When the new Fake Names album, Expendables, is released on March 3 through Epitaph, the punk rock quintet will be in a unique position. Until they hit the road in mid-April, they will officially have released twice as many albums as they’ve played shows.
After its inaugural performance in January 2019, the band was all set to release what was effectively a demo as its debut album in 2020 before hitting the road. Despite losing its first major tour due to COVID lockdowns would kill the momentum of many bands, most don’t consist of hardcore royalty.
Featuring guitarists Brian Baker and Michael Hampton, vocalist Dennis Lyxzén, bassist Johnny Temple, and drummer Brendan Canty, Fake Names isn’t the type of band to be told not to put out a second album before playing a second show. When its members have played in Bad Religion, Refused, S.O.A., Girls Against Boys, and three different Ian MacKaye bands (Fugazi, Minor Threat, and Embrace), it can pretty much do whatever it wants.
For Fake Names, that meant taking the time to actually craft their second album (as opposed to just letting Brett Gurewitz release their unrefined debut) and letting their combined 150+ years of punk, hardcore, and post-hardcore experience shine on each highly produced track. The resulting release is anything but expendable.
Expendables builds upon the first album’s Baker-driven, memorable, borderline pop-friendly songwriting while retaining the distinct discontent that has made Refused frontman Lyxzén the voice of hardcore rebellion for nearly 30 years. Every melodic, almost classically punk track contains elements that are immediately recognizable as each member’s contributions, yet none of them sound like a B-side from any of their previous bands.
Ahead of the most experienced sophomore punk release in history, SPIN spoke with Lyxzén about the new album, live shows, and playing with some of his hardcore heroes.
SPIN: What’s the biggest difference between Expendables and the first album for you?
Dennis Lyxzén: The first album was cool and fun — and it really came together with me living in a different part of the world — but it was also a bit of trial and error. We didn’t really know what Fake Names was supposed to be. This time around, we had way more time to write songs, and then I suggested that we should have Adam Greenspan [IDLES, Yeah Yeah Yeahs] mix the record. But then he called me up and said, ‘No, I’m not going to mix the record if I can’t record the entire thing,’ so that’s how it ended up being a bit more produced. It feels a bit more professional this time.
Considering everyone in the band’s background and decades of experience, what was it like to get all of you together to write a new album?
I always feel like I’m the odd man out because I’m not from Washington, D.C. It’s quite fascinating, just because of how long those guys have known each other and the way they sync up — both with their stories and the way they play. I feel like a fly on the wall. I’m sitting in the corner listening to them talk about my favorite bands. On the last record, we wrote demos and sent them back and forth because we were all scattered. This time, we had more time to practice and be in the room recording together. It’s such a pleasure to be a singer in a band where the other dudes know exactly what to do — although most bands I play with know what they’re doing. It’s also nice to be able to play in a band where I’m the young guy.
Musically, Fake Names is surprisingly poppy — which might not be what people expect based on everyone’s other bands.
I think it’s a good decision that we went the route we went because it would be quite easy to be like, ‘Oh, it’s a guy from Refused, a guy from Minor Threat, and a guy from S.O.A. and the Faith. Let’s play hardcore.’ I think we made the right choice to be more melodic, in line with what Brian and Michael listened to when they started Minor Threat and the Faith. I grew up on that stuff, and you can hear a lot of it in some of the [members’] other bands, like Embrace, Soulside, and Dag Nasty. I had a power-pop band called the (International) Noise Conspiracy, so even I touched on the melodic, although this is the first time I’ve played in a melodic punk band. But I think it plays to our strengths, rather than trying to be like that meme of the old guy with a skateboard saying [‘How do you do, fellow kids?’]. We bring a lot of experience to the table, and I think it’s great when they send me songs that aren’t like anything I’ve done before, so I can create some catchy choruses on them.
Does Fake Names feel different from some of the other bands you’ve been in, seeing as no one really needs or expects this to be a main gig for them?
That’s a massive, massive appeal to me and why we wanted to do this band. The whole nucleus of the band is that Brian moved to New Jersey and started hanging out with Michael — Michael is Brian’s favorite guitar player, but they never played in a band. The whole idea of the band was Brian said, ‘I want to get Michael out of the house, I want to play in a band with Michael.’ That’s the vibe of it. We just want to play music and play shows and create some good tunes. We all have other day jobs.
Usually putting out a second album is kind of a make-or-break moment for a band with a lot of pressure on it, but I’m guessing that wasn’t the case for you guys.
It’s interesting because there’s something about the fact that we put out so many records, collectively, that makes it a very relaxed vibe. As you said, the second record is a little bit of a tricky one. But for this, it feels very relaxed. It feels like everybody’s just like, ‘It’s a great record. Let’s put it out, play some shows, and see what happens.’ We have that confidence because we know it’s a great record and I think a lot of that has to do with the experience we have. Anytime you start a new band, you’re figuring out how to get people to recognize your new band. But when you have the drummer from Fugazi, it’s a bit easier to get people to notice.
How does it feel to be gearing up to go hit the road with these guys for the first time and play some pretty intimate venues?
It’s great. The shitty thing is that we only played one show and then the pandemic hit. Being in the studio or the practice space with those guys, you can feel the power of the songs — and to be in the middle of it is great. I can’t wait to get to do that on a stage. The one show we played was great. It’s been a while now, so we need to get out again.
Since one audience has seen Fake Names perform, is there anything that the rest of us should expect from the live show?
It’s good times. We’re playing music that we love. It’s not pretentious. Hopefully, people come into it with an open mind. If we wanted to be a hardcore band, it would’ve been easy to be a hardcore band, but this is what we want to do. There’s some lyrical stuff in there that’s always with me — screaming about some revolution and shit — all in all, we just want to play in a great punk band and have a good time.
Right, you’d be an odd choice for a lead singer if they didn’t want some screaming about a revolution.
Exactly. I hope so, at least [laughs]. I think they knew what they were getting into with me, so they let me run pretty free with everything. It’s a very nice feeling to have them trust me like that, and I think it fits with all of the punk and hardcore that they grew up with. A lot of it talked about social issues, politics, alienation, and revolutions. It goes in line with the music those guys have always done.