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The Funs itself was a positive result of a time of negativity. Do your songs reflect this? Are they aimed towards creating a positive attitude?

   To me The Funs is about creating positivity from a dark place. It’s obvious if you pay attention to what’s going on in our music. My lyrics very much reflect what is currently happening in my life and documents our evolutionary time line. The Funs started in a depressed and desperate state. I was limp and basically walking around with no skin. You know, being 21? My immediate family is densely touched with mental illness of the schizophrenic variety. I had to get the fuck out of that head space to make it. I had to reprogram the path ways in my brain. You can hear it in those earliest recordings because they’re blown out, hardly listenable, trashy and lyrics are raw and biting, and as we climb out of that hole, the lyrics get more hopeful and the tones start to get a little softer. There are these glimpses of the sun and flashes of it getting better.

   In the beginning it was me and Philip vs the world, surviving, but now we’ve carved a place for ourselves and we’re really happy and healthy. We’re keeping the shadows in check. I think you see it in our newest stuff that we can breathe now and that we fought for it. We started out as a two piece. I get really sick of calling it that, a two piece I mean. Philip and I have always played together because we are lifers. This is it. Whatever form it takes we’re not stopping. I just get tired of getting labeled anything really even though that’s what has to happen.  But to answer your question yes I am positive person that is riding the REAL into the pink and blue sunset. Every day I work for it and it comes out in the songs.

How has creating music allowed you to channel negative energy and/or escape it?

    Music has been the motivator for getting healthy. Philip and I were living in Chicago and we were both working 24-7 to live in a crappy apartment in Pilsen for $800 dollars a month that only had heat in the kitchen. We practiced at 16th and Western. We lived in that practice space when we got bed bugs, drinking orange juice and eating Vienna sausages. I ate them because my Grandma gave them to me as a kid. Philip wouldn’t eat ‘em. Anyway, it wasn’t sustainable. It was a joke. We were working to live and living to play and barely getting by. I will forever be beholden to Chicago’s basements because they made me who I am today but those spaces and those shows are ephemeral. They’re like a cactus flower that blooms one night and is gone. Change is constant and I was constantly trying to figure out how the hell I could play very loud, punishingly scary, pretty sounds and capture it or record it and keep it going full steam.

   Philip always talked about his Grandpa’s place in the country and how it was this huge old house and how we could move there and clean it up and play music and tour and take care of each other. Music motivated me to move into a hoarded, abandoned, funeral home, in New Douglas IL. That’s the truth. This was four years ago about now. I don’t know how in the hell we did it looking back. It was nuts. We loaded up our mish mash pawn shop gear into a caprice classic (also Grandpa’s) and we broke down before we got out of Chicago’s city limits, so we rented a U haul and got to work. Skin to the bone work. Head to the wall work. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you work. There was a petrified squirrel in the toilet. Mouse shit and bird seed. It took years to get it livable but we started making noise immediately. We got to know our neighbors and to be accepted. I just kept telling myself it was worth it because I’d have the space and opportunity to sustain my visual and performing practice. That’s it. That’s everything. It was all inspired by playing music with Philip every day because that is what I am meant to do. Now after cleaning out an insanely, hoarded, filthy, house and basically rebuilding the whole damn thing room by room, we have something really beautiful and I can walk downstairs and pick up a guitar and press record and it’s everything to me. I’m able to share this exquisite space we made. We call it Rose Raft. It’s a place of peace, music, and making. We are officially opening as an artist and musicians residency next year. It’s all escape. It’s all healing.

How has the Chicago DIY music scene that you’re a part of affected and influenced you as a band?

   As I said earlier, Chicago basements and DIY spaces made me. The ethos and ethics that uphold those spaces and their fleeting moments’ drive my being. I can let go and share. It makes me feel so present and alive like how the 1st winter night can cut your face. Chicago will beat you down as a city. Make you feel beat. 

And what do those shows, the kind where audience and band are almost in total sync, feeding off of each other, creating a coexisting mass of energy, mean to you? Do they happen often? 

   Life is suffering but to me those shows are about feeling outside of that. Maybe, for some people, at those kinda shows, it’s about being seen, or getting fucked up, or getting fucked and that’s fine we’re all coping but for me it’s the two or ten kids that are really feeling it. Sometimes it’s a whole room. The lucky nights where the energy electrifies the air and it feels like lightning might strike you down. That’s when the room becomes a wave and people crash and break on you. They form a wall holding each other back so you aren’t smashed completely. People throwing themselves into sound blindly like being raptured. We are playing that emotion and hurling it back, and it tugs, and pulls, washing in, and out like tides. It’s mouth to mouth. It’s fucking beautiful and you can’t do that on a stage. It’s just not the same. It’s a whole different production. You can’t have the barriers and the body guards and green rooms and the separation. You have to be sacred and talk to people face to face. You can’t do that at Pitchfork. Not really. And it doesn’t last forever ya know? I’m grateful to have played one show like that, in my lifetime, but Chicago has spoiled me, to my very bones. It’s given me many extraordinary shows. The music there is brave and fascinating, and it carried me home. It’s my heart away from heart. I have to live the country life now to keep from going crazy but I bleed in Chicago. Those shows are endangered wild beasts that I long to visit.

You guys seem to stick pretty close to the definition of a pure DIY band. Releasing your music on cassettes, playing in people’s basements, music before money, etc. Is this mentality an important aspect of creating music? Do you believe making music this way is the most fulfilling way and will lead to ultimate personal success?

    Without a doubt yes this is the only path I could have taken to self-actualization. Let me be clear though. Money is not Evil. Greed is what sucks. We all need money to be alive in America in 2016. Being in a band is a privilege that I do not take for granted. A lot of bands do and it’s boring. It makes me fucking gag. You need money to be in a freaking band. It’s why rich dude bro rock jock types get to be heard over everyone else all the time. We know this. It’s boring. But still, the reality is you need money to be in an American band. You need $$$ for a van, to fix a van, to fix a van again, to gas a van, to fix your ancient guitar, to have an amp, to repair your sweet shitty amp. Bands are fucking expensive that’s why it’s a huge god damn privilege to play music. I have to get paid to play music in order to function and I’m clear about that but the real important thing is, and what makes a big difference creatively is that money is not what motivates me to make. Real deal DIY shows take care of touring bands financially and spiritually better than a rock promoter does 9 times out of 10. Writing something that takes me to the other side and makes me feel light is what makes me feel complete always. Finishing an album is the reward. Connecting to other humans in a real and personal way is the incentive, even if they are few and far between. Not fans, not likes, not getting rich. There’s meaning in the work. It’s worth it. I like to share what I have had the opportunity to create. I take nothing for granted. There are lots of different paths you can take. There are suits, and loafers, dinners, jet fueled planes and billboards, twix bars, red bull, chevy cars, and hard rock hotels using “cool” bands to overtly and subliminally manipulate millennials into buying shit. Don’t get lost. There are several potential sources of dopamine out there. There are choices. I’m an atheist that doesn’t believe in the afterlife. I keep death in my pocket. You’ve got to. You’ve got to ask yourself the hard questions and be honest. How do want to spend your time on this momentary spark amongst black dust and diamonds? Every second counts. Who do you want to spend those seconds talking to?  

    DIY has been sold to home depot. I don’t mean to sound jaded. It’s just really tough to keep things pure. A band is business plain and simple. You are selling yourself. You are pushing a product. You’re creating an image and people are selling it. I’m mindful about what I sell but it’s impossible to play out in the world and not compromise something at least a bit. The bigger things get, the messier it gets, and that’s all. I got to be careful and protect my freak flag in the sand. I’ve done stuff for a paycheck so I could buy a guitar and plant a garden. McDonald’s was the best job I ever had in some ways. I’ve done worse. The facts are in and we live in a consumer driven capitalist country that benefits and functions from the oppression of vulnerable peoples. You’d have to live in Canada in the woods, and grow all your own food, and make all your own clothes, and play the banjo, and bathe in waterfalls to stay totally pure. I eat McDonald’s sometimes, but I’m trying. I’m trying to do right with what I’ve got and what I can create. We’re making everything out of nothing. It’s all I can do not to pop. Art is culture. Music is our most basic beauty. To sing a song and connect and express is vividly significant. Too many bands are too busy trying to do nothing but sell shit and aren’t giving anything back. The idea of a commercial rock band grosses me out. I’m more successful than I ever thought I could crawl out of. I’m grateful for my life. I get to have it because my parents made castles out of wreckage. So now, I’ve built a home that I can share with others based in music, art, and love. I’m consistently creating passionate work that I’m fulfilled by and it meets the tall standards I’ve set for myself. I’m only ever competing with myself because this is not a cool contest to me. It’s no joke. It’s my life and it’s meant to be shared. Music is powerful. It can create change and bind us or it can blankly distribute junk food.  I’ve found my voice so I’m able to help others to find theirs. That’s what really charges my batteries the most, to give opportunities to those without the resources, exposure, spotlight or strength. I’m looking in the holes and throwing down ropes. It’s as pure as it can be. It’s a dream inside a dream. It makes me fucking gleeful. I feel splendor every day. Sanctuary.

Do you feel like people these days are lacking a part of the music listening experience when they use stuff like itunes and spotify? Is physicality in music important to you?

    YES PHYSICAL MUSIC IS IMPORTANT TO ME. IT IS ART. We make everything that goes into our albums, it’s like the organic produce of merchandise if organic actually meant anything still and……yes, hello world, buy local, buy direct, not direct tv, but hey ya know amazon is really really really fucking convenient. And CGI sucks! Stop it already all the time. Make it real with your fingerprints I say. It’s more interesting and nourishing like fresh baked bread from your friend. Maybe put down the 3D printer and forge something with your hands? Let me see your hammer blows.   

  I don’t listen to itunes or Spotify but it’s not because I’m too cool. I’m just being honest. It depends on how you want to consume, and how much, and where. It makes sense for most people to use it. I don’t really listen to a whole lot of music. I’d rather be playing or writing. Philip plays a lot of records and I enjoy that. Sometimes. Records are beautiful. But you know they are petroleum based so fuck it all to hell. You can’t win. You got to be you and figure it out. I blast Vivaldi when I clean the house. Our van has a tape deck and it’s lovely to drive at night smelling cow shit and listening to a band that made something special just for you. It feels like a gorgeous secret. It makes my life.

   I get why people do stuff, it’s convenient. It’s the same reason I go to Walmart sometimes because I’m broke and I want something and it’s okay, I can still buy stuff straight from artist’s hands and I make a decided effort to do so regularly because hello?! It makes the world less shitty. People want things immediately. I’m guilty too. We are raised for it now. Instant gratification. You have to learn to play an instrument. You have to write a song. Practice a song. Write the lyrics. Record it decently. You have to mix that shit. Then master it. If you can manage to access all that. Then you got to get it out into the world one way or another. All that shit takes time and money. It’s crazy to put in all that time and work and then have the expectation that it must instantaneously exist on the internet for free. I had to rehab a totally fucked up house, rearrange my brain, and barrow a 4 track, to get to place where I can do that and sustain myself in a healthy way. You can find yours. It is possible. It’s not easy. Nothing worth having is. I’m so grateful to be able perform, record, and tour and not compromise myself or my work. That is very rare thing for an artist.

Is there an artist/song/album that makes you feel a heavy dose of nostalgia? 

   I just listened to Summerteeth and it made me super nostalgic because Philip and I used to drive around and listen to it as kissin’ teenagers, in love out in the cornfields. And Jeff Tweedy cut his teeth not far from where we are now and I think he has kept it about as real as you can. The Breeders of course for always and forever. Little Fury and Off You take me away to a bliss-state. Flock of Seagull’s Space age love song reminds of me of the day I fell in love with Philip forever walking around lost and alone in downtown Chicago with giant headphones. Everything looked grey. Grey sky. Grey buildings. Grey concrete. But I felt a rainbow in my chest like a divinizing, dowsing rod pulling me along. That’s what music and love can do. I can’t really listen to Neutral Milk Hotel anymore because it makes me too sad. My older brother died when I was 19 and NMH, Nirvana, and Sonic Youth and Beck all remind me of him. There’s a lot. He gave me so much. He showed me another planet.

what’s it like being a musician/band in the 21st century? 

    Big question. OK. You know it’s weird to be a band now but it’s weird as it ever was I’m sure. It’s weird to exist. Derealization is fucked. Anyway, I know I love to tour pretty city to gritty city via interweb connects. I’ve figured out how to do that well.  I camp and touch a redwood if I’m near one. I hug a person and shake hands when I see them. Now is a good time to be alive even though there’s climate change and Trump. There’s always something: war, terror, Reagan, nukes, neoliberals, crusades, famine witch hunts, plagues, divorces. The Big music industry is inherently flawed, sex obsessed, exploiting as the day is long. It’s in its nature. It’s in our basest nature. Luckily one can exist outside of it. If you try hard enough. Bullshit consumerism and main stream media blows. These systems prevent musicians from financially benefiting from their designs even if they are popular. You’re encouraged to sell guitar center and start a clothing line. It’s a machine and there’s a lot of people in line getting paid before the laborer. There’s no quick fix. It’s always been difficult for artists to make money from original work. Who cares? You can’t give up. You got to be relentless. Besides, it’s romantic to be a starving artist. I say fuck that. Find a way to feed yourself. Build a bridge out of tooth picks if you have to. It takes Disney channel talent and trash bag full of four leaf clovers to “make it” and what is it worth? It’s like hitting the ultra-mega million. It takes Michael Jordan riding a unicorn crying One Direction’s tears.  America’s tastes are constantly regurgitating and changing like a hungry monster in a Miyazaki film. I understand that we live like kings on a red white and blue hamster wheel. The world is relatively at peace right now, historically speaking, with 7+billion people. It’s a miracle. That can change at any moment. We are talking about trans issues in politics in America. I’ll take that. There’s some good stuff out there within the horror show. You got to fight for it. That’s what art is and art gets dissolved in industry like pop rocks in a can of coke. 

    I have hope that we will keep evolving toward symbiotic peace in a world where everyone has the choice to create and not just work to live. Most people are working to live. I’m grateful to be the age I am, 30 yrs. because I grew up not having the internet and then having it. So, I feel like I see it for what it is…An insane tool. It’s mind blowing. My freedoms are obscene. It’s all in what you choose to learn and what you choose to connect to. My childhood was cell phone free and I read a lot and ran around in circles outside. I watched MTV and VH1 until it morphed into road rules. I dug in dirt for fun. I still do. I like to sweat to accomplish a goal. It’s remarkable when labor is a choice. 

   Discovering music as teenager felt magically powerful and holy. Like a whisper in a church. I think that’s harder now to feel like that but it still exists and always will in a world I want to live in. I love science and technology. It’s thrilling. Things are happening the only way they can. I don’t long for the past. The good old days don’t exist. The past is never better. I wouldn’t go back if you paid me. But being in a band in a constant wash of media bombardment with PR campaigns and competitive sports can wear me down sometimes. Still, I don’t lose sight of what matters. I won’t let myself be jaded. That shit is sad. If you’re jaded you’ve givin’ up so try something else Sound Guy. Never be bitter. You have a choice, so use it.  Be mindful. Facebook can be a sad hole so make good habits. Reach out. I channel all that shit into making work and into real time connection. I check myself regularly. Skate and make art. I keep my fire lit and light house burning. Don’t get put out by the drool. 


interview by AL SMITH

al smith