Photos by Angela Owens, courtesy of Gag
Gag, from America’s punk capital Olympia, Washington, are a hot new hardcore band sweeping the USA, playing for literally dozens of adoring fans every night, dominating the national conversation—or at least the national hardcore message boards. There’s a knowing, jokey bravado to the band’s image and album titles and artwork that belies the self-loathing inherent in their songs. There’s, of course, noise and treble (the music is reminiscent of legends like United Mutation and The Germs), but the band’s attention to bottom end also puts Gag well within the tradition of NYC hardcore and all the brawn and floor-punching that followed. Like all the best punk and pop, the songs are over before the listener can fully acclimate, but the bewilderment is part of the thrill. Sam Cooke and The Ramones knew to leave a motherfucker wanting more.
Gag’s new album, America’s Greatest Hits, is out now on Iron Lung and receiving rave accolades. Plus, the band is going on tour starting tonight. Will these brash young upstarts continue their blazing ascent to the top of the pops, punching the face of God, breaking all the young boys' and girls' hearts along the way, or are they destined to Behind The Music despair and self immolation? Only time and the hitmaker illuminati know for sure.
All we know is that they’re letting us premiere their boss new video for "Pretty Boy," directed by Ian Shelton and following the misadventures of a DIY Evel Knievel as he stunt-stumbles through his day while the band—appropriately adorned in leather jackets and punk music T-shirts—shimmy and shake to their song in their basement practice space, waiting for fame to hit them like a extinction level comet. Along with sharing the video, Gag, or at least guitarist Jose Mora, was also kind enough to answer a few questions about the trials and travails of fame and fortune, love and Madball, being wildly successful and life being wildly bullshit.
Noisey: You’ve been written up in Pitchfork and now VICE. Basically, at this point, you guys are an Apple ad waiting to happen. How do you navigate the notions of selling out and co-opting of your art/lifestyle choices in 2016? Are the ideas of “underground” versus “mainstream” hopelessly outdated, or is that just a gross rationalization?
We are all completely open to the idea of being in an Apple ad. Hopefully Steve Jobs is smiling down at us making moves for Gag from on high. "Selling out" or whatever seems ridiculous to even discuss. I doubt Target is gonna come knocking at our door begging to use a song titled "All This Shrimp." We're down for whatever, though, if it makes sense to us. People are gonna talk crud no matter what, so we're just gonna keep doing what we want. So far that's worked fairly well.
You tour a lot. What do you listen to in the van? Are there any bands that are absolutely go-to or absolutely forbidden?
Yeah we do, haha. Honestly, we listen to so much different stuff in the van. We're not trying to be like "check out how eclectic/random we are," but on Gag tour we are listening to Taylor Swift 90 percent of the time. The rest of the time we're bumping a lot of rap and dream pop. Hardcore very rarely, just because we're constantly playing with hardcore bands so that itch gets scratched every night. Nothing is forbidden.
In terms of album artwork and band image, do you put any consideration into whether something is too humorous or arrogant and if it undercuts any the legit rage or despair and seriousness of the music? Are they intertwined?
We never really talked about it or made a conscious decision to be loose and humorous with our aesthetic. It just kind of happened naturally. We all abuse humor as a coping mechanism. I would say anger, arrogance, humor, whatever mix because we know no other way to deal with life's bullshit.
I love the new album very much. As opposed to a lot your contemporaries, the production sounds massively thick. Is that production a conscious decision or something you think about at all?
Thanks. We're all pretty happy with how it came out. Gag recording pretty much just comes down to captain Trips. He's recorded every record we have released, and he has finely tuned what we want out of our sessions. Only thing we're ever really big about is making sure the drums sound big and hit hard. We record all at once and try to sound like we do when we play live because that's how hardcore should be experienced, in our opinion.
Along those lines, how offended would you be (in words or on a scale of one to ten) if I refer to you as “arena rock Crazy Spirit”?
Not offended at all really, we all like Crazy Spirit, but I don't think any of us would agree with the comparison. You're not gonna see a spinkick to Crazy Spirit anytime soon.
You’re all, I think, in multiple bands. Is that a component of being part of a vibrant community or just a huge pain in the ass for scheduling rehearsal?
It basically down to love of music and playing music. If you love something you'll make time for it whether it's a person or a hobby or whatever. Most of us are in multiple other bands, but we don't really have a problem practicing or writing records for Gag. Our other bands know it's our main band.
What’s the point of hardcore?
The point of hardcore? I suppose it depends who you ask. Everyone's experience is different and that's fine. I hope everyone draws their own conclusion and experiences hardcore in their own way. I think that's important.
Gag are on tour! Go see them:
February 24 – New Orleans, LA @ Heaven’s Gate
February 26, 27, 28 – Houston, TX @ Badass Weekend
February 29 – McAllen, TX @ TBA
March 1 – Monterrey
March 2 – Zacatecas
March 3 – San Luis Potosí
March 4 – Mexico City
March 5 – Guadalajara
March 6 – Colima
Mar 8 – Austin, TX @ TBA
March 9 – Dallas, TX @ Three Links
March 10 – Oklahoma City, OK @ Everything is Not Ok
March 12 – Phoenix, AZ @ Master’s Chambers
March 14 – Los Angeles, CA @ East 7th
March 15 – Fresno, CA @ Chinatown Youth Center
March 18 – Eugene, OR @ 991 W 3rd Ave
March 19 – Portland, OR @ Bloodshed
Zachary Lipez only listens to hardcore in his van. Follow him on Twitter.