There are some bands that make great music. There are some bands that make great music that very deeply resonates with me. Then, there are the bands that make music that becomes something even deeper. It’s the stuff that makes you feel like every word was written from inside your own brain, it “gets” you and it speaks to parts of you that not many things can.
That last category is where Off With Their Heads lives with me. I’ll readily admit it here, I caught on to these guys a little later in the game than I wish I would have. There was a pretty large swath of time in the 2000’s when my life was a total train wreck, and I was so completely absorbed in either the stupid shit unfolding in my personal life or working on my own music that, needless to say, I missed some shit.
I could probably just delete everything before 2013 and be much more mentally stable, but I don’t think that button exists.
I caught Off With Their Heads live here in Atlanta when they opened up for Alkaline Trio. It was at the always-wonderful Center Stage on May 11th, 2013. I remember the specifics so well because I was at a real turning point in my life, well- this was actually a LOW point, but the turning point would come VERY shortly after when I met my would-be wife. I was super stoked about seeing Alkaline Trio that night but what I DIDN’T expect was to be completely blown away by the band I didn’t know much about, Off With Their Heads.
First of all, it’s my perfect kind of punk rock. It’s got that “disturbingly-overdriven Marshall amps in the form of a freight train” thing going on, and after a few minutes I realized that the lyrical content was self-deprecating, riddled with anxiety and self loathing, and the kind of “morning after the shit-storm” emotional catharsis that I’d spent the better part of my existence living in myself. This was music written for me and the fucked-up thoughts in my head that wouldn’t go away no matter how hard I tried. This was the band I didn’t realize I’d needed in my life and now couldn’t live without.
“I want you to listen, I want you to care. I’ll choke to death if I don’t clear the air”- OWTH
I immediately got my hands on their entire catalog and devoured it. “In Desolation” will probably always be my favorite of their albums/releases but it’s not because I don’t completely love everything else, cause I do. It’s just that those songs were the ones I discovered first, and were the ones that helped me feel a little less empty in a time when my life felt like a swimming pool being drained after the summer fun comes to an end.
I also discovered fairly quickly that guitarist/vocalist/main weirdo Ryan Young also had a website called Anxious & Angry from which, among many other things, he launched a podcast of the same name which dealt with mental heath, interviews with other punk musicians, and was (and still is) absolutely fantastic. He puts out records, makes merch (Fourth Shift Printing), and there’s plenty more where that came from.
Go ahead, check out Anxious & Angry, I’ll wait.
He’s even made an internet celebrity out of his blind cat, the wonderful and adorable Stray Charles. No shit, the little feline has more Instagram followers than we do and it’s hard to argue with that fact. Long story short, one listen to OWTH will tell you that Ryan Young has lived through his share of shitty times, but he’s taken all that darkness and turned it into a hell of a lot of good. A hugely-respected band, a thriving small business, and a podcast with a massive and loyal following. It’s the kind of punk rock success story that isn’t without it’s ups and downs, but that still makes you feel like YOU can do it too and it was definitely in the back of my mind as an inspiration when I got The Ghost Generation started.
I’ve got a long way to go, and we’re pretty much a teeny little blip on anyone’s culture radar just yet, so I always assume it’s a wild, flailing shot in the dark anytime I reach out to someone like this for an interview. Like always though, I tell myself “nothing ventured, nothing gained” and I send that fucking email anyway. I was over the fucking moon when I heard back from Ryan and he was down to do this with me. It took a little while to get it moving, even though Ryan has a podcast he’s not the biggest fan of being the subject of interviews so some time passed before I heard form him again. I assumed that was the end of the story but luckily it wasn’t. We finally spoke via email a few days ago, and I’m incredibly excited to be sharing that conversation with you here.
“Be good, be loud. Hands up to the sky and shout, at the top of your lungs ’til the floor falls out.”
OWTH’s latest album, “Be Good”, is an absolute masterpiece by the way, and it’s the kind of evolution that not only shows a new maturity in the music, but in the worldview too. The usual Midwestern, self-effacing gloom is still there for sure, but this one has a newfound hopefulness woven into it’s fabric that somehow manages to have an even STRONGER emotional hit to it that past releases. It’s powerful, and it came along at a time when we most definitely needed it. Unfortunately, it also means that shows got cancelled/postponed, and the usual album cycle was pretty severely disrupted, so what’s a guy like Ryan to do about it? Put out another album, the mostly-acoustic affair “Character” which is coming out on May 15th.
We talk about that, and a little bit of everything else in this thing, and since that’s why you’re here instead of to listen to me ramble for another half-hour- here’s The Ghost Generation’s interview with Ryan Young:
AFHGhost1/ We both grew up in the Midwest, and I feel like there’s something about that environment that instills a certain bleak outlook in people like you & I. Of course, my formative years there consisted almost entirely of the following: getting beaten up because I was gay (I wasn’t), overdosing on motion sickness pills, stealing CD’s from Kmart, playing awful music in someone’s attic or basement, and plowing through my own life like a bulldozer with a brick on the gas pedal. Were you a little degenerate like myself or did you have a slightly more “well-adjusted” adolescence?
RY/ I was 100% a disaster of a child. I also took that disaster with me the rest of my life. I’ve actually been thinking about the past quite a bit since all of this isolation stuff went down. I have some pretty solid theories about how and when everything went wrong. I was raised by a single mom with some serious issues. I guess I hadn’t really thought much about it. You tend to not see as clearly when you are in the thick of something and accept your surroundings as just “how things are”. My mother had mental problems that she tried to cover with alcohol. She made a few mistakes in life and just sort of spiraled out of control. Her way of dealing with that was to find comfort in Catholicism and basically surrender reality to whatever they told her to do. She tried VERY hard to make sure that my sister and I followed suit. I was 8 years old when I told her that I didn’t buy it. I remember the exact time of day and place that went down. From that point on, it was a war. To this day, it has only gotten worse. My entire life has been fighting that kind of shit. I’ve tried to calm down and not judge people for their beliefs. Who am I to judge anyone? If something gives someone hope, that’s a good thing. But it seems that any kind of hope from that entire world is based off a pyramid scheme for financial gain and control. I could literally go on for hours about this, so I’ll just sum it up. Still angry about it.
I get it, I feel pretty much the same. When I was 8, my mom wanted to take those classes to get back into the Catholic Church cause she got the boot when her and my father got divorced. Every single time though, I would get sick as a dog and she wouldn’t be able to go. I’m still looking for the mark on my body, but it has thus far eluded me. Regardless, you’ve managed to take that anger and make some pretty uplifting shit with it. “Be Good” is such a bold step forward for you as a writer, it’s been said before that the record is your most hopeful work to-date and it’s true, but what’s even more true is how you incorporated so much more dynamics than you have in the past. It genuinely sounds like someone who’s spent a long time stuck in certain emotions breaking through and realizing that they DO deserve a little happiness. Now that you’ve gotten to that place, is it easy to stay there? Asking for someone who’s riddled with anxiety and totally not me.
You know what? There really was quite a bit of hope surrounding that whole record, it’s release and the plans for taking it on the road. I was blown away with how the first 2 tours went. It was the first time we started to see A LOT of people out at the shows. But so much has happened since then. There was a horrible accident that kind of stopped the hopefulness dead in it’s tracks. It was a life changing time for everyone involved, but also so many people that weren’t. I did my best to make some serious adjustments in my life, rebuild what I spent 17 years building and get back to it. Then a world wide pandemic hit. That’s some crazy shit. I’ve spent the good part of the last 10 years trying to share what I’ve learned about myself through therapy, working on mental issues and facing problems. I guess life works in ways that are just ultimately out of your control. You do what you can to continue on your path and do your best. But to answer your question, I’ve been struggling quite a bit lately. That’s life. It’s up and down and you bob and weave your way through it. Learn, be proactive and do your best.
Absolutely, I think we’re ALL struggling right now which is why music that gives a voice to those feelings is so vital and important in this moment we’re all living through. On the flipside of that, do you ever feel like there’s a certain pressure on you to write about mostly bleak and deeply emotional stuff? Like, do you ever just want to write something just fucking weird like Harry Nilsson’s shit, or go full-on Guttermouth and just write something about periods or whatever the hell those dudes were going on about? Is there an inner G.G. Allin waiting to get out that nobody’s seen yet?
I don’t listen to Guttermouth, so I don’t get the reference. But no. I don’t feel pressured to do anything. In fact, we’ve kind of set this band up to do whatever we want to. That last record was honest, the next one will be too. I’ve already started on it and if it alienates “punks”, I feel like I win.
It’s just easy for a band to get pigeonholed, especially these days, but if honesty is your thing then you can’t really end up there. I figure great art always alienates SOMEONE, and if that someone is the stodgy old farts that hate creative evolution then yeah- even better. So it would be tough, or more accurately IMPOSSIBLE to do this without at least a passing mention of what’s going on in the world right now, how are you holding up with all of this?
I’m disgusted with our country right now. I read the news daily. I see what he says. It just blows my mind that people listen to this guy. I don’t understand what kind of spell you have to be under to be convinced that this guy cares about you. He doesn’t. He doesn’t give a shit about anyone but himself and his ego. It’s disgusting. He isn’t a leader. That’s the scariest part. In the face of something where lives of not only the people in our country, but the entire world are at stake, you need strong leadership. That’s the issue. I just hope that on a global scale, there are actual adults in the room.
It seems like they’re in the room, but they not doing a god damned thing about any of this shit. It’s a freight train and we’re all tied to the tracks. I’ve never been more disgusted with the human race than I am right now, cause we’re REALLY showing each other that we value money and power more than life itself. Unnerving is putting it mildly. I know you tend to not get TOO political, but if I we’re a betting man- and I’m not, my personality is NOT suited to gambling, I once spent an entire day buying scratch-off tickets just so I could “beat” them at their own game. I broke even and the day was gone. Anywho, if I WERE a betting man I’d put some respectable money down on the fact that you’d have a shitload to say (musically speaking) about our government and how far down the toilet they’re taking us right now, or is it just not your thing?
I used to pride myself of the fact that I was understanding of people’s differences. I’ve lived all over the place. I’ve been friends with Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Anarchists, Libertarians, you name it. I guess I liked the idea that we live in a place where you could legitimately coexist with all of these people. I could go to a bar and have a few drinks with people in my community regardless of how they saw certain issues. If it got to a discussion, maybe I could show them there is a middle ground. A place where people are free to be themselves in ways where it doesn’t affect either side. Well, that’s not a thing anymore. I fucking hate Republican politicians. They don’t give a fuck about us. They want to put vulnerable people at risk (like my sister) just so they can continue making money. They don’t want to help out those who are struggling. It isn’t because they can’t, it’s because they are greedy, selfish pigs. It was a real shame that we had a chance at genuine change, but people were afraid. Now we will have another 4 years of selfishness. I’d love to be proven wrong.
Yep, I say it all the time- anytime somebody comes along who wants to make REAL change these assholes just call them “radical” and it never ends up happening. Why we find things like universal healthcare, equality, and reproductive rights “radical” is FAR beyond my non-shitty logic, but it all just reinforces that, to these people, we’re nothing more that vessels for capitalism and it’s shameful and gross. Me personally, this shit is terrifying. I have two little kids and a wife and my primary goal at all times is just making sure we’re all safe. We live in the South, which seems hell bent on making that difficult for us, so be glad you don’t live here. Do you think we’re gonna see an end to this shit anytime soon, or do you think our “leaders” are just gonna continue to shoot us down that toilet strapped to a rocket-powered grenade of failure?
Well, again. You and your family are expendable. What financial value do you offer to your leaders? If it isn’t much, why would they care about you? I talked to a friend of mine who is a doctor. He said this situation evolves, twists and turns daily. Nobody knows what’s going to happen. Will there be a vaccine? Hopefully, but it’s not guaranteed. There is a definite possibility that this is with us to stay. If that’s the case, then what will we do then? It’s a lot to wrap your head around. As with most things, I guess all you can do is take care of your immediate surroundings and do your part in reducing collateral damage. I have no idea when I’ll be able to get back to what I do. In the meantime, I’m just going to create. I’m goin to do my podcast, keep in contact with people and write. Hopefully, I can figure out new ways to make money. I’m a definite hustler. I make it work as best I can.
That’s 100% where my head’s at too. I’m doing my best to keep my family safe, I’m writing, and I’m trying not to let the constant weight of all this shit take me down to the floor. It’s not easy, but my wife and I are a tight unit and I think we’re doing as good of a job as anyone can.
COMPLETELY adrift from the subject of music or current events, there’s been a metric TON of Michael Jordan chatter out in the world lately, presumably since that documentary just came out. Were you a Bulls guy back in the “golden years”? I was a mad Scottie Pippen fan myself.
You know, I must have been. I had a cat named “Air Jordan”. But I honestly don’t remember anything at all about that time in my life. It’s nuts. However, I’m loving the documentary. Growing up, you just try and find something to be a part of. I was a basketball player when I was a kid. I had promise. I was on a traveling team. But because of my problems at home, I was angry. I started to hate people. That’s when I found music and gravitated toward that. I wanted nothing to do with “jocks” or whatever the term for that whole crowd was. That seriously lasted until a few years ago. I got back into basketball and found that same feeling I had when I was a kid. It was an innocent love of a cool game. I honestly think going to Bulls games here in Chicago changed my life. It gave me something I needed when I needed it most. So thank fucking god that’s gone too. Haha.
Right?! Did you ever own a pair of Reebok Pumps back in the day? If so, did you have the dope-ass ones with the orange basketball pump thing or the janky black and white ones? I had the janky black and white ones and my mom had to put baking soda in them because if a human person wore them for more than 5 minutes they smelled like a paper mill, or maybe it was just me.
Man. I don’t remember. I think so! Those basketball pump ones ring a bell. I wonder what happened to me where I literally have zero memories of anything good about growing up. If I do remember something awesome, it’s always countered by something weird and dark. I remember setting up my own area in the unfinished basement of the house we lived in. I would stay up late to watch Saturday Night Live. I loved the musical guests. I would always record the episodes as well. My bed was an outdoor hammock. When I would wake up in the morning, there would be about a dozen snakes coiled up on the floor around me. Wild shit.
Jesus man, there aren’t too many people that can manage to make MY childhood feel a little less fucked, but you might be a contender.
I like playing basketball but I’ve never been into watching sports, probably because I was an asthmatic kid who got bullied and it just wasn’t my deal. True story- I tried out for my 4th grade basketball team and for my free throw test I did a “granny shot”. Needless to say, I probably wasn’t helping my own cause much back then. I’m a runner now and I fucking LOVE it- it calms my mile-a-minute brain down more than just about anything. I noticed you’ve been slimming down lately yourself, what’s your go-to form of athletic self abuse?
I started going to a gym. It wasn’t to necessarily get “ripped” or anything, but to wear my brain out. It quickly became a hobby. I enjoy it. I toss on a podcast and spend an hour or two a day just being there. Doesn’t matter what I do, I just like to spend time being there. Now that I can’t go there due to the virus, I’ve been struggling to figure out a new way to be active. I ordered a basketball hoop to put in the alley behind the warehouse. I’m excited about that. I definitely need to do something, because that old familiar psychotic feeling is definitely peeking around the corner.
Yep, it sounds like our brains function VERY similarly. if I don’t run for a few days the demons start sharpening their pitchforks and I gotta hit the fucking pavement. Writing absolutely helps too, but there’s something about running/exercise that just clears out the cobwebs. Back to music- “Character”, your next acoustic record, is coming out May 15th. Did it feel more natural moving some of the songs from “Be Good” over to acoustic since there’s a little more ebb & flow to the song structures?
After canceling the tour in October and restructuring how the band worked, Kyle and I decided to stay busy by making that record. We didn’t really have any plans. Just kinda wanted to reimagine stuff a bit. With the help of my friend Dan (who also recorded Be Good), we made something different. It’s not even really a full acoustic record. There is a bunch of other shit on it as well. I was only planning on a few songs, but we realized that a bunch of those songs work well stripped down. I really like how it came out. It’s also a thing where once May 15th comes, I’ll never think about it again. Onto the next thing. I don’t send my releases out for review or “work” them like traditional labels do. I just put them out for people who are already into it, or people that stumble across it. I don’t feel the need to sell myself. So yeah, onto whatever is next. It’s the benefit of owning your own shit.
And that’s the EXACT outlook an artist needs to have to get through being a creative person in 2020. People are fickle, judgmental, and hyper-focused on their small little subgenera worlds they live in, you almost HAVE to just make shit and say “fuck it”, just throw it out to the universe. You’re also in a good position to do that, cause OWTH and Anxious & Angry are really well-established so you have receptive ears and you don’t necessarily need to be such a salesman about this shit. It’s an ideal place to be, and anyone can see that you’ve worked hard to get to that point.
I really appreciate you taking the time to let me bother you for a little while man, I’ll let you get back to your life now and hopefully you’ll be able to get back out there playing shows again one day soon. I’m a perfect example of the impact just one show can have on a person, so I know you’re looking forward to being able to do that shit again ASAP. In the meantime, hang in there and I wish you and yours nothing but the best and I’m stoked to hear “Character” when it comes out. Maybe we can chat in person if you guys manage to get back down to the ATL before the world ends.
That’s all folks! It was an honor to get to talk to Ryan for The Ghost Generation and stay tuned for more. I’ll be talking to someone else I have MASSIVE respect for later this week but since my rule is “no announcements until the fucking thing is finished” mum’s the word for now. Stay safe, stay healthy, and for fuck’s sake- don’t listen to the idiots that want you to die for their bank balances, STAY THE FUCK HOME (and watch the greatest music video of all time below, featuring Mr. Kyle Kinane in ALL his glory.)
Ryan Young and Off with Their Heads aren’t super into social media and I fucking hate Facebook, so you can find them here, on Spotify, and also at Ryan’s all-encompassing and completely fantastic site Anxious & Angry. And don’t forget to check out “Character” when it drops on 5/15!
A blog/website where these happily married, 30-something parents of 2 little minions rant, rave, and speak in tongues. Raw, honest, and riddled with profanity. Get on board and let’s make The Ghost Generation awesome together! http://theghostgeneration.com Twitter.com/Gh0stGeneration