interview by Michael McCarthy
In 2006 vocalist/guitarist Montana Masback, guitarist Sean Kraft, bassist Ryan Kelly and drummer Jordan Lovelace left Rockland County, New York and headed to Brooklyn where they officially formed the mean, gritty rock band Tournament. On March 25th they finally released their long-overdue second album, Teenage Creature, and it was well-worth the wait. A brutal assault to your eardrums, it’s undoubtedly the album that the late Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead has on heavy rotation wherever his soul wound up. Having had it on heavy rotation myself for several weeks now, I naturally had to interview guitarist Sean Kraft. Fire up their tunes and let’s rock!
MM: The press release says you guys have known each other since you were teenagers in Rockland County, New York. Did any of you know each other before high school?
SK: Jordan and I met in middle school, I think we were 12. We had both been approached by my neighbor to start a band, we met at our first practice and have been playing together ever since (20 years). Ryan went to a different school and we met him a couple years later going to local shows and formed an instant connection. I met Montana when I was 16 tripping on acid for the first time. We’d run into each other skateboarding and the following year Jordan, Montana and I started a band.
MM: Were you all close friends in high school or did you travel in different cliques and only vaguely know each other?
SK: We’ve always been extremely close. Jordan and I were the only ones that went to school together and we were generally inseparable. For the most part our friendships were formed around playing in bands together or mutual musical interests but we’re friends first and a band second.
MM: What was the music scene in Rockland County like when you were growing up?
SK: Nyack was the main hub for local bands. Being so close to the city it was rare that bigger regional and national bands would ever tour through so it was a very local and at times insular scene. The scene changed as different genres gained popularity. By the time Montana, Jordan and I started playing together in The Paragraph metal core was extremely popular and we wanted nothing to do with it. Around that time Ryan was playing in a band called Talk to Plants. While sonically very different our bands latched on to each other and relished in the fact that we were the self imposed outsiders of the scene despite being two of the more popular bands in town.
MM: What did you listen to in high school? Was there a specific album you heard where you said, that’s what I want to do, to make something like that?
SK: Obviously tastes change and this could get real embarrassing real quick but generally speaking we all listened to bands that fell under the punk and hardcore umbrella with some hip hop thrown in for good measure. It’s hard to pick a specific album from high school as personally I got more serious about playing music once I had graduated and was way more permanently influenced by stuff that came out in the early 2000s. I do remember hearing Fugazi’s Repeater for the first time in its entirety at some point in high school and being completely blown away. Same could be said for The Stooges’ Fun House.
MM: Did you get into a lot of trouble in high school? What’s the worst thing you ever did back then that you got caught doing? Were you ever suspended or expelled?
SK: I don’t think any of us were too awful but we were bored suburban kids which lead to a lot of drug experimentation and light vandalism. Lots of egging for sure. I was suspended once in high school for mooning the audience of a school play. I spent the week playing Metal Gear Solid and baking cookies with my mom, it was a real severe punishment… For the most part I wasn’t really ever caught red handed though the first time I was caught drinking was quite scarring.
MM: You had previous bands before you guys moved to Brooklyn. What were some of them called and what type of bands were they? Did you release any demos or anything with any of those bands?
SK: Ryan played in an experimental/proggy instrumental band called Talk to Plants. Montana, Jordan and I played in a band called The Paragraph which was angular post punk maybe borderline indie rock. We both released albums on a local, now defunct label called Cosmonaut Records.
MM: I understand you had one version of Teenage Creature that you scrapped before making the version you’re releasing. What did the original version sound like? What do you like more about the version being released?
SK: It was a long road to get where we ended up with this record but there wasn’t really an entirely different version. Teenage Creature as it stands now was written and recorded in three different phases. In the initial phase we recorded a full length but as is often the case with us, we continued to write songs, at some point we made a conscious decision to simplify our sound and thus started to scrap specific songs in order to release a more consistent and solid record. Phase three brought about more new songs and more old ones being removed from the record. Hopefully one day those other songs will see the light of day but we couldn’t be happier with this record as a whole.
MM: The press release accompanying the download for your new album calls you hard to please jerks. I know it’s meant to be funny, but just out of curiosity, did you approve of it? Was it your idea or the publicist’s?
SK: I actually wrote that line for a bio we needed for a show last spring. We are our own biggest critics and that line was intended to convey that idea.
MM: Your album has the energy of a rowdy live performance. Was any of it recorded live with everyone playing at the same time in the studio?
SK: The majority of the record was recorded with everyone playing live in one room. I’m glad people are picking up on that energy. We can be a spectacle live and like to think of ourselves as a live band so it’s important to us that we capture that feel in our recordings.
MM: From when to when was Teenage Creature recorded?
SK: “Life is Over” and “Problems” were probably recorded in 2013. The rest of the songs were recorded in 2014, mixed and mastered in early 2015. We started shopping it around this time last year.
MM: I understand you recorded it in your own studio. What sort of equipment do you use? For example, do you use old school analog or are you into using Pro-Tools or the like?
SK: We record straight to tape but as is often the case in this future world we live in we do dump it into a computer to facilitate recording over dubs and vocals.
MM: Teenage Creature is your first full length album since 2009’s Years Old LP. Why did it take you guys so long to make a new one?
SK: At some point after touring on Years Old we were kinda forced to leave our practice space and moved all our equipment to a friends studio in Rockland county. We’d spend two days a week there, sleeping there, eating there, we’d lock ourselves in for 48 hours a week. We had about half an albums worth of new songs that we did record, 2 of them made it onto a 7″. The idea was that we’d write the other songs in the studio but we mainly just got too high and wasted alotta time jamming. There are some real cool recordings that came out of those jams and it’s always been a hope of ours to release a noise/experimental record with those instrumentals but all in all that was a period where we lost our way, morale had slipped and it took us awhile to find our path back to the rock n roll highway.
MM: Was the band still playing shows during the years between albums or was there a hiatus or period where you were broken up?
SK: During that period we continued to play locally, did a couple weekend tours and actively wrote new material. Since we formed in 2007-8 we’ve never been inactive. We’re not all very happy with how Years Old turned out and I think it was more important for us to write and record a consistent record that we’d all be stoked on moving forward than to put out records we couldn’t necessarily stand behind a year later. Taking that time between records really did benefit us, I think we learned a lot about ourselves as a band and what we all bring to the table. We’ve solidified our sound and are super confident in it.
MM: I love the Teenage Creature cover art. Who did it?
SK: The cover was done by our extremely talented drummer Jordan Lovelace. The back cover was done by his also very talented wife Louisa Lovelace.
MM: How would you describe your sound to someone who’s never heard the band? (Rock? Punk? Psychedelic punk?)
SK: We’ve been going with gritty punk and roll.
MM: How does the song writing process work for the band? Do you start with riffs or lyric ideas? Do you all write the songs together or do you write them alone or… how does the magic happen?
SK: Generally starts with a riff or two that someone brings in and we all build the song together. I write a lot of riffs in my spare time but I’m an awful song writer without everyone’s input my parts would go nowhere. We all have very distinct and different playing styles so when someone brings in a part it often becomes an entirely different thing once everyone has locked on. It’s always a group effort and generally pretty democratic.
MM: How many songs did you have when you started recording Teenage Creature? Are there a lot of leftovers that you’d like to release at some point as B-sides or an EP?
SK: We had 9 or 10 songs initially intended for Teenage Creature. I think only 3 (including one that was revamped and thus rerecorded) made it onto the album it is today. We’ve talked about maybe putting two out on a 7″ but at the same time we’ve already recorded 5 new songs that were in love with for an upcoming 12″ EP. If our productivity continues at this rate I can’t really say that those older songs will ever see the light of day as they’re not entirely inline with what we’re doing now.
MM: To my ears, Teenage Creature sounds more melodic than your previous full-length album, which I checked out on your Bandcamp page. Was it easy to make the shift toward doing catchier songs or was it like pulling teeth?
SK: After spending so much time experimenting leading up to this phase of our band there was a very conscious decision made to strip it down, get back to basics and just write ripping rock and roll songs. After some time it came very naturally for us.
MM: You paint a pretty grim picture of “Detroit,” which would seem to be accurate if everything I’ve heard about it being an industrial wasteland during the past twenty years is true. Did any of you ever live there? It very much sounds like something a frustrated assembly line worker would write. Is that the idea?
SK: None of us have lived in Detroit, I’ve never even been there. Most of our songs are given working titles before they receive a permanent and proper name and I think “Detroit” was one of the few exceptions that kept its initial title which it was given because the opening riff was a bit of a nod to the bands coming out of Detroit in the 70s. Urban squalor is a common lyrical theme for us, which doesn’t necessarily need to be regionally specific so in this case we were able to apply experiences we’ve had here in New York to what we imagine is happening in Detroit.
MM: Your songs do an excellent job of capturing the harshness of the streets and the general brutality of life. What sort of experiences have you had that have given you such an authentic perspective on these things? Have you ever been homeless, if you don’t mind me asking?
SK: None of us have been homeless but living in New York City you see some harsh and brutal shit day to day no matter what social class you belong to. I like to think we’re an every mans kinda band, CMJ called us “minimum wage rage with big stage riff age” and I think that’s very fitting. Without being very political we are sensitive to and aware of the plight of others around us and like most have frustrations with the society and political system we’ve grown up in.
MM: Has Montanta always had such a raw, gritty voice or is that from years of smoking and drinking whiskey as your bio would seem to suggest?
SK: He’s always had the voice of a devil, I’m sure whiskey and smoking has had some effect, but we all started those bad habits young so those things aren’t really variables in our eyes just part of life.
MM: There’s no denying that your sound is fairly similar to Motorhead. Are they one of your primary influences? Who else are you influenced by?
SK: Thin Lizzy, Hot Snakes, Turbo Negro, Motörhead, Rocket from the Crypt and Circle. There are obviously many many more but if those six bands had some incestuous offspring they’d look and sound a lot like the four of us.
At the end of our interviews we always ask some random questions. Here are yours:
MM: Do you prefer making albums or playing live?
SK: Personally playing live is my one cathartic outlet and I think the same can be said for everyone else. But there is a certain magic to recording and hearing our efforts come together on that tape. A lot of times recording brings out the nuances and intricacies that we’re not always aware of yet are crucial to our sound and feel.
MM: What was the first album you ever bought with your own money?
SK: The first album I bought with my own money was Aerosmith’s “Live! Bootleg” which I traded a couple months later for Guns n Roses’ “Appetite for Destruction” and the Sex Pistols’ “Nevermind the Bollocks” which were two records that changed my life.
Special thanks to Sean Kraft for taking the time to do this interview and to Leo Lavoro for connecting us!