Bone Print Press


Askew Review 15

 Movie Reviews
 CD Reviews
 Book Reviews
 Past Writings
 Staff
 Zine Info/Contact
 Review Policy
 Submissions
 Back Issues
 Search






Go here for past columns 


THE NUMBSKULLS  

web site / myspace

James (guitar/vocals), Jay (drums), Alex (vocals/guitar), Lysie (bass/vocals)

Worcester ’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

Interviewed by Ben Hunter

Coming 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).

It amazes me that while they’ve been popular in their hometown of Worcester, MA for years, they’re still incredibly underappreciated here in Boston (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.

NUMBSKULLS 101

What 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.

ALEX: 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 "Numbskull" is.

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.


Have 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 better.


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 bad?


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 incompetent people.

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 own terms.

JAY: I don't get excited, I don't get bummed... It's good to know what people are thinking, though.

 

Ever 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 make to bring that to their attention would come off as me arguing with “their 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 neutral review.

LYSIE: 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 in the face is invented, they're safe.

 

What’s playing Boston like from your Worcester perspective?

ALEX: 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 here to Chicago to Quebec to Southwestern Pennsylvania to upstate New York to Philly. We played a show in Maine 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 Worcester 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 Boston 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 Boston . 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? Boston '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.

James may have mentioned, I was so drunk I can't recall if this is true or not, that other types of music, Jazz, maybe, 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?


ALEX: We're 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 every day.

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.

JAMES: Punk 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 blend.

 


LET’S SEE JUST WHAT THE FUCK IS BEHIND SOME OF THESE GREAT SONGS

 

Ever 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?

ALEX: 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!!!

Tell 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.

“Misfit’s Blues” is one intense fuckin’ song. Can you elaborate a bit about that one?

ALEX: “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.

 

I 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 and
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.


D
o 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.

ALEX: 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.

 

Are 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 to
the messages in the lyrics. Some of my guilty pleasures are meaningless pop 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 Pixies
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 with
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 at the end of Manifest. The choruses are: “Fuck fuck fuck fuck up, Fuck 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 you”. You don't get much more vacuous than that. Sadly, it never got popular.

BONUS TRACKS

If the Numbskulls were a sexual position or act, what would it be?

ALEX: Fist fuck. It's aggressive, but not as disrespectful as rape

LYSIE: The shocker. For obvious reasons.

 

Please 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 good?

 

What 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.

JAMES:  I'll 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?

When was the last time you were in the back of a cop car? Why?

ALEX: I have some paddy wagon stories.

LYSIE: Getting a ride home. Because the police are your friends and they care.

 

Could you guys beat up Penis Fly Trap and/or Kermit’s Finger?

ALEX: 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 up internally.

JAY: 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 ‘em.












 





 

 
 

Website created and maintained by Denis Sheehan. Copyright©1999-2011. As long as you give credit where credit is due (and a link if on the web), feel free to reprint anything you wish. If you don’t give full credit and I find out, well, I don't know, really.