Photo by Marcus Laws, courtesy of Riverboat Gamblers
Riverboat Gamblers, the Austin via Denton via the scummy human heart of rock ‘n’ roll band of punks, are threatening to become an institution. The band and the bursts of perfect, wry pop-garage-punk they peddle have been around for close to two decades—long enough for their teenage kicks to have lil’ kicks of their own. These dudes are incorrigible.
Hoping to die before you get old, acting upon said impulse, and failing at even that is as good a rock ‘n’ roll modus operandi as any, and these guys have been doing all the above consistently from their 2001 debut album through today. Plus they write songs as catchy as all get out. They have a new single on End Sounds, “Massive Fraud,” which you can hear below for the first time. The B-side is a cover of the classic hate-the-police punker “Hate The Police” by Texas’s own The Dicks. Singer Mike Wiebe was good enough to answer some questions about the new songs and his recent physical calamities.
Noisey: What did you do to your stupid body?
Mike Wiebe: I collapsed my dumb lung from fracturing my moron ribs. I was a little overly enthusiastic at out SXSW Jackalope show and took a fall from the bar. I had to get a tube inserted between my ribs and sit there with it draining for six days. I texted many a person with the phrase, "I fucked up real good this time." It was pretty awful. I'm still kind of recovering. There isn't much physical therapy for a collapsed lung. You just sit around and wait for it to heal and then when it does you're out of shape and that’s when your old friend depression shows up to remind of how you ruined the entire season of spring.
There was a crowdfunding for your hospital bills. You didn't start it, and at some point you ended it. People must really like you. How did you feel about it? Why did you end it? I would have taken more money. I would have taken all the money.
I was overwhelmed at all the support and the gofundme. My friend Damon set it up, and it took off really quick. After some rough figuring, I thought that hopefully all the bills would be covered by it and I just felt weird about taking money if the bills were covered… It all happened so fast, and I almost felt panic-attacky about it. It’s ironic that I felt so weird about it because I'm a huge fan of both attention and money. Honestly, I maybe should've left it up because there are weird bills that they are just now sending, but it really helped get the bulk covered (assuming at some point they stop sending fucking bills) and helped me get back on my feet.
You just played again for the first time. How did it go? Were you scared?
I did my first thing back with Ghost Knife. I did find myself getting anxious. Any bar is a trigger now. The word bar is trigger. I couldn't even watch and episode of Roseanne without triggering. It went well though. I play guitar and sing and step on some pedals in Ghost Knife and its always been designed to be less American ninja-ish than Riverboat Gamblers. Despite the planned lack of strenuous activity I was more sore than I thought I would be afterwards. I guess I'm not 22 anymore. (I'm 24).
Do you, like, think about death all the time now?
Constantly. I feel the specter of death hovering around me at all times watching and letting her presence remind me that she can snatch my soul at any moment of whim. So that part is exactly the same as before the accident.
Riverboat Gamblers have a new single. Is the band the same going concern it was when you were touring all the time? The music is still vital, but you all have side projects now (feel free to hype them here). Do you still rehearse/write regularly? Future plans?
We do! It's called “Massive Fraud.” Available at Sam Goody and Virgin Megastores everywhere!
Not touring as much has been the best thing we've done in awhile. We get to say no to stuff all the time. We've been pretty much only doing the stuff that we really like and really want to do. We have slowly been working on a full length and demoing a bunch of songs and really tailoring what we want the next thing to be. I think breathing room is important especially when you've been a band for 15 years. The progress is slow and steady but considering how busy everyone is with other projects I think it's a healthy rate.
The Ians and Rob have been out for the last month with Broken Gold, and Rob and I have a Drakulas single coming out in September on Stiff Hombre and a Drakulas full length coming out on Dirtnap in November.
The Gamblers have this single coming out and we are working on a video for “Massive Fraud.” On top of that we have a cool video of the process and performance of four songs we did over SXSW (before my little "oopsie") with an 80-piece orchestra. That was one of the coolest experiences, and I can't wait to put it out. And for sure another full-length.
You covered “Hate The Police.” Was that a comment on the times or just a song you love?
It came about in a kind of crazy way. We got asked to put together some Texas-based punk songs that came out pre-1981 for Richard Linklater's Everybody Wants Some. This was actually a few years ago. So we learned “Hate The Police” by The Dicks and "Frat Cars" and “Fun Fun Fun” by The Big Boys and “John Wayne was Nazi” by MDC. I've always liked “Hate The Police.” The first time I heard that song was when Mudhoney covered it on Superfuzz Bigmuff. Anyway, we learned those songs, and “Frat Cars” edged out “Hate The Police” for the movie for whatever reason. But with all high-profile police murders like Tamir Rice and Eric Garner it really felt timely. Those 30-plus-year-old lyrics seem like could have been written about watching the news last year.
The Gamblers have evolved a bit over the years—even matured—but a common thread remains. I remember the story of a bunch of “authentic” punks heckling you at Chaos at Tejas (I think). But I guarantee none of those dudes are wearing shoelace headbands anymore or playing death rock or d-beat or whatever the punk sound of the season was. And you're still doing it. And I'm glad. But why, Mike, why?
Yeah, I'm willing to bet there is a drastically different version on the story they tell while holding up the line at bar to sample all the IPAs that they pretend to like. "Mmmmmmmm AND YOU SAY THIS ONE IS FROM BOULDER!?"
As to why, I'm still not sure. Stubbornness? Personally I feel like the goals are always changing. I'm definitely seeking and getting different things out of it than I was five, ten, and 15 years ago. I think that as a band if we started to feel forced it just wouldn't work. Also the fact that these things that pop up, like the 80-piece orchestra project and the Linklater movie. It's things we've never and wouldn't have imagined getting to do. Maybe the real answer is that I just haven't fallen off a bar high enough.
Zachary Lipez will be punk forever. Follow him on Twitter.