Combine equal parts folky blue-eyed soul, nu metal, Phish-obsessed jam rock and second-wave ska. Shake vigorously. Wait a decade or so. If you're lucky, in some universe, you'll pour out Typefighter.
Typefighter is a garage pop band based out of Washington, D.C., and they graciously agreed to give Square Zeros its FIRST FULL BAND INTERVIEW. We took a trip to their neck of the woods over the weekend and talked with Will Waikart (drums), Ryan McLaughlin (guitar, vocals), Thomas Orgren (guitar), and John Scoops (bass) about the wildly different music they made before they came together and formed the band. The four of them have been a unit for a few years now, but they'd never heard the pre-drinking-age recordings featured in this session until now. (Spoiler alert: the band doesn't break up at the end. So far as we know.)
Typefighter, of course, sounds nothing like the subgenres mentioned above. They've worked their asses off honing a highly stylized melodic punk sound, which will appeal to fans of Superchunk or even Ty Segall, but plays a bit more anthemic than either. Big, fuzzy double guitars, hard-driving rhythm section, gritty yet tuneful vocals — familiar tools used with tons of swagger for a distinct and utterly fulfilling final product. ("Heeeeeeey-oooooo!" You'll be singing along.) They've played a string of shows in and out of D.C., and they recently released a music video for the song "Much," the single from their record, The End Of Everything, which drops this spring.
We sat down with the guys at Thomas's recording studio, Persona Non Grata, and heard four absolute gems of songs from their earliest projects. It wasn't any bullshit nostalgia-fest, it was a fucking roast. And it started with Will, who shared a cut called "Back To The Basics" by his college rock band, Politicks. Will, the band's percussionist, plays washboard — listen for his shredding in the left channel.
Ryan spent the better part of his teenage years playing five-string bass in a nu metal/prog-rocky trio called Noise Pollution. Not only did they get some glitzy studio recordings of their Staind/New Found Glory/Glassjaw-influenced ripping — they got featured in YM Magazine in a section called Boys In Bands. (Buzzfeed recently posted "39 Reasons YM Was The Best Teen Magazine." Reason No. 40: Noise Pollution.) Ryan showed us the smash hit "When It Rains It Pours," which contains some serious slap bass and the sounds of getting frosted tips.
Ryan says his YM profile — he got dubbed "craziest" band member — helped him score with a girl he ended up dating for three years (they're still good pals). She'd rejected him at first, but started hanging out with him when she read about Noise Pollution in her issue of the magazine.
"We were virile young chaps. ...Fecund." — Thomas Orgren on Kokopelli, 2/01/2014.
We chose to unveil Kokopelli next, primarily on the assumption that nothing could be further from Noise Pollution than a jam band named after a Southwestern fertility god. Then we were treated to the piano-driven "Goodnight Stars, Goodnight Moon," named after the popular children's book, so we really had to adjust those expectations even further.
"Goodnight Stars, Goodnight Moon" is every bit the Phish-derivative track that the virile young chaps in Kokopelli intended. The soft, meandering verse picks up into the catchy chromatic descent of the chorus, lending the song just enough weirdness to make it stick in your mind. We had to edit out more than a few instances of someone in the room singing the chorus after the fact, because no one could escape it.
For his part, Scoops gave us the sort of classic track that might have driven out that Kokopelli earworm. I like to think that anyone who's ever seen Typefighter live would surmise — seeing him bounce around, all joy on stage, never missing a note — that Scoops had undoubtedly played in a ska band before. Still, we were all pleasantly surprised when he unveiled "The Oldie" by Sidewinders Ska Club, which hits all the hallmarks of the second-wave two-tone sound.
By the time Sidewinders S.C. was playing, that sound was already a throwback, and "The Oldie" embraces that, focusing on tight horn arrangements propelled by a straightforward beat and walking bassline. At a time when most ska was being adulterated with punk (and I was going ape for it), Scoops's team was kicking it old-school, paradoxically making "The Oldie" perhaps the most timeless of the bunch.
But if there's a take-home from this interview, it's that — despite our jokes now — none of these guys were ever joking around. Even though we all laughed at a lot of the aesthetic choices these guys made (both musically and personally — see: Tips, Ryan's frosted [24:45 in the interview]), each song is actually a solid shot at a genre. If you liked the soft college rock at the Spring Fling of your freshman year in undergrad, you'll like Politicks; if you think Ill Niño was great and all, but too mainstream and not ambitious enough, you'll like Noise Pollution. If you wore out the grooves on your copy of A Picture of Nectar, you'll like Kokopelli, and if you spent nights in a tight suit kicking your feet up to Madness, you'll like Sidewinders S.C. Each song is razor-sharp in its production and execution, especially for first efforts by young musicians.
Typefighter plays in Washington, D.C., at DC9 on Saturday, February 22. Be sure to catch them there and stay tuned for their new record, The End Of Everything, which comes out in April.
— DJH + JM