WORDS: ADAM HOPKIN | PHOTOS: ANTON SMEETON
Less than two seconds into 2018’s Bay Dreams, Culture Abuse’s sophomore album, and you get your first clue that this is going to be something truly special. The record’s title track welcomes you aboard this wild ride with a Saturday morning cartoon-esque gunshot in what is the most charmingly ridiculous opening possible. On the face of it, this off the wall, goofball approach couldn’t seem further from punks archaic, rebellious roots but this if anything is Culture Abuse doing it their own way.
“there isn’t a right way to paint a picture…” – DAVID KELLING
It’s impossible to pin down exactly what makes a successful artist, with the flag for each generation only being bore by the closest personification of a rock star at the time. But that’s exactly what sets Culture Abuse so many leagues apart from anyone else, they aren’t what you would expect from a modern day “rock star” and their old school, DIY ethos attacks the instant fame and gratification that the 21st century has come to expect and tosses away without regard for how its earned.
This humility is made even more apparent as we stand outside Manchester’s renowned Star, swapping out the mammoth tour bus for the hood of the closest car as we shoot the breeze with the outfits guitarist Nick Bruder and frontman David Kelling.
“I just sat with a guitar until I could play something” humbly states Kelling, “I mean, I feel like I say this a lot there isn’t a right way to paint a picture, you can have a canvas and do anything in the world and people can say that they don’t like it, but no one can say that you can’t do it.”
“You end up doing shit you wouldn’t just to keep a roof over your head”.
The Bay City Rockers are the self-proclaimed underdogs of the scene, battling to have their day. “It’s kind of fucked up”, grins David, still managing to maintain his infectious smile even when discussing all the Band has endured getting to the stage. “You end up doing shit you wouldn’t just to keep a roof over your head”. He admits, “Doing shit like, if we got in trouble for it we wouldn’t be able to go on tour.”
“It’s always been difficult and it’s always been an expensive area” says Nick when discussing the bands home turf of San Francisco Bay. Over the last few years, the area has become notorious for surging rent prices resulting in an exodus of artists. “I’ve had multiple friends do that”, sighs Kelling. “People still go for it”, comments Nick, sounding eager to defend their scene, “with the pressure and struggle you get more of the people who are actually trying to do it.”
Keeping hope David says, “There is always going to be a spark of something somewhere, even if you know about it or you don’t.” Giving a glimpse into where the group’s determination is rooted, Nick adds “When you can’t exactly have the most comfortable life you make yours better and it becomes a driving force, you put everything you have into it. You start to think of your comfort second”
“you put everything you have into it.”
“When we had all moved out of our house we went on a bunch of tours and then came back and we were couch surfing and stayed in the practice spot” recalls David, with a joyful understatement in his voice. Having previously described living in San Francisco as crazy and impossible, with the price of rent being hiked up and offers of back to back tours coming in, the five friends found themselves living in their 15 by 15 windowless rehearsal space.
“You hear about people in the mid-west and you ask them how much they are paying and they are paying for rent and they say like 600 bucks and they say they have this three bedroom house with a basement and a front and back yard”, vents Nick gasping with tangible disbelief,” and you are just like what the fuck like I pay 300 bucks for a little corner in a room”. There is a pause before Nick and David turn to each other, chuckling the realisation through a half pained laugh “which is actually a great deal for out there, it’s fuckin crazy.”
Admitting that he felt conflicted leaving the rest of the guys back in the Bay for LA, David says how it was another artist that helped them out, and ultimately made choosing a label to support their next ambitious project all the easier. “Then trapped under ice told us that eddies room opened up down in LA it was like fucking cheap, and it really was. I was sleeping on a couch in between tours and now I could get my own room for nothing compared to what it was up there and then we were working on I’m going through different record deals and trying to decide who to sign to. It started to go forward with Epitaph and they are down there too, it was beneficial and hard because everyone else lives in the bay and I live down there.”
“no one was expecting anything and now people are expecting something.”
Having recorded their previous effort, 2016’s Peach in a mere two months, the guy’s new relationship with Epitaph records would make putting together Bay Dreams a far less frantic experience. Feeling the pressure that comes with signing to a major label with such a cult following, David recounts “we did Peach and no one was expecting anything and now people are expecting something.”
“It’s like they help us but they also keep us busy”, David continues, “We wrote a lot of the songs in Italy and then we went to Amsterdam on the demo with one of our friends and Epitaph took care of all of that and when we came home they took care of our rent so we could just focus on writing and recording the record then in the middle of it we had to do the waves Joyce manor tour at the same time.”
But what fans couldn’t predict was just how much of a sonic departure from their previous works Bay Dreams would be for Culture Abuse. The release saw the momentum carrying abrasiveness of Peach tossed away for an LSD infused endless summer with punk still at its heart. “It just bought us the time to like fuck with shit, we worked with a completely different producer and engineer and everything so it was all different, who knows what Bay Dreams would have been, You record the same record with 10 different people and it’s going to sound 10 different ways but epitaph made it so we could just focus on the songs you know, like helped us out.”
“we may as well stay true to ourselves.”
Whereas signing to a larger label does little more than fuel the ego of some artists, ultimately stifling their output, David says they maintained the mantra of delivering something that felt authentic. “We did this last time and now epitaph is putting it out, we may as well stay true to ourselves rather than what we think someone will dig or not dig.”
But even with the backing of a new label Kelling still had reservations about whether their evolved sound was pushing Culture Abuse too far too soon. “We worked on it for a long time and put a lot into it, and then half of it’s like you’re going to freak out about anything before you put it out. I think that’s what makes it easier knowing that you’re still going to write songs forever, so there’s going to be a million more.
“One of our friends sings In The Hold Steady and I was like hitting him up saying ” dude oh no” and just freaking out about it all and he said that’s why we have to write a new record so we worry about that and stop worrying about the last one. So the more music you put out the more it stops you worrying about the old shit.”
“…by the time the right part comes it will just happen.”
“I always think that songs are already written”, insists the vocalist hinting at his seemingly natural ability to write hooky as hell choruses, “when you go to write a song you can tell when it just comes out and you can write a song in five minutes and sometimes you have to work at things. But if you have to overthink it then it’s probably not the right part, by the time the right part comes it will just happen.”
But the vital ingredient when putting together anything Culture Abuse is their very own blend of herbs and spices, perhaps resulting in the most magical moment in punk to date. A very Baked Culture Abuse, talking about baking (kinda). “The more simple a song is the more you can put on top of everything,” says David, now providing enthusiastic hand movements to accompany this insight into their craft. “If you bake a vanilla cake you can put a million things on it”, continues David, “ but if you make a million things cake then throw a million things on it”. “It’s just too much cake!” Nick blurts in his most passionate moment since getting off stage.
The ever grounded and humble, rock n roll persona of the band continues to show when the frontman discusses his Cerebral Palsy; “Kids talk about being inspiring, but I’m just trying to get through the day. I’m not ready to be an activist or a role model or anything but if someone needs to speak up and say something then I will speak up but otherwise, I’m just gonna try and have fun.”
“I’m just gonna try and have fun.”
With Culture Abuse you get exactly that, these guys are attacking conventions, rebelling against what is typically expected of an artist, what they can and should do. “Most times if I could just show up to a bar and just like play a song and everyone knows it, or you can play a song and everyone’s there and they all know it and you have a look at it would just be like yeah cool”, David is making the ambitions of the group clear. Nothing has changed here; these are still the same friends that were living in a tiny practice space, with their only concern being to simply enjoy the ride.
BAY DREAM IS OUT NOW | THE BAND ARE NOW TOURING EUROPE WITH BOTH BASEMENT AND MUNCIE GIRLS. CHECK OUT THE DATES BELOW – FLYER DAVID KELLING