If Rock and Roll is a woman, then American Standards is the girl in the back of your mind you know you’d would dump your girlfriend for. They’re the full package; meaningful, insightful, motivational lyrics that vocalist Brandon Kellum lets erupt with such a sulfuric energy that anything less than full blown headbanging would actually make you feel as though one has committed a carnal sin. Tasty, mildly sexually appealing guitar playing that at the very least is responsible for one session of air guitar per listen. Bass that is smooth and decadent to accessorize the song but coarse and brash when it needs to be just to remind you that it can direct the whole song by itself and a drummer with a desire to stand out through technical mastery, creative fills and a genuine desire to improve the song. It is only after you listen to a unique band that pushes the envelope on every release that you begin to realize how cookie cutter the majority of the bands that share the same genre are, and that should speak volumes to both the creative talent and relentless dedication of American Standards, they are one of those rare eclipses of why you fell in love with rock and roll, whether it be some sort of edge, the emotion it can resonate or a live show that makes you feel as though you’re lucky in the presence of. On the band’s latest record Anti-Melody which released on April 28th of 2017 guitarist Corey Skowronski blissfully tengos somewhere between Miss Machine by The Dillinger Escape Plan and Every Time I Die while the rhythm faction of Steven Mandell on bass and Mitch Hosier on drums push the timing and tempo out of safe structures to roam where eagles dare and true musicians make their playground. American Standards as a whole clearly aren’t shy of playing on this playground, sliding through convention and swinging over subgenre technicalities proving once again, good music is good music.
Ben, Darius and myself met up with Brandon Kellum at Hob Nobs off of McDowell in Phoenix, and we had never been there before but we will be forever fans of their endless bloody mary special, great beer selection and even better coffee. The point is, go there. Brandon leads us to this secluded side room where he unveils to us this is where he’s written “ a bunch” of lyrics. The room is perfect, it’s view is in one of the crucial spots where you get a vip people watching opportunity to see everyone walking in. The hidden lyric nest is also full of knick knacks from time periods spanning the course of the past 3 generations. On first impression and throughout casual conversation Brandon doesn’t seem like the floor general he becomes once he’s on stage and that to me only adds to the appeal of American Standards. They’re not your stereotypical hardcore band, and Brandon isn’t your Stereotypical metal vocalist. He doesn’t have gauges or neck tattoos(yet) and even more interesting for a vocalist is he isn’t extremely eager to speak. What I mean by that is that very rare is it to find a person that when you’re speaking to them isn’t concerned with what they’re going to say next. He genuinely cares what you have to say, and isn’t plotting his next move to make himself to smart or cooler than he actually is.
Eamon– What was something interesting about American Standards when the band first started out?
Brandon– When we first started out we would play out of town, people would get a chance to see us once every four months and be really stoked to see us , but in our hometown of Phoenix when we first started out at places like the Underground and the Nile, we were playing there every other week and at first the shows were huge, and then people started dwindling because they realized they could see us every other week, and it became the whole “we can see these jackasses” every week mentality.
Eamon– Theres always that next show until there’s not
Brandon– Exactly. We should just break up so people can realize what they had . Actually no one would probably give a shit, more than likely people would go “FINALLY”
Eamon– It’d be like when the singer from Journey died and the rest of the band was like ehh, we can get this little asian guy off youtube or myspace and roll with it
Brandon– Probably about 3 years into being a band we realized that we were playing in town too often, so we were like alright let’s only play in town about once every 2-3 months, and we did that for about 2 years, and we ended up getting a tweet one day, that was something like “is American Standards even a band anymore” and it was someone from Arizona, and that’s when we knew we had to start playing at home more often
Eamon– Seems like to me you may have alienated your base, you need to read some Sun Tzu
Brandon– Yeah apparently
Eamon– So with that being said about playing in and out of town, where are some of your favorite places that you’ve gotten to travel with the band either as a city as a whole or particular little hole in the wall places, not necessarily the most glorious or glamorous just your favorites
Brandon– One of my favorite cities that I’ve been to is actually Philadelphia, because it just feels so different. First of all it’s a very walk-able city, so the thing about being in a band is that when you play somewhere and they’re amazed at how often you get to travel, the thing they don’t realize is the majority of what you get to see is all the gas stations leading up to the venue and then when you arrive at the venue you basically get to explore anywhere within walking distance of the venue, because once you find a parking spot for your van and your trailer your not driving anywhere haha. I’ve been to so many cities playing music, but I’ve only seen the mile around the venue that I walked, if I was willing to walk a mile. So with Philly, it’s such a walkable city that any point in the downtown area can take you to museums, and there’s just art everywhere. There’s a lot of history, and you really see it in the uniqueness of the architecture. Every other place in Philly seems like it’s only in Philly because they’re really proud of their Mom and Pop shops .
Brandon– As far as places, on the last tour we did a bunch of Barcades which is a new thing that the band has been doing and a new thing that I feel is popping up everywhere, for example Phoenix has Cobra Arcade. Touring the West Coast is interesting because all those major cities are great for landmarks, so for example we hit up Pikes Place in Seattle or the Space Needle,and when were in San Francisco we tried to find the house that was used in everyone’s favorite show “Full House”, but the thing is every townhouse there looks very similar.
Eamon– Sounds like a needle in haystack
Brandon– The thing about social media now is that whenever a band or celebrity posts a picture, you’re only getting a snippet. That image you’re viewing is probably a picture of the only cool thing that they did that they did that day, you don’t get pictures of the other 6 hours of their day that was spent sitting in a van telling fart jokes because those wouldn’t make good pictures
Brandon– I just find it interesting to listen to the perspective of somebody that watches people tour and travel compared to what it’s actually like. Its great and it’s fun, but if you’re not travelling with people you like and actually enjoy, which luckily we all do, anything beyond playing the show is just travelling with your friends for 6 hours a day to play for 40 minutes.
Eamon-How do you like to kill time when you’re on the road?
Brandon– We play a lot of stupid music. We play this game where we try to play the most annoying song, so on that drive to San Francisco we actually found a 12 hour loop of the Full House theme song, and we listened to it until people near fell asleep or the one guy that was left driving was about to lose it. We’ll also play a ton of music from the early 2000. And we’re all big about finding new bars and restaurants. Also, Mitch our drummer is kind of a fitness nut and he’s been getting Corey our guitarist into also, so this last tour everyday we would get to a different city and we’d go to a park and they’ll set up the amps, like the bass cab and guitar cab and they’ll just use those to bench off of in the middle of the park.
Eamon– Didn’t you guys just go watch some wrestling?
Brandon– Yeah we did, we went to WWE on July 4th. I used to be a huge wrestling fan growing up.
Darius– Who is your favorite wrestler?
Brandon– Probably have to say Undertaker is my favorite as a persona, like he’s not the best wrestler but he’s my favorite, I just always like those dark personas like The Undertaker, Sting and ManKind.
Brandon– Something I really noticed when I went that maybe I just didn’t pick up on as a kid is that it’s more of a soap opera now than it has ever been, because I feel like we were there for 3 hours and might have seen 3 matches total. The rest of it was just people talking, like Goldust came out and stood on a chair and basically just spoke for 20 minutes to film a youtube special.
Darius– Yeah I would agree with that because recently I saw that they even had Lavar Ball on there, they’ve always had the story lines but it never felt like you could go from a commercial break to a commercial break without seeing at least a little bit of actual wrestling
Eamon– Is there some sort of method to your writing process?
Brandon– Yeah, I’m always interested to hear how other people write because I feel like I write a lot of lines, like If i’m reading a book or listening to something and I get inspired I open up the notepad on my phone. When it comes time to actually start writing an album and writing songs, I try to listen for which piece of music resonates with those lines, and then I take that line and use it to start structuring it . For the most part I would say about 50% of what I wanna hear is already written before I even hear the song and the rest is making it all fit together. Which is very different from how I’ve written in the past.
Eamon– It seems like it’d be a very concurrent process because instead of having two very stiff things being lyrics that are set in stone and the instrumentation that is also set in stone it would be more of an organic collaboration
Brandon– Definetly, because if Corey and I both approach each other with something partially written, I can tell him okay extend this part longer or he can tell me to repeat this phrase here and such.
Eamon-Who are some of your biggest musical influences outside of the genre that you play in?
Brandon– Probably one of my biggest ones is Tom Waits, he’s one of the best lyricists of all time he’s had such a weird career, and he’s also himself just a character with a unique personality. I’ve got this book by him called Tom Waits interviews Tom Waits, where the premise is throughout his whole career every time he was asked a question in an interview he would never answer it directly, he would always go off into another story throughout his entire 30-40 year career. So the book is about him interviewing himself and pretty much doing the same thing, him asking himself questions and then going off into stories that seemingly have nothing to do with that question.
Eamon– I feel like something like that is for the fans that will always just read way too much into anything and put meaning where it doesn’t necessarily belong
Brandon– Part of me feels like it’s a character he plays. There’s always been something appealing to me about having a character, especially as an artist because it allows you to create something completely different than yourself. A Lot of very charismatic singers that are able to control the stage, when they come off stage become these very shy, not talkative people because the character that they’ve created is someone completely different than themselves that they get to be for those 40 minutes. There is just something appealing to that.
Eamon– How would you say you mentally or physically prepare for a show?
Brandon– Well now I stretch a lot more than I used to because I try not to kill myself after the show. But I think I just completely lose any sense of being present on stage, which probably isn’t good.
Eamon– Well trust me, as someone who has seen you live IT WORKS
Brandon– From the second we go on stage until the second we get off stage I don’t remember anything, and then once we get off people will tell me about it and I don’t remember any of it, I don’t know if it’s not being present or adrenaline or a mixture of the two but that’s what always snaps in the second I get up there. Any time I try to do anything creatively I get in this zone where I stop thinking about it because if I stop thinking about it because if I think about it I get caught up in it and I think if you saw a show where I was actually in my present tense, when I’m actually thinking I don’t think would be as fun live
Eamon– What are some of your best tour stories?
Brandon– So I’ve got a funny story about Wichita, we played there about a month and a half ago or so. We went to a park be the guys wanted to uh…
Brandon– They wanted to work out first, but then two of them ended up taking a nap actually, Mitch and Steven end up taking a nap so it ends up being just Corey and I are walking through the park and there’s this little girl and this little boy, and they run up to us all cute like, and they’re like “Are you guys faggots?!” The funny thing is, we were live streaming on our band’s Facebook as it’s happening. By this point, there was a couple hundred people watching and we’re like “Uh. What?” they continue on by asking “Yeah, are you guys gay?”. I’m just like “Yeah, we’re very gay”, they asked what were doing together and I told them we were on tour. They asked “what kind of tour” and I told the ” a gay tour”. People on Facebook we’re just going nuts on the comments, we start to walk away from these kids and they started to run after us, just out of habit Corey and I also started to run so it looked like they were chasing us and then finally we just stopped running and the little girl touches the little boy and goes “ask them, ask them”, while we’re still on Facebook live.
Brandon- So the kids go “Do you guys… do you guys smoke cocaine?”. Corey and I are immediately like “Where did you learn this from? What you kids like seven?” and immediately the little boy whips back and goes “No, we’re eight fucker!”. Immediately I’m like “you kids know you’re on Facebook live right? Everybody’s watching you”. The little boy and the girl run off and then come back a few minutes later, and the little boys asks us if “we could please take that off the internet”. I told the little boy “no, you’re actions have repercussions. Good luck trying to get a job in a few years jackass” and that was that.
Brandon– So with Norpa, what are you guys planning on doing next,what’s the big vision? Is it to focus more on the T-Shirts, focus more on the art?
Darius-Personally, I envision changing the world. Straight up. Even the clothing isn’t just clothing, each piece has a meaning. If you look at the monkey shirt, at first glance you just see a monkey smoking, but then you look into his eyes, he’s got stars in his eyes because deep down he knows what he really is, he’s got a beat up face because he has been through things. The barcode is to represent that we’re not going to be branded by society or the government, we want to brand ourselves. That’s just a perception shift, we want people to open their perceptions. Appreciate the little things like this right here.
Brandon– I read the about section on the website, and I was like “holy shit” this is straight out of our lyrics type stuff. This is all the same stuff we talked about.
Eamon– That’s awesome and I love how it linked up like that.
Brandon– It’s got the exact same message that we preach.
Eamon– It’s funny that you say that because I just took all over your lyrics ever written and put it through this software that compiles it into an average message based off of word count, and then I basically just copy and pasted that.
Brandon– Really? Dude that is sick. Is it a free software?
Eamon– It’s actually proprietary, you gotta pay some bookoo bucks to get in on it. You know, my brainchild ain’t cheap.
Darius– Yeah ultimately just use it to connect with people.
Brandon– The reason that I feel a lot of artists and bands don’t do well is because their primary mission isn’t to say something it’s just to do something. I wanna be out there, I wanna have my face on stuff, I wanna play big shows, and I wanna be in front of people. To me it’s like, why would you wanna be in front of a lot of people if you have nothing to say? That makes no sense to me. I think a lot of artists, if you asked them what they stand for, or why they’re doing what they’re doing they either don’t have an answer for you or there answer is some thing like “oh, I like playing music”. Well if all you like to do is play music, then what makes you different from everybody else who just plays fucking music. It doesn’t matter what it is, if you have something you truly wanna change you’ve gotta know how you’re gonna do it. I think that the style of music that we play compliments the message that we have. Like for me, lyrics are everything, how I say it is on the side, If I’m not saying something that means something to me than it doesn’t matter. Once you decide you’ve already reached that goal, what do you do next? That’s why it is always important to strive for something and keep growing.
Eamon– Exactly, nobody is going to kick your own ass except you. People may always support you, but you are going to have to drive and motivate yourself.
Darius– Something I would like to draw attention to is the beauty in imperfections, and how those imperfections are really what make that art perfect.
Eamon– Innovation all the way across the board is initially viewed as an imperfection to begin with whether it’s art and music, or industry and engineering. Anytime you rock the boat, or the old man’s rocking chair, there’s always going to be backlash in whatever that field is from the more conservative people, and that’s how you know you’re doing something right.