Talking about what is and what is not punk is, going on thirty years now, the most fun thing in the world. We do it on Facebook with our parents and on twitter with people we hate. Here at Noisey, we discuss it on our rooftop vegetable garden before bringing our baskets of fresh punk carrots down to the VICE cafeteria (which is, in case you’re interested, shaped like Dov Charney’s id), where we discuss what is and is not punk until the Noisey shift whistle blows and we all go home to watch Psych. Being an expert on what is and is not punk is (probably) the most important and fulfilling thing a human person can do with his or her life. Before you give a shit about NSA spying or extra legal drone killings, you should be deeply invested in what is or isn’t punk.
Night Birds is a punk band. They don’t have groovy hair or use dead Africans as props on their t-shirts to express disaffection, and they write actual songs and had some of those songs stream at SPIN, thus upsetting some babies. But babies cry; it’s what they do—something we accept because babies are also very cute and we were all once them, but then we turned three and stopped crying as much and accepted the fact that Night Birds are a punk band, like I said, and also completely awesome.
What makes Night Birds a punk band? Well, first of all, they’re from New York City’s punkest suburb, New Jersey. Also, the singer looks sort of like James Murphy and the bass player and guitar player have shaved heads, though more in a “Frankie Says Relax” way than in a—you know—skinhead way, and their drummer looks exactly like Rob Lowe at 14, so all that seems pretty punk to me. No? Okay, well we certainly wouldn’t want to imply that the word “punk” was almost entirely meaningless, so scratch that. Well, Night Birds also contains former members of The Ergs and Tear It Up. I may not know much, but I know you can’t be a punk band unless you have a lot of former members of other punk bands. So consider that exhibit C.
Of course, a big strike against Night Birds, who have been releasing music since ’09, is that they can play their instruments and don’t appear overly ashamed of that. Competence in the playing of Punk Rock Music is a treacherous topic. The initial punk ideal was “everyone can do it," and, in my utopian view of the world, this should be true. But like pre-girl-punching Ben Weasel used to say again and again, "Just because you can put out a punk record doesn’t mean you should." Just “meaning it,” despite what DIY purists will tell you, is rarely enough (CAVEAT: Sometimes it’s TOTALLY enough) and giving enough shit about what you’re doing in life to spend a couple hours figuring out which direction to point your bass is, to my mind, a plus. So I have to say that Night Birds' ability to open their new album, Born to Die in Suburbia, with a surf instrumental cover of John Carpenter’s theme to “Escape from New York” and then follow it with 13 tightly-wrought short and sweet and surprisingly layered bursts of angst and aggression just makes me love them more. You can listen to modern primitive willful abandonment of craft exclusively if you want, but don’t tell me what kind of pizza to like.
There’s a certain nostalgic aspect to playing melodic hardcore (as in, hardcore with occasional melodies, not bro-rock with beards and anthems) in 2013 that can understandably be a bit of off-putting, but not if you look at rock 'n' roll and punk and metal and whatnot the same way you look at jazz or country, where genre is seen more as a stream and less a constant clash between the infernal new and whatever tired claptrap came before. If you don’t worry about fashion, then you can enjoy Night Birds as not only an entertaining continuation of Rikk Agnew’s oeuvre but as a perfectly vital force unto themselves. I’m not sure I accept that men and women expressing their emotions onstage via words and guitars (provided the intent is sincere or, at least, clever) is ever an exercise in nostalgia. I’m not opposed to novelty for its own sake, but I’m disinclined to fault those who’d opt out of its furious pursuit.
Night Birds recently had a two-night record release party—the first part at Brooklyn’s Death By Audio and the second night at Asbury Park’s always amazing Asbury Lanes. I talked to Brian Gorsegner, Night Birds' singer, about the bands history and his views on DIY and punk. Though he’s a self-confessed lifer who will happily defend punk as both a genre and a lifestyle, our conversation certainly informed the above thoughts. The band puts out records on hardcore label Grave Mistake and maintains complete control over every aspect of their career. This responsibility allows Brian to be almost dismissive about the path he’s chosen, but that’s because he doesn’t feel like Night Birds have much to prove. Why punk it up every goddamned minute of the day when your life is the evidence at hand? And if the tone of what I’m saying seems defensive, that’s the unspoken nature of rock and roll. From The Who through Nirvana to every single band that is unlucky enough to be commented upon on the Internet, perceived grievance is often real. Everybody gets into music to express themselves or just have fun, and once they get in it, they have to spend the rest of their lives defending the choice. When I’m not making fun of bands on the internet, I’m extremely sympathetic.
Night Birds is a punk band because they play punk music. Night Birds is a rock band because they play rock music. Night Birds is a great band because they play great music. I’m glad we had this talk. You can go back to posting Glen Greenwald slash fiction on your Facebook wall now.
Night Birds’ sick-as-fuck new album is out now on Grave Mistake. They also have a new seven-inch on Fat Wreck Chords which I’d also buy if Fat Mike hadn’t been a jerk to Maria Sherman on the Internet recently. Oh hell, she’ll be okay, go ahead and buy it. You can buy both HERE. They will be appearing on Chris Gethard show in August. Here’s a clip from last time.
Also, if this whole “punk” thing sounds exciting to you, Night Birds suggest you try out the following “Top 10 (newerish) bands (in our opinion) to check out if you're an old jaded dork who thinks punk died in 1985!” So check them out! (Punk bands listed who are bummed to be here should send all death threats directly to Night Birds. I don’t want to hear it. Thx.)