Police Teeth turns the Seattle sound into a fiery ball of energy
You say, I wonder whatever happened to the Seattle sound? I couldn’t get away from it in the ’90s. And it still haunted my conscious with in-your-face bands like Murder City Devils. Well, I’m here to tell you Seattle has not gone away. In fact, bands like Police Teeth are still challenging the state of music in the Northwest and pushing it forward with their fiery ball of energy.
Police Teeth are not new to the scene. The band built up a collection of four albums including the attention getter Awesomer Than The Devil on Latest Flame Records. Now with the latest self-titled release, they are using everything they learned as a base and extrapolated a more controlled burst into their light-weight songs like “Gifts, Knives, Adult Movies” or My V-4 Weighs A Ton.” James Burns (vocals/guitar), Chris Rasmussen (vocals/bass), and Richy Boyer (drums) work hard to fill up the space while using that same space to their advantage and create some highly catchy, angular music.
Burns takes some time to dissect the new album and dig into the soil this band stands on.
Selective Memory interviews James Burns of Police Teeth
In today’s musical climate, what are the things that drive this band to churn out the delectable grit that is your music?
In general, we write and play music that is as close as possible to what we would want to listen to as fans. We’re inspired and influenced by a lot of music that is happening currently, but it’s rare that we’ll do something in reaction to what somebody else is doing. We live in a bubble, and it’s cozy in here. Get off my lawn.
There is a nice blend in the vocals between raw incitement and smooth reasoning. How does that all play into the dark humor that the band incorporates and how did that develop with the band?
In my late teens and early 20’s, I played in some capital-P punk rock bands, so I got pretty good at screaming. That harshness has carried over a little bit into Police Teeth, but I wanted to use more melody as well. We’re always trying to find the right balance between sweet pop songs, and mean-ass punk rock tunes, and the mixture changes depending on what day it is. We listen to tons of different music, so falling squarely in the confines of one genre has never appealed to us.
As far as the humor goes, we’re always goofing around and riffing on stuff, so a lot of that comes out in the music. A lot of bands are afraid to incorporate humor without coming off like a third-rate version of Ween or something, but we always keep it subtle and never let it overpower the riffs. I’d like to think we learned that from KARP or McLusky, but a lot of it probably comes from Ice Cube.
Even with humorous song titles as “(My Baby’s Got The) Black Lung” (which reminds me of Six Finger Satellite’s “(My Baby’s Got The) Rabies”) there are songs like “Bellingham Media Blackout.” I’m sure that was a highlight at the Bellingham house show you played recently? Is this song a simple example to maintaining the connections of your past and the Bellingham punk and indie scene?
That house show was indeed wild. “Blackout” usually goes over really well live, too. I guess it helps that the beginning of a song sounds like a car alarm; it grabs peoples’ attention. That song is an attempt to combine disaster-movie imagery with the geography of the town I grew up in. The idea is that there are all of these terrible things happening, but the thing that upsets everyone the most is that Facebook is down. That kind of scenario is personally amusing to me, so I thought it would make a decent set of lyrics.
We try our best to keep connected to what’s happening in Bellingham, but we haven’t played in town as often over the last year or two, as our focus has shifted from playing locally to making records and touring.
The song titles on this record were toned down slightly, but we still get a lot of “they sound like Fugazi and have funny titles” reviews, so we might have to go a little further. Expect eleven songs with one-word, monosyllabic titles on album #5.
In what ways to you feel the band did to make the new album different or expanded on your sound?
A lot of things happened; the main thing is that our previous record, Awesomer Than The Devil, was a real pain in the ass to mix. There was just so much going on in each song; five or six different guitar overdubs, keyboards, extra percussion, layered vocal parts, the kitchen sink. There was definitely a conscious effort to kind of strip it down and to write songs that didn’t require a whole lot of embellishment to feel “complete,” and translated better in a live setting.
We also parted ways with our previous guitarist, and made the decision to carry on as a trio. As the only violin in the orchestra, I challenged myself to produce a bigger guitar sound without relying on a sea of overdubs.
On our previous records, each member of the band would take turns coming to practice with a finished song, complete with arrangement ideas. We only did that a couple of times on this record; we now write mostly as a group. Most bands don’t make it to album number two, let alone four so this time we felt it was a good idea to shake things up and take more chances as opposed to doing the same thing that we had done on our previous two records. This record is by far my favorite, so I’d say it paid off.
Do you perform “Where’s My Fucking Hug” live with the sole purpose of getting hugs? Do people misconstrue the simple gesture of a hug with the “reach around?” Are your live shows really just a ploy for hippie-style love ins?
I hate hippies. Next question.
Police Teeth – Motherfuckers Move Slow
What is the band’s ideology on rock and roll and how it should be treated versus how it is presented today?
I could write a fucking book, dude. If Husker Du or The Minutemen, or even Fugazi were just getting started today and had to compete with, like, Grizzly Bear or Bon Iver, do you think anyone would give a fuck? Maybe they would be told to work on their “image” or something.
Even in the worlds of punk and indie rock, things have become a cartoon version of the mainstream music world. The band members have to be “cute,” the band’s sound has to be “marketable,” and I’m wondering: isn’t the same thing that punk and indie rock weren’t a reaction against?
It’s all bullshit, so I try not to pay attention to it, but occasionally I’ll read something that someone posted a link to on Facebook or a message board, and it will make my blood boil.
Four albums in, how do you feel the band has changed and what elements and/or bonds do you find important enough to hold on to after all these years? How has experienced in other bands led to the longevity of Police Teeth?
The three of us have a genuine affection for each other, and have a lot of trust and respect for each other as musicians. It helps that we’re all grown-ass adults. If someone doesn’t like a vocal or drum or guitar part, we communicate that to each other, and do our best not to get our feelings hurt over it.
Some people are in bands because they want to get laid/popular/cash/drugs/whatever. We’re in a band because we enjoy making records,
and we want our records to be a good as possible. The three of us are always cognizant of that goal, and most of what we do is in service of that.
There have been some harshly related band names to come out of the Seattle area. Why Police Teeth and how was it conceptualized?
Chris and I are internet nerds. There’s a forum that we post on with a lot of other internet nerds, and there was a fake band name tournament. Police Teeth won that tournament, and sure enough it’s a killer band name. A lot of people wanted to claim that band name, but it turns out that we were the only ones who had actually had a band to hang that name on.
When it all comes down to it, Police Teeth are a highly positive and fun band who, from a fans standpoint, really loves to make music. What are your personal highlights?
The making of our first record, Jazz Records For Sale, was a big highlight for me. Overall, I don’t think it’s our strongest material, but making that record was a blast because it was so easy compared to being in the studio with our previous bands. No fighting, no drama, and we had gotten good enough at our instruments that we could nail things within a few takes.
Making the new record was pretty similar to that: we showed up, hung out, played our instruments, laughed a lot, and came out the other end of it without a lot of personal or technical issues. That’s all you can hope for.
As far as live shows, the 2010 PRF BBQ at Drug Church in Chicago was such a singular experience that it’s really difficult for anything else to measure up. I made 200 new best friends and had ten new favorite bands that weekend. The other show that comes the closest is a house show we played in Bellingham in ’09 where kids were crowdsurfing and kicking the light bulbs out of the chandeliers.
To be honest, the best times in the band are when the three of us are hanging out in my basement dicking around and working on new songs.
Look at your blog. I mean, seriously, where won’t you play? You will be back in Seattle early November for the album release show? Can Seattle handle this much awesomeness at this caliber?
The reaction to our shows is pretty tepid in Seattle. There are probably a lot of reasons for this, but we can just chalk it up to not being the right band for this city at this time. We have a handful of very enthusiastic supporters in the Northwest who we really appreciate; the band gets played on the radio, sales from records are okay, and we get a decent amount of press, but the live shows haven’t been that happening. We feel more at home when we’re playing Quenchers in Chicago, or the Hemlock in San Francisco.
Most of our best shows have been on tour, so that gives us more motivation to get in the van as much as our day jobs (and wives) will allow. We’ll pretty much play anywhere there is demand, and that we won’t take a huge financial hit in going. Right now, that means the Midwest and the Bay Area, but we’ve also had requests to come play in Texas as well as the East Coast. It could happen, but we’d also love to do a full tour of Australia just because it sounds fun.