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Photo courtesy of Force Field PR
Lunchbox’s Tim Brown and Donna McKean have been making records in their Oakland, California basement for two decades inspired by 1960s/70s AM-radio pop and TV show theme music, punk, C86, and mod à la The Creation and The Jam. From the sonically-inventive indiepop of The Magic of Sound (Magic Marker Records,1999) to the dub-influenced psychedelia of Evolver (Magic Marker Records 2001) to the critically-acclaimed bubblegum of Lunchbox Loves You (Jigsaw 2013), the couple have established a sound all their own.
Their new album for Slumberland Records, After School Special, finds them at the height of their powers of songcraft and performance. Donna’s bass playing stakes out stylistic territory somewhere between Carol Kaye and John Entwistle while Tim’s guitar is equal parts 12-string jangle and clipped Orange Juice*-esque funk. Horns by *Gary Olson (Ladybug Transistor) and longtime collaborator Jeremy Goody drive the record from beginning to end. Evelyn Davis’ delay-drenched keyboards combine with whispers of analog tape feedback to give the record an otherworldly vibe in keeping with its lyrical themes.
There, favorite seasons (autumn) and animals (cats), appear alongside love and death, ghosts and reincarnation. From the shimmering opener Dream Parade to the horn-driven mod-pop of Hide and Seek, the groovy sixties R&B vibe of I Really Wanna Know and the haunting male-female vocal stylings of the album-closing title track, the textures shift while the unity of artistic vision remains. Catchy as hell and beautifully packaged, After School Special is Lunchbox at their very best. Tremendous thanks to John Cohill at Force Field PR for coordination and much appreciation to Tim and Donna for making time to chat.
James Broscheid: Between fires, fascism and the pandemic, how are you both holding up?
Tim Brown: I feel like we’re both holding up pretty good. I mean, work is kind of crazy and Donna is a nurse so she’s been somewhat busy.
Donna McKean: At first I wasn’t busy at all because I work in a surgical area and we were not doing surgeries at all. Then, they decided they needed to do all the ones they didn’t do before so … it’s been really busy (laughs).
TB: We never go out. We just haven’t for almost a year. We’ve already lost businesses here. My favorite bookstore closed, Issues (Oakland, CA); the Uptown Nightclub closed which was an awesome venue and who knows what else will close by the time it is all over with.
DM: At least, the silver lining is that when we can play again, people will care about live music and it will be special again.
TB: More than they have for a while. My view is a little bit skewed because back in the ‘90s I went out all the time and I really felt like there was social energy around shows. All different kinds of genres, and of course, there was the privilege in the Bay Area to have enough critical mass that there could be entire, entirely self-supporting scenes with bands of different genres and their fans. I was out of the loop in the early 2000s because of other life things so it’s hard for me to say but since about 1999/2000 there wasn’t as much enthusiasm. Like it was some kind of old hat going to shows. I know that’s not entirely true but I felt a little bit of that and I think people definitely don’t feel like that now. Now there is this sense of all that’s lost (laughs).
JB: It’s funny you mention that because I’m getting up there in terms of age and have a family so I sometimes think, “Oh man, another show? I don’t know if I can make it.” (All laugh). I cannot wait to see a live band again and will never take that for granted ever again!
TB: Yeah, I’m not going to take it for granted but I also feel like we are all going to be scarred by this feeling of not getting close to people. It’s going to be weird to be in a packed room (James agrees). With the vaccine, people will slowly acclimatize themselves into it being okay. Now, when we watch movies at night we’ll see some depiction of people hanging out or whatever and will be like, “Wait! You’re too close!” (All laugh). Then I realize “no, they’re not having the pandemic, we are!”
JB: I just want to hear a sound check again, (more laughter)!
JB: So let’s get to the music. Congratulations on the release of After School Special. I just love it because being a little older now, it harkens back to the twee and jangle pop I love from the ‘80s/‘90s. I am a firm believer in all things Slumberland so in all honesty, this is the first time I’ve heard Lunchbox and I’m ashamed to admit that to you (both laugh). So in saying that, could you give us a brief history of the band?
TB: Basically, we formed the band in 1994 or 5 and we were really just learning how to play in bands at that time. Donna learned how to play bass and I already knew how to play the guitar and at that time we thought about music more in terms of live performance. We were trying to get a drummer to play with and book gigs. So we thought about music in kind of a rudimentary way. You know, “we have to get a band together and then we have to get gigs.” We did that for awhile and then around 1998 I started thinking about music differently and decided it was more important to put the recording first, just focus on making records, and divorce having a live band from the process of making the music. I became aware of the indie pop scene and we knew Mike (Schulman, Slumberland founder) from around town and I was into a lot of the bands he put out then. I was also in a punk band that was on Lookout! (Records) called Jüke, with the umlaut over the ‘u’ (laughing), so I was already playing in bands. I was in a power-pop band with Mario (Hernandez) from Kids On A Crime Spree.
Mario had previously been in that band Ciao Bella with Jamie McCormick and they hipped me to the idea that you could own the means of production, as it were. They had a Tascam TSR-8 eight track, so I got a four track, a Teac 3340 and eventually got a TSR-8 and so we started recording at home. We lived in a house in Oakland in the early ‘90s where we had our first studio, the so-called “Shafterhouse.” We just started making records on our own and that’s when we got involved in the indie pop scene, capital I, capital S I guess. We put out that track (Halflife), on the Magic Marker (Records, Portland Oregon), compilation (entitled We Can Still Be Friends, 1998), their inaugural compilation and then they put out our first record, The Magic Of Sound (1999). We put out the Evolver record (also on Magic Marker Records, 2001), which was our second full-length and also an EP (Summer’s Over, 2001) on Stew Anderson’s label which at that time was called …
TB: Yeah, 555 Recordings of Arizona (all laugh).
JB: His label is Emotional Response now.
TB: Right. So we played a lot of music and hit it really hard for a few years, and then it felt like we exhausted the possibilities of having a band and making records and we sort of retired for a while. We moved around a lot. We have lived in Germany because I am a historian and I work on 20th Century Germany. We didn’t have time to play music in a way for a long time. Finally, we caught the bug again and made that Lunchbox Loves You record which came out on Jigsaw (Records, 2014), and that got a nice response. It was interesting to me the way music changed between 1995 and 2015 because I remember in the ‘90s, there wasn’t anyone to write about your band. I could probably go into Cody’s Books in Berkeley and see if someone wrote about our record in Magnet or something (laughs). Or maybe Maximum RockNRoll. Then by the time Lunchbox Loves You came out, there was the whole blog culture and all of that. So you could make a record and read about your band, have some kind of feedback rather than the thing just happening in a vacuum or dropping like a pebble down a well (laughs). That was nice and something that I noticed really strongly. Then, I don’t know, somehow we moved around a lot (again) before making this new record that is out on Slumberland. That is the history of Lunchbox in a nutshell!
JB: Donna, how did you meet Tim?
DM: We met at the hospital. He was actually a respiratory therapist putting himself through school.
JB: No kidding. I didn’t know that!
DM: Yeah. (Laughing) He has many hats! We met at work and we really hit it off. We’re still hitting it off!
TB: I pursued her relentlessly until she was mine (Donna laughs).
JB: That’s usually how it works right?
DM: I still have the upper hand in the relationship (all laugh)!
JB: Of course!
TB: I’ve remained the eternal supplicant (more laughter).
DM: I might leave you at any moment (laughs).
JB: The happy foundation of all lasting relationships (all laugh).
JB: So I was conducting a sort of crash course on Lunchbox and read an interview where you discuss the band’s name and it didn’t sound like you were all that happy with it (laughs). (Donna laughs) So why the name?
TB: The name Lunchbox was sort of an artifact of that mid-to-late ‘90s pop moment right? I just thought it was a super-pop name and I think it’s obvious, we’re students of pop. Pop can mean a lot of things but we’re into pop obviously and it just seemed like a “poppy name” for lack of a better term. It never occurred to me that a bunch of other bands might think the same thing. Back in the ‘90s and still to this day, there was the Noise Pop festival in San Francisco and there was a write-up about bands playing Noise Pop one year and the writer said, “100 bands considered naming themselves Lunchbox, 99 thought better of it”, (all laugh). Which I thought was really funny and then the other day, I was talking to Mike Schulman from Slumberland about Spotify and trying to clean up our profile because there are all these other Lunchboxes, and I said, “Best band name decision ever …” (Laughter) Mike said, “Weekend would like to have a word!” (Uproarious laughter).
JB: That’s hilarious!
DM: It’s funny because there were several times we were going to change our name. So we wanted to change our name and we were talked out of it by so many people saying, “Everyone knows who you are.” We never did it.
JB: What were some of the names you were tossing around?
DM: What was that little 7” we put out?
TB: Well, after we sort of “quit music” at the beginning of the century (both laugh), we had a thing called Praying Mantis. We made a little 7” record and we had that Birds Of California band with Stew (Anderson) but it was originally supposed to be a whole new band but then it was like, “Oh, they changed their name for awhile but it’s still Lunchbox!” So it’s not really possible to change your name is the thing that I’ve realized and at this point I’m feeling somewhat venerable (laughs)! I feel there’s no point because it is what it is. So, if you think about names of famous bands, after awhile it becomes a signifier for the band, it’s drained of content. Is The Beatles a good name? It’s a stupid name right? But The Beatles are THE BEATLES!
JB: You brought up Mike Schulman. I sat down with him in what turned out to be one of my favorite interviews. Everything he does and his taste in music, it’s all right up my alley. He talked about Lunchbox and as I said, I had no idea who you were before him sending me an advance of After School Special. I was blown away by it. Yeah, you’re indie pop but like you said, the genre of pop covers quite a spectrum. How did you hook up with Mike and Slumberland?
TB: We’ve been hanging out and being friends for a long time. That band Hard Left is a band we are in with Mike and a couple of other folks which is kind of a punk/Oi band. So we’ve been friends for a long time and I’ve always had a crush on Slumberland from ever since I first knew about it. I agree, it is just a pristine record label in the sense that he doesn’t put out anything bad. There’s not one release that isn’t sparkling and Mike’s grip on design is so awesome.
He’d already been doing design for us since before putting out our music. It’s like we have been benefiting from his visual chops already and I guess the stars aligned. I don’t know why we didn’t do something together earlier but we kind of done music in fits and starts. Like I said, so it was never a clear narrative like when’s the next record coming out or whatever. We got rid of that energy. Being on Slumberland gives me renewed energy actually (laughs)!
DM: We were always on other labels too.
TB: That’s a good point. We were on Magic Marker (Records) originally which was an American indie pop label of the first hour, or at least of the 1990s hour in Portland. Then we were on Jigsaw and Chris MacFarlane who runs it is awesome so I think there is a bit of “we were spoken for” type of thing. Mike is very scrupulous about not stepping on other people’s toes too. So I think it was a combination of things but I’m happy about it now. Extremely pleased to have this record out on Slumberland for all the reasons that we discussed. Mike did the design for this one too that just came out beautifully. I’d say it is the most beautiful one yet. We’re pretty happy.
JB: It’s good work and a great fit for the label I think. Mike’s a super humble guy … what you would expect. He’s not this showboating record executive type of guy. He genuinely cares about his label, art and artists. You take risks.
TB: That’s right. Mike is something else. I don’t know what else to say. He’s a very impressive person (laughs), on a bunch of levels!
JB: It was funny because he was throwing out all these band names I never heard, most were not on his roster either. I was frantically writing as he was talking! He’s so excited about music in general. It’s infectious.
TB: I share that feeling about him very much. He takes music seriously, not himself. He has an encyclopedic knowledge about music and it is far from being confined to indie pop or indie anything. He knows music more than anyone else I’ve ever met. He has DJ’d our parties many times. He just brings it. Unbelievable really.
JB: Like I said earlier, After School Special melodically reminds me a lot of Ivy and Bay Area contemporaries like Neutrals (who also can do no wrong!). Subtle nods to orchestral pop with some keys and brass touches … it gives Lunchbox some distinction which inevitably has me ask both of you, what are some of your influences and anything in particular impact the writing and recording of this record?
DM: I’m blank (laughs)!
TB: The influences go obviously towards a strong anglophile thing that is happening but it’s also combined with a love of classic southern California pop like The Beach Boys and all that type of thing. Deep influences for me are The Who and Creation and stuff like that. I’ve been into punk since day one and there’s always that kind of energy in our music. We’ve come around a lot more to realizing how much we’re informed by music we listened to when we grew up. At the same time that Donna was listening to Bread and The Monkees, I was listening to (Black) Sabbath (all laugh). Somehow all that pop, but not the Sabbath really, more and more has come to permeate us. It just comes out. We totally geek out over songs like “Sentimental Lady” (Bob Welch*/*Fleetwood Mac), or “Wichita Lineman” by Glen Campbell; songs that have the heartbreaking hook there in the middle of them.
We’re very influenced by that kind of thing. I got really into The Wedding Present for a long time. I was a total fanatic about Dave Gedge. My Bloody Valentine, Soup Dragons, various C86 stuff. Just too much really. What has changed for us is that we did a lot more experimental type of stuff back in 1999-2000-2001. Sound trickery, jungle elements, drum and bass sort of stuff. Soundscape noise that was always married to pop. But then starting with Lunchbox Loves You we explicitly tried to become an “AM radio” band. Like AM radio in the ‘70s if it was really good, as opposed to the shit that it really was. It’s like we tried to channel what it would be if our old childhood station KFRC was playing the best, vaguely anglophilic pop hits that we’ve never heard. I guess that’s my long way of saying we eventually came to embrace the super-short AM radio kind of song and it’s really an American thing in a way but we’re so obviously into mod pop and British Invasion stuff that it’s a trans-Atlantic affair in terms of influences (laughs)!
JB: Donna, I understand the track “Gary of the Academy” was inspired by a feline?
DM: Yes, that’s right (both laugh).
JB: I want to ask about Gary.
DM: Tim was on a research fellowship at this institute in a grand mansion in Germany and I tagged along. Everybody else was involved with academics so I was considered the outsider. So I felt this kinship with this cat Gary. We were both hanging around but not really a part of what everyone else was doing. Anyway, the song is kind of an ode to him.
JB: Was that in Berlin?
DM: Yes, we were in Berlin.
JB: That is, next to San Francisco, my favorite city.
DM: Me too! I love it.
TB: Same here.
JB: My wife and I were married there.
JB: So we were taking a trip to Europe anyway and we were based in Berlin. Her brother lived there at the time, after studies at Cambridge in theology so we were heading there to spend some time. During a drive from Arizona to Colorado her sister-in-law called from Berlin which prompted me to blurt out, “Why don’t we get married there?” Several thousands of dollars in translation services and international shipping costs later, we managed to line it up. On the day of our wedding, the U-Bahn, S-Bahn and the Bundesautobahn had segments shut down in the city due to accidents and power issues. Germans are very punctual as you both know and during our pre-ceremony interview they were very adamant about, “You are on time or you don’t get married!”
TB: (All laughing) That is wonderful!
JB: We were freaking out the morning of our wedding because nobody was showing up, no one was calling, family members were in train stations completely devoid of people. My brother-in-law was in a station where the only other person there was performing an aria that he likened to a funeral dirge. Very surreal. I love the city though and would love a flat there. I love Germany.
TB: Yeah, I feel the same way about it. I definitely feel that. Berlin is so awesome. So we’ve gone back and forth to there since the mid-1990s. Like I said, our “musical career” proceeded in fits and starts because of all these breaks that happened around trips that I had to take for work. We did our first and only Lunchbox European tour when we were in Berlin in 1996-1997. We played all these cool venues. Just incredible stuff looking back on it, these underground clubs like Im Eimer, which was one of the absolutely legendary techno clubs. It was like this lawless, alternative utopia in the middle of the city. After the wall came down but before the two halves of the city were fused back together and it became the more or less normal city it more or less is now. There was an exhibition a couple years back called Berlin Wonderland that had a series of photographs from that moment where anything went, you could do anything. Go into an old Warsaw Pact air base and get a couple of abandoned MIGs fighter jets and make an art installation out of them (all laugh)! Like that kind of stuff. Totally insane art projects. It actually lasted a long time, but unfortunately, it’s largely passed away. Even places that survived for a long time like (Kunsthaus) Tacheles have finally closed down. But Berlin is still the best. It is impossible to explain to people who haven’t been there because it’s so awesome.
JB: I took a day to go up to Sachsenhausen (concentration camp in Oranienburg), to pay respects and I wasn’t prepared for not only the historical significance of a place like that but you definitely feel tremendous pain and sadness stepping foot on those grounds. I remember my brother-in-law came up to me and said, “Look, it could be the most beautiful day outside but as soon as you cross that gate, it will be nothing but complete silence. No birds chirping, no hustle and bustle, nothing.” Sure enough, he was right. The magnitude of what took place there silences everything. I remember breaking down in the middle of the night when it hit me like a ton of bricks.
DM: Berlin has been through so much.
JB: What was funny was the Berliner’s take on what we call historical. My wife and I were in a home in central Phoenix for a time that was built in 1947 and in a designated “historical neighborhood.” You go to Berlin and they ask when the home was built and reply, “That’s cute. Kind of like a new home here!” (All laugh).
TB: Right? Yeah, that’s it. So funny.
JB: So we have spoke about your work and research in Berlin. It’s been about 6 years give or take since your last record?
JB: Is now a good time to put an album out into the world considering everything that’s going on with the pandemic and a toxic political climate? Was Lunchbox ever considered kaputt?
TB: We did a thing recently for Three Great Things with Talkhouse and I kind of talked about how we realized over time that Lunchbox was just me and Donna. We used to try and have a band because back in the ‘90s we thought you couldn’t play a show if you didn’t have a band. That was how I thought about it at that time. Then after awhile we realized we could make records by ourselves as a duo. I taught myself how to play the drums. I play the drums after my fashion (laughing), I mean it is adequate enough for our music. We could never really be done until one day we decide we just don’t want to do music anymore. We’ve never really said that, we just stopped doing it for awhile because other things intervened but I feel like in terms of whether it is a good time to put out a record, we were working on this record back in 2017 at least that long ago, possibly 2016; it took a long time to get it together partly because of trips to Germany and I feel like right before we started recording it we did feel a little bit like were done but then we got involved in it again. I guess we’re never done as long as we feel like making another record and it’s not really dependent on anything. It’s if I’ve got the bandwidth in my life. I’ve got probably another album mostly written if I get the energy to pull it all together. Then both of us make the time to rehearse it, interact with it together and figure out all the singing and harmonies then we could put out another one.
DM: He gets a little long-winded (all laugh)! We’ll never break up because it is just him and I.
JB: I like to reminisce about the “good old days” when bands would sign to labels and promote new records and (sometimes) put up the budget to tour it. The infrastructure provided to “big time” bands. Like you said, your initial perception of what a band should be to play live. Now we have the tools for anybody to put bedroom recordings out into the world. Thinking about then vs. now type of thing.
TB: That’s a complicated question. I do miss that time because then, there were more gatekeepers involved. It’s funny because the gatekeepers keep people out who deserve to be in, but they also lend a certain frisson to the whole thing. So for those who did get on a label and get to do stuff, it was a directed stream of energy. Now it’s more diffuse. I have to think that ultimately it’s good to get rid of gatekeepers but it’s also less … exciting? There’s less energy in a certain way than what the old system produced. But then for me, as I said jokingly recently, which Donna keeps reminding me of (Donna laughs), I was talking to a friend and they were saying something about playing live and I said, “Well, I’m getting everything I want out of music right now.” (Both laugh) And what I meant by that was I’m very happy to have this record out on Slumberland, I’m very happy to have people listen to it and write about it and I’m happy to not drag my gear down to a club and get fucked up then come home at three o’clock in the morning you know? (All laugh) I will play again when the time comes for a variety of reasons.
It can be fun but for me, personally where I’m at in life right now with music, to make records in our basement and having an international audience for them, that seems pretty good to me. I’m not looking for anything beyond that but if there is cool, fun shit to do, I’m willing to do it. We were supposed to go on tour this summer and we were supposed to play the Sacramento Popfest which I guess would have been last September, which is postponed until this coming December at the earliest. I’m still into doing those things. I love going on tour actually, that’s the funny thing because it takes you out of daily life. You meet people and you get drunk, then you wake up the next day and go have pancakes at a diner and repeat (James laughs), and drive around. To me that is fun because it’s not work. It’s not fraught like work is, even though it’s hard. I’m not saying it is not hard but it’s a different kind of thing. Playing local shows is a lot of times … it’s a lot of effort to book and play the shows and repeat when you have a busy life with other things going on. So that’s my long-winded way of saying there was something good about the old way but there’s also something good about the way it is now … at least for us. I know that other people are probably suffering from the lack of sociability which I feel bad about. I would certainly like for things to be going on again so everyone can get out there and exchange energy with other people.
JB: Yeah, especially for all those artists that put all their eggs in one basket. Writing, recording, releasing music and depending on touring revenue to sustain their existence. Not sure what the future holds.
TB: No. I don’t either. Hopefully soon vaccinations will reach critical mass and that won’t be one of the factors. Whether there will be other structural factors … that is a different matter.
JB: Was After School Special finished before the pandemic hit a year ago?
JB: You didn’t have long-distance video conferences to rehearse and share files with other members?
TB: Everyone who was a guest was a guest before all this happened. They were guests so long ago that they probably don’t remember playing on the record (all laugh).
JB: Can you speak to the players on the record?
TB: Sure. The most important person other than us is Jeremy Goody. He played trumpet on every track on there and he’s our long-time collaborator stretching back to the ‘90s. We used to live around the corner from each other in the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland in the 1990s. He had a studio right around the corner from us but we barely knew each other. One day he came down the street on a skateboard and saw that I had my pickup truck pulled up on the sidewalk. I was recording on an acoustic guitar inside the pickup to capture the “unique sound” in the cab and was running a cable from inside the truck to inside the basement (James laughs). Jeremy thought, “Ok this guy is weird. I wanna be friends with this guy!” (More laughter) Then he started playing on our records and the rest is history. We work well together. He really gets what we’re doing and he’s got the trumpet chops and the ability to take the ideas that I sing to him and play his own solos and make everything better. Like come up with harmonies with himself. So he played trumpet on this record, as always.
Gary Olsen who was in The Ladybug Transistor played trumpet as well. He’s a more recent friend of ours. He was out on this coast to play a show with us and played on some recordings as well. Our friend Evelyn Davis played keyboards. Patrick Main played keyboards as well. There’s some spectacular keyboard stuff on there. The last two songs we finished were “Before and After” and “I Really Wanna Know.” Those songs I played drums on and I had Patrick play on “I Really Wanna Know” and he just killed it on there. Evelyn’s playing on “Gary of the Academy” similarly … she’s a classically-trained musician and she plays pop really, really well. The drummer was John Diaz, a friend of ours we’ve met fairly recently. In fact, he got the band restarted in its most latest iteration.
We had had Lunchbox Loves You come out and we were going to meet a friend at this used clothing store in Oakland because he wanted a copy. The owner walked by and swiped the LP out of my hands and put it on the turntable so it was playing in the shop. Then this guy walks up and accosts us: “Is this your band? I want to play with you!” So he basically inserted himself Keith Moon style into our scenario and insisted we have a band. So that’s why he played drums on all but those last two songs. It took so long to make the record and we moved to Germany for half a year and he had a baby and started doing other things with other people so we didn’t really have a live band after that. He was a formative influence inasmuch as he got us started doing local shows again. He had a lot of enthusiasm and he’s responsible for some of the really tight drumming on there; like a lot of the Orange Juice feel is him (laughing). Just the grooves that he has and those particular songs would sound quite different if I played drums on them or wouldn’t have a feel to them at all possibly! (More laughter) That’s the crew. The single person who has played on every Lunchbox record is Jeremy Goody. Everyone else on this record are kind of more recent friends of ours.
JB: Is Jeremy a part of the live band? If and when that happens again?
TB: He has been in the past but he won’t play live anymore. He’s a curmudgeon (Donna laughs).
JB: Yeah, I get that.
TB: I discussed him going on tour with us in the summer and he’s like, “I’m considering that…” … looks at watch … Um, no.” (All laugh) “And here’s why …” He had all these well-thought-out reasons why it wasn’t worthwhile to do which I totally get. One thing I can say about what we’ve been doing is that we don’t believe there is a unitary presentation of our thing that has to be adhered to at all times. It goes back to … which doesn’t mean we believe in playing solo-acoustic or whatever. That’s not really our bag. I would say that it means that the lineup is the lineup at any given time and if there’s enough of an oeuvre or whatever, we can pick the things that work from what we have available to us. Having said that, having collaborators live is great. I guess the last time we played live with a trumpeter …
DM: It was Gary.
TB: That was awesome.
JB: Were you planning on having a horn with you for the summer tour that shan’t be happening?
TB: If Gary could have been there we’d have had trumpet for sure.
DM: Gary would be up for it.
TB: Gary will do it if it works with his schedule. He was considering doing it this summer but then the whole thing got kiboshed.
JB: Would be great to hear a horn live with Lunchbox. Worked great with Ivy!
TB: Yeah, it means a lot. People dig it and it’s just cool. It adds a whole other dimension.
JB: Yup. Are either one of you involved in any other projects in music currently?
DM: I’m in a new-ish band called Artsick with Christina Riley who was in Burnt Palms and Mario Hernandez who was in Kids On A Crime Spree. We’re going to be having a record coming out later this year.
TB: It’s on a label well known to you (all laugh), and us.
DM: It’s really fun. She is a great songwriter and a really great person. It’s nice to be in a band with her and Mario is such an old friend from forever ago. It’s a lot of fun.
TB: The Artsick record is dope. I mean it is a really, really good record.
DM: And Tim recorded it.
TB: I recorded it but that’s not why it’s dope (all laugh).
DM: It’s dope because it’s me (more laughter)!
JB: Speaking of Artsick, I just heard that lone self-titled 7” (Yr First Crush, 2018) and I liked what I heard!
TB: Of course we’re in Hard Left and we’re slowly, slowly making a second Hard Left record (Donna laughs).
DM: It’s hard right now making records with other people because nobody can get together. Some people will practice with masks but most people won’t. Hard Left people apparently won’t (laughs).
TB: The Oi! shouting backing vocals is probably going to be a super spreader event.
DM: We figure we have to put Mike in another room so he can growl in there (Tim laughs) away from us so we won’t be spit on (more laughter).
JB: That’s funny because talking to Mike you wouldn’t think there is a pent-up, banshee in there (all laugh).
DM: Yeah, he can get pretty wild.
JB: Did your time in Germany inform the writing for this record? Outside of “Gary of the Academy”?
TB: I feel like being in Germany gives me special feelings, I don’t know. We lived in Berlin when I was in grad school for a year … I just have all of these Berlin-type feels. What it’s like when Fall starts coming, being on the S-Bahn or being out late at night, freezing your ass off with a half-liter bottle of some beer. Waiting for the S-Bahn on a freezing-ass cold platform (laughs).
JB: Yeah, I preferred to do that in May.
TB: All the good Berlin stuff. It has very much shaped who we are as people. Informed by being there a lot, there aren’t any specific links to the music that I can think of. I don’t have anything there, I guess.
JB: Some of my fondest memories were getting trashed and walking in Berlin at three in the morning. The döner kabab stands would still be open …
TB: (Laughs) Yeah!
JB: The perfect food.
TB: It is the perfect food. We’ve been vegetarians for a long time but then recently there was a veggie döner kabab place that was the bomb. The world’s best food for late night drinking is Pommes mit mayo.
JB: If you happen to tour any time in the future we will have to try that out.
JB: Is the title of the record solely influenced by the ABC Network’s afternoon programming from the ‘70s/‘80s?
TB: It is. The song After School Special that the album was named after is about me and Donna growing up about thirty miles from each other and not knowing each other. So it kind of plays with childhood and those kind of ‘70s feelings that I thought were captured by that title. There’s a lot in the title aside from a reference to the program. The cover photo is a very old photo of Donna holding a kitten so there’s a cat thing through all the music and through a whole life of being obsessed with cats. The photo is also vaguely sad or looks a little ambiguous in terms of the emotion that she’s displaying. It’s basically named after the show and plays with the idea of our parallel childhoods.
JB: Like we talked about a little bit earlier, the cover is pretty classic in terms of indie pop. Sadness masking happy and happy masking sadness. The title, the band name and album art all ties together tidily.
TB: That’s good. I’m glad you think so. I’m extremely pleased with the way it came out. The cover is Donna from a long time ago and the back cover is us from the ‘90s and the insert is us now. It’s kind of fun to take a journey into the present from the cover to the insert.
JB: Agreed! Just a general question to both of you. Considering the variety, what is it about indie pop that strikes a chord with you both out of all genres of music?
TB: Well, I guess partly that it provides a template for channeling the kind of pop influences from the ’60s and ‘70s that we’re really into. It’s a pretty capacious category. Like you said, there’s lots of different kinds of indie pop. It’s also one of the places that punk went, especially the British variety and even Sarah (Records), that is punk by another name. Thinking about Dolly Mixture and bands like that. There’s a place where the punk energy went and that’s one of the places where it went. If you think about bands like My Bloody Valentine, that’s one of things I like most about Slumberland.
Slumberland combines the raucous energy of punk and associated genres with dreaminess. So we’re really into dreaminess and so I think our record has a sunshine pop element that everyone references and also has dreamy, melancholia there which to me is very much an indie pop thing and classic pop thing. Also, we use a lot of Major 7 and Major 9th chords that sound automatically poignant when you play them. They transform a song that may have been pretty basic into something full of mystery and sadness. Partially that and being originally influenced by my friends. One of the things I got from the genre initially is the realization that everyone I knew were making records in their basement. Instead of trying to gig in the clubs and get signed (laughs). I thought, “This is something I can do!”
DM: Same. I was just thinking about how it carried on with the punk rock ethos which we always were into. The DIY attitude and also our circle of friends we knew. Things came out sounding the way they came out (laughs)! We fit right in.
JB: Tim, you mentioned Sarah Records. That’s one of the things I love about indie pop. As sunshine-y as the melodies sound, there is that underlying melancholia throughout a vast majority of amazing pop tunes. Labels like Sarah and Slumberland capture that energy so well.
TB: Yeah, they definitely capture that energy. I will also add that indie pop is one main site that the mod aesthetic went to and it is important to us for that reason too. It’s one of the places where that crystalized a long time after original mod … and even a long time after the mod revival. It was an alternative site of mod that isn’t like Oasis and that kind of stuff. It’s more like an indie, punkified, sloppy version of it which is about all we can pull off (all laugh)!
JB: To me that’s the best stuff. I was into Britpop like Oasis over their first couple records and some moments after that but I will always take bands like Suede and Teenage Fanclub over that.
TB: I agree with that. When things are too perfect they become imperfect.
JB: Lastly I wanted to get your impressions of the Bay Area in general. I am really enjoying the music coming out of the area these last few years and the future looks even brighter. Stuff like The Umbrellas, Seablite, The Reds, Pinks & Purples, Odd Hope and countless others that I am having a field day with. What’s the scene like for Lunchbox?
TB: It felt really supportive recently. I love all the bands you just mentioned. We were able to play with Seablite and Neutrals. Neutrals are amazing and I love Alan (McNaughton). There’s a band called Tony Jay, have you heard of them?
TB: It’s this guy Mike Ramos who used to have the band Grandma’s Boyfriend and now he is Tony Jay. He’s an incredible songwriter. Actually, Mike Schulman turned me on to Grandma’s Boyfriend and I became friends with Mike (Ramos) after that. Then, of course, I am really into Artsick and not because my wife is in the band. I would say people are really nice lately which is a funny thing to say. I just feel like when we’re setting up and playing shows, everybody is … nice. Which was not my experience in music in the ‘80s and ‘90s. It was more competitive and cut-throat especially in indie pop in the late ‘90s.
Now I am always pleased with my interactions. People are always cool and supportive of each other. Of course, we haven’t been able to go out in what feels like forever so I actually don’t know what people are doing. My entire experience with the “scene” is filtered through Instagram. That’s how I know how my friends are doing. Despite all the ills of social media it is nice to be able to do that. We obviously all hate Facebook at this point for a variety of good reasons, there is no perfect platform. You can kind of feel still connected to the scene by viewing the cool shit they post. That’s the extent of it right now. Making records because you can’t go out. Back to your point, there are a lot of good bands here. We were supposed to play with The Umbrellas at a show we set up as part of our tour. We just met them and that got cancelled. I’m actually cautiously optimistic that nine months from now or something like that we will be able to see people in person and maybe play some shows, so who knows.
DM: Yeah, we just got started in Artsick. We got it all figured out and had that great show planned and it all got cancelled.
TB: That’s right. Artsick was going to be in that line-up. It was going to be Lunchbox, Artsick, The Umbrellas and someone else.
DM: Kids On A Crime Spree.
TB: They were supposed to play too and it all got cancelled. It’s harder on Artsick because Christina has just come up with this incredible band and put all this energy into it. Then to have it …
JB: Just stop.
TB: Stop. Have everything put on the back burner. I’m so busy that it is okay for me. I’ve been doing this for long time, it’s cool. When I get to play again I get to play again but I think she feels differently and it’s a bummer.
JB: I spoke with a Montreal-based band who were within hours of embarking on their tour when the shutdown happened.
JB: Yeah. Being from Canada, they have a government that was more proactive in the beginning of the pandemic and offered support immediately as opposed to here is your check, shut up. Everybody is on stand-by waiting to get out and play again.
TB: There’s no way around it. It sucks. One thing I noticed is that in the earlier days, friendships, when you went out all the time, were who you saw in the clubs at the time. Now, friendships are a little bit more around who’s on labels that you know and who’s in other bands. So I feel like there’s a built-in infrastructure now between Slumberland bands and Emotional Response bands in the Bay Area. Stew has put out tons of bands from the Bay Area recently. I just bought a record from him in fact by a band called Latitude who I read good things about. They are also from the Bay Area. So once things get going again, there will be a bunch of obvious, really good shows to have (laughs)!