Melodic Minnesota punks Off With Their Heads are a busy bunch. The band is currently making the rounds in Canada and down the U.S. west coast after some border crossing issues.
"I used to love the marathon touring," says singer and guitarist Ryan Young, "but I'm a little more into balancing it out so I don't feel like I have to kill everyone for no reason."
We recently caught up with Young to discuss Off With Their Head's rotating roster of band members, the challenges of working with Bill Stevenson, and how the punk community came together to help raise money for Young's throat surgery.Up on the Sun: I hear you guys had some trouble getting into Canada. What happened?
Ryan Young: We tried crossing the border into Manitoba through a town called Emerson. This is the border where Canada trains customs officers. Even though our paperwork was correct and complete, they try their hardest to find anything they can wrong with it. The fact that it was a weekend and one of the promoters wasn't available to back up her documents made it hard for us to plead a case. I don't really know Canada's laws. I expect the promoters to have that nailed down. The first thing the officer said to me was "Unless you can provide me with a reason, you aren't getting in." Not a good start.
How's the tour going, otherwise?
Outside of all the Canadian border drama, it's going fine. This one is a little long for me. We left on September 10th and don't get home until December, 2nd. I used to love the marathon touring, but I'm a little more into balancing it out so I don't feel like I have to kill everyone for no reason.
How do you keep up with such a relentless tour schedule?
Motivated by a general hatred of everything else. I also don't know what else to do.
What was it like starting a punk band in Minneapolis?
It was essentially the same story as everyone else. Started a band, moved into a house, practiced in the basement, and eventually turned the basement into a full blown venue for touring bands. That's how I met all of my friends in Minneapolis and around the country. It was awesome. I'm actually working on a book about the formation of the band and that house. There are too many hilarious stories surrounding that time of our lives to not document it. Have bands like Dillinger Four/Replacements/Husker Du/etc. help paved the way for you?
I never really got into Husker Du or Replacements. It really never struck too much of a chord with me. Dillinger Four was one of the first local bands I had seen. I went to every show and sang every word for years. I later wound up making fliers for The Triple Rock and becoming their roadie. Now they are some of my best pals. So yes, I would have to say that they paved a huge road for me.
Quite a few musicians have been in the band at one point or another. Why so many changes, and how are things working out now?
When I started this, I started it as my band. It was my thing, the only thing that nobody can ruin or take away from me. That was the whole point of Off With Their Heads, that's why so many people come and go. They do it for a little while, have some fun, and then move on with their lives, that's all. It's usually not as big of a deal as people make it out to be. There aren't too many people in the world willing to throw their entire lives down the drain to play music for a living, I happen to be one of them though. There is definitely an element of "my way or the highway," but I try not to be that way about everything. I think everyone in the band now understands that and understands what it all means to me. There is a respect that I appreciate from them, and I love them for it.
Did you guys really play From The Bottom in full at a show last month? Why did you say you're never going to do it again?
We did. We have never done it before, it was fun. It was the right time and place to do it. We didn't get paid for it, and we didn't sell anything at the show. It was just for fun and to remember what it was like when we did that record. There are a lot of songs on there that I just don't like playing due to the content of them. I also don't want to do it without certain members that played on that record, that's why it probably won't happen again. Who knows though, maybe we will find ourselves in the same spot and pull it out again. Why do you guys mix dark, emotional lyrics with upbeat music?
It started as a joke. Then I realized that that pretty much sums up who I am, and would be the truest form of music for me to play. If you ask some of my closest friends, they will say I'm a pretty upbeat and happy guy. Then go talk to my girlfriend who actually has to live with me. Let's just say one thing is a good way to mask the other. I hear you guys are working on a full length. What can we expect from it, and when is it due out?
Its finished, it has been finished since July. It's called Home. It's about what life is like for a person who spends all their time on the move, and then the things that go through your mind when you stop for a second. It has some weird stuff on it, but I'm really proud of the whole thing. It comes out in March.
What was it like working with Bill Stevenson?
At the end of the session, I was glad with what came from it. I didn't really like making the record, though. There were times when he and I hated each other. He is known to be a pretty difficult guy. I think that his method of minimizing me and my bandmates was a little unnecessary. There are plenty of ways to give criticism that are productive, but we didn't get that from him. At the end of the day, I like Bill and it was a cool experience. I don't think I would do it the same way again, though.You guys enjoy making silly music videos. What were some of your favorite experiences?
I really liked the "Fuck This, I'm Out" video. That was one of the first things we did. I always hated music videos. They just seem so corny to me. Where music and acting come to a head. Might as well take my favorite kind of acting and make it our own. I like comedy. Did your throat surgery affect your singing at all? I saw that you reached out to fans online to get some help with medical bills, what was the response like?
The doctor said that it might, but if it's changed anything at all, it has made it better. We make about $4,000 a year playing in this band. I knew that surgery would set me back to the point where I would probably just stop doing the band and start to fly right. I asked for a little help (which was a bummer because I hate doing that), thinking that it might take the edge off of the bills. Within less than two days, I had to stop the donations and even refund a few of them. It was really cool to know these people cared. Pretty humbling. I've got a good group of people that support me, and that's pretty awesome to know.
Is The '69 Sound ever going to happen? Are you fans of Gaslight Anthem, or is the name more of a spoof?
That was just a joke to play off that record those guys did. It wasn't supposed to be inflammatory to them or anything, but I guess it was. I'm pals with their drummer Benny [Horowitz]. He is a great guy. I know he thought it was funny.
What can we expect from your live show?
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Depends on the mood. Sometimes it's riddled with bad jokes and requests. Sometimes we play for 45 minutes without a breath in between. I think either way is cool. I'm glad we get to go back out to Arizona. We were supposed to on our tour with Dead to Me and Riverboat Gamblers, but we just bailed because we hated each other.
Off With Their Heads are scheduled to perform Friday, November 30 at Pub Rock.