Interview: Rival Schools
“I wanna wring it out / every ounce”
So starts the chorus of “Wring It Out,” the cathartic opening track on the new Rival Schools record. As the band shakes off its cobwebs, the collective deep breath from Walter Schreifels, Sammy Siegler, Ian Love, and Cache Tolman should resonate with any patient fan who hasn’t heard much from the group over the past decade. Pedals is their first offering since cult hit United By Fate was released back in 2001, and while the previous album had loads of staying power, The Inertia still thought that wait was a bit much. So we tracked down the band at Washington DC’s Rock & Roll Hotel to see what took so damn long, and to understand how this new, less-edgy sounding collection of songs illustrates the journey of four musicians over the last ten years.
Two days from this show, you have the big album release night, you’re returning home to New York City, and you’ll be playing Andrew WK’s Manhattan nightclub: Santos Party House. Anything special planned with the king of partying?
Walter (vocals/guitar): I’d like to think he’d be at the show, with the whole vibe that he does, but I’m not sure what to expect. I’ve never been there before. Maybe he hangs out the whole time, and parties with everyone?
Sammy (drums): I’ve been, I know a guy who’s a partner there, nice guy, DJs and stuff. It’s a fun place, the sound is really good there. I was there when Michael Jackson died and the downstairs turned into a MJ party scene with this Japanese DJ spinning through the night.
Your fans have been feeling pretty starved, waiting this long between albums. What is the worst wait you’ve ever had to endure for something?
W: Getting out of school, finishing high school. It seemed like it would never end, until it did, and it was amazing. But everything up until then…
You weren’t a fan of high school…I know some of you guys were already playing in bands back then. So that was it for you as far as school goes?
W: Well, I went to college on and off for a few years. Whatever I could get that wasn’t hard, I got into media studies, anthropology, lots of history, European history, linguistics… I took a poetry class, which I did terrible in. I thought I would be good at it, because I write songs, but no, I sucked at it.
So what’s with the long wait since your debut album?
W: Well we did a lot of touring on that album, and after all that, it sort of felt like the end of an era. We never really broke up, just kind of left it a little ambiguous, you know? I did a solo album, a lot of acoustic performing, I did a project called Walking Concert, tried a lot of different things that I also wanted to do. After a lot of that came and went, we started playing together some, and around 2008, we just got the show on the road, man.
This new album, Pedals – where does the title come from?
W: There was this painting a friend did that I thought would make a really great record cover, and it has these flower petals, and later I started thinking about how we use a bunch of guitar effects pedals…anyway, I think it works: it’s short, easy to remember, it works with the cover art and works with our sound.
What is your favorite song to play on guitar?
W: “Back In Black,” I’m fond of that. I don’t even think I play it right, but I like the way I play it. Um…I like playing “Limelight” by Rush.
Yeah, I’m not much of a Rush guy, but that song’s fun to play. And your acoustic guitar, it has the initials A.F. written on it. What’s the significance of that?
W: “Agnostic Front.” I was covering an AF song, and I don’t know, I just wanted a guitar that looked tough.
I understand you spent some time living in Berlin? How did that come about, and what brought you back to New York?
W: I have a lot of friends in Berlin, and I mean Europe, the chance to live over there, it was great. As far as moving back, Rival Schools was definitely a part of it, and my daughter was born, so we wanted to be around her extended family. It was just time to come back to New York, where I grew up and everything. I’ll be back over there this summer though.
A couple of you guys used to run a label, SOME Records. What ever happened to that?
S: We had some cool bands. We had a lot of fun with it, but eventually it got really expensive, and my partner Matt Pincus, who’s a pretty smart guy, he decided to focus on publishing instead of investing that kind of money into making records. He runs Songs now, which is doing really well. Doing a label was fun, but it’s also kind of nice that it’s over.
W: I like to think that we were able to make our little mark there and put out some good stuff.
For sure. Speaking of making marks, you two are revered by the NYC Hardcore crowd, having played in bands like Judge, CIV, Gorilla Biscuits, Youth of Today…what drew such calm, affable people like yourselves to that intense scene?
S: For me, when I was really young, I just had friends who were into it, and it happened naturally, we ate lunch together, we played music together, and we’d bug out.
W: I wanted to be cool like the people in “Repo Man.”
S: Definitely. “Suburbia,” “Repo Man…”
W: Once we realized it wasn’t this Johnny Rotten world of people spitting on each other, we liked being around a bunch of mostly regular folks who just dressed a little crazy and listened to music together.
So Emilio was crucial to your development. What’s your take on the Charlie Sheen media blitz?
S: Love it!
W: He’s funny!
Cache (bass): I want to see a major motion picture.
Those are all correct answers. By the way, last time I saw you guys in concert, I went to buy a shirt – a large – and Cache was insistent that I get a medium. Today, it is easily the tightest t-shirt I own. Do you think it’s responsible to have someone with such European fashion sensibilities handling your merch?
Cache (bass): I wear a medium!
S: I think there should be more regulation in general on sizes. There’s way too much leniency in the marketplace.
W: Yeah, a regular Hanes t-shirt is gigantic. I’m not a big guy, but I shouldn’t be swimming in a medium.
S: You really gotta have those laundry skills too, stick to the directions on that tag.
C: And you have to dry with a “permanent press” setting.
Alright, I don’t even know what that is. Those are just words. What’s the best concert each of you has ever attended?
C: I saw Bruce Springsteen at Madison Square Garden. Ian Love (guitar) took me, and it was by far the greatest concert I’ve ever–
S: I saw a better show than that! I saw Billy Joel at MSG [laughter] …no, I saw the Beastie Boys open for Madonna in New York City, and I was like front row or something. That’s actually the part that really sticks out in my mind – like, what the fuck was I doing, twelve years old, in the front row at a concert like that?
W: Too tough, I’ve seen so many good concerts…uh, I saw Fugazi’s first show in New York, that was pretty awesome. I don’t even think the record had come out, and it was just amazing to see something like that and not even know what it was.
You know, Fugazi hasn’t put out a record in ten years either, you ought to see if you can inspire them to reunite as well, maybe put a joint tour together.
S: Well, we’ve always been together this whole time. Every week, Cache makes fondue, we’d have these little fondue parties, jam, and write…
Fondue, eh? You are – or your family is – European, is that right, Cache?
C: Yes, we are originally from Holland.
W: [laughs] Our nickname for him is “Big Dutch.”
Kind of like Honus Wagner. Before you go, any surf spots you guys would like to give a shout-out to?
W: My favorite spot is Beacon’s in San Diego.
S: And a shout-out to Taco Bell Reef in Huntington Beach.