"I think it’s safe to say that both bands are part of a certified bromance.”
While Dead To Me and Cobra Skulls aren't particularly au fait with Australia, they sure know a lot about each other. The two bands, one from San Francisco (Dead To Me) and the other from Reno, Nevada (Cobra Skulls) have spent countless hours cramped together in the back of shitty touring vans all in the name of bringing punk rock to as many people as is humanly possible. To some the willingness of both bands to undergo severe and continual financial deprivation in order to play any dive that will have them is strange enough. But what's really creepy about these guys is that even after living in each other's pockets for long periods of time, they actually all like each other. And they swear they're not lying.
“Look I know it sounds strange, but the truth is we really all do get along,” laughs Dead To Me's vocalist/bass player Tyson Annicharico, after being asked to name some of the infuriating habits of the Cobra Skulls crew. “It's pretty sad I know, but we've toured twice with Dead To Me and I think it's safe to say that both bands are part of a certified bromance,” confirms Cobra Skulls vocalist/bass player Devin Peralta. “I can't think of anything that annoys me about those guys at all. Perhaps if you really wanted to find something is that when we all get together we tend to party too much and that leaves us all with sore heads.”
Come on – surely there's one person who farts continually in the back of the van? “You'd think so I know,” says Annicharico. “But really the Cobra Skulls guys are just so laidback and easy to get along with that they're one of our favourite bands to tour with. I'm trying as hard as I can but I can't think of anything bad at all to say. Sorry no tabloid dramas here.”
The bands don't only benefit from a healthy camaraderie as their joint jaunts are also very good for business. “Although we're both on Fat Wreck and play punk rock, we do attract slightly different crowds,” Peralta explains. “So when we head out together we tend to draw a pretty diverse crowd. People seem more willing to come out because it's a chance to see both bands – more bang for your buck.”
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“It's the way things are going at the moment,” adds Annicharico. “There's not a lot of money about and you've got to make things easy as possible for people who can't afford to go to a lot of shows – heading out with these guys means that anyone who comes to the show knows they're going to see something special: two bands who will play their arses off for them. That's another reason why we love the Cobra Skulls guys – they have the same ethic as us. When they're on that stage they give everything; there's never any half-arsing or taking it easy.”
As well as being on the same label, both bands dropped new albums at the end of last year. Dead To Me's Moscow Penny Ante was a furious blast of punk rock that abandoned the poppier ska-driven antics of previous album, 2009's African Elephants. Cobra Skulls' Agitations was similarly fiery but also betrayed a keen ear for melody a la Tiger Army, Against Me or even classic TSOL. Both albums were hailed by critics and have spurred a renewed interest in the venerable Fat Wreck brand.
“Fat Wreck is a great place to be for our band because the owner of the label is part of a touring band himself,” says Peralta, with Annicharico quickly joining him in agreement. “He relates to what we're doing and isn't some businessman in a suit that has no idea about the music. He also gives us an artistic freedom that a lot of other labels don't give their artists. Agitations was our first record for Fat Wreck and it's no coincidence that it's the strongest thing we've done. I mean we never had a problem with our old labels at all, but on Fat Wreck you just feel that you're in an environment where you're free to create the music you want when you want.”
“We've been able to grow as a band because of that label,” offers Annicharico. “When things are taken care of for you, it's much easier to go out and play good shows and make interesting records.”
Even though both bands enjoy being in the studio, it's the road that really calls them. Indeed both Annicharico and Peralta share the view that if you can't make it live, you have no business calling yourself a punk rock band, as he explains. “There are bands out there that get some success quickly and have no idea about grinding it out on the road. But if you want to survive doing this you have to be prepared to start from the bottom up and play wherever you can.
“I won't name names but I've seen bands fresh out of the studio who have no idea how to tour and they get out on the road and they're immediately lost. For one thing, why are you doing this if you don't want to play in front of people? Also these days there's a whole generation of kids who grew up downloading music for free. You're not going to survive if you don't play live. And I'll say one thing for punk rock kids, they do go to the shows and support the bands; they like by buying merch, buying tickets. Also a show really lets you connect with the kids in a way that recorded music doesn't these days. Music you've downloaded can be consumed and forgotten instantly. But when you get that kid to your show, they'll remember the experience and see first hand what the punk rock scene is about – and then hopefully go away and do something to help the scene itself.”
Punk rock in America has always been a political force in and of itself. In 2012 America faces a renewed wave of oppression from a Republican party rapidly moving further to the right. For Dead To Me, ensconced in uber-liberal San Francisco, the threat is distant, but for Cobra Skulls, who hail from the battleground state of Nevada, the situation is all too real. So is it hard to be a punk rocker in 'red' America?
“You know, I'd have to say no,” says Peralta after a lengthy pause. “For the simple fact that being surrounded by ideas and people you don't agree with gives you more reason to be a punk. It fuels the fire. But more broadly it's important for all punk rock kids to keep engaged with the issues. I'm really supportive of the Occupy movement, for all its faults. We all know now that one per cent of the population own ninety-nine per cent of the wealth – a year ago a lot of people didn't know that. This is the movement that will keep Obama honest and let him know that people who have supported him expect him to act on his promises.”