Tacos With the Interrupters

The quartet compare how making their first four albums is like dating
Pre-tour tacos for everyone. Photo by Josh Chesler

In a blacked-out rehearsal space in North Hollywood, The Interrupters have the absolute necessities as they prepare to head to Europe to tour in support of their fourth album, In the Wild (out on Aug. 5 via Hellcat/Epitaph). A handful of guitars and basses hang in a road case against the wall. A stack of drumsticks is tucked away inside some cardboard remains. Some light snacks rest underneath a folding table. And a few large boxes of vocalist Aimee Interrupter’s favorite types of water dot the remaining space around a central couch.

“This one is from Hawaii, but it’s only my second favorite,” she says, handing me a liter of Waiakea Nui that feels like it costs as much as the dozen Arrowheads sitting on the aforementioned snack table combined. “But let’s get you the best water.”

Aimee swaps the bottle for a liter-sized box of Flow, an equally fancy carton that looks like something straight out of Gwyneth Paltrow’s fridge. “Try that. Isn’t it the best water ever?”

The outspoken singer and her band are supposed to be supporting their new album, but that can wait until after she gives the full sales pitch on alkaline spring water in eco-friendly packaging. As someone who stopped boozing roughly seven years ago, Aimee has found a new beverage-based addiction — one which she begrudgingly admits will be more difficult to satiate for the month the band will be traveling across Europe.

Over the next 90 minutes, the band talks about nearly everything except their music. Aimee and the Bivona brothers (guitarist/husband Kevin and twins Justin and Jesse filling out the rhythm section) dive into punk rock war stories, their athletic preferences (Aimee grew up in a family full of wrestlers while “The Twins” are diehard Dodgers fans), guitar effects pedals, the importance of their secret fifth member (multi-instrumentalist and “keeper of vibes,” Billy Kottage), their dedication to performing without backing tracks, Kevin breaking his arm (yet finishing the tour) after faceplanting onstage and more while grabbing a few tacos each for a late lunch.

As likely the biggest and best current ska punk band that isn’t driven by nostalgic hits from either Bush administration, the Interrupters have evolved over their decade together. They’ve gone from the scene’s suit-wearing new kids performing simple anthems (“Take Back the Power”) to mainstream hitmakers (“She’s Kerosene”) and a force of their own, independent of the support they’ve received from bands like Rancid and Green Day.

After tacos (but before their packed pre-tour performance at KROQ’s DTS Sound Space), the family band spoke with SPIN about the new album, old suits and everything in between.

 

 

SPIN: What was the biggest difference for you with In the Wild?
Aimee Interrupter: This album is basically my life story. I’m telling my story from the beginning until now, and I’m more open, more vulnerable and more honest in my songwriting than I’ve ever been about my story. A lot of times on our other records — even though I’ve sprinkled little bits of my story throughout them — for the most part, all of the stories that I’ve told are about someone else. I would say “She did this” or “Jenny drinks” or “She got arrested” or “She needs to be easy on herself.” I would write all these little vignettes of other people, when it was really about me. This record is all first person, and I’m telling my story.

How did it feel to record the album when you didn’t even know when it would be coming out or when you’d be touring again because of the pandemic?
Kevin Bivona: I personally feel like that was a blessing. We weren’t thinking about any of those logistics, so all we were thinking about was trying to make the best record possible. We were locked down together, so it was a super insular, intimate time making this record. Because of that, [Aimee] was able to go to those places and work on the songs. If we were working on them and I’m like “Hey, the label wants the record in two weeks.” She would freeze up.

Aimee: I would. I freeze every time there’s pressure on me.

Kevin: Musically, we wouldn’t have been able to take this record to places we haven’t gone before. We really listened to what she brought to each song and let the song be what it wanted to be. If it wanted to be a sad doo-wop-inspired ballad, then that’s what it was. We didn’t feel the need to go “How can we make this punky ska?” because it took away from the spirit of what the song was saying and what the song was about. We were able to sonically go places that we wouldn’t have been able to go if we were worried about having it ready in time for a tour. We weren’t worried about any of that, and we just wanted to support the songs. This was the first time we were afforded the time to fine-tune our process — and when I say that, I mean being able to record at any hour. If she went “I feel the emotion of this song and I want to do vocals right now,” it didn’t matter if it was 5:00 pm or 3:00 am, because we had the studio in our backyard and we were able to do that.

 

 

It seems like you experiment away from the classic ska punk sound a little more on each album as well. Are there ever times when you try a song and just say “This doesn’t sound like the Interrupters”?
Aimee: When I’d hear a song in my head in the past — like when we did “Be My Baby” — I was probably like “We have to make this ska-punk. Even though I hear it a different way in my head, it’s got to fit this because this is what we do.” So I would take what I heard in my head and mold it into what we do. But this time, Kevin was just like “I want to hear what’s in your head. Let’s just hear what’s in your head. We don’t need to fit it into any box.”

Kevin: I realized when touring the last record that if [Jesse’s] playing drums, [Justin’s] playing bass, I’m playing guitar and [Aimee’s] singing, it sounds like the Interrupters. We did a Billie Eilish cover — and we’d never done anything like that before — but for some reason, once you add her vocals to it, it sounds like the Interrupters. Then we covered “Be My Baby” on tour, and I knew that we can kind of do whatever we want, and as long as it’s us doing it, it’s gonna sound like us. There was nothing limiting us on this album. It’s the fourth album, so especially after the pandemic, I kept thinking to myself “What are we waiting for? If we don’t do this now, when are we gonna do it?” We’re always progressing and growing as people, as musicians and as songwriters. If you’re just gonna continue doing the same thing… Well, it’s like Jay-Z said, “If you want my old shit, buy my old albums.”

Speaking of how you’ve grown as a band, how have you seen yourselves evolve from one album to the next?
Kevin: On the last record [2018’s Fight the Good Fight], we stretched the bounds genre-wise. We didn’t have a song as melodic as “Gave You Everything” on the first two records as far as punk rock songs. We realized we could really try anything within arm’s reach of what we do. Then on this record, everything under the rock ‘n’ roll umbrella is on the table.

Aimee: We like to look at these four records as dates. Our first record is like going on a first date with someone. It’s kind of a party record or like a first date at a bar. You’re not showing your deepest secrets, you’re just shouting “You won’t find a friend like me!” It’s an introduction. Then on the second record, the personality starts to come out and you start to see the other person more, but not too deep.

Kevin: Then on the third date, you’re probably going to get intimate, and the fourth record is a full-blown relationship.

 

 

The band has definitely started to get more traction over the last handful of years. “She’s Kerosene” was a radio hit. You’ve been on nearly every festival. You’ve done full stadium tours with bands like Green Day. What was it like to kind of see things take off after really cutting your teeth for the first handful of years?
Aimee: It’s amazing, and I think we have such a deep appreciation for it because we’ve had to work so hard for everything we have. For so many years, we would all share one hotel room — including a driver — after being in a van for 12 hours daily. We would do like 20 shows in a row with no days off. There were some really, really hard years, and the whole time I was really struggling mentally to get through it. It took all of my energy to get through it. So to both be in a much better place mentally and to be able to deeply appreciate where we are and how far we’ve come… I’m so glad it wasn’t handed to us. I don’t know if we would appreciate things like having our own rooms now.

Justin Bivona: We don’t get our own rooms…

Aimee: Yeah, but you guys are twins! You want to be together. I thought you guys enjoy it!

Jesse Bivona: We enjoy it when we’re just binge-watching things on the days off — not every night.

Aimee: Honestly, we had that same appreciation we have now even when we were playing for 40 people. We didn’t realize how hard the work was because we had that same appreciation every step of the way. When we first played Europe, there were like 40 people at our first show.

Kevin: It was like a 500 cap room with 40 people, so it looked like we were just playing to a couple of friends.

Aimee: But we thought it was so amazing that these 40 people came out to see us. They were like our 40 new best friends. So I said to them “If you want to come to our show tomorrow night, it’s two hours away. Just put your name down and every single person will be on the guest list.” So a bunch of people came to that show, and there were like 80 people there. Then we’re like “All 80 of you, whoever wants to come to our next show.” And we did that over and over again until they told us we had to stop. But we had people who would travel from town to town to town to see us every night, and we’re still friends with a lot of those people and they still come to our shows. It’s amazing.

You’ve obviously found success as a family band, but considering that you effectively spend all of your time together inside and outside of the band, is there ever a feeling of “I just want to get away from my brothers”?
Jesse: I think that’s the reason we’ve been able to work together so well and love each other. We all had the same goals when we started the band, so there was never that moment where we had a tour offer and one person was like “Well, I don’t want to do that.” We’re almost always in agreement, and we really figured out early on how to communicate with each other to make sure that we didn’t stray from the path that we all agreed upon.

Justin: Early on, we butted heads a lot more because we were still figuring ourselves out — and also we were young and you don’t know how to communicate as well. During practice in the early days, it was more like “Hey, why don’t you try that?” “No, that’s stupid.” Nowadays, it’s like, “Let’s try that and that and that. Let’s try everything.”

Kevin: We’re all family, but we also have very different types of personalities. It’s about learning to celebrate our differences and understand all of our weird idiosyncrasies. It’s all about how we can support the music. I stole this quote from Tim Armstrong, but it sums up our band in the same way. He said “I worry about 50 things and Matt Freeman worries about 50 things, but they’re not the same 50 things.” Everybody has the things that they’re in charge of, because it’s what’s important to them. We all kind of focus on those and have each other’s backs.

 

 

Now, I know I’m a few years late, but I have to know. You were known for wearing full suits on stage regardless of temperature or setting for the first handful of years of your career. Was there ever a moment when it was like 105° out and you regretted that decision?
Kevin: We were very committed to wearing the suits. One time, we went to a Thai restaurant by the Epitaph office because Tim wanted to convince Brett [Gurewitz] to release our album. It was like the most casual lunch where Tim said “Hey I want to put out their album on Hellcat,” and Brett said “OK,” and then we had to sit there eating Pad Thai while trying not to get it on our suits. Or when we’d go into the Epitaph office to pick up a stack of promo posters, we would wear the suits.

Justin: When [Kevin] played Coachella with Jimmy Cliff, he wore the suit on stage. I was guitar tech-ing, and I was still wearing a suit and just sweating nonstop.

Kevin: I think we still have a certain aesthetic, but not having to wear the actual three-piece suits is great.

Jesse: Some of those early tours were brutal, because we would hang them up in the van after the show, and then when we would open up the doors the next day when we got to whatever venue, and they would still be soaking wet. We didn’t have multiple, so we’d be putting back on the wet clothes — which was brutal by the 14th show in a row.

Aimee: We actually have a really good story about the suits. It was our very first Green Day show in Italy, so we had never met them, but we were like “We’re gonna show up and be so professional! They’re gonna see what a professional band we are!” And then all of our most important luggage got lost at the airport. All of our wardrobe, our wireless system, all of my makeup, all of their suits, everything.

Kevin: She had to go to a mall, because she literally only has the clothes she’s wearing and no makeup. Then maybe an hour after soundcheck, Mike Dirnt is in our dressing room saying “Hey we heard you lost your luggage. What size are you guys?” We’re like “Well, there’s three of us, but we all wear the same thing…” and he’s like “Got it.” Like two hours later, he comes in with white button-downs, black ties and everything just ready to go. I remember playing that show and thinking it was crazy, because they were watching us from the side of the stage and we’re literally wearing their clothes.

Aimee: We had to play with wires, and I was wearing a Green Day t-shirt. It was really crazy, but they were so sweet. They did not have to do that. They’re the nicest people, and they would literally give you the shirts off their backs.

IMPACT

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