California punk band since the late 80s, Swingin’ Utters prides themselves on staying true to punk. Originating in Santa Cruz and making their way to San Francisco, they gained attention for their 1995 full-length album, The Streets of San Francisco. With their new found recognition, Swingin’ Utters was awarded Best Debut Album at the Bay Area Music Awards and soon after, found themselves on the lineup for Vans Warped Tour. Swingin' Utters’ tracks have been used in the soundtracks of video games. "Five Lessons Learned" appeared on the soundtrack to Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 and "Stupid Lullabies" was used as the title track to Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX. Their song "This Basterd's Life" was also featured on Rock Band 3. Guitarist, vocalist and accordion player Darius talks to us in this interview about music industry changes and the punk scene, what it’s like being a musician and his most important priority, his family. When asked about the process of song writing, he says, "The whole point (for me at least) is that [songs] DO come from some place that’s difficult, or confrontational. I just want to get the shit out. It’s like expelling feces from my brain, and no matter how personal or impersonal or harsh or corny it is, it needs to come out because that’s what I feel I’m supposed to do with my life. It helps me--mentally and emotionally, like therapy".
The Swingin’ Utters has been working in the music industry for a really long time. What changes have you noticed in the punk scene since you released your first album in 1995?
It’s not as exciting, doesn’t feel as exclusive as it used to, I guess. It felt a lot more like punk rock back then. I don’t have anything against Green Day, but they really changed the game when they became so huge. It only took a couple of years after Dookie for all of the shit “mall punk” douche bag bands to be all over the place—people became pretty ignorant about punk rock, placing that label on any band that had enough eyeliner and tattoos and stupid fucking poses for their endless magazine covers. That’s calmed down a bit, but it’s still a hell of a lot more prevalent right now then it was in 1995. I think the absence of record stores has actually affected the scene (and obviously the whole industry) as well—it’s easy to blame the internet in general for that, though… It’s all become so easy. Networking, etc… You can do things now in less than a minute that used to take weeks of research, so that affects everything, I guess… We just do what we do, so I suppose we ignore it as best we can, but I personally am totally disgusted by shitty music, especially when the bands espouse this weird store-bought, corporate “punk rock” image. Eeeewwww.
You have not released a new album since 2003. What caused the long hiatus between records?
Work (paying bills is a bitch!), kids, life, etc… I don’t know, it’s been kind of strange. We’ve all been active musically in other bands, and we never really stopped playing live, we just toned down the touring pretty majorly. Some of us just weren’t into it anymore, but after this long break, we’re eager to get back to it. I think the time just kind of got away from us for a while there… and when you’ve got kids and a wife and a job and a mortgage… the time just kind of flies by, and shit happens that way… It’s difficult to stay active and relevant as a band when you haven’t quite reached that level where you can survive by being a musician--without being on the road 8 months out of the year, which is what we probably would have had to have done this whole time, and if you want to maintain your family (i.e. know your kids and not get divorced), that can’t happen.
Here, Under Protest will be your tenth released album. Which album was the hardest to write, and why?
I don’t think any of them were hard to write. That’s never been a problem for us. We always come into the studio with far too many songs.
In interviews you’ve said that a lot of your songs come from personal experiences. Is there one song that was particularly difficult to write? How do you feel while performing it on stage?
Personally speaking, I don’t have a problem writing songs, period, and I only wince at playing songs live if we don’t play them well. I feel that if you’re a songwriter, you have no business getting so emotional about your songs that they become difficult for you to write. I’m sure some people might have that problem, but the whole notion is totally foreign and strange to me. . The whole point (for me at least) is that they DO come from some place that’s difficult, or confrontational. I just want to get the shit out. It’s like expelling feces from my brain, and no matter how personal or impersonal or harsh or corny it is, it needs to come out because that’s what I feel I’m supposed to do with my life. It helps me--mentally and emotionally, like therapy--and if you write songs and are in a band, you obviously want people to hear your songs, so what’s the fucking problem? I’m not really much of a wallflower.
You guys all have full time jobs and families to support in San Francisco. How do you balance that while writing your music and touring with the band?
We just do. We just deal with it, and it’s not always easy, but it’s the way it’s always been (with my wife), and she wouldn’t try to stop me from doing what I want to do. We wouldn’t be together if that was ever an issue. As far as jobs, I need to have an understanding with my employer that I need to take off every few months. If they can’t deal with it, I look for another job. I’ve been lucky in that respect though, and haven’t really had problems.
It must be hard leaving home to go on tour. What’s the thing you miss most about home while on the road?
Just my family and being home. Just that feeling of “being home”.
The Swingin’ Utters played at the first ever Warped Tour in 1995. What was that like? How does it compare to your 2006 appearance?
We were on Warped in ’95 and ’98, I believe, and then did I think 4 shows in 2010. The early ones were really great time--great exposure, tons of fun, lots of cool bands to see every day. The 2010 ones were pretty weird. The shows themselves were great, but I think we all really realized that it wasn’t a punk rock festival any more. Overall it was a pretty huge bum out.
A lot of your fans are older now, and have been following you since you started writing music; however, you’ve said in interviews that you do see some younger fans at your shows. How do you reach out to your younger fans?
Not in any way, particularly. Being on Fat probably helps… We just do what we do, and we try to put on a good show and make good music, and I’m really happy that younger people like it. Some of our older fans bring their kids to our shows now. THAT is a great, great thing, and gives me warm fuzzies.
Do your own kids listen to your music? Will you ever tell them everything about your career with The Swingin’ Utters?
Sure, if they ask… They listen to my bands, but mostly second hand (my wife listening to us in the car or something). They know if it’s the Utters or Filthy Thieving Bastards, or the Gimmes… My 9 year old is really into One Man Army, actually.
What helps you through a hard time? What gives you hope?
Not much. My family helps, I guess, and writing really helps me a lot. I’m too much of a pessimist. It’s a work in progress…. Whatever.