If there is any life lesson to be learned from Houston rabble rousers Days N' Daze, it's to never allow romantic disappointments to spoil other endeavors. And if circumstances—professional or creative, let's say—make reminders of a recent breakup unavoidable, you can always convert that angst into rocket fuel.
Somewhere in the vicinity of 2012, onetime high school sweethearts Whitney Flynn and Jesse Sendejas, both vocalists and multi-instrumentalists, called off a five-year-long engagement. Just like any other time a fire sign dates another fire sign, their relationship was doomed from the start. But instead of throwing their band in the scrap heap next to their romance, the pair channeled any lingering bitterness and hurt feelings into 2013's Rogue Taxidermy —a proverbial doctoral thesis in bloody-fanged acoustic punk and, at that point, their greatest musical achievement since they began writing songs together in the late 00s.
"We're still BFFs, but we can't ride in the same touring vehicle together," explains Flynn, on speaker phone from a makeshift recording studio in Richmond, Texas. "We can only spend three hours alone writing before we try to hurt each other."
"Emotionally!" clarifies in the equally present Sendejas.
"Emotionally," Flynn continues. "We genuinely love this music more than we love anything else, and we weren't about to sacrifice that for closure or for a normal life."
"Closure's overrated," notes Sendejas.
And whereas Fleetwood Mac and No Doubt had contractual obligations and million-dollar budgets twisting their arms to do Rumours and Tragic Kingdom, Flynn and Sendejas forged Rogue Taxidermy in the same closet in Sendejas' dad's house where they recorded almost all of their other full-lengths and split EPs. In fairness, the closet has a much spiffier setup than it did when they started out. Sendejas finds that a Sterling ST55 mic does the trick picking up whatever it needs to, as long as he positions it correctly. But a closet, after all, is still a closet.
Rogue's de facto hit—a stone-hearted celebration of solitude christened "Misanthropic Drunken Loner"—comes flanked by the apoplectic "Call in the Coroner" and "Blue Jays," a song known to lull moshpit scrapers into states of pensive meditation, penned in tribute to Flynn's departed grandfather. Other highlights include "Goodbye Lulu," an aural raspberry to history's lamest street kid, and closer "Post Party Depression," whose title belies a defiant hopefulness. Sure, practically every city's got at least one outfit of ex-teenage Sum 41 fans grown-up and turned busker, but with respect to whatever version of that paradigm runs amok in your town, Days N' Daze songs warrant discussion above and apart from any punk rock cliches.
To the right ear holes, Rogue Taxidermy is at least as good as Rumours, and probably much better than Tragic Kingdom. Between that, a cameo on Leftöver Crack's Constructs of The State, a subsequent tour with the flagship ska-punk outfit, and a handful of scorchers off splits with Night Gaunts and Broken Bow, Flynn and Sendejas found themselves working on the follow-up Crustfall under the unfamiliar burden of high expectations.
"Before, I never thought anyone was going to listen, so we could write shitty songs and it really wouldn't matter," says Flynn. "Now there's, subconsciously, this pressure. And it freaks me the fuck out."
Days N' Daze require peace of mind almost as much as they require closure, judging by Crustfall tracks "Self Loathing" and "Note Idol." Despite the name of their latest opus, Flynn and Sendejas admit crust punk influences their fashion sensibilities more than their music. Sendejas describes his operation, not as folk-punk, but as a "glorified acoustic emo band with some ska influences." While more than a little misleading, at least that statement prevents anyone from assuming his music sounds like Frank Turner.
As stereotypes that coastal urbanites harbor about Texas might lead you to expect, wardrobe and hairstyle choices associated with youth and music-oriented subcultures, plus a few behavioral quirks, bounced a younger Flynn and Sendejas in and out of multiple high schools throughout the Houston suburbs. Flynn graduated a year early, and trekked off to Texas State University, joined by Sendejas in San Marcos shortly thereafter once he abandoned conventional education altogether. For obvious reasons, the then-couple loathed San Marcos with the frothing intensity necessary to start a punk band and indulge their wanderlusts. Rigorous official and unofficial touring schedules didn't leave Flynn with enough time to finish a degree, but her incomplete major in entrepreneurship behooves her in her current station as Days N' Daze's booker and manager, so TSU wasn't a total wash.
Consistent lineups are for suckers, as many contemporary punk acts will tell you. Sendejas recruited current gutbucket player Geoff Bell outside an open mic night for a tour scheduled to begin five days later. Washboardist Meg Gan—which sounds suspiciously like a stage name—came aboard when legal troubles prevented the previous washboard player from crossing state lines. Plus, she turned out to wield an eerily automatic understanding of a counter-intuitively tricky instrument if there ever was one.
"We just go, 'Hey! Wanna quit your job and follow us around and play music with us!? Here's a bucket!' Flynn says of their recruitment process.
Hand-in-hand with that seat-of-the-pants approach go the DIY ethics extolled by punks since time immemorial, but Days N' Daze offer a more nuanced rationale than boilerplate anti-corporate sentiment.
"It's more DIT—'Do It Together'—instead of do it yourself," explains Flynn. "The way we function with Days N' Daze, everyone we go on tour with, everyone we work with, everyone who does merch or art, we're not paying strangers. We're not doing this with people we don't know. We're doing this with people we trust, and I think that mentality makes you go further in life than just being like, 'No, I have to do this myself,' or, 'No, I'm just going to pay everyone to do it for me.'"
For certain, without other people, Days N' Daze wouldn't have anything to sing about. And, sure, in the big cosmic scheme of things, you can say the same about every other band, ever. But this band demonstrates a particularly keen appreciation for the messy spectrum of human interaction. Days N' Daze songs deal in puppy love, blood-boiling resentment, righteous indignation, isolation, revelry, all the loud feelings, and now and again, the quiet, pleasant pauses between explosions. Some of these experiences must be sung. Others must be screamed as though a small rodent crawled into your larynx, died, and came back as a zombie rodent with magic rock 'n roll powers.
"Like, I don't know," starts Sendejas, understandably flubbing while fielding the flubby question, "Do you think people are interesting?" "The whole idea of consciousness and the realization that one day it will end, and the way that people deal with that, whether it's an addiction you pick up to black everything out or some belief."
"Or even hate," says Flynn. Throughout this interview, Flynn and Sendejas don't finish each other's sentences, so much as edit them on the fly.
"Or hate," Sendejas concurs, "Hating everything just because it's unpermanent. Does that count as a word? Unpermenent? Impermanent. Not permanent. Fleeting. Yeah, people are pretty goddamn interesting."
Barry Thompson is on Twitter.