It is hard to believe, but The Swingin’ Utters has been going strong for almost 25 years now. Their first seven-inch was released in 1992. In 1995, their debut full-length album The Streets of San Francisco introduced the world outside the Bay Area to a group of angry yet tuneful young men whose street-punk sounds were honed and fine-tuned by none other than producer Lars Frederiksen of Rancid. Fat Wreck Chords signed them immediately thereafter, and in 1996, the band delivered one of their masterworks, A Juvenile Product of the Working Class.
The Utters, whose two consistent members from the beginning have been singer Johnny Bonnel and guitarist/singer Darius Koski, are proficient at producing anthems about the working class, shout-along choruses, and ultra-catchy guitar riffage on every album. The band has toured the world many times over and has been supported by Fat Wreck Chords (the indie label founded by NOFX’s Fat Mike in 1990) for almost twenty years, even when they went on hiatus in the early 2000s so members could be full-time dads.
Spring of 2015 welcomes the release of Fistful of Hollow, the band’s eighth album. Listeners will be treated to a variety of sounds: classic ’77-style street punk (“Alice,” “More or Less Moral”), bluesy, twangy Americana (“Napalm South,” “End of the Weak”), and post-punk straight out of late ’80s Boston (“Fistful of Hollow,” “We Are Your Garbage”). Catchy choruses are found everywhere, including a sing-along at the end of “Tibetan Book of the Damned” that is probably the cheeriest rendition of the phrase “This is the way the world ends” one will ever hear. While on tour in Europe, Bonnel answered some questions from TUBE. about the band, parenthood, and their years of incredible luck.
TUBE: This year marks the 20th anniversary of The Streets of San Francisco, the album that gained your band all kinds of good buzz for what was about to come. How has that first full-length [album] influenced your life as a band?
JB: Streets gave us our soundtrack for our first tours and sort of made us aware of what songs are good live and what songs just don’t work in front of people. It’s always a guessing game all the way to the present. I’m proud of that record because it sounds like a young band trying to keep the wheels from falling off amongst our inner demons.
T: What was it like working with Lars Frederiksen as producer on Streets? What did he bring to the table?
JB: I never knew what a producer did, so when Lars started getting excited about what we were doing, it got me excited. He was really good at making the band feel comfortable enough to let their emotions fly. Plus there is a sense of humor on the record, which I love.
T: What kind of support has Fat Wreck Chords provided since signing with Fat Mike’s label almost twenty years ago? What’s it like to work with such a successful independent label for as long as your band has?
JB: They’ve been our family. They are so supportive and encourage us to keep pumping out records. What’s not to love?
T: You’ve been very open about taking time off from recording and touring to be fathers. What was that like, setting aside your responsibilities to your bandmates for the greater responsibilities of parenthood? When did you feel the time was right to return to recording, touring, and everything else that comes with being in a band as highly regarded as yours?
JB: It’s a no-brainer. When kids are young they need you there. As they get older, it’s still difficult but a little easier to explain that daddy don’t know much but music. Swingin’ Utters would not be possible if it wasn’t for my supportive wife. She takes care of so much for our family and I have very little to show. I just try to pitch in the best I can and try to never complain. She sacrifices her happiness for me to tour. She’s amazing and so are my daughters!
T: Do your families tour with you, or do they stay at home? If they do stay home, how do both sides deal with the long bouts of separation?
JB: No, we can’t afford it. For me, it’s the most difficult part of being in a band. It is not possible without unconditional understanding and sacrifice. Again, my wife’s amazing!
T: What is the recording process like for the band? Are the songs completely structured and formulated going into the studio, or are the sonic variations born through the recording process?
JB: I usually team up with another member, Miles, Jack or Darius, and write some songs. We get some rough demos together then practice them as a band. We pretty much have our parts ready when we go into the studio to record so we’re not wasting any time.
T: What year did the band begin touring? What has changed and what has stayed the same about touring the world in a punk rock band from when you first started to today? What advice can you give other bands looking to hit the road?
JB: It was early to mid-90s when we first toured. It was really rough back then with all our mental problems and only pay phones to communicate. What doesn’t kill ya makes you stronger, right? Everything was way more DIY. Now, there’s too much business and not enough art. My advice is to not tour if you’re not willing to suffer.
T: Bonnel and Koski have been busy with solo projects and other bands for a number of years. How does one juggle parenthood and multiple bands?
JB: A lot of the stuff I do with Druglords of the Avenues is local and doesn’t take me too far away from home.
T: Is the black pint still your drink?
JB: For sure, but you must know that the Black Pint is a metaphor for my wife. I enjoy a nice pint of Guinness every once in a while but only with my wife, you dig?
The Swingin’ Utters will be performing next on May 25 at the 17th annual Punk Rock Bowling & Music Festival in Las Vegas. TUBE. will have up to date coverage of the entire festival via Instagram (follow us at TUBEmag) and stay tuned for full coverage right here on our site. Learn more about Punk Rock Bowling at www.punkrockbowling.com.
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Words by Morgan Giles.