DAN SCHAFER: The World According To Vapid
Interview by Jim Testa, photos by Christine "Krusty"
Dan Schafer - aka Dan Vapid - has been a staple of
American punk rock since the early Nineties, from his early
days in the Chicago hardcore scene to his landmark stints
with Screeching Weasel, the Riverdales, and the Queers,
and more recently with The Methadones and Noise By Numbers.
Of course he's back with Ben Weasel, performing in the revived
Screeching Weasel and recording with the reunited Riverdales.
That's a lot of punk rock for one guy, but we tried to cover
as many bases as we could
Q: Let's start with the Riverdales. When I talked
to Ben last year about Invasion USA, he told me how he made
a list of movie titles from MSFT3K and you used those to
inspire your songwriting. I also know that you had some
songs left over which made their way onto Tarantula. How
much of the songwriting on the new album used that same
technique? Did you find it challenging to create songs with
just a title as a starting point? Had you ever used that
Dan: Right. Ben had a list of movie titles from Mystery
Science Theater 3000 which we used for "Invasion USA."
Ben had some songs left over from that session and I started
writing soon after that release in the same spirit. I find
writing from title to be easier. And yes, it's a technique
that Ben and I have used before. Song titles can come from
anywhere, too. Movies, lines from books, newspaper articles,
something a friend says in passing. Wherever. Usually a
title will help kick start something.
Q: You and Ben live in two different cities. When
you work together on something like Tarantula, do you actually
sit together and work out songs? What was the recording
process like? Did the whole band get together in a studio,
or did you record your parts separately?
Dan: Ben and I demo our songs on Garageband which is a
recording program that comes with a Mac computer. We send
our song files to each other via email. Once we decide what
songs work best we book a few rehearsals to tighten everything
Q: While we're on the subject, people always want
to know about Ben. You guys obviously have a lot of history
together. How would you describe your working and personal
relationship now? I imagine it's quite a bit different than
when you first joined Screeching Weasel. What is something
that you know about Ben Weasel that the people reading this
interview don't know?
Dan: Our dynamic is much different now than 20 years ago
mainly because we're both older. I'm not sure I know anything
that most of your readers don't. Although, the average punk
rocker on the street may be surprised how normal his day
to day life is.
Q: Invasion USA spilled over into Tarantula since
you had several songs left over or half started. Now that
Tarantula is out, have you started working on the next Riverdales
project? And has there been any talk of writing and recording
a new Screeching Weasel record?
Dan: Ben and I have been working on some ideas for the
Riverdales. We both have talked about doing another record
and I hope it happens. Screeching Weasel is also working
on new material.
Q: Do you like the approach of going to a city,
doing a SW and Riverdales show, and then going home, compared
to a traditional tour where you're out on the road for weeks
or months at a time? When I saw you in Philadelphia, the
Screeching Weasel set covered the band's whole history but
the Riverdales set was very heavy on new songs. Has that
changed as you've been doing this more and given the band
more time to learn some of the older songs?
Dan: One of the advantages of playing a weekend a month
is that the shows are that much more exciting. They're also
more eventful when they are spread out. When you've been
on a traditional tour enough times, you can burn out much
quicker. I've heard bands on tour say "Time to make
the dough-nuts!" before they go on stage. Like punching
the clock. After doing something enough times the fun can
get sucked out. Going through the motions is a normal part
of any band but it can get to a level where it becomes too
Q: Moving over to the Methadones, are they over?
Do you have any more shows planned? Any regrets or is there
anything else you would have liked to do with that band?
Dan: The Methadones last show is November 13th at Reggies
in Chicago. I have no regrets and did everything I could
do to push the band forward but it's clear to us that the
band has run its course and it's as far as we're going to
Q: My friends in Vortis tell me that they loved
playing shows with the Methadones and felt like you guys
were a true Chicago punk band in the mold of Naked Raygun,
Effigies, and so on. When home, do you still get out to
shows much to see other bands, or do you mostly just go
out when you're playing a show? Are there any other Chicago
bands you want to give a shout out to?
Dan: I don't get out to shows that much anymore unless
I'm playing because it's a pain in ass. I blame Chicago
traffic and congestion for my absence for a portion of it.
Most shows start around 6:30pm. It stresses me out to be
stuck in traffic and then circle the block several times
trying to find a parking spot. And then you have to feed
a meter bought from a privatized company who jacked the
rates up. I live outside the neighborhoods that have venues
so I have to drive or take the train. Chicago's public transportation
system is also pretty bad. But, if it's a band I must see
I will make it and I usually go see friends’ bands
Q: Noise By Numbers: We talked a little about
your approach to this band at Insub Fest, when I suggested
that your songwriting here is not unlike your Riverdales
songs but only with all the Ramones influences sucked out.
Can you talk a little about why you decided to do this band,
and how you feel your songwriting is different than any
of your other projects?
Dan: Noise By Numbers had formed after the company, a contractor
through General Motors I had worked for, had just folded.
A friend of mine (Jeff Dean) asked if I wanted to jam. Since
losing my day job, I had plenty of time. We had talked about
some of the bands we liked (Naked Raygun, Husker Du, Replacements,
Jawbreaker) and used that influence as a starting point.
Jeff has more of an indie background and mine is pop punk.
We merged the two styles and we're both happy with the result.
We decided to do a band shortly after
Q: I know Noise By Numbers did some touring in
August, are there any plans to record again or do you want
to tour more on this first record and help establish the
band in people's minds?
Dan: We'll see how it goes. As long as it's fun I'll play
as much as I can. We just recorded a second NBN record which
will be called "Over Leavitt."
Q: Is it tough competing against your own history?
I imagine when you're on tour with Noise By Numbers, there
are always kids in the crowd yelling out for "Riverdale
Stomp" or Screeching Weasel songs. Does that bother
you or do you just accept it?
Dan: It's hard sometimes but for the most part I accept
it. It's like the Ramones thing you talked about earlier.
There's a lot of people out there that throw me into the
Ramones category with everything. I'm the Ramones guy. Toss
me into that box and forget about it. What they don't get
is that I listen to a lot of different stuff and I always
have. I love playing different stuff and this band is demonstrative
Q: The culture of punk rock has changed so much
since you started playing in bands. I'm sure you've noticed
that the audiences seem to keep getting younger as kids
get into going to shows at younger ages, and now there's
this whole new side to punk rock where you're expected to
pose for photos and sign autographs. Nobody was doing that
shit at McGregors. On the other hand, it's pretty hard to
imagine an audience today getting naked the way they used
to at Screeching Weasel shows! What do you feel are
some of the biggest changes in your audiences and interacting
with the public? Do you reply to all your emails on MySpace
and Facebook if kids want to communicate with you?
Dan: One of the biggest shifts I've seen in punk rock was
its break into the mainstream. That was really weird and
hard to adjust to for a long time. When I was first starting
out we used to make jokes about such-and-such band playing
arenas and being on the radio. And then, we saw it happen
with bands we know. I was thinking about this recently when
a friend of mine (Joe Principe) started Rise Against. I
can remember sitting in his room and him playing me a demo
of some songs asking me if I liked Rise Against or Transistor
Revolt as a band name. Fast forward 6 months later and they're
playing a show at the Fireside Bowl and about 30 people
just stood there with their arms folded. Last time I saw
them they sold out 2 5000 capacity seat venues. It's both
really great and very weird. I saw similar things with Green
day in the early 90's. A lot of kids weren't going to punk
shows before it entered into the mainstream so their view
of it all is very different. I think Screeching Weasel fell
into a large cult status from that shift. As far as interaction
goes, I'm more than happy to meet fans at shows, or bullshit
via Facebook, Myspace, wherever.
Special thanks to Christine "Krusty"
Ullrich for the photos. Check out her photo gallery here.
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