Every once in a while, four people come together to create something truly great. Sometimes that creation captures the world by storm, and other times it sits bubbling underneath the surface of a corroded artistic wasteland. Such is the case with multi-city band ИO///sé. Members Brian Villa, Eric Ruvalcaba, and Josh Hayes reside in a house together in Oakland, CA, while guitar/vocalist Mike Carter lives in Portland, OR. This would make it difficult not only to maintain friendships—let alone a band—with the short time they have in a room together. ИO///sé not only make this geographical separation work, but they make it work to their advantage by creating some of the most desperate and immediate music I have heard in years.
ИO///sé released one of the top LPs of 2012 with their self-titled debut, and the band is gearing up to release its follow up full-length Lower Berth this year. I have known members Josh Hayes and Mike Carter through their previous band, Glass & Ashes, and was very excited to see what the boys had been coming up with since that band’s demise.
The ИO///sé self-titled LP contains everything a punk rock record should contain—great guitar riffs, great vocals, a solid-as-a-rock rhythm section, and absolutely no filler. There is no fucking around with ИO///sé; they aim right for the jugular and hit their mark every time. When I listen to their self-titled LP, I hear bits of Television, The Voidoids, Rudimentary Peni, The Milkshakes, The Wipers, Hot Snakes, the Ramones, and every other style of punk rock these gents have soaked up in their time on this planet. ИO///sé is the punk rock band that other punk rock bands wish they could be.
Josh Hayes: guitar, vocals
Mike Carter: guitar, vocals
Brian Villa: bass, vocals
Eric Ruvalcaba: drums.
Interview by John Massel
Photographs by Lindsay Beaumont.
John: How did ИO///sé come to be?
Eric: Well, it all started with Brian and me hanging out after losing touch for a few years. Out of boredom, we started jamming in the basement of Josh’s house. We wrote a song that would eventually become “If I Told You Once,” the song that kicks off our first album. Josh added his guitar part and we recorded it, and Mike heard it off Brian’s phone at work and dug it—the rest just kind of fell into place. We didn’t really think it would all come together so quickly.
Josh: I heard them jamming in the basement and really liked the riff they had. Later on in the living room, I stuck my guitar part over the top of it and we figured it sounded pretty decent, so we should start jamming. That jam session ended up becoming “We Did Everything Wrong” on the first record.
Mike: I always wanted to be in a band with Brian, but we were both slammed with other projects at the time until this came about. I told them I could play guitar. I may have been over exaggerating that though.
John: Does the distance between the members present you guys with some unique challenges?
Josh: Yeah, totally. We can’t ever really play as a whole band. Myself, Brian, and Eric have our shit set up in the living room of the house we share, and we play when the feeling comes on; in between matches of foosball. When Mike comes down from Portland is when we really begin to tighten things up, but that doesn’t happen all the time like it would in a normal band that all live in the same city, or at least close by.
Brian: It’s hard to get into a groove as a full band, not being able to practice consistently. It makes it so you’re not in a constant gel. When we do get together as a full band to practice though, it means more. You don’t get burnt out on it.
Eric: I agree.
John: How do you work out the logistics of that kind of distance? You guys aren’t a money-making machine, so I could see it becoming a very expensive habit.
Eric: Well, it is an expensive habit. We all enjoy it, so it’s worth it, and, in the end, it’s gratifying to make something we’re all proud of. Playing live is something I especially wish we could do more.
Josh: Bands don’t really make money—it’s all about the glory and the sweat and the male comradeship [laughs]. But, really, Mike has been good about flying down and eating the ticket money to make shows in the Bay Area happen, and recording too.
Mike: I’ve convinced myself that not paying for any van expenses or a practice spot, or being on the road for months at a time paying for gas with no income, has given us the ability to do what we can by doing less. We’d love to be on the road constantly, but I don’t think the road feels the same way about us.
John: How does the writing process work in ИO///sé? Does the distance between the band members affect the process at all?
Brian: Not really. We all write individually and record our ideas onto phones or computers and email them to each other to get input and to tweak parts. Eventually, we meet up and work the ideas out completely.
Josh: Yeah, we all write on our own and if I’m stuck after ninety seconds of writing a song, I’ll bring it to Brian and get his input or see what ideas he has. Then they start to slowly work themselves out through drinking wine and repetition.
Mike: It’s been interesting adapting to this way of writing for me. The riffs will go back and forth, fester, and claw at us until the four of us get into a room. We’ll take the riffs that have gone back and forth, feeling like we each connect with them, like we know them inside and out, but only at full volume in a room together can we see them in a whole different light and begin to kick the living shit out of the songs for fun.
John: How does lyrical duty get sorted out?
Mike: It just happens with someone having an idea, whether it be a melody, or a couple words written down. We then throw that in the middle of the floor and just stare at it silently for hours until someone gets hungry. Eventually something strikes myself, Josh, or Brian, and we just go from there.
John: Josh and Mike, since both of you were in Glass and Ashes previous to ИO///sé, make the focus and formation of this band easier?
Josh: We were used to each other in terms of being part of a band; we knew how to speak the same language during practice—lots of gibberish. We’re the best of friends outside the band anyways, so it wasn’t anything weird or new to us. Same with the other boys, we’re all good friends. It’s a painless process, really, besides the hundreds of miles difference.
Mike: This has been the most painless and stress free band I’ve been a part of. Josh and I have been through a lot together which makes the connection a no-brainer, and I think with all of us being on the same page and not overthinking anything, it’s given us the ability to go with our gut instinct. The key to this band is not to overthink anything—just let it happen.
John: Eric and Brian, were you two in any bands previous to ИO///sé?
Brian: Yeah, I’ve been playing in bands since high school. Never in a band that put out a record or anything, but just bands that played shows. Around the time ИO///sé started, I was jamming with two other bands, The Action Index and Glaciers. Both bands are different from ИO///sé..
Eric: I’ve been playing since high school, as well. I played in a few hardcore, street punk, and psychobilly bands, but nothing like ИO///sé, really.
John: Are you guy’s gear heads? The tone of the guitars on your recordings suggests that you have a specific sound in mind. That, and you also know a thing or two about gear.
Josh: I have shitty luck with gear. I’d like to think I know something about gear but then fuck myself with a horrible and expensive choice. I really just try to aim for a clean tube amp, cranked up, to get some natural dirty thing going on so you can hear the strums and notes in between. Long gone are the days of distortion pedals turned up to ten, and fucking amp distortion turned up to maximum level, too. I was just raging on ears at that point. I just started buying decent analog pedals so they last, and try to find local buds who make stuff and work with them. FuckGuitarCenter and that Sam Ash bullshit. There are so many small companies now that make real good gear that lasts.
John: Your debut self-titled LP is quite the introduction to the world. It was, and still is, a record that I try to push on everyone. Tracks from the record have made it on to countless mix tapes and CDs for people. Was there a distinct vision of what you wanted that record to sound like when you began writing?
Josh: I don’t think we had a distinct idea exactly, but we knew that we wanted to do more simplified down-stroking tunes—fast and to the point. Through the process of writing at the practices for that record, we could just see it becoming a thing of its own. The original idea, or feel for a tune, usually ends up being something completely different by the time it’s finished. Some of those songs wrote themselves in minutes, some took a few weeks.
Mike: Writing and recording the first record was kind of a race against time, with Josh moving to the Bay Area from Ventura. What was supposed to be just a demo turned out to be us saying, “Fuck it, put it out.”
John: When you went to record, did you have an idea of what you wanted the overall feel of it to have?
Josh: When we recorded, we just wanted it to sound ballsy, really. We’re still getting our legs in the studio atmosphere.
John: Your internet presence is very limited. I see you guys have a Facebook and a Bandcamp page where you sell your records and other merch, but beyond that it’s very limited.
Josh: None of us in the band are very internet or social media-heavy folk. We all post shit, but we don’t want pummel people with bullshit, much in the same way we don’t want to be pummeled with bullshit. It’s a boring game to play; trying to figure out the best times to post shit, the most exposure, blah blah. The Bandcamp (http://noxse.bandcamp.com) is something we should probably be putting more into. Updating merch and adding fun shit—we should be more proactive that way.
John: Your follow up to your self-titled debut, Lower Berth, is set to be released very soon and is currently streaming on 1859 Records Bandcamp page. It’s been almost two years since the self-titled record, and in between that time you released the two-song Beach Bathroom Bingo 7”. Do you guys feel that the focus of the band has sharpened since the debut and the 7”?
Josh: I think it’s just a natural continuation for us, really. Our focus changes from song to song. I’m not too concerned with forcing evolution. We just want to keep writing together. The new record has some pretty different-sounding songs to me, and I think it’s in our individual personalities to want to keep trying different things, lyrically and musically.
Brian: I feel like we’ve yet to truly capture our live sound and energy as a band in the studio, whatever that might be. I think we get closer and closer with each record, but I have a feeling our third record will be “the one.”
John: Do you guys feel that the new record is a clearer representation of what ИO///sé is, or do you see it as a continuation of what you were doing on the self-titled record?
Josh: We don’t try to force a certain style for the overall sound. Song for song, one of us will get a notion of how it should sound and we’ll play off that idea, if the song isn’t already written in full. Every day that passes will affect every song that comes after that day. That’s to say, if there is an idea of growth or movement, it’s embedded in our subconscious and we’ll just leave it there for now until it wants to make an appearance.
John: I’ve been streaming Lower Berth for the past few days and it feels like a stronger record and a more defined statement in opposition to the self-titled LP. Would you say that sounds about right? Did you have different goals musically and lyrically with this record?
Mike: The songs on Lower Berth were put together between two major time periods for us all, individually and as a band. Some were written when Josh lived in Oakland and Eric, Brian, and I were in Ventura, CA. The others were written after Brian and Eric moved up to Oakland with Josh, and I moved to Portland. I think this record might sound stronger and more depressing due to the process of the major changes we all made in our lives at the time. Big changes in a world of shit makes way for optimistic downers like us.
John: Your first record was released by Rotten To the Core Records here in the U.S. and by Yo Yo Records in Europe, but this time around for Lower Berth, you have 1859 Records out of Portland, Oregon and Man In Decline Records out of Phoenix, Arizona handling the U.S. side of things. Is there a reason you decided to go with two U.S. labels co-releasing the record??
Josh: Dustin from 1859 co-released our 7″ with Different Kitchen in the U.K. and I was in contact with him for a bit before that even happened. He just really liked the band and offered to help us put something out, which became the Beach Bathroom Bingo E.P., and that lead to the release of Lower Berth.
Mike: I met Dominic from Man In Decline at a show in Arizona. He liked the band, and it just came together after talking. I’m really happy with how it’s worked out, with Dustin and Dominic and Jan from Yo Yo.
John: Do you find it necessary to also have a European label like Yo Yo Records releasing your records as well? How is working with Berlin-based Yo Yo Records?
Josh: It’s been super necessary having Jan from Yo Yo. He’s an excellent dude. He took us on a Euro tour in October of 2013 and we’re planning on another tour with him this year sometime. We found a lot of folks in Europe and all over the Eastern hemisphere that really liked the band, so ordering LP’s from him in Berlin has saved them a lot of money. It works great having him handle that side of it. We’re very lucky to have him be a part of this.
Mike: I think it’s safe to say we couldn’t do what we do without Jan.
John: With the distance that separates the band, how do you guys decide what shows to play or when to play shows?
Mike: We’ll either book shows around recording dates, or the other way around.
John: Does ИO///sé have any plans of touring the States anytime soon?
Mike: We’d love to tour the States, but I think it’ll take the perfect storm to have that happen.
Brian: I just want to down-stroke and sweat all over the world.
John: On a side note, where can I find the best burrito?
Josh: Remy’s in Berkeley, Los Cantaros in Oakland, Corales in Ventura. Some people will argue all three of those, but they all do veggies right.
Brian: The chicken chunks burrito from Herbivore is really good.
Mike: San Martin in Ventura, El Nutri Taco (Woodstock Location) Portland.