Former Black Flag front man Henry Rollins once wrote: “Where there is young people and vitality you’re going to find punk rock.”
Punk, and its alternative sub-cultures and -genres, has been a part of the underground music scene across the nation since the mid 1970s. These garage bands and other forms of “protopunk” naturally diverge from mainstream radio and even punk’s own expectations, yet continue to collect an energetic following. Wilmington-based band Pet Names represents the youth and vitality of punk that Rollins spoke of, with pop, rock and Indie influences mixed into their sound.
Made up of Tommy Hall (vocals and guitar), Kyle Ginthner (guitar), Brent Drew (bass), and drummer Zack Raynor, the self-proclaimed DIY punk band has been playing locally and regionally for two years. In that time they have released two EPs, and a new 9-track studio album “White Noise Machine” just out on Thursday, Oct. 1—after a mere two days in the recording studio in May of this year.
Celebrating with a release show at Scrap Iron Bicycle Gallery (118-B Princess St.) on Friday, Oct. 16, Tommy Hall had a chance to chat with encore about the group’s latest project and the progression in their music.
encore (e): Was it the plan to record in just two days, or did the music and process somehow come together that quickly?
Tommy Hall (TH): That wasn’t the plan at all, but once we started tracking, it all came together really quickly. Most of those were done in one or two takes.
e: What was post-production like? Did the whirlwind recording session have any impact?
TH: We didn’t do much in terms of post-production. We came back home when we finished tracking and left it with Kris at Legit Biz [in Greensboro, NC] to mix and master. He already had a good idea of what we were going for, and I had sent him some rough demos before we went in[to the studio.] He would send over mixes and we’d give our feedback, but it also came together quickly.
e: Does the dynamic of the band contribute to that kind of efficiency?
TH: I’m not sure. I made us do things we didn’t really want to just for the sake of preparation, like demo all the songs before going in and play the new songs live before we were totally comfortable with them. Pre-production stuff is just really tedious and not very fun at all, so no one really wanted to sit down and track all these songs just to go do it again. But most bands do it, and it really helped us to have a reference point to talk about how we wanted everything to sound.
In terms of playing live, we were trying to write a whole bunch so we could narrow down what we wanted to record. This meant we’d be playing songs live a day or two after writing them, which was a little nerve-racking. It really paid off though to see what translated live and what people reacted well to, kind of the way stand-up comedians try out new material.
e: Do these songs take on new or special nuances live?
TH: I think we just play a little faster and make more mistakes, but our main goal with this album was to capture the feel of our live shows. I wanted people to hear it and then go see us play a basement show or something.
e: Who are the song and instrumental writers on this album? Any favorites so far?
TH: I write the lyrics and usually bring in the music, but Kyle also brings in some music, then we just build off of those initial versions, and everyone kind of works out their own parts the more we play. My favorites to play are probably “Burner Phone” and “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” just because there’s a lot of energy to put into them. I’m also really proud of “Salamander” because everyone is playing something different and cool, but it’s also the toughest to sing.
e: How did lyrics and instrumentals merge in the process?
TH: I write chunks of lyrics constantly, but rarely a full song’s worth, so when we have some music coming together I start to see what lines fit with it, and either piece things together or expand on something I already wrote.
“Burner Phone” is a good example where we had the music finished, but I wasn’t sure what to do vocally. I think the first time we played it live, I sang Museum Mouth lyrics as filler. Then when I finally had a chance to sit down and work on it, I found some lines in my notepad that fit the melody, and those became the opening lines of the verses. I just fleshed out the idea from there.
e: Who and what has inspired you in developing your sound?
TH: I got into Weezer, Green Day and Blink-182 when I was really young, and it just went from there into more underground bands. I mostly care about good songwriting at this point though. We don’t really listen to many of the same bands, as a group. But I think our common ground revolves around punk and Indie.
e: With various forms of punk out there, which do you most identify with in terms of your songwriting?
TH: Oh, I could go on about this forever [laughs]. I mostly call us pop-rock or Indie-rock because it’s simpler. It’s probably most accurate to say pop-punk, but I really don’t like the connotation, and there’s a certain brand of pop-punk that I’d rather not be associated with. We might all have ideals about how to do things as a band, but the main purpose of the songs is just for them to be relatable. Music has always been such a major comfort for me; all I’m trying to do is create that same kind of comfort for other people.
e: Any specific bands or records you’re really into right now?
TH: Yes! There’s so much good music happening right now. I’m really into what a lot of NC bands are doing. Off the top of my head I’m thinking of “Cozy Body” by Mineral Girls, the upcoming Ernie EP, and the upcoming Museum Mouth record. I’ve also been into Shwayze this year.
e: With the release of this album, were there any lessons learned to consider for your next project?
TH: The biggest things I’ve learned from band stuff are two sides to the same coin. On one hand, you really have to go out and make things happen for yourself; no one is going to come to you with opportunities out of nowhere. On the other hand, at least in our scene/genre, there’s an insanely supportive community that’s there to help out DIY bands. I’m constantly surprised by how nice and supportive people can be sometimes.