Talking to Skot Alexander of the Los Angeles-based punk act 400 Blows is like conversing with your drunken uncle.
Whatever the case, he's a pretty funny guy, and his band is all fire and fury. Formed in 1997, 400 Blows make punk the old-fashioned way, with smarm and shock. In 2003, the band released its debut full-length, Black Rainbow, and that effort remains a fan favorite. Yet, the recently issued Sickness and Health is still pretty damn solid.
Speaking from a tour stop in Missouri and in anticipation of Thursday night's show at Bryan Street Tavern, Alexander recently spoke to DC9 about all things punk rock.
Is your name a reference to getting hit 400 times?
No, it's coming of age term. It was also a 1959 French film about a kid growing up, pushing buttons and seeing what he could get away with.
How much has the band evolved from the first album, 2003's Black Rainbow, to the recently released Sickness and Health?
We're all a lot more handsome now. We smell better. We have manners. We actually use eating utensils. The guys that are in the band now are still friends with the old guys. Musicianship-wise, I think these new guys blow off the doors more. The sound hasn't really changed.
Why do you think Black Rainbow is such a fan favorite?
It was our first real record. It was a double-record. It's got a really dirty, live sound. People liked it and it was symbolic of where we were at that time. That's the one that gave us all the money. [Laughs.] I like this new record. It's tough to say which one is better. Me, I really don't like music. I just sit around and watch TV.
Your vocals have been described as frenetic screeching. Is that praise?
Sure. Absolutely. Any way anyone wants to describe them.
Your shows are known to be very violent. Have you ever been attacked?
I wouldn't call our shows violent at all. Our drummer does hit himself in the face with his drumsticks every other night. Other than that, it's teenage girls and Gumby dolls.
But isn't there sometimes fighting in the crowd?
Did you say biting? Yes, there is lots of biting. But no fighting.
Why has Los Angeles traditionally been a city known for its good punk bands?
It's a good city for music, in general. It's a good place for pop music, too. If you want to two-step, you can do that here as well. It has its dark and dirty side, that's for sure.
When you were younger, how big of an influence were old-school hardcore bands like Black Flag and Fear?
Pretty big because the first record that really made a difference to me was Black Flag's Jealous Again. My brother put that record on and I was, like, "Whoa." Prior to that, I just listened to whatever my baby-sitter's boyfriend brought over. It was stuff like Supertramp, Kiss and REO Speedwagon.
Do you think that Nirvana and Green Day made punk commercially viable?
Well, those two bands turned a lot of people onto that style of music. Punk music started to take on all sorts of shapes. The real stuff is never commercially viable. Bands like Green Day and Nirvana just had a combination of punk and pop. Both bands had good vocals and good songwriting.
Will there ever be a time without punk?
No, there will always be some kind of punk around. Punk was always against the pop aesthetic. As long as that pop aesthetic is around, there will be punk. I always found it funny when bands say they play pop-punk since those are two terms that were never meant to be together. Punk used to mean having a great deal of energy, but now it's a clothing store in the mall called Hot Topic. The term has now been hijacked. Punk has been polished so much that it's fucking unrecognizable.
Why do so many punk bands gravitate to playing metal?
I think the genres are similar. They have a similar energy. I think some bands just got bored playing punk.
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Are there other genres that you listen to?
I was just listening to Depeche Mode.
Are you a closet Depeche Mode fan?
No, I am totally out of the closet about it. I just told you about it, so I guess I am out of the closet now.
Is there a punk band out there that you think is underrated?
Well, you should check out Justin Timberlake. That guy is pretty punk rock if you ask me.
400 Blows performs with El Paso Hot Button on Thursday, October 6, at Bryan Street Tavern.