One of the oldest MelodyCore bands around is Ten Foot Pole. Their early records came out on Epitaph and helped defining the label's sound. And even though MelodyCore has been stronger some years back, Ten Foot Pole are still around. Their latest record "Subliminable messages" jst came out on Go-Kart Records and I decided to have a chat with Dennis, founding member of Ten Foot Pole...
Hey Dennis, good to do an interview with you! How are you at the moment and do you have any introduction to start this interview off with?
I'm doing great! Today is finally the release of "Subliminable Messages" in the US -- I'm excited to see how it does, because I'm very proud of it and hope that other people like it too.
First off let me tell you that I liked the early records of Ten Foot Pole like "Rev" or "Unleashed" a lot, but I somehow lost track of the band in the late 90s. But when I heard "Subliminable messages" I was really surprised that TFP still sounded so fresh and powerful. So could you please tell me what happened between "Unleashed" and "Subliminable messages"? You did two more records in between, right? What can you tell me about them?
We released "Insider" in January 1999 -- the album was well received, especially the song "The Getaway" which was on an Epitaph Punk O Rama compilation -- I forget which volume. Then we did an album called "Bad Mother Trucker" on Victory Records, released in September 2002. I feel like there are some good songs on there, but the overall album was compromised in several ways, including the writing, production and marketing. It hasn't done that well, but I'm hoping people will give us another chance and check out "Subliminable Messages".
"Insider" came out on your old label Epitaph while "Bad mothertrucker" was released by Victory Records. What were the reasons for that change?
Epitaph decided not to extend our contract. I'm not really sure why, in fact before we recorded "Insider" they wanted us to sign for more albums. I don't know what changed in the following 6 months, while we played 100 shows. We always lived up to our commitments, worked very hard, and had a strong reputation. I heard that Brett said he never liked my voice. I didn't like my voice in the "Unleashed" era, so I've been working on it for a while. "Subliminable Messages" is our first release that I'm proud of the sound of my vocals (Well I always thought your vocals were cool - Stefan).
"Subliminable messages" comes out on Go-Kart Records, so why didn't you release it on Victory as well? Was it just a one album deal with Victory or did you or they loose interest in a continued cooperation?
They had an option for 3 records, and said they wanted to go forward, but then they forgot to send me the money to pay for recording. Then we had an argument about the cover art, which was the last straw. I felt we worked in good faith, paying for our own recording and working hard to make them happy with the artwork.
How did you get the deal with Go-Kart and where there any other interested labels you thought about signing to?
We spoke to all the larger Indie Punk labels and even considered putting it out ourselves, but Greg at GoKart had the best plan. Most importantly, he promised to get it out in time for our confirmed tours across Canada and all over Europe. He also did not tell us to use lame art on the cover ;^)
When I looked at the writing credits for the songs on "Subliminable messages" I have the impression that you're not writing as much as you did in the past, because the majority of the music seems to be written by the other guys. Is that correct? If so, what's the reason for that? Or does "words and melody by Dennis" mean that it's you who comes up with the basic idea for a song?
"Words and melody" means that I wrote the lyrics and the melody of the lyric, sometimes before the music is written (in the case of "Your World") so that I guess I came up with the basic idea, but usually after the basic music is already written. I've always encouraged band members to write as much as possible, just as I do, so that we have lots of music and lyric ideas from which to choose favorites. I was really happy that Kevin and Mike wrote so much music, and even quite a few lyrics, as I think that different perspectives keep an album from sounding fresh.
When I compare the line-up of Ten Foot Pole on "Unleashed" to that of "Subliminable messages" I think you're the only remaining guy who was there from the beginning. Why did the line-up change so drastically?
There have been lots of reasons for members leaving, most of them involving a lack of green paper -- despite what some people think, being in an underground band does not usually pay. We had guys quit to go on Mormon missions, get real jobs, have families, and try commercial bands. I think the real question is: How did guys like me and Steve survive in a band for nearly 20 years when we had so little in common? I was 14 and didn't even know him when he joined, I just knew he had an El Camino and a driver's license, so I was down for adding another guitarist in the band (Scared Straight was the band name at the time). Over the years we had lots of conflicts, probably a lot like a bad marriage, but we both liked the music so much that we kept going, despite our arguments helping to drive away some other members.
I was also surprised then that Ten Foot Pole still sound like Ten Foot Pole, so what's the secret behind that? I mean even though the line up is pretty different the sound nevertheless stayed the same...
I think it's a combination of my lyric and music writing style, mixed with the fact that most new members are actually fans of the band and like the sound/style.
When did you record the new album? Were the songs for it finished long before you entered the studio as there was a longer break between "Bad mothertrucker" and "Subliminable messages"? If so, did you skip some old songs and wrote and recorded new ones instead?
All of my songs are brand new, written in Summer of 03. I don't know if Kevin or Mike pulled out some of their old nuggets. Actually there was not much break after "Bad Mother Trucker" and the recording. We stopped touring in late April, as my wife was due to have a baby in late May (she had it June 2, yay!) (Congratulations! - Stefan). We wrote the songs in May through August and started recording in September. We took our time recording it, based on Ryan Greene's schedule, but mostly the release delay was caused by label issues... trying to get a clean break from Victory and then finding a new label.
"Wake up" is a pretty unusual song for Ten Foot Pole in my eyes, so why did you choose this particular track as the opener for the record? Is it because the lyrics are so important to you that you wanted them to be the first ones to be heard or what was it?
We felt that it was good to start the record with something different and powerful. Most of our friends thought that track was the best, and we wanted to show that we are not a "cookie-cutter" band, as our songs are pretty eclectic. As you noted, the lyrics are important to me, and I think appropriate to introduce the album to a new listener.
What's the story behind "Last call for Russell's balls"? I mean are the lyrics based on a true event or is it more like a metaphor for a relationship gone bad?
Mike wrote that about a friend of his who had a domineering girlfriend. I think there's a mix of fact and fiction/hyperbole -- I don't think she actually tried to cut off his cajones:^) (Hahaha... - Stefan)
The song "The quest" reminded me a bit to the Bad Religion song "Don't pray on me" from their 1993 album "Recipe for hate" because both songs have some kind of a Country feeling to it. Would you agree and how come these sounds made in onto the album?
I loved "Generator" so much that when "Recipe for Hate" came out I had too high of expectations, so I don't even know that song. Kevin's song made it to the album because we liked the sound of the vocal harmonies, the different style of music, the sound of his voice, and the innocent sincerity that seemed like he was illuminating part of his soul. The song makes me smile, which is nice on a fairly dark album.
When I look back it seems to me that this whole MelodyCore genre was really, really big in the mid 90s, but somehow I have the impression that nowadays bands like The Ataris (who once did that sound as well) or bands with a more "Emo" sound like Jimmy Eat World etc. are more popular. Would you agree? And what about the popularity of Ten Foot Pole, would you say that your fan base stayed the same or did you gain or lose fans over the years?
For sure bands like TFP, Lagwagon, No Use for a Name, NOFX, etc. are not as big now as they were. I'm not sure that the Ataris and Jimmy Eat World should be classified with Emo bands -- to me they seem more like Pop Punk while Emo sounds a bit rougher, screamier and out of pitch to me. Anyhow, we have never been good at or wanted to predict the trends or fads. We just try to make good music that we are proud of... I think solid songs and a sincere performance speak for themselves, though I realize that a good haircut would probably help sell more records (Maybe I should get a good haircut then so I could get a decent job... - Stefan). I think that our new album takes us a bit out of the genre classification, and I hope people from different backgrounds check it out and ignore our hair styles.
I have the impression that Ten Foot Pole is more political these days, regarding the title of the new album and songs like the aforementioned "Wake up". Would you also say that's the case? And what do you think about Punkvoter.com etc.?
The lyrics of "Wake Up" actually paraphrase my view of political activism. To paraphrase further, I got burned out of politics due to overcommitting to research and feeling ineffectual, but I think it's time to get back in the game because the world is messed up. Still, having 2 songs with some political content does not make us Propaghandi... I don't want to be known as a political band, I just want to write about anything that floats my boat. I don't know much about punkvoter, other than that we volunteered to be on the comp or play at gigs to benefit the organization. I think it's great that Mike has chosen to use his celebrityhood to increase political awareness.
I heard that before "Rev" there was a Ten Foot Pole album called "Swill", but you can't find that record anywhere. So please tell me everything about it, did you release it on your own, was Scott singing on it, what kind of music did you play back then and do you like the songs nowadays? Did you ever think about re-releasing it or re-recording some of its songs?
We recorded "Swill" on our own, at the time we changed the band name from Scared Straight to TFP. Scott sang on it, Jordan from Strung Out played drums, we released it ourselves, distributed by Fat Wreck Chords, and you can buy it at most of our shows or through merch.com which is linked at our website. Some of the songs are cool, but it is more of a collectors' item than something we want to promote.
I guess you answered this question of thousand times before, but was the title of "Bad mothertrucker" a reference to "Pulp Fiction"? What do you think about this movie (one of my personal faves!) and what kind of movies do you like watching?
Yeah, we are Pulp Fiction fans, and also it reminded me of the NOFX song "Bob". I had a mental image of a kid thinking he was a bad ass mo fo, but being soft enough to respect his mom's wishes to cut down on swearing... so I liked the dichotomy between a ball buster and a mom respecter. Plus truckers are an interesting species that should be documented. I like good movies... Memento, Reservoir Dogs, old Clint Eastwood films, etc. Too many to list.
I remember seeing Ten Foot Pole some years ago in a small club in Schorndorf, Germany (near Stuttgart), which was totally packed with about 300 people. A real cool show, you opened up with "ADD" and the whole place went crazy. So did the European and especially the German scene change in your opinion over the years? I'd really like to know, because when you're going to shows regularly you don't see drastic changes, but I could imagine you must sense them when you come here once a year or every two years...
I don't go there enough to analyze the scene. We could have a great show or a weak show depending on so many different factors such as the day of the weak, other bands playing nearby, the venue, the ticket price, the support band, the city, the weather, etc. I wouldn't want to judge a scene of a city if we play on a rainy Monday night at a shoddy venue with expensive tickets the day after NOFX played in town.
You're not one of those bands that come up with a new record every year, so what do you do in between two records to make a living? Or does touring etc. help you so you don't have any other job?
We all have to work, in fact sometimes my day job pays the expenses to keep TFP going. I'm a sound engineer for concerts and events. This last week I did sound for 12 graduations and 3 days of festivals.
Please comment on these former Epitaph label mates of yours:
a. Bad Religion (still my fave band!)
Liked "Process of belief" (Yeah, a great comeback record! - Stefan), excited to check out their new record. I wish Epitaph still sent me promos!
Nice guys. I liked their albums around the "Punk in Drublic" period. I don't know if their music changed or if I just got older, but I've had trouble getting into the songs as much as I used to. Maybe it's just that not being on Epitaph I don't get free samples anymore. Much respect for them for making a career out of punk rock and proving that you don't have to be pretty and young to sell records.
Some great songs, great live shows, great energy. I'm always nervous to be around Fletcher though he's never actually harmed me... though he came close once running around an Epitaph party with piss in a squirt gun.
Great songs, though the first few albums I wondered if they were singing about me -- probably not since Jim Cherry wrote lots of the songs, but I guess I had a guilty conscience since we kicked Scott out of TFP because we wanted to tour more than his pro-baseball career would allow. We had a nice show with them at Groezrock in April.
e. The Offspring
I like them, though my friends always complain when I play the tunes. I don't like the novelty things/samples much, but damn they have quite a few good songs.
I should mention that I would love to tour with any of the above bands, because I'm sure it would make a great package and we'd have a blast.
Ok, I think we're at the end of this interview. Did you like it and do you have anything to add? Thanks for taking the time answering my questions!
I'd like to ask people to go to our website to sign up for our monthly newsletter for tourdates and stuff. Also we are completely redesigning our website, so please check it out at http://www.tenfootpole.com
Thanks very much,