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Interview with Flabbercasters by Will Malkus

malkus_flabbercasters

Interview with Flabbercasters by Will Malkus

Last year I was somehow able to convince the wizard punks who make up Baltimore, Md.’s Flabbercasters to play a show in the public library where I work. I don’t think anything will ever make me happier than when I saw one hundred people in my library after hours, beers in hand, singing along to a punk band in torn-up wizard robes. Flabbercasters are the real deal; you heard it here first.

I’ve seen Flabb play too many shows to count; they’re a mainstay of just about every Baltimore DIY venue and then some, and with songs you can learn the lyrics to almost instantly and enough energy right out of the gate to get even the most stoic local punk jumping, it’s easy to see why. The best part of any Flabbercasters show is finding the people who have never heard of them before and watching their expressions, because they don’t exactly look the part of five wizards bursting with eldritch power and there’s something amazing that happens when the crowd realizes the five-piece band are actually singing about putting hexes on their exes or (my personal favorite) inviting you to check out all of the new features they’ve added to their dungeons.

For a joke band started in someone’s living room, the five-piece band has accomplished some remarkable things in just a few short years. They’ve opened for some big touring names, helped break a world record, and self-released two EPs. Perhaps most impressively, they’ve managed to do it all without letting it stress them out. The central Flabbercasters philosophy is to just have fun and not take life too seriously (a commonality they share with the skate punk bands that inspired their sound), but that doesn’t mean they haven’t given themselves room to level up. They’re plotting their third self-produced album, launching a GoFundMe campaign this past February to bankroll it. If you believe in magic (or even if you don’t, they don’t care) and the power of “lvl 40 jams,” then I would highly recommend the high energy pop punk stylings of Baltimore’s (and maybe the world’s) favorite wizard sons and daughter.

I got to talk with four-fifths of Flabbercasters about where they’ve been, where they’re going, and how it all happened. Rest assured, they’re some of the friendliest and most hard-working folks in all of DIY, despite all their protests to the contrary.

Ryan Gabriel—Drums
Nick Anthony—Vocals
Jason Iden—Guitar
Jamie Wolfe—Guitar
Joe Wolfe—Bass

Will: Flabbercasters have a new album you’re working on. Want to start with that?

Nick: No. Next question!

[Everyone laughs.]

Ryan: Our next album is called Syphilis Totalus, kind of in the same vein as our first album Coitus Interruptus. Just a bunch of easy punk rock songs about being wizards.

Will: Is the album a significant departure from Coitus?

Joe: I think it’s a little less skateboard.

Jamie: I think it’s a little sadder than the first one.

Nick: I haven’t heard it yet.

[Everyone laughs.]

Ryan: It’s different. The first album I kind of took over and wrote everything, but this album has a lot more of everyone in it. That’s just what the band is becoming.

Will: Sadder?

[Everyone laughs.]

Ryan: We’re drawing on everyone’s ideas.

Joe: We had a different president when we wrote Coitus Interruptus.

Will: Do you think the current political climate comes through on this album? I know it’s a wizard punk album, but did that bleed through?

Ryan: Probably subconsciously. I guess I don’t really think of us as a political band. But the first show we ever played as a band, Jason goes up on stage and it was right before the election, right around the Iowa Caucus, and what did he say?

Joe: He said, “Fuck Donald Trump. Fuck anyone here who ever thinks Trump is going to be president!”

Nick: First show we ever played! And we were like, “Jason, don’t say anything!” Because that’s classic Jason.

Ryan: That was a huge show for us, too. That was with Diarrhea Planet. We got onto that bill a week before. We started the band because of Diarrhea Planet. They have a song called “Ghost With a Boner.” We listened to that song and we were like, “We can do that!” We wrote our first EP LARPING that same day.

Nick: We started a band based on Diarrhea Planet, played our first show with Diarrhea Planet, and the first words out of Jason’s mouth when he gets on stage are, “Hail Satan! Kill cops! Fuck Trump!” We thought that was it. And every show we’ve played since has felt similar. Playing MAGFest twice was like, we can’t do better than this. Then we opened for AJJ. That’s dumb!

Will: Free Throw!

Nick: And Free Throw. That was dumb too! [laughs]

Ryan: But as far as Trump is concerned, I think what we aim to do as a band is get people’s minds off that shit for like a minute. For as long as we’re on stage—just party and be a wizard.

Joe: We have already said the word “Trump” a thousand more times than I thought we were going to.

[Everyone laughs.]

Will: And the new album is crowdfunded?

Ryan: We’re working on it.

Will: I feel like crowdfunding has kind of a weird perception in DIY. I don’t know if you agree.

Nick: I don’t like it. I feel real dirty. I feel weird about it.

Joe: There is definitely a band with brass in it from this town…

Nick: It’s Stacked Like Pancakes! We’re naming names!

Joe: They crowdfunded $100,000 for their album to work with some famous producer.  I feel like crowdfunding working with a famous producer is against the rules or something.

Will: I almost want to say it was Bill Stevenson or someone like that, but I can’t remember. And then right after it got funded everyone except the main guy quit the band.

Joe: It was probably Rick Reubens.

[Everyone laughs.]

Will: It’s always struck me as a weird double standard because at the end of the day it’s DIY. Do it yourself. That’s just another way of doing it.

Nick: I don’t think it’s spitting in the face of DIY or anything like that. That would be like, corporate sponsors. These are just regular people donating their money.

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Ryan:
But, if you’re asking, will Flabbercasters ever sell out, that’s hardly a question. I would sell out right now. [laughs]

Nick: I would take the first opportunity to make money off a fucking wizard band.

Will: So would you say your distaste with crowdfunding is just because of the various bands that have burned their fans over the years?

Nick: I just think it’s like begging, which I generally don’t like anyway. I just always feel like I should be giving more back to people.

Ryan: I get that there’s people who want to support us, and they want to help us. It’s awesome that we’ve seen what we have so far. It’s more than I thought we’d see. Whatever we get, we’re happy with. Anyone giving anything is awesome.

Nick: Jason’s messaging us from the group chat. He’s telling us what to talk about.

[Everyone laughs.]

Ryan: We recorded some of our songs in an Airbnb in Nashville a year or two ago, and they’re rough takes but they’re really good. I was thinking about those songs as a reward for a contribution tier or something like that, just to give something back.

Nick: We recorded it with Reason, which is just a super simple free recording program, on my Mac with one microphone, but they still sound good.

Will: So the new album will be two microphones?

Nick: No, we’ll just get a nicer Airbnb.

[Everyone laughs.]

Will: Syphilis Totalus (Live from Nashville)

Nick: Well, maybe not Nashville.

Joe: We got asked some weird questions about recycling in Nashville.

Nick: Yeah, ’cause that’s like the bare minimum you can do, and I asked some people, “Hey, where do you put your recycling? And they were like, “Oh, you’re not from around here.”

Joe: What the fuck? How difficult is it to just put your beer cans in a different trash can?

Will: Nashville is known for a proud legacy of country music and anti-recycling sentiment.

Nick: It was nuts! It’s always been shameful to be the one to say that your apartment building doesn’t recycle or whatever, but in Nashville they were just like, “We just don’t do it. Nobody does it.” And Jason made up this story on the way down—we drove past a confederate flag and he’s telling me, “Yeah, they only agreed to rejoin the Union on the condition that they wouldn’t have to read or brush their teeth.”

Ryan: Meanwhile, he’s sitting in a pile of Budweiser cans in the back of my car!

Nick: He’s the most interesting member of this band and he’s not here.

Will: For the new album, is the artwork going to be similar to the last one?

Joe: Yeah, his name is wizardofbarge on social media! He’s great. I met him at the Baltimore Tattoo Convention a few years back. I saw his art and I wanted him to tattoo me, but it turned out his girlfriend was the tattoo artist and he was just selling some of his stuff at her booth. We exchanged info though and his girlfriend did end up tattooing me. Then I bought one of his shirts and showed it to the band. He had a shirt that said Support Your Local Wizard. I was losing my shit! I ran home and grabbed a bunch of our burned CDs and gave them to him. It was like a match made in heaven.

Ryan: Yeah, he’s the man.

Nick: He made us a music video!

Joe: We didn’t commission him or anything. He just hit us up like “Hey guys, I made this music video for “Mana Drought.” Hope it’s cool.” He’s just riding around on a skateboard, wearing  a cape in a giant wizard head and drinking beers.

Jamie: Exactly what a Flabb music video should be.

Nick: It’s great because it’s a fifty-second song so it all fits on Instagram.

[Everyone laughs.]

Will: You mentioned this a little earlier, but in case you wanted to elaborate on anything, why wizards?

Joe: Wizards are just cool.

Ryan: I’m always thinking up ideas for joke bands. I’d had the idea for Flabbercasters being a wizard band for awhile before it happened. My latest idea is a band called Leaving. It’s a big band, lots of members, lots of gear. You show up and people are just like, “Dude, you have to see this band Leaving. They’re amazing.” And you go up on stage and you say, “Hey, what’s up everyone, we’re Leaving.” Then you pack up all your shit and leave. You have a page online and it always says Music Coming Soon.

Jamie: We always joked that you brought Joe and I in because Diarrhea Planet has a lot of members so you wanted to pad the roster. Three guitarists to play the same three-chord pop punk bullshit. But over the years Jason and I have actually gotten really good at writing parts together.

Nick: Basically, the songs that I write are about Magic: The Gathering.

Ryan: I played a lot of RuneScape, way longer than I should’ve, so a lot of my songs are about RuneScape. Skyrim, Fable. That kind of thing. Not so much D&D. Not so much anime.

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Joe:
I want to go as far as to say I am anti-anime. I think Flabbercasters stands against anime. We’re gonna die on this hill.

[Everyone laughs.]

Nick: I just think D&D takes too long, for me, anyway. But I write forty-second songs, so what do I know? I guess the answer is: we think wizards are cool. And writing songs about Magic: The Gathering, that’s stuff I haven’t heard before. It’s different. It’s something I would like to listen to if I just came across it.

Joe: Someone told me once that a lot of bands that sing about wizards and shit, you’d expect to be really epic metal bands, but we sound like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. It’s kinda goofy.

Will: Yeah, that’s true. You’d expect this epic tale from start to finish. Is there a story like that at the core of your music? Is there a Flabbercaster?

Joe: We did have an option with the new album cover for it to either be the five of us or one original character, and we went with the original character. There’s not a lot of detail in it, so I guess there is room for a character.

Ryan: When we started writing songs the goal was for them to be really simple and easy, but when we started writing more songs I was like, “Well, we can’t live on the short ‘Lvl 40’ songs forever.”

Nick: Sure we can!

[Everyone laughs.]

Ryan: But I feel like maybe we do need a lore. We do need to build something around it. We don’t have a solid story but through these songs you can piece together a world. Is it always the same character? Maybe.

Jamie: Hold on. Jason just texted and said, “The character is my drunk uncle in Ohio.” [laughs] He’s probably watching the livestream. So I think that’s the answer.

Ryan: And really it’s up to your interpretation, just like with all music. One time someone came up to me and said, “Do you realize that level twenty-nine plus level forty is sixty-nine? Did you do that on purpose?” And of course I said yes, but I had no idea.

Nick: We can’t count!

[Everyone laughs.]

Will: Do you think you’d like to do this full time, potentially? Tour, the whole thing?

Joe: Playing the bass and not going to work sounds way better than going to work and not playing the bass.

Nick: Why would I even consider not doing that? I barely do anything in this band! It would be such a change of pace. Instead of going to work Monday through Friday, I’m in a wizard band!

Ryan: “I’m a full-time wizard. This is my job.”

Will: What’s the writing process like for the songs? You mentioned it’s different on this record.

Jamie: Ryan writes them and teaches them to us.

Nick: All the songs you like, Ryan wrote.

Jamie: Nick had one song on the last album and now he has two. That’s the big difference. Joe and I co-wrote two songs.

Will: How long is the album?

Ryan: Fourteen songs. It’s long again. It’s gonna be hard to record in two days. [laughs]

Joe: We recorded Coitus in about two days. Ryan and I were able to nail fourteen songs in, I think, under twenty takes.
Nick: It was cool the way we did it, and we’re probably going to do it again. We recorded drums and bass together, then two guitars, then vocals. It worked out well. But the writing process has definitely changed since LARPING.

Ryan: I wanted to change it up from the really short and simple songs, so I just started sitting on an idea and writing a story out of it. I think it builds on our lore, but we still have songs that build on the classic Flabbercasters songs.

Will: I’m curious how easy it is to write these songs.

Nick: Oh, incredibly.

[Everyone laughs.]

Will: I just mean in terms of limiting yourselves to wizards and writing songs about Magic: The Gathering. Do you ever feel like you to have to reach in order to write a song about RuneScape?

Ryan: I don’t go into writing a song by planning to write a song about RuneScape, it just ends up being influenced by RuneScape. “Remodeled Dungeon” is a RuneScape song, and in the game you could build your own house, throw house parties, and fight other people. That was where I spent all of my time.

Will: Outside of games and media, where did Flabbercasters’ sound come from?

Nick: Blink-182. And we had that initial influence of Diarrhea Planet.

Ryan: Yeah, they influenced us. Then we met them, and they influenced us again.

Nick: In a negative way. [laughs]

Ryan: We met them at the show and we were like, “Hey, this is our first show. We formed this band based off of one of your songs.” And they were just like, “Oh. Cool.” They weren’t rude necessarily, but if someone said that to me about our band I would be losing my mind.

Joe: What about Scissor Kicks? Would you consider them a main influence?

Nick: Dude, Scissor Kicks is the greatest band of all time. Not because they were good musicians or wrote good songs, or had good stage presence, or did anything that a good band would do, but because I’m pretty sure we watched them break up on stage. We went to their show at Charm City Art Space and they were arguing with each other during their set between songs. Like the bass player would be like, “Alright this next song is written by this guy who thinks he fucking knows everything.” It was awesome. I still have one of their shirts.

Ryan: But, yeah, we’re not influenced by anyone.

[Everyone laughs.]

Joe: I think we all came up more or less through different skate punk bands. Also AC/DC. I credit a lot of how I play the bass to AC/DC.

Nick: Are you saying we’re legitimately influenced by AC/DC?

Joe: Oh, hell yes. Absolutely.

Nick: I’m gonna make an AC/DC jar and you’re gonna have to put a quarter in it every time you mention AC/DC.

Joe: I will give you cash right now.

[Everyone laughs.]

Will: Do you think it’s fair to say that, out of everyone in the band, Nick gets the most shit?

Jamie: Nick and Jason, for sure.

Nick: I don’t think you can give Jason shit, he’s fucking nuts. You can’t make fun of him.

Jamie: I shit on Nick the most, for sure.

Nick: Well, yeah, I do the least around here. I show up with nothing in my hands and pick up a microphone.

Joe: You usually have a six pack.

Jamie: Yeah, half the set Nick will just lean out and hold the mic into the audience so they can sing for him.

Nick: That’s my goal. I want to get to the point where I just don’t sing at all. Can’t fuck up the words if I’m not singing them! [laughs]

Will: There’s about to be fourteen new songs, though. Kind of throws a wrench into that.

Nick: Yeah, it does. I had to actually learn some songs.

Will: So were you against the new album coming out? [laughs]

Nick: No, definitely not against it. But I am against the songs being so goddamn long. There are songs on this album that are like two minutes and fifteen seconds! That’s twice the length of one of my songs!

[Everyone laughs.]

Will: And you’ve played MAGFest twice now, right?

Jamie: We got lucky with that. The guys who were trying to break the Guinness World Record for Most Wizards in One Place, The Brothers Cosplay, wanted us there to play the party. I think we were the only punk band on the bill  both years. But those guys are fucking awesome.

Will: Did the Guinness record go through this year?

Ryan: I don’t know if it has officially yet. Both years we got it, but this time was much stricter because last year they said there wasn’t enough evidence. This year they had people checking the wizards in and video cameras. The goal was 252 and the first year we had over 600. They had to stop counting.

Nick: I was saying if they don’t get it this year, they should have a Fuck Guinness Book of World Records party next year, and we’ll play it.

Will: What’s the difference between playing at MAGFest and playing a basement show, because you’ve done both and I feel like there aren’t that many bands who can say that.

Joe: So there’s this local band called BraceFace that have a house in Laurel, Md. where they do basement shows. If you show up there super drunk, then everyone expects that. I could hand anyone in that basement my bass and they could probably play my parts. But when you show up to a big event like MAGFest super drunk, you do bad.

[Everyone laughs.]

Joe: Actually, I’ve been holding onto this secret for years and I swore if I ever got the chance to spill it to the media I would. Every time I’ve been to BraceFace House in the last two years, I have stolen one Q-Tip from their bathroom. One Q-Tip every time for two years, and we’ve played there a lot.

Nick: How many do you have?

Joe: I don’t know. A lot.

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Nick:
Playing there is different because of the intimacy. I stood on the subwoofer up at the front at MAGFest because no one wanted to get too close to us, and I looked over at one of the staff members and he was just shaking his head like, “You can’t do that.” When I’m at a basement show I can climb on the rafters, I can crowdsurf. Nothing matters and everyone is right there with you. When we’re on a stage, the crowd gets to hear some shitty pop punk, but if I can be out there in the crowd singing with everyone, that’s when you get an experience. At MAGFest they put that subwoofer right in front of the stage, and it was basically a barrier between us and the crowd.

Will: You couldn’t hand anyone the mic.

[Everyone laughs.]

Nick: I did anyway.

Will:  I’ve always felt that Baltimore used to have this really thriving pop punk community, especially in the early 2000s when Isubordination Fest was still happening. Then there was this long gap where it was all death metal, but in the past few years I think there’s been a pop punk revival and Flabb was right on the cusp of that.

Nick: I could see that. I left a pop punk band in 2012 where I was playing drums , they wanted to go on tour and told me I had to drop out of college.
Joe: Growing up, I definitely remember thinking Baltimore was a metal town. It’s always been kind of a working man’s butt rock town.

Will: But now there’s like this new wave of punk bands.

Joe: That’s true for sure. I think BraceFace has been huge for that, with what they’re doing at their house.

Will: What do you do outside of the band, and does it factor into DIY? Do you find ways to combine it with your music or do you keep them separate?

Joe: I work for a Chinese restaurant called Asian Taste and I’m blessed to have the coolest bosses of all time. They’re super supportive of the band. When I went into that job I told them that I would work for them for as long as they’d have me, but if any of my bands started touring or anything I would need to take time off. They work me hard but when I need to go play MAGFest or tour they’re totally cool with it. That job lets me build my life around my bands.

Will: And you do shows there.

Joe: I do! It’s super stressful and I don’t want to talk about it. [laughs]

Nick: I don’t think my job has much to do with it, to be honest. I work in A/V so it’s similar, but I keep them pretty separate. Lifting weights maybe. I’m trying to be Henry Rollins. [laughs]

Jamie: If you donate to our GoFundMe, Nick will teach you how to lift weights.

[Everyone laughs.]

Joe: Nick is DIY-ing his house right now. He’s a DIY kind of guy.

Ryan: I don’t have a life outside of music.

Jamie: I really only give a shit about two things, which are music and visual art.

Nick: Yeah, you’re a real artist. Music’s fucking easy, but you do real art. Well, my part is easy.

Joe: We’re all playing less than five notes a song, let’s be honest.

Jamie: I got my bachelor’s degree last spring and I’m thinking about going to grad school. If I can become an art teacher then I’ll just tour during the summers.

Joe: Jamie did this really cool series for her senior project. It’s like turn of the century landscape portraits, like how you’d have some guy just working in a field. Jamie did that, but with gross white trash bits of the town where we grew up. Like a typical landscape painting where you have blue skies and a line of trees, but then in the front some fat guy with his pants falling down and his ass hanging out on the sidewalk.

Jamie: I’m still working on those paintings. I don’t know how long I’m going to be doing that for, but I’m trying to get a body of work that has a cohesive point behind it. The work I’m trying to do right now is putting dumpsters and things in the foreground and prioritizing it. Rather than make anything new I’m showing what lies underneath the surface, because it kind of deals with mental health problems and transgender issues and stuff like that. Something that has always been there under the surface but has never really been noticed or given appreciation before.

Will: Like high art about low things. That’s really rad. So for all of you, what would you say are the ethics of Flabbercasters?

Joe: Just do what we want. Every time we start talking about something new related to the band, Nick will be very clear that he is not trying hard at something he doesn’t want to do. That’s always our attitude.

Nick: After we played MAGFest for seven hundred people in wizard costumes, my friend was talking to me afterwards and was like, “Dude, you said that if things ever got serious you would quit the band. This is pretty serious.” I just don’t want it to feel like work. If I get to the point where I feel like I’m working another job doing this, I’m out. But right now it’s great, because I put in minimal work.

Ryan: Yeah, because I do all the work!

[Everyone laughs.]

Nick: I’m not going to do this if it sucks.

Joe: For me, I would never want to be in a legal battle with any label or anyone corporate. Fuck no.

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Nick:
I’ve been in bands where people left, and then the band sued them for pieces of nothing, basically. And none of them ever went anywhere, these were DIY bands. We went on tour and came back in debt. There’s nothing there. When I was playing solo shows there was this guy who was playing drums for me who said he wanted 25% of my take, and I was like, “I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you 100% of what we make from this show at Victor’s Italian Ice.” That’s the stuff I hate. Arguing over money or thinking this is gonna lead to a career. This is just having fun. That’s the ethics.

Joe: And we naturally work hard at it because it’s fun. I think about it a lot, I obsess about it a lot. I can tell when Ryan has free time because he gets a bunch of shit done. As long as it’s fun, it’s easy to work hard for, because it doesn’t suck. Like Nick said, it’s not a job.

Ryan: Sometimes it’s stressful, I’m not gonna lie. Sometimes people don’t pick up the phone. sometimes it’s hard getting everyone together. But I don’t try to project that onto the other people in the band. I try not to, anyway. I need to get checked sometimes. I’ll get locked in on something thinking that we have to do it and Nick will be like, “No, fuck it. we don’t have to.”

Nick: You gotta bring it back sometimes.

Will: Lower your expectations.

Nick: Right!

Ryan: The ethics of this band are: if you like it, you like it. If you don’t, then fuck it. It’s a joke anyway.

Joe: If we cut out at the bridge to one of our songs and there are a bunch of people still singing the words to that song, that’s the ethics.

Will: I just have two left. What’s your goal for the band? What’s the highest point you can imagine where you would say, “Okay, the band can break up now.”

Ryan: Uh, we sell out and make a lot of money…

Jamie: And then we all buy private islands and run Fyre Festival scams.

[Everyone laughs.]

Nick: The band will burn out. I don’t expect anyone to say that the band is done. I think we’re just gonna keep going until we hit a wall. At this point, I think it could end whenever. We’ve done way more already than I ever thought possible when we started this band in Ryan’s living room.

Joe: But at the same time, Jason and Jamie are really good guitar players and Nick has a great voice. Ryan and I have been playing pop punk since we were thirteen. I know we’re good. That’s part of the joke.

Will: Last question. Who’s your wizard role model and why?

Nick: I like the Ice King from Adventure Time, because he’s lonely and sad.

Ryan: If the Flabbercaster is anyone, it’s Ice King. Mystery solved.

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Will Malkus is a writer, librarian, and photographer based out of Baltimore, MD.
You can check out his photography portfolio at charmcorephoto.com/.