Interview with Young Livers: By Dane Erbach

It seems strange anyone would consider Gainesville, Florida a “musical Mecca,” but music was the reason Matt Farrell, singer and guitarist for Young Livers, made a pilgrimage there from Pennsylvania.
Gainesville seems to have established itself as a sort of refuge for rock’n’roll, a city where small bands and small venues can succeed. Certainly, this is a reputation for which No Idea Records is partially responsible. Not only has this label helped local Gainesville bands like Hot Water Music and Against Me! achieve national notoriety, but it has also organized several successful music events like the annual Fest and, more recently, the Harvest of Hope Festival.
No Idea released The New Drop Era, Young Livers’ debut record, in 2007. On it, the band plays a messy, meandering sort of punk rock. The guitars on this album are thin and grainy; they seem to swirl around and slosh back and forth, stirred up by angular, adrenalized drumming. Farrell’s howl seems buried beneath the surface of this fuzzy, furious sea of instruments giving the record a dark, dense, and suppressive atmosphere.
As Farrell discusses The New Drop Era and his fateful move to Florida, he speaks modestly about the city’s influence on him, his music, and music in general. Maybe it’s because he’s not the type to hyperbolize or because this is the first phone interview he’s ever done. Or maybe because, again, it seems strange that anyone would consider Gainesville a “musical Mecca.”

Interview by Dane Erbach
Photos by
Brian Kelleher, www.flickr.com/photos/readysteadyjedi/sets/

Dane: The story of the band’s conception is interesting considering that the two halves of the band grew up across the country from each other. What inspired you to move to Gainesville to start Young Livers?
Matt: Chris (Jordan, drummer) and I played in a band in an area in Pennsylvania that, at one point, had a pretty decent music scene and a pretty good festival that drew a lot of bands from Florida to play.
Eventually, the scene started to fall apart. A lot of people we knew were no longer playing music or moved somewhere else to play music. I was just graduating school, and I talked to Chris about potentially moving somewhere where we could be inspired and creative. We picked out a couple of different places; one of them was Gainesville.
Then, we met a band from Gainesville that we became friends with called Building the State. We figured Gainesville would be the easiest place to move because, when I called them and said, “Hey, we were thinking of moving to Gainesville,” they told us they had an extra room in their house and were super excited for us to move down. They helped us with that transition.
Mike (Carter, bassist) and Dave grew up in California in the Ventura/Oxnard area and played in another band called Glass and Ashes, that played here in Gainesville a bunch of times. When he left the band, he decided to move here because he knew people here. Chris and I met Dave a few months after moving to Gainesville, which was about four years ago.
Dane: Do you think being from these different locations affected the sound of The New Drop Era?
Matt: Two of us grew up in California, Chris grew up in Pennsylvania, and I grew up in New York. When we first started getting into music, we went where the shows were. We were first exposed to what was convenient and available, and that’s what influenced our taste in music initially. From that point on, we went out and discovered different things, but I think it’s best to say that everyone was heavily influenced by the music of where we grew up, which influenced the record.
Dane: How did Gainesville affect the sound of The New Drop Era?
Matt:
The album came together because we were transplants in Gainesville. Most of us felt awkward and out of place, as anyone would in a new town. I think the lyrics are reflective of that time period of all of us moving to a new place and feeling uncomfortable with not knowing our new environment. In a broader sense, it’s also about alienation in a general way.
I always like lyrics that have general appeal. Obviously, if the song is about a personal experience, the listener can’t entirely relate because it’s too unique to the individual who wrote it. All of our lyrics are pretty personal but, if we add a certain amount of vagueness to it, it becomes a little more applicable to the people who hear it.
Dane: Do you think that there’s a particular “Gainesville sound” that bands from your city possess?
Matt: [Chuckles] I think a lot of people think that.
Dane: How would you describe it?
Matt: I think a lot of people associate Gainesville with the bands from there that have become popular, like Against Me! or Less Than Jake. But it’s interesting because, living in this town, I feel like there aren’t that many bands that fit that sound that people think of when they think of Gainesville. A lot of times when people review No Idea bands, they assume that they’re from Gainesville or sound like a band from it just because of the stigma.
Gainesville has a pretty diverse music scene. Lots of bands sound pretty far removed from what most people think of how a band from Gainesville would sound.

Dane: Do you feel like Young Livers could be categorized under that Gainesville sound?
Matt: I don’t. It’s mostly magazines that tend to place us under that category. We’re not even the biggest fans of bands that we get associated with. It’s not that we don’t like them, but a lot of people will compare our band to those other bands and think that we’re probably really into that Gainesville sound. But that’s not even necessarily true.
I think a lot of it comes from people who associate No Idea with a particular kind of sound; a lot what they do falls under that Gainesville sound.
Dane: Seeing as No Idea has put out a lot of punk records, do you feel that The New Drop Era, your first record with them, is a punk rock record?
Matt: I don’t know that I would say that The New Drop Era is a punk record, but a lot of people who influenced it might have, perhaps, fallen under that category. Their ethics and the ways in which they produced their music might fit that term, but I’m not quite sure exactly what punk is sometimes.
Dane: If you had to define it, how would you define “punk?”
Matt: “Punk” is an interesting term that can get a bit convoluted at times. It’s weird to define and the act of doing so seems contradictory. I think people take away something different from punk depending on what they put into it. It’s obviously an alternative to mainstream culture, but I’m not sure if there’s one specific thing or a number of things that define it.
Personally, I think punk has to do with how you approach music, about being independent, not letting people influence or take control of what you’re trying to do, and trying to do things your way.
Dane: For the artwork of The New Drop Era, Heather Gabel collaborated with Richard Minino from HorseBites Design, artists who have been pretty busy creating artwork for what could be considered punk bands. How did this collaboration come about?
Matt: Heather lives in town, and we knew Richard from the New Mexican Disaster Squad. We played at an art show at the TransitionsArtGallery in Tampa, and they had their art on display. It was a really awesome show and something I wish we could do more often, combining an art show with music. For the flyer of that show, Heather took a piece of her art and gave it to Richard, who disassembled it and brought in his own artwork. When we saw the flyer, we decided right then that this is what we wanted to do for the cover of our record.
It’s interesting, because Richard has done tons of bands and has great artwork; Heather has done a lot of things for bands too. I’m not sure if they’ve collaborated for an album cover before or if it’s been done since, and it’s cool to have something unique from them.
It was really awesome and fun to work with them. When we met with Heather, we just went out for coffee and talked about all these awesome ideas and got really excited about it. Richard doesn’t live in town so it was hard meeting with him but, when we did, it was really cool interacting with him. It felt good to work with people we saw on a regular basis and who we were friendly with, but who were also professionals.

Dane: In what way do you think the artwork captures the sound of the record?
Matt: I’m not sure that it actually does, and I think that’s something we want to work on for the next record. We all like the artwork and think it’s great that we got this unique piece. I don’t think it has anything to do with their artwork. I just always have a hard time finding artwork that reflects the sound of our band. Some bands do it great, but it might just be that I have a hard time putting artwork together with our music.
Dane: It seems like, musically and artistically, there’s a lot going on in Gainesville. What makes this city’s music scene significant?
Matt: I’m not sure. Gainesville has a pretty thriving music scene right now, but this city’s not as big as it seems. With other, much larger cities, like Minneapolis, it makes sense that they would have a large music scene because they have such a large population. Gainesville’s a pretty small area that happens to have a music scene that does well, which I think is kind of interesting.
Dane: The Fest has been a pretty important part of the music scene in Gainesville. Can you describe your experience playing at this festival?
Matt: We’ve played at three Fests, and it’s pretty intense. It’s like a holiday for everyone who lives in Gainesville. For all the bands, it’s like a huge family reunion. I think the most frustrating part of the Fest is not finding the time to see and have a quality conversation with so many people that you really want to connect with.
We were here in Gainesville one year as spectators, and that was a lot of fun, but it’s better being participants, to be involved. It gets a little bit hectic because everyone’s in party mode and having a good time, which makes it hard to remember how to play your set.
Dane: How is the Fest a significant or meaningful event in music?
Matt: I think it’s unique and pretty important because there are so many large festivals with high ticket prices. Here, there are these corporate vendors that sell a small, personal pizza for seven or eight dollars and five-dollar bottles of water.
Then, at the Fest, the sponsors are mom and pop restaurants from the town, not franchise places. If you want to eat food or do anything in the town, it’s contributing to the local businesses and local economy. It’s really very community-based, promoting the town in itself, not just the bands. Visitors actually get the experience of being in the town and in the community. I don’t think there’s anything going on of that scale that’s similar to that.
I’m not sure how much bigger it could get. Like I said, Gainesville’s not that big of a town. I don’t think there’s that much room for expansion. I think that’s a pretty awesome thing too, because I don’t think the Fest should get any larger than it is.
Dane: It sounds like making the move to Gainesville and signing with No Idea Records has been a beneficial experience for you.
Matt: When we go into the No Idea offices, it’s usually kind of a hangout. I think the first time we came back from a tour, we bought a twelve-pack of beer and went to the office and told them some stories about our trip. It’s more like a family atmosphere than like a business atmosphere—an office full of people that are friends who get to work on music and make a living from it.
In Gainesville, we’ve met a whole new group of people who have become our friends, people we hang out with, to go to shows with, to talk to about music. It’s been awesome.