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A Conversation with Down and Outlaws

A strong and fervent local music scene is not something strange to San Francisco. It has peaked and leveled, and it will inevitably continue to rise and fall. This being said, as of late, there has been a massive resurrection thriving throughout the current San Francisco music scene. Not unlike the 60s, the attitude, energy, and focus within music currently is far worth being talked about.

This Sunday, September 13th plays host to The San Francisco’s Great Society’s locally based music festival –Gathering of the Tribes. Packed to the brim with some of San Francisco’s best and booming bands, we decided it was more than necessary to not only cover the festival itself, but to sit down and talk with some of the bands playing as we lead up to the festival.

I got together with Peter and Chris Danzig, Kyle Luck, and Jon Carr of Down and Outlaws – most definitely one of the leading bands in the SF music scene currently – and talked about their new full-length record, what it’s like being local to San Francisco, and a ghost cat.

SFP: In the grand scheme of things, Down and Outlaws would still be considered a “new” band. However, over the last year, you have begun picking up some steam. How long has DO been a band? Did you ever think the opportunities you’ve had, as of late would truly be a possibility?

Peter: It’s what, three and a half years now? But, and as I’ve said before, there’s kind of a reboot of the band when Jon started. It always felt like two different projects to me. When it comes to opportunities – no, I did not personally.

Jon: I mean that was the hope. There’s always hope for those things.

Peter: There was definitely hope, but in regards to the specific things that have happened, I never thought they would come to fruition. But yeah, there’s always the hope that some cool shit will go down.

On the topic of opportunities, you have recorded your first full-length record – Above Snakes – at Studio 606. Tell us what that meant to you guys? What was your experience like recording your first full-length at such a reputable studio?

Chris: It was unbelievable. Still when I think about it, it’s unreal. It was in the maybe stages for a long time, but when we got the “this is actually happening,” I think I was at home, and I just sat there for forty minutes on the floor, just being like “What the fuck?” To be able to put down these songs that we’ve worked so hard on and are really proud of. That in and of itself – to actually make a full-length record is a really big deal, and to do it with the people at 606, who just get what we’re doing, and to do it at a place with such history, it was just really cool.

Jon: It was weird having moments of complete comfort while recording there. Everyone made it such an easy-going environment and it made us feel really comfortable. Then you’d go outside and just kinda stare at the walls, and be like “How the fuck did this happen!? Why am I here? Why am I playing drums that are owned by my idols?” Dave Grohl and then progressively Taylor Hawkins are reasons why I even got into playing music, and I was sitting at their (drum) kits.

Chris: We had to go back down again to do a couple things, and one of the nicest compliments I think I’ve ever gotten is one of the engineers that works at 606 said “Man, things are normal now that you guys are back here.” And that’s one of the nicest things somebody has ever said.

So it’s more about family now then it is about business?

Jon: Yeah, we love those people.

Kyle: I mean, maybe we’re even a little too comfortable there. I spent the last day in the studio wearing what I would usually wear – tee shirt, jean jacket, boots and then uhh a towel. My jeans were real bad after sleeping in them all weak in a crappy Motel 6, and so I used Dave Grohl’s washer and dryer to take care of that business.

What have you learned from this experience?

Kyle: It actually surprised me that we had our shit together and we were tight enough to pull that amount of songs off in that amount of days.

Chris: My bass playing got so much better with Lou’s help in the six days we were there. Lou (John Lousteau) helped engineer and produce the record for us. He’s a great editor. A lot of my bass parts had little subtle, but crucial changes that we did real quickly, and that was very instructive. In that, I think our song writing really improved.

Peter: The whole recording process was new because we did it in such an official way. None of us had done anything like that. The entire experience was a learning experience. Lou had his own ideas and suggestions going the whole time, so it was like adding a fifth band member.

Jon: It was kinda like a boot camp. We just got a different way of thinking about playing. Now, moving forward from all the things that we learned from the recording studio, we can think about writing in a completely different way. It’s just actually getting those lessons. That was definitely the biggest take away.

You guys tend to play in LA every so often. Being local to San Francisco, what’s the main difference you’ve seen playing shows in LA, or the local Los Angeles music scene as a whole?

Peter: We aren’t like crazy in bed with the music scene down there, so it’s kinda hard for me to make a generalization about it. But, it seemed relatively similar just in terms of being a new band, you’re just trying to get people’s attention and hope they react. We’ve had good shows and bad shows, crowded shows and not so crowded shows down there…

Chris: Just like San Francisco!

Peter: Yeah. Pretty similar with small differences I can’t even really point out. There are less jackets involved.

You did your first legitimate tour earlier this year, including dates throughout Austin during SxSW. What was that like? Were your expectations met?

Kyle: I didn’t really have many expectations except for, you know, an expensive good time. It was great. I had never been to that part of the world in my conscious years. I have family in Texas, but had never been to Austin. I just remember hearing lots of stories about Armadillos… those fuckers. But, getting to actually see that part of the country – like the South West in general on the way there was great. We camped in this wonderful state park with sand dunes and right outside of it there’s oil fields. But this park is like “Hey, we got white sand dunes” and I just would not have expected that. You could see how white the sand was at night.

Jon: We got comfortable on the road. At a certain point you just kind of synch into the rhythm of it. It takes a couple days to get comfortable, trying to figure out how the fuck to live in a van with each other. You lose all personal space at a certain point, so once you accept the fact that you’re melded into one thing, you can just roll with it. We got to meet a lot of cool people and a lot of cool bands. We got to hangout with this band we’re all fans of now – Cancer Bats and got to party with them which was cool. And that’s what’s great about South by – it brings so many people together regardless of their agenda.

Chris: We had a couple friends who let us crash on their couches on the way to Austin which is always nice compared to sleeping in a Motel 6 or even camping, and just a kind, unassuming gesture.

Kyle: And we had that sweet run in with the ghost cat.

Let’s talk about the ghost cat.

Kyle: We were staying at one of Jon’s friend’s apartment.

Jon: So we got to the house at like 4am, and we’re just hoping it’s actually her place, which it was. We get comfy and settle down. Side note – the two Danzig boys are allergic to cats. We’re hunkering down for the evening, and Peter then sees just a hole in the wall. Not a cat door, but a hole sawed in the wall that leads to pure darkness. There’s a little cat dish and Peter just goes, “Oh no.” We try to rub it off and not worry about it. The cat sneaks in at one point and just fucks with everybody. It scares the beejesus out of Chris. The cat had woken Chris up, and in his fright he flew off the couch, the cat getting launched in the air at the same time.

Kyle: We call it the ghost cat because the way Peter described it – “I saw a cat walk through the wall.”

Not to stray from the ghost cat – back to the topic of Above Snakes – What were some of your influences in writing and recording that record?

Peter: I think it was really trying to find out what all of our influences were collectively. Lyrically, the influences are mental trials and tribulations to us personally, which I think is a little bit typical. There’s an individuality to that for us in the record. Sonically, I think it was figuring out what felt the most like the four of us.

Jon: Seeing our sound evolve, I listen to our songs now and say, “Now that’s the kind of band I want to be in.” It’s a really good feeling.

Peter: We’ve gotten to synch into our roles pretty well. It’s not a one-sided thing. Nobody has more power than anybody else in coming up with the sound, which is really frustrating at times writing, because we have to agree on literally every detail. But we’ve started to figure out the process a little bit more, and going through it kind of blind with recording this record helped us discover our process.

Kyle: I think a lot of people like the stuff they write in general, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s your sound. With us, and I think I’ve said this before, you take twenty-five songs and you put it through the Brita filter, then you’ve got a nice, healthy glass of album.

Author’s note – I told myself I wouldn’t put that joke in here, but alas.

Chris: When recording the record, we wanted it to sound live. We were really nervous on having anything sound over produced, which didn’t even really end up being a little bit of an issue.

What is the plan for the eventual release of AS?

Peter: We’re trying to get the most life out of it as possible. We wanted to give it time to see if we could get more from of it, and we did. We got to share it with a bunch of people behind the scenes, and have gotten to do some cool things like getting a spot on Last Call with Carson Daily, we’re getting to go to Vancouver for this Converse thing, we’ve been spitting out a couple singles here and there. We’re going to put it out soon. We don’t have an exact plan, but I think it’s getting time to put it out.

Being at the heart of the local SF music scene, you guys are almost considered to be a part of the new psych rock movement, including being on the bill for SFGS’ The Gathering of the Tribes. How do you translate or receive these considerations? Do you think there is a rollover between your music, and psych rock?

Peter: Psych is a funny word nowadays. It’s almost a general attitude. I’ve gone to Psych Fest that The Black Angels throw, and dude those bands aren’t psych bands. I mean some of them are, but I don’t even know what psych means anymore. But I do think it’s cool to be included in something that’s going on right now.

Kyle: I mean, it’s as big as Grunge was. Grunge – you’ve got dudes in speedos yelling about being in a mousetrap, next to Sound Garden and Alice in Chains, which are borderline metal bands. The term “grunge” was just an umbrella term for what’s going on at the time, and “psych” is just an umbrella term for the energy within the current, local music scene in San Francisco.

Chris: On that regard, I think we’re apart of that on some level. We don’t sound like most “psych” bands or anything like that, but us and a lot of the psych bands we play with around San Francisco, we all kind of draw from the same well.

Continuing with Gathering of the Tribes – You have worked with Dennis – the man responsible for booking the festival – before. Would you mind talking a bit about his stance on music currently, and what he is doing for the local music scene in SF?

Kyle: I’ve got this shit – Dennis believes, and others do too, that San Francisco is about to have the biggest explosion of music it’s had since the 60s. He has noticed the energy, the vibes, the commitment to everything that’s going on, and has really become apart of it in a really strong way. He knows with GOTT, it won’t build a scene, but it will help grow it so much more.

Jon: One of the cool things, especially with Dennis being involved in this, is you see him at shows a lot. You start noticing that all these people are becoming involved. Especially with Commune – people are going to shows to go to shows. With the Elbo Room closing, people are going to support it. These venues we all love are starting to dwindle because of high rises and what not moving in and pushing artists out, and we’re fighting back. There’s a new resurgence of people who are supporting live music, and Dennis is a big part of that. He’s at all the shows, he’s doing his POW zine, and he’s bringing awareness.

Last year saw the birth of Not Dead Yet Fest – a music festival you guys booked. What was that process like?

Peter: It had a similar mantra to what Dennis is doing now. I think it was a little bit more of a simpler ideal. We wanted to get to know more people personally, and get involved, on top of expanding what we already thought was cool to a greater audience.

Kyle: We don’t want to say that Dennis is taking our idea by any means. Dennis had the idea to do GOTT far before we did NDYF, but of course Dennis was there. I didn’t even meet him that day, but he was there filming everything and covering it. Little did I know it was Dennis, fucking badass, coming in and really making moves. With NDYF, from my perspective, we all felt it was a move that needed to be made. Someone like Dennis was feeling it, we were feeling it, Gathering of the Tribes is happening, Not Dead Yet happened – there’s going to be more, and we said in our  SF Weekly interview that we hope people start doing more of it.

What does the future hold for Down and Outlaws?

Chris: More music, more shows, more road trips.

Keep following Down and Outlaws and stay tuned for the release of their first full-length record, Above Snakes. Here’s the outlaws themselves performing their second single “I Don’t Care (I Don’t Care)” on Jam in the Van.

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