Jersey Beat Interview by Jim Testa
Winter - 2001
Paul Crane – vocals, guitar
Pat O’Keefe – bass
Jeff Prosetti – drums
Bill Zafiros – guitar
It makes sense that the Bastards of Melody call Jersey City their home instead of some trendy spot like Hoboken or Williamsburg. This quartet plays meaty, basic, no-frills rock ‘n’ roll – no quirks, no nonsense, just solid hooks and catchy melodies and Paul Crane’s enthusiastic, ebullient lead vocals. It might not be rocket science but it works; a Bastards show is guaranteed to leave you with a smile. And if you aren’t so chronically hip that you still like to move around a little at a show, they’ll help you work up a sweat too. We caught up with the band at their Jersey City rehearsal space a few months ago, just prior to the release of Fun Machine, the band’s second CD. Closer to press time, bassist Pat O’Keefe announced he was leaving and the group is currently looking for a replacement. And speaking of Replacements…
Q: Everytime I read anything about you guys, there’s a comparison to the Replacements. I’ve been guilty of it myself in reviews I’ve written. Does that ever start to bother you?
Paul: Yeah, I guess so. It’s really flattering the first couple of times, because they’re heroes of mine. But it was never a conscious thing to sound like them. There’s similar attitudes, at least from my perspective.
Q: How about the name? A lot of people probably think it’s a play on the
Replacements’ song “Bastards Of Young.”
Paul: No, not at all. It’s actually the title of a song by a band called Lovenut. They were a band from Baltimore. I used to work for a record company and we used to get a lot of CD’s from other record companies, and one day I was just going through this huge stack of stuff and I saw this one CD that said “Bastards Of Melody” and I thought that was a really cool name for a band. Then I realized that it was the title of the album and the band was called Lovenut. It was a really good record, basic power pop. And we actually did our first two shows under a different name, we were called Your Creepy Friends. And someone in the band really hated that name so we had to come up with a different one, so I said, “Bastards Of Melody.” And we kind of begrudgingly kept it, just because we couldn’t come up with a better one.
Q: Okay, so let’s go back to the beginning…
Paul: How far back?
Q: As far back as you want to go.
Paul: Bill and I went to college together, the University of Miami, sometime in the late Eighties. He moved up here, I stayed in Miami, then eventually I moved up here too. When I got up here, I joined a band called Postponing The Inevitable, where I met Pat. He was their bass player. Then through that, I met Jeff, because we used to rehearse here and Jeff rehearsed here in another band. Actually he was kind of a studio rat, he was always hanging out here at the studio. So at that point, Bill wasn’t in a band but he was getting bored, because all his friends were getting married and he didn’t have anybody to hang out with anymore. So he talked me into it, and that’s pretty much it. In the meantime, I was also doing solo acoustic stuff and I was playing in Violet Truth.
Jeff: I was playing in various cover bands around Westchester at that point.
They were classic rock cover bands, we’d do Led Zeppelin and the Allman Brothers, stuff like that.
Paul: It’s really a weird accident that this happened at all. Pat really didn’t want to play anymore. He had been through the whole band thing and he was ready to give it up. Jeff was playing in a bunch of other bands that were actually making money. I was doing all this other stuff after Postponing The Inevitable broke up but Bill kept bugging me to start a band. So we got together and we actually tried a few other bass players who didn’t work out, so we finally prevailed on Pat and got him out of retirement. We got together and the first day, we had four songs down. We didn’t really have any plans but we just got together and it worked out. And that was about two and half, three years ago.
Q: So what is it about Bastards Of Melody that’s held your interest for the last two and a half years?
Paul: We’ve got nothing better to do. (laughs)
Bill: I guess it’s because we keep doing different things. We keep booking more gigs and playing more shows and recording another record.
Jeff: And also writing really good songs. It’s fun to play this stuff.
Q: Paul, I know you write songs that you perform solo on acoustic guitar and then you were in Violet Truth for a while, and they’re a female fronted band who are a little lighter. When you started Bastards Of Melody, did you say, okay, this is going to be my rock and roll band, and start writing songs that rocked more?
Paul: No, a lot of the songs that we do had their origin when I was in Postponing The Inevitable. Our influences were bands like Soul Asylum, the Pixies, the Replacements… all those great Eighties bands that played alternative rock back when there still was alternative rock, and just toured and played all the time. So I had all these songs in that genre and I always wrote songs like that, so when PTI broke up, I already had a bunch of songs. We weren’t really sure what we were going to do, because everybody has different tastes. But we all kind of decided, well, we have all these songs, let’s just start with these. Actually a few of the songs we still do started as PTI songs. So I think this is really just a continuation of that.
Q: Paul has been very involved with the Independent Music Festivals that have taken place in New Jersey the last few years, and now with the new IMG Records group. Has that filtered down to the rest of the band? I sort of get the feeling that you guys were just a band and all of a sudden, you found yourself smack dab in the middle of a “scene.” What’s that been like?
Pat: As long as that stuff keeps going, it’s great. But until there’s a radio station around here that will play local bands – like they do in Boston, like they do in D.C., like they do in Florida – the music scene here is never going to break big. That’s why so many bands came out of Boston, because all those bands were played on the local radio stations all day long. And we’ve never had that here.
Bill: Radio stations in major markets need to open up their playlists. If you play a song enough times, and that’s what the public hears, that’s what they’re going to want. But now, you have to go out and search for it. And if they do search for it, they’ll find some great stuff. We’ve played with some great bands around here. But they have to want to go out and do that.
Pat: Whereas in other places, you don’t have to go out and search. It’s just there on the radio.
Bill: It’s all about money. In the smaller markets, there’s less money at stake, so the radio stations and the clubs can take more risks. Around here, it’s all about numbers. You walk into a club here and the first thing anybody asks you is how many people can you draw. Not what you sound like. There needs to be, it would be nice if there was a better vibe. If people cared more about the music than everything else that goes with it.
Pat: The festivals were great. We had a great time and a lot of people showed up and it was good.
Bill: Festivals like the IMF are really good. When they’re organized and done well, then people want to go. When they’re not organized and the whole thing turns into a cluster fuck, then people stay home. Because people don’t want to be confused. If the bands don’t know what’s going on and the organizers don’t know what’s going on, then the fans pick up on that and leave.
Jeff: I think that just going out and playing is worth it, just because we like doing it, no matter what the response is. It’s a lot more beneficial to me personally. It’s something, for the most part, that comes really natural to me. You just get on the stage and feed off the vibe of everybody else playing with you, and it’s a rush. I love doing it, and we’re hoping to do it a lot more this year than we have in the past.
Bill: The whole club scene is a lot different now than it was a few years ago. It used to revolve around live music when I was a kid. There’s a lot more variety now. There are other things that people go out to do than just see live bands… The other thing that’s different is that bands get 30, 40 minutes to play now. It seems to me that bands used to get a lot more time on stage, so they could put more effort into putting on a whole show. They had a whole night to play. It’s not like that anymore.
Paul: There’s this whole thing now about “showcasing” yourself, instead of getting up there and entertaining people. That’s what I see. Every band wants to showcase. That’s how it’s set up, that’s the way the clubs want it, you get 45 minutes to set up and play and tell everybody who you are and get off. Not, come see our band and we’ll play for four hours and everybody will dance and have a good time. You don’t see that anymore.
Q: This system where you have five, six, maybe more bands on a bill, it seems to me that the whole system tends to turn bands into natural predators. Instead of hanging out with one or two other bands all night, you’re competing for your few precious moments on stage and then you’re either loading in or loading out when other bands are playing. It’s almost like the clubs don’t want the bands to talk to each other.
Bill: Well, they do rush you. But it really depends on the bands. There is a cool scene around here with a lot of bands that do support one another. I guess in New York you get more of that cutthroat thing, you know, get out of my way, I have to go on! But we don’t really see a lot of that. The only thing we don’t like is that they do rush you. And you try to relax and get a good vibe going to play, and you’ve got a sound man going, “If you take more than three minutes to set up, it’s just going to eat away at your set time.” It’s really bizarre.
Q: Let’s talk about Fun Machine. How does it compare to your first record?
Bill: It’s better. (laughs) It’s better produced. Better songs.
Jeff: Better title.
Paul: The first record was never meant to be released. It was a demo to get shows. This one was more serious. That’s the biggest difference. We had a year and a half playing shows between the two records, and that makes a big difference. We were together a few months when we made the first one, but you have to do that; you can’t get shows without a demo. Jim Mastro, who produced the new record, was real big on being natural. We were all like, we have to be professional, we have to do all these cool studio things, and he kept saying, just play it like you play it live. And I think it has that feel to it – it’s kind of loose, it’s very live-sounding. The first record, we didn’t have a lot of experience playing live yet, so we didn’t have that confidence. And we did it on a shoestring budget. So I think the first one’s pretty shaky. We’re much happier with this one. Bill said it best: It’s better.
Bill: Jim was great to work with. He’s an awesome producer.
Paul: We did some pre-production with him and we changed some arrangements. There’s some harmony work on the record that was his idea. And the thing with Jim is that he has an arsenal of vintage equipment, vintage keyboards, vintage amps. We didn’t use any of our own stuff. The keyboards aren’t really prominent on the record, but they are there, and we had no intention of doing any of that stuff. That was all Jim’s ideas. And the thing with Jim that you don’t realize until you spend time with him in the studio is that he’s crazy. The weirder things sounded, the more he liked them. And we’re pretty anal retentive, we’re into having everything sound perfect. But he kept coming up with all these ideas – we used this Latin percussion instrument on “Obsession,” which is a punk song, and it sounds awesome. The solo to “Not Me” is basically me, Bill, and Jim sitting in a room strumming our guitars and just having them feed back. And Bill was like, hey, this is my guitar solo, you can’t do that. And Jim just had this weird glint in his eye and he’d go, “Trust me.” So we did the feedback and then we listened to it and we were all like, “this is fucking awesome.”
Q: You guys seem to have a lot of newfound enthusiasm. Is that because the record is finally out?
Paul: The record has a lot to do with it. But really, the songs on the record are all a year and a half old. Virtually nothing we do in our current set is on the record. But they’re still solid songs. And it does feel really good to get a second album out. The thing is, this whole band was just a happy accident to start with. It just clicked right away, we started booking shows right away. So when we started making this record, it brought everything up to a new level. And then with me getting involved with the IMF and working so closely with Doug Forbes and Craig from Elemae – those guys are really driven, and working with them, I really picked up a lot of their vibe. It was like, well, these guys are doing this, they’re making records and booking tours, all the things that we’ve been talking about. I guess we can do all that too. So with the record coming out, we’re now trying to reach that next plateau. Play a lot of shows, sell some CD’s if we can. But that’s not even the important thing. It’s just getting out there and doing a lot of shows, and trying to bring this somewhere higher, take this happy accident and make it something more than that.