Interview: Teenage Bottlerocket on Wyoming punks, joining Fat Wreck Chords, and why there will never be another Green Day

Usually when you see which punk bands are out and about nowadays, chances are they’re coming out of major cities like Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago and even in Vanyaland’s home base of Boston. Now what if an electrifying group of punks rip roared out of a place that maybe you’ve never been to and probably would never see yourself being in? A city nestled in a state that has more farmland than it does people. Truth has it, one of those places is home to a band that’s going to be lighting New England on fire over the next couple of nights.

Teenage Bottlerocket call the quaint city of Laramie, Wyoming, home and they’ll be rocking our neck of the woods as part of their tour with New Orleans badasses Pears starting tonight at The Middle East in Cambridge with Tied To A Bear and The Black Cheers. Tomorrow night, they head down to Firehouse 13 in Providence where they’ll be sharing the stage with Neutrinos and The McGunks. Ahead of the upcoming festivities, we had a chat with founding member, bassist, and vocalist Ray Carlisle about being punk in Laramie, getting their big break, starting out in one of punk rock’s weirdest eras, releasing this past March’s Tales From Wyoming and the state of punk rock in 2015.

Rob Duguay: So what was it like growing up in one of the least densely populated areas of the country in Wyoming and starting up punk bands?

Ray Carlisle: Well, not to contradict what you might think but Laramie is a college town. It’s where the University of Wyoming is and through the years we’ve had several bands tour through dating as far back as 1991 when Fugazi played there and they came back in 2001. The Lawrence Arms have played there along with Against Me!, several punk bands have always been touring through Laramie because it’s a college town like I’ve said and it’s close to Denver. It’s proximity is pretty much right in between Denver and Salt Lake City.

There was a record label that was based in Laramie called One Legged Pup and we’ve never really felt that we’ve been far from the scene. Our friends that ran One Legged Pup had a band called File 13 that opened up for Green Day in Fort Collins on the Kerplunk Tour and our friends in a band called Some Kind Of Cream opened up for The Queers and Screeching Weasel in Fort Collins at the same club in 1993. Obviously Green Day, The Queers and Screeching Weasel are bands that got us into punk rock music and we loved the way those bands sounded so since we knew these people who partied with these guys and played shows we always felt that everything was attainable. We thought that it wasn’t that far out of reach so being from Laramie sort of was an advantage and that’s the way we look at it.

As far as this thriving punk scene with a bunch of people with mohawks and stuff like that, you’re not going to see it but Laramie has always had a real eclectic mix of music. It’s got a really killer scene and to this day great shows still go through there.

That’s awesome how there’s so much going on in such a small place and it’s crazy how you wouldn’t expect Laramie to have an extensive history when it comes to punk rock. One big break for you guys was getting noticed by a legendary punk act in The Groovie Ghoulies during the mid-2000s and doing a few tours with them. Kepi Ghoulie can be an interesting guy to hang out with to say the least, so what was it like going on tour with them?

At the time it was everything we wanted because The Groovie Ghoulies were on Lookout Records back in the day and the bands I mentioned earlier, they were all on Lookout and we always looked up to The Groovie Ghoulies. When they asked us to hit the road with them, we were honored. We then quickly realized that they had a weird chemistry within their band, as far as Kepi eating a candy bar for dinner and Roach and Kepi are married and we never really saw them kiss or anything like that. It was cool, and we’re forever grateful to Kepi for giving us that opportunity, it was neat to rock with that band.

Teenage Bottlerocket started out during a weird time for punk rock in 2001. Bands like Green Day, Blink-182 and Hot Water Music were changing their sound to more of the mainstream emo pop stuff that was happening and you had a bunch of other bands identifying themselves as punk rock but they were putting on cheesy make up and they were lip singing their own songs. What was your impression of it all since the band was pretty much in the thick of it right from the start?

My brother Brandon and I were in a band called Homeless Wonders and we started out sort of sounding like Screeching Weasel, then we got into ska music so we were writing songs that sounded like Less Than Jake and Slapstick and when the band broke up we were doing something in the veil of Fugazi and At The Drive-In. We sort of saw the scene follow that and we got mixed up as far as writing music was concerned because we were mixed up thinking that showing off how good you were at your instrument and using words in your lyrics that people didn’t understand. A lot of things started to be prevalent in the scene and we thought it was OK to that too.

When we started Teenage Bottlerocket, we were just like “Screw that, we’re gonna wear leather jackets, we’re putting our Chuck Taylors back on and we’re writing songs that are meaningful to us and it’s gonna sound like this.” We stuck to a three chord format and since it was a new band at the time we knew we had the opportunity to sound like whatever the hell we wanted to sound like. Especially in Colorado and Wyoming, we came out in a time where people we like “Oh my god, you guys sound like that, what’s this?”. The older people like Chad Price in All and our friends in The Nobodys down in Colorado Springs, they all paid attention right away. They were all like “Holy crap, we really love this new 7″, this new band you have is sensational.” A lot of those older guys encouraged us to keep on going and it meant the world to us that people like Chad Price liked our band. Like you said, I think Teenage Bottlerocket came across at a time where whole Ramones three chord thing was done. That kind of helps inspire the songs as well.

I remember when I first started listening to Teenage Bottlerocket and I could really tell the mid-’90s punk influence in the band’s sound. I found it weird that you guys started out in 2001 where the band would have been the perfect fit for anytime in between 1995 and 1997 but you ended up coming out during a weird period for the genre. This past March Teenage Bottlerocket released their sixth studio album Tales From Wyoming, it’s the band’s first release off of Rise Records. What made you guys want to switch labels after putting out your three previous albums off of NOFX frontman Fat Mike’s label Fat Wreck Chords?

We wanted to try something new and Mike and everyone at Fat Wreck Chords were supportive of our change of labels. Mike called me and explained that we’d always be a Fat band and we’re always welcome to come back, which is cool to hear him say. They all knew that we wanted to try something different and they were supportive of that. I guess the reason behind it is we had seen several bands on Fat Wreck Chords like Lagwagon, Strung Out, Good Riddance stay on the label and stay very loyal to the label. That’s respectable and I think that’s really cool but we didn’t want to do that. We didn’t want to be the band that stayed on the same label for the rest of our career, we wanted to try something different and that’s the choice we made. It’s worked out great, Rise has provided us with some different opportunities that Fat Wreck Chords didn’t and the same thing goes for them, Fat Wreck Chords does some things that Rise doesn’t do. We had Rise come after us, they were interested in doing the next record, they said the right things, we signed away and that’s how it went.

I find it to be great whenever a band wants to try something new, whether it’s musically or with business and working with a new label. Do you think punk rock will ever get back into the mainstream like in the late-’70s and the mid-’90s or do you think it’s better off staying out of the microscope like it is today?

Well, there’s no telling. In my opinion, I don’t think there’s ever going to another band like Green Day that comes out and explodes in some underground music scene. Obviously the internet is playing its role and I don’t think anything like that is going to be recreated. As far of what I can tell, I hear less and less electric guitars on the radio in general. So for the future, who knows? I know we’re really grateful for the amount of people who come to our shows, we realize a lot of people would like to be where we’re at and we’re really thankful for what we have.

TEENAGE BOTTLEROCKET :: Monday, September 21 at the Middle East, 472 Massachusetts Ave. in Cambridge, MA :: 8 p.m., 18-plus, $15 day of show :: Facebook event page :: Tuesday, September 22 at Firehouse 13, 41 Central St. in Providence, RI :: 7 p.m., all ages, $13 in advance, $15 day of show :: Facebook event page