According to founding guitarist/co-vocalist Derrick Shanholtzer-Dvorak, as of a month into this tour (which rolls into The Sinclair in Cambridge on Sunday) nefarious acts of fate befell three of the Connecticut collective’s number. An unspecified illness forced keyboardist Katie Shanholtzer-Dvorak to prematurely fly home to Pittsburgh. Violinist Nick Kwas journeyed to multiple ERs to treat a truly unfortunate foot infection. And following TWIABP’s Seattle performance, their merch guy hit his head something nasty whilst stumbling down a flight of stairs. Derrick Shanholtzer-Dvorak says they’re pretty sure the merch guy has health insurance, not so much the other two.
So goes just the smarmiest aphorism, “The more complicated any plan gets, the more things can go wrong,” and things invariably get complicated whenever nine people cram into a van to embark on a national rock and roll tour. But let us not dismiss the potential of a complicated plan whose pieces all fall more-or-less into their designated places. Consider TWIABP’s Harmlessness, easily one of 2015’s best listens, and an exemplar of monolithic creative ambition coalesced with a healthy aversion to irony.
Granted, no one lacking either of those attitudes would ever play in an exponentially populated emo band called “The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die” in the first place. But still, it’s really good album! Historians may note that Harmlessness marks the return to the TWIABP fold of co-founder Tyler Bussey. Bussey’s extended leave of absence began in 2011, two years after the group’s genesis in Willimantic, Conn., a town most of them have since gotten the fuck out of.
We caught up with Shanholtzer-Dvorak a bit after TWIABP finished munching at In-N-Out with Epitaph Records reps during an afternoon off in L.A.
Barry Thompson: What do bands with fewer than nine members on average have going for them that you don’t?
Derrick Shanholtzer-Dvorak: Um, they’re probably a lot more comfortable in their vehicles. They probably don’t have to spend as much time wrangling everyone together. We stopped today to go to a music store. I had to pick up a new delay pedal, and I was sort of like, “Where the fuck is everyone? There’re three different guitar shops on this block. I’m just sort of waiting around for a dozen people so we can fuck off.”
Considering there’s you guys, World/Inferno, Bomb The Music Industry!, maybe Broken Social Scene, and the handful of other bands who’ve done the large amorphous lineup thing, do you think that’s becoming more common? Like, in the future, will people be less inclined to look at bands as, “Oh, this band is strictly these four people…”
Yeah, I mean, y’know… it’s weird, because the people who would give a shit that we don’t have the same vocalist or something, we haven’t really faced that, because the vocalists have sort of always been changing. But I think it’s weird when people are like, “That band doesn’t have the same original members, so it sucks now.” People have hangups about how bands operate for no real reason. There’s no rules, so who fucking cares?
Baggage that comes along with the term “emo.” Does it exist?
Oh yeah, definitely. It’s kind of hard for anyone outside of the realm of “punk” to take a band seriously who says “I’m an emo band,” I guess.
I’ve either heard “emo” used, or used it myself, to describe, like, a dozen totally unrelated things.
So does that make it confusing for people when you tell them you’re in an emo band?
Not really. We always get that tag, but whenever people write about us, they’re like, “It’s so much more than that!” or something. The music press are the ones usually telling people to look past us being called an emo band, moreso than us. I’ve never had to explain it myself, I guess. A few times we’ve been compared to Arcade Fire, but I never really thought we sounded like them. But I like that band, so I’m fine with the comparison.
Ever been compared to a band you weren’t a fan of and just went, “Blah, no!”
Um… no, not really. Although a lot of press has compared us to American Football, which we sound nothing like. I just assume those places have never listened to American Football, either. They just assume, “This shit’s all the same. Whatever. Fuck it.” I don’t think we’ve ever… oh, fuck! Some teenager on the internet, when our record came out, was like “This just sounds like 30 Seconds to Mars.” I was like, “Well, you’re an idiot, so fuck you! No it doesn’t!”
Your thoughts on Jared Leto as the new Joker?
Ah, I saw pictures and thought, “That looks like shit.” But I don’t know. Maybe it’ll be fine.
When he and Zack Snyder join forces to ruin the Batman franchise for the next 10 years, after that, who should play the Joker?
Um, Kristen Wiig.
Hm, good answer. Pitch our readers your new record. What’s the deal with Harmlessness?
Well, we made one record. More or less before that one came out, we had already started writing songs. Really, we went through a couple years where we never rehearsed new material and just recorded it as we went, so we went into the studio with like 20 songs or so. Tyler from the first EP came back and helped us write a bunch. We recorded it ourselves with our guitarist at his studio.
It’s better than the last one. We’re a band. We had to record some more songs. We’ve got nothing special. We had to watch Billy Madison every day, and I think you can really feel the anger and tension of that experience in the tracks. That’s a lie. But we really did watch Billy Madison in the studio every day. It was an endurance test.
Thinking about what’s happened to Adam Sandler since Madison and Happy Gilmore, I would understand anger and tension…
We watched it the first day. We watched it the second. Then we were like, “Well, we have to watch it every day now.” At the very least, we would watch it once a day. It would end and then we’d have to hit “play” again. Mostly, I think we’re just idiots and it was funny to us. Katie said it motivated her to work on her parts in the control room faster, so she could get done and get the fuck out of there and not have to watch Billy Madison anymore, so it pushed her to step up to the plate and get shit done.
I’m thinking about writing something about you guys being an optimistic band, which is good ‘cause we can’t turn on our computers without getting horror and misery vomited into our eyeballs nowadays. Do you agree that TWIABP is an optimistic band?
Yeah, we sort of set out to do that in the beginning. The songs were intended to be sort of celebratory, and kind of touch on a collective experience of being alive, y’know? Most of the older songs are a lot of, like, “We” and “Us” language, less of the “I” and “Me”, y’know?
THE WORLD IS A BEAUTIFUL PLACE & I AM NO LONGER AFRAID TO DIE + FOXING + BRIGHTSIDE + PEOPLE LIKE YOU :: Sunday, December 6 at the Sinclair, 52 Church St. in Boston MA :: 6:30 p.m., all ages, sold out :: Bowery Boston event page :: Facebook event page