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James (guitar/vocals), Jay (drums),
Alex (vocals/guitar), Lysie (bass/vocals)
’s favorite purveyors of
rippingly melodic punk rock open up about their new release, discuss how
well they can fight and teach me a new sexual term
by Ben Hunter
across a band on a local level (hell, on ANY level) that has something
real and meaningful to say and sounds amazing in the process is absolutely
one of my favorite things. This possibility is one of the main reasons I
began writing for Askew. And over the last seven-odd years I’ve been
doing this, I’d be hard-pressed to name a band that I’ve reviewed that
I’ve ended up liking more than The Numbskulls. They’ve got this
aggressive, gut-wrenching sound that supports intelligent,
thought-provoking lyrics, and I’ve found that the more I listen to these
mofos, the more they rule. And what’s really interesting to me is that
they balance this musical toughness and ability with a genuineness,
sweetness and sense of humor that’s totally fuckin’ delightful. This
band also has a closeness that seems rare. Alex, Lysie, James (and
Lysie’s sister/James’ girlfriend Jessi) all live in the same house,
and Jay’s back porch is in peeping distance two houses away. (According
to James, in that respect, “We’re kinda like the Monkees.” Indeed).
amazes me that while they’ve been popular in their hometown of Worcester,
MA for years, they’re still incredibly underappreciated here in
(and elsewhere, for that matter). Their long-awaited new release, The
Lost… vol. 2 of 3, comes out this month. It kicks fuckin’ ass and
you should definitely check it- and them- out.
inspired the name? It’s funny to me, especially since you guys seem
noticeably more intelligent than a lot of bands I get to review.
See, you get it. It's a kind of irony. It's like when you think so hard
that it makes you miss something stupid and obvious. That's what a
LYSIE: You got it.
We have our moments of sheer stupidity. It keeps us humble. Me and Alex
are the only original band members so the name is our fault.
There are 5 songs on Volume 2. Is there any
sort of overriding theme that
made you put these songs together, or did you decide to just record the
best songs you had ready when you started these sessions?
NUMBSKULLS (Collectively): Those were the songs that were ready to go at
the time. Although, the album titles are "themed" and each disc
will only have 5 songs on it. "The Last…." was the last batch
of songs we had written with our old drummer before he left the band. Jay
stepped in and perfected them. "The Lost…" is about all the
lost time. We took a little break somewhere in there, our first in almost
6 yrs, to get some new songs together, relax and actually enjoy being in a
band instead of feeling like we were always rushing
towards something. We also lost more than a few friends in that time
period. That's what we get for relaxing...Volume 3 is as yet untitled.
We'll see what kind of inspiration this year brings. Eventually, all three
volumes will be put together on one disc, 15 songs in all.
you ever learned of a misheard song lyric that actually turned out to be
better than the one you wrote? While you ponder this, I’ll share one of
my own. We had a song called “Mercy Fuck” and the first line of the
chorus was the fairly innocuous, “A mercy fuck is all I can give to
you.” Our bass player’s wife thought we were saying, “I’ll mercy
fuck your mom like I did to you,” and I actually liked that a bit
ALEX: I haven't
heard of that happening with any of our lyrics. Although sometimes we sing
perverted parodies of our own songs. Like "Naked. You’re a slut.
Naked. Take it off." instead of "Take It". I probably just
ruined that song for you. [Interviewer’s note: “Take It” is my
favorite Numbskulls song]. Or maybe people would like us better if we kept
the alternate lyrics.
LYSIE: A good
example of a misinterpreted song lyric: One kid heard "Nazi" in
“Misfit’s Blues” and automatically assumed that we were skinhead
racists. He accused us of “ruining punk rock for everyone.” That's
pretty funny. We did that.
JAMES: This happens
to me more with music. Every time I write something really cool it
turns out to be something else. If we were all less self aware we'd
probably have 9 albums out by now.
Do you get excited about seeing reviews? Ever get bummed out if they're
ALEX: I usually
don't expect much from reviews. I've always thought that people who don't
like us, well, it's just not for them. They don't get it. On the other
hand I do smile for a second when we get a good review. All in all,
whether a review is positive or negative I demand that they write about
the sound and presentation. I can stand criticism from arrogant and
LYSIE: Sometimes. It
depends on who's writing them. I've found that some reviewers repeat what
we tell them in our bio as their own opinion and then they flaunt their
music knowledge by listing a whole bunch of bands that we supposedly sound
like. Or else they just come up with the wittiest put down they can muster
so they look all cool to whatever idiot they're trying to impress. I was
told once that reviewers are allowed to not be talented writers because
they don’t get paid enough. I just wrote an entire paragraph for free
and it was better quality than some of the reviews we've gotten. Good or
bad, I like getting reviews that are well written and thoughtful. Makes it
worth the price of postage mailing out CD's.
JAMES: I'm always
curious about what's gonna be written but in the end I'm pretty ambivalent
about most of them because they always seem to miss the mark.
Reviewers like to describe how much bands sound like something else as a
reference point but rarely if ever describe the band or its music on it's
JAY: I don't get
excited, I don't get bummed... It's good to know what people are thinking,
gotten the opportunity to talk to somebody who has written
something about you that weren't on those terms? What did you say?
ALEX: I never have had the opportunity to talk to an incompetent reviewer.
If I did I probably wouldn't bring it up. I imagine that they don't even
realize that they didn't actually review anything. Any attempt I would
to bring that to their attention would come off as me arguing with
point of view” and again they would have missed the point. Seriously, I
have more respect for a well written negative review than a half assed
The rare few that I have met never really say anything about the
review. Mostly they're nice. It's probably because they have no idea who
they're talking to. We send CD's out for review all over the country,
though. Those people are hiding behind their computers, which pretty much
guarantees that they can be as nasty as they want. Until a virtual punch
the face is invented, they're safe.
like from your
I like playing with bands that are cool, to people that are cool and
receptive, wherever the show is. We've played all over the Northeast- from
to Southwestern Pennsylvania to upstate
to Philly. We played a show in
to about 10 kids that were going NUTS, smashing beer bottles, doing flips
and handstands, and getting all bloody from all the broken glass. I would
much rather play to them than to 200 people gently bobbing their heads
with their arms folded as if they are challenging us to please them. I
don't understand them. When I go out to a show I WANT to have fun. Maybe
they're jaded. Maybe they're too cool. Maybe my band
sucks. Maybe we
don't sound like the typical punk. I'm a bit spoiled by how
was when we first started out. There's a real sense of camaraderie and
acceptance here no matter what kind of music your band plays and no matter
where you're from. Either way, when the bands we play with in
or anywhere are good people we have a good time and there's always at
least a handful of people that enjoy what we do. And it always rains when
we play in Boston.
LYSIE: It always
rains when we play in
. We get lost for an hour looking for every club, including the ones that
we've played at more than once. People seem very hesitant about moving.
Maybe because drinks are so expensive?
's not so far away that my perspective is very different I guess. We're
not hobbits or anything, Boston’s just another city.
JAMES: It takes and
hour now, not 5 minutes.
JAY: It's just like
anywhere else, you play, drink, you get fucked up. Only difference is..
it's an hour away.
may have mentioned,
I was so drunk I can't recall if
this is true or not,
that other types of music,
are his first love.
Can you get into this a bit further, and do you think this brings a
dynamic to the band that you might not otherwise have?
constantly pushing and pulling in different directions when we write songs
because of our wide ranges in taste. I'm most influenced by Guns N Roses,
REM, Public Enemy, and Rancid. I'm not one to just name drop “out
there” influences for the sake of being clever. I listen to those bands
LYSIE: This is
funny. I had this exact conversation with someone the same night. The
person asked me what kind of music I like. I think he was expecting me to
say, “Sex Pistols, Green Day, The Clash!” or some other obvious bands.
When I said Otis Redding he said he was impressed. We don’t even listen
to our type of music exclusively, we just happen to write it. I like
wicked uncool bands. I grew up listening to rock, classical music, Motown,
big bands and show tunes. It's still what I listen to most of the time.
Having bad taste in music never stopped me from anything.
Rock is the last thing on my mind. There's so much more music out
there than punk rock. It's too limited, and self-limiting in scope.
By and large most people who listen strictly to punk kinda suck anyway.
Now that's a real punk rock answer isn't it? There are plenty of
amazing bands who have done punk, but many more who never did who are just
as great. Punk rock shtick crumbles in the face of real artistry
from someone like Miles Davis or Ray Charles. Punk seems worthless
to me by comparison. That being said, the music we write just seems
like a natural extension our personalities. I think it's 100%
honest. Go figure.
JAY: I think
everyone in the band brings their own special something, though- that's
what's so great, 4 people...4 different tastes...but it makes such a good
SEE JUST WHAT THE FUCK IS BEHIND SOME OF THESE GREAT SONGS
write songs about each other? I know Alex mentioned one from the first
disc, but I can’t remember what it was. What’s it like for the
subject of the song to actually play it?
I wrote “I hope she finds it” on Manifest
Destiny about Lysie. It's a song about seeing someone you care about
struggling but being powerless to help them or even show them that you
care. It's funny, that was one of the first Numbskulls songs and I'm sure
Lysie knew it was about her, but we never ever discussed it.
LYSIE: No. The
negative songs are about other people/non-band members. “I Hope She
Finds It” was written about me and it was a little weird for me to play
once everyone knew that it was about me. This past summer we were hanging
out with a bunch of the Downright Creepies, some friends and an acoustic
guitar. Everyone busted out singing a really sweet acoustic version of it.
It was very touching to my little Viking heart.
JAMES: I haven’t
written specifically about any of these guys, but ideals and perspectives
seem to come up in my lyrics where we'd all be involved in the situation
directly or indirectly. You can’t help but to be influenced by the
people you spend most of your time with.
JAY: Not too sure, I
should really pay attention to the lyrics!!!
me what's behind “I'm Not Special.” Is this a sentiment that somehow
defines your attitude,
or lack thereof, as a band?
ALEX: “I'm Not
Special” to me is about the moment you realize that “I'm not a loser,
who the fuck are you?” I guess it's kind of empowering in a way. I think
we can all relate to that on some level. It was one of our first songs
that people responded to and still do when we play it today. Sometimes I
wonder if people actually do get it or if it's just fun to say.
LYSIE: The original
title was going to be “I'm Not Fucking Retarded,” it didn’t roll off
the tongue, though. This was the first song I think me and Alex wrote. I'd
say the sentiment is still true. We're still not special, normal social
interaction still gets weird real quick…and I still hate radio.
JAMES: Hey, every
band needs a loser anthem to ride to the top, don't they?
JAY: I came in after
the the first 2 CD's. But the feeling I get from that song is something
about being your own person and fucking everything else, and everyone, who
tries to tell ya otherwise.
Blues” is one intense fuckin’ song. Can you elaborate a bit about that
“Misfit's Blues” is a short biography of my grandparents’ life
together. It is a very emotional song for me even though I was never very
close to them. They were always viciously arguing and fighting but somehow
stayed together through fascinating and oppressive times. My grandmother
died a few years after my grandfather passed away. After she died I
started thinking about how their lives fit into each other. I don't think
I can explain it in any better than the lyrics already say.
JAY: I think it’s
the best song Alex/Lysie/James have written. The lyrics tell a great
story, from start to finish. Absolutely brilliant songwriting.
now remember the song I thought Alex may have written about Lysie. In
"Hey" there's a line that goes "How hard should I try to
keep you interested?" What's that- and this song- about? And I hate
to keep asking what's behind all these songs- it's got to start feeling
tiresome by now- but I just have one more. All throughout last night I
kept waking up with bits of "Now" looping through my brain,
especially that alternate smooth bits ("A pound of punishment for an
ounce of crime/I'll make you never forget me" was noticeably
prominent). What's this one about?
ALEX: “Hey” isn't about Lysie. I wrote this song during a really bad
lonely time in my life. There were plenty of people around me, but none
that I could talk to about anything that mattered. They were all too self
absorbed or would be disappointed in me if they knew how I really felt. I
was reduced to small talk while I was secretly self-destructing. I don't
think I can paint it any better than the lyrics do. Lyrically it is one of
my favorite songs. “Now”
is about losing your temper without any consequences. It's about
letting shit build up until you can't take it anymore and lashing out
without reserve. Kind of like your first reaction when you get pissed at
someone before you start thinking rationally; you want to kill 'em, you
want to make them suffer. You're a psycho.
LYSIE: For the record: Alex always has my immediate and undivided
attention. Unless I'm playing solitaire or something, but that's not
anything to get so mad over that you write a song about.
you find it’s easier for you to write songs about things that actually
happened or do you prefer completely making things up? Maybe some
combination of the two? I think I read that you pretty much only write
what you know, but not sure if that’s still true.
Sincerity and honesty are very important to me in the music I listen to so
I try to make The Numbskulls' songs strong lyrically. If you don't have
something to say get the fuck off the stage. Sometimes I'll write a song
from the point of view of a fictional character, like I did on 1984, but
the feelings are always genuine if not a little sarcastic.
LYSIE: Everything we
write about has happened. I don’t know if it's narcissism or honesty to
only write about the things you know, but it's what we do. Some of the
newer songs are less about actual events and more about our shared
philosophy. We strive to make people happy by writing really angry songs.
JAMES: If your goal
is to be a real live no bullshit rock band you cannot make things up.
Fiction in lyrics is ok if everyone knows you're playing make believe, but
insincerity and pretension creep close behind that if you're not careful.
you telling me there are no completely vacuous songs that, just
because of how the words and music fit together- regardless of what they
are actually saying- make you feel good? I can say firsthand that I've
written complete nonsense songs just because of how much I liked how the
words sounded with the music. And then when I think of a band like
Anti-Flag, who obviously put a great deal of thought into their lyrics, I
often like them DESPITE what they're saying. They just sound so fuckin'
cool regardless of whether I agree or disagree with their views. Any
thoughts on that?
ALEX: I do like some songs that I don't necessarily agree with or relate
the messages in the lyrics. Some of my guilty pleasures are meaningless
songs. Although, a really cool line in a song definitely hits me harder.
The same is true of movie scripts. A particularly ballsy, or well stated
movie quote will get me excited too. As for the lyrics I write, they are
truly never vacuous. It may be partially because I'm overly self-conscious
and I need to make sure I can stand behind what I put out there. I just
don't want to waste the opportunity to say something. I don't think all of
our songs are terribly deep, but there is a lot of thought in them. That
kind of adds to the irony of the name “The Numbskulls,” doesn't it?
JAMES: I like the imagery in other bands’ music. Nirvana and the
were great bands for combining really cool sounds and hooks with, well,
bullshit lyrics. I love it, but personally I've gotta be more honest
what I do. Tom Waits is another one. He'll make you cry, but
some of it
is a bit of a put-on.
LYSIE: We wrote a song called “Fuck Up” a long time ago, it's actually
the end of Manifest. The choruses are: “Fuck fuck fuck fuck up, Fuck
fuck fuck up, Fuck fuck fuck fucking, fucking fucked up.” The verse goes
”Fuck this, fuck that, fuckin’ fuck-fuck, fuck fuck fuck....fuck
don't get much more vacuous than that. Sadly, it never got popular.
the Numbskulls were a sexual position or act, what would it be?
Fist fuck. It's aggressive, but not as disrespectful as rape
LYSIE: The shocker.
For obvious reasons.
tell me what the shocker is.
LYSIE: Please see the picture below.
JAMES: Forrest Gump
in a three way with Jenna Jameson and a suitcase nuke.
JAY: umm... we look
celebrity of the opposite sex would play you in a movie? I was told it
would either be k.d. Lang or Margaret Thatcher, and that hurt my feelings
a little bit.
ALEX: Julia Roberts.
leave that one up to Lysie.
LYSIE: As far as
physical resemblance, Anthony Bourdain. As far as ability and talent, Gary
Sinise. James would be played by Diane Keaton.....or Billie Burke. K.D.
Lang is a very smoove with the ladies, you should take it as a compliment.
JAY: I forget who it
was? Julia Roberts I think?
was the last time you were in the back of a cop car? Why?
have some paddy wagon stories.
LYSIE: Getting a
ride home. Because the police are your friends and they care.
you guys beat up Penis Fly Trap and/or Kermit’s Finger?
Yes...but why would I? They're nice guys.
JAMES: Ask Lysie.
LYSIE: Yup. Plus, if
they hit back I can cry about them hitting a girl and that would beat them
Hell yeah, at the same time even. I just need my "piece" ...‘cause
I do have the biggest one in the band...and that'll be enough to scare