Photo: Toni Skotcher
On the morning I called Mike Yannich to discuss the forthcoming reunion of his much beloved pop punk band, The Ergs!, the words “pop punk” had heavily infiltrated the music news cycle. The night before, Parker Cannon, frontman of the band The Story So Far, dropkicked a female fan off stage during the band’s set, and a video of the incident went viral. People piled on to Cannon, the band, and pop punk in general, blasting the genre as an incubator for this sort of all-too-common misogynist (and sometimes predatory) behavior. One woman even began selling t-shirts with the slogan “DEFEND GIRLS, NOT POP PUNK” in response to the passes given to the genre’s aggro bros like Cannon. But this was never the pop punk world The Ergs! inhabited.
Throughout their eight-year stretch in the early 2000s, The Ergs! set the standard for everything good and pure about the genre, miles away from the goofy, board short-wearing Warped Tour bands that co-opted it and dragged its good name through the mud. The Ergs! wrote broken-hearted love songs for all the lonelyhearts. The Ergs! captured the saccharine catchiness of doo-wop groups of the 50s and 60s in three chords or less. The Ergs! were pop punk.
And now, briefly, New Jersey’s torch-bearing trio is back to reclaim the throne with more of a shoulder shrug than a raised fist. The band played a set on The Chris Gethard show last night, their first since a one-off benefit reunion show in 2010. They’ll also be playing Fest in October, and have plans to release a seven-inch on Whoa Oh Records, which includes three songs, one written by each member, and a frantic, no-wave cover of “My Sharona.” “It’s the best thing we’ve ever done,” Yannich says, although it’s difficult to tell if he’s being sarcastic.
Yannich, a.k.a. Mikey Erg, has kept himself more than busy since the band’s breakup in 2008, filling temporary and permanent slots for any band that has needs his services—The Copyrights, Worriers, The Dopamines, and a near-endless list of others. Last year at Fest, the punk workhorse played 11 sets with eight different bands across three days. He’s also about to release a solo album, Tentative Decisions, 11 tracks of classic Ergian songwriting. His former bandmates, Jeff Schroeck and Joe Keller, have also gone on to play in bands like Night Birds, Black Wine, and Psyched to Die.
We talked to Yannich about why The Ergs! ended, how their reunion came about, and of course, pop punk. Listen to that “My Sharona” cover below.
Noisey: When you played those last Ergs! shows in Asbury, did you really think that would be it for you guys?
Mikey Erg: At the time, it really seemed like it. Jeff made it clear that he was not into that anymore—almost pop punk as a thing. In my estimation, he saw it growing and thought he would get out before it was too late to get out, you know?
The band or pop punk?
So he was scared off by the success?
He’d be a better person to ask, but that would be the feeling I got. It just seemed to be getting to be too much, and he wasn’t super into the genre anymore.
And what about you? How did you feel when it ended?
I was definitely ready to not be the songwriter for a while. I’d already kind of checked out, songwriting-wise. The writing of Upstairs/Downstairs happened in like, 2006, and I didn’t really do anything after that. So for the last few years of the band, I kind of checked out on the songwriting front. But I think I was ready for something to stop.
Was it just too much and you were worn out?
To me, it was just weird to know that people were listening, finally. That freaked me out a little bit. So I started second-guessing everything I was doing in terms of songwriting.
I take it that you started the band with low expectations, then?
Yeah, very, very low. Even in recording dorkrockcorkrod, we were just like, “Let’s just make this thing, I guess.” [Laughs] There was no real thought process to it, just like, “Bands make albums, let’s make albums.” Up until that point, it wasn’t huge. We were playing shitty shows to like, five people.
And you felt more comfortable that way?
I guess so. Well, it’s awesome to know that people are there and watching and listening. But any time I read a bad review, I was just like, “Oh, I can’t fucking do this anymore. I must not know how to write songs.” That kind of shit got into my head. I’m not the most mentally stable person in the world, Dan.
The final Ergs! show. All two hours of it.
What took so long to talk The Ergs! into a reunion?
We just didn’t feel the need to do it. We were never all on the same page about it. I was like, “I’ll do it, that’d be cool,” but there were a few years where Joe flat-out refused to do it. Then there was a point where Jeff was like, “Yeah, I’ll do it,” which was something I never thought would happen. And then two years ago, at Fest, I was hanging out with Joe wherever the Night Birds were playing, and [Fest organizer] Tony [Weinbender] just happened to be there, and we were talking about how the next year was my tenth Fest, and I kinda wanted to do something really cool for that, and that it’d be cool if The Ergs! could do something. Joe was open to it. He didn’t say no, which was a good sign. And then Jeff was down to do it. And Tony was like, “Of course, we’d love to have you.” So it was set. It was all ready to go for last year, and then Jeff called me, and he was like, “Listen, my wife just got her due date, and it’s the day we’re playing Fest, so we could not cancel, but if it happens, I’m right back on a plane home.” So rather than cancel after the announcement, we canceled before, so that it wasn’t a big deal. And Tony offered us the slot for next year. I get a lot of people at the solo shows saying that they weren’t old enough to go to shows when we stopped playing. There’s a lot of kids that never got to see us.
But do you owe people that, just because you’re all alive and able?
I don’t think we owe people that, but as someone who has gotten to see a lot of reunion shows of older bands that broke up before I got into them, it’s so rad to go and sing along to these songs that you love. As a fan, if I can do that for people with my stupid band, there’s a part of me that says, “Let’s do this now while we’re young enough to play the songs like they were back then.” We don’t have to slow them down and change the keys of them. [Laughs] You never know when people are not gonna wanna see it. It all just fell into place. And that’s what needed to happen.
You have such a huge catalog. How do you determine the set?
We haven’t really talked about it yet. When we did the reunion in 2010, we were like, “Cool, let’s play a 55-song set.” And we played for, I think, two and a half hours. We obviously can’t do that at Fest, so we have to figure it out. You kind of know what the crowd favorites are, and we’ll go from there.
The Ergs! at Fest V.
Can we talk about pop punk for a minute?
We can, if we must.
I don’t know if you saw, but yesterday…
I did saw.
Right, there was a big story with that Story So Far crap, where the singer dropkicked a woman off stage. And everyone blamed it on shitty pop punk dudes. But to me, pop punk was always definitively The Ergs!, which was just galaxies away from that Story so Far pop punk world. Sort of a broad question, but what is pop punk to you?
When I started getting into it, it was Green Day and MTX and all that Lookout! axis of bands and Mutant Pop stuff. To me, it was just like, the Beatles mixed with a little more distortion and energy. It took Nirvana and the more harder-edged stuff I loved and mixed it with the old 50s and 60s pop and put them together, and I thought that was refreshing and great.
Was that what was influencing you when writing Ergs! songs, the Beatles?
Definitely. I grew up on 50s and 60s doo-wop and love songs and shit like that. Soul love songs, and Motown. That definitely informed my songwriting. And Pinkerton, I always cite as the record that made me say, “Wow, I didn’t know you could actually pour your heart and soul out like that.”
You’ve always demonstrated that it doesn’t have to be the most extravagantly written song, as long as you can rhyme it and it’s sincere.
Yeah, as long as there’s feeling there. It’s hard for me to even sing songs that I’m not feeling.
The knock on you is that you play in a near-endless list of bands. If given the chance of playing with any band in history, who would you want to play with?
No doubt—XTC. They’re my favorite band. The drummer for the first few records, Terry Chambers—the shit he came up with, I don’t have the ability to do any of it, but it seems like if I could, it would be very fun to play that stuff. Just backing up Andy Partridge in some capacity would be an absolute dream gig of mine.
Dan Ozzi just called a girl that he goes out with long distance. Hang up on him on Twitter - @danozzi