Sunday, October 2, 2011


I have a buddy who can be very critical about everything music related,” says Travis Omilian. “He tweeted the other day, saying that I might have written the punkest lyrics of the year when I wrote, 'I've pissed in your garden / Now nothing's gonna grow.' I was like, 'Alright, cool!’”

And then he laughs, not only at the fact that his friend made such an amusing assessment, but also at the lyrics themselves. See, Omilian, the guitarist and vocalist for Banquets, has never considered himself the sort of songwriter who would sing so bluntly about what's on his mind. “I've always had this thing since I've started writing lyrics where I'd dance around a subject,” he admits. Things are different on Top Button, Bottom Shelf, the New Jersey-based band's first full-length, though; on these songs, he decided to be more direct, to sing about what was bothering him, and to not blanket it with ambiguity.

The result is a fiery and fierce punk-rock record, one that sort of surprised Omilian, especially when he realized where this new lyrical philosophy took him. “I joked with Will [Putney], the dude who produced it with us, after listening to some of the lyrics,” he says. “I was like, 'Wow, I've never said “piss” and “shit” so much.' I'm kind of happy with that.”

Despite this newfound directness, Omilian's lyrics are poetic and match the mood of the music. “Forever Bender”, for example (the one with the aforementioned garden pissing), thunders and roars with ragged guitar chords—the sort that, though dipped in distortion, feel full and warm like the air seconds before a storm breaks. The song's torrential tempo during its chorus batters down on Omilian's voice as it pierces through the downpour; his words feel as agitated as the song. “You'll run away endlessly / Eat your words, ignore all the shame / We could be 'never were,' 'never speak,'” he sings before a wall of “woahs” provides a shelter of sorts from this storm.

Other songs, like “Sometimes A Wolf”, may not include unruly images, but express a message that is personal and important to Omilian. As Chris Larsen's bass thumps in the background behind Pete Murphy's throbbing toms, Omilian sings, “We tried to keep it light / We tried to cut it off / There's no amount of hell avoiding / something that we both want,” as his guitar jangles in the background. Suddenly, Dave Frenson's guitar slides into the song while Omilian continues, “So we ran with it, never went for air / We were innocent, but we knew that there was something there.” The song continues to swell—chords become thicker and climb across each other as Murphy hops onto his ride cymbal—before erupting into its final, climatic chorus.

Sometimes A Wolf” was a statement that Omilian needed to make. “It was a big deal when my girlfriend and I got together,” he explains. “Other people had a problem with [our relationship], so I was like, 'this is what it is.' I just put it on the table.” He snickers at this statement before concluding, “When you're thirty, nothing matters as long as you're happy.”

Top Button, Bottom Shelf, which was released by Black Numbers at the end of the summer in 2011, serves as an musical step forward for Omilian, and in more ways than his direct lyrical delivery.

After leaving the band Let Me Run in 2009, he wondered whether or not playing punk-rock would continue to be part of his life. “I came home and I was pretty much like, 'I'm done with music for a while. I don't need to do it anymore,'” Omilian explains. “I decided, though, that, if something came up, I'd jam here and there.” Something did come up, though, when Frenson asked Omilian to join him in Jersey City with Larsen and Murphy. “I went up there and had a blast, so we decided to do it a little more permanent—not full time, just get together and play every week.”

From this foundation, Banquets built themselves into a recognized and respected punk-rock band with relative speed and ease, considering that they aren't able to tour full-time. Part of this has to do with the resources available to them. “Dave does a label called Black Numbers with a kid that I went to high school with named Phil [Battiato],” Omilian says, “so we went and recorded the first six songs that we wrote and put four on a seven-inch.”

The resulting record, titled This is Our Concern, Dude, is as catchy as it is coarse and attracted the attention of Punknews.Org, which put the EP on its “Top Ten of 2010” list. It also caught the ear of a fledgling label from Germany called Coffeebreath and Heartache. “Toby [from Coffeebreath and Heartache] is a kid I met through my time in Let Me Run and asked if he could put out the six songs we that we had recorded on a twelve-inch record with one side hand-screened.” Less than a year after their formation, the band was asked to play The Fest, the annual punk-rock pilgrimage in Gainesville, Florida—a sign that, at least in the realm of punk-rock, they had acquired some credibility.

In many ways, then, Top Button, Bottom Shelf is a representation of how much Banquets has come into its own—both as a band in a complex and convoluted music industry, and as a set of songwriters. And Omilian's more direct lyrics is only one way in which he's matured; in these lyrics, he tells the story of his own emergence as an individual, about finally finding and being comfortable with who he is. The record's first and second songs—”377” and “Just Me and My Canseco Rookie Card”—may demonstrate this theme most deliberately. “Those are about me moving to Jersey City and Dave and I living there the first year,” Omilian explains. “It's about how I took that step in my life to get to who I am now.”

And that's the best part: Though it looks like Omilian is satisfied with his life and his lyrics, he's still pushing his songwriting in more direct, more pensive, and more personal directions; in other words, he's pushing himself to be a better songwriter. And, though it seems like Banquets have found themselves and their sound as musicians, they haven't stopped searching. And, though it appears that they have grown significantly is less than two years, they're still growing.

And, though it seems like Top Button, Bottom Shelf is evidence enough that the band has built something interesting and significant, this push, this search, this growth—this is the evidence that Banquets has created (and will continue to create) interesting, significant art.

Omilian recorded these songs from his parents' house in New Jersey on a September evening a couple of days before the band opened for Samiam and Walter Schreifels at Asbury Lanes. Frenson was hoping to join Omilian during the session, but complications involving jobs and rides got in the way.

"Just Me and My Canseco Rookie Card" and "Sound of Money" both appear on Band's 2011 record titled Top Button, Bottom Shelf.

Visit the band's website for more music, or visit the band's Punknews.Org profile to steam Top Button, Bottom Shelf in its entirety.

Sorry, but these songs were taken down due to space constraints. Please download The Switchboard Sessions, Volume Two for a track from this and other sessions recorded in 2011. 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.

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