Tyvek's Kevin Boyer talks punk rock, record labels and the perils of going acoustic
Snatched from the band's MySpace
Kevin Boyer knows how to run a punk rock band. He has a clear vision for what he wants from Tyvek (playing tonight at the hi-dive), while steadfastly avoiding any rigidity that might try to latch on to that vision. In this week's Rough Mix we discovered that there was subterfuge in the band's marketing strategy, as they hitched a ride on a mega-corporation's city-wide blight. This extended Q&A affords him the opportunity to drop all manner of awesome punk rock jargon (raw, loud, louder, hardcore, 7-inch, vinyl, urinals, et al).
Westword (Jonathan Easley): The brand Tyvek works nicely as the socio-political jumping point for your band. What made Tyvek the right encapsulation of your aesthetic?
Kevin Boyer: I just got so used to seeing it. Especially a few years ago when they were building all these crappy new houses in Detroit, you'd just see the Tyvek going up everywhere. It was blocks and blocks where you'd see nothing but Tyvek, it was kind of creepy. We were like, 'This stuff is everywhere, we should just call the band this.' Plus it was free advertising for us; we didn't have to put up fliers because our name was already everywhere.
WW: I heard you describe it as visual pollution.
KB: Totally. We figured we might as well use it to our benefit.
WW: I think the most vexing aspect is how these condos are popping up amidst vacant lots. I mean, why? And which is uglier? Do you still see a lot of it?
KB: It's not as much as it used to be, which is good. It doesn't seem like they're building as much anymore, not as much as they were four or five years ago. But you still see it, and even when you don't see it the Tyvek is still there. It's covered up by brick-stone, but it's still there.
WW: What's your current touring line-up?
KB: It's me on vocals and guitar, Matt (Ziolkowski) on drums, and Heath (Heemsbergen) is our other guitarist. We have a new bass player, her name is LeAnne.
WW: Last time I checked you guys were a three-piece. Are you set and comfortable now as a four-piece, or is it just a revolving door as to whoever is around?
KB: I thought the three-piece was working great, but I really just decided that I wanted another guitar in there, you know? I think we're gonna stick with a four-piece, that seems to be the happy medium. We were a five-piece with three guitars before we went down to three, so I think we're finding that the four-piece is where it's at.
WW: Is it just the four of you on the upcoming album or did you collaborate with anyone else?
KB: Yeah, except Shelley (Salant) is the bass player on the new album. LeAnne is the bass player touring with us now.
WW: Being a lo-fi punk rock band I think people assume that your live show is going to be as hard and fast as possible, but haven't you played some acoustic sets?
KB: We only did that once, it was outdoors at SXSW in Austin a couple of years ago. We haven't done any since then...that was just kind of a one-time disaster.
WW: You didn't like that setting? Some of your songs have terrific melodies; I thought it might bring that aspect to the forefront a little more.
KB: It just didn't work. There were no microphones, it was just a few people partying out on a lawn and nobody could hear us. It would be kind of interesting - even though our recordings are lo-fi I still try to get the songs to be recognizable as songs. I definitely try to preserve that, I never want it to sound shitty. I don't want it to be buried under tape hiss or anything. When we're making a Tyvek record we just want it to sound raw, you know what I mean? Raw and loud.
WW: So you're not just a lo-fi band for the sake of it. You're still interested in finding the right essence of a track, and then how it comes out on the recording equipment is something different entirely.
KB: Exactly. We have songs that we try to record with more of a bedroom feel, some with more of a basement feel, and some where we get more into the mechanics, like the tom-toms sound really great when you can hear the bass drums really loud. The new album is gonna be even louder, I'm pretty excited about that.
WW: Did you go into the studio with upgraded equipment for this one?
KB: It's actually the first time we've ever been in a studio...or I should say the first time we've ever made a record in a proper studio. We went to this place in Benton Harbor, Michigan, which is not that far outside of Chicago. We stayed there for a week and made the new record, it's the first time we've ever done anything like that. The new album will be out on In the Red in late summer or early or early fall, probably in September.
WW: How was your first album recorded?
KB: The album that came out on Siltbreeze a year ago was recorded at our houses, in the various basements where we practiced. We assembled our favorite tapes from practice to make that record; we just put things from a lot of different places together.
WW: It's easy now for people to track down entire back-catalogues, so I like it when a band requires some crate-digging of their fans. You've released music on a number of different labels in a variety of different formats, how does that all come together?
KB: All of the different labels so far...it's been like, 'hey, you wanna put something out?', and there's been some cases where we've done a split 7-inch, or something where we're working with a record company directly. Sub Pop wanted us to do a single for their mail order 7-inch club, so we recorded a single for them. They had something specific that they wanted, but then working with Siltbreeze and In the Red, both of those labels just told us if we wanted to put out a single with them, or release an album or an EP, to just go ahead and do whatever we wanted to do. Some smaller labels will take our stuff, like an LP that came from a tape that we'd already released. Our friend Shawn runs this record label in Iowa City called Night People. He wanted to put a tape of ours on vinyl, so he made silk-screens and turned it into this super-deluxe package that looked really sweet. It's always different.
WW: I think Tyvek's art-punk and underground feel has a lot of people associating you with bands like the Swell Maps and Volcano Suns. Was there a band that influenced you to the point that you decided that this was what you had to be doing?
KB: All of those early punk bands that wanted to do their own thing, put out their own records, and just do things on their own terms. Bands like the Urinals, bands on labels that would suddenly pop out of a certain scene and start putting out records. I think that's really cool. I really like early hardcore, how those bands had no prior experience, no time or money to make music in the proper sense but made music that sounded totally crazy anyway.
WW: That sounds a lot like what you're doing, but you're not just cutting these tracks and moving on. Isn't the songwriting and recording still a very involved process for you?
KB: Definitely. I mean, there's some records where we're just letting the tape run, but we practice a lot. We try to make the songs tight and compact, but sometimes there's that element where whatever comes off the cuff has more value than you'll find in something that's rehearsed. We don't make rules for ourselves, we just put out music.