1-800-BAND: Hüsker Dü is one of the greatest bands on Earth
1-800-BAND is a name you aren't likely to forget. That's right, we said name. Don't try calling it as you would a toll-free number -- you won't get an answer. What you will get is an onslaught of catchy power pop tunes cooked up by a foursome of seasoned musicians bred of Brooklyn dive bars, sharp hooks, and an affinity for humor.
Gimme Noise caught up with Polly Watson, keyboardist of 1-800-BAND who also happens to be a music critic herself -- she is the music editor at High Times magazine! -- as the band prepares to hit the road on their first tour, which will be stopping at the Triple Rock on Monday evening.
Gimme Noise: How did 1-800-BAND start?
We started playing together a couple of years ago. We had all been in different bands together and apart, but we just liked hanging out together. We all have pretty disparate tastes I think, but it turned out everybody could agree on the sort of late '70s, early '80s style power pop.
What is your taste like?
I personally am really into metal and thrash, and hardcore, and punk; but, I also love power pop, and I love the more melodic hardcore. There's a band from Minneapolis, a much older band, Hüsker Dü, who I thought did a great job of blending power pop and hardcore. That's one of the greatest bands on Earth to me.
How did you all originally meet?
We all met in college years ago. We went to Antioch College, which has no grades, notoriously. No grades, and you do internships, so basically, you know, you go to school for a few months and then you work on a turkey farm for a few months. It's super liberal, obviously. I think somebody got credit for being in prison. If you can write a good essay about it, and get a good life experience out of it... We were all like, oh my god, can you get credit for having sex?
Your first introduction to playing music was on the piano. Did you have dreams of someday being in a band?
I totally wanted to be in bands. Actually when I was younger I wanted to play the saxophone, but my mother said it wasn't ladylike. Instead of playing in bands when I was younger, when I was about 15 or 16 I would just put on shows in the backyard. I didn't actually learn how to play guitar until I was just out of college, and playing in my first band.
How does your songwriting process begin?
Usually what works best is Al comes up with some sort of hook, which is good for all of us, because I think he has the most mainstream taste of all of us. He likes bands like X.
Your songs are quite catchy, and accessible to a broad audience. What were your intentions when you were recording the songs? Was that a conscious decision?
No! Our intentions were like, wouldn't it be cool if we could be in Cheap Trick? But no, we can't. Our intentions were just to write stuff that we like. I think that's all any band can do, and if people like it then it's great, but you can never ever aim for something that someone's going to like -- that's just a lost cause, I think.
With so many bands coming out of Brooklyn, how do you plan on leaving your mark?
We have so many venues. We're super lucky. I remember having to go to Philadelphia to see a lot of shows that I wanted to see, especially if they were hardcore or punk. Now we have an amazing scene. We have some of the best punk bands, I think, in the country.
To make our mark...It's always nice to leave your mark, but we're more interested in playing with different bands that we like, that we're friends with, and having a good time and seeing other bands.
What has balancing your day job with this band been like for you?
It's cool. I'm freelance, so I have a million day jobs. Some of my jobs involve writing about or assigning stories or doing photo shoots on music, so that's just sort of another piece of the puzzle that adds to it.
How has being a music writer affected you? Has it made you more critical of your own work?
I think it only affects me in a positive way. Once you have that job, you realize that everything is super subjective. People will be like, Pitchfork said this! Or, since I'm working for High Times...people will say, High Times said this! You know, it's just one person. The person in Maximum RockNRoll might not like the brand of grindcore you're playing, or whatever...It just makes me more aware that as a band member, you don't have to worry about what other people think. It would be great if they like it, but it's beyond your control.
As a critic, it's also made me realize that when people only write good reviews of things, that's boring.
Have your received any negative reviews?
I'm knocking on my kitchen table...oh, yes! Yeah! I was going to say that we haven't received any withering reviews of this EP yet...but our first album, there is a website called Terminal Boredom -- it's really very underground, like garage and noise -- and their headline was "News at 11: Terribly named band makes terribly named music."
That so far is our only bad review, and it turned out to be good for us because the guy who put out our record is a contributor on Terminal Boredom, and I guess disagreed. That review basically made him check us out and he wound up putting out our record, so I can't complain.
Favorite performances you've had?
We've played some interesting shows. We played a birthday party for these two guys who we know who are a gay couple last year, and during it one of the guys proposed to the other! We're playing the wedding this summer. We're pretty stoked on that. These guys had been together since the late '70s or early '80s, and the fact that they can finally get married is awesome.
Any epic fails?
Who know, the epic fails may be yet to come. Our first show was a cool show. I booked it at this cool place which is a gambling den in Chinatown called Swat Bar. It's a second story bar, and if you go there, there's just old Chinese guys playing dice and one really drunk guy singing karaoke and I was just like, this is the place, will you guys let me have a show? They did, and it was really cool.
It was like 1, and some EDM DJ came in, and there were even more people than we had, and I felt like a child. Maybe this shit goes on here all the time and I don't know about it. That was pretty exciting.
Where did the name 1-800-BAND come from?
The name came from our bass player who just came up with it for no reason. It's been great because people either usually just hate it or laugh, which is basically good, so...
Have you called the number?
We've gotten many complaints, including from my dad who complains about every six months that you can't call it. Toll free numbers...do they even matter anymore? It seems like such a relic of a bygone era, but maybe... I mean, there's a toll-free number on the back of my credit card, so maybe it still has some meaning, but who has a land line?
What's next for you guys?
We are recording this summer. We're going to try to record a full length with Mitch Easter, who is the producer that we are super excited to work with. He did a lot of great stuff in the late '70's, early '80's, so we're just thrilled to be working with him.
Have you written any of the material yet?
Yeah, we've written a lot of it, probably at least half of it. Wel'll be playing it on this tour so we can get it tight!
1-800-BAND performs with Teenage Moods and Mystery Date on Monday, May 5 at the Triple Rock. 18+, 8 PM, $6
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