Night Birds doesn’t sound like a Fat Wreck Chords band. If you cue up their Fat debut, 2015’s Mutiny at Muscle Beach, expecting to hear the label’s house style of bouncy, singalong punk anthems made semi-famous by the likes of Propaghandi and Lagwagon, you’re going to be disappointed — or at least confused. Night Birds eschews the snotty wailing and the bright, clear production synonymous with Fat in favor of hardcore surf punk recorded on tape. As far as this New Jersey quartet seems concerned, it’s all been downhill since ’81, and ’90s punk never happened. So how did they end up hitched to a pop-punk empire?
Night Birds vocalist Brian Gorsegner admits it’s a bit of an awkward marriage.
“I don’t know that we even necessarily fit, and that’s kind of what I like about it,” he says. “We like some of the bands on the label, and it was one of the first record labels I was even aware of when I was 14 years old. They were the first label that I recognized as having a style.
“They just have a big fan base — an actual, young fan base,” Gorsegner continues. “Kids still buy their records. That response that you have, like, ‘Wow, this doesn’t exactly fit a Fat bill,’ that’s kind of what we wanted. We thought it was a good place to branch out and find people who might dig what we’re doing. It seemed like a good home, and the label was stoked to have us.”
The arrangement has worked out nicely for all involved. Night Birds had already made waves with records on Grave Mistake and Taken By Surprise, but signing with Fat put them on a whole new level. Mutiny at Muscle Beach put them on the mall-punk radar, and they’ve toured with NOFX and the Descendants, among others. Now they can book headlining shows in places they’ve never been before, like this month’s dates in Texas and Mexico. You can catch them at Walters on Sunday night.
“Last year we did SXSW, and in the
As part-timers, Night Birds have always reserved the right to pick and choose when and where they play, but as their profile continues to rise, those decisions become more difficult. Do they hang out backstage with punk idols and play to crowds of thousands, or do they headline the
Gorsegner says they try to switch it up.
“Being on Fat, you get a real crossover fan base, and we really do our best to not cater to one crowd,” he says. “We don’t want to play just these secret, basement DIY shows that people can’t find out about, but we also don’t want to just go on big tours.
“Being on the label, you get offered bigger things, and things like booking agents start happening,” Gorsegner adds. “There’s a lot of big bands that you like, and it’s cool when they want you to go out. But it’s also important to go out and do your own thing in Texas and Mexico. We’re a basement band at heart, and we like playing small shows.”
“Small” is rapidly becoming a relative term. It’s not just Fat Wreck Chords’ cachet that’s giving Night Birds a buzz. They’re also just a great punk band. Thoroughly steeped in Dead Kennedys and Adolescents, Night Birds play catchy hooks with furrowed brows at a breakneck pace, and they take care to ensure that everything stays tight as hell. They’re not likely to be confused for NOFX, but you can sure as shit skate to it.
And if their sound owes much to bygone SoCal greats, well, there’s worse stuff to crib from.
“It wasn’t a conscious effort to try to sound like a California band,” Gorsegner says. “Really, all we wanted to do was start a punk band with melodies and hooks, and when you try to do that and you play it fast, it comes out sounding like those bands because they were trying to do the same thing. It’s punk — there’s only so many ways that it’s going to sound!”
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Everything is going swimmingly (flyingly?) for Night Birds at the moment, but
“I think it’s really fucking up our songwriting process, actually,” the singer says. “It’s hard when the only thing on your mind is the end of the world, and you’re trying to write lyrics that aren’t only about that. We could just write a full record that just sounds like 12 angry Facebook posts, but I don’t want to look back at it and think, ‘Fuck, that record is such a drag. And it’s so serious!’
“We’re just trying to make something that’s not complete dread,” he adds.
Night Birds play Walters Downtown on Sunday with