ABOVE: AUDACITY (L-R): THOMAS ALVAREZ, CAMERON CROWE, KYLE GIBSON, MATT SCHMALFELD. IMAGE COURTESY OF BRYAN CROWE
Hailing from the Orange County suburb of Fullerton, California, the four members of Audacity have been unleashing a blend of exuberant garage punk since high school; their cohesiveness as a band has been cultivated over the course of youthful mischief. The group has jammed in garages, houses, and numerous stages over the past nine years and has become known for its sweaty, high-energy live performances.
Audacity was one of the first bands signed to Burger Records (Black Lips, Thee Oh Sees), playing an instrumental role in Fullerton’s DIY garage rock scene. The group is about to release Butter Knife in October off Seattle’s Suicide Squeeze Records; the album’s first single, “Hole In The Sky,” which we’re pleased to premiere here, showcases the group’s talent for delivering clever hooks and melodies that rip with shades of youthful rambunctiousness.
Interview recently met up with drummer Thomas Alvarez in Los Angeles to discuss band names, the new record, and going insane while recording in a house that could’ve been dreamed up by Sam Raimi.
J.L. SIRISUK: Did you drive here from Fullerton?
THOMAS ALVAREZ: Yeah, I drove out from Fullerton.
SIRISUK: So you still live there?
ALVAREZ: Fullerton born and raised. I mean, Kyle moved from New Jersey when he was like four.
SIRISUK: I think I read somewhere that you guys met in either elementary or middle school.
ALVAREZ: [laughs] Kyle and Matt met in second grade or something, and then I met Matt and Kyle when I was in seventh grade, and we met Cameron when we were freshmen in high school.
SIRISUK: When did you start the band?
ALVAREZ: Cameron joined when he was a sophomore in high school, and I joined when I was a junior in high school.
SIRISUK: So how many years have you guys been playing together?
ALVAREZ: I think I’ve been playing for seven years now, Cameron eight, and Matt and Kyle forever.
SIRISUK: What were some early influences you guys had?
ALVAREZ: There have been so many influences throughout the band, I guess through stages. I guess in the very beginning we liked Blink-182 and Green Day and then it turned into The Replacements.
SIRISUK: And you like Todd Rundgren as well?
ALVAREZ: Kyle likes Todd Rundgren and Big Star and all that kind of stuff.
SIRISUK: I can hear a little bit of that influence, especially in “Autumn,” the last track of the new album.
ALVAREZ: Yeah, the new album definitely has really hard songs and really soft songs and then just in-between stuff. It’s cool.
SIRISUK: Compared to the two previous albums, did you take a different approach to making this one?
ALVAREZ: The first record had songs that they had written before I was in the band, and then we wrote stuff together, and it’s more of like high-school, pissed-off teenager, songs about teachers. There’s a song on our new record that’s making fun of the tweakers that hang out at our practice space, these loser kids that just sit around. It’s weird, because our last record was a big jump from the first one, like really poppy—to me it sounds like ’90s retro or something. Originally we wanted to do something that was like a combination of both records, and I think we kind of did it, but then I don’t know, we just get together and write a lot and see what comes out.
SIRISUK: Where did you record this one, did you go up north?
ALVAREZ: Yeah, we went up to Sacramento at the new Hangar spot, it’s called The Dock, with this guy Chris Woodhouse. He recorded The Bananas, which is a band we’re all into. He’s the best, and then we mixed it all and did all the vocals at this guy Patrick Haight’s house, at his property by San Jose. So we were stuck out at his house mixing together for a week and all going crazy. It was tight. I remember thinking it was like the Evil Dead house or something at night, because I was just going so insane.
SIRISUK: Did that influence any of the record, the house being a bit scary? [laughs]
ALVAREZ: [laughs] Maybe. We just all went crazy up there, we were singing the songs over and over again.
SIRISUK: So you were there for one week?
ALVAREZ: We recorded for 10 or 11 days straight, and it was so much. We had never done that before. Usually, it’s like we go to the studio. The first record, we did it in four days and the second record we tracked over a period of time and this guy would mix it and send it back to us, and this time we sat on a couch and just listened to the songs over and over again.
SIRISUK: You mentioned that when you guys get together you just start playing music. Is that how you guys write together?
ALVAREZ: Sometimes somebody comes up with an idea or something, and it’s very rare where there’s like a whole song. “Autumn”—Matt wrote that song by himself on the organ in our practice space, and it ended up making it on the record. That instrumental part—we just made up in the studio that we should play it at the very end when the band kicks in. But normally somebody comes up with an idea and we usually just kind of all do it together, and Matt and Kyle get together to write lyrics by themselves.
SIRISUK: What can you tell me specifically about “Hole in the Sky”?
ALVAREZ: It’s one of those songs that sounded like shit when we were writing it, like it wasn’t coming together. It ended up sounding like a poppy, nice song. I don’t know. It fell onto our laps. It’s like a miracle song, because it did not sound that good for a long time.
SIRISUK: That happens sometimes.
ALVAREZ: I feel like that happens to us a lot.
SIRISUK: [laughs] So have you always been called Audacity?
ALVAREZ: When they first started out, when they were in the sixth grade, it was Non Toxic. Then it went to the best name ever in junior high: The Plaid.
ALVAREZ: Then it went to The Attachments in high school, which is still better than The Plaid, and then they changed it to Audacity freshman year. We’ve had it for so long that we kind of have to keep it now. Everyone is like, “Is it Audacity or The Audacity?”
SIRISUK: Which one is it?
ALVAREZ: I think it’s Audacity now because David, the guy who puts out our record was like, “You’re Audacity right?” and then he’s like, “All right. I’m changing it. You’re Audacity on the record.” Now it’s decided.
SIRISUK: You’ve done some backing work with King Tuff?
ALVAREZ: We’ve actually done a lot of backing. When he moved out here from Brattleboro, Burger asked us to back him up, so we backed him up for like a year before he did his new record, and when his new record came out, me and Matt backed him up for a whole summer and we toured with him. That was last summer, and then when our last record came out in July, August we stopped, and now he has his band.
SIRISUK: You’re on Suicide Squeeze now. Are there other acts on the label that you like?
ALVAREZ: Oh yeah, I love The Coathangers. They’re good friends and a great band, and they’re some of the coolest people. They’re badasses, and Nü Sensae who we toured with, they’re super cool people. We toured with Nü Sensae at SXSW and it was so rad, they’re like the best live band and they’re such awesome, awesome people.
SIRISUK: You’ve played shows everywhere, including L.A. and Orange County. Does it feel any different when you play out here, as opposed to Fullerton?
ALVAREZ: Yeah, it’s way different. We started playing shows with our friends Pterodacdudes and all these bands that were out years ago. We were in high school, and these older guys who were 25 were like, “Hey, you guys are good. Come play,” to us, and we were like, “Oh, who are these guys in these awesome punk bands?” So we go watch them and there were people flying through windows, and so we go play all these awesome house shows. There are still some, but they died down a couple years ago. It would be summer and there would be a show every week. In San Pedro there’s a big connection between those bands like Toys That Kill and all that stuff, where we would play shows in Pedro and Fullerton, and then Burger started and now there’s more of a scene. There’s always been a DIY kind of house scene where a lot of touring bands come through and it’s different than L.A. I mean, the shows aren’t as huge but they’re awesome and everything is really tight knit and everyone’s buddies. It’s cool.
SIRISUK: I’ve been to The Continental a few times in Fullerton. Have you played there?
ALVAREZ: I work there! You’ve never seen shows there?
SIRISUK: No. I’ve only been there three times.
ALVAREZ: We’ve had residencies there, our shows are actually really good. In our hometown, Fullerton band playing at the free bar. We’ve had a lot of good times there and a lot of cool bands have come played there.
SIRISUK: With the new record, what’s something you’re proud of?
ALVAREZ: I love the record. I love the way it sounds, I’m stoked on it. I like all of the stuff we’ve done but I feel like this one reminds me of a pure rock-‘n’-roll record. It sounds like a real band, it sounds good. We’re all very stoked on it. It still has a youthfulness, but a mature youthfulness.
BUTTER KNIFE COMES OUT OCTOBER 29 VIA SUICIDE SQUEEZE. FOR MORE ON AUDACITY, VISIT THE BAND’S FACEBOOK PAGE.