Friday, November 10, 2017

Interview: Matt Chrystal Chats with Brian McGee (Plow United) About His New Project, Sneakers Award. The Band Play AP Brewery TONIGHT.

Brian McGee by Greg Pallante

Never Say Die

By Matt Chrystal

Brian McGee is making a triumphant return to the Tri-State Area, and he's bringing his new power pop trio, Sneakers Award, along with him.

McGee is, perhaps, best known around the Garden State as the frontman for the seminal punk rock outfit, Plow United, and for his solo stint as a folk-rock troubadour where he immersed himself deep into the catalogue of Americana / roots music. But, with Sneakers Award, McGee creates a whole new identity that brings together the best of both of his previous worlds, combining energy and attitude with harmony and accessibility.

A dedicated family man who specializes in repairing and restoring guitars, McGee currently resides in North Carolina where he formed his current project with New Durham indie-rockers Scotty Sandwhich and Stephen Mooneyhan after several discussions about which way to move forward from the proverbial crossroads where he'd found himself in his musical career.

This weekend, Brian McGee will continue to follow his muse and take his new musical direction back to familiar stomping grounds as Sneakers Award will embark on a mini-tour of shows that puts them in Asbury Park, Philly, and Brooklyn.

I caught up with Mr. McGee to get the scoop on Sneakers Award, upcoming gigs, memories of Asbury Lanes, and keeping himself busy with work, family, and friends…

CoolMattyC: You announced Sneakers Award this summer as your new collaboration with members of the bands Almost People and Dogs Eyes. How did this new band come together?

Brian McGee: The band came together after talking to Scotty Sandwich (guitarist in Almost People) one night about how my rocky relationship with Americana had finally come to an end. I told him that I had been on a power pop kick and that might be the direction I steer towards next. He said he wanted to play bass. I ran into Stephen Mooneyhan (the first drummer for Dogs Eyes) at a coffee shop and told him of my plan and he sounded interested, and that was that.

CMC: So what's the story behind the name "Sneakers Award?"

BM: Sneakers Award comes from a homemade award that my grandfather received during his time at Bell Telephone in Philadelphia. He would organize weekend events for his fellow workers and their families. Everything from golf trips to family fun days at parks / fairgrounds. So someone he worked with screwed a sneaker to a piece of plywood and spray painted it gold. Using an old style label maker, with blue tape they typed out "Sneaker's Award presented to Herb Wood."

This piece of folk art (if you will), came to me when we were cleaning out my grandparents house after he died. I found it in the basement in a little corner workshop, covered in dust and dirt. It would've been tossed in the trash by my mom or one of my aunts had I not been there. It's a cool object with a good story. I'd been searching for a name for a while; and it hit me one day as I was looking at it, that it might be right for this new band.

CMC: With Plow United, you were known for no-nonsense punk rock. You then ventured out on your own and went the way of singer / songwriter to put out the phenomenal folky / roots-rock album Ruin Creek… Sneakers Award has been self-described as your version of power pop… Were these changes just the natural evolution of your progression as a musician?

BM: Yeah. I'd say it was natural and intentional. There are songs on both Ruin Creek and my 2010 album, The Taking or The Leaving, that work for Sneakers Award. There are songs on Plow United's last two records that would also work. I realized that I had been somewhat writing towards power pop here and there for a while. And for me, the power pop thing was averaging out the punk and folk influences in a way.

CMC: A few months ago, I interviewed your contemporary, Jared Hart. He mentioned that he "took from your lead" and that of Brian Fallon. He said playing a different style than he was known for was the "kickstarter to everything feeling new again."

Did your change to power pop come from the need to do something different?

BM: I'd say the need to do something different came through in starting a band that did not have my name on it. It's been awhile since I did that. I also didn't want to start up something that was Plow-ish, and I was over-trying to turn heads in the Americana world. I wanted to have a band again with its own identity. I asked some trusting friends about continuing on as Brian McGee or starting a band.
They all said start a band.
I was also listening to a lot of Nick Lowe, The Nerves, and the Rhino Records DIY comps from the 90s. To me, the power pop stuff from the late-70s / early-80s sounds like a bunch of people who loved the pop and harmony sensibility of The Beatles and also loved the energy of the early punk movement. I felt a similar cross section with punk rock and folk music.

CMC: In addition to the new band, you have had some other major changes in recent years as you relocated from New Jersey to North Carolina and expanded your immediate family… I would assume these changes would have to impact and / or influence you as a musician, and I was wondering how so?

BM: Welp. Two little boys in the house makes for some tired parents. It means my window of time to write and work on stuff is pretty compromised. It puts into perspective how much time I had in the past. One of the bigger changes from it is that I don't obsess on lyrics like I used to. I try and get through the writing a little quicker. Having a family with two small children and a full time job also means that the touring has been cut way back because it means my wife is home with the boys by herself for however long I'm gone. That's a brutal run of childcare.

CMC: You have made return trips to the good ol' Garden State as "the other Brian" opening for Brian Fallon, but this marks your triumphant return to your old stomping grounds of Asbury Park and Philadelphia with a whole new band. What does it mean for you to come back to this area, and what are you looking forward to the most while here?

BM: It's always special to come back to your home town(s) and play and see old friends and family. I'm really looking forward to seeing every band on every show, and I'm psyched with how the line-ups came together. In Asbury Park, I'm always excited to step foot back into Russo Music and to go to the beach and get a little sand in my shoes. I'm really excited about the whole weekend... playing 3 shows and seeing old friends who I miss dearly after moving away.

CMC: Speaking of Asbury Park… the track "Never Say Die" from the Sneakers Award demo was penned as a tribute to the Asbury Lanes and opens with the powerful line "sometimes your friends turn into family." Being that we just came upon the two year anniversary of the venue's "closing for renovations," I was hoping you could share a favorite memory of playing there and / or hanging out at the Lanes. 

BM: I was lucky enough to play there a bunch and hang out there more times than I can remember. The first show I ever played there was with PJ Bond in 2011. I was struck by how fun the place was and how nice Jenn (Hampton) and the rest of Lanes crew were to us.

One of the funnest times I had there playing music was sitting in with The Scandals for a Gaslight Anthem after party. The Scandals were tearing the house down, and Jared had me up for two songs at the end. It was so fun!

To get back to the line in the song, that place and the community that surrounded it did feel like some version of family. And, for a lot of people, close friends in a community like that feel better than blood family. And it makes sense that it would. Not everyone spends as much time with family as they do with their friends. And your friends are the ones who get you the most and might be more likely to help you keep your shit together than your family... wherever they are.
I was really bummed not to be there for the end. But maybe it's best that I left with my memories before I could get sad about the place. Asbury Lanes was a true goldmine of culture in Asbury Park, and those developers would be foolish to fuck it up.

CMC: From the sound of things, it seems you are quite busy these days with family, work, and performing; but I did see a post somewhere that you had a "pile of songs" written. Can we expect a full album from Sneakers Award anytime soon? If so can you share some details? Or do you have any other projects in the works that you can share details about?

BM: I do have a bunch of songs waiting to be fleshed out with this band. Maybe we can start on something this winter…?  It's tough because we all work a lot, and I've got a family. But I love recording and making albums, and I'll keep doing it as long as it makes sense for me to do. There is a small possibility that there could be another Brian McGee release, but who knows? The big project I have 5 days a week is my guitar repair business. That keeps me on my toes. And, every now and then, I manage to get a little bit of writing in at work.

CMC: In addition to the craziness of the hustle of everyday living, it would seem that, every time we turn on the news or social media today, maybe the whole world has gone crazy…. With that said, I was wondering what are your thoughts on the political climate in today's America and what are your hopes for the future?

BM: Shit feels so bonkers sometimes, it makes me wonder if it was ever not crazy. There's always something fucked up going on because humans can be huge assholes to each other.

As far as the political climate goes, I have a hard time keeping up with who is full of shit and who is not. I hate this administration. It's a totally embarrassing shit show, and I can only hope that someone on the inside will keep us from launching nukes and receiving them in return. I'm worried about:

-how these tax cuts are gonna fuck over my family
-having my health insurance ruined
-gun culture in America (fuck off, NRA!)
-how schools are gonna fair under this President.

I can only hope that people will live closer to the Golden Rule than they are already. And that people will try and understand the other side. The side they don't understand. Feels like the best thing we can do in this ongoing experiment that is America is be as decent and civil to each other as possible... and keep voting!

Sneakers Award will be performing the following shows THIS WEEKEND…

Nov 10th at Asbury Park Brewery in Asbury Park (with Not Yer Baby, Mikey Erg and Early Riser)

Nov 11th at Creep Record Store in Philadelphia, PA (with Crossed Eyes, Jared Hart and Early Riser)

Nov 12th at the Brooklyn Bazaar in Brooklyn. NY (with Binary Heart, Jared Hart and Early Riser)

The Sneakers Award Demo is available now at

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