All Photos Courtesy of Benjamin Weiss — Life-Suxx.de
These Are Just Words. And These Are Just Sounds.
Unconventional in a lot of respects, Sinaloa have been making music since 2001. Their catalog is solid, spanning three LPs and a handful of splits and 7 inches released through some of the most esteemed labels in hardcore, including Level-Plane and Ebullition. The Massachusetts-based trio have inspired respect for their fierce live show and unique take on hardcore. Instead of short-changing the music for the sake of posturing, Sinaloa opt for sincerity and contemplation on personal loss, self-doubt and vulnerability.
The following conversation took place in early 2008 after the band’s return from a small European tour. Guitarist Pete Zetlan had a lot to say about everything from the mechanics of touring to why the band (rounded out by drummer Luke Pearson and guitarist Brendan Campbell) chooses to explain their songs live.
You just got back from a tour in Europe, am I right?
We went for two weeks in March with Daniel Striped Tiger, and that was our second time there.
What are the logistics for three of you to tour in Europe, in regards to touring from country to country and booking shows, etc.?
The first time we went was in 2006, and we’d been talking about it for a while. We got in touch with a guy who had booked tours for Transistor Transistor, and we told him the dates we’d like to tour and what countries we’d like to go to and he tried to find shows for us. He had a better idea of routes that made sense and where people would come out to shows. We were going to go in summer, because I teach and get time off. It turns out that touring in Europe isn’t a good idea at that time, because people go on vacation. I also get a two week vacation in March, so that was the alternative.
It seems like it it’d be a costly venture.
We were going to go alone, but we’re friends with Ampere, so we thought it would be fun to have another band come with us and split costs. We just went over with our guitars and the drummers brought cymbals and their snares. The guy who booked the tour pointed us in the direction of who to rent a van and equipment from. We got there and he had all that set up and found a relatively inexpensive driver.
How was the crowd reaction over there?
In terms of shows, it was like nothing we’d experienced before, though we only have the shows in the US to base that off of. It seemed it was more of an event before and after, rather than going to watch a band. There, you go to the shows early and there’s food ready for you and it’s not just for the bands. Whoever helped out with the show will sit down to a meal together, almost like a family, so there’s a relationship being built. Then you do a sound-check and play the show and afterwards there’s hanging out and more food and you stay at the venue, at a squat or at someone’s house. It’s crazy because you don’t worry about where you’re going to get food. We all have jobs, so if worst comes to worst we’ll buy food, but there you’re taken care of. Here, you play and then maybe you’ll find somewhere to stay. Around here it’s few and far between that you find that sense of community and access to spaces that promote art or aren’t being shut down all the time. It also has the possibility to light a fire under you to do something in your own community, but I think there’s forces beyond that can stop you from doing that.
I’ve got a quote here that echoes what you’re saying. After you got back from that first European tour, Luke did an interview where he said, “There were many things that were obviously different about touring in Europe. People were less afraid to show real genuine excitement about music and about what people were doing, as bands and with music.”
I don’t know what it is, whether Europeans are more excited or that there’s so many bands touring around the states that it becomes stale or that there’s just not the community sense. We played a show in New Hampshire a while ago; we have friends there and some bands we knew were playing, so that was nice, but beyond that, nobody was coming up to talk to us after the show. I’m not looking for someone to say “your show was awesome,” but it’d be nice to have some interaction. I feel like there’s a boundary between the bands and people who come to the show sometimes.
How do you go about breaking down that boundary and encouraging crowd participation?
When we play, more often than not, I’ll talk about a song or one of us will talk about something that’s going on or that we’ve been thinking about. We invite people to come meet us, but in Europe people will just come up and say hi. Here, you go to a show, find out the order you’re playing in and you might know some of the bands so you’ll talk with them, but there’s not as much interaction.
Some people view North America as socially cold compared to the rest of the world.
I don’t know what it is. I think people are a little bit lazy sometimes, and that’s probably being kind. You go to some shows and it feels amazing. There are kids that are doing a lot of great things in a lot of different areas. We know some kids in Reno, Nevada and we’ve played there a couple of times. That was before we went to Europe, but it was very much like that. We showed up and kids were hanging out. They’d take you somewhere in Reno to hang out and talk with you and hang out after the show. They kind of take you in. There’s definitely things like that going on around the country, but I think there’s more places in the city that are spoiled because there’s bands always coming through, as opposed to a small town where bands don’t come.
Touring must be expensive.
Brendan, Luke and I have talked about touring more. Now there’s so many things up against us. With the amount of money that goes into gas and whether kids are going to come out to the shows. We’ve never really broken even on tour. We don’t come back loaded.
Up here in Canada, it’s so spread out, but in the States the drives between places are shorter, so why not do smaller shows?
Right, exactly. It just depends on knowing people in those places. With the internet, it’s kind of a double-edged sword. You can just write to someone, and it’s an instant connection and it’s easy to spread the word about shows, but at the same time there are all these message boards and stuff. Some people think, ‘oh, I like this band, I should do a show for them.’ That’s great, but does it make sense to bring them? Are people going to come out? Maybe you’re not considering that it’s costing these people gas money to get there. It’s just the way the economy here is. I’d like to think that we could keep punk shows and DIY shows without expensive door prices, but I don’t know if it’s realistic. People have this mind-set where they think it’s not cool if the price for the show is $8. I think with the way the US economy is going, it’s like that’s not going to pay for gas to get to the next show. Thinking about those things is more open-minded and where punk stems from: supporting a community.
Speaking of punk, your sound has always had that sort of raw aesthetic. On the new record, Oceans of Islands, everything seems a lot more melodic and flowing than previous records.
I think it’s just the nature of us playing together a bit more. If you’ve heard the demo or the first EP, I think we all cringe at those songs a little bit sometimes. We’re proud of it because when we got together, Brendan knew how to play guitar, but Luke and I didn’t know how to play our instruments. It was this growing process. By no means am I a great guitar player, but I think I have a little better idea of what I’m doing. It’s been nice because we’ve naturally progressed together. I don’t know how I’d do in another band — there’s a comfort level with Brendan and Luke because I learned with them. Brandon and I played in a band before where I played drums, but it was kind of a joke. They were stupid fast songs that were a mess.
There are some out of the ordinary instruments on this record. I think there’s even xylophone on there?
Yeah, there’s xylophone and a metallophone, which is like a xylophone on a larger scale but deeper and more resonant.
I think there’s also trumpet on “Name Names.”
Yeah, we’re always interested in taking that aspect of recording and adding parts. Obviously not somethingthat overtakes the whole song or makes it un-playable live, but we like to fool around with that kind of thing.
Why these particular instruments?
I work at a school, and when we first started writing together, I had access to borrow instruments from my school’s music class. I always liked the sounds of these instruments and it has a nice melody and undertone that adds to the songs. I like the idea of listening to a record and always finding elements that are hidden. With these instruments, we’re not pushing the levels too loud, so that if you listen on headphones you might notice more than on speakers. I like records where things aren’t popping out, but if you listen you’ll hear it. People use these things in interesting ways, and we’re lucky enough to know people that can play these instruments. This guy named Forbes played it, and we gave him the songs and he came up with a part. There was another song where he did trumpet on and it sounded a little too busy, so we scrapped it.
So, if you didn’t have much of an idea of how to play your instruments, how did the band get together?
The summer after I graduated college I moved home from Boston, and Luke moved from Vermont, so we were both living at our parents’ houses again. Brendan had gone to a local school, so we were all in the same area. Those two wanted to do something musically, and I was the kid who was always going to shows and putting out records. I wanted to play in a band but never knew how to play an instrument.
What made you decide to pick up all these instruments that you weren’t overly familiar with?
Brendan had played bass in Ettil Vrye, so I think he wanted to play guitar in a band and I had played drums in the silly band, but I had no skill in it, so it seemed like I might be able to try guitar. Luke had played guitar in Ettil Vrye, so he had skill in tempos and writing music, and wanted to play drums, so we thought we’d try it out.
So Luke and Brendan had a little bit of a musical history before Sinaloa?
Well, that summer, or even before, Brendan and I and our friend Pete had played together. I was playing drums, our friend was playing bass and Brendan was playing guitar. We never had songs, we’d just try to come up with parts and play them. We thought if we practiced enough we’d become a band. In April 2001, our friend Pete was going through a really tough time and ended up taking his own life. When Luke and I graduated college, it was this awkward transition of being in between school and finding real jobs and trying to deal with losing a really good friend. We’d hang out all the time, Brendan and I, and we’d play music to see what happened. That summer, it was kind of a salvation for us. We thought it would be fun to try and write some songs, and it went really well — the parts and changes came together and we thought it was fun.
The new album is a lot more fluid — less choppy and pretty dynamic — but there’s some softer textures on some of the songs.
With our earlier stuff, there wasn’t as much constructing and then de-constructing. We’d write a part, add a couple other parts and then end the song without always reflecting on what we wrote. When we wrote this record, in the beginning, we had practices where we’d all come in with parts and play them and find something that went with it. We did that until we had, like, 20-30 parts or something and those became the way we’d start songs. We’d try to put parts together or have a part and build off of it. After we constructed what we thought was a song, we’d go back and listen and decide if things made sense. Or, before we got to the end of the song, we’d have a few parts written and then one of us would decide that we didn’t like it and scrap it all or a bit of it and start over. Sometimes, two of us would feel like a song was great, but the third person wouldn’t be into it, which was good because it would push us into a new direction of being more critical of ourselves or to try new things.
So, all three of you have to be 100% happy with the songs?
There’s give and take, but discussions could go on forever, and nothing would get done. I think to a point there’s not a song we write that one of us thinks sucks and doesn’t want to play. Everyone gets comfortable and we’d never do it if we weren’t comfortable.
There’s a couple songs on the album, like “Ashes of Giants” and “Legs, Limbs, Wings”, that seem a bit more hopeful than previous records. The atmosphere seems a bit lighter.
Luke wrote “Ashes of Giants,” so I can’t really speak to that one, and not having the record in front of me, it’s hard to remember what the words are. “Legs, Limbs, Wings” is the last song, right? I’m trying to think of how it goes.
I have a clip here if you want to hear it.
You should know these off by heart! [laughs]
I know, I know. The funny thing is, we just got back from Europe and we’ve played one show since, but practice has been very up and down because my school year is ending and Brendan is getting married next week. Since Europe we’ve all been busy in different ways. Before we went on tour, and as we wrote the record, obviously I was listening to it all the time, trying to learn it.
Also, maybe names come last in your case?
I ask a lot of bands about specific songs and they blank. “Ok, the one that goes duh duh dah.”
[listens to first 20 seconds]
That’s the one that begins “standing on shaky ground.” Sometimes, when we write explanations with songs, it could really mean many different things. I think with that song it’s a mix of things: it’s about growing and taking a step back to look at surroundings and growth. A lot of times, especially when you find yourself in a community like we are and things are changing all around you, people get stuck in this static motion, thinking “this is the way things should be”, or bands trying different things and trying to get big or what-not. It’s about not getting so aggravated or down on people for trying different things, because it’s not that big of a deal, and also questioning why you do things the way you do. Everybody needs growth and to make changes. I guess in a way it’s more hopeful.
Typically, bands have one lyricist. All three of you write, so to have three viewpoints is pretty different.
Yeah, I think most bands do have one person writing, but that’s the way we’ve always done it. When we write stuff, it’s not like one person says, “I wrote this whole song, I want you guys to play it like this.” Someone comes up with a part and we bounce ideas off of each other. We try to make sure there’s an even amount of lyrics between us, but sometimes one of us will write a lot more. With this last record, I wrote all of the songs except two. Luke wrote one and Brendan wrote the song on the Daniel Striped Tiger 7″. We’ll usually come up with lyrics and decide which goes well with each song. I think that lends itself to the way we write the lyrics. We all have opinions and things we’d like to express, but we’re all on the same page for the most part. If someone came in with lyrics that were totally crazy, the other two would say something. When we bring stuff to practice, for me and I think Brendan and Luke, it’s a humbling experience, because you’re sharing something that means something to you.
Having said that, is it strange playing some of these songs in front of strangers?
I feel more uncomfortable doing it when I know there’s a friend there, because I have a connection with them and they know me better, so it feels like I’m sharing more of myself with them. With random people, it’s easier.
I read a lot of band biographies and the word “honest” gets tossed around a lot. However, your lyrics are very contemplative and I’d call your band very honest and heart-felt. You say you find it uncomfortable to intro a song when friends are in the audience. Would you find it easier to say something in smaller crowds than if you were on a larger platform?
I don’t know. I feel like the things we say are important to us. I don’t think this stuff is embarrassing for us or anything. We’re not writing pop songs.
It seems like people hide behind irony sometimes, like “I’m singing this song but I don’t mean it.”
I guess everyone has their own reasons. Some people just like being in front of people and playing.
That’s one of the things I like about Sinaloa. Like your lyrics about losing loved ones. Those are very intense, personal things. Not many people would feel comfortable vocalizing that.
I think we want to write about things we’re familiar with. I don’t feel comfortable writing some political song about something I know nothing about. I wrote about going down to New Orleans and what I saw, but I’d had those experiences. If I saw something on TV, I could have that connection, but it wouldn’t feel as personal. It’s the same thing with losing my friend and my mom; those are things I’ve experienced and think about all the time.
You talk about introducing songs and explaining them, and you also have explanations on the website. That’s not really common practice.
Personally, I like to buy records and look through lyrics and think about what they’re talking about. We’re good friends with a band called Anton Bordman, and they would do explanations at shows. There songs were like 30 seconds long and a lot of the time they’d talk more than play. They were just engaging in that way. It was always something I really liked, because it broke it down that the show wasn’t just about entertainment.
Do people ever tell you to ‘shut up and play?’
Some people don’t like it, they just want bands to play and that’s fine, but for us that was what we wanted. If we were going to take the time to write these songs then we’d like to explain them. Maybe at some point we’ll decide that we want to let people speculate more. People ask us why we take the time to do it and say we’re shoving things down people’s throats. I don’t agree. We’re just talking about experiences mostly, not the way things should be. Maybe a year from now we won’t be doing that. It’s the same with the shows. We’ve been trying to do all-ages shows. Maybe we’ll re-evaluate and think of what it would be like to play clubs or something. In Boston there aren’t many venues for all-ages shows. We’re always re-evaluating.
I read the explanation to “With Our Ears To The Soil” off of Footprints On The Floorboards and I got something different out of it. Do you find that happens a lot? People say something like, “I thought it was about this or that”?
I guess because we have explanations some people would say it limits itself because of that. It doesn’t let the listener think “to me this is what it means.” There have been times where people have gone through their own experiences that aren’t always similar, but the song touches on something that they can take from. A song like “Hello To Goodnight,” which is about losing our friend, I think if people go through something similar, they can relate. I always find it interesting when people have other interpretations.
Some of the songs are fairly heavy. Do you think the average person would be thrown off if a they could read those explanations, as opposed to listening just to the songs?
Some people use a lot of imagery or little phrases that don’t connect, and for me I can’t make sense of what they’re talking about. We try to make ours a little more straight-forward. Some people just want to listen to music and not necessarily connect. If people want to read the lyrics and find something they want to connect with, it’s there.
What do you hope people take away from the whole package of your music?
When we write the songs, I think it starts off as something we enjoy doing. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t want others to enjoy our songs too, but, for me at least, it means more when there’s a connection. When someone tells us there’s a song that they really connect with, that means more than if someone thinks it’s catchy. We’ve all had that with bands. It’s always really nice to hear that.