Sunday, January 31, 2010

Broadway Calls

The term “pop-punk” makes Ty Vaughn uncomfortable. “There are bands like Cobra Starship that are considered pop-punk by some people,” he explains, “which totally blows my mind. I don’t get that at all. It’s weird. When I tell people we’re a pop-punk band, I’m afraid that people are going to write us off as another Fall Out Boy wannabe.”

Vaughn’s band Broadway Calls has been earning more and more attention since the release of Good Views, Bad News in the autumn of 2009. With attention comes the many desperate attempts at definition—by fans, by record reviewers, by the many music lovers and musicians that claim authority during such discussions—and the general consensus is that Broadway Calls plays pop-punk, which isn’t inaccurate; in fact, there are few bands that could fit this description better.

It’s the weight of this classification worries Vaughn. “I wouldn’t consider a band like Fall Out Boy pop-punk like a lot of people would,” he says. “It’s fast and catchy, but there’s a difference. I still like that kind of stuff; I like Lifetime and Saves the Day, but I don’t really know what to call it because it comes from a whole different world—the hardcore and emo world instead of the old, punk-rock world.”

To Vaughn, pop-punk is rooted more in the three-chord bop of the Ramones, whose spirit and simplicity is resurrected in the songs on Good News, Bad Views. But, there’s something bigger or more ambitious about Broadway Calls, a quality they may have acquired from Green Day, a seemingly substantial influence. “Pop-punk is an appropriate title for us,” he concedes, “but some people don’t think we’re punk at all, and others don’t think we’re shiny and polished enough to be a pop band.”

Still, Good Views, Bad News shows a side of Broadway Calls that’s shinier and more polished than ever before, an effect realized (at least in part) by producer Bill Stevenson. At the turn of 2009, SideOneDummy Records asked to release the band’s second full-length and offered Broadway Calls the opportunity to record with the Stevenson at his Blasting Room studio in Fort Collins, Colorado. Stevenson—who played drums for punk-rock pioneers the Descendents and Black Flag—has, in the past fifteen years, pruned his studio’s reputation into something impressive and important, recording clean-but-brutal records for Rise Against, A Wilhelm Scream, Comeback Kid, and Propagandhi, among others.

But the idea of recording with Stevenson concerned Vaughn. “I was excited because Bill Stevenson is a legend in punk music,” he says, “but, at the same time, the idea of handing something that I worked really hard on to somebody who might get rid of entire parts of songs or change things up really scared me.” Despite these concerns, Vaughn agreed to record the record in Colorado with Stevenson. “It didn’t take very much convincing,” he laughs, “but took me a little bit to get used to a producer and give him the trust to rearrange my songs.”

The speed at which all of these exciting opportunities were coming at Broadway Calls also concerned Vaughn. After all, the band had released their self-titled debut only a year or so prior, and Vaughn wasn’t sure that he would have enough songs to fill up a full-length. “In my mind,” he tells, “we didn’t have a whole lot of time to write this record and the time we did have to write the record was wintertime, which is always grey and always miserable in Oregon.

“We don’t get a lot of snow in the Northwest—maybe once in a whole year,” he continues. “Last year, though, we got pounded by a storm and I literally couldn’t leave my house. I tried to get my car out, but it wouldn’t go; then I tried to use the band’s van because it has better tires, and it wouldn’t go. I was stuck in the house, and then the power went out, so I would try to write songs by flashlight or candlelight. It was really difficult.

“Then, in January, we went on tour with the Alkaline Trio and we got to see Europe for the first time. While we were over there, I talked to Bill Stevenson on the phone for the first time; we were talking about postponing the recording because we weren’t sure if we had the songs. He told me that I needed to get inspired and write just a couple more songs that we’re really, really happy with.

“We had two weeks between that tour and entering the studio. Somehow, we wrote ‘Basement Royalty’, ‘Tonight Is Alive’, and finished the lyrics to a couple of other songs we had been working on. Those songs are a couple of my favorite songs from the record and we play them at almost every show.”

Beginning with the ringing, rich cracks of drummer Josh Baird’s snare drum, “Tonight Is Alive” is a standout track on Good News, Bad Views. During the choruses—above those three thick, simple chords—bassist Matt Koenig’s coarse vocals soar; “From the city light to the backyard skies / to dark sweaty rooms that shape our lives”, he sings before Vaughn’s crisp, clean voice joins him, singing, “I don’t know much, but I know tonight’s alive.”

Like many of the lyrics on Good News, Bad Views, “Tonight Is Alive” seems concerned with the basements, the lodges and halls, the sweaty scenes where music is its most real, its most pure—where the passion seems as palpable as the smell of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

“There’s this town called Redding, California that is one of our favorite towns to play,” Vaughn explains. “A lot of bands skip over it when they’re going between Portland and San Francisco. It’s a northern California town that has a really, really passionate local music scene. They just rent out community centers and stuff like that. We shot our music video for ‘Call It Off’ in that town because we love it so much. I was picturing the people from that town when I wrote ‘Tonight Is Alive.’"

And maybe this is the difference between a pop-punk band like Fall Out Boy, or even Cobra Starship, and a band like Broadway Calls; it’s in the support of these small “stages”, these unknown (but by no means exclusive) scenes, and those ideas that “punk” isn’t a shirt one wears, or a haircut, or a hole in one’s jeans; instead, it’s in something one experiences, something one feels in a crowd of kids, in a smelly van as one watches the sunrise, on a hardwood floor in a skimpy sleeping bag.

In a cold, dark house writing songs in the light of a flickering candle.

Perhaps it’s still acceptable to pin that “pop-punk” ribbon on Broadway Calls solely because of their sound but, at the end of the day, they are one band that will seem more concerned with punk than pop.

Vaughn recorded these songs on a Saturday afternoon in the band's van, since his cell phone didn't get good reception anywhere else. Broadway Calls returned from a short tour with Anti-Flag only a week prior.

"Tonight is Alive" appears on Broadway Calls' 2009 record titled
Good Views, Bad News. "Boxcar" is a Jawbreaker cover; the song originally appeared on the 1994 album 24 Hour Revenge Therapy.

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Sorry, but these songs were taken down due to space constraints. Please download The Switchboard Sessions, Volume One for a track from this and other sessions recorded in 2010. If you're desperate for a copy of these tracks, please see the "About the Switchboard Sessions" page for info on how to contact the author.