I interviewed The Explosion in August, 2002, at their van before a matinee show at the Che Café. During that show, Dave knocked himself out for a few moments. Despite this mid-set mishap, the band kept playing which only goes to show exactly how unstoppable they really are. I finally found a copy of the first EP when I moved to Illinois and this interview finally made it online after thousands of miles, two moves, cases of beer and at least a few bottles of bourbon.
Please state your name and the instrument you play so I can transcribe this later.
Dave: My name is Dave and I play guitar.
Sam: Sam, guitar.
Damian: Damian, I play bass.
So I don't hear much about the band out here on the West Coast. I don't know if there's anything you guys would like to clear up to start - rumors or anything like that.
Damian: I personally like rumors. No one can really know exactly what four or five people do in their lives or the dynamics between them in the band. Only we know.
Dave: Basically, we are a band and we always have been a band that does exactly what we want to, exactly when we want to and if that means that we don't play for a year and then play one show, or play four months of shows, if that's what we all want to do and if that's what we're feeling, then that's what we'll do.
Okay. So I need to ask about a little bit of history about how the band started and stuff like that because the last time I heard anything was when "Flash Flash Flash" came out.
Dave: Well, Damian came out of In My Eyes. Sam came out of a band called The Trouble. Matt and I were not in bands before. Andrew, our drummer, has been in various bands. We're all from different parts of the East Coast and converged in Boston. That was back in about 1998. That's basically the history of the band.
S am: Yeah. I started playing with these guys about four or five months after The Explosion started. The Trouble broke up and they just wanted a second guitar player and I was hanging out with them so that's how I joined the band.
So how did you meet? Classified ads, that sort of thing?
Dave: Nothing like that. What had happened is that I was in college and I moved to Boston in junior year of college to do an internship and I moved in with my friend Rama who was friends with Damian, and Matt came up from Philly and we all lived together, all had similar interests in music and we decided after a while that we wanted to get a band together. We started playing as a group of friends and, at that time, we had a different drummer whose name was Dan Colby. He ended up going on to start a different band because he wanted to play guitar and sing. Then we met Andrew in Washington, D.C., and he played on our "Steal This!" record. That was basically what happened.
It's been a while between records, hasn't it? Didn't "Flash Flash Flash" come out at the end of 1999 or beginning of 2000?
Dave: That's right, yeah.
I had heard that a new album is supposed to be out by the end of the year.
Dave: Fall of this year.
What's been taking so long between records? Writing songs, touring, that sort of thing?
Dave: No, just doing our own shit, doing exactly what we want to do.
Damian: Right now, too, we're all doing different things and giving each other the freedom to do those things. Right now, Andrew has to live in D.C. or somebody has to have a job here or somebody has commitments here or there. We're just trying to get it done when we can get it done. We're psyched on the songs. We started recording them and we're almost done. It's just that we're doing it when we can do it, like everybody can't go on a month-long tour. Well, let's try to make it happen so that we can go to California for six days or something. It's kind of the same thing.
By the way, I'd like to say thanks for coming down to play a matinee show. I was really stoked on that. Matinees are part of my youth and it's cool to see that bands are still into playing them.
Damian: Yeah, no problem.
So what kind of ethics do you guys have? Did you have any political intentions when you started the band, anything that you wanted to stand for or represent? It seems like you're pretty explicitly political.
Damian: I'd kind of put it the opposite. I think when you read some of the lyrics, certain people in the band feel strongly about something but that's just the best way we know to express certain things or ideas is through music or lyrics.
Sam: A lot of it is personal politics, within ourselves and within our group of friends or within our surroundings, not necessarily George Bush vs. Iraq.
Dave: And some of the stuff is metaphorical for those situations.
Matt: As far as the ethics of being in a band go, so much of it was new to a lot of us. These guys had never really been in bands that have toured before or anything like that and I had never really been in a lot of situations that we were put in where you might have people at labels or tours or managers who or whoever wanted to do stuff or are telling you to do things and you don't really know which one is the right thing to do. "We want to put your shirts in Hot Topic and it's okay, it's okay, it's okay," and we're like, "We don't know, we don't think we're that comfortable with that," you know? Certain things like that take a while.
It's funny you mention Hot Topic because I just finished up an article about that for Clamor magazine.
Matt: Oh, really? Clamor magazine?
Yeah. Do you remember Fucktooth?
Well, Jen Angel from Fucktooth and Jason started Clamor and it's like a progressive, punk rock version of The Nation.
Matt: Oh, cool.
But back to Hot Topic, that leads to a lot of issues about commercialization and commodification, like whether your music then becomes a commodity and that sort of thing. So what's the songwriting process like? You've mentioned that The Explosion is not an explicitly political band and I never got the impression that the lyrics were as blatant as "Bush sucks" or "Reagan sucks" .
Matt: I'll be honest, we've continued the Reagan sucks theme though.
Dave: Yeah, thank you.
So for the record, please introduce yourself.
Matt: Oh, I'm Matt. I'm the singer.
So the impression that I got from "Flash Flash Flash" is that if there's one theme that runs through the record, it's "Wake up." First of all, is that an accurate impression of what you're trying to get across and second, what kind of process do you go through to give people an impression from your music?
Matt: I think that's definitely an accurate assessment of the main theme of the record. That's what a lot of those songs are about, especially a song like "No Revolution." It's pretty blatant.
Dave: Whenever I write lyrics, I'm usually most comfortable writing about challenging not only everybody else but challenging myself as well, making myself look in the mirror and assess exactly what I'm trying to express. Everybody here does other artistic things besides music. Damian is an artist, Matt does graphic design, I have some limited artistic skills, Sam does a lot of artwork; we're all very expressive people. I think when I write songs, it's almost like working through that process of trying to say exactly what I'm trying to express and trying to get other people to feel exactly the same way, if they choose to.
Damian: But sometimes somebody will come in with a song - riffs, a chorus, verse, lyrics - sometimes somebody just comes in with just a riff or a guitar part and we add to it; vocals, a melody.
So it's really collaborative.
Dave: For the most part, yeah.
Damian: I mean, the songs can be written and come in and we'll play it, but it's not really a finished product until we've rehearsed it a hundred times. There's an importance to writing a song initially, but then there's something that I think is just as important and that's playing through it, making minor changes that really make the song what it is. It's producing, I guess, but it's a group effort, regardless of who writes a song.
Dave: Yeah. The Explosion, in a way, is more than a band. It's more like a collaborative group of artistic ideas, like Sam, the other guy who was here and just took off, he and I do another band called The Tonsils. It was just an idea that we had and did. I wanted to play drums instead of guitar and we just did it. We said, "Wow, maybe we can get Ralph Steadman to do the artwork," so we called him and he did it. We were psyched. Damian says, "You know what, I want to screen and hand-make 50 shirts to bring with us on the West Coast," and he did it and they sold out in two days. We're a group of people who are really trying to express something and trying to do that as best as we know.
And it sounds like The Explosion is just one facet of that expression.
Dave: Exactly. I think that's the most important thing about our group of friends. We're really trying to express something, you know?
Ralph Steadman still kills me.
Dave: Yeah, did you see the record? We have it over there.
Yeah. Did you ever pick up "I, Leonardo"?
It was basically a biography of Leonardo da Vinci .
Dave: Yeah! I've heard of that. We were really honored to get him and he did a logo for us and everything.
So how did you guys wind up settling on the sound? When I listen to the records, I hear a lot of traditional punk.
Damian: The funny thing is that we never really settled on anything. Knowing Dave and playing the songs that he writes, I know that they all kind of have a similar feel to them and I know they're Dave's songs and they're coming from wherever he pulled his influences from. We just got together so innocently to play this music and we were all listening to a lot of early punk bands at the time, some oi and some hardcore .
Dave: And stuff that was coming out of Minneapolis, like The Replacements, Hüsker Dü and all that stuff.
Damian: We just never go into writing a song, like "Okay, I wrote this riff and the first part is kind of like The Damned and then it goes into the Buzzcocks thing in the bridge and then it ends like The Saints." You know what I mean? We just did whatever. We just come up with riffs. Sometimes I'll listen to the Circle Jerks and just want to play something as fast and energetic as that. We just kind of did it. I think the stuff on the Rev EP is a little more hardcore-based. I don't know why. Maybe we were just more pissed at the time. We do write songs. I mean, Sam is a guy who writes songs all the time and sometimes he brings stuff to the table and maybe Matt and I are like, "We don't really know if that's us." We can't totally define what sound it is that is us, but we know sometimes what we think is in our range or our capabilities.
What sounds like it would fit in, what doesn't sound like it would be totally out of place.
Damian: Yeah, but we aren't afraid to take chances or do something different, either. It's just a matter of everybody being there.
You all have to agree on it.
Damian: Yeah. I think The Tonsils stuff is fucking great. I love it and they're still fast and they're angry and punk, but they aren't quite Explosion songs at the same time.
Dave: It's the reggae songs.
Now, it also seems like the album has a theme of trying to prevail against massive odds. One of my favorite lines is "It's a battle tank world against my pocketknife." There's a sense of resistance even though it almost seems destined to lose.
Dave: You wrote that, right?
Matt: Damian wrote it, actually.
Damian: I think everybody feels that way. Especially with me, you talked about politics and I'm interested in reading alternative forms of information and media, but at the same time, when it comes down to it, I'm like, "Fuck! I'm only going to know what they want us to know and whatever they can hide, they will hide, and whatever they can disguise, they will disguise." You know what I mean? I will never know what the fuck goes on in the middle of the Pentagon or in some bunker.
Matt: And the alternative forms of information are biased as well.
Damian: Yeah. It's just tough. Sometimes, you're just like, "Fuck yeah, dude! Let's change things and really make a difference!" but you just can't help but feel that there are massive odds against you.
Dave: But at the same time, there's always a hope and I think that comes in the music too.
It's certainly not pessimistic. It seems like the anger in this case is a fuse. It's supposed to set off a bomb and that bomb is the action that people can take in their lives to improve their surroundings.
Like Bob Mould once said, "Revolution begins in the mirror."
Dave: Right, exactly. That's exactly my philosophy too. He's one of my favorite musicians of all time, anyway.
Hüsker Dü basically saved my life.
Dave: Yeah. I went to see Grant Hart about a month ago and he still fucking blows me away, man.
So it seems like it's hopeful music in that you seem to be pointing out that shitty little scene politics aren't making any kind of difference and that we should be reaching out to form networks or communities instead of trying to figure out who sold out.
Dave: Yeah, totally. That's exactly what it is. I'm not saying that I always exactly what I want, but I say don't do it unless you have at least a general idea and you can look yourself in the mirror and say, "This is honestly what I'm trying to do and this is how I'm going to do it."
With that said, there's one song on "Flash Flash Flash" that sticks out and that's "Tarantulas Attack." How does that fit into this?
Dave: Party song.
Matt: It's about friendship. That's it.
Dave: That's really it. That's all it is. We're out with a bunch of dudes who are like, "Yeah, we're The Tarantulas!" All these people started getting Tarantulas tattoos. It was just getting insane. It's just a song about being friends.
Matt: And partying.
It just stuck out to me because it was so funny and it just didn't seem to fit with the rest of the record. You went from "No Revolution" and "Terrorist" to "Fucking tarantulas are attacking and the nuclear weapons aren't stopping them!"
Dave: Right. That's another thing about our band. We can talk about serious things but we can be complete fucking retards too. That's fine with me. That's how I want to be.
Matt: Have you heard the EP?
I haven't bought the EP for certain principles, but I will pick up the next full-length.
Dave: Wait, which EP?
The one on Rev.
Matt: Oh, no, no, no. The initial one.
No, I haven't heard that one.
Matt: There's not a lot of serious lyrical content on it. Yeah, I hate the Rev one as much as you do, maybe more.
I would imagine so. If you have copies of it, I'll buy one from you since the money goes in your pocket.
Dave: We don't.
Matt: Yeah, they won't give us any.
Oh no, I was actually talking about the first EP.
Dave: We don't even have any of those.
Matt: Well, back to the Rev thing quickly, it's funny because I work at a record store and this kid comes in all the time, he's a little bit of a kook, but he was always nagging me and I told him the story about it, and he called to order one of the singles from Rev and he was like, "Can I get that on colored vinyl?" and they were like, "We don't have it," and he was like, "Yeah, what's up with that, man? Is that a crazy situation?" and he goes, "Those guys are fucking assholes." This is the guy from Rev talking to some customer who is totally anonymous, and he's like, "Those guys are fucking assholes, man! They talked all this shit, they tried to come to our warehouse and steal records," blah blah blah. Dude, if you're going to run your business the way you run it, you should expect that. And you're the mail-order dude. Who are you to talk about the situation anyway? We didn't go to the warehouse and try to steal records . only because it was closed. We would have tried, but we didn't, so don't fucking lie about it. Yeah, we did say fuck you because we want you fucked. Fucking assholes, bottom line.
Dave: What does Sick To Move mean?
It's the title of the first song on the first Superchunk album.
Dave: Oh, okay.
It just meant a lot to me at the time because I was recovering from a long, drawn-out illness that took me out for over six months and almost killed me.
Dave: Oh shit, I'm sorry to hear that.
It was back in 1993. It's been a while. The long and short of it is that the verse "I'm sick of no connection / I'm sick of my reflection / There's a field outside my house / I think I'll crawl there for protection" just stuck with me. It's kind of pessimistic and optimistic, about trying to change what you can.
Dave: Oh, cool. Kind of like The Explosion, in a way.
Well, all these political issues seem to get mixed up with personal issues. Anything that's political is inevitably personal.
Matt: Right. The decisions that are made in politics affect people's lives, citizen's lives.
Right, and most people's politics today are based in community. Are the streets fucked up, do you have to worry about getting shot when you're going home? What are the things that piss you off and what do you want changed?
Matt: Now they just serve McDonald's at high schools and middle schools so that America becomes more obese.
But on the bright side, there are so many antibiotics pumped into that meat that kids never have to worry about getting sick.
Matt: But there are so many hormones in that milk that nine-year-old girls are having their periods and growing boobs.
Damian: Is that true?
I was working on getting my teaching credential at one point and in a ninth-grade English class, there were girls that I would have mistaken for first or second-year college students. It was amazing and I don't mean that in any good way.
Matt: It's great that people are different and some people look older or younger naturally, but from what I hear, the hormones in beef and milk are seriously affecting the youth of America.
Dave: It's awful. It's terrible for your body.
Not only that, but these are hormones that people shouldn't be ingesting. Look at how many cases of depression are being diagnosed. How much of this is related to how we live, the mental environment and the food we eat, and how much of it is just acknowledging it? Did it exist in the 1950s and 1920s and 1890s?
Matt: Well, it definitely did but people just turned their heads to it.
I just wonder if it's more frequent now or if we're finally starting to recognize it.
Dave: It's probably a bit of both and now everybody is so easily medicated that they all do medication. People are so quick to diagnose mental illness and in some cases, that's good that it is more out in the open, but in other cases, more people are becoming over-medicated.
Exactly. I can call my family doctor and he'll phone in prescriptions for a cold without even seeing me.
Matt: Well, I suppose that's a little bit different. Certain things are relatively easily diagnosed, not to say that you need antibiotics or that they'll help, but people are being prescribed Xanax.
Or Zoloft or Paxil.
Matt: Yeah, these totally addictive things that are a form of addiction are an entirely different situation. That's long-term.
Dave: It's really strong. Xanax is an anti-depressant, right?
Matt: Or is it an anti-psychotic?
Well, then there's Haldol.
Dave: Haldol, that's serious.
Matt: Well, there are certain people who are probably benefiting from these things and so society is benefiting from these things. The other stuff is a big deal.
Now I have to ask, just because I've seen some of the guys in the band with X tattoos and others smoking, is anyone straight-edge?
Dave: Nobody is. Right off the bat, nobody is.
I was just curious about that because of the XXX tattoo that I saw.
Matt: Oh, that's actually a Washington, D.C. tattoo.
Dave: He's trying to be like Vin Diesel. That's what really happened. He's really into that movie.
Matt: There are two schools on the straight-edge thing. A lot of people lately, as they grow older, decide that the decision to stay away from certain substances and be straight-edge is not right for them anymore and that's cool. Then there's the other side, the people who attack those people, who are usually younger. Straight-edge was a line from a song that's 20 years old and was maybe just taken a little bit too seriously, and maybe not, you know?
Dave: Well, straight-edge for some people is absolutely the best thing for them, like people who come from very alcoholic or drug-addicted families, definitely being straight-edge is totally fine. My fiancee is straight-edge, I'm not and we have a very nice relationship.
Sam: I feel like the only problem is when people use something like that to draw a line between themselves and other people. Anything that serves as being a separator instead of a uniter is something that I'm a little bit wary of. I have respect for people who have a lot of discipline, but I also have respect for people who don't go crazy in putting rules on themselves. That's building up a lot of pressure for your whole personality.
Not only that, but it sometimes divides a community that could otherwise be united as a positive force.
Dave: Very true.
Matt: Although I don't think there's much segregation between straight-edge now.
It's certainly gotten a lot better over the last 10 years.
Matt: Yeah, totally. Like I said, people get older, you know? They realize that you're my friends and I think that people want to be friends and hang out together and who cares? The fact of the matter is that if some straight-edge guy goes out with some guy who's drunk at the bar, he's probably very entertained. Fuck it. That's all right.
So what's the stuff that really matters to you guys? You mentioned that you all do artistic projects outside the band, but what fuels you and keeps you doing this?
Dave: For me, there's the physical thing of my family, my fiancee, my friends, those are all the most important thing for me. The second most important thing to me is to be able to say exactly what I want because I know I have a lot within me to talk about, whether that's something I feel about politics, something I feel about my friends or something I feel within myself, some kind of very novel, abstract idea that I have, I know I have all of this within me. There's a light within me that I know is going to come out somehow, no matter what avenue it comes out. The most important thing to me is that I'm going to be able to do that for the rest of my life whether one person comes to see me do that or 200 people come to see me do that or if nobody comes to see it and I just do it in my room for my whole life, that's the most important thing for me - to be able to express myself.
Matt: What keeps me going, one of the most important things, obviously, are my friends, but there's this resentment I have for normal, middle-class, white boy America, the Dave Matthews force-fed engineered culture, especially nu-metal, and I hate that and I'm so glad that I'm not like that, but I'm also glad it exists because it helps me realize the difference and importance of not being like that and trying to be a little bit different, at least.
Sam: I'd say, and this is a little different, but my girlfriend definitely keeps me going. I'm in a great relationship and I'm thankful for that every day, just the fact that, I have the freedom, at this point in my life, to at least do some of the things I want to do and I hope that later in my life I'll have more freedom and the ability to do more things that I want to do, but other musical projects to me are almost just as important. I totally second what Dave said, anything that gets my creativity out of my system through some outlet is cool. Give it a name and write some songs.
Matt: My girlfriend too, I love her very much, she's very supportive of me, and Sam, you really opened up a can of worms because now me and Dave both have to say that.
Dave: My fiancee too, I'm getting married five week from today.
Right after the album comes out?
Dave: The album is probably not coming out until October. We're putting it out ourselves, actually, on Tarantulas Records.
Do you have distribution and everything?
Matt: We're working on it. The Internet.
Sam: Check out The Tonsils record too, it's another Tarantulas release.
The thing that I'm really stoked about is how committed you guys are. There's about 20, maybe 30 kids here today and you guys drove down to do a matinee show. It's really weird because a lot of people seem to think that punk rock is almost like the old stadium shows - that you don't talk to the band, that the band is somehow above them - but to see something like this is really positive because it seems like you guys are just showing up to play for the fun of it. So is there anything else you want to add?
Damian: Everything's been covered, as far as I know.
Matt: I don't have a motto.
Dave: Thanks for the interview, it was great.