Photo by Jess Flynn
The Philadelphia punk scene has been so good for so long now that it’s often very easy to overlook some of the country’s best DIY punk bands because they aren't making music that’s as instantly catchy as Modern Baseball, or as anthemic as the Menzingers, or politically driven like Paint It Black. But that hasn't phased Three Man Cannon (featuring Dennis Mishko and Pat Brier formerly of Tigers Jaw) whatsoever; the fiercely independent four-piece from Scranton released their first full-length, the folk punk-informed The Sound. The Fury in 2010, followed quickly by the more fleshed out Nelson EP. And then, the band’s recorded output stopped flowing for a few years, while they played sporadic shows and a few short tours across the eastern half of the country, before returning last February with an excellent split with Portland punk band Lee Corey Oswald.
And now, the band is set to release their best effort yet, Pretty Many People (Lame-O Records), a record that’s huge in the way it sounds atmospherically, yet retains a distinctly lo-fi feel. And most importantly, the album does more than its part to return “indie pop” to form after years of sterilized mediocrity. “Patiently," the first single from the record (accompanied by a VHS-shot video), is two parts jangly, twinkly pop that kicks into another gear altogether in the final third, using layered, fuzzed-out guitars and crashing drums as the finishing touch on a song that emphasizes the question, “Do you feel uncomfortable?”
Noisey spoke with the band about their new record, shitty plumbing, and the Keystone (Light) State, Pennsylvania.
Noisey: This is one of the biggest records I've listened to this year, but it still keeps the lo-fi feel that's been dominant in some of your other records. Was that a legitimate decision you guys made or just something that just kind of happened?
Matt Schimelfenig: That was mostly a result of the circumstances under which we did this record. We've always recorded ourselves and have had very definitive ideas of what we wanted our music to sound like. This time around, we had access to way more awesome equipment that afforded so many more opportunities to really let us achieve whatever sound we were going for. Most of the record was tracked in the basement of our house in Philly, but we were also able to mix it over nights at Miner Street, the studio I work at. There's a bunch of great instruments there so we ended up recording a lot while mixing too. It wasn't the most ideal schedule to be on but it worked and they have these great big windows there that let the sun in as soon as it comes up so you immediately know when you fucked up and stayed too long. Most of the songs started as demos that we would record to a drum machine and then we would start slowly replacing the demo tracks as we went along. We ended up adding some of the demo tracks back into the songs which was cool because it was like discovering new parts that you forgot existed even though you had recorded them months ago. That's probably part of why the lo-fi thing is there but that one scratch guitar part was really great.
What were some of the major influences on the album? I'm hearing some American Analog Set and Built to Spill.
Matt: It's a Wonderful Life by Sparklehorse. On the Beach by Neil Young. The Jimi Hendrix record Pat has in the living room.
Spenser Hogans: Sweet leaf. Nature scenes.
Dennis Mishko: No Flashlight by Mount Eerie.
Pat Brier: What Would the Community Think by Cat Power.
You're making some of the most unique music in the DIY community right now. Did you find yourself more influenced by contemporary bands within the scene or more outside of your perspective on this record?
Matt: Dang, well, thanks. Once, our garbage disposal broke and that sucked. Stagnant water sat there for weeks and we would have to stick our hands in it. Sometimes if you were feeling brave you could reach your hand in and clear out all the stuff that was blocking the drain but that was always a tense moment. You know that it's not going to turn on and cut your hand because it's broken, but in the back of your mind you prepare yourself for that to happen. We are happy to be where we are.
What's this song "Patiently" about?
Matt: It's about pretending to be someone else who tells you what to do.
Fair enough. There was a gap of time from the Nelson EP in 2010 to the split LP last year with Lee Corey Oswald where you didn't release anything. What was the reasoning for that?
Spenser: We were sprawled between Scranton and Philadelphia during that period, never living in the same city at the same time. We really just do everything at our own pace. Since we record everything ourselves, there's no pressure to stick to a strict schedule, so we take our time. We just took as much time as we needed to release the songs in the way that we did. Thanks to Black With Sap and Stereophonodon for being so patient with us about that. And we're just gonna go ahead and give a preemptive thank you to Lame-O for that while we're at it, sorry Eric and Emily.
This is the second or third tour that you've done with Kite Party, who also happens to be coming out with a new record. Does it make for a better experience touring with a band you've been out with in the past?
Spenser: Second or third, or something. It doesn't necessarily make it better to go out with people we've already traveled with but it's nice to be with familiar faces. Kite Party are some of our best friends and, at this point we know how to travel together.
Matt: It's cool because when you're feeling weird and not talking to anyone at the show, you can always talk to one of them because they're weird as shit too and probably doing the same thing you are.
One of the most criminally overlooked parts of the emergence of the Philly punk community has been the Scranton-Wilkes Barre influence on it. Why do you think that migration happened?
Spenser: For us, it's close by and we knew people down here. When you grow up in Scranton, beautiful as it is, there's a desire, at a certain point, to leave your hometown to find something different. It's arguable whether or not any of us have found that, but here we are. Something to do with growing up. Also, it's cheap to live in Philadelphia.
What are your favorite bands coming out of Pennsylvania right now?
Matt: Cave People, Hop Along, the Chickens, and Captain, We’re Sinking!
Anything else you'd like to say?
Matt: We would like to dedicate this media appearance to Murph, we hope you're okay.
Three Man Cannon’s Midwestern tour with Kite Party kicks off on May 22 in Brooklyn, and Pretty Many People drops in June on Philadelphia’s Lame-O Records.
Paul Blest is on Twitter - @pblest