new interview

hey, we recently did an interview with conor mancuso! click "read more" to um... read more...

So what's the deal with the whole “Bepstein” and “Spoonboy” thing?

David: Well, I don't tell the story behind Spoonboy anymore, but we both got our nicknames around the same time in middle school and they just stuck. 1998?

Ben: Yeah.  I was involuntarily given the nickname “Bepstein” in 8th grade. It is a wildly clever innovation which combines the first letter of my first name with my last name. But it’s cool, I like it.

Care to explain the“Butt Cheese America”documentary? It was hilarious…

B: To my greatest surprise, someone decided to make a documentary about me. It follows me through last summer as I competed in a challenge to write 30 songs in 30 days.  The title has actually changed and it’s now called “Maximum Summer” and will be making its world premiere on December 5th at The Black Cat in Washington, DC. My Friend Rose Haag spent over a year putting it together and I’m anxiously waiting to see it.

I thought the idea of sort of reaching back to your youth with the “peter pan” theme for Maximum Summer was pretty cool and interesting also…do you guys always strive for that idea whether it be in music or your lives?

B: I think that pretty much any activity I’m involved in comes from a youthful perspective.  I don’t see myself as an adult and I think that pretty much comes through in all my action including music. Young people overwhelmingly dominate punk rock, so it’s pretty difficult to not be influenced by that mindset.
You guys seem to have a lot of fun together… how were things in high school: the dynamic?

D: As far as dynamics between Bepstein and I, I'd say things were more or less the same as they are now. There was more nudity then. You know we've grown older and have some different concerns but I think maintaining the spirit of our youth is as important to us now as it was when we were teenagers.

Did you guys create music in high school also?

D: We started the Max Levine Ensemble in 11th grade, so yes. It was pretty much the first band either of us were in, except I was in a ska band called Amazing Larry, but we only ever played one song in front of anyone and... it wasn't very good. Nick wasn't in the band when we started it in high school but he joined in 2003 just after he graduated high school so we've all been playing music together for a long time.

B: Yeah, David (Spoonboy) actually taught me to play guitar in 9th grade. We’ve been making music ever since.

When I came to your performance at the Everlasting Cafe, you guys would usually introduce each song not with a title but rather with a description of some political issue you object to. What inspires you guys to be so politically opinionated?

D: Most of the politically opinionated material comes from me, and I think that just comes from my particular way of seeing the world. Politics are reflected in everything we do. I hope we reflect more positive political ideas than just a list of things I object to, but I guess punk is a pretty good medium for negation, it's kind of a “fuck you” genre, so that's probably why it comes across that way. We do introduce our songs with titles sometimes, but I really get a lot more out of seeing a band if I have a sense that they have something to say, and that they've put thought into their lyrics. You don't have to recite a political manifesto, but if all a band has to say in between songs is “this next song is called blah blah blah,” they're not giving you any reason to believe that they care about what they're doing, and if they don't care, why should I care?  Then again, I'm not always up for talking a lot in between songs. It can be hard to speak in front of people sometimes, but I try to give it an effort.  It depends on the show.

I know political activism is a major component of the punk genre; what particular issues concern you most?

D: It's hard to say. Personally I find that issues around gender and queer issues hit pretty close to home. I've been writing a lot about that in the past couple of years. I think racism is still a very real and disgusting part of the world we live in. We wrote a themed record around the global financial crisis and about how the people responsible for gambling with our lives and our economy have completely gotten away with it. We also just made a music video for a song that was about the BP oil spill and how much of a hole we are digging ourselves into if we continue to treat the environment like trash. I've got a bunch of stuff in the works around policing and security, if we ever get around to finishing those songs...  I don't think political activism is inherent to punk, though I'd say its been a component for a lot of the bands that inspired me to play punk music.

Has there been anything in particular that has happened that stimulates this concern, or is your concern more general?

D: I could probably write a whole essay on what stimulates any of my particular political concerns, but to be brief I'll say that I think all political concerns come from a personal place. No one cares about anything unless they have a reason to care. Most anything political will have its real life implications for everyone in their personal lives. I think I might personally be more inclined to connect those dots though.

Your website talks about your interest in eradicating sexism and sexual violence…

D: Yeah, I think it's something that everyone should be concerned with. Sexual assault is one of the most traumatizing things that can happen to someone and it happens to at least one third of the women in our lives. Sexism and patriarchy are a reality and though women bear the brunt of it, its damaging to everyone. I wrote an essay on sexism in the punk scene that elaborates on some of those ideas. You can read it here.

You brought so much passion to the performance with your overall aesthetic: head-banging, screams, and a ton of power chords…do you guys ever break away from your DIY punk style?

D: We're a punk band and we love playing punk music. Both Bepstein and I have side projects that are less aesthetically punk. I tour playing stripped down acoustic pop songs as Spoonboy, and sometimes play those songs with a backing band as Spoonboy and the Papas. And the Bepstein Show...

B: The Bepstein show is me playing pop songs while being backed by a virtual band on a video monitor.  The band mostly consists of a bunch of clones of myself and my friend Alex Mazer. However, concerning The Max Levine Ensemble, we don’t really go into the song writing process thinking “OK, we need to write punk rock songs that sound like these other songs.”  We write what feels natural to us. That happens to be punk rock songs.

It seems like this genre and how you guys have approached making music within the DIY punk genre has allowed you to have the attitude: we don’t really care what people think. I think this is really cool…would you say your motivated by that attitude?

B: We’re just motivated by our desires to make people think we’re cool. And we’re cool because we don’t care what people think. It’s quite the paradox! Does that make us uncool?

D: Anyone who says they don't care at all about what anyone thinks is probably lying, but I do think punk is about not having to answer to the dominant conventions that are placed on music, or really any conventions placed on music or attitude or politics or lifestyle or whatever.  That's what's special and freeing about punk, when punk is at its best. So yes, that's a motivator. And no, we don't care what anyone thinks.

Which other groups have provided inspiration for you guys, any politically outspoken bands? You guys reminded me a lot of Green Day when I heard you…

B: Green Day have held a soft spot in my heart since I started listening to them in the late 90s.  More recently I’d say groups like Dillinger 4 or the Bananas influence us. Also, I think we’re constantly influenced by seeing our friends make amazing projects.

D: Fugazi and Propagandhi are politically outspoken bands that always inspired me.  In different ways, both of those bands get their politics across in ways that make you think a little harder than just hearing a political slogan.

What are your future plans?

D: We're going to record a 7” this weekend, and go on tour in the winter. Hopefully we'll have a new full length out next year and I guess we just plan to keep making music whenever we can.

B: We also plan on doing an all Rancid cover album… well, actually that’s not true. But can you imagine how ridiculous that would be!?