We never knew how much we needed our daily dose of punk rock until Fungus became a victim of the XM/Sirius merger...in favor for a station that played AC/DC 24/7 if we remember correctly. That was the cue to say goodbye to satellite radio, but it didn't really do anything to fill the oi-shaped hole in our soul.
That's why getting a chance to hear the latest release from JuiceheaD caught us in a particularly good mood. How to Sail a Sinking Ship is a tremendous punk achievement. It's like all the things that people tried to convince us of about Rancid has finally come true.
The Chicago based band was founded from the remains of several other punk groups under the directorship of guitarist and vocalist Rob Vannice. He brings a deep, singer-songwriter quality to his brand of punk. The result turns something that would be powerful in its own right into a battle cry.
Sure, you've got your bitter break up tunes, your fist raising political anthems, and your black humor all set over guitar lines that throb and drums that know no rest, but JuiceheaD is definitely a band that isn't content to stay inside the bin for their genre.
All across the length of the album the band freely incorporates metal, rockabilly, and ska seamlessly into the songs and somehow managed to create 20 solid mini-epics. Green Day got all the hype for putting together the first punk rock opera, and How to Sail a Sinking Ship certainly doesn't have the cohesiveness that American Idiot did, but its more anarchic approach actually seems to hold the message together even stronger.
Among the choice tracks is definitely "Death to Democracy," a cutting, tongue lashing call to arms that is sure to resonate with a populace that feels like the fate of our country is controlled by forces beyond our votes. It's an amazing example of picture perfect timing and the ability of a vocalist to become a solid channel for the unrest of a nation.
Or take "Lorraine," a song that we at first took to be heartbroken ode to a departed love along the lines of Sloppy Seconds' "Veronica." At first it follows that line, but all of the sudden Vannice turns right the hell into Nick Cave and methodically tells us about holding Lorraine's head underwater. It's a jarring, frightening turn of tone that shakes a listener to the core.
Even though JuiceheaD is perfectly capable of turning out the hits on their own, some choice guest appearance really stand out. "Black Roses" features Melora Creager, and we would recognize that cello playing style anywhere. You couldn't ask for a firmer base to stand on to belt out a track. If the highs are more your thing than the lows you might appreciate "When I Fall From Grace" featuring the Punk Pipers, a bagpipe troop that contains FDNY of all things. As far as cries to heaven go, you'd be hard-pressed to find one more plaintive, beautiful, or staunchly alive.
But then again, that's true of all of How to Sail a Sinking Ship. We sat down with Vannice to ask him a few questions about the amazing album. Continue to page 2 for the interview.
Rocks Off: What do you think it take to keep punk relevant in the modern world? Do you think it will ever again be a driving force of change in music?
Rob Vannice: True punk only has to be relevant to itself. If it's done right, it'll always be relevant to its listeners. We see waves come and go in music, fashion, and even technology, but waves always come around again. Just because punk rock is not in the mainstream spotlight doesn't mean that it disappeared, as a matter of fact, punk rock is more relevant now. There are a lot of new punk bands popping up all over the place with fresh ideas and new aggression. It's really just a matter of time before the cream rises to the top, and the punk music that deserves it will have its place in the sun.
RO: What made you want to add Melora and the pipers to the album? How did that come about?
RV: We went into the studio with "Black Roses" and "When I Fall From Grace" with the knowledge that these were two songs that were very unique in their own ways and John Cafiero (who produced the album) came up with the idea to add cello by Melora Creager on "Black Roses." I thought the idea was brilliant, and a great way to make the track really stand out. Melora came to the studio and John conducted the session and it was really cool to see it all come together. John also suggested bagpipes on "When I Fall From Grace" and again, I thought this too was a great idea. John contacted the "punk pipers" and brought them in. They did an amazing job with the track adding the perfect amount of distinction and style.
RO: "Lorraine" is creepy as all get out. What's the story behind that song?
RV: "Lorraine" is actually a metaphor for drowning your problems. It tells a story of a love gone wrong and the plans for revenge that are carried out. What I was thinking about during the songwriting process, however, was the way we cope with the problems that occur in our lives by using coping mechanisms. We use alcohol, drugs, eating, and other things to solve our problems when what we really need to do is take responsibility for ourselves and face problems, worries, and fears head on instead of adding to the pile.
RO: The album seems pretty evenly divided between a defiantly political message and more personal relationship songs. Which side do you think is the more meaningful personally?
RV: There are a couple of themes that I focused on while writing this album. One was the passing of my father very suddenly to cancer, and my personal mourning process that followed, and my opinion that the only way to change the world around us is to take responsibility for ourselves. How To Sail A Sinking Ship, I feel, is a much more personal album than it is political, although there are political themes laced throughout. It's an album about personal hardships, perseverance, and integrity. I simply wrote what I lived and let the songs happen naturally. When I listen to the finished album I hear a story and not just a collection of songs, and I'm very proud of the way that it turned out.
RO: You clearly like to experiment with the punk medium, and not just stick to the standard settings. What other areas of music would you like to incorporate into your songs in the future?
RV: No matter what song I'm writing, the creative process always has to happen naturally or it doesn't happen at all. Really, it will be a surprise to me as well to see what my subconscious spits out. I think the important thing is to always be pushing the limits of the musical boundaries while staying true to the mission statement.
JuiceheaD opens for the Misfits tonight at Stereo Live.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.