A Wilhelm Scream on Keeping Things Fast and Fresh
Posted on May 21, 2015
May 21, 2015 | by Jonathan Diener
Saying that A Wilhelm Scream was the reason my band ever made a name for ourselves is an understatement. I met the guys years ago and they took our band, The Swellers, under their wing. They did everything from showing us the ropes of touring to nearly getting us signed to our first big punk rock record label. I always admired that the longer they toured, the harder they would play live, make even more killer records and somehow go home to ever-growing, amazing families. I’m proud to call these guys my friends, and I hope you enjoy their insight on keeping the fire burning.
I was first introduced to you guys when the record Mute Print came out in 2004. I was still in high school and getting to play with a band on a national tour who happened to be on Nitro Records was a huge deal for me. I remember after your set we all hung out for a bit since we were the only punk bands on a mostly metalcore show in Detroit (as most of the shows were in the early 2000s). What I didn’t know was your history under the name Smackin’ Isaiah leading up to that point. How long were you touring under that moniker?
Nuno Pereira, vocals: We were just kids then. I remember that show and the hanging out..not much else. In those days and the years leading up to that day we were naive and broke as fuck. We had done some east coast tours down to Florida and back in Jon Teves’ moms minivan! Haha. I believe our first tour as Smackin’ Isaiah was in 1998-99ish?
Trevor Reilly, guitar: Jon and John C. used MRR’s Book Your Own Fuckin’ Life zine to book the gigs. For those six years we toured kind of a lot for an unsigned band. At first just up and down the east coast, then branching out, going where most bands wouldn’t go, like Iowa in August and North Dakota in January, because that’s where the gigs were. There would be ice walls forming inside the van, you could make slushies from it, man [Laughs]. Everyone would be sick the whole time but it was so fucking fun. You’d see us multiple times a year in these places, as long as I could secure leaves of absences from college to do it, and the moment I finished in 2003 we started really touring like mad.
I think a big misconception of the music industry is the thought that being affiliated with a record label sets your career in stone. This imaginary money falls from the sky, lines your pockets and you get to tour forever, draw humongous crowds and that making a living is easy. Did you feel like you “made it,” once you changed your name and signed to Nitro Records? What opportunities did it give you, and did it take any away?
Pereira: Nope, it was a huge step in the right direction for us, but we knew that nothing was gonna come easy. It was really exciting to know that a label that had put out several of my favorite bands records was backing us. It has always boiled down to work ethic for us and not the fast money. It presented us with countless great opportunities and if it took any away I never noticed.
Reilly: We didn’t really have any preconceived notions or expectations of how it would be, except that the band would get more exposure. Nitro actually signed S.I. and bought the rights to Mute Print from Jeremy [Myers] from Jump Start, and we took the opportunity to change our name before it all became official. That led to us getting with a bigger agent, and our previous agent Ray became our manager, which he still is. I wouldn’t say it took away opportunities for us. I think it’s pretty lame to hear bands complain about how their label didn’t make them a successful band. We come from the school of thought that you get in the van and build a fan base for your selves. We weren’t waiting for a record label to come save the day for us, we were looking for a partner. Nitro gave us cash for some new gear and recording budgets, videos, bought ads, etc.. They were very good to us. Let us do whatever the fuck we wanted with our music and album art, which was important to me. I appreciate our time with them and everyone over there really were great people and we learned a lot from them.
Post-Nitro, you made new music, got Mike Supina and continued to keep the pain train rolling. Did the new blood help spark the old love and that nostalgic naivety of touring?
Reilly: Sometimes on the earlier runs it was like, “Stop daydreaming and pack up your shit asshole, we ain’t got no roadies!” As that is our New England way of speaking to each other.
Pereira: We never lost that spark. Losing Chris [Levesque] was tough. He is one of my best friends and will never “be replaced,” however I can’t tell you how amazed I am on a daily basis by Mike. He’s the apex gentleman! He makes the world better by just waking up everyday. I’m not kidding. He’s a top-tier guitar player and songwriter, his knowledge of music is awe-inspiring…again, not a joke. Tour with both those guys has been an honor and I know they’d say the same about me.
Now members of the band are married and have kids. How do you plan tours these days? It seems like the mentality of being in a band would be completely different. Do you feel like you’re compromising anything on either side?
Pereira: If you’re not struggling in life then you’re missing the point. If you can’t compromise then your parents failed you. [Laughs.] Nothing has really changed besides the fact that I have a cell phone now. Don’t call me though, I’m too busy dad-ing.
If given the opportunity would you be into touring eight to nine months out of the year again or has that time completely passed? A lot of people forget that being in a band isn’t just about growing your fanbase, but the love of playing. Do you feel like you sit in the latter category?
Reilly: I look at our touring history and I am both proud and surprised at the same time. There’s no way we would do this if we didn’t love playing, that’s for sure, and there is certainly still that fire inside us to gain new fans. Honestly, Jonathan, I would also be happy playing in the basement writing and recording songs with my friends. I really would. But we go on tour to kill it. That’s the juice, baby. To go on stage with my buddies and fucking kill it. Nine months again though? That’s insane for any band. We were crazy.
Pereira: Yikes! Nine months!? I love playing live. Nothing will ever compare to those moments I share onstage. I’ve taken the stance now that you can tour and not burn out. Keep it balanced.
You’ve always been a band who clearly doesn’t care what people think. Normally bands slow down, but you seem to get faster, more technical and somehow more aggressive lyrically and musically. Do you have to resort to a new mentality by distancing yourself from your normal life to get in that songwriting mindset, or does it just come naturally? I know the older I get, I have less angst in things regarding politics and more into dealing with my own personal struggles.
Reilly: Musically, the dynamic of the group naturally swayed towards the faster stuff, probably due [to] what we were playing in our live sets, where everything gets played fast. Technically speaking, I mean, it was a natural evolution with Brian [Robinson, bass] and Mike joining the group to exploit that since those guys are crazy gifted and can pull off anything we can imagine. Nick [Pasquale Angelini] has also become a fucking beast on the drums over the years and he gets the fucking party started. I must say playing some of these all-request fan sets have me jonesing for us to write more post-hardcore style stuff like our older material, but there isn’t ever any plan to what the music should be except the idea that no two records should be the same, and for that I think we are doing alright.
Pereira: I write lyrics when an idea won’t leave me alone. If something is playing in my head, a phrase or a few lines, I’ll write it down and go from there. It’s always been that way for me.
Reilly: Lyrically, it’s always been about where we are at in our lives. Partycrasher has more reflective moments, looking back and reassessing things and where we are today. I notice it in my songs as well as Nuno’s. Mike’s are from a different perspective as he is newer to it whereas Nuno and myself have been writing lyrics most of our lives so we come from a different angle of self-exploration, so to speak. After thinking about your question, I do see that our previous albums were more angsty, with “phasers set to kill” most of the time. For me, that is my comfort zone as a writer. Distributing the wrath. That part of my lyric writing will never go away, regardless of how happy I am in life, because that’s right in my wheelhouse. Besides that, my brain’s always spinning, and if I don’t write words all the time I’ll be miserable to be around so I need to get it out, and it makes me feel great.
Do you have any advice for young musicians to save them the trouble most bands go through when it comes to touring? It seems a lot of people are misguided because of technology, social media and focus more on expectations rather than being in the moment.
Reilly: I think you hit it on the head Jonathan. Be in the moment. This shit is not meant to last forever. You gotta sit back sometimes and appreciate what you got, not what you don’t have.
Pereira: Avoid the clap.
Anything you want to promote? New releases, tours, etc.?
Reilly: We are going to the UK this summer for some festivals and headlining shows, then we start writing new songs for a few releases that are in the works. Then Canada and Mexico by the end of the year. Oh, and we made this silly video in Italy for our song “Walkin’ with Michael Douglas” that just got released into the webisphere, that’s a hoot. Thanks Jonathan!