (Dillinger Four), Nate Gangelhoff (Banner Pilot), and Erik Siljander (Pretty Boy Thorson). Besides all the guest musicians, Young handpicked old friends to fill the bill — a mix of bands who have been there throughout their history. "I love all the guys in these bands," he says. "It's going to be a blast."
"Time flies," he reflects, enjoying the moment before figuratively reloading the van. "I've been all over the world with the band... [and] there is always something rad right around the corner, a constant looking forward to something that has made the time go by fast."