Interview: Pick Your Side

Pick Your Side is a new hardcore band based out of Hamilton, Ontario (and Buffalo, New York) which features ex-and-present members of Haymaker, Fuck the Facts, Psyopus amongst others. They’ve just released their full-length debut, Let Me Show You How Democracy Works courtesy of A389 Records and played a hometown show last weekend and as far as the reactions they received to their blazing power violence infused, old-school hardcore, well, let’s just say it’s been awhile since I’ve seen so many fights break out at a show, local or otherwise. We caught up with guitarist Johhny Ibay and vocalist Jeff Beckman who spilled the beans on all things PYS.
How did Pick Your Side come together? What sort of band history can you impart upon our handsome readership?
Johnny Ibay: It started out just as something fun to do for me and Jeff. We both have a history of playing music and we both work together – I work reception at a tattoo shop in Hamilton owned by Jeff – so we set up a jam room in the basement of the shop. In the beginning, we were just fucking around and making noise, Jeff on guitar and myself on drums. Around that same time we did some Haymaker shows, but with me on guitar and our friend [Jason] Bauers on drums. From there, we were going to write a bunch of stuff and put it out as Haymaker, but with the line-up being significantly different – I was now writing songs on guitar, Bauers was taking up drum duties and Biggley didn’t really have time to play bass with us anymore – we decided to make it a completely new thing and put Haymaker to rest. From there, we wrote Let Me Show You How Democracy Works between myself, Jeff and Bauers and then found a live line-up thereafter.

Recently, Damian Abraham from Fucked Up tweeted that PYS is his favourite new band. Has there been any fallout from his 140 word (or less) proclamation?
Johnny: I’ve never personally met Damian, but he seems like a pretty rad dude. I know Jeff has been friends with him for a fairly long time, so I’ll let him answer this one.
Jeff: Ha! I was shown that. I think it didn’t hurt us for him to say what ever it was he said. But on that note, it could have been 500 kids tracking down some PYS shit, expecting it to be some cool indie-rock, only to be extremely disappointed. But whatever effect it had I was stoked that Damian had those things to say; he’s a good dude with good taste, so it was a pleasant surprise for sure, especially since I haven’t heard from him in years.

Are you finding difficult to have people look at PYS as a band in its own right, not just “the side project of Jeff Beckman and a couple guys from Fuck the Facts”?
Johnny: We aren’t too worried about what people think about us. This band is totally just something we do on the side for fun. Between my priorities with Fuck the Facts, Jeff being a father of three and running a tattoo shop with two locations, and Bauers having a ton of projects that he does, we kind of just do things when we have the time to do them. We have a tour coming up for something like 10 days in Europe, but beyond that we’ll probably just write/record releases here and there and maybe play the occasional show. With our collective schedules we won’t ever be the type of band that tours heavily.

Pic: Ben Pepin

How did you rope Ed Repka into doing the cover art for the new album? Did you guys have the idea or did you let him run with his own ideas?
Jeff: Jon and I discussed the cover art and we’re both fans of Repka’s stuff, so I figured we’d ask him if he liked our idea and if he’d do it. I guess he dug the concept and he got the job done and we couldn’t be happier.

Your lyrics tackle many of society’s ills and cover a wide swath of the bullshit that plagues people on an everyday basis. Is there a particular reason you chose to make religious conflict the album’s focal point with the cover painting?
Jeff: We went with the religious war theme because without religion there would be no war, no moral crusading, no hatred, basically, and I would have nothing to write about. But there is and it sums up all of our problems as humans. The cover is a simple way of letting you know what we are about in one glance, and it’s a sign of the times.

The layout and design for Let Me Show You How Democracy Works is decidedly old-school hardcore, what with the inner sleeve photo collage, the typewriter font, the military stencil font, murky black-and-white photos, etc. How do you separate being an old-school type of hardcore band with an actual old-school history from the influx of pretenders who fake the funk?
Jeff: We (I) wanted this thing to have an 80’s feel about it with lots to look at and lots to absorb. I remember buying a record, listening to it and just staring/reading everything about it, almost memorizing it… that was half of the magic about discovering new bands. I feel that that side of music is a lost art. Between CDs and digital downloads you lose that magic, the shit I appreciated when I was 16. I wanted this record to be everything that we fell in love with about record buying/collecting, if that makes any sense to you. I grew up on that. I don’t know if I would consider us old school, but there is a lot that separates us from modern day hardcore bands. Like Jon said earlier we don’t have the energy or time to worry about what other bands are doing. But anyone with a clue can separate the false from the true.

What can you tell us about the writing and recording of the new album? How long were the writing and recording sessions and what were they like? Was there a specific way you approached your time in the studio?
Johnny: As far as writing the album, all of the music was written between myself and Jeff with a loose idea in mind for drums. Bauers would come up from Buffalo, NY and commutes to jam with us and we would show him our ideas and he would put his two cents in from there. Some of the song ideas were written with me on drums and Jeff on guitar, some I wrote by myself with a drum machine at home and some we wrote just jamming with Jeff and myself on guitar and Bauers on drums. We recorded the whole thing in a weekend at our friend Matt Connell’s Studio (Northwood Studios) in Chatham, ON. It’s a pretty awesome place to record. He bought this church in the middle of nowhere and converted it to a recording studio. That weekend was tons of fun.

Pic: Fred Pessaro

Judging by the rant in the liner notes, someone is pissed about the current state of hardcore. Who wrote this diatribe? Does it adequately sum up everyone else’s feelings as well? What’s your “stance” on hardcore and what it means to you personally?
Jeff: I wrote that shit. I don’t know if it sums up everyone’s feelings in the band, but I am sure it’s close. We all get along and hang out, I am sure we all have different ideas on a whole bunch of things… and that being said I can describe what hardcore means to me. I love hardcore because it’s what I discovered as a young kid. It holds a lot of sentiment to me, and now that I’m older it’s something I still identify with closely, but hate extremely because there’s far too much insincerity and shitheads [involved]. It’s also become so unthreatening that there is no heart attached. It’s like something to do during high school, and once college comes along careers and bullshit make it easy to forget where you came from and what values formed the person you are. If hardcore didn’t have an effect on you, you’re a fucking poser! And I am not talking about stage dives and bullshit coloured vinyl.

Considering member’s involvement in not only other bands andventures, how much of a focus is PYS and how dedicated is everyone involved to the band?
Johnny: Pick Your Side is definitely a ton of fun to do, but it’s kind of just something we do whenever we have time. The core of the band is really just Jeff, Bauers and myself trying to write songs that we think don’t suck too bad and put out records. Our friend Marc [Bourgon], that I play with in Fuck The Facts, was playing bass with us live and on record, but he’s so busy with FTF, Greber and recording bands (our next release is a 7″ recorded by him at Most Expensive Studios, due out in October on RSR records) that he’ll be playing one last show with us then calling it quits. Chris Ansley also plays second guitar with us, but he’s a pretty busy guy as well. In short, I’m sure we’ll be playing and recording music for a while but don’t expect things to happen that often with us, we’re all pretty busy with other things.
Jeff: Well, I hope we keep writing. It’s my only release right now and I think Jon and I have a good chemistry for this shit so hopefully we go till it burns out. Playing live is not important to me at all; creating, destroying and recording…as long as we do that, PYS should have a good go.

Let Me Show You How Democracy Works is out now on A389 Records.

Pick Your Side online