Friday, April 20, 2018

Interview: Matt Chrystal Talks with Yawn Mower. They Play The Saint TONIGHT, 4/20.

DIYNJ : 420 Special Edition

by Matt Chrystal

It's that time of the year again. The 20th of April is upon us. C'mon, you know… 4/20, bro! There are many ways to celebrate this highest of holy days: You can wake and bake… yourself a tasty breakfast. You can go for a cruise to catch a matinee of Super Troopers 2, or maybe make a quick stop for your favorite munchies. Then grab your buds and head over to The Saint in Asbury Park to catch a nice buzz off of the smoking sounds coming from Yawn Mower's Record Release show for their new EP, Could Eat, Would Sleep.

The 4/20 party is a joint production from two of New Jersey's hottest indie labels, Little Dickman Records and Mint 400 Records. The show also features Sink Tapes, Darkwing, and Looms.

Yawn Mower are the fuzzed out, riff heavy, power pop project from the dynamic doom-rock duo of Asbury Park's Mike Chick and Biff Swenson, whose sound has also been described as the lovechild of Nirvana and Cake with Ty Segal acting as the godfather.

The hometown heroes will be releasing their new five song EP on CD and cassette and via digital download and plan to light up The Saint with their high-energy, sweat-soaked stage show.

I caught up with Biff and Chick to talk about their new record as well as all things 420 related. So relax. Take a deep breath. Exhale slowly and take a trip with Yawn Mower.

Yawn Mower's EP titles (Get to the Boat, What's All this New Piss?, CEWS), as well as most of your song titles have often been tongue-in-cheek references. Can you talk about the song-writing process for CEWS? I'm interested in hearing the backstories and origins of the titles and songs.

Chick: So far, the rule has been if we have 5 new songs written, then it's recording time. Writing in Yawn Mower is pretty democratic. Either I will come up with a riff or we will just jam until something happens that we are both like, "Huh, that was cool. Voice memo that."

The title Could Eat, Would Sleep comes from shortened responses Biff or I would give to each other in response to questions we'd ask each other. For example:

"Are you hungry?" "Could Eat."

"You want to practice tonight?" "Would Sleep."

These responses were used a lot in the last year; and, while we were throwing around ideas for titles, this one felt the most relevant to the last year. The title doesn't have anything to do with the songs, though.

While your titles and lyrics often have a sense of humor about them, it seems this EP, especially tracks like "Operators" and the recently released single, "Kickstand," speak to the power of positive thinking. Am I reading too much into this, or was there an intent to show music's ability to act as a coping mechanism?

Chick: YM's lyrics are historically pretty dystopian and critical of various social structures we live with every day. I do try to add as much humor in the lyrics to balance it out. I'm always thinking about that when I write lyrics. There has to be a balance. Every day we are flooded with negativity from the news and people, so I don't want to write about that all the time. "Kickstand" and "Operators" are songs about your friends and family being there for you no matter how bad things are. It's YM's version of PMA.

Biff: "Operators" and "Kickstand" were the two newest songs we wrote for this EP. They weren't fully fleshed out in a live setting like the other tracks just yet, so we had a lot of room to play with them in the studio. While songs like "Local Summer" and "The Woods" felt like natural progressions for us, the latter half of the EP is where I feel like we evolved some. Between the layers of chordal guitar parts on "Operators" to the 808s and fake handclaps on "Kickstand." It felt like we had figured out how this project works in the studio finally. Those are also the 2 songs that hit me emotionally more than any other tunes Chick and I have written together. It was nice to give them a proper final form to enter this world in.

CEWS was produced by Paul Ritchie (Parlor Mob, gods). Talk about working with him. What did having him on board add to the album and what was that experience like for you?

Chick: Paul is great to record with. He is really into getting gnarly fuzzy tones if you want them. The challenge with recording a two piece is to try to fill all the sonic fields with sound. I think we did the best job so far with this record. It sounds really full and big. It is interesting to listen to the EPs in order. You can hear us figuring out YM as we go along.

We mixed the EP with Pat Noon at eightsixteen / Trax East Studios. Pat is like a surgeon when it comes to mixing. We did GTTB exclusively with Paul and WATNP exclusively with Pat, so with this one we figured let's see what an EP would sound like with both of them at the helm.

Biff: Paul is very willing to try things and see if they'll work or not. When we recorded our first EP with him, he truly helped us develop our sound. We were still a very fresh band at the time, and Paul guided us to where we needed to be in order for this project to work on record. Pat is meticulous in the studio. He knows what he's doing and how he's going to do it. He's the most efficient person I've ever been in a studio with for any project. Having the two of these guys bringing everything they have to offer to the table felt like a really fitting way to go about EP3.

Yawn Mower is well known for high energy stage shows. You guys create a BIG sound on your own, and it seems you have expanded on that a bit more with addition of Mark Gallagher from Gringo Motel on saxophone performing a guest spot on CEWS. Will we be seeing a sax player or any other additions to your live shows going forward?

Chick: Thank you for noticing our high energy live shows. Biff and I pride ourselves on putting 110% of our energy into our show when we play. If I come off the stage and am not sweaty and a little out of breath I'm kinda bummed. We are always open to having people guest with us live. I'm stoked to have sax on this record. Mark did a great job. Can't wait to someday hear it live.

Biff: Having guests is always a blast since it is usually just me and Chick tossing ideas around. For this EP we definitely wanted to keep the creative juices flowing with some more collaborators. Nick Cucci played percussion on "Kickstand." Bob Paulos brought two entire pedal boards in one night and helped us play circuitry gods on the stomp boxes. Mark laid down that nasty sax solo.

The EP release show is a 4/20 Party so I'm interested to know what your thoughts are on the recent revisions to New Jersey's marijuana laws which now allow for more people to be eligible to be prescribed medical marijuana?

Biff: I'm ecstatic about the new law changes. As someone who has been surrounded by the negative effects of the opioid epidemic in this area, it's a light at the end of the tunnel for legal pain relief. The pharmaceutical companies have been pumping pills down our throats all the live-long day while telling us marijuana is a harmful gateway drug. I just was out in California, and I can tell you firsthand that most of the people in dispensaries are my parent's age -- there for actual pain relief -- or at least some mental relief. After work, we as a society accept the act of going to bars where we are served poison that will 100% absolutely impair our driving; but, then, they're going to talk shit on an herb that has been proven time and time again to have multiple medicinal qualities. I'm glad that ignorant, greedy, maniacal, tub of lard is finally out of office here in Jersey. Out with the old, in with the new. Big ups to Governor Weed Murphy! That's his name, right?

Do you guys have any pre or post show rituals?

Chick: No real rituals that we would feel weird about not doing or would throw off our mojo. We do have our maneki-neko (cat with waving arms) that comes with us to all the gigs and sits on my amp. We try to fist bump before and after each show as well.

Speaking of 4/20, what are Yawn Mower's favorite munchies of choice?

Chick: Pre-show, we try not to load up on food too much unless we are in a town with some noods or pizza or pretty much anything else that looks good. Our will power isn't the greatest sometimes. Post-show munchies are usually not the healthiest and come from convenience stores on the way home.

In keeping with the spirit of getting things "twisted," I just wanted to know what's up with the "other" Yawn Mower on Youtube. I heard that it's someone trolling you guys with fake Yawn Mower videos. What's that all about?

Biff: Yeah there is this "other" Yawn Mower floating around on the internet. It's cute. At first, we were butt-hurt about it; but now it's been 3 years. I'm just impressed this guy keeps up with our lives so much. Even my other projects have been dragged into the circus this guy is creating online. has even gotten some love from him, too. It's fine with me. We can both coexist. We're going to keep making music and this guy is going to continue keeping tabs on all of it. I'm sure his soundscapes will take off big-time one day! Cute.

The EP kicks off with "Local Summer," a vintage Yawn Mower rocker that is both catchy and concise. Many of the Yawn Mower's songs seem like they might be inspired by life in and around the Asbury Park area. For those not familiar with life at the Jersey Shore, could you provide a little summary on what Local Summer is all about?

Biff: The verses are about the carefree vibe of local summer. Usually, locals to beaches / beach towns are excited around that time because they get their beaches / bars / restaurants back from the summer tourists. It's the last month or so of warm weather and not having to fight for a space on the beach.

But last year there were a bunch of drownings / deaths that happened around that time which put a damper on the whole local summer vibe (at least for me). That's what the choruses are about.
The bridge at the end is a tribute to the people who passed away.

It seems with the never-ending winter weather here in NJ, we are along ways off from summer let alone "local summer," but while we countdown to better weather, what's on the horizon for Yawn Mower? Tour? Projects? Etc?

Biff: We have a music video coming out for our "Convenience Store" remix featuring TrapBang. We also have a cover of "I Love You All" from the movie Frank coming out on a Mint 400 Records compilation, which there will also be a music video for. That track features Nicole Scorsone on violin / vocals and Rudy Meier (Wetbrain, Dentist) on piano/vocals. We also have 2 different pairs of covers ("Lump" by Presidents of the United States of America / "Dr. Worm" by They Might Be Giants and "Fume" by Beck / "Jersey Shore" by The Promise Ring) that we will release periodically throughout the summer. We are also starting to work on the next batch of remixes. We are trying to expand the brand. 2-piece fuzzed out doomy pop band: Check! Rap-rock: check! What else, ya know?! We want this project to be ever-evolving and creatively fruitful. The only way that can happen is with forward progression. There are a lot of talented people out there, and we want to collaborate with them all. Or at least the cool, open-minded ones. Stay woke!

Celebrate 4/20 at the Saint in Asbury Park NJ with Yawn Mower, Sink Tapes, Darkwing and Looms.
The show is being presented by Little Dickman Records and Mint 400 Records.

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