After being impressed by the Street Eaters’ opening set for forgetters at the Echo earlier this year, I began corresponding with the guitarist and scored some of the duo’s vinyl output. I found the records to be honest, touching, and punk as hell–worth hearing in a non-blown-out, moderately engineered setting. The powerful give-and-take between Megan March and Johnny Geek’s ruthless drums, catchy guitars, and vocals serve as a potent reminder that all you need is two people to form a gang, start a fight, or make rad music, and the new album, Rusty Eyes and Hydrocarbons, cranks it up yet another notch. The band is touring in support of it, so I had to hit them up on the road.
MW: Coming off 7″ singles, split singles, and an EP, what was your approach to recording your first full-length album?
JG: We liked the idea of building into a debut full-length gradually, and we really tightened up our whole ship to make the album as great as possible. We had the split with White Night first, and then the We See Monsters EP. Around a year later, we put out the split with Severance Package and the “Ashby and Shattuck” 7″ picture disc. The whole time, we were writing, recording, and editing the stuff that would eventually end up on the album. It was all a very deliberate process of building up to a killer full-length.
MM: We recorded the record in several chunks so we could step back, view it, and envision what songs should be written and recorded to make it more complete.
MW: Is “Two Heads” about the movie The Thing with Two Heads, your band, or something else altogether?
MM: You’d probably have to ask Grace Slick. “Two Heads” is a Jefferson Airplane cover. But we interpret it to be a pro-feminist, anti-religious fundamentalist song. We also like it because it is weird.
MW: Jefferson Airplane isn’t the sort of San Francisco band one would expect you to dig, but I guess they’re a big part of the local color and culture. Are you fans of Bay Area music in that way and do you see yourselves as products of it?
JG: You know, we aren’t really even big fans of Jefferson Airplane, but we heard it on a mixtape in the back of a van on tour and realized it was a really bizarre, fierce song that would be an interesting cover. It seemed like a strange, misshapen diamond in the rough wilds of hippie musical excess. It’s more of a grunge song, really. When you strip it down to a two-piece and play it really loud, it sounds like Mudhoney.
MW: Is it cool or a drag to be constantly compared to the era when Very Small, Important, and Lookout! were the Bay Area’s Ghidorah of punk? (I actually feel that way, but maybe it’s because I first saw you opening for forgetters…)
MM: I take it as a compliment, especially if you look at comps like The Thing That Ate Floyd with Kamala and the Karnivores, etc. But that was a pretty specific era. Honestly, I wasn’t really aware we got those comparisons so much; we usually get compared to mid ’90s stuff from the Northwest–which I think is also cool.
JG: It’s kind of funny how people hear such different things. Lately, we’ve been getting a lot of Sonic Youth and Sleater-Kinney comparisons, which we also like a lot. Obviously, we grew up around Gilman Street and have been active in the East Bay scene for years with some influences creeping in, but we definitely don’t have any agenda or specific template as far as what we want to sound like.
MW: Many duos bring in guest musicians, accompaniment, and so on, but you two seem to relish your mano-a-mano musical relationship. Were you tempted one iota to add extra voices, instruments, or other stuff?
JG: It is really fulfilling and musically challenging to try and fill as much sonic space as possible within the instrumental boundaries we have set. Setting some ground-level musical rules then trying to find as much wiggle room as possible within them forces us to come up with increasingly compelling noise as we push our equipment to its limits. It also makes us focus heavily on the vocals, which helps to define the sound.
MM: We actually thrive on the minimalist aspects of being a two-piece, but one of the extra CD-only tracks (“No Time”) was written as a three-piece vocal harmony, so we had our friend Alanna Paoli (from Songs For Moms) sing the third part.
MW: “Nation Builder” is a really cool song. The so-called dreams you sing about are on a big, political level but I’m wondering if it started out as something more personal and evolved into something epic?
JG: Glad you enjoy the song. The dreams we are talking about are the greedy dreams of the Neo-Conservatives and American industrialists who desire nothing more than total economic hegemony over all resource-rich regions of the developing world. These dreams will never be physically fought for by their own children but by the children of the poor and working class whose alternative employment options have grown increasingly slim. The song specifically deals with the issue of violent ex-cons in the military, a loosening of recruitment policies that has only been in place since 2003 or so.
MM: The song is definitely personal insofar as it is written from the perspective of a character, a felon whose only real employment option upon release from prison is to join the military, where his violent tendencies will never be curbed. It is a vicious cycle, and anyone who lives in or around a major city with poverty issues sees this sort of drama played out on a sadly regular basis.
MW: Isn’t that a bike rack on the back of your touring vehicle? Is that how you’ve always rolled or is it a new addition to your traveling?
MM: Yes, it is indeed a new addition, and it is pretty awesome. It is pretty rad to be able to pull up into town and ride our bikes around.
JG: Some family members gave us the rack in Reno at the very beginning of the tour, when we were still stuffing the bikes in the back of the truck uncomfortably with the equipment. The bikes are also a handy cop deterrent, as anyone thinking about pulling us over sees the bikes and thinks “Aw, young couple on vacation, how cute” rather than “What are these two creeps from California doing driving around in a pickup where the windows are all lined with razor wire?” And since we don’t get pulled over as much, we then don’t have to endure uncomfortable questions about the seditious revolutionary words on our lyric sheets.