Minnesota pop-punks Vera Zero find chart success…in Australia?

October 8, 2008 at 8:01 am (Alternative Rock, Punk, Punk Rock) (, , , , , )

Interview by Julian Wilson

Vera Zero is one of the hottest indie punk acts in Australia. The only thing strange about that is they’re actually from the U.S. Based in Minnesota, the group (actually singer/songwriter Rob Kerr and hired musicians) break through the cookie-cutter grip of pop-punk with a higher degree of wit and intelligence.

Julian Wilson: “War & Peace,” the title track of Vera Zero’s latest EP, hit No. 2 on an indie chart in Australia. How does it feel to get your work recognized millions of miles away from where you currently reside?

Rob Kerr: I was very pleased!  We have a nice following down under and I hope we can get over there to play in the near future.

Wilson: As far as alternative music classification goes, Vera Zero fits squarely into the pop-punk mold. Are you an old-school punk rock fan? What affection does the genre have for you?

Kerr: To be honest, I never have been a punk rock fan,  I like melodic rock but I also like to go very hard rock like with the title track of the EP War & Peace. I think it’s this marriage of melodic and hard rock that gives me the pop-punk label.

Wilson: How long have you been at this? Has the style of Vera Zero differed from what it was like in the beginning?

Kerr: Yes! I have been working hard at this for over 10 years and Vera Zero is much more polished now. I really didn’t have much of an idea of what I wanted to sound like in the early days, and it takes a while to mature as a writer and producer and to come up with your own definitive style.  I feel like I have finally developed a “Vera Zero sound.”  

Wilson: Do your lyrics play a role in what the music will sound like? Or do you come up with the riffs first, then fit your lyrics into the arrangements?

Kerr: I usually start with the title and then the lyrics.  Then I get the guitar out and put it all together.  But it doesn’t always work that way; I was watching a football game on TV one time and the announcer mentioned that for one of the teams it was “feast or famine” and that led to the lyrics in “I Bleed.” And on another occasion I came up with the riff for “War & Peace” first and then came the rest of the song so there is no hard and fast rule to songwriting for me.

Wilson: What artists have had the biggest impact on you as a songwriter and musician?

Kerr: I have had many influences, but the biggest ones would be Paul McCartney and Gary Numan.



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Housman’s Athletes bring literary punk rock from Phoenix, Arizona

July 14, 2008 at 3:54 am (Alternative Rock, Indie Rock, New Wave, Punk Rock) (, , , , , , , , )

Interview by Derek Jensen
Phoenix, Arizona is not the first place you think of for the latest cutting-edge punk rock, which might give the locals Housman’s Athletes an element of surprise in a now overcrowded and strangely competitive genre. Unlike many of their contemporaries, too, Housman’s Athletes are not some brainless brats; besides being more musically versatile than other young acts also proclaiming themselves to be punk, they are literary as well, taking their name from a poem by A.E. Housman.

Derek Jensen: I’m getting an Orange County vibe from Housman’s Athletes although you guys are from Arizona. Were you influenced by a lot of Southern California punk rock such as NOFX, Bad Religion, and Pennywise?


Chris Foley: Some of us more than others. I think we all, for the most part, had our phases, but I’d say that Eric [Epps] has a greater tie to that scene.


Eric Epps: Well, yeah. When I moved to Arizona from the Midwest suddenly there was all of this West Coast music available that was new to me and fast and fun. I love NOFX, Pulley, and so forth, but I feel music shifting with the coming up of bands like the Gaslight Anthem, A Wilhelm Scream, and the now-ubiquitous Against Me! Phoenix is often overlooked as a music town, but there is some great talent here.


DJ Foley: We are all influenced, to some degree by the So-Cal scene, and I’m sure anybody that has ever been to Warped Tour is, also. Our primary influences, however, range all over the board from bands like Neurosis and Amen to country acts like Waylon Jennings and alt-rocker Ryan Adams. We also listen to electronic artists like Assemblage 23. They just did a remix of our song, “Save Me, Destroy Me” for us, by the way.


Jensen: There’s no genre classification of “punk” noted in your CDBaby entry. Was this a conscious decision to remove yourselves from the current punk stereotypes?


Chris: I personally think that punk has become just that, a stereotype, and we don’t feel that we fit in it. Punk is first and foremost a state of mind, a way of living. It seems today that everyone has put the ethics of punk at bay and chosen to focus more on brand names and mohawks.


DJ: Well, we definitely don’t want to pigeonhole our sound, as it covers a wide spectrum of genres. I don’t think you could call songs like “Four Cheers For Innocence” or “Feet Dangling & The Color Purple” punk songs, necessarily. By no means are we ashamed to be included in the punk genre, but we’re a fucking rock band.


Jensen: Lyrically, Housman’s Athletes strike a more serious, thoughtful tone, less politically caustic than Bad Religion but certainly a group which can carry flags with Against Me! Has this songwriting for Housman’s Athletes always been this mature or did it simply evolve into that later, much like what Green Day did?


Eric: It always seems like bands are put into one of two camps: Either they write songs about girls, or they write political songs. We’re not afraid to do either, but we don’t want to feel tied to a specific subject matter. We tire of boring minutia. When I write, I write the things that are on my mind. For example, “Things No One Wants” is supposed to inspire people to do anything other than sit on a couch and stagnate, and I wrote “Four Cheers for Innocence” immediately after I finished reading the novel Atonement. I think our “mature” songwriting, as you call it, stems from the fact that we are educated guys that work to better ourselves each day.


Jensen: The band credits the video games “Guitar Hero” and “Dance Dance Revolution” as inspirations. Are you being serious?


Eric : Not really. I finished tracking vocals for our pre-production at 6 a.m. after 30 hours of straight recording, an hour before I got on a plane out of town, and I sent a text message to the band (they left a few hours before me) that said ‘Guitar Hero’ and ‘Dance, Dance, Revolution’ are having a hot baby and it is going to be our record.” From there, it just sorta stuck. We thought it was funny.


Jensen: The group is named after a poem by A.E. Housman. Do you see yourself quitting at the top of your game?


Chris: Not necessarily, but I would like us to be remembered at our best.


Eric: Yeah, in the poem, the “athlete” dies right at his prime, and as a result, he is revered by everyone that knew him. That’s a great alternative to fading away and becoming lame or whatever. We’re not trying to die or anything, we just want to find some sustainability when we hit our stride.


DJ: And it all depends on where the top of our game is. If it means we’ve accomplished everything we possibly can as a band, then yes. I’m not looking to be a part of the music business to half-ass it. I don’t think any of us are. I also don’t want to do what a lot of bands have done and give up too soon. Many groups I’ve loved over the years had a lot of life in them and parted ways just before creating what could have been their best stuff.






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