If you like punk but don't know who The Tim Version is, then you're missing out on one of the genre's underrated groups. Scene Point Blank spoke with guitarist/vocalist Russ Van Cleave of the Floridan-bred punk outfit about the band's latest full-length, choice of label, The Fest, and more.
Scene Point Blank: Where does the title of the new record originate?
Russ Van Cleave: Most of my family comes from Alabama, Georgia or some other southeast state. A lot of that family moved down into Florida in the 1950's and 1960's and, in the past few years, I've watched a lot of that family pass away. In addition to that, I've also seen a few friends die young due to causes that would have been unheard of in my grandparents' days. So I got to thinking about all that and noticed that today, even in Georgia, I see and meet very few people who remind me of my old family, especially my grandfather. Anyone who does is very old. And it's not just an age thing. It's a very specific set of mannerisms and philosophies that were just swallowed up by something in the latter half of the 20th century. The people and places described in "To Kill A Mockingbird", which is the closest example in popular culture I can think of to describe my old family, are gone. So, to wrap up a long-winded and pretentious answer, variations on a lot of those ideas and some possible causes went into a lot of the lyrics, even if the songs weren't necessarily directly about that. We had talked about using that picture on the front, which is an old family picture my grandfather took of my uncle, the guy who ran the fish camp and my great grandfather (who is, ironically enough, from Canada ? although, when I sent these answers to everyone else, Scott had to point out that since "Southern Girls" by Cheap Trick is actually about girls from Canada, he could be considered a "southerner" by way of Cheap Trick's reckoning). We thought Decline of the Southern Gentleman had a nice sound about it and we added it to a list of possibilities. When we asked folks about titles, they liked that one, so we stuck with it.
Scene Point Blank: How would you say Decline of the Southern Gentleman compares to your other releases?
Russ Van Cleave: It felt a lot more complete and cohesive. Everything we had ever recorded up to that point had always been very rushed due to time and money. So we made the decision to record here with Mark Nikolich in Tampa instead of up in Gainesville with Rob McGregor like we had for previous full-lengths, which helped us not feel so rushed. Additionally, No Idea was willing to pay for some of the studio costs, which helped with the money. As a result, we spent more time on this record than anything we had done previously. I think we spent somewhere in the neighborhood of forty hours on this record as opposed to probably around twenty-five or thirty we'd put in on previous records.
Scene Point Blank: What lead to the label change? Have you seen a change in audience now that you're with No Idea?
Russ Van Cleave: A lot of little reasons made the difference in the No Idea decision. First, they were willing to do it. Second, they seemed genuinely excited about it, which was important. They were also willing to help out with recording costs (see answer to previous question). Almost all their recordings are pressed on LP and CD for almost every full-length they've ever put out. We've also noticed that bands on No Idea have had a little more latitude and support with regards to things like booking tours. It felt really good to be able to put out a record on another label that has been home to some of our favorite bands. But, above all, I guess we've just known and been good friends with most of those folks for years and it seemed like a fun thing to do. We're still doing things with Dave (guy who runs ADD Records) and he understands, so we don't really see it as too much of a big deal I suppose. I don't think we really expect too much of a change in audience or anything like that either. I think there is a lot of crossover there, at least in my experience. And in the cases where there's not, maybe (hopefully), anyone who's just hearing of us may now be so inclined to investigate some of the ADD bands of which we heartily endorse, e.g. Dan Padilla, The Dukes Of Hillsborough, and Hidden Spots to name just a few. How's that for a shameless plug?
Scene Point Blank: Are there more obligations or pressure with a bigger label?
Russ Van Cleave: Not really from what I can tell. No Idea didn't leverage any demands upon us or anything. We still just try and do all the same things we've always done and enjoyed - touring, playing shows, hanging out, and meeting friendly folks. I guess it just so happens that sometimes those things also help to sell records.
Scene Point Blank: There is something of a "No Idea sound." How do you feel about being associated with this? How has Florida (climate/geography) affected this sound?
Russ Van Cleave: I don't think we have much choice in the matter. Those early No Idea bands were really something else and there isn't a one of us who hasn't been damn stupid over one or more of those early bands for well over a decade. I recall the first time I saw Radon as vividly as any other major event in my life and when you're that into something, there's no way you can stop it from spilling over into some part of the creative process. All of us are very into a lot of different types of music and I really think that has (hopefully) allowed us to develop our own thing. But, when we were just starting out as a band and no one knew how to do anything, we were fortunate to be able to drive two hours north of Tampa and get a really good, first hand account of how things should probably be done. For never actually having lived in Gainesville, I feel really lucky to be even a little bit associated with any of it. As far as climate/geography and those effects go, being a peninsula and all, we're somewhat more isolated from the rest of the country so maybe that has something to do with some of the musical evolution around here. And, maybe the musical legacy of the southeast in general has something to do with it - that certainly makes sense if you think of Tom Petty as the closest thing to The Ramones this part of the country could claim until bands like Roach Motel and F came along.
Scene Point Blank: What's the worst description you've heard of your band? I read a review of the album that says you do "the whole hoarse throated 'man I drink whiskey' type thing." How do you respond to criticisms like that? Do you drink whiskey?
Russ Van Cleave: There was a review someone found for Prohibition Starts Tomorrow that said something to the effect of us sounding like every other drunk punk band and that we had "lyrics that amounted to 'blah, blah, burp, blah.'" I don't know who did it now and it may not be the worst, but it was definitely funny. Honestly, if someone doesn't like us or thinks we sound just like everything else, I understand. There's a lot of music out there and we're not trying to redefine anything or break open any musical boundaries. It's hard enough to just collectively be yourselves and play what makes you feel happy and satisfied. That's not to say we don't try new things ? only that we don't try new things just so we can claim to be different. So, if someone doesn't like that, so be it. Maybe someone else will. And, yes?for some reason, some folks think I must guzzle whiskey twelve to sixteen hours a day or something. But, honestly, how I sound is just a by-product of what I've tried to emulate. You look at a dude like Jeff London (Fay Wray singer) who, when they would play, would rear his entire body back before the vocals would start and, when he sang, would just absolutely unleash everything he had in him from his mouth into the microphone. And you watch that and you think to yourself, " well, hell?if I'm not gonna at least try and do things like that, I might as well not even do 'em". So you get what comes out, whiskey or no.
Scene Point Blank: Your first record was released in 1999? Were you in any previous bands?
Russ Van Cleave: I don't think any of us were in any bands that ever put anything out. Scott, Frank (original Tim Version bass player) and I all played together out of necessity since it was really hard to find people who weren't into either super crazy indie/hipster/hardcore music or frat rock. We somehow conned Shawn into the fold and it evolved into The Tim Version from there. Shawn and Mike played together in a band in high school in Pinellas county and Mike played in a couple of bands that we had played with before, but I don't think they ever recorded anything either.
Scene Point Blank: ADD recently released Still Have the Nerve To Call Ourselves a Band. Is the entire Tim Version discography in print?
Russ Van Cleave: With the advent of that release, yes, I think most of it is still around. There's a few things that didn't fit on the CD that we figured could just go to the wayside without folks minding too much. I figure if anyone ever really wants that stuff, we can post it for download somewhere.
Scene Point Blank: Your name comes from a Replacements song. How did you get involved with the tribute album? How exciting was it?
Russ Van Cleave: I can't remember. I think Stevo from 1-2-3-4 Go! asked us and we were obviously pretty into it except that we were intimidated by both the idea of trying to successfully not ruin a Mats song and also about the prospect of being included on a release full of bands that stood a much better chance of not ruining Mats songs (The Ergs!, Blotto, MoMacs, Against Me!, The Draft, Drag The River, etc.). Still, I'm really honored that we were asked.
Scene Point Blank: I hear you're a rocket scientist? What day jobs do the rest of the band have?
Russ Van Cleave: Well, I actually quit my job and am unemployed at the moment but that looks to change here soon, for better (money) or worse (less free time). I spent about seven years as an engineer working to help determine how well computer systems on satellites and launch vehicles will perform in space. That might sound all futuristic and complicated, but it's really a lot like anything else - just a little figuring done one step at a time and a lot of paperwork. As for the rest of the fellas, Shawn has his own real estate appraisal business he's getting started here. Scott works at Kinkos and sells stuff on eBay, but he's getting set up with Shawn (there's a lot of real estate appraisers who play in bands around here). Mike (who actually used to do real estate appraisals) works at a bar over in St. Pete.
Scene Point Blank: How do your day jobs and the band relate? How separate are the worlds of work and band, and how hard is it to find touring time?
Russ Van Cleave: There is the obvious money factor. We've paid far more out of pocket than we'd ever hope to get back from playing and you gotta work to get the money to pay for things like that. We all got houses and its gotten far more expensive to live around here in the past few years which means we all have had to work more as well. But for me, the politics of day jobs and bands have always related very oddly. There are exceptions, but I actually avoid trying to let folks I work with know that I play in a band for a few reasons. I try really hard to keep my philosophies and opinions to myself in the workplace. So the last thing I want is some co-worker "checking out my band" and thinking I'm some sort of commie hippie or wondering if I'm gonna come in one day and blow the boss away because we have a song about killing people or something. Or, if not that, people will wanna know "how the band is going" or "if we think we're gonna make it" or be on MTV or something. It just doesn't cross most folks' minds that we do this for fun and fellowship. Sure, we have some things to say and we've had some really amazing adventures because of this band and we're open to most opportunities, but we don't suffer any delusions of grandeur. If we did we wouldn't have lasted as long as we have. We're a garage band, you know? If you play in an adult softball league, nobody asks you if you got any plans on getting picked up to play AA ball for the Cardinals or if you think you could make the Majors some day. But, for some reason, it's really hard for a lot of the people I meet in the workplace to grasp that concept when it comes to playing music. As far as touring time goes, I've always tried to make it very clear that time off is far more important to me than money (another foreign concept with companies I've worked for). Everyone else has allowed for the same and we've tried to tour as much as we feel like we can handle without compromising family, financial obligations and/or personal health.
Scene Point Blank: Do you have a favorite place to play outside of Tampa?
Russ Van Cleave: I think San Diego, Chattanooga, Minneapolis, Gainesville, and everyplace in Japan have all been amazing every time we've played there.
Scene Point Blank: You're one of few to play all six Fests so far? Will you be there this year?
Russ Van Cleave: Yep?until Tony kicks us out.
Scene Point Blank: What is your Fest highlight from last year?
Russ Van Cleave: That's tough. Probably getting to see Fay Wray again and hanging out with Jeff London, Richie and Tim. But it's tough to rank that over The Figgs (who were thought to be no shows) showing up at the 11th hour and playing an amazing Sunday afternoon set. The "Dukes All Night!" party was a good time as well.
Scene Point Blank: Last year was my first Fest. What's the biggest change you've seen as it grows?
Russ Van Cleave: It's gone from being a Gainesville thing, to being a Florida thing, to being an unstoppable international super party. I've met people from everywhere in the U.S., Canada, England, Japan, Sweden and probably other places I had too much to drink to remember. It's insane how successful it's become. It's one of our favorite shows to play because we get to play for most of the people we know all over the world at the same time.
Scene Point Blank: What's next for The Tim Version?
Russ Van Cleave: We're gonna record some songs for a split with Blotto and we're talking about doing a split LP with The Enablers and a four-way split with some other bands we're friends with. Aside from that, we've been threatening to do some out-of-town shows with Ninja Gun, which keeps getting held up because of me. We were also figuring on doing another tour in the not so distant future - Europe has been talked about which would be a new one for us. So, we'll see what happens.