Q&A with the Don'ts and Be Carefuls
In 2008, the whole dance punk phenomenon, with few exceptions, seemed worn out and irrelevant to anything genuinely exciting. But it was in the spring of that year that The Don'ts and Be Carefuls started putting together its songs and playing its first show shortly after solidifying its line-up. Although The Don'ts were based in Greeley for the first year of its existence, it played most of its shows in Denver and brought the sort of music could be considered a bit behind the times. However, from the beginning these guys possessed an immediacy that was difficult to ignore, and its performances displayed a rare conviction and purity that could never come from jaded careerists miming a sound as its wave was passing out of popularity.
Releasing its debut EP, Risk Assessment, The Don't's have captured the first rush of its songwriting without losing an ounce of the heartfelt emotions and tangible sense of innocence that characterizes the band's sound. We recently had the opportunity to meet with bassist Cody Witsker, drummer Luke Hunter James-Erickson and guitarist and singer Casey Banker about their history as a band, their songwriting and their populist approach to making a show special for everyone involved.
Westword (Tom Murphy): When did your band start, was it 2008?
Luke Hunter James-Erickson: It started, conceptually, with Casey and I. We had jammed once or twice in fall of 2007. One day Casey comes to me and says, "We've got to start a dance punk band."
Casey Banker: Specifically. Because I liked LCD Soundsystem and The Rapture as well as Tokyo Police Club. I didn't see anyone doing anything like that in the scene, really.
LH: The goal was, what I've just come to realize, and Casey has articulately stated as, serious fun.
CB: You take yourself seriously but it's well put together fun music.
LH: People would be shaking they'd be having so much fun.
CB: It's a lofty goal.
WW: How would you characterize the cultural climate of Greeley, especially for bands, versus Denver?
Cody Witsken: It's a very young music scene. Not young so much in terms of the people but because there's really no foundation for anything there. So you're starting from nothing but the jazz background at [UNC].
LH: You have jam bands, you have rock and roll bands, metal bands, punk bands. Kind of the things I imagine a lot of bands have. You have a city, thus you have a punk band. There's not a lot of "Let's really go out there be crazy-ness" because there's not a lot of room for that. It's a very conservative college, which is strange for a college campus in my opinion. UNC voted Bush. I was talking about this with a friend of mine the other day, "What do young conservative people listen to?" I have no idea, but I imagine it runs along the lines of rock and roll and punk. "We're going to go to the show and we're going to have a rock concert, and we're going to drink and we're going to go home." And that's their night. It's not as common for people to go to dance to more eclectic, experimental music that pushes things forward.
It's not a problem with Greeley. People there are happy, people there are unhappy. It's the same with Denver. It's just a smaller town. I never felt like we were at home in Greeley, that's just where we practiced. We played shows there and we lived there because some of us were going to school and some of us had jobs. We were just waiting for the right moment to move to Denver and that finally happened this past summer. We always kind of considered ourselves a Denver band because that's where we played most of our shows.
WW: "You've Been Warned" sounds, lyrically anyway, like your signature song. What is it about?
CB: It's kind of about living in Greeley. Frustrations and not getting what you want. Everyone telling you what you really want.
LH: I've heard you describe it as very sarcastic.
CB: It's funny that you mention that now because Cody just sent us a YouTube video of some other band's song...
CW: The Torn ACLs are a tiny band from Seattle, Washington with a song called "Don't's and Be Carefuls."
LH: The chorus is very similar to our own song. We think it's cheesy but people really dug that song. The day after we named the band I was driving to my house and I thought to myself to tell Casey to not put the name of the band into a song. And he asked, "What if I already kind of did?" But it ended up being good.
WW: Obviously you have connections to the DIY scene in Denver because you opened for HEALTH in the summer of 2008 at Rhinoceropolis. How did you first find out about that whole thing in general and how did you end up getting that show?
LH: I've been going to Rhino since it opened--almost every show. This past year I've rarely been. Before that I'd hit up the Monkey Mania scene a lot pre-Kingdom of Doom and I went to Le Chateau. They had a bunch of washers and dryers in front--it was weird. When Rhino opened it seemed to be perfect. It was everything that everybody wanted. It went to every freaking show possible and got to know the guys really well.
Since I'd known Travis Egedy for three years at that point and it was a month or two before that show and I said, "So my kind of dance/electro band thing is kind of starting out. Do you think we can open for HEALTH?" He was the one that hooked us up with that show. Since then I've always been in love with that scene but we just haven't been able to get a lot of shows like that.
WW: Assuming you're not all trust fund kids, what do you do to support yourselves and does that come out in your music in any way?
CW: Casey and I work at the same company. I got him a job there. We work with developmentally disabled adults.
LH: I'm a case manager for people with mental and physical disabilities. My company is a contractor with the government. We're a single entry point for Medicaid. We work in the same field--we're nurse-core.
CW: I don't think our jobs really affect our music at all, what we write about. I love working with developmentally disabled adults and I think I'll do that for the rest of my life.
LH: Now that I think about it, it really does translate. We want to have fun with people and we want other people to have fun with us.
WW: What, if anything, do you hope people get out of your music and your shows?
CW: We want them to dance and to let them know we're there to have fun with them. We're not there to be rock stars. Every show is a party--that's our goal.
LH: You know back in the day, when people would go out to big cultural gatherings ad have a good time together, say during tribal times, back in that day, I think that is something I personally aspire to. That's part of, "I'm not here to rock you, I'm here to be the person to enable you to rock yourself. Because you fucking rock." [laughs]
CB: I just want to blow people away. You have those shows special to you and it requires that you know a little bit about the band and its music. But I hope people will just see us, never hear anything about us, and want to dance. Lately we've been flirting with putting on a spectacle like Of Montreal does. Lights, weirdness, maybe not costumes, but painting your face--really just becoming more than music played live. Right now we're trying to focus on immediately accessible dancey music that has some edge to it and some intelligence to it.