Interview: Bitter Branches (Deadguy, Lifetime, Paint It Black) Discuss New Album, “Your Neighbors Are Failures”

It’s been a busy couple of years for New Jersey metallic hardcore crew Bitter Branches. With a lineup made up of hardcore scene royalty—Tim Singer (Deadguy, Kiss It Goodbye, No Escape), Jeff Tirabassi (Walleye), Matt Ryan (Calvary), Kevin Sommerville (Lighten Up!), and Dan Yemin (Lifetime, Kid Dynamite, Paint It Black)—and a steady flow of new music, Bitter Branches are poised to become an enduring force in the genre. 

Bitter Branches dropped their first full-length, Your Neighbors Are Failures, last month via Equal Vision Records. Decibel caught up with members of the band to talk about the new record and their next moves.

How did Bitter Branches come together?
MR: We came together very organically, albeit in an old man sort of way. The original bass player, Brian, struck up a conversation with me at the daycare our boys were both at. Funnily enough, my son happened to be wearing a kid’s size Lifetime shirt that Dan had given me, which caught his attention.

I had just moved to Philly and he asked if I’d be into playing with him and another kid’s dad at the daycare, who turned out to be Jeff. I was pretty reluctant because I hadn’t played in a band in a long time, but we eventually got together and Brian also looped in Kev. We messed around for a little while and eventually crossed paths with Tim, who was also in the neighborhood. Once Tim was in the mix, I think things really clicked and we started tapping into something that felt unique and strong. We lived close by, so it was easy to get together and have time to explore things.

JT: That’s our romantic origin story…old punks meet at daycare drop off. Yeah, once we got the music going we needed to land a singer. I had a short list in mind and Tim Owen from Jade Tree Records kept pushing me to full court press Tim. I’ll let Tim take it from here. Spoiler alert…it involves more old punks and toddlers!

TS: Yeah, I was making a very rare appearance at a hardcore show in downtown Philly–Alone in a Crowd was playing a benefit show at the [First Unitarian] Church. While I’m there, I start receiving text messages from my oldest daughter, Stella (17 at the time), asking me if I know Jeff Tirabassi. It took me a minute since I don’t think we had seen each other in 20+ years.  

The reason she asked is that she ran into Jeff at a toddler’s birthday party. Stella was there to facepaint for her teacher’s kid’s party and Jeff was there with his daughter. The teacher went to shows back in the day and he told Jeff that Stella is my daughter. Jeff then connected the dots and had her text me. Fas tforward to me and Jeff meeting for coffee, at which point he did indeed ambush me and wouldn’t take no for an answer, basically.

You released your first EP, This May Hurt a Bit, in April 2020 and it’s been a constant flow since then. The members of Bitter Branches are in or have spent time in a few other notable bands like Deadguy, Lifetime, Kiss It Goodbye and Paint It Black. Was Bitter Branches always supposed to be this active or did the pandemic open that schedule up further?
MR: The pandemic might have killed some bands, I think it breathed new life into Bitter Branches. The lockdown hit on the last day of recording This May Hurt a Bit and, once we recognized everything had changed, we quickly put the EP in the rearview and dove into what could come next in this crazy new context. 

Because we lived close by and were not seeing anyone else aside from our families, we felt comfortable fairly early on to get together and play almost every week—first in Tim’s garage, then later at a friend’s metal shop. For me at least, I felt this huge need to play and get things out, given how anxious and terrible everything was in the world. The band was a gift and I think flourished because we could pour ourselves into it during the pandemic.

TS: I don’t think we started with a huge agenda, but the pandemic created ironically good conditions to be productive in terms of songwriting. There was literally not much else to do  

Your Neighbors Are Failures definitely embraces a ‘90s and early-aughts metallic hardcore sound. Did you go into the writing process with the goal of making a record with that sound or did it happen naturally?
MR: I think we play what comes naturally to us and we are products of the music we grew up on, for sure. Nothing is that formulated, it’s just us trying to make music we like and enjoy playing.

JT: I second that. We allowed ourselves the freedom and flexibility of no pretext and just wrote music we would listen to. We all have varied influences on our individual roles in the band but share a strong stable of influential bands that got us to this point in our lives, which I think can be heard in the results. Black Flag, Nirvana, Hyenas, Soundgarden, Scratch Acid and Rites of Spring can all be peeled back from these songs. Coupling all that with the addition of Dan replacing our original bass player, I imagine that dark emotive sound will develop further with the experience of his songwriting and record collection. 

Listeners familiar with your work in Deadguy will probably recognize a lot of your sarcastic song titles and lyrics. Were you focused on specific ideas or topics with the lyrics?
TS: I just write what comes to mind in the moment. Songs tend to have “moods” that I try to lock into, but the process is mostly organic and in the moment. I think that makes the record a definite reflection of an overall mood in the air right now. Any sarcasm is probably just part of who I am and just part of the fun of naming songs after the fact.

Bitter Branches played a couple shows supporting the new album already. What happens next? Will you keep up the pace you set since the band formed or is is it time to focus on other things for a while?
MR: We play together a lot and I’m hopeful we get more music out in the near future. We have a bunch of new ideas and song sketches since the LP. It feels wide open and very unconstrained to me. The band has been a big creative and emotional outlet, so I see us continuing to put a lot in and get a lot out.

JT: Between the live shows we have planned and more to follow I don’t see us taking our foot off the songwriting gas pedal. Sitting idle on new ideas seems to pluck away at our creative initiatives. And Equal Vision is super supportive of whatever we have in mind.