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Things to Do in Denver When You're Punk: Negative Degree

Negative Degree
29 May 2014

On an overcast Sunday afternoon I interviewed Negative Degree, a DIY hardcore band from Denver on Deranged Records. Present were bassist Mark Masters, guitarist Johnny Mathers, drummer Alex Knox, singer CJ Quinones and Jen Mathers, singer of The Nervous.

We walked into Pasquini’s — an Italian restaurant on the outskirts of Denver. The empty parking lot was cracked and brittle, all but abandoned except for the fenced-off Red Lobster next door. We walked into the restaurant and noticed that they had about six televisions blaring, each one playing a different football game. A very young server marched up to us and asked us if we wanted to sit at the bar or grab a booth. She looked us up and down and then sat us in a booth even though we asked for a spot at the bar.

CJ – They should make you recite CCR to be eligible to vote. That should be a law.

Mark – Exactly. You need to be able to recite CCR lyrics at all times. Even If you get pulled over and the police question you.

CJ – You have to know the words to ‘Bad Moon Rising’ or else get the fuck out.

Mark – This is legal now. You have to know CCR lyrics to be American. What’s wrong with these kids, don’t they have dads?

After some shots and some fumbling with the menus we got down to business, quickly going through the entrees as we talked about the resurgence of hardcore and where to find a decent pizza in Denver.

AJ – Is Negative Degree a portmanteau of Negative Approach and 98 Degrees and if so, why aren’t you writing love ballads and dancing around in white leather trench coats?

Mark – Yes. I’m clearly the undisciplined bad boy of the group. Just check out this stubble.

AJ – How many of you are in other bands and why aren’t you making it big in Hollywood?

Mark – Everyone except for me I think.

Alex – I play drums in Dick Widler.

Johnny – I also play guitar in The Nervous.

Mark – I would like to be in another band if the right situation presented itself.

Alex – Mark and I did have a side project where we played together, it was called White Master.

Mark – Fuck yeah, White Master. I was the only white guy in the band.

Alex – I was gonna sing and then things got all fucked up.

Mark – That was the last practice. You know us white guys. We don’t like to share.

AJ – I missed that one. When was White Master happening?

Mark – This was like a year ago. It was James from Civilized, Alex, me, and Tiana from Hot White. But I guess a lot of those songs are being recycled for a band called Cinderblock. They have their first show soon. I don’t know much else. It’s at Seventh Circle Music Collective.

Johnny – Who is in the band besides James?

Mark – Let’s see it’s James, Zach, The Fielder Bros. It’s Civilized merged with Kurbstomp basically. I have no doubt that this band will be good.

Johnny – Yeah, James is a great guitar player.

Alex – I think everyone was just too busy for White Master.

Mark – Yeah, true. Good crew, bad timing.

Alex – It was fun.

AJ – Black Flag, Infest and Negative Approach are playing shows again. Who would have thought that this would be happening in 2014. Why is this stuff coming back around and why now?

Mark – It’s fucking nuts.

Johnny – Kids are running around wearing shirts of bands that existed 30 years ago. It’s kept the interest alive in these bands, so they wouldn’t have the opportunity to make that money if kids wouldn’t have determined that they were so cool. So they keep the bands alive forever. But then on the other hand, these guys are trying to make a little money. Legitimately.

AJ – Sure.

Johnny – I think there are bands that have gotten a real good resurgence. Some of it is deserved. Record collectors have determined that. For example a band like The Fix. There are a million bootleg shirts out there. If they played a show tomorrow, it would sell out in like two seconds. But if record collectors would have determined that The Fix were just any other fucking dumb hardcore band from that time, their record would be worth nothing, maybe a hundred dollars. Just like all the rest of the old shit. And their reunion tour or whatever they wanted to do, sure it would generate interest but it wouldn’t gain much of a following. Just like this Infest *thing. I mean, for how long have kids been bootlegging *Infest shirts? Infest plays one show and it’s like the big news of the year. Kids have kept the interest alive.

Mark – I think at some point, when a band becomes big enough, they just have to accept that things can get out of their hands. It gets beyond their control. They can influence it and dictate to some degree which direction it’s going to go, but it can become a thing were it gets out of your control.

Johnny – When I first heard about the Black Flag reunion, I admit I was a little excited. But I am totally, absolutely not excited about Kira at this point. All of their bickering has completely soured it for me. And I kind of liked OFF!, you know, but now I’m even soured on that band because he’s wrapped up in this whole thing.

CJ – What happened to the OFF! show that was supposed to go down in Denver?

Alex – It got canceled.

AJ – Yeah they cancelled that whole tour in late 2012. The west coast tour.

Mark – Just goes to show you how twisted around punk rock these days. It’s asses over elbows here.

Johnny – I just can’t stand all that stupid bickering. It’s ridiculous.

AJ – I agree. The irony of Black Flag masquerading as a Fleetwood Mac cover band at their first show has now come full circle. They ARE Fleetwood Mac these days, or at least some of them are falling victim to those same ideals – The notion that lawsuits are more important than friendships, that dysfunction can be a source of creativity, their public feuds in the media. It’s kinda sad to watch.

Johnny – Yeah. If you’re getting the band back together for fun, you know, for a band you never made money off of, that’s fine. But if you’re gonna fight about it and get lawyers, that’s not right. That’s like KISS territory.

AJ – Exactly. I agree.

Johnny – It’s just the music industry. I can’t stand the whole music industry thing. I get like bad breakups and stuff, but on some level I’m still friends with all of those people. My old band, Still Left Standing, they ended kind of poorly.

AJ – If somebody called you up and offered you a million dollars to reform this band that broke up so badly, would you do it?

Johnny – I would do it. Yeah. Reunion show would be fine. Million dollars would be fine. In Still Left Standing, two guys in the band quit right after we opened for Fugazi. We had a brand new record in the studio and they quit just to join another band. Just because I couldn’t tour that much at the time. And you know, they were promised, “they were gonna make it.”

AJ – You’re gonna be huuuge! Don’t you want to be in the spotlight, kid?

Mark – The big time, baby nuts!

AJ – Tinsel town, baby! With all the cash and prizes!

Johnny – So I was pissed. I was thinking, man, you’re gonna quit this band and join another band?

AJ – For a chance to “make it.” Whatever that means these days.

Johnny – At the time I was like, what the fuck, why don’t you just do both? But it was one of those situations where you couldn’t be in another band. You had to be 100 percent. Either you’re in or you’re out.

AJ – This question is for each of you. Who is your favorite hardcore band from Colorado?

Mark – Well, I would say Flobots.

CJ – I don’t know. I’m not from here so I don’t know shit. Probably Scott Baio Army.

Mark – Yeah, Scott Baio Army. That was the band that really kind of, like, opened my eyes to DIY hardcore when I was just a wee little guy in Wyoming. I saw them play in Fort Collins when I was like 16 or 17. I had MDC and Negative Approach CDs at home, but I didn’t know that bands still played fast hardcore. I remember thinking, “Man, I wish punk rock still sounded like this.” Then I saw Scott Baio Army.

Johnny – They were really cool. I enjoyed going to see them all the time.

Mark – They were great live, there was always something interesting happening when they played.

AJ – Agreed. They were great live band. That 12” is pretty hot too.

Johnny – For me, I would say Bum Kon or White Trash. Both of those 7” EPs are awesome, they’re on the same label.

AJ – Mark I’m surprised you didn’t say Dead Silence. That was your jam back in the day.

Mark – Yeah, I love Dead Silence. At the end of the day those are probably the records I listen to the most, but given the fact that I never got to see them, they weren’t a revelation for me in the way that Scott Baio Army was.

AJ – Fair enough.

Johnny – I saw them. I remember this weird show. It was Dead Silence playing in a maintenance room up at Folsom in Boulder which was pretty sweet.

AJ – Yeah, weren’t they from Boulder? CU students?

Mark – Nah, I think they were older. They started in Boulder but they moved to Denver.

Johnny – They were great.

AJ – That *Bum Kon*record is so good. That song “Giving In” is unstoppable.

Johnny – Yeah, they were great. Larry Denning was such an amazing guitar player. He was a really cool guy, too. Super cool guy.

Mark – That’s what’s written on his tombstone. It says – Larry Denning – Super cool guy.

CJ – What do you want on your tombstone?

Mark – A Bum Kon test pressing.

Alex – I don’t know about too many older bands from Colorado. It’s hard to pick.

AJ – It doesn’t have to be old.

Alex – I like a wide range of stuff. Right now I like bands like Civilized. I like No Thought. They are really fun live.

Mark – Excellent use of masks.

Alex – And party favors. I like Glass Hits too.

CJ – Live I like Speedwolf. Every single Speedwolf show in town has been awesome.

Alex – They’re usually fun, yeah.

AJ – Speedwolf are great live. Those dudes have so much energy. So again – question for each of you – what is your favorite venue in Denver and why?

Alex – Mouth House and Aqualung.

Mark – Aqualung is over. But the memory remains. Yeah, Mouth House is my favorite. They’ve always been great to us.

CJ – It’s a “no-parent” zone.

Mark – It’s the land that shouldn’t be.

Alex – There came a time, after Bar Bar stopped letting us book, where Mouth House was all we had.

Mark – It’s the latest place that doesn’t give a fuck what we do. So, it’s great. We love them for that. Anyone that lets us do whatever we feel like, we try to return the favor. Denver’s got a lot of cool venues I will say that. Lots of DIY venues. Rhino is always a good time, Blast-O-Mat was cool, now it’s renamed Seventh Circle Music Collective, but it’s still going strong.

AJ – Has Negative Degree played Seventh Circle?

Mark – Not yet. It’s hard to get us on the same schedule. Alex and I are on the same work schedule, but Johnny and CJ are on their own schedule that is like 180 degrees apart. For us to play a show, we’ve got to be very interested in making it happen. So we pass on a lot of shows.

CJ – I’m not going to take off work to play a show to an empty venue.

AJ – I can respect that. It’s a mess out there, trying to get people to come out on a Tuesday night or whatever.

Mark – Exactly, I would rather make money. I’d rather make $100 at work than lose money by playing a show. You know, opening for Mr. Pickle from Pocatello, Idaho on a Tuesday night where five kids show up.

AJ – Hey, Mr. Pickle rules. Don’t talk shit about Mr. Pickle. So those are the shows that you are trying to avoid?

Mark – Yeah.

CJ – It’s The Mr. Pickle.

Mark – Right. I feel bad turning down so many shows but I don’t want to be a filler band. I don’t want to be one of those bands in the Rolodex that gets called last minute, like “Hey, can you play tomorrow night?” No thanks.

AJ – The punk Rolodex?

Mark – Right. There are other bands that do want to play those shows, so find them and let them play. We’re too old for that shit. Plus, like I said, with our work schedules, we just can’t.

AJ – Who writes the lyrics in Negative Degree?

CJ – I write them. There’s been a few songs where we’ve all kind of worked on them. Johnny wrote a lot of “Moral Coward”.

AJ – So when you’re writing a song, what comes first – the guitar, the drums, the lyrics?

Johnny – The guitar is first. I write a song and then usually pass it by Mark. Then he’ll tell me which ones he liked and which ones he didn’t like. Then the song gets into the practice space and we start playing it. If we like it, CJ writes lyrics and we’re done.

AJ – How long have you guys been together? Refresh my memory. I was at your first show at Bar Bar. I think that was 2010? Was it?

Mark – We started at the very end of 2010.

Johnny – The only time I’ve written lyrics is when we’re going into the studio and we don’t have something.

CJ – I even told these guys to write lyrics. I told them, “Someone else take a swing at this.”

Johnny – We all write lyrics. Kind of. We mixed and matched them.

Mark – I try writing from the most ignorant skinhead perspective I can think of. Not racist ignorant but violent ignorant.

CJ – That’s funny because the word façade is in there. Skinheads don’t know what that word means.

Mark – Stupid skinheads. You aren’t dumb enough.

CJ – Ol’ college boys.

Mark – Sorry I learned how to read.

AJ – You will be. When that brick comes through your window. If any of that skinhead art is true, you’re in trouble. You’re gonna need a huge banner that says Altercation and some giant Doc Martens with red laces. Maybe a few pieces of lumber with nails sticking out.

Mark – That’s why they just draw swastikas. It sums up so many words that they don’t have to write.

AJ – Let me ask you guys about your artwork. I love it but I’m curious. Why are you still using a typewriter and scissors to lay out your records? Have you heard about these new devices called computers?

Mark – We use typewriter and rub on letter and scissors and tape. So what.

AJ – Do you try to appeal to an audience by using that aesthetic?

Mark – No. I don’t care about what those kids think about the art. If art is going to keep them from listening to our band then fuck ‘em. Good riddance.

Alex – Yeah go listen to something else.

CJ – They dumb.

Johnny – I just did what I thought was cool. Mark makes all the flyers. Every last one of them. I’ve never made a flyer for this band. Mark does what he thinks is cool.

AJ – Now that you’re on Deranged, have they tried to influence your artwork or try to hook you up with graphic designers? Have their been discussion about control?

Mark – Nah.

Johnny – I don’t mind using other people’s art, just as long as we like it. I would never hand something over and say, “Here it is!” before I see it sitting on a shelf. I want to be involved in the process.

Mark – Yeah we got into a big debate with Bleak Environment, the label that was supposed to put out our demo tape because he didn’t like the artwork that Johnny came up with. It was a thing. I remember sitting in Johnny’s basement while we had a big phone conversation about it. The owner, he was like, “I think that as a label I should have some say in the art, don’t you?” and I was like, “No.” We had different perspectives. That’s Toby’s thing – his label. I understand that he does so much of the art for his bands.

Johnny – And it’s cool, it looks good, it just doesn’t look like how I wanted it to look. And, I’m not going to agree to something I don’t like. I told him, I said, “Come up with something, by all means, and if I like it, then great.” It was a different aesthetic and he did try to hook us up with a graphics guy. It looked cool. But it just didn’t look the way I wanted it to look, so. It wasn’t bad.

AJ – Hardcore and art have been at odds for so long, and it’s weird, people get all touchy when you talk about the art of punk. In a way I feel like the two aspects have been at loggerheads for so long that it’s hard to have a rational conversation about it.

Johnny pulls out the Negative Degree EP on Deranged and shows me the back cover.

Johnny – That picture. This guy from Germany took this picture at a punk riot. It happened in the late ‘80s in Europe. I thought it was really cool so I used it. I credited the photographer.

Mark – It’s easy to say, “Fuck art!” because people think of art as one thing. You know, like, an advertisement that they don’t like. It’s stupid, I mean, art is everywhere. You can’t quantify it because it’s everywhere.

AJ – I hate people who hate art. They are usually the worst kind of morons. I’m not ashamed to love art.

Johnny – There are some bands that just want to make music and don’t care about the art. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. If bands want to let say, Mark McCoy from Youth Attack Records come up with cover art, then awesome.

AJ – When you’re out touring, has anybody ever commented on how they like or don’t like your music in person? How have they verbalized this to you?

Mark – People generally tell us that they like it. That’s usually what they say. I guess it’s easy to come up to someone and say, “I liked that!” than it is to come up and complain or be confrontational. But that does sometimes happen. Apparently it happens a lot in Europe. There’s a lot of nitpicking. The only nitpicky thing that I’ve heard on the road was the last time we were in Chicago. Not this most recent time, but the first time. Fall 2012. Somebody was like, “Yeah, you guys probably played a little too long.” I laughed. That’s fine.

AJ – So nobody has ever come up to you and said anything negative about your music?

Alex – No. Not that I’ve heard.

Johnny – A couple of shows they probably should have said something.

Alex – People tell us that we play too long, or that there’s too much banter between songs.

CJ – That never happens.

Mark – It happens. I would rather have an honest critique though.

AJ – Let me ask you about that show you guys played with Ceremony which had an exclusively clause. I remember talking to you guys about it.

CJ – Yeah, we had two other shows that week, one with White Lung.

The exclusively clause (in case you’re wondering) is a Denver special. Some promoters make bands sign an agreement in writing that you can only perform once in a given week, in an attempt to get more people out to their show. It’s a monopoly for the venues but it definitely hurts the bands. In other words, if your local band is opening for a national on Friday, you can’t play any other shows for a week before or after the show. Doing so is a violation of the agreement and your band will get kicked off the larger show.

Johnny – We’re turning into a music town that is all about music biz, but we’re not on the map.

AJ – Yeah the Denver music scene is complicated.

Johnny – Honestly it’s kind of weird. And it doesn’t stop there. It’s the bars, the sound guys, the talent buyers, the promoters. Everybody has their hand out.

Mark – We don’t factor into their equation.

AJ – Are you blacklisted from Soda Jerk?

Johnny – I don’t know. I’ve heard we’re done.

Mark – I’m not sure.

AJ – So let me see your electronic press kit.

Johnny – We don’t have one.

AJ – Good.

Johnny – Yeah, there’s only one or two shows a year we would want to play with the major guys anyway. If you want to see Sickoids, they’re not going to be playing a bar in Denver. They’re going to be playing a show with us, some show that Mark sets up in a basement. And so on and so forth. Those are the bands that we want to play with. It’s a big loss for those people who don’t want to book those bands.

Mark – Then don’t shit in the bathwater.

Johnny – The only bar in town that is willing to book hardcore and punk bands is The Hi-Dive, which is now under new ownership.

CJ – And Lost Lake.

Johnny – Yeah. That’s it. Those are the only two bars that support real touring DIY bands. Punk bands can play there, they do 16+ shows. The other venues and bars aren’t interested in booking any show unless it’s a full on bar show, 21+ only or booked through a national agency.

AJ – Will Negative Degree play a show that is strictly 21 and over for entry?

Mark – No, unless there’s some amazing reason to. It hasn’t happened yet.

AJ – Have you played 18 and over shows in the past?

Mark – We have, but we prefer not to. We have one booked now.

CJ – Oh, by the way that venue said we can do 16 and up. But we have to pay for extra security.

Mark – I’d say 97 percent of the shows we put on have no age restrictions. If you’re a kid in Denver or any other town, there is no reason why you can’t come and see us. Unless you’re parents won’t let you.

Alex – We had a 17-year-old kid try to see us at Old Curtis and they wouldn’t let him in.

Mark – He was like 15.

AJ – I want to hear this story.

Alex – This kid, he showed up wearing a homemade shirt. He made his own Negative Degree T-shirt. So CJ ended up talking to the door guy, he told him, “Hey, let this kid in, please. He’s been on the patio all night. Let him come in for ten minutes to see us play.” CJ even told the guy that he would take responsibility for the kid while we played. And he did.

CJ – They let him in, but you should have seen the size of the X’s the door guy put on that kid’s hands.

AJ – Let’s talk about Youngstown, Ohio. When you guys were on tour I talked to Mark on the phone in Youngstown and he was telling me some crazy stories. What happened out there? Sounds like it was the worst night on tour.

CJ – Dude. Shit.

Alex – Don’t even.

Johnny – That was an ugly moment.

CJ – The first and only time I’ve been to a post-Soviet bloc country.

Mark – It’s a war-torn battlefield. It’s seriously looks like a Warsaw pact city. I’m not sure what region of Poland it’s missing from, but it’s crazy there.

AJ – What happened?

Alex – We were in the van headed from Chicago to Pittsburgh. We were on tour with Sucked Dry.

CJ – Third day of tour.

Alex – All of the sudden somebody got a stomach bug. We had to pull over so Mark could throw up.

CJ – Nah, he just threw up out of the window.

Alex – Yeah, that’s right. I think Davey from Sucked Dry was the next to go down. This stomach flu hit these guys fucking hard. I’ve never seen anything like that. We pulled over at a rest stop on the Ohio turnpike, and that’s when Nick also started with it. All these dudes decided that they couldn’t play the show.

Mark – Yeah we were all dropping like flies one by one. There was no way we could play that night. The sun was still up and we were three dudes down. My friend Max lives near Youngstown and so yeah I called him. We were stopping at every single travel plaza on the Ohio turnpike, just shitting and puking. It was awful. We were spending like a half-an-hour at each rest stop because people couldn’t get off the toilet. I was siting then kneeling then sitting. I couldn’t leave the stall. We were supposed to play this show in Pittsburgh but that was not happening. We were like warmed over death at this point. So we needed a place to stay. I got in touch with Max, he had a friend that owned a warehouse in Youngstown. I think probably 70 percent of that town is warehouses. So we were able to stay at this guy’s warehouse which was really weird because this dude didn’t know us. He didn’t give a shit about our band. For some reason he was willing to let two bands stay, we probably should have been quarantined from staying in anyone’s home.

Alex – Then two other guys in Sucked Dry got it. The rest of us were just waiting for our turn. I was really scared. It was such a weird night. I was lying on this mattress in the middle of this concrete warehouse. We’re laying there listening to all of these guys just shitting and vomiting. Somebody was trying to take a shower. CJ threw up on Nick’s face.

CJ – Yeah I threw up on Nick’s face. Sorry, Nick. Nick was taking a shower while I was getting something out of my system and we had to hear the person who lived there as he fucked his girlfriend. Every single person in the warehouse was making noises. Vomiting, farting, moaning, it was out of control.

Alex – Yeah, while all of this is happening the guy who lives there is having sex with his girlfriend. Loudly. And laughing.

AJ – Laughing at what?

Alex – He was laughing at us. While he was sexing it up. It was funny.

CJ – That dude was just laughing his ass off.

Mark – All I remember from that night was laying on the couch, just like huddled in this sleeping bag. I had the worst chills ever. I found out how low a punk can get.

CJ – We were up all night. None of us slept too well. But as soon as daybreak hit that warehouse we all sat up and looked at each other, like, “We made it, we’re fine.”

Mark – Yeah it was weird. This stomach flu, this like twelve hour thing that just passed right through us. It was like we were on acid.

AJ – Maybe you were.

Johnny – It was a full on code brown.

CJ – Sorry about the vomit on your face.

Mark – That’s probably the lowest moment I’ve had on tour. Huddled on that mattress. You know, just watching rats steal my dinner and shitting myself uncontrollably.

Johnny – Me and Alex ate the same thing as every one else and we didn’t get sick. But among those dudes, they had each eaten a bunch of weird shit that day.

CJ – This was the Dunkin Donuts tour, where we ate almost nothing but Dunkin Donuts for days on end.

AJ – Classy.

Johnny – We like Dunkin Donuts.

Mark – It was the eggs. It all comes back to the eggs.

AJ – Mark you get sick on every tour. What the hell is wrong with you? You need some meat anti-bodies in your diet. I thought veganism was supposed to be good for you – look at yourself man, you’re constantly shitting.

Mark – I don’t know. It was Criminal Jake. He got me. I have to deal with fucking bullshit all the time.

Jen – Code brown. It can be fatal.

CJ – Well we shared that pipe too. So that could have done it. We watched the movie The Warriors and it sucked. It was the worst time I’ve ever had while watching The Warriors. Easily.

Mark – Did we watch The Warriors?

CJ – We did. Because we just didn’t want to think about throwing up. So we just kept taking turns to shit, like a rotation.

Mark – yeah I forgot that TV. Too sick to sleep.

Johnny – Criminal Jake got me too.

Mark – Whatd’ you kiss him?

Johnny – No but I stayed up ‘til like 6 a.m. with him.

CJ – The day before that, he like turned to me in Milwaukee and said, don’t tell anyone in your band but I’m sick.

Mark – He told me when I woke him up that morning in Omaha. He looked at me and he said, “Man, I don’t feel good.” And I said yeah, you’re sleeping on a fucking bike.

Johnny – I would have made it but I wore myself too thin. My options were thin. It was either stay up super late at the casino or stay up super late at the hotel.

Mark – Secrets out, Negative Degree stays in hotel rooms.

AJ – So that’s where all the money goes.

Mark – That’s why I get sick. Because I stay up every night and then the next day I can’t sleep in moving vehicles. So every day on tour I’ve had about five hours of sleep. You do that every day for about a week and it starts to catch up with you.

Johnny – That’ll do it.

Jen – You gotta wash your hands, dummy

Alex – I didn’t get sick on tour last time. But I can sleep in the van. Me and CJ can sleep anywhere.

Johnny – I almost fell asleep in the hard yard.

CJ – Watch out for the hard yard.

AJ – What the hell is the hard yard?

Johnny – I was out of it. It’s a yard filled with nails and broken glass and shit. Old rusty refrigerators and spikes. Watch out. Hard yard.

AJ – So where are you guys going on your next tour, which is in May?

Mark – We’re going the west coast. Through the northwest up to Vancouver.

AJ – Oh, yeah? You guys finally gonna get passports?

Mark – CJ finally has a passport although no living person has seen it.

AJ – Are those Mounties finally going to let you in to the British Colony?

CJ – Yeah.

Johnny – Vancouver is one of the hardest border crossings. We barely made it last time. We may have some difficulties this time.

Mark – You wanna learn my bass parts real quick?

AJ – Do you tell the border agent that you’re in a band? Is that what you did last time?

Jen – No, don’t tell them about the band.

Johnny – What we said was, usually the guy preparing the show has papers. He can help you get over the border. You gotta come straight. The best way to get across is to have the promoter set up paperwork for you.

CJ – I had an outstanding weapons charge and an expired ID, so they didn’t like me very much.

Johnny – Robert was saying if you have any DUI, they won’t let you in.

Mark – Uh-Oh. It’s a good thing that girl from LoDo didn’t press charges.

CJ – Whatever.

Johnny – I’ve been across the border a few times.

CJ – Whatever.

Johnny – I’ve been across the border a few times.

CJ – Speaking of that typewriter.

AJ – Marks’ love affair with the typewriter.

Mark – I think it’s a love-hate affair.

AJ – I would call it a love affair.

Mark – It is, until you’re there, poking on it, going, “Ugh, this sucks.”

CJ – Mark moved into my old house, and so the bill came from my old landlord. I ended up over there one day to grab it and it was really funny because on the back of the bill it said, “I’m a typewriter that doesn’t suck balls,” which Mark must have typed out. I had to take that bill with my roommates to the landlord with that shit on the back. He looked at it and then flipped it over and shook his head.

Mark – Every punk has a bad landlord story.

AJ – Somebody told me that Negative Degree has a mission statement. Is that true?

CJ – What are we, high school councilors?

AJ – Yes.

CJ – We eat a lot of breakfast. But at a lot of times I look up and it’s 4:30 a.m., I don’t know if I should be sleeping or partying.

AJ – You can put whiskey in coffee.

CJ – Why does everyone keep telling me that?

AJ – Because I’m saying you can do both.

CJ – I can drink like a pot of coffee and then go to sleep.

AJ – Would you rather be pregnant in Ohio or a white girl with dreads in Colorado?

CJ – Dreads.

AJ – What does Negative Degree argue about the most on tour?

Mark – Where we park the van.

CJ – Or “How far is it to this place”. Then they argue about their GPS.

AJ – How did you get hooked up with Deranged Records?

Mark – I just sent them a demo tape. Just like a few songs. Got an email like two or three months later from the label, they said they wanted us to keep them informed of what we were doing. So we did. It’s in Johnny’s court now.

AJ – Have they given you carte blanche to record whatever you want?

Johnny – Yeah, they’ve been great to work with. Great people. Very cool.

Mark – We’re talking about doing a twelve inch now, maybe a split with No Class, a band from Kansas City.

Mark – We got stuff in the works, but we need to record.

Johnny – We’ve already got a bunch of new songs.

CJ – It’s called the back burner.

Mark – Let’s move it to the front burner.

CJ – First we write the songs.

AJ – Then you get the khakis. So how did you come up with the name Negative Degree and what does it mean to you?

Mark – We made a list of like thirty different band names and each picked five that we liked. Negative Degree was the only name on all four lists. So that was it.

Johnny – Yeah we had a ton of names, that one came from a story CJ said something about Negative Degree one day.

CJ – I actually walked to a job interview in Denver in negative degree weather. It was like negative twenty and I had no way of getting there. So I walked to this interview and didn’t get the job and then had to walk home. I was just like pissed off at how cold it was, I couldn’t feel my hands or my nose.

Johnny – Yeah, so we weren’t in love with any of the names on the list but when it came down to read them, it was the only one that seemed to fit.

AJ – According to the national press, the hottest trend in Denver is bands playing shows with actors and comedians. Would Negative Degree ever open for a comedian? What if it was a comedian that told SSD jokes?

Mark – No.

Jen – That sounds horrifying.

AJ – Well there goes my plans for the summer.

CJ – We’ve done that. We played a show where the opening act was two guys trying to tell jokes.

Mark – Everyone was telling them to shut the fuck up.

CJ – They talked shit to me. One of them said, “If you have a good joke, why don’t you come over here and tell it.” I just looked at him and walked away. This was right before Dick Widler played.

Mark – Doing comedy through a punk rock PA is just a bad idea. It sounds bad. Everyone sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher.

AJ – I want to know more about your song “Service Industry”. Tell me what inspired you to write this song.

CJ – I wrote it. Because uh, working in LoDo sucks. SO hard. I’m much happier now that I’m not working there.

Mark – Everyone in the band except Johnny has a service industry job. Maybe that song should be our mission statement.

AJ – The notion that you’re underappreciated and underpaid?

Mark – I’ve never had a job that wasn’t like that.

CJ – I was a busser at this shitty nightclub. The kind of people that went there were like the worst kind of suburban dickheads. They would roll in there like they owned the place. I had to get my manager once because some guy claimed that I called him a faggot.

Mark – Between the three of us, we’re got the service industry covered. Alex serves them lunch, CJ makes their dinner and I give them a ride home on my pedicab.

Alex – Yeah, I work at a salad place. It’s called Saladarity.

(everyone laughs)

Alex – They have green cards there.

CJ – For Mexicans?

Alex – No, for salad.

CJ – Saladarity. That’s incredible. What fucking marketing guy did they hire to come up with that? What kind of focus group approved that. (CJ then imitates an old man), “Yeah, I can dig that. Saladarity.”

Alex – I’m just serving lunch. Their brains are basically friend after working in the office all day.

Mark – I like to think of the service industry as a theme for punks, it’s kind of a universal theme. Everyone has had a job that they had to do where they had to put up with bullshit with a smile. And say, “Very good sir.”

AJ – Have you ever been weirded out by strangers who knew your lyrics or tried to sing along?

CJ – Oh yeah. I used to get weirded out by it. The first time it happened this guy came running up to me and starting singing into the mic. I was like, “Who the fuck is this guy?” It’s cool. I really appreciate it. But for a split second, sometimes I am weirded out by it. I’m used to in Denver, all these people know me and they’ve heard these songs hundreds of times. Then I see some kid in Minneapolis that I don’t know, a kid I’ve never met, and he sings along. It’s a good weird.

Negative Degree is currently working on new material and have been playing shows this spring around Denver. I caught them last week live with Violent Reaction, The Flex and Civilized at The Seventh Circle Music Collective, which is right off 7th and Federal in Denver, right next to that old car wash from the 1970’s. Still one of my favorite venues in town and always will be. Thanks to Negative Degree and Jen from The Nervous. In 2013, Negative Degree put out their second EP on Deranged Records, it’s called “Get Fucked”.


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