Now in its 16th year, Punk Rock Bowling once again brings good-natured mayhem to Las Vegas. For four days, the bars, bowling alleys and burrito joints of our fair city will be full of mohawks and Misfits T-shirts.
The center of the sound and fury are the concerts on the main stage Downtown (some highlights include Rancid, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Dropkick Murphys). But there’s also the eponymous bowling tournament—now spread to several venues across the Valley—as well as club gigs at several venues, a poker tournament and shows/parties in the Rush Lounge at the Golden Nugget and the pool at the Plaza. The ballroom at the Nugget will display Disturbing the Peace, an exhibit of punk rock photography; Salad Days, a documentary about the Washington, D.C., hardcore scene, will be screened at Backstage Bar and Billiards on May 23. Both the Muffs and Anti-Flag are veterans of the scene who will be playing the main stage, and they took time to speak with Vegas Seven about music, songwriting and their messages.
singer and guitarist of the Muffs (5:25 p.m. May 24).
The Muffs are known for catchy tunes delivered with gritty guitars and a sunny sneer. The Southern California trio have played their pop-punk everywhere from all-female rock fests in St. Paul, Minnesota, to Halloween celebrations in South Korea. In 2014, the band released Whoop Dee Doo, their first album in 10 years.
So, what got the band back together?
I was writing songs at home … Once I saw that I was getting some good songs going [and] the guys found out about it, they were like, “Were you gonna share these with us?” I started emailing them the songs and they were flipping out like, “These are great! Oh, my God! We can make an album again.” And I’m like, “Yeah, we could.”
What influences your songwriting?
When I’m writing, [I] give myself challenges. One of my challenges was to listen to our old stuff and think of what I used to be inspired by. I had to refresh my memory, so I started listening to all of these old records and they made me remember what I used to love and why I write songs in the first place.
I flipped out over the Beatles and the Kinks from the mid-’60s. So when I started writing songs, I wanted to write songs like that, with structure and parts. The songs that were coming out when I first started writing, in the late ’80s, were terrible, horrible, jammy songs that I could not relate to at all. I wanted to write short songs, I wanted them to be melodic [and] catchy all the way through, not just one little part in the song.
Is the song, “Weird Boy Next Door” actually about anyone?
It had a genuine inspiration. I had the melody, I was trying to write the words and I didn’t know what I was going to write about. Then I hear all this yelling and banging from next door, my dog is afraid and I’m like, “What the hell is going on?” I peek outside over the fence … and my next-door neighbor was hitting the side of his garage with a baseball bat and screaming at the top of his lungs—at nobody. I was so pissed off. So I just locked my door and I literally wrote the whole song in a few minutes about him. I don’t know if he knows, I hope he does. He’s a total dick.
You’ve played Punk Rock Bowling before, but you’re a little less aggressively punk than a lot of the bands.
It’s funny because we have both kinds of music. We have really super-poppy music and really scream-y loud raucous music, too. I like to play the pop for the crowd that seems like it’ll like the punkier stuff. I’m usually surprised. It’s weird: Sometimes people will slam dance to the poppiest of songs.
singer and guitarist of Anti-Flag (6:10 p.m. May 23).
Anti-Flag have deployed punk rock in the service of political awareness for nearly two decades. The band has played the Republican National Convention and Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, as well as recording songs in support of Pussy Riot and Michael Brown Jr. The Pittsburgh band’s album, American Spring, will be released this month.
American Spring will be your 10th album. Did you think you’d make it this far?
When the band started, I always believed there would be a band 20 years later. As long as I was alive, I would be doing Anti-Flag and playing this kind of punk rock. … But as far as 10 records, that is pretty surprising to me, and it’s a pretty awesome accomplishment. It’s exciting to think that we’ve created that much music and made that many statements and been able to connect with people.
The Internet and technology have changed how people protest. How has that affected your music?
A big part of the reason we named this record American Spring was in relation to the Arab Spring and the way that young people used technology to mobilize and organize and inspire each other to fight for a positive change.
“Sky is Falling,” [is about] drone strikes. Empathy is so important, and that’s something the song really speaks about. I encourage people to put themselves in the shoes of somebody who lives with the constant threat of drone strikes. … Amnesty International has filed a report saying that the U.S. has killed many, many hundreds pushing thousands of civilians. So they’re not surgical and they don’t keep us safe because every time you kill a civilian, we turn people against America. … Ultimately, it’s about protecting the interests of multinational corporations and a very small elite of political people and wealthy people. For their sins we all pay.
The record cover is the Muslim woman: A Middle American Fox News viewer would look at that woman and think “terrorist, suicide bomber.” On the other side we have the image of a cop—a lot of punk rock kids, they look at that and think, “racist.” … When you can challenge people’s idea of how they view others, that’s when you can make changes that lead to a positive outcome.
Has touring the world sort of proven that message?
One of the main ideologies of Anti-Flag is that we’re not the color of our skin or religion, straight or gay, we’re not nationalities, we’re not flags, we’re not weapons. We’re human beings, and we need to see each other accordingly. Traveling around the world has really driven that message home—you find that average people around the world actually have a lot more in common with each other than the politicians who dominate our governments.
Is punk rock the best medium for what you’re saying?
One of the things I think is so amazing about punk rock is that it’s always on the forefront of the progressive edge of society and we’re always pushing society on issues. In the ‘80s, we were fighting racism, in the ‘90s, we were fighting for gay rights. Come 2000, we were standing solidly anti-war and I think that people would agree that we were right about all of those issues. Society is always trying to catch up to punk rock and that’s what drew me to it. I could see it was a community of people that was ahead of its time and for that reason it’s still exciting 20 years later to be a part of that.
What’s more fun: Playing a festival or headlining your own show?
With festivals…when you start a band as a kid you have this daydream: “Someday I’m gonna walk out on stage and play for 80,000 people!” So when we did that, I was like, “This is the fucking greatest thing ever!” There’s just a charge from that that’s hard to beat. And with a festival, there’s a lot more hanging out and being around each other… Usually there’s a lot of people you’ve been inspired by over the years so it’s really fun to be in the kind of environment.
By the same token, you play a small club show in a packed room—people can hardly move, there’s bodies flying everywhere, people are knocking over your mic stand and that’s a completely different kind of energy that’s just as much fun.
Isn’t this going to be your first Punk Rock Bowling?
The very first year Punk Rock Bowling started, I remember Mark Stern calling me and going, “Hey, dude, we’re doing this thing called Punk Rock Bowling, you should come play!” It never worked out. But I’m so pumped we’re finally going to play. I’m fucking so bad at bowling, but I’ll probably get drunk and bowl at some point.
PUNK ROCK BOWLING
May 23: Rancid, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, TSOL, Anti-Flag, etc.
May 24: Refused, Murder City Devils, Turbonegro, the Muffs, etc.
May 25: Dropkick Murphys, Agnostic Front, the Swingin’ Utters, the Business, etc.
Entrance is at Seventh Street and Stewart Ave, day passes are $45, PunkRockBowling.com.