Jersey Beat Music Fanzine

DAN SCHAFER: The World According To Vapid

Interview by Jim Testa, photos by Christine "Krusty" Ullrich

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 technique before?

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 up.

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 much.

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 go.

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 play.

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 of that.

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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