Capture The Flag
I first heard Capture The Flag in Japan in a small club in Ojiya. For the rest of the tour, I kept hearing their music before every show. I got back to the U.S. and was able to find a copy of "Time and Again," which blew me away. I emailed the band and eventually wound up on the phone with Ryan King, CTF's bass player.
Usually I don't ask these questions, but how did you start off?
Ryan: Basically there's three of us in the band. There's me and I play bass, Jeff plays guitar and Steve plays drums. We met in high school, 9th grade, and started jamming around under a different name. We used to be called The Oven Mitts. We were pretty much just a pop-punk band. We were in high school and played for fun, played some shows, got a following. It was never too serious. We just started playing more shows. We put out a CD as The Oven Mitts, a small little pressing on our own, toured around a couple of times and once we graduated from high school, we were still The Oven Mitts and we got into college. It was kind of like no one wanted to take The Oven Mitts seriously because of the name, but we were still playing the same type of music. Basically, we decided to change the name and see what happens. We changed the name to Capture The Flag, re-released a four-song demo as Capture The Flag and Conquer The World got that. He liked it, he listened to it, he critiqued it and he decided to do the record and then we released the full-length, "Time and Again." We've been playing together for about five years altogether, just us three, the same members. We're good friends and that's the best part about it. We're all really good friends.
It has to make it easier in the van.
Ryan: Oh, it's great. We love going in the van, we love touring. We hang out, have fun, do jokes. We look forward to doing it.
So what made you start doing it?
Ryan: Honestly, I had a guitar - I played guitar at the time - Steve had some drums and wanted to play drums in a band and me and him started writing all the early Oven Mitts songs. I didn't mean to write punk songs, but when they came out, they were just faster and Steve liked playing faster drumbeats so we would just write fast songs and people would call us a punk band. We were like, "Oh, okay, cool." We were just playing around, having fun. When Jeff and us started writing songs together, they just came out really good. We weren't like, "We're going to write punk songs," we just wanted to write some songs about funny things, but the songs we were actually good and we were like, "Wow, we can write good songs together." We started taking it more at a serious aspect.
On "Time and Again," it doesn't seem like the songs are about funny things. They seem like they're about feeling uncertain and not knowing where you're going. I don't know if I'm misreading them, but they don't seem like jokes.
Ryan: Well, pretty much at the end of high school, we started writing more serious stuff, not like we're too serious, but Jeff started writing more personal lyrics which I like a lot. I think everyone is more into that. The songs on "Time and Again" are pretty serious songs. They're about stuff that happened, our years that we did some stuff. The last song, "The Last Mountain Dancer" is actually about touring and having a bad tour, driving home all the time and the ups and downs of it. I think the songs on "Time and Again" are more the progression of good songs with really solid lyrics and that's how we write our songs.
A lot of it seemed to me about questioning your place in the world - where you fit in, how you fit in, what you want. The impression that I was getting is that it was about putting the past behind you and getting through the bullshit, and move on to something better.
Ryan: You couldn't have said it better. I think "Time and Again" closes the days of The Oven Mitts. We don't want to throw it away, we just want to move on from that and we have people still saying all this stuff about how we're selling out. The Oven Mitts were something and we were that, but now we're moving on. This is the in the middle record, kind of explaining it. When we changed our name, we got a lot of stuff. When we do interviews, they ask if we did it for a record deal. We just changed our name because we wanted to change our name and kids are still saying we sold out for a record deal and it's not that at all. We don't know where we want to be. We're doing this for the love of doing and I think this record is an end to The Oven Mitts and the start of Capture The Flag.
Well, music, if it's done as art, evolves. If it's done for money, then it stays the same. It sounds like you changed your name to reflect the change in your music.
Ryan: That's exactly why. We were still writing the same sort of songs when we were The Oven Mitts, but when we would play shows, people would say, "You guys are really good, but we thought you were some crazy ska band or something." That's the biggest reason we changed our name. We just wanted to be taken seriously. People thought we were some ska pop-punk crazy band and we're writing these songs. I think it was a good change. Capture The Flag is a good name for us.
Why did you pick Capture The Flag?
Ryan: To be honest with you, we were in the dorm room one day thinking of names and some said Capture The Flag and we thought it sounded really cool. We had other ones, but they just weren't there, you know? I believe it was Jeff who said Capture The Flag, and we were like, "Yeah, that's pretty good." The more we kept thinking about it, we were like "That's really good, yeah, let's do that." That's how it was, in the dorm room, hanging out.
Where did you go to school?
Ryan: University of Michigan.
You're from Macomb, Michigan, right?
Ryan: Steve is in Macomb, I live in Flat Rock, Jeff lives in Ypsilanti. Steve has the furthest drive; it's about an hour. He moved out there for a computer job with his dad which is really cool; that's what he's going to school for. For me and Jeff, it's about a half hour away so it's still fairly close.
So it sounds like part of the reason you like to go on tour is because it lets you see each other more than you ordinarily would.
Ryan: Yeah. It's really cool when you go on tour and play shows and stuff, but I think another reason why is because it's cool to be with your friends, your own group of people, having fun on the road, seeing new stuff and experiencing it together.
I want to go back to this name change because it's bugging me. It pisses me off when people let politics get in the way of music. To an extent, I do it because I don't interview bands on major labels for my zine, but I don't understand why people would get pissed off about you changing your name.
Ryan: I don't know. I think people just wanted to say something because they think it's cool to say something about bands that do that. I honestly don't get it. If we had changed the style of music we were playing and then changed our name completely to get a giant deal, that would have been selling out, but we're still playing the same type of music we were as the last couple of years as The Oven Mitts and we're not doing anything different. We just changed our name because we wanted to be taken seriously. At one point, our friend from Toledo was like, "You guys are the most overlooked band in Michigan because of your name." That was kind of weird because it was so stupid. Other labels were like "This is really good but I would never put this out because of the name." I just thought that was ridiculous. I think there are always kids in whatever scene you're in that want to be the one that starts crap just to say it.
Even if they don't do anything.
Ryan: Exactly. You have a couple of those everywhere you go. I never got it, I don't think I ever will. It's not like we're ashamed to do Oven Mitts songs live. We like to bust an old one out just for fun. It's something we're not ashamed of. Like I said, we were proud of what we did with The Oven Mitts but we just moved on from it and I don't think some kids get it.
Well, it seems there's always a core group of people in punk and everyone else comes and goes, and someone who's screaming about selling out today will probably be a tort lawyer in five years.
Ryan: I don't know. To each their own, I guess. I like staying away from talking shit about other things because I don't want to put my foot in my mouth three or four years later.
One of the things that grabbed me about the music was the crunchy, melodic guitar sound. What is it that Jeff plays, an SG?
Ryan: Yeah, he plays a Gibson SG. He doesn't play that as much anymore because he got a new guitar, a Gibson Maverick or Intruder, and it sounds really good. The new stuff is even more melodic, some parts even sound a little like Iron Maiden.
That's metal. One of the things that grabbed me about the guitar sound was that it was really crunchy and meaty, yet still melodic, like Lifetime, Avail, Hot Water Music and Ann Beretta. Is this something you guys consciously focused on?
Ryan: Basically, we went to the studio with Mike from Conquer The World, the guy who does the label. We had our idea, we want our sound like this, but Mike is a big Lifetime fan and Mike made some suggestions. Some, we were like, "Okay, yeah," and some we were like, "No."
What kind of suggestions?
Ryan: The first thing was, and this is going to sound kind of funny, he wanted to use the same kind of guitars and amps that Lifetime did in the studio. We were like, "We're going to use our amps because we're Capture The Flag and not Lifetime." I wanted to make it abundantly clear to him. He was cool about that. The guitar tone would all be Jeff and us. Jeff just has that distinct sound. Steve's drums sound the same way and my bass sounds the same, but Mike was just like, "Let's turn this up." He brought some CDs, a lot of ones you mentioned and he was trying to critique them. He did a lot of the Lifetime influence, he brought a Lifetime CD in and it was kind of scary because if you go back to a Lifetime CD and then go back to one of our songs in the studio, it was sounding really identical to the sound they had. I think that's what he wanted. He wanted a fast, melodic hardcore sound and I think he got it. Lifetime is one of his favorite bands. Mike knew them. He was going to do a 7" for them before they broke up so he was upset. I just think he thought, well, he said that we were his Lifetime. It was kind of funny. But yeah, he brought the Lifetime stuff in there and he was just like, "I want this to sound a lot like this." It does, honestly, which is a good thing.
Well, when I first heard it, a friend of mine punched me in the arm and said, "How fucking Lifetime is that?" However, it's not quite as polished, it's a little more raw.
Ryan: That's what we got too. Someone also said it was kind of like Hot Water Music guitar because of the rawness. Yeah, I agree with you on that.
But not as chunky.
Ryan: Yeah, yeah.
So is it awkward for you when people like me call up and know nothing about the band's history before Capture The Flag?
Ryan: I think it's really rad that us, as Capture The Flag, can put out a record and have it go so far and have people do this. It blows my mind. You told me you heard it in Japan and that's unbelievable to me. Even as The Oven Mitts, it's amazing and I think it's great. I love it when people email me or call me on the phone and talk to me about it. That's what we're doing it for. If someone buys our record and enjoys it as much as we do then we're totally satisfied. I don't even know if this could have happened if we were still The Oven Mitts because there was just no way we could do another record, financially, without someone helping us out and that was not going to happen as long as we were The Oven Mitts. It's just really crazy that our CD is in Japan and San Diego and people are buying it and listening to it and enjoying it.
It has to be rewarding for you on a personal level.
Ryan: That is one of the main things. When we tour now and people know about us, we meet a lot of people and make a lot of new friends, emotionally I just don't know what to feel. When someone comes up to me and says "This record is so amazing, I love this record," I don't know how to act. It's like someone actually enjoyed it as much as we do. It's great. It's always weird when someone asks for an autograph. Why do you want my autograph? I'm Ryan. I'm no one. I walk around here and everyone goes, "Hey, what's up?" No one wants an autograph here. We're happy the record's doing well and people like it, but I get red. I don't know what else I can do but say "Thank you." I don't want to come off as a bad guy. If someone says that to us, I don't know what to say because we're not out to change anybody's life. We're just trying to make some good music and play some shows.
And try to have some fun.
Ryan: Exactly, yeah. That's what it's always been. We never want to get too serious because all our friends' bands get too serious and they all broke up. You have to have a bit of seriousness, but you have to remember you're in a band and having fun and playing shows. This isn't a 9-to-5 job, you're out there to have fun and give people good music.
And if you're not enjoying it, why are you doing it?
Ryan: Exactly. That's the most important thing. That's one thing I don't want it to be for us is a business, a 9-to-5 job. I want to tour when we can tour. I don't want someone telling us you're touring then with this and you're recording here and there. I want to be like, "You know what? I think it's time to record another record. Do you want to tour?" I don't want someone standing over me with some pen and some book that's like, "You're doing this until then and then we'll give you the money."
So what keeps you doing this?
Ryan: I think the one biggest thing is that as a whole - me, Jeff and Steve - I think as the years progress, we've been better musicians. I think we feed off each other in a way, which is like a song will come up and then we'll just be like, "Let's do this too." We feed off each other musically and it's like we made this song and it's amazing. Another thing is that it's really cool to drive out of state and have kids come and see you. I just think that's really cool. People in Boise will come see us and we're from Michigan. I think another thing that keeps us doing it is just that we love to do it. I don't think that's ever going to change, even if we don't tour anymore or if we just keep releasing records. Writing songs together and being in a band together is what's the big thing keeping us going and fueled to do it. I think there's a strength about being together, always being together.