The Lawrence Arms by Alejandro L. Rodriguez

It was a typical Chicago night for the end of November: cold, wet, windy; a perfect night to take refuge in the shelter of the Fireside Bowl and see Chicago's very own, the Lawrence Arms. Veterans of the Chicago punk rock scene, they've embodied the gritty, resolute attitude of the city and released two full-length albums and one split EP. The band tours incessantly, playing everywhere from large-scale clubs to people's basements, and have attracted a fiercely loyal following due to the strength of their performances and the honest desperation of their music. Brendan Kelly (bass/vocals), Chris McCaughan (guitar/vocals), and Neil Hennessy (drums/vocals), took time to sit and chat with me in a fairly quiet corner of the bar. (Neil didn't make it until the near the end of the interview)

RS: You've just been signed with Fat Wreck Chords; can you tell me about that, how it come about?
CM: It's awesome. BK: Basically, here's what happened, we got off thirteen months of tour and decided that we were going to look for a new label. Asian Man, which is an amazing label, is a very small... very DIY label, and we felt that for the amount we were touring that we needed something that that would be more financially conducive towards what we were doing. So we talked to a few different labels and got a few different offers, some really good offers, and Fat, by far, wasn't the greatest, as far as the money goes, but we're all just dumb punk rock kids who grew up listening to NOFX, and Fat Wreck Chords is run by one of my childhood heroes. So when we got the opportunity to be on Fat we were like, OK! We'll be on Fat! And it's amazing; they've been amazing to us, more than we could ever imagine. It's just been the best move we've ever made. It was so good that we waited around for that offer because I couldn't be happier anywhere than on Fat.

RS: Very cool. How is it different from Asian Man?
CM: It's like a huge Asian Man. BK: Yeah, it's exactly like Asian Man but it's bigger. They've got money, you know, they've got twelve to fifteen people working there instead of three, they've got tons of connections and they've got tons of huge bands on the label. And, you know, Asian Man is three amazing people, very hardworking people, people that work out of a garage, and you know they put out records and that's all they do. Fat has, like, publicists, you know, and Internet people, and artwork people....

RS: Are you guys gonna start doing the Warped tour then?
BK: We did the Warped tour last year...

RS: Yeah, I know but you guys got kicked off or something, are you gonna do it again?
BK: No I don't think so. It wasn't very much fun for us. But, you know, we'll see. You know, never say never.

RS: OK, I know that people don't like to classify themselves, but describe your style, describe the music that you play.
BK: We're a rock band. We play rock music. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow, a lot of it's about booze, a lot of it's about Chicago, and a lot of its about being depressed, so I'd like to think that the music sort of gels with the subject matter. So that's what it sounds like: depressing Chicago boozers playing rock music. Everyone: (laughing)

RS: This is for a skate web site so I should ask you this, do you all skate? I know, Brendan, you do...
CM: I don't. I'm too old and brittle. [He's twenty-five] BK: I've been skating for about fifteen years. There was a time about ten years ago, and another time, maybe, four years ago, when I was pretty good, but I keep falling off. Not falling off the skateboard but falling off doing it. I still love to skate; it's the greatest sport that there is. It's just hard being on tour all the time, and, um, these are just lazy old man drunk excuses. [He's also twenty-five] I drink too much to really be a good skater. [laughing] BK: But, you know, skating is the greatest... Mike Vallely of the old school is my favorite, and of the new school, that white guy that talks like he's black, on Shorty's, what's his name Peter Smolik. Yes, those guys are both amazing.

RS: Right on, so tell me some of your influences.
CM: Chicago BK: Yeah, Chicago, beer, depression, we have a lot of like, dumb punk rock influences that are probably like, the same influences that anybody that would care enough to read this...

RS: Although I know you guys listen to Willie Nelson.
BK: Well, we could sit here and be like, yeah, you know we listened to Bad Religion and Jawbreaker and NOFX and Propaghandi, but everybody our age grew up listening to those bands, you know what I mean?

RS: What about Naked Raygun?
CM: Yeah it's all about the Raygun. BK: Yeah, everybody grew up listening to those bands. The shit that I think that might be a little bit different for us is that we like the old country music. We like the old greats of country music that played like Willie, and Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard and a lot of the good hip-hop; the good mid-nineties hip-hop, like the Pharcyde CM: We just busted out the Marauders... BK: Midnight Marauders... CM: Tribe record... BK: Tribe Called Quest... CM: Nice... BK: is amazing... CM: Outkast... BK: New Outkast album is amazing; actually, all the Outkast records are amazing. Old Gangster rap, I think is really inspirational to punk rock, really pertinent to punk rock. CM: You know what's really funny is that we listen to so much pop radio now. BK: Yeah, a lot of pop radio. CM: Yeah, we've gotten really sick of all our CD's.

RS: Is it annoying the hell out of you?
CM: I actually find it really interesting. Everyone: (laughing) CM: No, I find it really interesting. BK: I think it is, man that new Linkin Park song, the new Pink song and that Shakira song...

RS: The new Pink song is really good...
BK: I like that Shakira song too. CM: Mike's [their roadie] all about the new Pink song. BK: The Shakira song gives me kind of a boner. Everyone: (laughing) CM: And what's her name? Michelle Branch BK: Ah, Michelle Branch. We've been listening to a lot of Michelle Branch.

RS: Isn't she that seventeen year-old?
BK: That's camp value though. CM: Total camp value. BK: Yeah, but Pink fucking shreds. CM: Integrity at its highest. BK: Michelle Branch, that's just for fun, but Pink though, that's serious.

RS: You've been in the scene for like ten or twelve years now. How do you think its progressed, what do you think of it now?
BK: Chicago's amazing right now; I mean look at this fucking crowd here to see a horrible band like the Lawrence Arms. CM: It's amazing that kids actually care enough to go to shows again. BK: Three hundred kids here. CM: There was that lull for a while and now kids are back. BK: We've been in the scene long enough; we were in bands a long time ago, before we were together in the Broadways, that enjoyed a degree of success. [Brendan was in Slapstick, Chris was in Tricky Dick, they both were in the Broadways. Neil was in Baxter, not the Broadways, however.] The Chicago scene was totally booming. CM: Yeah, dude. BK: But then it's like... CM: We were huge. CM: In Carbondale. (laughs) BK: All the bands broke up and it hurt to see. For a long, long time, the biggest bands in Chicago were only drawing like thirty or forty kids. CM: For a couple years there. BK: I can honestly say, thanks to the Alkaline Trio, you know, they really did something that this city can be proud of, as far as punk rock. And they brought a lot of kids to shows, and a lot of kids interested in punk rock shows again. And now the scene is great. I really weep for the day that they break up, because I think it's going to be a sad day for all of us in Chicago. I think that they're a big part of the reason there are so many kids here today.

RS: How is the Lawrence Arms different from the other bands you've been in?
BK: Way better. Everyone: (laughing) CM: Yes, way better.

RS: You two were together, before, in the Broadways.
BK: Right. I think this is a time, and I'd like Chris to extrapolate on this as well, this is the one that we're really able to do, the music that we grew up loving, to play the exact kind of music, how do I say this the right way? This is very confusing. Before, I was in bands, and I would make music and it would either sound good or it would sound bad and it was sort of a luck of the draw thing. And now I think we're old enough and we've been through enough different bands, where we can actually construct the kind of music that we want to listen to so it's going to sound good, at least to our ears, every time. Not that anyone else likes it, who knows? But, this is more of exactly what I would like to be doing personally. Chris? CM: (laughs) Well, you know its honest, it...old bands I was in, I was younger, and I was obviously, very, very influenced by the other punk rock I was listening to. Now, more than ever, songs I write the are more the songs I want to write as opposed feeling that it has to fit a certain sound or structure or has to be done a certain way. Now it's the songs that we're supposed to be writing as opposed to the songs that we could be writing to meet an end. We're writing songs because that's the way we want them to sound.

RS: And now you're with people that have a similar taste as you.
CM: Yeah, and now more than ever, you know, the new record sounds more cohesive than ever, even though there's a lot of different stuff on it, stylistically.

RS: When does the new record come out?
CM: February 12th I think.

RS: What's it called?
CM: "Apathy and Exhaustion."

RS: What's your guys' favorite song? That you're the most proud of or that you like the most.
BK: Right now, I'd say all the four songs on the Chinkee's split. CM: Yeah. BK: I'm leaving the new record out of this completely, because I think that the new record is definitely the most solid stuff we've done. CM: It's too early to say though for me. BK: Yeah, exactly. I think it sounds really good. I'm really proud of it. But, yeah, the Chinkee's split songs. CM: But you're always excited about new songs. I mean when you're on tour as much as we are the old songs get tired really fast. They might be really good songs but when you're playing them every night, you know.

RS: Brendan, we were talking one night and you told me about "Evening," and how it got you back into music again; can you tell me about that again?
BK: Yeah. After the Broadways broke up, I was just writing all these songs, and I was happy with the songs I was writing, but I was content to just kind of sit in my room and just write songs and play them for myself. But, I was on the train one day and I wrote this song, called "Evening of Extraordinary Circumstances," which is the first song on the first record. I felt like that song, I mean maybe in the grand scheme of things, maybe its not a fucking masterpiece... CM: Oh it is. BK: Thanks, Chris. I felt that it was too important, for me, to not be in a band and play it for someone else. That was really the song that inspired me... when I wrote that song it really inspired me to get a band together and do stuff. Not that I want to take credit for the genesis of the Lawrence Arms or anything. It's definitely three of us, you know.

RS: That could have been a catalyst for it, though.
BK: One of many. I think it was time for all of us to be in a band again. And it was time for all of us to be in this band. If it wasn't that it would've been something else.

RS: You guys have been on tour forever. Where have you been and what are some of your most memorable experiences?
CM: We've been all over the United States now, we've played in the Northwest now, as of just recently, we just played in Portland and Seattle. We've been across the US now, coast-to-coast. We've been to Europe. We played England and Germany and Switzerland and Slovenia. We've been to Manhattan and England. CM: I'm trying to think of the favorite place I've been BK: Zurich was good because the girls were so hot.

RS: You touched on this before, but beer and cigarettes seem to be a big part of your songs. Can you elaborate?
CM: I drink. I smoke. BK: Unfortunately, and I hate to really say this like this, but that's just what we do. We play in a touring rock band. So it's like, there's a half-hour or forty-five minute period every day where we're playing music. The other parts of the day we're either sleeping, smoking cigarettes, or drinking beer, and having some dumb conversation to kind of kill the time. CM: Or giving each other ridiculous nicknames. BK: Right.

RS: What are some of those nicknames?
CM: I can't tell. [everyone laughs] CM: I just opened up Pandora's box.

RS: All right, thanks guys. Have a good show.


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