Shortly before the release of their debut album -!- (The Exclamation Album) on March 12th, I picked the brains of guitarist Jack Collins and vocalist/guitarist Jack Underkofler to talk about various aspects of the album and what’s been keeping them busy this past year around the recording of the album.
Let’s just jump right to it. You’re set to release your debut album, -!- (The Exclamation Album), on March 12th via Spinefarm Records. What does the title represent?
Collins: When we were trying to come up with an album name, nothing was sticking. Will threw the idea out for this symbol, and we immediately just agreed to it. We felt like the songs were so different from each other that no words could tie them together. The symbol just feels like it explains what it’s all about.
So all of the guitar performed on the album was played on a beat-up, battered seven-string guitar that went through hell over the years?
Collins: Not all of the guitar. But most of the standout riffs. It’s sort of our weapon for creating this mood that I think we’ve created. It’s like this grindy, slothy, but also an uncanny vibe that we’re so attracted to…There are a number of bands that use bends and seven strings, but we do it differently. I think our fans understand.
You guys didn’t let yourselves get pigeonholed into one specific genre, and the album drifts all over with various genres. You set out with the intention to deliver an album “to make someone feel something they haven’t felt before.” I do believe this is true. Is there a specific reason you dabbled in many different genres on -!-?
Collins: Thank you. Definitely no specific reason. It’s just the result of four overly opinionated, overly trained musicians [Laughs]. Any time there was a song that sounded too much like a previous one, there was just no buzz in the room. The only way we stay excited is if we’re basically flipping the switch over and over in our writing. Just when we think we’ve landed on a “sound,” someone comes up with something completely out of left field that gets us hyped up again.
Do you have a striking memory from writing or recording the record?
Collins: This would be different for each of us, I think, so I can only answer for myself. For me, I think it was when I came up with the riff for “.SALT.” I was either super drunk or high in my room late at night, and all of a sudden it was like something injected this riff into my brain. When I feel a riff coming on, sometimes I become so insanely emotional it’s hard to control. My heart races out of control I start to sweat. I recorded it right away and threw on a drum beat, and it felt like someone else was telling me how to do it. Those moments for me are insane. The most unexplainable energy you’ve ever felt.
You guys are quite influenced by the rock band Badflower and other bands who touch on mental health in their music, something you touch on in many of the album’s songs. Is there any particular track that was hard to write because it was too personal?
Collins: This would be best answered by our singer since he wrote the majority of the emotional lyrics, but we’re lucky that we invest ourselves just as much musically as we do lyrically when writing music. Every single one of us has some sort of anxiety disorder, so we’re basically a walking train wreck. It’s interesting when you’re writing lyrics you think you’re trying to just make something work technically with the way it sounds, but really you’re just waiting for the moment that this other-worldly voice comes into your head and blurts out what you’ve been trying to say your whole life. So for me the lyrics in “loveyoulikethat,” “It’s midnight and the screaming isn’t doing us good, you say that you love me but you never could,” was that. I didn’t write them down and re-analyze them, they just came out in half a second. Afterwards, I realized they were about all of my past relationships, and I’m usually extremely emotional when I listen to it now.
Do you have any favourite songs off the album? So even any you’re looking to perform live in front of an audience, whenever that might be?
Collins: I can’t fucking wait to play “lovemelikeyoudo” live. That one is hated by so many of our friends cause of how out there it is, and I can’t wait to see people’s reactions after we play it for them. Especially for people who’ve never heard of us. Plus we have some pretty insane ideas for how to perform it live.
I take it that you’d never imagine having your music used in fourteen television shows and commercials? I certainly would say, “I never thought, “My music would be featured on Keeping Up With The Kardashians,” if I was a musician about to release a debut. How does it feel to get so much exposure with these latest singles?
Collins: This question is a bit misleading. You may have found this on one of our old bios, but that never led to anything much for us. We need to remove it from the internet [Laughs]. But the fact that our songs are getting so much noise in press and on streaming platforms is pretty insane. I flipped out a few years ago when I saw we had seven thousand streams. Now we get over a million a month.
So I’m reading you guys have many hobbies to stay busy with outside of music -probably more than ever during this last year. Those being surfing, learning/researching about space, and can’t forget video games. Being based in Los Angeles, I take it you can get a lot of surfing in?
Collins: I’m the main surfer in the band, but Dylan also picked it up pretty fast last summer. I think the rush of surfing is so similar to the rush of performing live. The process is similar: Hurry up, wait, be calm, and then a burst of adrenaline. I surf pretty much every day living here in SoCal. I would have lost my fucking mind with this pandemic if I didn’t have it.
I don’t know if you’re an Xbox or Playstation person -and I’m not one to judge what console one uses. I play a bit of both myself, but I got an Xbox Series X in the fall and have been playing as much as I can get in. Your go-to games are the Battlefield, Call of Duty, and the Kingdom Hearts series? Do you have a particular favourite? Playing anything other than that lately?
Underkofler: Lucky you, I’ve been trying to get my hands on one still. I play Battlefield and Warzone quite a bit. Dylan is the Kingdom Hearts guy. I’ve been replaying Cyberpunk in my free time, but it’s honestly painful with a first-gen Xbox One [Laughs]. Hopefully, this album blows up so I can buy a marked-up Series X. Honestly, the whole reason we’re doing this album.
What is it about space that is so intriguing? What are your thoughts on companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic working on the possibilities of space tourism?
Underkofler: It’s just the ultimate grand scheme. It’s about as big a picture as you can get and that fascinates me. When you look up, you are literally looking at every possibility ever. The vastness is only limited to your imagination and the laws of physics. The possibility of life, our future as a species, the endless well of new understanding, what’s there not to be fascinated with? I am a fanboy of all these companies and I feel very fortunate to be living in this time period of privatized space because it allows such a rapid pace for innovation and development that there’s always something new happening and something to go “Woah, holy fuck” at. If there’s an affordable ticket to space I will be the first customer.
Finally, before you go, what is one thing you want listeners of the album to take away from it after they get to hear it in full on March 12th?
Collins: That this is just the beginning for us. The next shit we make is going to be even more insane, and you won’t be able to predict it. Our band is less of a sound than it is an idea. Fuck rock music and what it’s been for decades. We’re fucking tired of it. We’re only gonna make things we feel we need to say, and we’re never going to entertain you with bullshit stock rock music.