Audacity got a head start on their career — their two singer/guitarists, Matt Schmalfeld and Kyle Gibson, have been playing together in one band or another since they met in elementary school in 2002. Over the past decade or so, the quartet has become a force in modern garage-punk, both on their own and as the backup band for other artists, including King Tuff (their former labelmate on Burger Records, which also released the first Audacity album, 2008′s Power Drowning).
This fall, they’re touring behind their third album, Butter Knife. It’s a surprisingly varied barrage of tuneful punk, full of unexpected textural shifts and slaloming power-pop riffs. Schmalfeld, bassist Cameron Crowe (no, not that Cameron Crowe) and drummer Thomas Alvarez talked with Douglas Wolk about their early experiences as a band and the heartbreak behind Butter Knife‘s oddly filthy cover art.
On their first impressions of one another:
Matt Schmalfeld: Kyle and I met in fifth grade. We started playing music together in sixth grade, but it was very rudimentary — we didn’t know how to play anything. Then we met Cameron and Thomas in junior high and high school, and by, like, 11th grade we had the lineup we’re in today.
Thomas Alvarez: But meeting as infants sounds better. That’d be cool.
Schmalfeld: We met in the baby room.
Alvarez: I remember eating lunch in seventh grade with Matt and Kyle. I think my earliest memories of Cameron are looking over at this Robert Smith-looking punk kid with dyed black hair and a bowler hat and eyeliner, crossing the field at school. That would have been around 2003.
On their formative musical experiences:
Alvarez: I went to see the Pixies with Matt and Kyle when I was a freshman, before I was in the band. That was pretty awesome.
Schmalfeld: Watching Thee Makeout Party when I was in sixth or seventh grade was really cool. They’re the co-founders of Burger Records.
On notable shows they’ve played:
Cameron Crowe: We played in San Francisco with Deerhunter, and it was a 21-and-over show — everyone else in the band was in there, but I couldn’t get in. I made it in at the last second, and we started playing the first song, “Teenage Town.” They came and found me about halfway through the song, and they kicked me out and said that I couldn’t come back in, and that the Chinese mafia was going to come after me.
Alvarez: We played this house party in a basement in Tacoma, Washington. I was starting to get really sick with the flu, and everyone was messed up — the vibe was so bad. Right in the front, there was this guy-versus-girl fight, duking it out. People were throwing bottles at each other. So many fights. It was the greatest show.
On the inspiration for Butter Knife‘s Goatse-esque cover art:
Schmalfeld: It’s kind of complicated. The song “Couldn’t Hold a Candle” is about a girl we went to high school with. She’s having a lot of children already, so the candle’s flame kind of stands for her feminine identity, her sexuality as a woman or a girl, and the giant tidal wave is the rest of her life coming to extinguish all of that.
Alvarez: She was Kyle’s serious girlfriend in junior high.
Schmalfeld: I dated her before Kyle. And then our old drummer, Chuck, dated her. So she’s made her way through the band, and now she has quite a few children. She’s a lovely girl.
On what they listen to on tour:
Schmalfeld and Alvarez, more or less in unison: White Night! Prophets of Templum CDXX. It’s our friends’ band, and they have a record, and it’s amazing.
On their favorite songs to play live:
Crowe: “Mind Your Own Business.” It’s a Delta 5 cover. It’s really fun.
Alvarez: I like playing “Cold Rush”!
Schmalfeld: It’s another song about longing for a girl, but she sees things her own way.
Alvarez: That’s like the ultimate longing song.
Schmalfeld: The first record we did was really angry, and the second one was really whiny. So this one’s like a combo of both.