Monday, March 14, 2011

Interview with Dan Vapid on Screeching Weasel's "First World Manifesto"

Photo by Katie Hovland

After discussing female meatheads and how MTV's Jersey Shore is similar to the Harlem Irving Plaza of the '80s, Dan Schafer (aka Danny Vapid) answered some questions regarding Screeching Weasel's first studio album in 11 years, "First World Manifesto."

Squid Pro Quo
: Can you tell me when you joined Screeching Weasel, how you heard about 'em, how you joined and what was it like?

Dan Schafer: "The first time I heard about them was in 1986 through the Daily Herald newspaper. There was an article about a punk rock band from Prospect Heights called Screeching Weasel. In the photo, they all had long hair. It was pretty funny. I remember being excited that a punk band lived that close to my hometown of Des Plaines, just two towns over. I remember just getting my driver's license and meeting up with Martin from Los Crudos at some venue in the west suburbs to see them play one of their first shows. There were like five people there beside us. Somehow it got canceled. After that, Screeching Weasel did a short stint of 21-plus shows, which I was too young to see.

Sometime in '87, they began playing all ages shows at the original Durty Nellies, located in downtown Palatine. I was a singer of a hardcore band at that time called Generation Waste. Screeching Weasel and Generation Waste played a few shows together when both bands had demo tapes for sale. Recording and selling demo cassette tapes was common back then. When Generation Waste broke up in '88, I spent about a year playing with random people but nothing seemed to stick. When Warren Ozzfish quit Screeching Weasel in 1989, they were looking for a bass player. I told them I could play bass, even though I couldn't play very well at the time. I was a huge fan of "Boogada Boogada Boogada" and practiced the songs like crazy. I got to become a member of one of my favorite bands."

SPQ: What was your first practice like or your first experiences with John and Ben and whoever else was there at the time?

DS: "Good. I remember rehearsing for an EP we were about to record called, "Punkhouse." I remember being very excited to play in the band and make a record. Back then, making an actual record was like a dream come true for me. I also thought Ben wrote great songs and the band had tons of potential and was bound for success. It's a nice memory for me."

SPQ: What were the major tours/breakups/shows/memories until Screeching Weasel's most recent hiatus?

DS: "The most memorable SW tour was my first in 1989. We toured in Ben's car with only our guitars, luggage and merch. Our first show was in Corvallis, Oregon; a 40-hour drive. I remember during my driving shifts, Ben and John somewhat lecturing me to stay in the left lane while passing only. We were singing "100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" and other stupid games to pass the time. Our next show was in Berkley, CA at Gilman Street, which was a venue started by the people from Maximum Rock N' Roll magazine. Playing Gilman Street was a big deal back then. I remember playing San Francisco and a hall in northern CA with Green Day; they were just starting out. We were meeting lots of people and bands from all over the country. It was pretty cool but the tour was long and brutal. When we got back from that tour, the band broke up.

I started Sludgeworth soon after, in '89. I was playing for about a year when John Jughead asked how I felt about playing in Screeching Weasel again at the club, McGregor's, which was located at North Ave. and Route 83 in Elmhurst. I remember telling him I never wanted to stop. I think it was assumed I did. Ben and John had a project called The Gore Gore Girls, but were having problems getting it to go.
Larry Livermore from Lookout Records! told Ben he was interested in releasing a record by his band if he called it Screeching Weasel, so we were back in business.

In the summer of '91, we toured out to the west coast and recorded "My Brain Hurts" at the Art of Ears studio in San Francisco. I remember feeling pretty good because I was playing more of a role in the band. I was writing songs, singing backing vocals, giving input and they liked my ideas. That really meant a lot to me. Although I never took it personally, the guys in Generation Waste were sometimes patronizing when I offered creative input, probably because they were older than me. Some of it was probably deserved. But still, that early experience with Screeching Weasel, getting encouragement from Ben and John and watching Ben write songs played a huge role in wanting to pursue music further and working on being a songwriter.

After that, we toured through the south and east a few times, recorded "Wiggle" "Anthem For a New Tomorrow" and in the fall of '93, played a last show at a venue in downtown Forest Park. Screeching Weasel wasn't going to play live anymore. I can't speak for everybody but from my perspective, we were getting to the point where we were on auto-pilot live. I can remember Ben and I talking about it. During our last show, I was thinking about what I was going to have for dinner later that night and Ben was thinking about the movie, "Eddie and the Cruisers" for most of the set. I don't remember any tension at that point in time, just a need for a change."

SPQ: Tell me about 2007/8-present, doing "My Brain Hurts" in its entirety and getting the name Screeching Weasel back.

DS: "There was a business dispute between Ben and John over the ownership of the band. When that dispute was over, the idea of playing under the name, Screeching Weasel seemed more appealing to Ben. Having been an observer and member since the band started, my perspective is different than many. For some, the lack of Jughead is a charged subject and the band has lost something integral and vital. I don't see it that way at all. From about 1988 and on, I realized the success of Screeching Weasel is due to Ben, not John. Ben started the band, conducted a good portion of the business and wrote a large majority of the songs, including the signature leads that fans presumably attribute to John. To me, there should have never been a dispute in the first place over who's the owner of the band. It's always been obvious to me. All that said and done, I'm glad that Ben decided to reform the band and ask me to be a part of it. The response to the "My Brain Hurts" set was great, and we have had a huge amount of enthusiasm about Screeching Weasel coming back."

SPQ: So then what's it like without Jughead after all these years?

DS: When Ben was playing, "My Brain Hurts" under his solo set, I received an email from John stating how disappointed he was in me. I didn't see the harm in it. Ben was performing songs he wrote in a past band. I do it all the time. So did John, with his old band, Even In Blackouts. He made a public statement about it in which he claimed he wasn't my friend anymore. It felt self-serving and a little hypocritical to me. He didn't seem to care when he was playing in Screeching Weasel and I wasn't in the band anymore. I wasn't disappointed at him for playing in Screeching Weasel without me and I certainly wasn't sending him disapproving e-mails about it. I was simply asked to re-join a band I was a part of. There was no conspiracy or anything personal about it. It made for a lot of drama from Screeching Weasel fans all over the Internet and I understood that John's feeling were hurt. With that said, he benefited greatly for doing very little in terms of contributing to the sound of the band for many years. He was, how I saw it, a guy mainly into theater who knew Ben in 1986 who could play guitar well enough. Musicians willing to play punk rock back then were hard to find. I think John's talents are better-suited in acting and play writing. I believe that's where his heart has always been. I believe we have a line up now that is superior to the one we had back in the early '90s and I'm excited to see where it will take us."

SPQ: Has Ben changed? Is he the same dude you grew up playing music with?

DS: "Somewhat. Both of us are 20 years older now, and he's a father and a husband and that creates change for anybody. But he still gets a kick out of writing a good punk rock song. That side has always been there. He's good at it, so I'm glad to be working with him again."

SPQ: Do you feel you've changed? If so, how, and in what ways have you stayed the same?

DS: "Yes. I've changed somewhat too. The older you get, the less and less you care about what people think. I used to think that I could never be a musician at 40. That would be lame and absurd. Not to throw out a cliche, but you're only as old as you feel. I feel young at heart. I always think of my grandfather, who's 103. He still goes out and does things all the time. Although never perfect, I feel better without all the baggage that comes with being in your 20s. Also, I never thought I would be a dad! My wife and I will be having a baby in May! These things and others have changed, but music has been a constant for me and I don't see myself changing in that regard."

SPQ: What was writing "First World Manifesto" like as opposed to the rest of the albums you played on? Was the process different because there are different faces and hands involved, or is it you and Ben doing all the writing? Or just Ben? Just you ever?

DS: "Ben has always done the bulk of the writing in Screeching Weasel. I co-wrote only one song called "Dry As the Desert." We had Mike Kennerty from the All American Rejects producing. I never worked with an actual producer before. It was strange at first, but in the end the record came out great. While throwing down backing vocals and guitar tracks, each idea was discussed with Mike, so that was a new process for me."

SPQ: In an interview I read with Ben, he said he likes to have control over the band and push everyone to work hard and keep high standards. How does this work for everyone involved and being you're a senior Weasel member so to speak, is there that pressure on you as much? Or does your relationship exist on a more liberal level when it comes to business?

DS: "I think bands should always keep their standards high. You should always be pushing the envelope and never rest on your laurels. The pressure's on everybody and that's a good thing."

SPQ: Has the big Screeching Weasel hiatus of the 21st century been a good thing? How's the scene changed? Do you think it will be as good as it used to be? Better? Worse? And in what ways?

DS: "The hiatus was good in the sense that most of the fans had never seen the band live. Fans are eager to see Screeching Weasel and that's great. I'm grateful to be a part of something people appreciate. Overall, people everywhere that we have been touring have been very enthusiastic and supportive of Screeching Weasel."

SPQ: What can we expect on the new album? It's going to be on Fat Wreck - will it be heavy on the politics? More introspective looks on society?

: "Yep. You can expect Ben's ranting that you either love or love to hate. You can expect Ben's signature songwriting combined with some of my backing vocals and a new lineup of seasoned players."

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