Month after month, the numbers “450” and “900” haunt the majority of the names on Decibel’s contributor roster. That’s because those are the official word counts for the half-page Upfront and full-page features, respectively, that we run in each issue about whoever’s got an album/book/DVD/tour/coffee shop coming down the pipeline to promote. If there’s something that will never stop being a challenge for any of us hacks, it’s the process of taking an interview that, in its raw form, runs many, many words over the mandated word limit and trimming it down so that it fits, flows, tells a story, makes sense and is somewhat entertaining. In the latest issue (#131, featuring second-time cover stars, Ghost; buy your copy here), there’s a piece on Publicist UK, the post-punk-ish collaboration between members of Goes Cube, Revocation, Freshkills and drummer of every band ever, Dave Witte, that has its debut full-length, Forgive Yourself, coming out on the 21st. As the story appeared in the Upfront section, its length ran somewhere in the neighbourhood of 450 words (though Albert will tell you that in 10+ years he’s still waiting for me to hand something in at or under word count), you get to pay bare witness to my handiwork in comparing the original email interview, which ran over 2000 words, with what I came up with for the magazine. Most of the interview was pretty fucking sweet and definitely worth reading, which led me to think, why not share it all with all y’all. So, here you are kids: the full, slightly abridged, Publicist UK interview conducted by yours truly via the wonders of the interhole.
Alright fellers, the first, most obvious and what will be most asked question: how did this mess come together?
David Obuchowski: Goes Cube (my other band) used to tour with Zack’s old band (Freshkills) and Brett’s old band (East of the Wall). It was good timing. Zack and I got back in touch and decided to experiment with a project, so I sent him a couple songs. We did two songs, I had a beer with Brett who I hadn’t seen in a while, and we had our usual ‘when are we gonna do something together’ talk. And that’s when it occurred to me that the weird shit I was doing with Zack might be of interest to Brett. Sure enough, Brett was into it, and played it for Dave Witte. So, within days of Brett joining, he texts me like, “Yo, do you want to Dave Witte to join as drummer?”
Zack Lipez: I wrote an essay in Talkhouse about failing life in general, and in music in particular. David O. read it and said “yeah that sounds about right” and asked if we should make music. Excited to make music and double-excited at the notion of it being over the internet so I wouldn’t have to go to practice (as a singer who can play nothing, I’ve more than paid my “sitting on the bullshit couch, reading back issues of MRR while the musicians argued for hours about notes or whatever” dues so…). I loved what David sent me and apparently so did Brett and Dave W. Then, they all three made beautiful music and were nice enough to let me stay.
Dave Witte: I was sitting in my kitchen with Brett making some coffee before a Glorious Gone practice (post-Burnt By the Sun band) and he’s like “Check this stuff out.” He played me two songs that David and Zack were working on. I was into the songs and Zack’s voice and just said, “This is cool and if ya need a drummer I’ll do it” (not really thinking much of it) and 15 minutes later, I was on board!
And seriously, what’s with that band name?
Zack: Look, fucker, it’s a good name. Or, no worse than any other. OK fine, I just really love the idea of having a band name “publicist” which to me is a million times darker than some reference to hit points or Jesus being slapped around or whatever the zeitgeist is currently considering scary. There was already, it turned out, a good electronics project called “Publicist” and the dude was nice enough to share and, as a tribute to Charlatans UK and London Suede and others, we added “UK.” Also, c’mon, it’s not like I knew this bad boy would last longer than a week.
With certain members being busier than others (publicly, anyway) I’m guessing the original intent was to put together a few songs for shits and giggles, not be thrust into any sort of spotlight and put an album out on Relapse? Or was it? And how has this altered any plans you may or may not have had for PUK?
Dave W.: For me, it was an outlet for fun and something to do during some downtime. After talking to David O. about some stuff, he kept sending me skeletons for songs with some drum ideas and it turned into me going to the practice room and doing two passes of each song and sending them to him to match up with the song. I got way into it and started banging out a few songs at a time and before we knew it, there were all these songs. We were all on the same page by this point. It was so exciting and creative and different for me especially. I thought Relapse may be into it, so I sent [label manager] Rennie the tunes.
David O: After Dave and Brett joined and added their parts, it immediately stopped being a project and was a full-on band. Right away, with everyone bringing such different influences, I felt and heard the potential. But, rather than having a specific intent other than making music, our approach was, and is, that we’re doing something good, and we should give it all the room and resources it needs to grow. I just feel like there’s more potential than ever now.
Zack: We went in with the understanding that this project was not to fuck with anyone’s life. I love and respect all the other members’ main projects/main children. But I also think we’re so happy with how the album came out, and generally grok each other, that…we may go bigger and bigger. We’ll see.
How does PUK tackle the matter of the song writing process? Is it a case of you guys not ever being able to do this unless Al Gore had invented in the internet? How much time have you spent jamming in the same room, if at all?
Dave W.: David is the brainchild. He’ll have a song/skeleton and the rest would add and flesh it out from our own locations. We were never in the same room together until a week before our SXSW run. We recorded all the demos and a full album this way. It worked out rather swell, I think.
Zack: David O. is the papa. And after the baby is born, each member is allowed to give it cool shirts and muss with its hair a bit. But the skeleton and meat is all David O. No jamming. I’m too negative and weak to be allowed near the initial process. Maybe by album number six.
David O.: I write all the guitars, and record rough guitar tracks to click tracks. Then, I send those to everyone. They transform those songs with all they bring to them. I’ve never been one for jamming. Don’t get me wrong, I love when we all play in the same room. But in those cases, we’re playing songs we’ve already worked out or are in the process of working out.
On that note, how much time during a PUK get-together/rehearsal is spent actually playing the songs vs. Witte extolling the virtues of Belgian beer upon everyone else?
Zack: The ratio is 1:1.
Dave W: Ha! Everyone is pretty beer savvy in the band, which is nice. Two of us work at beer bars, David lives in Colorado, a stone’s throw from multiple breweries and we’re UNTAPPD nerds, except Zack. I’m glad you chose Belgian, let’s not forget about the classics! As for rehearsing, everyone did their homework and our first pass at the songs was rough, but we actually sounded like a real band. It’s been two passes of the songs with a beer session in between. It’s real fun.
David O.: We’re all beer geeks. This band is a little like a beer club in that way. Though, Witte is certainly the president of that beer club.
In the short while PUK has existed, what do you feel you’ve learned from writing in style of music outside of your own ordinary, and doing it the way you’ve had to do it? How did airing the songs out live before, at and since SXSW change your approach or perspective towards the material?
Dave W.: For me, I’m playing much different than I have in anything I’ve done before. I really enjoy it and it’s helping out with my other projects. I haven’t done anything this dynamic or had the need to count to myself in a long time, so it’s a nice welcome challenge. Playing the songs live after recording is a whole other thing. You have the foundation and you also have this new swing and life to the songs with added little bits here and there that make things pop in different ways.
David O.: I feel completely liberated with regards to writing music for Publicist UK. For my other bands, there’s a particular sound or direction we’re trying to take/accomplish. Publicist UK is not that way. The record is heavy, but it’s also lush and pretty. And seeing how each song has evolved has taught me that I can’t have any expectations for how a song will sound. What I mean is, I may write a song that, in my mind, feels like, ‘OK, this is going to be a slower, prettier song.’ But when Dave, Brett, and Zack get done with it, it’s actually twice as fast, and totally dark; not to mention a thousand times better than I imagined it would be. That’s a pretty great feeling, and it allows me to simply write songs without any ancillary concerns. If I think it’ll be a fast, heavy song, there’s a good chance these guys will make it pretty and slow. The one thing I can be sure of is that it’s going to sound like Publicist UK. Playing the stuff live has been sick, but I hope I’ll not take that into consideration (and I don’t think I have) in my writing.
Zack: I’ve always been in punk/post-punk bands, so I’m really enjoying being in a heavy goth/rock outfit. There’s also a lot of Metal 101 music that the other dudes are introducing me to. I play them Nick Cave. You’d have to ask them how fair the trade is. Playing live was so much easier than it had any right to be. These guys click so well and it, frankly, results in my singing better than I ever thought possible. Or at least it feels great. I think with any time you record and then play the material out, the feelings of “Damn, I love this slight inflection we added, I wish it was on the record” is inevitable. But that just means our triple live album will be extra sick.
What news can you impart upon us about the upcoming debut full-length? How does it compare to what’s been made public so far and what was the recording process like compared to any of your past studio experiences?
Dave W.: The album recording is much better than the demos. For starters, it made everything nice and full. There is much more being offered as well as I think the rest of the album is even better than the demo, but I guess I’m biased. Tracking for me was much different. It was the first time I’ve ever recorded all by myself and with clicks. It was tough, especially the paces and paying attention to the click. Surprisingly, I didn’t pull out the rest of my hair, and managed to pull it off.
Zack: The name of the album is Forgive Yourself which is to be taken both straight and sideways. We mean it, man. I mean, if you really think that you deserve forgiveness. I mean, maybe you don’t. If your soul is irretrievable, if grace is just, because of a lifetime of crapulence and vicious indifference, or because your class only allows you to oppress and grind those below you to dust as you tweet smug inanities, an impossibility; then you should take the album title ironically. Also, my girlfriend said that it could be a Patti Smith album title. In this recording process, I spent most of my time talking about NYC hardcore with the producer. So, pretty similar.
David O.: It’s coming out on August 21st. I really love how the album turned out. The demo/7″ that’s out there now is really just a very rough and very narrow glimpse at our overall sound and material. Aside from some guitars and a little bit of backing vocals, we recorded the entire thing in New Hampshire. Dean Baltulonis produced it (he produced both Goes Cube albums). The process was interesting, and very fun. Dave and I were the only ones who were in the studio together, though we didn’t record together. Dave recorded all his drums first, and he did so to all the rough guitar tracks and clicks I’d recorded at home. When he got done, I re-recorded almost all my guitars with Dean. Meanwhile, Brett was on tour with Revocation, but had recorded rough bass on the road and sent his tracks to us. So, when it came time for Zack to go into the studio, he recorded vocals to the final drums and guitars, but rough bass. Within a week of being home from tour, Brett went up to New Hampshire and recorded all the bass. So, again, you got to really hear the songs evolve every time someone else recorded. When we were hearing the drums, guitars, and rough bass together, we were all feeling great about it. But we were just fucking floored when Dean sent us rough mixes of the songs with Zack’s vocals. By the way, to give you an idea of how strangely this all came together, Zack and Brett didn’t actually meet each other until a full three months after we’d finished recording the album.
With scheduling and location forever destined to be an issue for PUK, is there a particular game plan once the album is out and about? Obviously, given some of the personnel involved, the metal/extreme music community will be curious, but given that the music isn’t all out metal/extreme, has the idea of targeting the post-punk world (or what have you), been discussed?
Dave W: We will tour, not sure exactly when at the moment, but it will happen. I’m excited to play in the “normal” circles and expand into others. It’s more indie than metal, in my opinion. All things considered, I think the songs are really good, fun to play and I’m excited to play for whoever will listen.
David O.: Having been in and outside of the metal world with my bands, I have found that the metal community is actually pretty fucking open-minded. Ultimately, people like whatever it is they like. There will be purists. But it’s also been really great to see how metal fans have really liked what they’ve heard, especially other metal bands. But I think we can appeal to a lot of people. I just want as many people to hear it as possible. To that end, we’ll tour and record and play shows and keep at it. This is really just the start.
Zack: Maybe as a thought exercise, but we’re too old and upset to discuss “targeting” an audience in a serious way. I think we’re all pretty stoked on playing for different crowds. And I’ve assured them that the indie world is just as hopelessly corrupt as the metal world. It is, after all, part of the world. That being said, we will definitely being playing with both metal and goth bands. I want to play with Watain, Downtown Boys, and a Yaz cover band all on the same bill.