I recently had the chance to speak with Death By Stereo's singer Efrem Schulz to discuss the band's killer new album, Into the Valley of Death, their current headlining tour, their problems last year at Warped Tour, and felching, among other things. Thanks to Hector at Epitaph for setting this up, and to Efrem for providing such honest and sincere answers. It just goes to show what stand up guys these dudes are. This interview took place on June 18, 2003 in Providence, RI.
Sev: First of all, what have been your overall impressions of this headlining tour so far?
Efrem: It's been good. I've had a lot of fun, I've met a lot of cool people, we've played a lot of fun shows, so it's been good all the way around.
Sev: Were you a little wary about going out on your own and headlining?
Efrem: Oh yea, definitely. It's hard because the pressure is on you. I just didn't expect anything to be really crazy, and some of the shows have been really crazy so it's always like a pleasant surprise. Our release shows were actually awesome. We played this place called the Troubadour in Hollywood and it was totally insane. It was just really crazy, totally packed, good times.
Sev: How have the kids been reacting to the new stuff?
Efrem: Pretty well, actually. It seems that a lot of people are coming to the shows that never heard us before until this record. You can tell when we're playing the songs that a lot of the kids will react more to the new songs. I think some of the people may also like it better than the old stuff, and it's a lot of funner for us to play these songs. We've been playing about 5 new songs every night, so it's been pretty cool.
Sev: In terms of opening bands, how did you come up with these bands in particular?
Efrem: We kind of just made a list of all the bands we wanted to tour with, and just called them up and found out who could do it where and in what part of the country. It definitely changes from week to week. Hotwire, the singer from Hotwire, used to sing in a band called Eyelid, where Dan played guitar, so we're just old friends. We're now with Over My Dead Body, who are friends from home, and they're really cool. We played with a band called None More Black. They're really cool. It's the singer from Kid Dynamite and the bass player from the band Kill Your Idols. It's been good all along. There's going to be little arguments here and there just because you're stuck in a van all day with someone, but it's been good.
Sev: Let's talk about Into the Valley of Death. How satisfied are you with the way the record came out?
Efrem: I'm very satisfied. What you're hearing is what we wanted to come out. We worked really hard. We spent a lot more time doing it than we ever have anything else. We spent a lot time writing it and we practiced 6 like days a week. We really put everything we had into it, so I'm really happy.
Sev: The production quality on this one is a lot better than what you've done in the past. I think a lot of bands can get fucked if you go too far production-wise, but you guys found just the right balance.
Efrem: Right; it still sounds like us, but you can hear everything. It's punchy, and it's good stuff.
Sev: Was it hard to find a balance you were comfortable with?
Efrem: I think it was more of a matter of-you know, Paul has always done all of our recordings. This time Epitaph gave us a little more of a budget so we could spent more time in the studio. I think it was more of a matter of us being able to use the tools we needed to find that sound.
Sev: I think the album is also more "sing-alongy" than in the past. Is this something that you were conscientiously trying to do?
Efrem: I think we were just trying to learn to write a song a little better over time, and we're a little more focused on maybe what's more important for the song than just the one part. So we were probably a little more conscious about it, and just trying to explore all the elements of it - one heavy parts, how can we make this heavier, or how can we make this melodic part more melodic? We just tried to focus on those parts, so that definitely went into it.
Sev: What are the benefits of producing the album yourselves?
Efrem: It doesn't cost anything. Ha ha. And Paul knows what we want to sound like. I think there's no one better to do what we want to do than him.
Sev: Did you consider working with some big-time producer?
Efrem: We thought about that. The new Boy Sets Fire record sounds awesome-they're our friends-and they had this really cool guy helped them out with it. Their experience was positive where the producer never told them what to do. They wrote songs, they'd play them for him, and this guy was a really good musician so he'd give suggestions to help them learn. He'd be like, "Hey, you ever thought about trying it this way?," just this one part, they'd try it and it would change the whole song. They would take suggestions, and the tiniest little thing would make the song better. We thought about maybe looking for the help of someone like that, but the more we went along with the record, we decided to give it one more shot on our own. Maybe next time.
Sev: On the CD you even further the political and social commentary that you guys are known for. What were some of the things you were going through when you were coming up with lyrics?
Efrem: It was a little different for me because this time around I tried to come to everyone at the band for their ideas. I would ask them what is something that's been bothering them, because I wanted the record to reflect everyone. Everybody kind of had ideas and I just tried to put them into words. We're all dealing with some personal bullshit, with friends and stuff, and we kind of touched on that. We just want to reflect the world in the last couple of years, and it's been a dark year. I think punk music in general has really forgotten that it used to be a reflection of what was going on in society, and it's not anymore - it's more of a reflection of what's happening with someone's girlfriend. I'm trying to be more reflective of the world, such as art reflecting life. So everyone had input as far as subject matter.
Sev: When you say that you want to paint a reflection of the world, do you guys keep up with current events and world affairs?
Efrem: Yea, we're not by any means watching news all day long. We're not Propagandhi and we're not the most political band - we don't try to have that as our platform, but we definitely don't want to lose sight of the fact that we're here, we're doing this, and we need to say something with our music if we're going to do it at all, and not just sing about bullshit.
Sev: I also think a lot of bands try to do the political punk stuff, but it's quite obvious when they have no clue what they're talking about. I think you guys don't come off that way at all. One thing is saying Fuck the government or Fuck the US; another thing is trying to come up with reasons or even solutions.
Efrem: I think that through all those lyrics, I think the one thing I want to stress more than anything to everyone is not to lose sight of individuality because that's sucked out of all of us and out of music. Everyone is the same, and the only way that real change is going to happen in anything, either politics, life, or love, is by being yourself and being an individual. Thinking for yourself is the way to start things going.
Sev: Ok, this is old news and I don't know if you want to talk about it too much, but the song "I Wouldn't Piss In Your Ear...", that song in particular is about the Warped Tour. Why did you feel the need to pen that experience and put it down on paper?
Efrem: Well, I don't know how much everybody really knows about what happened. We were sharing a bus with another band, there was 14 people on this bus, and a girl supposedly accused somebody of doing something. She accused one guy, who was innocent, and who was totally beat up really bad by a mob of people who heard a third-party version of the story, and without asking took actions into their own hands. The girl that did this is very popular and is very known by all these big bands. She has like this power, and what I'm trying to say in the song is that basically so many bands knew it was wrong, but nobody would stand up and say anything because I think they were afraid of what would happen to them. The other band on the bus with us, she was their tour manager who also works at their label, and they didn't want to say anything because they thought they'd be screwed.
Sev: So you basically got fucked.
Efrem: Yea, we really got fucked. Our whole band was asleep when it happened and we woke up to a nightmare.
Sev: Did you get kicked off the tour after that?
Efrem: Briefly. We got kicked off after that, and then a lot of people around us got mad. All those people that knew that we'd never do anything like that, put a lot of pressure and they put us back on. You know, those are pretty serious accusations, and I've known this girl since I was very young and I know her family. I'm trying to tell her that you're going to put someone in jail over this. Fortunately nothing like that happened. Basically, no one would stand up and say anything, so I basically said that I don't care if my band never plays in the cool tour ever again, and I don't care if all the popular kids don't like us, because the Warped Tour is like a big high school, but I'm going to write the song. She knows it's about her, the word got around, and I'm basically saying with that song that we're not here for the popularity, we're not here to be anyone's favorite. We're here to do what we do. We love playing music, and I'm not afraid to tell everyone who you are and what's going to happen to me, so fuck you. It's our song that tells fuck off to everyone who believes in stupid rumors and lies, fuck off to everyone who is afraid to stand up to some power-tripping girl.
Sev: And with the Internet these days, there are these sites that will post these rumors before they're confirmed and you get so many different stories of what happened.
Efrem: Dude, exactly. That got on the Internet when that happened, and it got changed. You have no idea what I heard. I got cornered by a bunch of guys at the Warped Tour who wanted to fight me. They were like, "We heard you pulled some girl's pants downs and wrote swastikas all over her." I started laughing and said that I didn't know what to tell them, and I walked away. It was somebody using their position to really fuck us over, and because they got caught in a little lie, it turned into a big lie. Some people get so deep that there's no turning back, because she's not going to ruin her reputation to save us. Our friend he didn't win. He got the crap kicked out of him, but now a lot of people know. We made the song, and through this I hope that everyone will know. Since then, I've heard from other guys in bands not want to take a stance.
Sev: Would you guys to Warped again?
Efrem: Probably not, but it's alright.
Sev: Right, there are other tours. Why the fascination with death in all your albums and in so many of your songs?
Efrem: Yea, it ties into the name and it's kind of like an ongoing theme. I guess the first record, If Looks Could Kill, I'd Watch You Die, was kind of a really sarcastic, kind of a funny thing that was floating around in my head. Maybe it's like a really cocky, we're just young and we're fucking pissed. Fuck everyone! Ha ha, you know what I mean? Day of the Death was when we got on Epitaph and we really thought that this was the day when we're going to get a chance for everyone to hear us - this is really our day. And then we went with Into the Valley of Death as kind of like, we're exploring a lot more of ourselves and music in general. It's just kind of seeing how far we can push our ideas and ourselves. We're trying to play better, and kind of maybe bringing everyone closer to us and letting people more into our world and into our adventures.
Sev: Now that you mention Epitaph, how satisfied are you with the way those guys have been treating you?
Efrem: Oh, it's been awesome. Going back to Warped Tour, when all that stuff was going on, the people that had our backs the most were Epitaph. They knew that this was ridiculous, no way, and they couldn't let this happen to us. They were really behind us and I think that had a lot to do with us staying on that tour. Epitaph has a lot of bands on the Warped Tour.
Sev: That's really cool. I guess other labels could have said that they didn't want to get involved in that.
Efrem: And actually, a lot of people we thought would have stood up for us didn't want to get involved, but Epitaph was the best.
Sev: Do you like the fact that they don't have too many hardcore bands in there?
Efrem: I think that's kind of cool. At first it was weird because we didn't know if we had a place, but it's cool because Epitaph has really been diversifying. They're expanding and trying to explore music too. You get different styles on the label and they're doing really cool things for music right now.
Sev: They now have a couple of new hip-hop signings.
Efrem: Yea, isn't that cool? I think it's awesome. They have a blues label, Anti, so it's really cool. I'm stoked to be a part of that right now.
Sev: You have that section in your website, "Ask Dr. Bean." I especially enjoyed the discussion on felching. Ha ha. What was the motivation behind that section and how do you come up with such riveting advice?
Efrem: Ha ha. Originally, our friend Ryan made the website for us, and he just put that on there. We just started laughing about it, and then people actually started e-mailing me. I wanted it to be lighthearted in the first place, but every once in a while I started getting these serious letters. There are some things that I'm not qualified to answer dude. I'd tell kids that they need to talk to their parents, so we try to make it more humorous. I just want to have fun with it and be silly anyways. I think I just want the most ridiculous thing I could go with, just to let everyone know that this is just a joke, so let's laugh at ourselves and have fun. I wouldn't want to put someone's personal stuff up there if it's horrible. I just try to encourage them to talk to someone like a friend. But felching is good. Ha ha.
Sev: Ha ha, cool. As a band what are some of your biggest disagreements?
Efrem: Hmmm, that's a good one. Where to eat; we argue about food a lot - when to eat, we argue that too. Let me think...
Sev: Are any of you guys vegetarian?
Efrem: Yea, a couple of us are. Three of us are, actually. Me, Dan, and Todd are vegetarian. The other guys are meat eaters.
Sev: What are your motivations for following a vegetarian lifestyle?
Efrem: Me, personally, I was raised like that. My family just didn't eat meat, so I've never really had it so it's second nature to me. Dan, it's more of a health thing for him - he's really health conscious and he's always exercising. Todd, I don't know why. I don't think I've ever asked him. But our disagreements are usually over stupid silly shit - every day shit like who's going to get to shower first. We usually just shower wherever we can find a place to shower. Fortunately, Todd's mom lives in Connecticut, so the last 2 nights we've been driving back to Connecticut after every show to go to her house.
Sev: In these days when so many bands are doing the scream thing and the singing thing, with so many bands having a singer and a screamer, what are your views on this particular trend? Do you think that it's a good thing that this music is having so much exposure these days, and do you think it's helped bands like you guys?
Efrem: It's a trend. You know what I do hear a lot? I read a lot of reviews, and every time we're in it, we get the review saying that he's another one of those bands with a screamer and singer. They have no idea that I'm the only guy doing all the vocals. I think it's just a trend, and it's good for them. Any band that does well, I commend them because it's really hard. It seems that it's getting so trendy that there's a lot of those bands just coming out of nowhere now - bands that you've never heard of before. I'm happy for anyone who does anything they like, but it's like, they've never been in a van, and they go straight to the top. But it seems like maybe the motivation for people being in bands like these aren't that genuine, you know? It's just a trend and they're just jumping on it. If it was ska, they'd be playing ska. There aren't any bands playing ska now, but there were back in '97 and '98. Those people just didn't disappear. If it was the 80's, they'd be playing glam rock.
Sev: Can you tell us a recent crazy tour story?
Efrem: Ok. Tito shit his pants today, actually. He had to throw his underwear away. That's pretty crazy. Ha ha.
Sev: What was it? Diarrhea or something like that?
Efrem: Well, we went to eat; I had the eggplant parmesan and he had a meatball sub. We're walking back to the club and he starts walking fast, and he's like, "Oh, I gotta fucking shit man!" I'm like, "Whatever yea, me too." So he's going really fast and he runs to the bathroom. When I finally get there, I look under the stall and his pants are on the floor. I ask him what he's doing and he's like, "Oh man I had to throw my underwear away." Ha ha, so he shit himself today. He's going to be playing with no underwear today.
Sev: That's the way to go. Ha ha. You guys have done a fair amount of interviews over the years. What are some of the things that you dislike the most about interviews, and what do you think are some things people doing them should do to keep things fresh?
Efrem: Well, maybe read other interviews and don't repeat them. Wow, that's a good question. See, this is a question we don't get asked. Let me think. You know, the basic questions like how we got are name, or things like that. These are questions that have been answered a hundred times and are all over the Internet. That's what we want to start doing in our website; we want to have a Frequently Asked Questions section, so that everybody knows. You know what's weird? I think the most important thing is not so much bad questions, but wrong answers. I read in a lot of magazines people creatively changing our answers, they misquote you, or I'll read things that never happened. I read in a magazine an interview I did the other day, and I remember talking to the guy, and there were things in there that I never said. "Former guitarist Jim Miner was married in 2002, and left the band 2 years ago." I read all these weird things, or they'll say the wrong guy was the founding member of the band. It's more of a matter of getting your facts straight. We read weird stuff about ourselves all the time, and ask each other, "Hey, did you know you did that?" And you're like, "No dude, cool." So we get crazy stuff all the time, and it's funny. Also, sometimes people doing the interviews don't know anything about us or anything about the genre. It happens a lot with college newspapers. We were in Canada and I read one where the guy, he interviewed Dan, and he just doesn't know anything about the genre at all. He was asking Dan about Epitaph, and Dan mentioned something about Brett Gurewitz. So then we're reading the article, and it says, "Death By Stereo was approached by an agent from Epitaph named Brett." Dude, you don't even know who Brett Gurewitz is? That's fucking huge. Come on, that's punk rock history right there.
Sev: Actually, didn't you recently play some shows with Bad Religion?
Efrem: Oh dude, I love those guys. In the last 2 years, I counted every show I've played with them.
Sev: Those guys are probably my favorite band of all time.
Efrem: That was my favorite band growing up, so I was like a kid in a candy store. I never in my life thought we'd ever play with them. We played 3 shows with them when their record came out, then on the Warped Tour, then 3 more times this year. We've played 54 times with Bad Religion, dude. That's so awesome! Every day I was like, "Yea, awesome, Bad Religion!" They were my heroes.
Sev: What are 3 bands that you think deserve way more attention than they're getting these days?
Efrem: The Hope Conspiracy I think is fucking amazing, dude. Their singer is one of the most intense singers I've ever seen. I think they deserve a lot more attention. They're so awesome. We met a couple of new bands that we've never heard until this tour in Canada. I met a band from Vancouver called Sight 67. Oh my God, dude. They're like, I don't want to say Fat Wreck Chords, but that fast chugga-chugga beats, really really fast and super tight - their deal is that it never lets up. In the entire song there's never a slow part. They were really good, and we met a band from Toronto called The Video Dead. It was fucking awesome. It kind of had like a Misfits darkness to it, but would break into these heavy Anthrax parts. It was cool. Those are good bands that are kind of coming up right now, or trying to break out. They don't have labels, but they have their own CD's. They were really cool.
Sev: Cool. After you're done with this tour what else do you have planned in the coming months?
Efrem: Well, we get home from this July 10. We're going to play weekend shows at home for 3 or 4 weekends to try and round up the area. We're waiting to find out what exactly we're doing in September and October, but we're probably going to do some sort of support tour. Then in November we're going to Europe with Ignite, Madball, and Suicidal Tendencies.
Sev: Wow, that's crazy.
Efrem: That's going to be crazy. It's those bands and 4 European bands, so it's going to be a festival type tour with 9 bands.
Sev: What's going on with Ignite? I haven't heard anything about those guys in years.
Efrem: Yea, they don't do much in the US anymore, but I know in Europe they're very active. I think they just got really popular there and it's easy to go there.
Sev: I think that's pretty much all I have. Is there anything else you want to add?
Efrem: Thanks for reading this. Thanks to everyone that's come out to the shows and supported us. And support Over My Dead Body. Check out our website, www.deathbystereo.com, to find out when we'll be back, and we'll see you next time. Awesome.