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Eight winters have passed since this interview first ran in February of 2007, and each year has brought quite a few changes for the dudes in Off With Their Heads. Known for their energetic music juxtaposed with lyrics about the more depressing aspects of the human condition, the band, too, personifies the irresoluteness of life itself.
Since 2007, the band has slightly altered their “perfect match of assholes” with a few more changes to their lineup. In addition to Ryan Young on vox and guitar, the band now features Robbie Smartwood on bass, John Polydoros on guitar, and Ryan Fisher on drums. (Former members Justin Francis and Zack Gontard still provide drums and guitars on record.) And while they may have swapped out house shows in favor of worldwide tours, they still manage to embrace and promote the most fun aspects of DIY culture.
One major change came for the band in February of 2010 when, after a successful 2009 tour with Against Me!, they signed to Epitaph Records. While In Desolation—their first release on Epitaph—opened up OWTH to a broader audience, the heart of the band remains unchanged. Another major aspect of the band that is still consistent: they tour relentlessly—from small venues with local friends to major tours with bands like Bad Religion and the Dropkick Murphys—all over the world. Through it all, Ryan Young always manages to keep to his core beliefs in the world of punk, playing with heart even when the money isn’t there. Though instead of painting houses in Minneapolis, he is now living in Dixon, Illinois and focusing solely on his music—whether it’s recording or touring with his band, or showcasing the music and art of his friends. And house shows aren’t entirely out of the question, either—though they now prefer smaller venues or bars that are more accessible to fans.
In April of 2014, Ryan Young launched Anxious and Angry, a clothing line designed and created by collaborations with friends, as well as featured artists’ work (one such featured designer is OWTH’s original drummer Justin Francis), and personalized or rare Off With Their Heads merchandise. Along with the clothing line launch, Ryan also started the Anxious and Angry Podcast, which features Ryan shooting the shit with friends about music, psychology, and everything in between. Episodes of the podcast have featured the likes of Stacy Dee, Mikey Erg, Frank Turner, Kevin Seconds, and Razorcake’s own Todd Taylor. A&A also recently released NOLA punk band PEARS debut album on vinyl.
Has Off With Their Heads changed? In a lot of ways, yes, but at their core they’re still the same guys who make music about the sad, angry, and shitty parts of life—though their problems are different now and their attitudes toward them have matured. But one thing definitely hasn’t changed—it’s in the raw, honest intensity of their music—the belief that, despite all the bullshit, your friends are the ones who will stick with you through thick and thin.
And, yes, Ryan is still a fan of cats.
People always look forward to the first real snowfall of the season, the one that sticks. For weeks prior, the sand dumped to give traction to slippery roads has been building up, covering sidewalks, cars, and ice banks in addition to the roads it was intended for, making everything a dull brown. Everything becomes shit. But, with that first snow, it all changes. Those little white flakes undo the (aesthetic) damages that come with the season, but they also exceed that by transforming other unrelated ugliness (like a neighbor’s trash heap) into a fluffy white bank that sparkles when the light hits it just right. However, that ugliness is just as integral to the beauty as the snow is because without the shitpile there to define it, the snow would have nowhere to cling.
So, what does a bunch of hoo-ha about snow have to do with Minneapolis-based Off With Their Heads? On first glance, probably nothing, but like anything covered by a drift, sometimes it’s necessary to dig a little to see what’s really beneath the surface.
Drop the needle on any of their 7”s or 12” EP and out pours the gruff Midwestern pop punk (the Dillinger Four comparison has been made more than a few times)—bright, energetic, fun, and danceable. But, the lyrics are almost diametrically opposed to the melody. Like sand in the winter, there are themes that come with the territory of pop punk: girls and life in general. It’s OWTH’s approach that makes the difference. When the girl doesn’t answer his call, he burns his fingers. When things aren’t going how he’d like them, he wants to “drop to [his] knees. Scream and punch the concrete until [his] hands bleed.” All of this is dusted with enough hooks to make this despair appear almost happy on first listen. And even though the lyrics can seem overwhelmingly filled with despondency, there’s an honesty in that. When you’re down, really down, there are those moments (however brief they may be) where there is no hope, and no matter how many layers of other emotions you pile on top, they’re still just layers covering shit. Off With Their Heads takes anthems and melodies and layers them onto the piles of the shit, the ugly, and the bad that’s inherent in life, not because they’re disguising anything, but because combined they become something more than either could be alone.
Originally ran in Razorcake #43, 2008
Interview and Introduction by Megan Pants
Pictures by Shanty Cheryl and Madeleine Claire
Ryan: Guitar and vocals
Megan: Do you think you’re capable of writing a happy song?
Ryan: I thought so for a while, but not anymore.
Justin: Ask Brendan Kelly (singer for the Lawrence Arms).
Ryan: He’s got a lot to say about our songs. [Sarcastically] He’s awesome. This is starting out awesome.
Megan: Have you recorded anything with the same line-up?
Ryan: The first two 7”s… I think …no…
Justin: Yeah, those were the same.
Ryan: And they’re gone, and we’re not gonna repress them because they’re not very good.
Megan: Why do you think it’s been so hard to nail down a line-up?
Ryan: We tour a lot and nobody ever wants to do what we do. I guess I’m kind of an asshole. That’s mostly it. But, we’ve found the perfect match of assholes right here.
Megan: How are you able to go on tour as often as you do? What do you do for jobs?
Ryan: [pointing to Justin] We’re construction workers. I’m a self-employed painter, so I make a lot of money some times and no money other times. We take a lot of money that I make and go on tour quick, and then we’re broke for a while. It’s enough to buy a new van when you need to.
Megan: How much have you actually spent on touring because you’ve had some van problems?
Ryan: That last tour… well, not the last one…
Justin: We came home $1,700 in debt.
Ryan: This was before that. I spent $4,000 on vans. I bought a van from my roommate, then I bought the one in Tucson that we have now…
Josh: It caught on fire.
Ryan: That was an expensive venture.
Josh: [Sarcastically] But we made so much.
Ryan: That was also from insurance money from a death in the family, which sort of sucks, too. Sort of.
Megan: Didn’t you also get really sick and have to be hospitalized?
Ryan: I did. I do not open those bills any more, but that one ran me about $10,000.
Megan: And that was on tour?
Ryan: Yeah. It was actually here in L.A.
Megan: And you were just sick again when you got here. Was it your throat again that first time?
Ryan: It was pneumonia.
[Ryan’s phone rings, and it’s Paddy from Dillinger Four.]
Ryan: Hey Paddy, we’re doing an interview for Razorcake. Do you want to add an anecdote? Here you go [puts the phone on speaker].
Paddy: Hello? Fuck.
Ryan: Talk now.
Paddy: I’m in Ryan’s kitchen right now. We used one of his sauce pots to mix a bottle of Jagermeister with two bottles of Boone’s Farm apple, and we broke up twenty Adderall in it too, and we’re drinking it to celebrate the fact that all those fucking nerds aren’t home. So I’m going to drink this shit, and I’m going to pee on his bed tonight. I don’t even care who’s sleeping in it. It might even be one of the guys from Defect Defect sleeping in his bed, but I’m peeing on his bed. It’s happening. But, it’s going to be a warm pee because it comes from my heart.
[Paddy finds out that Megan is doing the interview]
Ryan: [speaking for Paddy] Quit fucking with us.
Megan: How do you feel about cats?
Ryan: Adorable. I love ‘em. They’re the best thing in the world. I really don’t know what else to say about that. They save your life.
Megan: They do? I thought they sucked your soul while you’re sleeping.
Ryan: That too.
Megan: How have they saved your life?
Ryan: I don’t want to talk about that.
Megan: Then they’re soul-suckers. Do you guys stay in hotels when you’re on tour?
Justin: Every goddamned night.
Ryan: Was that a Josh Mosh question?
Megan: That came from about five different people. There’s even a theory about it. It weirds people out.
Justin: We don’t like human beings.
Ryan: I don’t like staying at people’s houses when I want to sleep. Justin has a credit card, and that’s probably why we lose so much money.
Megan: Have you also taken a TV when you’ve gone camping?
Ryan: Here’s the situation: we were in New Mexico and everyone was partying. I was tired. So, me and Justin set up a tent in the yard, Josh ran an extension cord, pulled the TV out, and we watched Joe Dirt.
Josh: Best night ever.
Ryan: Everyone was cool with it, too.
Josh: The punks didn’t care.
Megan: What’s shark attacking?
Ryan: Shark attacking is… we don’t do it any more, but we used to until I got caught. It’s when you stay at someone’s house who you’re kind of unsure about, and you eat all their food while they’re sleeping. All of their food. But, I got nailed doing it. And that made me do a weird backpedal, so I don’t do that any more.
Justin: And we always stay in hotels.
Josh: Let’s go shark attack in a Radisson.
Megan: Get the continental breakfast. What happened when you played Red Scare Fest?
Ryan: That was the first real venue show I think we ever played. They give you free beer. And, there’s a backstage. I drank a lot of that free beer. It was Fletcher from the Copyrights who wrote…while the Fal-con were playing, who are terrible. They’re bad. Like, “What are you thinking?” Seriously. But anyway…I’m sorry, don’t put us in your magazine…While they were playing, Fletcher decided to write “Alkaline Trio” on my naked body with an arrow pointing to the nether regions, and dared me to go and put my wiener in his (Dan Andriano’s)back pocket in front of a sold-out crowd. I thought that was funny. So I did that and that dude was pissed. Apparently—I just heard about this—he called the club the next day and yelled at them about how their security was terrible, and apparently I got some people in trouble there. It’s funny because everyone who worked there was high-fiving us after it. So take that, fucker. I like the Alkaline Trio though; I’m going to say that. Print that. Just the new stuff. How am I this drunk already?
Megan: When was the last time you lit off fireworks?
Josh: Gabe Rock inside the van at Fest.
Ryan: I wasn’t hanging out with you guys at Fest. I was at the hotel.
Justin: Oh, we shot off some fireworks at St. Augustine.
Josh: We got yelled at by a nineteen-year-old cop.
Ryan: I was actually hiding in the woods.
Josh: The guy that ran the house was in the same class as the cop, and the cop…
Ryan: …asked us why we were “firing miss-iles” into the roadway.
Megan: Have you ever shot them off of your roof?
Megan: Maybe at your neighbors?
Ryan: Oh yeah. Those guys are dicks.
Megan: Are they frat guys?
Ryan: Kind of. They’re not frat guys. They’re just Sublime dudes, so we shot some fireworks at them.
Megan: What are the laws about liquor in Minneapolis? (“Intoxicating liquors” is referred to in almost eighty sections of Minnesota law.)
Ryan: You can’t buy anything at a store after eight…
Justin: Weekdays. Monday through Thursday, and ten o’clock PM Friday and Saturday.
Ryan: None on Sunday because that’s the lord’s day.
Justin: And only three-two beers at gas stations.
Megan: What’s that?
Justin: Three-two beer? Near beer? It’s 3.2% alcohol. You have to drink thirty of them to get a headache.
Megan: What’s the most creative way you’ve gotten around it?
Ryan: We just go to Wisconsin (which is about thirty miles away), or we go to the bar. That’s what we usually do.
Ryan: Yeah, stockpile and hide it from your fucking roommates.
Megan: In Milwaukee, there’s a guy who buys tons of beer during the day and then people call him, and he meets them wherever they are and delivers it to them. Also, I was at the Alamo House (a show house in Minneapolis) and we ran out of beer, and Half-pint (who used to live there) said that there was a sports bar close by. We all went and started ordering two pitchers at a time, and we would drink one pitcher slowly and then have someone sneak the other one out to the car. We left when they called last call, just walked out carrying our glasses. Everyone had pitchers and pint glasses in the backseat.
Ryan: That’s a good bar, Sportsman’s.
Megan: Ryan, you live at Alamo House. Does anyone else?
Ryan: No one. Just me.
Megan: Why do you think it’s important to have house shows?
Ryan: So that kids can come see shows, and it doesn’t have to have them standing in front of… what’s the name of that place?
Justin: Peace and Justice?
Josh: Anything Grows?
Ryan: But it’s boring to be at an all-ages show where the kids aren’t allowed to do anything.
Justin: It’s a good way for bands to meet other bands and kids to meet bands.
Ryan: And for smaller bands who can’t get shows anywhere else.
Megan: If everything is as depressing as it sounds in your songs, then what actually keeps you going?
Justin: Doing coke and PBR Light.
Megan: PBR light? Ick.
Justin: PBR Light rules.
Josh:Bring it on and cocaine.
Ryan: I don’t do coke. Anymore. Due to a heart thing. I don’t know. I’m an idiot. I wish I could answer that better.
Megan: There’s got to be something that drives you.
Ryan: Justin does. I do like traveling around even though I complain about it all the time.
Megan: What’s the best way to survive a Midwestern winter?
Ryan: Traveling around. Seriously, you’ve got to get out. I don’t know how anyone does that. We’re moving to San Diego. I’m moving in February. Justin is too. He just doesn’t know it yet.
Josh: I’m more of a March guy.
Ryan: I’m serious.
Megan: On the insert of the split 7” with J Church (Grin and Bear It) there’s a picture of Ryan and Justin on the beach. Was that taken in January?
Ryan: Yeah, that was awesome.
Megan: Did you go in the water?
Ryan: Yeah. I guess you’re not supposed to.
Megan: It’s so cold (The water off the coast of California flows on the California Current, which comes down from Alaska. This makes for very cold water for the better part of the year.)
Ryan: It’s not that it’s cold, but there were bacteria signs everywhere. (Since it barely rains outside of the winter season in California, things like fecal matter in yards are swept out to sea with the first few rainfalls of the season, making for some pretty sketchy swimming.) That picture was actually in Santa Monica.
Josh: It took us thirty minutes to get that shot.
Ryan: Oh shit.
Josh: We had to get the light right.
Ryan: Everything you ask we can’t talk about.
Megan: I know. Did you get your survival knife taken away from you?
Ryan: Apparently. I can’t find it, and I bought this Danzig-looking stabbing knife.
Justin: Currently, we have three knives in the van and we have to hide them from him because he cuts his face.
Ryan: Not like in a weird way. It’s totally normal. I don’t know where it is.
Josh: It’s a totally normal kind of face-cutting.
Ryan: But I bought that knife when I was going nuts—driving nuts—and driving around Illinois. I decided I needed a knife.
Megan: Why were you driving around Illinois?
Ryan: I can’t remember why, but I just woke up and was like, “Fuck this! I’m out” And, I just left and went to Champagne, Illinois. And that sucked, so I came home. And that was the beginning of a new chapter of my horrible, horrible life.
Megan: Any particular reason you cut your face with a knife?
Ryan: Just to see how sharp it is, and to creep these guys out. I think that self-mutilation is funny. It’s not like I want to cut myself so I can feel the pain.
Megan: By my count, you only have one song that doesn’t have the word “I” in it.
Ryan: Really? What?
Ryan: Are you calling me self-absorbed?
Megan: It could be that, but it doesn’t have to be. People always assume that if someone is saying “I” that it’s actually the person writing it… that the writer can’t step aside and be writing in the first person as another character. Do you write yourself into all your songs?
Ryan: Oh yeah. I don’t have stories. We used to have some, but it didn’t work. They’re all about me. They’re all real, and they’re all cheesy. You have to take that with a grain of salt, everything that you hear. It sounds really goofy—all the lyrics do—we’re not poets; we’re construction workers.
Megan: I think there’s also something with what you were saying about stories. Some people don’t feel comfortable telling them because they don’t know it. If it hasn’t happened directly to them, then they don’t feel comfortable being the one to tell its story.
Ryan: You’re obviously not talking about Rancid. Rancid tells a lot of stories. Do you like Rancid?
Megan: If you were to put them on, I, honestly, wouldn’t know who they are.
Megan: I have really weird gaps and pockets in what I’ve listened to.
Josh: What about Brooke Hogan?
Megan: Actually, I watched a marathon of it (Hogan Knows Best) yesterday, so I’d probably know it.
Justin: It’s good stuff.
Megan: Do you guys like that kind of pop? A lot of people who I’m really surprised by like Kelly Clarkson.
Ryan: We rock the Kelly Clarkson
Justin: I think the first half of it is phenomenal. The last part of it I could take it or leave it.
Ryan: I don’t listen to music much anymore—just funny stuff on the radio. It’s more entertaining than real music. Yeah, I listen to a lot of pop.
Megan: I have a friend who used to do construction and he hated the music because his coworker would just play classic rock.
Ryan: I work with myself, so it’s pretty much whatever I want.
Justin: My boss listens to just about the worst music. A lot of… Maroon 5… anything like that is what I have to listen to all day, but it’s kind of funny.
Josh: I work in a bar, so…
Ryan: He listens to his iPod.
Josh: I listen to my iPod. It’s pretty up-to-date. I’ve got some Avenged Sevenfold.
Megan: I think one of my friends was on the same flight as them once.
Ryan: I thought they could fly on their flying bat wings.