Acrylics interview by Rosie Gonce

Acrylics Interview by Rosie Gonce

Aug 21, 2017

Acrylics have been around for only three years, but have packed in touring, writing, and recording with the same kind of nonstop, spastic drive that you hear in their music. They’ve gone from recording demos on 4 tracks and pleading for shows, to their latest 7” being released on Iron Lung Records and an upcoming month-long European tour. They passionately and proudly represent and identify with a unique hardcore scene in Santa Rosa, Calif. (and around the world), calling their genre of music “freak punk.” Their songs, at times dark and tribal, with head-banging riffs and floor-punching drumbeats, flow unexpectedly but seamlessly into jaw-clenching, circle-pit inducing rhythms, covered in layers of creepy, circus/musicbox melodies and precisely manipulated screeching guitar noises. The confident vocals poetically follow the carefully orchestrated chaos, riddled with power and desperation.

During the course of this interview, Acrylics jumped into answering questions before they were asked, indicative of their full-speed-ahead energy. They spoke about their challenges and inspirations, how the band has immensely helped their lives while, in turn, giving them new struggles. But they are far from being discouraged. They’re determined to continue to build their scene and strengthen its sense of community, to grow as individuals and as a band, and engage different types of people. They play music to save themselves from themselves and break away from the mediocrity of everyday life. Knowing they all work so hard to make it all happen, they are confident that their music will continue to take them all over the world.

Introduction, interview, and photos by Rosie Gonce

Mark Nystrom: vocals
Justin Nguyen: guitar
Ian Jones: drums
Ben Wright: guitar
Connor Alfaro: bass

Rosie: How did you all meet?

Mark: Where we live (Santa Rosa, California), it’s a pretty small place, so if there are bands and musicians, we pretty much all know each other and are aware of each other. Originally, it was me and Ian. We started the band together in a garage. Eventually, Ben came to see us perform at this really shitty bar where there were two people watching us. He wanted to join. Connor and me worked together at a grocery store. He had heard our demo and really wanted to join us. And Justin is actually five months new and we just know each other through our small music scene.

Connor: I met Mark because he got hired at the place I worked, but I also had heard about Acrylics from my roommate. My roommate was like “You gotta check out these high school kids!” [Everyone laughs.] But none of them were in high school. I guess since my roommate’s thirty, they seemed really young to him. But I heard it and I was like, “This is fucking crazy.” So I convinced them to kick out their other bass player and let me play.

Justin: Even before I joined, we were all friends; I knew all the guys before. I’d been watching  Acrylics play for years, so joining the band was natural because we already hang out anyway. I happen to play guitar, so joining was a good fit. I may be new but it doesn’t really feel that new, because they’ve been my friends for a while now.

Rosie: You guys have been a band for about three years now, which is kind of new, especially considering how much you all have done in that amount of time.

Connor: When I joined, they were about a year in, and they had already gone on a U.S. tour. Then we went on a U.S. tour and it was my first U.S. tour. And since then it’s been poppin’ off, getting busier and busier. In October we’re going to Europe for a month, and next year we have plans to go to Japan and Australia, hopefully.

Mark: We just keep aiming higher as the years go by and opportunities come.

Rosie: How would you say that being in the band over the last few years has changed your lives?

Connor: I feel like it’s been really inspiring, being around musicians and artists, people who work really hard for what they choose to do with their life. Not just something like, “Ugh, I have to wake up and do this,” but like, “I’m gonna wake up and work my ass off on something!” It’s been really inspiring, but it’s also been a real struggle. Touring and having a job and having a good income has been hard, because most jobs don’t like having employees that tour.

Acrylics interview by Rosie Gonce
What are some of the struggles and challenges you guys have faced?

Connor: As far as touring, and saving money for that, and being twenty-five—which is still young—but trying to get to a point in your life where you can take care of yourself and not live paycheck to paycheck. You have to put money into this to do it. Yeah, we’re going to Europe, but we’re buying our own plane tickets. So it takes money and working and trying to practice. We just wrote a 7” and we also need to write an LP that we’re gonna put out next year. So it can feel very congested, even though it’s really over a long time span.

Justin: It takes a lot of planning to get all of that in, especially since we all work in service industry jobs.

Rosie: What do you all do for work?

Mark: I manage a coffee shop full time and that takes up a huge amount of time during the week. Then in the evenings we practice and we write. So my days during the week are completely filled up with obligations and that gets pretty grueling. But at the end of the day, it’s all worth it, because you get more opportunities because of it and because you work for it.

I never thought I would get to go to Europe to play music and working toward that is very difficult, especially working a full time job. Everyone here knows that struggle. We’re always like, “How are we gonna afford to do this? How are we gonna afford to do that?” But we always make it work.

Ian: I work at a coffee and beer shop. So we open early and we close late. I’ve been doing just a few night shifts lately, so I have the two nights we have practice and then every other night I’m usually there until 11 o’clock at night.

Connor: I work 40 hours a week at an Asian bakery. It’s nine to five. And I also play in three other bands. They’re not as active.

Mark: I’ve been juggling so many different jobs over the last few years. For the past year I’ve been a line cook, but as of right now I’m working at a coffee place. Those kinds of places are the kinds of jobs that are pretty easy to get and those are jobs that are easily replaceable, so you don’t have to feel too guilty about quitting or getting fired.

Ben: Most of the year I’m working two jobs. I’m part time at this beer/wine supply store, in a warehouse, and then part-time in a T-shirt printing place. But during the months from June until October, I work full-time at the wine spot because it’s wine season. So we don’t really do a lot with the band during that time span. In the past, we used to just kind of not care. We used to kind of do everything and it was fine. And then after a while we all realized that, “Oh, we’re all kind of broke and our jobs don’t like us anymore!”

Rosie: So it’s been a learning process.

Ben: Yeah, just realizing after a while that we do need jobs. And we have to understand that working does suck but it will get better. So summer months are usually off limits because of work. We also learned that it’s just bad for the van! [Everyone laughs.] We’ve learned pretty quickly that summer is not the time to tour.

Rosie: Yeah, it gets too hot, right?

Ben: It’s too fucking hot and we’re all way too broke to handle a van like mine that’s too shitty. So instead of having this thing explode on us in July, we wait to tour until January.

Rosie: Going back to what Ben was saying, having a “Fuck it, let’s just tour” attitude about jobs for too long can be problematic because it’s just not sustainable. Because then you can’t come back and get another job.

Connor: Yeah, that’s been the goal, to get to a place where we don’t have to get another job. As much as we don’t want to have the, “Fuck it, I’m gonna tour” attitude, we’ve definitely all done that. We’ve done that for two years, but we’re trying our best to play it safe. But as of now, if any of our jobs didn’t let us to go to Europe, we’re gonna say “Fuck it,” because it’s Europe. We’re going to Europe, no matter what. We already have tickets. So if they don’t want to keep us as employees, they can kiss my ass.

Justin: At the end of the day, we work normal jobs, like anyone else does, and there’s nothing special about them. It pays the bills and it supports our music, but if it comes in the way of opportunities that may come once in a lifetime, then there’s no point in letting it ruin that. So if I have to quit a job and lose financial security for a little bit, I can get another job. There are jobs out there. Ten years down the line, I’m not gonna think about my coffee job, I’m gonna think about these opportunities and how I got to play music with my friends.

Connor: It comes down to how we’re artists. To some people, it’s just rock music but we work hard at this.

Acrylics interview by Rosie Gonce
We’re not job people who do music. We’re musicians who have side jobs to support that. Our jobs aren’t our careers. Doing music is our career, basically, and everything we do outside that supports that notion. We’re willing to put it all on the line for the greater good of all of us achieving something.

Connor: We’re very deep people. [laughs]

Justin: At the end of the day, we just hate our jobs. Not Connor, though. Connor loves his job.

Connor: I like my job. Thankfully, my boss is allowing me all the time off for work. It’s just about choosing when I can afford to take that amount of time off.

Rosie: Obviously, you’re all very passionate about the band. What other aspects of your life inspire and drive your music?

Mark: I definitely think that the forty-hour job definitely influenced me to look outside the box. For a while, after high school, I was drinking a lot and not doing shit and working. I remember I just completely quit my job on the spot because Ian and I had to come up with a demo in two weeks for a show. I had read about this in Black Flag books and Dead Kennedy books and I was like, “I’m just gonna be sporadic and do the punk thing for a second.” And I just went for it. Seeing people waste their lives at stupid jobs and not doing what they actually want to do, but doing it because they have to do it for someone else’s sake, I think that’s been the most inspiring thing for me.

There was this lady I was working with. She was forty-three and had three kids. She was like, “All I ever wanted to do was play piano, I just never did it.” I thought that was so sad that she never took the time for herself to do something like that.

Connor: I’ve always had this attitude because of my parents, that this is the way you get through life—that you work at a job, you pay for your shit. You’re responsible. That’s always the way I’d thought about shit, and so I’d always thought that making art and playing music was a bonus in my life. At this time in my life, now that my work aspect is getting more structured, I’m starting to think of that as a bonus and my art as a way of life. Being able to have a job, and work as much as I do—I’m trying to think of it more as a gift—instead of something shitty I have to do. It makes if feel so much better to think about it that way than the other way around.

Justin: Ultimately, doing music—performing and writing and hearing what you’ve worked on with friends and people for a long time. When you hear it finally and you play a show, it pays off. Outside of that it’s—I don’t wanna say shitty—but it’s very bland. The place we live in, for me, is not the most inspiring place. So being inspired to just keep with it, performing, and being in that moment is worth it because, ultimately, there’s no other feeling than playing a show, having people be receptive to it, and vibing with your fellow bandmates. All the other shitty aspects of life, outside of doing music, inspire me to keep doing music—it’s like an outlet. You work a grueling work week, and then you meet up with your friends and let it out.

Ben: I feel like it sounds like a stereotypical thing to say, but it’s just kind of the struggle of living in a place that’s really not meant for someone your age—it’s meant for people who have a family, who are kind of established and have a good job. And if you’re not any of these things—for people like us who are youngish, who have jobs that we hop around to—we’re having to pay rent in a place that’s constantly kind of trying to push you out of it.

That and just the mental strain from stress and mental health stuff. Having a way of getting it out that’s not harmful for myself. Mark and I do a lot of the writing and—ever since I joined—it was like the music always felt the way life felt, in certain ways, like it was just a claustrophobic thing. It was anxiety-inducing. It was always kinda hectic and you never had a break.

Connor: And the music grows the way we all have together, too. The music has matured but in another way. We soak in different problems—whatever the fuck we have to deal with—and the music kind of mirrors it as we go.

Acrylics interview by Rosie Gonce
I think one of my biggest inspirations for songwriting is basically everything else I hear from the genre and how I can avoid ever sounding like it. Like, trying to write riffs that are specifically outside of everything else because it’s easy to—I hate to say this, because it sounds awfully pompous—but I find that a lot of hardcore stuff can be a little formulaic at times. It’s kind of nice being like, “How can I do this in a way that appeals to others, but also appeals to myself?,” who is, I guess for lack of a better word, “elitist,” in way, about how I’ve heard this a thousand times. So how can I have the same message be there but have it sound, how I feel, which is generally kinda fucked up. In terms of our sound, I think it conveys that. I’m sure there are plenty of people who would argue otherwise, and that’s fine. I think that those are the biggest driving influences, just the struggle of being a young adult in our area specifically, and the Bay Area too, because it’s so goddam expensive. And just trying to not fit in, in a way, but also appeal to that same crowd that you’re trying to not be just like.

Rosie: So it seems like it’s kind of like an escape for you guys.

Justin: It’s therapeutic.

Acrylics interview by Rosie Gonce
It’s an escape, but doing this feels more real than going to work. Honestly, work is where I feel more like a fake person and when I’m performing is where real feelings and emotions happen. Working all day, dragging along, pointless conversations, inequality, no substance…

Ben: It feels really honest. To be what you want to be and express yourself, even if it’s really ugly and it’s just a bunch of noise and half of the room is like, “Why is he so fucking loud? Why is it so sharp sounding? What the fuck is this?” It’s one of those moments where I genuinely don’t care what anybody else is experiencing and I’m just like, “This is for me.”

Because if I didn’t have this band, I would find it somewhere else and it wouldn’t be as good, probably. If I don’t play music and if I don’t express myself in some fucking way, I’m gonna end up in a box in the ground. This is just what I gotta do. All of us, to a certain extent, have to escape the stale nature of everyday life, where you’re working with people you don’t care about and you’re talking about things you don’t care about. And for once in your life, you can be totally honest with yourself, with the people you’re in this with.

Justin: I struggled to find that feeling elsewhere or in anything else. With music, there’s nothing else that makes me feel that way, especially when you’re doing it all together, you have a good show, you’re all acknowledging it in that moment, everyone’s looking at each other, and you’re all kind of thinking the same thing: “This is it.”

Connor: I fucking hate my job! [everyone laughs]

Justin: Yeah, exactly! “My job sucks. This is awesome!” [laughs] That’s how some of my favorite shows have been, especially in Washington, in Seattle and Olympia. Those shows are like nothing else. They’re some of our favorite places to play, just because the crowd is receptive. The band is putting out energy, and it becomes this giant, weird, entropic mess in this small space. It’s something that you don’t see anywhere else. You can’t get that at a job. You can’t get that going to a bar or wherever.

Connor: Yeah, it’s a very inspiring environment.

Rosie: That was actually going to be my next question—what are the elements of a good show?

Ian: It’s people being responsive and moving. Like when we went to Kansas City where people were singing along and knowing the words to our songs.

Mark: When you play and people are moving and singing, it shows that part of your music is a part of them and you feel like you’re making an effect on them.

Connor: Impact is important.

Mark: I remember at 1234 Go we played a show and a kid said, “You guys are sick. You get me through school!” and I said, “Hey, thanks dude. That means a lot!” But in my head I was thinking, “Holy shit! That’s amazing.

Justin: Also, being music listeners and appreciators, and going to see shows all our lives, people have had an impact on us. That’s a big reason I do music: “I wanna do that.’” And then to be able to do it, it’s like one of the most humbling and rewarding feelings.

We played shows where amps have gotten unplugged, things are breaking and amps are frying. We blew our bass speaker out in Seattle, but it didn’t matter at all because everyone was so receptive—it was crazy. We couldn’t even finish playing our song. All our stuff was breaking because the crowd was jumping on stage and knocking shit over, but those are some of our favorite shows—when it doesn’t matter if you’re playing the song perfectly because everyone is having a great time.

Acrylics interview by Rosie Gonce
When we’re playing and people are there to watch the bands, everyone’s there for the same reason—to escape some sort of reality they’re living in, to be inspired, or to see different art, or to meet new people. Everyone’s there to change it up.

Justin: It’s different than paying for tickets and going to a concert. The shows we play are more community-based, so when you’re playing a show there you’re not just playing a venue, you’re playing to the community. We’ve met our best friends from different states and different countries. Touring with Roht from Iceland, we’re really good friends with them now and getting to know them—it’s like creating a bond. It’s not like seeing some big band that you paid eighty bucks a ticket for to see at a giant concert hall—which is cool too, it’s just a completely different experience.

Rosie: There’s more of a connection.

Connor: Yeah, I definitely feel like I’ve made more friends touring than I would through Facebook or some bullshit. It’s a way to stay connected and knowing what’s going on outside of where we’re at. And now that we’ve met, and obviously on Facebook, we stay connected that way. You can see what shows they’re booking in different places, and it’s amazing. There’ve been bands that we’ve booked in Santa Rosa, and we also see our friends booking the same band in Mississippi and we’re like, “Your show looks sick! Our show looks sick! This is fun!” We’re all helping each other out and that feels good.

Ben: It’s not every show, but there’s kind of this magic thing that happens. It’s one of those moments when you’re all on the same wavelength and you don’t really have to think about it, you’re all just kind of doing it. It becomes the sole purpose that you’re there. You’re really tapped in to it and everything makes sense. It doesn’t happen all the time, because there’re so many things that happen to us—stuff breaking, stuff getting unplugged, and sometimes Mark will just be acting so wild—but that for me is what makes it a perfect show.

Another important thing about our shows, especially, is that even though the words “safe spaces” have been kind of tainted because people are taking over DIY spots, we wouldn’t be playing shows the way we play shows unless it was for everyone. All ages, all races, all orientations, genders, whatever. Those are our people. We all feel that way. I really enjoy that every show we do, whoever’s booking it or if we’re booking it, we provide that space for people to not feel threatened or uncomfortable.

Justin: It’s the one place you should feel at home.

Connor: We try to. It’s kind of hard with punk rock music. But we want everyone to feel really good.

Mark: We’re very vocal about it.

Justin: Someone has to say it.

Connor: Every show we do we try to send a message that if any one has any concerns about attending the show or if they’re uncomfortable in any way, message us personally and we’ll try our very best to accommodate.

Justin: We’ve stopped sets halfway through a song to kick problematic people out. Sure, we could finish the song and make it about us, but it’s not just about us—it’s about everyone in the room. The people watching us are just as important, and if they’re not having fun, then what’s the point? If one person is ruining it for everyone, then they gotta go. And Mark, as the front man, he has the microphone, he’s the voice in that moment. It’s great that we actually stop and take the time to acknowledge it. It’s not like, “Let’s just finish the set and we’ll address it later.” No. It’s like, “People have to know right now that it’s not okay.”

Mark: It kills it. It sucks doing it, but if we don’t do it then we’re shitty band people.

Rosie: Looking at past shows you guys have done, I did get a sense that community is important to you. You’ve done a few shows that have also been art showcases?

Mark: We’ve done four installed art showcases, along with performing drag acts.

Justin: You gotta keep it different and interesting and fresh. Bringing in people of all different types is how we do it.

Connor: I like it when we have shows that are like whoever the fuck wants to play comes and plays.

Rosie: Being such a busy band having recorded, done tours, going to Europe, and for bands that might want to achieve these things, what would your advice be for kids starting bands, wanting to get where you guys are?

Mark: I think putting yourself out there and getting ready to be treated like shit. The first year of this band I reached out to everyone.

Connor: Their first demo, they sent to Iron Lung and they were like, “Fuck no.”

Mark: This one record shop in Bakersfield, I had hit up this guy accidentally three times. I emailed him and Facebooked him a couple times. He was like, “Fuck off, man, stop hitting me up!” And he took screen shots of my messages and posted it on his Twitter. And now he’s selling our tape for twenty dollars. He tried to humiliate me and now here he is selling our stuff, for more than what we sell it for. So I think just putting yourself out there for rejection and just doing exactly what you want to do. It’s what you have to do.

Justin: Shitty shows are inevitable.

Mark: We’ve played so many shitty shows.

Justin: You gotta play the really bad shows, really bad sets, nights where you’re all pissed at each other for some reason. On tour it gets hard, but trudging through that makes it worthwhile. Don’t get discouraged. Do it for the love of doing it, not for recognition. At the end of the day, we’re making music that we want to make.

Mark: You need to recognize your flaws. For the first two years, we weren’t developed. We weren’t responsible for how we recorded. You need to take the time and invest as much time into it as possible.

Connor: You need to realize that when you start out you’re not as good as you’re ever going to be. When you first start, you might think, “This is so fun! We’re so good!” But there’s so much room to grow and you don’t realize it until you just do it. There’re a lot of things to be scared of. Like, I have issues that make me freaked out on the road. I have a lot of self-care rituals that I do at home that I’m really attached to that you can’t do on the road. There’re things to be afraid of but the more you do it, the easier it gets.

Justin: A lot of conditioning and practice.

Mark: And the more time on the road with each other, we realize the boundaries.

Ben: We make it work.

Rosie: So what are you guys looking forward to in the future?

Justin: New music and going out and seeing the world.

Mark: And meeting more inspiring musicians and people who come out to shows.

Rosie: And building your community?

Mark: Yeah a bigger community.

Connor: And just keeping art—and more specifically punk—alive.

Self-titled record available via Neck Chop Records here.