Interview and photos by: Luke Harlow
Squad Five-O recently finished recording with long-time Tooth and Nail recordees Barry Poynter and Jason Magnusson in Little Rock, Arkansas. The album, which is set to be released early in 2002 will be their second full-length album on Tooth and Nail Records and fourth overall. On the weekend of September 28-30, I had the opportunity to go down to the studio and spend a little time with the guys. In between a few basketball games outside of Barry's studio on Saturday the 29th, I sat down with with Jeff Fortson (vocals) and Adam Garbinski (guitar) and talked about their current album.
Luke: You've lost one member of the band and gained two new members since the release of your last album, "Bombs Over Broadway." How has that contributed to the writing and recording process for this album as opposed to the last one?
Jeff: From the last album, we lost Justin, who is Adam's brother, and we gained Dave, the new drummer, and Kris, who is the new guitar player. Of course, there is still me, John, and Adam left from the last album. I think the biggest difference song-writing wise is that me and John came up with most of the ideas for the last album and then we collaborated with Adam and Justin maybe a week before we went into the studio. This time around we all had ideas and we all worked together. There are some songs on the album that just Dave wrote. There are some songs that John came up with the music for, that Adam came up with the music for, I came up with music, and Kris wrote parts. Everyone's contributed lyrically, except for John and Kris, but even John's written some melodies. It was more like a team effort this time. Instead of one person writing songs and coming in and saying, "Here is how it is, play your part on it," more or less people came in with "here's my idea" and we wrote as a group. There's really only a couple of songs written by one person.
Luke: Adam, from a guitarist's perspective, what is it like having another guitarist in the band? It seems like Kristopher does the majority of the lead work, how has adding him to the band helped out? What is it like for you?
Adam: I think it's great. From an instrumental point of view, there is less thinking about it and more playing. Kris is the type of guitarist who plays it as it comes and plays it as it feels and that style really suits us. When I was playing all the stuff, I had to sit down and think everything out and plan what I was going to play, whereas Kris can just kind of jam it off the top of his head. I think that gives us a more spontaneous feel, a more exciting kind of guitar style. I think it has improved us instrumentally by leaps and bounds in a way that is not where we have to sit down and write out every note, it kind of just feels like we're jamming.
Jeff: It is definitely more of a live feel, a loose feel, a spontaneous feel.
Luke: You are the latest in a long line of Tooth and Nail artists to go to Barry Poynter and Jason Magnusson to record an album. What is different about this process with Barry than doing the last record with Duane Baron?
Adam: I think one thing is that we had a better idea of what we wanted this time, whereas last time a lot of decisions regarding our sound were influenced by Duane. That was not because he was telling us what to do, but we didn't have as much of an idea of what we wanted to sound like.
Jeff: It was very much a transitional album. We kind of just threw it out there, whereas this album, we have a better grip on what we're going for and what we want. It is a good blend of our playing styles and our personalities. There is a little bit of old in there and a little bit of new. Plus, I think the whole process working with Barry just makes you feel comfortable and you understand what your limitations are and what your strong points are. He plays on that really well and you feel really secure about your art and your performance. It is cool because he knows how to get the best performance out of you without having to yank it out of you. He's a really cool guy to work with and it is kind of like being at home (laughter). I mean, we hang out in his house a lot and watch his satellite TV.
Adam: When we came in there weren't a whole lot of questions about what it was going to sound like. We all had the idea and I think Barry realized it too and we're trying to capture that as much as we can.
Jeff: It is laid back, but at the same time, we work really hard every day. Also, this time we're not going at it so much like an assembly line. When we've recorded in the past, and every experience I've had, you usually do all the drums first, all the bass, then the rhythm guitars, and then you go back and do all your overdubs. On this recording, we did all the drums right away since we had a good sound, then we did a few bass lines, a few guitar parts, then we'd go back and do a few more bass lines. We got to concentrate on the songs more as individual songs rather than some unit in a long assembly line of songs. It helps us to really key in on what we wanted to do on songs.
Luke: You mentioned the feel and sound of the album. On the last record, you guys took some heat and for the way it sounded. Some old fans probably felt alienated. From what I've heard of your recordings for this new album, not that there is a return to total punk rock, but there is more of a punk rock sound to these songs. Was any of that intentional, where do you see your sound going, and do you have anything to say about the last record in terms of what it sounded like?
Jeff: In terms of the last record, it didn't really come out sounding the way we wanted it to. They got slowed down a lot and lost a lot of the energy that we have live. When we play those songs live, they basically are punk rock songs. I'm not saying that is a good or a bad thing, but they were intentionally slowed down and I think they lost a lot of that edge and energy. I don't know that there is an intentional return to punk rock. I mean, we're all fans of all types of music, but especially bands in the punk rock genre and in the rock and roll genre. There's all kind of influences that come to us. I think our biggest concern was to have really good songs and to have better melodies than we had on the last album, and I think we do. I think these songs are far above the songs on the last album. I've learned to sing a little better, I think all around it shows we're more comfortable in what we're doing now.
Adam: I think all these songs can stand by themselves, no matter how you play them. You could play them twice as fast as this or you could play them on an acoustic guitar and they would still be good songs. I think that is because we focused a lot more on the melodies, like Jeff said. This is the first time we've sat down and said, "How is this part going to go? How is this part going to be?" We'd actually work it out and take time doing that, arranging songs. I think good songs are going to be good songs, no matter how fast they are played.
Jeff: This is definitely going to be more of a punk rock sounding album, but really, when you boil it down it is just a mixture of all the music we love. From The Clash, to the Stones, to whoever it may be, T.Rex, I mean, there are just a lot of bands that are influences on us that are in this album. It's still rock and roll. Kris evidently is not just a punk rock guitar player and so it really comes out that there is really a rock attitude to it. Lots of attitude and lots of melody.
Luke: Since September 11, a lot has been made about the "Bombs Over Broadway" album cover. The band has issued a statement about the cover and how you feel about it. Even though the album came out more than a year before everything happened, when all of that was going on, when you were watching the news of the attacks for the first time, you had to be thinking about the cover and the song. What were your initial thoughts?
Jeff: I immediately thought we were prophets of doom. (laughter) No. Seriously, I immediately thought of it, the album, the cover, the song, all right away. I just knew right away, for the sake of our country and for the sake of mourning or a sign of mourning that we should probably change the cover. Not that the cover was bad, because we meant it to mean something else, butů
Adam: We used that imagery to mean something, and what we intended for it to mean is still important and still valid. But, when people see that imagery, they will think of the attacks, which is not what we want them to think of. It kind of loses its power and its original message.
Jeff: So, we just thought it would be a good move on our behalf to retire the cover and not to play the song for a while. I don't know if it will be forever or what, but it just seemed like a good idea to us not to play that song for a while.
Luke: "Bombs Over Broadway" was definitely a fan favorite. Do you have a sense of at what point it will be appropriate to bring it back out?
Jeff: Not yet. I just know it is not appropriate right now. I can't say when, if ever, it will be appropriate, but not right now. It is a little too close to home. It is a little too much of a mirror image of what happened. Also, like Adam said, it is not going to bring the message that we wanted to bring. It is going to bring to mind the tragedy that happened on 9-11 and that is not what we want to do. So we're just going to lay off it for a while. It is important to us to not be misunderstood and to do the right thing. It seems like the sensible thing to do for the time being.
Luke: Other than getting the album done, are there any other big future plans? You have a tour coming up, is there anything else?
Jeff: We've got some future prospects, there is going to be a short tour, mostly because of me. I'm married and have a family and I need to be home more. We're just going to go out for about three weeks in early November, take off from Thanksgiving to Christmas, and then go out again in the winter in support of the album coming out in the spring. We've been talking to some people in the "industry" about acquiring management and getting a booking company. We definitely want to play more clubs and bars. We did that Juliana Theory tour and it was a really cool experience. It was awesome to play in that environment every night and it is where we feel most at home and where our music is most relevant. We just want to take it up a level, acquire some management, something like that. We just want to take this band as far as we can, leave it in God's hands and make sure we're good stewards of what He has given us. We're making a really good album right now and hopefully something will come of it.
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