Music by VICE

Latterman Reunite, No Joke

Mattie Jo Canino and Mike Campbell talk about returning from hiatus, the current state of punk, and that whole Punknews incident.

by Dan Ozzi
Apr 13 2016, 2:00pm

On the afternoon of April 1, the website Punknews ran a post with the headline: "Latterman reunite, change name to Latterperson." It was an April Fools Day joke seemingly directed at the defunct band's frontperson, Mattie Jo Canino, who identifies as gender-queer. It wasn't a particularly tasteful joke and, coming a day after International Transgender Day of Visibility, it wasn't a well-timed one, either. Many, including Mattie Jo herself, took to the internet to criticize the site, and the post was soon removed, replaced with an apology.

But here's the thing: Latterman really is reuniting.

As Punknews' unintentionally prophetic gag-post was going up, Canino and the rest of band were secretly finalizing plans to play a couple of New York shows in October, one in Brooklyn and one on Long Island. Since breaking up in 2007 via an announcement on, ironically enough, Punknews, the members of the influential anthemic punk band have been busy with other projects. Mattie Jo now plays in the Olympia-based band RVIVR, as well as her new project with fellow Latterman member, Pat Schramm, called Tender Defender. Guitarist Mike Campbell plays bass with Laura Stevenson, and Phil Douglas plays guitar in Iron Chic. So scheduling conflicts have made Latterman reunion appearances rare—they played a smattering of dates in 2011 and The Fest in Gainesville in 2012. And now, briefly, the beloved band is back again.

We talked to Canino and Campbell about Latterman's forthcoming reunion which, again, is totally real, and not a joke.

Noisey: Mattie Jo, I feel like I owe you an apology. When I wrote about the Tender Defender record recently, I called the band the "godfathers of that sound," and someone corrected me to say that not everyone in the band identifies as male. I felt so deeply bad about it. I really had no idea.
Mattie Jo Canino:
Aw it's okay! You do your best. Everyone does their best. No problem. That's why using gendered language can be problematic. It's unnecessary, and can be potentially harmful.

How do you identify?
Mattie Jo:
I would say gender-queer/trans-femme person. Sometimes, just trans lady, sometimes gender-fluid. It's confusing. Lately it's just, I don't know... "trans." [Laughs] But more towards the femme side of things. I've been going by "she" and "they" lately. It's something that's been going on—well, for my whole life, obviously—but it's not something I told the entire world.

How recent have you been public about that?
Mattie Jo:
Like, five years. But I have basically no internet presence. I got a Facebook, like, two weeks ago.

Welcome to garbageland.
Mattie Jo:
Yeah, I know. It's crazy. I got Instagram a year ago. In my personal life, like, Mike, I told you guys in 2011 or 2012?

Mike Campbell: Yeah when we were in Olympia to do that show. I guess it was 2012 I think, yeah.

Mattie Jo: And even before the first set of reunion shows, it was right around then when I was really able to be like, "OK, I'm definitely not a cis person, and I'm starting to figure that out." I told everyone in my immediate life besides some people, and I'd been saying it on the microphone at RVIVR shows for really quite some time. But since I didn't have any internet presence, and that's the way the world works now… like, I wrote something about it on Facebook when I got it a couple weeks ago, and it was like, OK, now I'm really out!

It's weird because I feel I keep coming out, and I keep coming out, and I keep coming out, and I come out again, and I come out again. But I also feel lucky in that, in this weird way, because I am someone people notice because of bands I play in, and I get this cool amount of support from people, versus the teen who's living in middle America somewhere in a small town who has to deal with a lot more bullshit than I have to.

I'm sure gender identity was something you were thinking about a lot during your Latterman days. Did that influence your songwriting?
Mattie Jo:
It's always been something that's been a part of me. Our second RVIVR record, The Beauty Between, essentially that's what it's about. Pretty much all the songs are about feeling like what people are telling you about yourself isn't true and that you know something about yourself that's inside that other people aren't necessarily seeing, and figuring out how to put that out in the world, whether that's being a trans person or a queer person. It's a lot.

In Latterman days, not so much. I think there's an undercurrent of it, with social justice issues, writing songs about sexism and homophobia, and that being the focal point of a lot of what we were saying.

Mike Campbell: The Latterman stuff sort of ties in to some of the more recent occurrences in Latterman news, I guess—the general attitude of questioning everything, including things that happen around you, even in punk. Obviously with people involved in punk, you'd hope they'd have a predilection to questioning at least the mainstream, but a website called "Punknews" recently just happened to be somehow less sensitive to the issues pertaining to the trans community than major political figures in American politics.

Mattie Jo: [Laughs hysterically]

Mattie, do you want to talk about the Punknews thing?
Mattie Jo:
That was a giant bummer. Being like, "this band is going to be called Latterperson instead of Latterman," it just felt like a direct attack on me, being the only gender nonconforming, trans person in the band. And it's part of a long history of being the butt of a lot of jokes on that website, in the style of less political, more centered around what mainstream culture already looks like, which is straight white cis men. Which is not to say there's inherently something wrong with straight white cis men. I love straight white cis men, some of them. But the way the power dynamics in the world work is that that's where all the focus is. So much of what Latterman was saying was reacting to what we were seeing around us, which was only the same thing over and over again. Where is the queer representation in punk? That is a lot different now.

What bothered you most about the joke, specifically?
Mattie Jo:
Good question. Specifically, it put me in a situation where I had to be really insulted and made to feel like shit about something that I already struggle with, something that's already hard for me, and it's a personal thing, and frankly, it's a scary thing. I think people who have to come out about their sexuality or their gender identity, it's really scary. I was put in the position where I either had to take shit from this fucking website that's been giving me, personally, or my band, shit for ten-plus years. Every other time they've done something or said something, I've done nothing because I haven't had a social media account. I've just sort of taken it and been like, "whatever." But this was when I was sort of like, "You know what? I'm not gonna sit back and take this. I'm gonna say something about it." But, in saying something about it, I had to expose myself. They put me in a position where I really had to come out to a large majority of people, some of which were very hostile to me in the comment section of the article, and that sucks to have to be put in that position. I felt like I was really exposed, and I'm glad that I'm able to be more honest with a large group of people, but I'd much rather have done it on my own terms.

In a fucked up way, do you think, in the long run, it helped with your coming out to the punk community?
Mattie Jo:
Yeah, sort of, in the sense that it forced me to do something I'd been wanting to do for a long time. At least right now, I have a lot of great messages people sent me. I got a lot of support from, not just people who are my friends and know about that part of me, but from people who didn't know—from strangers, from other trans people, from cis people who were like, "Yeah, I'm trying my best to be a good ally for shit like this." So that aspect of it is really great, it made me feel really good in the face of something that could be scary. But the part about it feeling like it wasn't coming out on my own terms, and being forced into a situation because of ignorance, felt pretty bad. It feels a bit better now. I still need to respond to these messages because I haven't had a minute to do that because I'm so new to social media. [Laughs]

Latterman always struck me as interesting because, as you mentioned, your lyrics were socially conscious and progressive, but you also seemed to draw an audience that leaned towards the dudiest, broiest punk dudes. Was that a weird dynamic to play those songs to that crowd?
Mattie Jo:
This is a very good question. [Laughs]

Mike: Yeah, it's odd. I mean, most recently, No Idea acquired the vinyl rights to put out the Latterman records. We love No Idea and have listened to their bands for pretty much our whole lives, but I feel that whole association with the PBR and beard crowd, that sort of comes along with the territory. But Latterman, musically, was always closer to Blink-182 than it was most other bands that sing songs that are politically driven in theme. We all listened to Enema of the State probably more than any other album on tour.

Mattie Jo: That's true. And sometimes Sublime.

As one does. So did that audience have anything to do with Latterman's end?
Mattie Jo:
The thing is, when we were a band, not that many people came to the shows. Your question makes a lot a sense, because I'm like, "Yeah those are the people I feel liked us," but then I think about actually being at the first five years of Latterman shows from 2000 to 2005, and it wasn't this throng of men with beards and beer company hats. It was just weirdos and punks and, a lot of time, no one. [Laughs]

Do you think Latterman was ahead of the curve?
Mattie Jo:
That'd be cool. [Laughs]

Mike: I feel like it was just those people were three to five years younger than we were when Latterman was a band. People who were excited about that music were just a little too young to start going to shows. It's odd.

Mattie Jo: Something I'll experience so often on RVIVR tours is that people will come up to me and say, "I wish I saw Latterman!" And I'll be like, "Yeah we played here." And they'd be like, "Really? When?" And I'd say, "In 2001 at Trashcan Books." And they're like, "What's that?" And I'm like, "I don't know, the anarchist space?" And they're like, "Oh that's not around anymore. My older sister worked there, but I was ten years old." RVIVR, in the beginning, we pissed a lot of people off. People were very, very angry at us about wanting to be inclusive of queer people, wanting to be inclusive of women, of trans people. To the point where people would come to RVIVR shows just to mess with us.

Why do you think that was?
Mattie Jo:
People who experience a lot of privilege, and I include myself in this as a white person and someone who's been perceived as male for most of my life, you get a sense of entitlement that "I deserve everything." Part of that extends to bands. "I deserve this band. I deserve to be able to do whatever I want when watching this band."

Mike: And when watching the band, "I deserve to have a good time right now and deserve to not have to think about any of my actions or interactions."

Mattie Jo: Yeah. Which is the total opposite of punk, to me. The thing that drew me to being in a punk band is the rebellious nature of it—having a place for freaks and weirdos and outsiders. The idea that it would mimic the violence and hate that was put on us by mainstream culture is so foul to me, it was disgusting. With Latterman, I was just learning about that and didn't quite know quite how to apply it. I would say crazy things on the microphone sometimes. We did a tour with the Lawrence Arms after Mike had left the band. That was the first time we'd played bigger shows, where there'd be 100 or 200 people at a lot of those, and I got extra crazy on the microphone because those were the shows that felt like the vibe was not one of inclusiveness or a politicized space or whatever. But that's true of any big show, not specifically the Lawrence Arms or that tour. But I learned from that experience and I've been trying to do something different ever since, for better or worse. I want everyone to feel included.

Will these shows be it for now? Are you looking to do any more than that?
Mattie Jo:
Probably not. It's fun to get together once in a while and play. It's a really good chance to see everybody. I usually get a free trip to New York out of it. I like that. I like to play those songs, still. It's a little weird because we wrote those songs when we were in high school. We weren't very good at it. We were kids. I was 17 when we started the band.

Mike: I joined when I was 15, and went on tour for the first time when I was 15.

Mattie Jo: Yeah and we had to go back to New York after two weeks and trade you out for another guitar player because your parents wouldn't let you go for more than that, which is better than the first tour we went on before you were in the band where my parents wouldn't let me go at all. [Laughs]

Mike: The first tour I did with Latterman, my parents had an affidavit signed where Phil could make executive decisions about my medical decisions. Like, Phil could decide whether I lived or died! [Laughs]

Latterman is playing on October 21 in Amityville, NY at Revolution Music Hall and October 22 and October 23 at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn. Tickets go on sale Friday, April 15.

tender defender
mattie jo canino
mike campbell