Despite the challenges of long-distance relationships, school, and other responsibilities, Defiance, Ohio somehow finds the time to tour relentlessly. What else would one expect from a band who can attest firsthand that 2,600 miles is a forty-five-hour drive? Opening for the Bouncing Souls, the band recently played Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg, a noteworthy change. Fans can rest assured, however, that Defiance, Ohio has not lost their passion for intimate venues, as evidenced by the addition of a free show at a college campus in Purchase, New York. Geoff Hing kindly agreed to an interview at the following show in New Haven, Connecticut, where Theo Hilton and Will Staler accompanied him in answering my questions.
How did the shows with the Bouncing Souls come about?
GEOFF: My perception of it was just that someone had e-mailed us, asking if we wanted to do it. We were thinking of playing shows around the same time, but maybe someone else has more insight into how that happened.
THEO: That’s basically it. We got to play at this pretty nice venue in Asbury Park, New Jersey, called Asbury Lanes, which is an old bowling alley that’s also a show space, which their immediate scene is really involved in. I think when they were putting it together, some of them had come to the show, or some friends of theirs had, and they were just thinking of bands, so they asked us to do it. That’s about it. We decided to do it.
Midwestern Minutes officially came out two months ago. Are you satisfied with the final result and with the reception it’s been getting?
THEO: I’m stoked about it, myself. I’m really happy with what we made and I’m glad that we can go on tour with it.
WILL: I think it’s a pretty sensible progression of the music that we’ve been making for the past several years, and I’m just glad that it’s still progressing. I’m glad that the new record reflects that.
Can you talk a little bit about your involvement in the Icarus Project? When you released Songs for the Icarus Project back in 2009, did you know at the time that you would be re-recording those songs for your next album?
WILL: No, I think it was mostly, for us, really fun to record ourselves and to kind of use recording technology as a tool for songwriting, I think it’s what it was at that stage. I don’t even know if we really anticipated what we were even going to do with them, more we just wanted to keep ourselves busy and take advantage of the time that we had all together.
GEOFF: Being able to record songs for sort of like a social enterprise to support something, I think it’s really the first time that we did a benefit with songs, and where some of the content of the songs reflected on the idea of that. I think it just turned out that some of them were ones that we wanted to re-record, and felt like they fit with other songs that were written.
WILL: The Icarus Project, there are just certain congruities with certain people and organizations that have existed in our tenure as a band. I remember right when the band first started, I took this trip out to California, and I went to this Berkeley skill share event that was going on and one of the workshops was one of the nascent versions of the Icarus Project. There’s institutions like the Icarus Project which have been around about as long as we have, and I think that’s really exciting and inspiring, really. There’s other places that have been around and have been supporting us and we’ve had the opportunity to support them, like the Trumbullplex in Detroit. There’s all these different places that have, in the case of the Icarus Project, grown with us and been around at the same time.
GEOFF: I think the cool thing about it is that it’s loosely of punk culture, but trying to solve larger problems or address larger issues. Like Will said, it’s something that’s grown parallel to what we’ve been doing and we run into every couple of years and it’s still something that’s like, “This is cool. This is helpful.” I’m glad people are trying to address the challenges that people that we know are facing and trying to make things that could have helped us or people we care about.
As Will mentioned earlier, each release seems to branch out and explore new musical elements. Is this progression intentional, or something that just kind of happened?
THEO: I think it’s definitely something that just kind of happened. It’s interesting, or interesting to me, I guess, that when the band started, I wasn’t a member of the band, but they all lived together, and it was almost like a lifestyle of working on stuff very slowly. It’s interesting to me to see, since then, I feel like we’ve all come together in Indiana and kind of spread out a little bit more, and at this point, the way things work is it’s always in these sort of bursts. Like when we made the last album, we got together basically for, I don’t know, the better part of a month and intensively worked on songs that people had sort of developed on their own, but the whole process of fleshing it out was more collaborative than it’s ever been, so it’s almost like everybody’s growing in what they’re coming up with in their head, alone, but our collaborative process is also growing and getting a lot stronger, which is a neat thing to feel. I’m excited about it.
WILL: That’s crucial to me, to feel like a project is sustainable, that it’s going to change because we change every year. Things happen to our lives that make us change, and if the music didn’t change with us, I just don’t think it would be exciting.
What was the recording process like for Midwestern Minutes? In what ways was it similar or dissimilar to past experiences?
WILL: It was very similar to the last album, because we recorded it with the same guy. Mike Bridavsky, the guy that does Russian Recording in Bloomington, is just very amiable, a very likable guy, easy to just be around but also very professional. He’s got a digital setup which helps us out because he can cut and paste things and make it all real smooth.
THEO: We record very fast, consistently, which I think is really nice for our band. Generally, I think all the records we do all of the tracking in about three days. I enjoy it very, very much.
WILL: Yeah, I live at this house with this recording project called Magnetic South, and they are very staunchly analog, and that’s kind of like their aesthetic. They appreciate the analog sound and the analog process, but comparing recording in that scenario, straight to tape versus Defiance, Ohio going to a studio and recording, if we were to go that route, if we were to go that very bare-bones analog route, it would take us so long, because we’d have to get everything right each take.
GEOFF: I love the way all analog recordings sound and I like the idea of spending huge amounts of time just recording, but especially for me personally, I don’t know if that’s where my life… being able to dedicate that way of focusing attention on making music is what I’m doing right now. I think it’s cool. Different ways of recording can enable a long-distance collaborative process for people to make music together, and I think that, often, people look at digital recording or new methods of recording as sort of this bastardization of a really beautiful process. I think it’s interesting how it also sort of opens up new ways for people to make music together, in a way that’s also very organic.
Were there any particular influences on the record?
WILL: Like in terms of other bands?
Yeah, or like books, or whatever inspired you at all.
WILL: I think for the most part, it’s the things that, from the get-go, we kind of just write about our world and what is going on. Not only our world, but our lives, our personal lives as well as the world around us. I’ve always thought that that’s probably the singular point of inspiration, or influence for our songs. I think the other thing is that because we’re all really different, I think that informs what our songs sound like more than anything else. We each bring really distinct music ideas to the table, and ways of writing music and performing music with one another.
GEOFF: Or even like musical abilities, which is interesting, because in a lot of ways I think it’s an asset for making music that’s interesting.
THEO: One thing I think would be relevant, just thinking about the period of time between when we made the record before last and the last one, was that is was a really, definitely for all of us in the band, I feel like for everybody I know it was such an intense time, and so polar in so many ways. For us, definitely more than a couple of people that we know really well have passed away or moved or made a major life change and all these different kinds of things. When I listen to the newest record, I think that I can definitely hear that in the lyrics and in the way that we play things and stuff. It was a wild time. It always is, I guess.
WILL: The other thing is that our experience, the way we perform as a band has also changed a lot in the last five years, like the kinds of shows we play. I would say maybe that’s something that changed the way that I wrote songs. I was thinking about the context that I was going to be playing them in, and what kind of songs would be fun to play in that context.
GEOFF: (to Will) What do you mean, more concretely?
WILL: Well, it’s kind of trivial, but I’m excited that there’s a guitar solo on the new record. It’s really fun to play a guitar solo. I feel much more confident nowadays than I ever would’ve if it was like the basement of the Legion of Doom. I would’ve felt like a tool doing that.
“Hair Pool”, that’s actually my new favorite Defiance, Ohio song.
WILL: It’s a fun one. That’s a fun song because it has existed, for us, in so many different ways.
I remember the Pink Couch version.
WILL: Yeah, there’s the Pink Couch thing. We did, at the same time, all those Icarus Project demos. We did a super rough version of it then. We’ve been playing it live for a really long time.
Was songwriting a collaborative process or do each of you write your own songs individually?
GEOFF: I think it’s both.
THEO: We bring a lot of input. I feel like, a lot of times, somebody will have most of the lyrics for a song written by the time we all get together, especially at this point where we spend so much time thinking alone, sort of initial things, and then becoming a group. For me, my idea of what a song is like when I bring it to the band versus what it’s like when we play it is so drastically different, and I like it so much more.
As a band that has addressed various political and social issues and continues to do so, are there issues you’d like to cover in the future?
GEOFF: I think that there’s this idea in punk of sort of political bands, and I don’t think that it’s ever been our intention to be a band that has a program or an agenda, and we’re not making propaganda. I think that we feel pretty strongly that that, in a lot of ways, is really harmful. I think we live in the world and we are affected by things that happen in the world, or the connections between current events and our families, or the places where we live. To answer your question more directly, I don’t think that any kind of social idea or issue that’s touched upon in a song is something that you can sort of anticipate or plan out. It’s really how our experience intersects with what’s happening in the world, or what we learn from reading or having conversations or having things happen to people around us or the places we live.
For those who are involved in side projects, do you consciously change your subject matter when writing for your other bands, or is it the same as when writing for Defiance, Ohio?
WILL: I wouldn’t say subject matter. I think that if you would’ve asked me that like a year ago I would’ve said, “Yeah, when I write a song, I feel like this is going to be a Landlord song, or this is going to be a Defiance, Ohio song.” But I think that was more a function of… at that given time, Landlord was the band that I was practicing with once a week. That was how it functioned. At this point, I don’t even write songs anticipating how they’re going to be performed. I just want to write as many songs as I feel motivated to write, and just get them on tape as soon as I can. I think it’s much more important to have some sort of momentum with the creative process, and I just have less concern for how they’re going to end up, and more concern for just getting it out.
THEO: I would just say for me that it’s very not planned out. I think, in general, if Defiance, Ohio is getting ready to be together, or if we are doing stuff together, I find that I write a lot more when I’m away from home. Whenever I’m in Indiana, I end up doing that a lot, and that stuff ends up being Defiance, Ohio songs and vice versa.
WILL: (to Theo) That’s funny, because it’s like the exact opposite for me. For me to write a song, I have to do everything. I have to have all my chores done, all my obligations done, and I have to have a day off where I can just sit for like two hours in the morning, and then all of a sudden I’ll just have this bug up my ass and I’ll have to write a song.
Some of you guys live very far apart from one another. How has this distance affected your musical and personal relationships?
WILL: I think that it helps out, really, because as we get older we just have more interests and more going on in our personal lives. I’m sure we would get together if we weren’t in a band, but that’s almost my favorite thing about the band. It’s like three weeks, or a week, or five weeks that I get to just hang out with everybody. I think it helps us maintain our relationships with one another.
THEO: It’s nice to be able to give your undivided attention to something for a while. I feel like when I’m at home, I’m so spread out. It’s really nice to say, “This time is for you all. Us, rather.”
Being in a band that offers all of your music for free download, how do you feel about the current state of the music industry? Have free downloads generally helped or hurt the band?
GEOFF: I think that to answer that question, you end up having to frame what is helping and what is hurting a band. I guess I would say that we’ve gotten to do things as a band that I could have never, ever imagined playing music. We continue to have positive experiences playing music. We have a good relationship with each other, and as we’ve talked about throughout the interview, an evolving relationship with each other. What at the time was a very nonchalant decision, it’s worked out great, and I wouldn’t rethink it, but I don’t know if I’ve ever thought about it in terms of economics. I don’t know if you can. To be able to make that kind of calculation, you have to be paying attention very strongly to how many copies you sell, and trying to find how many downloads there are, and what would happen if each of those people paid a certain amount. Doing that math isn’t something I’m interested in.
WILL: I think the music industry is in a pretty bad spot, but I think we’re no different from any other band. If you want people to listen to your band, I just think you have to go on tour all the time.
Is there any particular reason that Defiance, Ohio doesn’t have an official Facebook or MySpace page?
WILL: (laughs) Because I don’t want to keep up with it.
GEOFF: I think, personally, I’ve always liked, because I like working with technology, the capability of having a website, updating it fairly easily. It just looked and felt different than something more…
GEOFF: Yeah, more standardized. I like that we don’t have to worry about what might be advertised alongside the content. I want to take the idea of friendship very seriously, and I think that with Facebook and MySpace, the rubric of people interacting, everybody is friends. I feel like it’s sort of superficial. I want interactions with people who are excited about our band to be real, and maybe some folks are friends or some people become friends and other people are just nice folks that we meet at a show. I don’t like the pretense of friendship that social networking creates.
WILL: I’ve always thought that Geoff has done a marvelous job making a website for us, and I know that it’s something that he enjoys doing, and I would rather have a cool website that Geoff does than a MySpace page.
GEOFF: Which is not to knock. I think that sharing your music with people is awesome and having a line of communication, and if the easiest way or the way that you can do that is through MySpace of Facebook, that’s great. We’ve been able to do it through different ways, and that’s just kind of how it’s gone.
After the tour, can you share some of your plans for the future?
GEOFF: In the next three months, I’m going to finish up my degree. I’m going to graduate school for Journalism, and most of my time is going to be spent working on a still-very-ephemeral project, building some kind of technology to sort of connect people in Chicago with local news, so news about Chicago or even about a neighborhood. But as far as I know, I don’t really know what it’s going to be more than that. After that, hopefully I’ll be back to having a little bit more flexibility with my time, hopefully playing music more, or at least not being so isolated in the school world.
THEO: I’m going to spend the rest of the year in Athens. I know that for sure. I got really excited recently about training on my bicycle. I’m gonna go on a bike trip or something like that, but mostly I will be at home.
WILL: Well, I’m faced with the horrifying and intimidating prospect of being the responsible one in a band. Landlord’s going on tour in October, and we’re going to hopefully record after that in Chattanooga. And then we’ll get back together and we’ll do something in the next couple months. Also, me and Theo and Ryan started a little ensemble with Clyde from Your Heart Breaks and Madeline and Toby Foster, and hopefully we’ll be going on tour and taking that on the road again soon. Just trying to stay busy.
Thanks a lot to Geoff, Theo, and Will for their time and for their generosity. I think I can speak on behalf of other fans when I say that we will all be very anxious (though not worrying) for the band’s eventual return to the East Coast. In the meantime, Midwestern Minutes is out now on No Idea Records, available in all formats (including cassette, which can be purchased directly from the band at a show).