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The Ergs! launched their music out of New Jersey with the release of dorkrockcorkrod in 2004. With more national attention, they caught the ears of hip-hop artist, MC Chris. With his influence in Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, the band wrote the song “All Kids Out of the Pool.” The song was used for promos on the late night television block. In the summer, MC Chris invited The Ergs! along with SNMNMNM to join him on his Revenge of the Nerd Tour. By the end of the year, Don Giovanni Records released dorkrockcorckrod on vinyl.
The Ergs! recorded and released the EP Jersey’s Best Prancers in 2006. After the release, the band hit the road for the Discover America Tour with fellow New Jersey natives Hunchback. When stopped in Seattle, The Ergs! met up with producer Conrad Uno, known for his work with Mudhoney and The Presidents Of The United States. What resulted was the recording of their second full-length album.
Upstairs/Downstairs was released in 2007 on Portland’s Dirtnap Records. Over the next year, The Ergs! kept busy by playing shows around New Jersey, making a split EP and touring with Lemuria, while releasing a handful of 7’’ EPs and singles.
Just in time for the summer of 2008, The Ergs! released Hindsight Is 20/20, My Friend, a collection of singles from their large catalog. They left again with Hunchback on the Jackalry Across America Tour, and returned with big news. After recording, and finishing their schedule of shows, the band broke up. The Ergs! “last” shows featured headlining at Fest 7, playing at the release of Dillinger Four’s Civil War LP, and saying goodbye in front of a home audience at Asbury Lanes in New Jersey.
Following the breakup, the band released That’s It, Bye… an EP of the last three songs they recorded. The cover featured the art of Razorcake’s Mitch Clem.
Since the breakup, Joe has kept himself busy with Night Birds; a band that he says is “very Dead Kennedys/Adolescent-sounding Cali punk.” Mikey has not stopped since, playing in dozens of bands like the Star Fucking Hispters, The Dopamines, and several guest stints. In a different interview, Mikey said he hates being asked what bands he’s in because he doesn’t even know. Jeff started the band Black Wine, with drummer Miranda Taylor and bassist J Nixon, both formerly of Hunchback. Many of the individual post-breakup projects have featured former members of Hunchback.
The Ergs! have only reunited a few times. In 2009, they played at a friend’s wedding. In 2010, both The Ergs! and Hunchback came together for two benefit shows for J Nixon’s mother Jackie, as she battled cancer. The shows were held on December 5 at Asbury Lanes. At the end of 2011, The Ergs! played Asbury Lane’s New Years Eve Celebration for live band punk rock karaoke.
In the next year, The Ergs! intend to release their final collection of singles, Hindsight Is 20/20, My Friend Volume 2: OK, Enough Reminiscing.
Okay, enough reminiscing. Now read the interview.
–Ronnie Sullivan, October 2012
It takes more than three licks to get to the middle of the Ergs! Tootsie Pop. They have an addictive sugar-pop sound that’ll hook you like a carob-fed kid’s first taste of chocolate. It’s undeniable catchy, and with lyrics about liking girls, hating girls, and a few more about girls somewhere in between, it’s hard not to reference the soundtrack to junior high. But there’s something more to them. As the layers of sweetness melt away, the driving force of the Ergs! makes itself known. Under the guise of simple pop punk the Ergs! lay an extremely technical, and even experimental, groundwork for subtle intricacies that could easily be overlooked. It’s punk meets jazz meets hardcore meets pop, and somehow it never comes off as arty or contrived.
I was lucky enough to see them play twice in the same day. By the second show, Mikey had already played three sets in less than eight hours—he was in all three bands playing that night—and was about to start his fourth. No hesitation. No short sets. No compromises. Live, the songs that bop on the album rip and cut like a candy-coated razor.
Is “serious” punk ready to accept their punk counterparts? Who cares when the Ergs! seem ready to break all the rules. Put on your glasses and grab a soda, ‘cause this ain’t your momma’s pop punk.
Interview by Megan Pants
Photos by Megan Pants and Todd Taylor
Originally ran in Razorcake #23, 2004. The Ergs! were on the cover.
The Ergs! are:
Megan: Do you know anything about the SixHandymenLake in Sayerville, NJ?
Mike: Son of a bitch, no.
Joe: Is that the corporate chemical lake?
Megan: I don’t know. I saw it mentioned on the Weird NJ website, but I couldn’t find out anything about it.
Jeff: I’d like to know about that, but we only travel about ten feet outside of my house.
Mike: But I live in Sayerville. I know there’s a chemical plant.
Jeff: Green Tree Chemical?
Joe: Near the chemical plant there’s the RaritanRiver and as you come up over the bridge, you can see that they have a… I don’t know if it’s a reservoir, or if it was originally a lake, but it’s unnaturally neon green.
Megan: Joe, do you refuse to play basketball?
Joe: Where did you get that question from? Yeah I do, because I used to play basketball and I whenever I would play I would try to rebound the ball and jam my finger really bad. This finger (his left ring finger) I jammed really badly and I couldn’t play bass for three months and I started playing bass before I healed, so now it’s not right.
Mike: I played a mean game of basketball in Ohio when we played there.
Joe: Oh yeah, we invented a new sport, called Erg Ball.
Megan: How do you play?
Joe: There are these weird hoops and we’re playing in OlmsteadFalls, near this elementary school. There are these hoops that were like a big basin—it was like a funnel on the inside—and there were these four outlets the ball could come out of and there were drawn white circles around each. We created this basketball-like game where you had two teams and they would each go to each basket. After you scored a basket, the other team could catch the ball that came out of one of the four holes in the bottom, then one of your teammates is out. So, it was kind of like dodgeball mixed with basketball.
Mike: Spoken, this game sounds pretty lame. It was fun to play.
Megan: I’ve heard that you think that Dorkcorkrockrod is a response to XTC’s Skylarking.
Mike: That’s sick. You do your research. I only said that to one person.
Joe: We’re going to have to find out who this insider is.
Mike: I just know I only told Mike Faloon. Editor of the awesome Go Metric! and Zisk fanzines.)
Megan: Mike’s the one who told me.
Mike: Yeah, I can explain.
Megan: Mike also says you’re full of shit about the whole thing, but he says that you’re definitely convinced of it anyway.
Joe: He’s just mad that Mike replaced him in the Kung-Fu Monkeys.
Mike: Or he’s just mad that he didn’t put out the punk Skylarking. We did. But if you look at the track listing, Skylarking starts out with two songs that are connected, as does our record. Then you go a little further into the record and songs four and five? Connected. Much like Skylarking. I’m just a huge XTC fan.
Jeff: Except for the Crimony cover towards the end.
Mike: I was just listening to Skylarking a lot when we were sequencing the record and I was like, “I’m gonna put song one and two together as connected songs and…” I’m full of shit.
Megan: I was also thinking that a lot of people say that Skylarking is a response to Sgt. Pepper’s. So, do you think that there’ll be a response to your response to their response?
Jeff: I don’t want any Sgt. Pepper’s references to the record.
Mike: Um, yeah this is our Sgt. Pepper’s, but we’ve changed everything.
Jeff: Yeah, Sgt. Pepper’s, but good.
Mike: Ooh, personal. That Jeff is the non-Beatles fan of the Ergs!
Megan: Did you actually hope to get sued by Ben Kweller for using his cover art on your Ben Kweller EP?
Mike: Yeah, we did.
Jeff: We wanted the publicity.
Mike: I just wanted to get closer to him.
Megan: Did anything happen?
Jeff: Apparently, several people have told him about it, but he either doesn’t …
Mike: Doesn’t care or… doesn’t care.
Joe: I’m waiting for somebody in Ben Kweller’s camp to eventually say, “We can still sue those kids that did the Ben Kweller EP thing,” and then they show up at my house and I’ll be, “Ha ha! I only have twenty-five left!”
Mike: “Have them!”
Megan: Is there any flack you get from being from New Jersey rather than New York?
Joe: People from New York who we hang out with generally are snobby about it.
Mike: Whenever we play shows in New Jersey no one from New York will show up because it’s an hour drive, whereas we go to the city just because it’s New York City. There’s actually a goal.
Joe: And they also think that New Jersey is filthier than New York, which is a crock of shit because there’s a little borough named Staten Island that they want to never want to remember exists.
Mike:New York City has two of largest landfills in all of America. In all of the world.
Megan: I found out weird food issues you all have.
Jeff: Is mine raw potatoes?
Jeff: That’s another one.
Megan: You eat raw potatoes? In slices or…?
Jeff: Like an apple.
Megan: My question is actually about apples. Do you eat them whole?
Megan: Stem and everything?
Jeff: If I can’t find a garbage can to put the stem in, yeah.
Megan: Have you done that your whole life?
Jeff: Yeah, most of it.
Joe: He’s trying to develop a tolerance to cyanide. So when he’s inevitably poisoned, he can deal with it.
Mike: I eat nothing.
Megan: I had just heard that you don’t like tomato sauce.
Mike: Oh yeah, tomato sauce, cheese, anything dairy. I don’t eat anything. I eat McDonalds and that’s about it.
Megan: And you don’t eat eggs?
Joe: No eggs. I don’t like the smell of sulfur.
Megan: Did you originally all play in lab coats?
Jeff: We played two or three shows with lab coats.
Mike: Then we realized we looked like fucking morons.
Jeff: We looked like idiots and they’re really uncomfortable.
Joe: And we were not Servotron, so…
Mike: And we didn’t want to go the whole science route.
Jeff: We didn’t want to get attached to a gimmick.
Megan: Why do you think you have so many—I don’t know if it’s necessarily an homage—but references to different elements of music? There’s covers, there’s the song “Rod Argent,” there’s “When You’re Squeeze.”
Mike: We want people to think we’re cool, that we like cool bands. It’s like you were saying before about if someone’s wearing an obscure band T-shirt, you might like them more. If our song’s called “Rod Argent,” a Zombies fan might be like, “I’ll check these guys out.”
Jeff: In the doorway of our practice space we have a sign that says, “Get Esoteric.”
Mike: I was going to go somewhere with that, but that just threw me off.
Megan: Well, where did the name for “Rod Argent” come from? Where’s the connection?
Mike: When I wrote the song… I go through these phases where, XTC was one of them, where for six months straight, I’d only listen to XTC. And there was a period of about two or three months when I’d only listen to the Zombies. It was taking over my life, and I wrote out the song and it never had a title. When we recorded it I wrote “Ron Argent” on the tape box. We generally like to reference stuff in song titles and in songs because we think they’re funny or if people see a Simpson’s reference in a song title, they might look at it a little more.
Megan: Joe, what’s the Fingerpoke of Doom?
Mike: During your monologue.
Joe: Fingerpoke of Doom? It originally refers to a WCW wrestling match between Kevin Nash and, I believe, Hollywood Hogan. Hogan just poked the other guy and Nash just fell over and Hogan pinned him. I don’t know if I got it from there. I just started pointing at people when I was talking on stage and I just felt that it lent an air of authority.
Megan: How many bands have you been in together?
Mike: Basically one. Well, I guess two, really. We were all, at one point, in a band called the Flatliners together. Then people left, and then there was a time when three of us were in with this other drummer. Then we started another band called 75% Off, which is the exact same lineup as the Ergs! except Jeff sang instead of me. Then we just stopped doing those songs. I started writing more songs. He still sings, but I started singing a little more because I was writing a little more of the songs. So, basically, it’s just been that band.
Joe: Same shit, different label.
Jeff: A lot less ska punk.
Mike: Right. We were more ska punk in 75% Off.
Joe: As seventeen-year-olds we were much more into ska punk.
Mike: We did do a Minutemen cover on our demo tape, so some things don’t change.
Megan: When was the last time you felt completely out of place?
Joe: In San Francisco—it’s my fault for wearing the shirt (the same Frank Zappa shirt he’s wearing during the interview)—but people kept coming up to me saying stuff like, “Frank, man. Frank.” Some dude’s like, “You know Frank’s dead, right?” and yesterday some woman asked, “Does that picture of Frank Zappa on the toilet make you horny?”
Megan: Does it?
Mike: She should’ve asked me. I have that picture hanging over my bed. So, obviously, yes for me.
Megan: How did you end up at a Ludacris concert?
Mike: Stupidly paid sixty dollars for tickets.
Joe: Our buddy who we hang out with at home a lot, his name’s Scruff. He works with these two characters, and he’s huge into Ludacris. He was like, “Yo, do you guys want to go to Ludacris?” We’ve never been to a rap concert before, so we’re all scared that we’re gonna get our asses kicked. Then we go to the show and it’s seriously all fifteen-year-old girls. That’s it.
Mike: And they all had their cell phones up.
Joe: Our friend Scruff is big… he’s our age, maybe a little younger. He’s this big dude, he’s dark, and he has this huge beard—he’s never shaved it, that’s why we call him Scruff. Girls thought he was a pedophile. He was rubbing up against girls at the show by accident and they gave him shit. It was scary.
Mike: We actually wanted to go, but it wasn’t worth sixty dollars.
Joe: No, that will be the last rap show in a while.
Mike: He did all his hits, but he did a verse of them and then went on to the next song. We’d never been to a rap show before, I guess that’s what they’re all like, but I want to hear… do five songs, but do the whole thing.
Joe: The best part was that Chingy couldn’t do his hit song that has Ludacris in it in his set.
Mike: He had to wait until Ludacris got on.
Joe: … to come out and do his hit.
Mike: But we did get to see David Banner, who is probably one of the greatest performers I’ve ever seen.
Joe: These questions are hard.
Megan: I’m sorry. I’ll try to make them easier. [sarcastic voice] “What are your influences? How’s this tour going?” Where does the controversy of stick vs. rod on your cover fall these days? (The cover of the album has pictures of 3-D glasses, a hunk of granite, a cork, and a pretzel. The controversy was whether the pretzel was a rod, or merely a stick.)
Mike: Rev. Nørb confirmed that it was, in fact, a pretzel stick.
Jeff: It is a stick. It’s clearly a stick.
Joe: For a while he had this Rod-Stick Duality Theory that was supposed to parallel the duality of light where it could be both a rod at some times and a stick at other times.
Jeff: If you look at the salt grains, it is clearly a stick.
Megan: You can tell at the ends, too.
Jeff: Yeah, they’re pinched.
Mike: The first stop of the show, this couple showed up in matching T-shirts that both had the album cover on it. One said, “I know a rod when I see one.” The other one said, “It’s a stick, dammit.” It was pretty cute.
Megan: Tell me about the beatnik jazz aliens that you have to save the world from.
Mike: It’s an unrecorded album.
Joe: We did this thing a couple of years ago. We had all of these really short songs that we made a demo CD-R. We recorded thirteen songs, but the total length of those thirteen songs was maybe four or five minutes. We couldn’t just put these songs on a CD. It’s such a waste of space. So, we wrote this War of the Worlds type radio drama around the songs where we had to save the world from these aliens by rockin’ out. People really like it, thought it was funny, so we were going to write a sequel to it. At the end of the first one everybody dies. So, in the second one, we were saved by these beatnik jazz aliens. We had to save them from some other set of aliens, but we never did that because we had other things on our plate.
Mike: Plus, we lost the ability to record ourselves because I’d been working at the studio and now I don’t work there anymore.
Megan: Was that going to be a jazz album?
Jeff: We were going to do the main riffs of jazz songs really fast.
Joe: We were going to do hardcore…
Mike: …thrash versions of them. Because we were getting into jazz and we were like, “Let’s make thrash versions of jazz songs.” Because we’d been doing a John Coltrane song for awhile as a thrash song.
Megan: Which song?
Mike: “Mr. PC.” So, we were just going to each pick out three or four jazz songs and do thrash versions of them. Just an excuse to do that, basically.
Megan: Well, you have the country 7”, so are there other genres that you think you’re going to play with?
Mike: Probably. We listen to everything, but country just seemed… it just so happened that Jeff had written a country song and we’d been doing it for a while. Then I’d written one, then Joe’d written one, so we just said we’d do a 7” with the three songs on it. We recorded it and then someone actually wanted to put it out, because we’d just recorded it to record it; thinking maybe someday it’ll come out.
Jeff: I’m sure we’ll do a noise record at some point.
Mike: We’ve talked about doing a noise record and doing a free jazz kind of thing. We have so many ideas.
Megan: About the concept albums that you’re planning—you have the multi-sided ones.
Jeff: We have a couple of multi-sided ones.
Megan: How do you plan on doing that?
Mike: We plan on getting someone as crazy as we are to want to put out a triple record. Which won’t happen, so…. None of us are actually drug users, so the one where we each take a different drug on each different side, we know that’s not going to happen because no one’s gonna want to put it out anyway.
Jeff: And no one’s gonna want to put out a record that’s five, four-minute songs.
Joe: I don’t think anyone’s going to want to sell us drugs. I think if we tried to buy them…
Mike: “You guys are crazy enough as it is.”
Jeff: “Umm, we need these drugs for a thing we’re doing.”
Mike: “For a concept album.”
Jeff: “Yeah, it’s a secret.”
Megan: Then you have the Ramones/Bruce Springsteen one. What’s that one about?
Mike: Bruce Springsteen apparently wrote “Hungry Heart” for the Ramones to do, but then Bruce Sprinsteen’s manager was like, “Don’t give that to the Ramones. It’s a great song. What are you doing?” We decided to do many Bruce Springsteen songs as they would’ve been done by the Ramones.
Joe: Like the ‘80s comedian that’s like, “Wouldn’t it be crazy if the Ramones had actually done that Bruce Springsteen song? I think it would go a little like this.”
Jeff: We’ll probably do that.
Megan: What’s it called?
Mike:Born to Ru-Mone.
Megan: Is that a working title?
Mike: Yeah, but I think that should be the title.
Megan: What about Beat on the Boss?
Mike: Well, the second in the series is actually going to be Beatle on the Brat.
Joe: We could do ICBM to Asbury Park.
Megan: How many Pearl Jam T-shirts do you own?
Mike: Eight or nine I think.
Joe: My favorite is the one with the pig. It has food going in and poop coming out.
Mike: Yeah, I like the Versus T-shirt and a No Code one. I stopped buying after that.
Joe: Their T-shirts just got lame.
Mike: As did their music. I mean, some would say that their music was always lame. I did grow up in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Pearl Jam was at their best at that point in time.
Megan: How did you get the promo on Cartoon Network?
Mike: I was in Dirt Bike Annie, so I’m friends with MC Chris, who did a lot of their art…
Jeff: A college buddy of theirs.
Mike: He lived with them and became friends with them through Dirt Bike Annie. He went off to work for Cartoon Network. He doodled our name on a wall in an episode. Then he called me up one day and he’s like, “Okay, we want to do this commercial and we want it to be kind of like ‘Der Weinerschnitzel’ by the Descendents where you just yell out Cartoon Network TV shows as a thrash song.” I was like, “We can do that in five seconds.” So, we just recorded it, sent it out, and they started airing it. He just asked us to do it, and of course we did. He was like, “We’re not gonna pay you, but it’ll be shown on TV.” Don’t bother explaining it to us, we’re there already. They ended up paying us anyway. We love Adult Swim, so why not do it anyway?
Megan: What do you do for work? Two of you work together, right?
Mike: Yeah, Jeff and I both work at a supermarket.
Jeff: I work in the deli section of the supermarket.
Mike: And I work outside with the collecting-the-shopping-carts-people. I’m too lazy to get another job, basically.
Joe: I just graduated college. I was a T.A. (teacher’s assistant), and I’m looking for a job when I get back.
Megan: How do you think your job impacts, if at all, the music?
Mike: Our job, for some reason, understands when we have to get off for two months to go on tour. They don’t give us a problem. That was the other main reason I was staying. I know this job is cool with it. It’s a shitty job, but what else?
Jeff: Have fun.
Mike: Why not just stay? Plus I walk around all day doing nothing, so it gives me time to think up songs.
Joe: I used to work at this robotics company in Manhattan.
Megan: Didn’t you end up working on the Mars Rover or something?
Joe: Yeah, well I worked on this drill that they want to send to Mars in twenty years. They sent me to Arizona for that, but then I went on tour last summer with a different band. They were cool with it when I left, but then when I came back they were like, “Yeah… you can’t work here anymore.”
Megan: What did you do when you were in Arizona?
Mike: Sat in the desert.
Joe: I was basically the team bitch. They had a Winnebago and they basically made me stay out there and guard this drill prototype because there was another competing team out there from another company that they didn’t want seeing the drill. I was just living in the middle of Wile E. Coyote nothing desert in Arizona.
Megan: Have you ever stomped cockroaches dead with your bass pedal?
Mike: According to Lew (Houston, of Vinyl-a-Go-Go zine) I have, I think.
Jeff: I think that was more of a metaphor than any actual extermination.
Mike: I’m planning on starting a business.
Megan: Joe, did you learn the crane kick that we all tried to learn from Karate Kid?
Joe: I learned it from the actual guy who created the move. I used to do martial arts and the school that I trained at, the head instructor was buddy-buddy with the guy and he came in and showed us how to do the real way. The one you see in the movie? That’s Hollywood’s version of the crane kick.
Megan: Can you still do it?
Joe: Yeah, but if I show you then you’ll understand why they didn’t do it. It’s like… [Stands up]
Mike: I’m getting the fuck out of the way.
Joe: You go back on your leg like this and then you go like that! Which is not nearly as dramatic.
Mike: This is an informative interview. I didn’t even know that.
Joe: Did you know where the Eyepoke of Doom came from?!
Megan: Did the singer of the Used make fun of you at an Andrew W.K. show?
Jeff: Yes, yes he did. I was walking outside the club after the show. He was with some girl—I don’t know, I assumed his girlfriend or whatever—and I walked past and he’s like, “Oh, yo, yo, this girl wants to make out with you.”
Joe: Didn’t they just start laughing at you?
Mike: That’s like what we got in sixth grade.
Jeff: Yeah, don’t start all that bullshit when you’re singing in a band that sucks.
Mike: Apparently one of our friends saw him at the Warped Tour, walking around, and yelled very loudly at his friend, “Hey, it’s that guy that fucked that fat girl.” So, we showed him! Well, not really.
Jeff: I would like to say that we declare war on that band.
Mike: We’re throwing the gauntlet down.
Megan: You’ve got the crane kick on your side.
Mike: We’ve got Sharon Osborne on our side.
Megan: Mike, did you ever sell your dad’s band’s records as merch at your own shows?
Mike: I did, I don’t know why. We had boxes and boxes of them so I thought it’d be fun to sell.
Jeff: For like fifty cents.
Mike: No, the sign said, “Free or best offer.”
Megan: Did anyone take them?
Mike: I think one or two people took it.
Megan: And it’s a cover record?
Mike: Yeah, he was in a cover band for years and years.
Megan: Didn’t you think about covering their cover record?
Mike: We were going to cover that and put it out as a CD-R. A double CD-R with a CD-R with the original album.
Megan: When you were a kid did you ever think that you and your dad might have a father-son musical project?
Mike: He always tried to get me… I’d go see his band all the time and I guess he had faith in my drumming ability. So, he was always trying to get me to do a set with his band because he just wanted to get drinks or something, relax for a while. I was always too nervous to do it.
Megan: What was the last thing that you’ve broken?
Joe: Your Discman.
Mike: My Discman was skipping in the van and I just threw it across the van and broke it. The CD fell out, but it was on its way out anyway.
Jeff: My guitar cables keep breaking. In the middle of sets, too, which is convenient for me because then it makes my guitar not work anymore during a song.
Joe: I broke the volume knob on my bass amp.
Megan: What keeps you as entrenched in music as you are? What is it that keeps you there?
Mike: Because, music is the only thing I have that makes me happy. No. Yeah, basically.
Joe: Stock answer.
Mike: I don’t have any other interests. I’m not into sports. I’m not into anything, except for music. It’s all I really know how to do.
Joe: Plus, there’s so much great music out there. I hate it when people say, “Aw man, rock’n’roll’s dead,” or anything like that, because every time we go on tour we see a ton of amazing bands. They’re not regarded as the heroes of today right now, but I’m sure in ten or fifteen years somebody will write something that’s like Our Band Could Be Your Life. “Oh man, these bands did it themselves.”
Jeff: I basically feel like… I mean I love music, obviously. I’ve loved it all of my life and I enjoy playing it, but I love how it’s something for me to do as a young person, not just sit at home and watch TV all day.
Mike: Plus it’s really cool. Lately, we’ve been getting a little more recognition as the Ergs! When someone comes up to you and says that you record’s really great—that’s another stock answer, but it’s just really cool to hear.
Jeff: On that note, showing up in a town that we’ve never been to and there’s a row of people we’ve never met before singing along.
Joe: That answer was so fucking stock.
Mike: We wholeheartedly endorse Metallica’s documentary Some Kind of Monster.