I first heard about Akimbo when I saw a picture of Zed's friend sporting one of their shirts. It was a plain design with 'AKIMBO' written in a standard looking font and scrawled across the chest, but for some reason the name stuck with me. I didn't end up checking out the band until I saw a review in Splendid a few months later, but once I did- I was smitten.
Combining the massive bottom-end of the mid-90's stoner rock movement (see: Kyuss, High On Fire) with the raw, unbridled force of the current crop of Louisville hardcore bands like Breather Resist and Lords (both of whom Akimbo are playing a number of shows with this month), the quirky edge of classic DC post-punk, and bringing it together with a loose, bluesy attack reminiscent of early Zeppelin, Akimbo is a force to be reckoned with. Akimbo recently inked a contract with Alternative Tentacles and are set to record their new record this summer (their third, following two critically acclaimed records on Dopamine and Seventh Rule).In the meantime, the band is gearing up for a month-long tour that kicks off in Seattle on April 22 and features dates with Hot Cross, Eyehategod, Mannequin, Breather Resist, Lords, By The End Of Tonight, and a reunited Rumah Sakit, among others.
I got a chance to chat with bassist/vocalist Jon Weisnewski, drummer Nat Damm, and guitarist Patrick Cunningham via e-mail about their transition to Alternative Tentacles, the stresses of being in a touring band, and the secret to their monstrously heavy sound.
SPB: First off: what are your names and what do you do in the band?
JW: My name is Jon Weisnewski. I shred the bassery, scream the vocalry, drive the vannery, and book the tour-ery.
ND: Nat Damm, I play drums.
PD: Patrick D-- guitar thrasher, booty shaker. I recently joined up so the "genesis of Akimbo" questions are unknown to me.
SPB: When and under what circumstances did Akimbo form?
JW: It's been so long it's kinda hard to remember...Nat and I had been playing punk rock together for a number of years, since early high school. It was the natural transition of our changing taste in music. We were listening to and seeing more in depth and intense music, so we started to reflect that in song writing...I guess.
SPB: How did you choose the name Akimbo?
JW: Nat got wasted, vomited into a dictionary, and threw it out the window.
SPB: Have there been any line-up changes?
ND: Good lord, yes. Originally Jon played guitar and a guy named Tom played bass. Tom left so Jon switched to bass and we got a guy named Kyle to play guitar. Then Kyle left so we got Burke, and he stayed. Then we decided to get another guitar player so we could tour more and we got Dustin. He ended up going to school in Chicago so Pat joined and now everything's great.
SPB: What's the songwriting process like?
JW: Pretty democratic. Usually one person has a song, brings it to practice, then everyone else writes their parts to it. It's pretty rare when someone dictates how something has to be played. That's the boring answer. The awesome answer is that we channel Kurdt Cobain's undead spirit through the hole in the ceiling of our practice space and he jams out with us in a post-mortem heroin daze.
PD: Very democratic. Disputes are settled by bare-knuckle boxing. Burke's the champ, but I'm the light heavyweight.
ND: Its very democratic. Someone brings a riff, a section of a song or a completed song to the table and everyone does their thing to it. Everyone's open to constructive criticism but rarely does anyone ask someone else to change something.
SPB: How would you describe your sound?
JW: Zeus fucking a whale.
ND: Thick n' heavy.
PD: Fucking rock n' roll, man. With punk rock sensibilities and a foundation of metal.
SPB: Influences? Who or what made you want to pick up an instrument?
ND: As a kid I had always wanted to play drums, I banged on bucks and pans. I loved The Muppet Show and Animal was my favorite. My parents had all their LP's from growing up in the 60's and 70's so I listened to those a lot. I finally got a kit with my bar-mitzvah money when I was 13.
JW: For me it was Rob Wright from Nomeansno. They happened to be my favorite band when I bought my first bass, so I played along to as much of their stuff as I could and it pretty much solidified how I like to play. I was playing guitar for a long time before that, but that sealed the deal on bass.
PD: Drive Like Jehu, Nirvana, Waxwing, Pixies...
SPB: I was thinking about something as I began booking my own band's tour and sort of delving deeper into this whole touring deal: this lifestyle is completely absurd. You're driving a cruddy van to random places you think you might be playing, and if you do manage to make it to the gig in one piece, you end up playing to the bartender and his dog. You're sleeping on random people's floors, eating garbage every day, etc. So, what keeps you motivated to get out there and keep doing it? A lot of people don't understand just how tough it is to be a touring musician, so maybe you could shed some light on your own experiences in the business?
ND: It's the best thing in the world. I might feel differently if we toured 9 months in a row but we've set everything up to be able to leave whenever we want. Everyone has had their fair share of playing to the bar staff or to the opening band's parents, but most shows are great. I feel that it's been our experience that 99% of the time things are good, no van trouble, no issues with the show, you find a place to sleep, get some food, normal stuff. But the 1% is really bad; you can get sick on tour (which is the worst place to be sick), your van can break down or hit a deer in the middle of nowhere and cost you thousands of dollars, weather can fuck with you, you cant find a place to sleep so you sleep in the van. Lots of stuff can go wrong but for the most part, if you plan for it and book a solid tour care, you'll be all right and have a good time.
JW: For me it's a deep-seated hatred of work/school/boring stuff in general. Touring is not easy, but at the same time it totally is. The only thing you're responsible for is being at a place on time and playing rock. Also, each tour we do is better than the last, and we're finally starting to see the work we've poured into the band pay off. It's so rewarding. We're building a national fan-base, playing solid venues, meeting great people, finding labels who want to spend large amounts of money so that we can have more albums (still blows me away all the time), and we're doing it all on our own without the help of a booking agent, promotion companies, hot-shit label support, or "the hype machine". I know that I'll be touring actively for a very long time.
PD: Sure it can be tough but, hey, 5 weeks, no boss? Rock n' roll every fucking night? It's like a dream come true... most of the time.
SPB: What's your favorite and least favorite part about touring?
ND: When that 1% happens, but in the end it'll make for a good story.
JW: Favorite: not going to work for a month. Fuck jobs. Fuck the whole college - career - retirement hierarchy. And not only am I not "punching in" for up to five weeks, I get to play a show and party every night of the week.
Least favorite: flaky people. The punk scene needs a pretty severe reality check at the moment. There are entirely too many flaky people who don't understand what needs to get done for a band on tour. The punk rock/DIY ideal has buried itself a bit too deep into a lot of people's minds that it's starting to lose efficiency. Donation shows are not cool when you have a touring band on the bill. If you agree to help a band that asks, then fucking help them. Stay in touch, give them the info they need when they need it. If you don't want to or can't help, then let the band know right away instead of just not responding. If you download a band's entire catalogue, then it wouldn't hurt to buy a shirt at their show and support them on the road since you got all their music for free. Understand that the band is LIVING while they are on the road, so they might need stuff like access to laundry, showers, and a place to sleep. I could go on for a very long time... basically, what we and many bands we know that tour often have come to realize, is that punk/DIY is rarely working anymore, if at all.
PD: Equal parts denial and optimism.
SPB: How do you handle the rigors of the road?
ND: I read, play video games, take photos and super 8, and I work from the road so that takes a lot of time. We're all so relaxed and easy going there aren't many 'rigors'. It's more like 'What do you do with hours and hours of sitting around or driving on tour?'
JW: Screaming my face off every night.
SPB: Favorite places to play?
ND: Denton, Austin, Oakland, Chicago, Savannah, NYC, lots of them....
JW: The state of Texas, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, the Southeast. SEATTLE.
SPB: Any interesting stories from the road?
ND: Too many to just chose one.
JW: One time I spit ketchup all over a dude's kitchen. I was trying to drink it.
SPB: How do you personally define success?
ND: By earning a living by doing what you want to do.
JW: Releasing an album on Alternative Tentacles.
PD: Ummmm...George W. Bush's heart on a platter?
SPB: What's the scene like in Seattle? Any cool bands you think people should check out? I understand from what Jon's told me that it's pretty tough to find decent gigs these days.
ND: Sweet bands: Big Business, Doomsday 1999, Crichtor, The Ruby Doe. For how big Seattle is, its really saturated with bands. Getting shows can be difficult.
JW: The scene is actually good, really good for bands in Seattle. Currently there aren't many places around for touring bands that don't have a large draw, but I think that will change soon. I'm constantly seeing and missing great shows in the city. Some locals that the world needs to know about are: Doomsday 1999, Big Business, Patrol, The Ruby Doe, Book of Black Earth, Swarming Hordes, Mikaela's Fiend, The Assailant, and of course, the ever-brutal Playing Enemy.
PD: Yeah, it can get pretty cliche... but Big Business, Pleaseasaur, Doomsday 1999, and A Kiss Farewell have been pushing the boundaries of the status quo.
SPB: Was "City Of The Stars" recorded analog? It has such an incredibly warm, fat sound... particularly the drums, which sound enormous.
ND: Thanks. We prefer to record analog, "City Of The Stars" was recorded to 2' tape. We love that warm sound. We're recording our next record at Ironwood Studios in September. We're really excited.
JW: Yes. 100% analog. All tube amps.
SPB: How did you hook up with Seventh Rule?
ND: I got in a verbal altercation with Scott at the Fireside in Chicago on a US tour. The next time we played he asked us if we wanted to do a record and we've been inseparable ever since. Scott and Cara are awesome.
JW: Scott heckled us. We confronted him. Then he forced us into a small room and held a gun to our heads. Basically, if we didn't sign we'd be dead. We haven't seen a dime from that miser.
SPB: What's the transition to Alternative Tentacles been like? How's Jello Biafra?
ND: It hasn't really happened yet being that we haven't recorded, we're really excited to start working with them in September. Their roster was really influential growing up so to be on AT is crazy to us. Both Jello and Dave have been really nice and helpful.
JW: Very smooth. Dopamine and Seventh Rule were both happy for us. The AT crew is really easy going and mellow. However, we're in the very early stages of working with them right now, so it's a bit too soon to say. Jello is a rad guy. He was very flattering when he asked us to do a record and complemented us more than I thought we deserved. I had a different impression of him based on seeing his spoken word and knowing his history, but he turned out to be super nice and humble.
SPB: What do you do outside of Akimbo? Do you guys have day jobs?
ND: I make concert posters for a living and book an all ages club on the side called The Old Fire House.
JW: I'm a contract software tester. I also sit around my apartment a lot hanging out with my cat and playing videogames. I'm kind of obsessed with the cat. He's fucking cute.
PD: I've worked in wetlands, a kennel, and will be looking for a job when we get back. Shitty jobs are my rock n' roll cross to bear. I sacrifice so someone in Fife, Alabama can dance their little heart out.
SPB: What are you listening to these days?
ND: Lots of classic rock.
JW: These have all had abnormal amounts of rotation in the past few months: Lords - "Swords", Big Business - "Head to the Shallow", The Ruby Doe - "Always With Wings", Patrol - Demo, Dead Kennedys - "Frankenchrist", Mastodon - "Leviathan". And, my stereo in my car is broken, so for the last 3 months all I've been able to listen to is the Melvins - "Bullhead".
PD: Aphex Twin- Analord, Bus Driver- Fear of a Black Tangent, Bill Hicks- Rant in E-Minor.
Interview by Jonathan Pfeffer
Official Site (including tour dates): http://www.livetocrush.com
Label Site: http://www.seventhrulerecordings.com