Aug 2014 (skype)
Bangtown Timebomb is a punk influenced metal band from Bangor, Maine that had been around for over a year when they welcomed 2014 with a shot in the arm of new musical energy via guitarist Matt Chabe. Following Matt's entrance they released a self-titled debut EP on bandcamp & started steadily gigging in the area. Bangtown Timebomb features husband & wife in vocalist/founder Sarah Nickerson & guitarist James Nickerson, plus drummer Jeff Prymowicz & bassist Brandon Ryder.
I had the opportunity to talk with Matt about his musical background & Bangtown Timebomb after stumbling across the band's EP, available on this blog. A couple weeks later I did a joint interview with Sarah & James for a different look at the band. These 2 interviews made for a interesting complimentary overview of Bangtown Timebomb's music, musical philosophy & history. What was interesting is that while Matt's interview tended to zoom down to personal realm of his work in marketing, talking to the Nickersons explored the otherside of the coin by delving briefly into the bigger picture of the Maine metal scene & the drive behind whose being marketed. Since these interviews the band has continued to gig & build a name for itself.
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AJ: BANGTOWN TIMEBOMB. Where does that name come from?
SARAH: It took a long time to come up with a band name. First of all, to come up with ideas that everybody could agree on. For me, BANGTOWN TIMEBOMB was kinda the end of the road when it came to a band name. The point was to combine elements of where we're from with the bangtown. It kinda being a geographical name of where the band is now. Timebomb ... first of all, it literarily goes with bangtown quite well & secondly I'm a big RANCID fan. There's a song with timebomb in the title. So, that's kinda how that came about. Do you have any deviations from that story, James?
JAMES-: No, other than the ridiculous names we had on the board. We knew this one would be the most fitting, plus it was available, different, unique.
SARAH: & it's not silly. That was the other thing. All of our names were pretty silly, immature. Not serious at all. This is the one we all could agree on. It seemed to fit the band pretty well.
AJ: Choosing a band name can be as hard as composing a song. Or, maybe composing a song can be easier than choosing a band name, I should say.
SARAH: Naming the songs is also difficult.
AJ: Tell me about the band. Who am I talking to & who else is in the band?
SARAH: I'm the singer. I am basically the one who started it. It was what I wanted to do. For me it was a long time out of music, becoming an adult, having kids, having a quote unquote career. It was getting back into music in a way that was like 'This is what I really really wanted to do right now,' you know. I had the idea of it & then trying to assemble the players together, which was either something that fell in my lap or by chance that I came across somebody.
AJ: When you say it was what you wanted to do, what was it that you wanted to do, Sarah?
SARAH: I wanted something that was fun. Something that really played simple rock'n'roll. For me, punk is where my heart is. & to do something in the Bangor area that was more than metal & kind of a different direction than other bands. Come up with something fun & a way to escape real life.
AJ: Introduce me to your partner-in-crime there in BANGTOWN.
SARAH: James is the third person who came along into the band. He's actually my husband. He's been in multiple bands since we've been together. You want to share from here?
JAMES: I came into the picture as far as the band goes probably about 6 or 7 months in. She had a drummer & was working through guitarists. I was just subbing in on bass because I was in the middle of a project. That project ended up coming to an end for various reasons. Then she needed a guitarist & I thought, hey, you know, because I've been in metal since day one, hardcore & all that ... I just felt like I needed a change of pace, something that wasn't so serious. The metal scene here, hard rock & other bands, I have a lot of respect for a lot of the bands here, it's just I wanted to take a step away & do something that was different & very invigorating for me.
AJ: Let me ask, were you 2 already married when joined, James.
JAMES: Yup, we were married. We've been married 6 years. About a year ago is when I joined the band.
AJ: So, it wasn't a situation of 'Hey, I'm starting a band. You're my spouse, so you're automatically in it.' It was more like you don't have to or you're so busy or whatever.
JAMES: I think it was more, like I said originally, I was just playing bass for them to kinda round things out, to give them that rhythm section, to kinda help them along. Then it just turned into, hey, I'll play guitar. At the time Sarah was the only songwriter & 'I can play what you want' & it just kinda blossomed from there.
AJ: Tell me who else is in the band. I already know we have Matt Chabe whose on guitar. Who else?
SARAH: Jeff, he's our drummer. I actually went to high school with him & his brother. His brother & I went to the New England School Of Communications together for audio engineering. With Jeff it was one of those by chance moments where James was urging me, 'You do the music, I'll help you. I'll take the kids & you can have a night where you guys can jam out.' So, I was at a point where it was like I needed to find a drummer. That was my biggest concern starting the band. It just happened one night we went out & it was a friend's birthday party & Jeff was at the restaurant. I couldn't help myself. I had to see if he was interested. It was amazing. That just compelled everything. We also have Brandon [on bass]. When you meet him you will never forget him. He's a whole lot of fun. He's probably our socialite. He's a frat brother & the military. He's now a nurse. He's really an all around cool guy. Do you want to expand upon him? He has more of a history with you than I do.
JAMES: I was in a band with Brandon some years ago. We started another band & he carried over to that. He plays bass. Starting out mostly because we really like the guy. He was always the guy who was at our parties always hanging out with us. I really pushed to get him into a band with us playing bass. We always need a bass player. Metal bands always need a bass player. I knew his energy. It was a natural energy. He'd be a great performer.
SARAH: & he's a committed player, as well.
JAMES: He is very committed. When he steps in to do something he sticks with it. He doesn't back off. He didn't really play an instrument before us. He played some drums in the marching band of the National Guard. Marching band is probably not the right name. ... I recommended him to Sarah, 'You know, after years of playing with him, he'd be a great fit for this band, because this band is about having fun.' He's got good energy & I felt he would be a great fit on bass. He has good energy, great showmanship & he committed to learning how to play.
SARAH: I think he was also appealing because he would really like the music. Brandon is a really great guy. When you mentioned his name, it was like no shit, he's got to be in the band.
AJ: Sarah, how long ago was it that you started the band?
SARAH: Year & a half. I have a horrible memory. That's a better question for James.
AJ: Year & a half, give or take, that's good enough. But, you just changed line-ups this year with the addition of Matt.
JAMES: Matt came in the first of this year. We had tried a couple other guys out prior to him. None of them seemed to work out. Mostly it was because I was digging into my background with metal bands, that's where I come from & that's what I know, but none of them wanted to really make that transition from metal. Understandably so. One of my good close friends, Mike Grant ...
SARAH: Who should also be considered an unofficial member, because he's the one that went over to Jeff & talked to Jeff that night. It was his birthday party, by the way. So, unofficial sixth member. & he recorded our EP.
AJ: We'll say the band adviser.
JAMES: Yeah. It was through him that he recommended Matt, because I was pushing trying to get him to join to join the band to play guitar for us, because he's all around drums, guitar & all that.
SARAH: He's actually in NOBIS now.
JAMES: Yup, he's the bass player in NOBIS right now. But, he recommended Matt. He had some previous experience with Matt through Matt's cover band SMELLS LIKE THE '90'S. Did some work doing their sound. He recommended Matt & I was like alright, let's give him a shot. Matt came by, played his stuff & it was like yup, will do.
AJ: James, you said earlier that you were looking to break away from metal. When I interviewed Matt Chabe the other day he was telling me, considering he comes from a jazz & hard rock & very different background, how working with you he has discovered metal & has a new appreciation of metal through you. So, it's interesting that you were trying to break away from it, but you have a guitar player who credits you with bringing him closer to what you were trying to leave.
JAMES: I think what I was referring to with breaking away from it was more or less the scene itself than necessarily the music. I still today, when we're trying to write a song & trying to write material, I instinctively start palm muting it, I start speed picking & I start dropping licks in there. It's just instinctual. I know I'm never going to be able to completely walk away from it, it's just impossible. I still try to keep a little bit of that metal edge in the band, simply because I feel it will help the overall sound in making us a little bit more unique. A little bit of that metal edge gives us a little bit of a rush.
AJ: When you say you want to break away from the metal scene are we talking about the Bangor & Maine metal scene or just the metal scene in general?
JAMES: I'll be candid here. I think it's the Maine metal scene. I can get really deep with this, but to just kinda get to the bare bones of it, it comes down to the fact that everybody wants to break it big. Everyone wants to get that record deal & go on tour, but doesn't want to realize the fact that there's a lot of hard work that goes into getting that. Not just getting the big golden ticket handed to you & you're off in la la land. There's just so many egos out there about how how awesome we are that they're batting on everybody else. I have immense respect for bands like NOBIS & DEAD SEASON. Hammered it out for decades & put in a lot of hard work to get the point of ... what success that they have is not the success of a TRIVIUM or ALL THAT REMAINS, but in the state of Maine you ask anyone who listens to metal they know who NOBIS are. Now, you'll get people that will argue that DEAD SEASON is not metal, they're blah blah blah, but there's all different facets of metal.
AJ: It's funny you should say this. I used to play bass in some punk metal bands in Manhattan & Brooklyn some years ago & one reason that I stopped was that I remembered playing with this one guitar player who was like 'we're going to record with MEGADETH someday.' I'm thinking, yeah, someday, if you don't stop forgetting to book the rehearsal studio so we can rehearse at least once a month. It was all about that big break not really realizing how much work it takes to get there.
JAMES: Yup. I find with most of those individuals the only thing that they want is that 15 minutes of glory up on stage. They're not really in it for the music itself & writing it & having a collaboration of friends who you really enjoy making music with & go out there & perform it. Granted, there might be a little ego here in my own right to say this, but I've always felt that when I go to perform on stage I'm not really doing it for the fans, I'm doing it for me. Mostly for me. I want to let this energy out. I want to express myself to those who want to listen. I want them to come on the ride with me & I want them to enjoy it. But, I'm not there for the, you know, I'm cool & doing that cock stance where you got your peacock feathers up in the air. To sum it up, it had become very convoluted. Very 'we're better than all the other bands in the state. There's no reason we can't get these gigs, that we're not bigger than NOBIS or DEAD SEASON.' The fact is they're not willing to stop & look at themselves & realize you're the reason you're not as big as them, because you piss & moan & piss off the band, piss off venues. The pay to play thing doesn't help, obviously.
AJ: I know.
JAMES: There's no drive to push it forward.
SARAH: Not enough motivation.
JAMES: Motivation, no drive.
AJ: I want to pull something off of what you just said, James, about the word 'drive'. Sarah, I'd like to turn to you for a second & talk about drive in terms of lyricist. As the original lyricist, I don't know if anyone else is contributing to this or not, but what drives you as a lyricist?
SARAH: You don't want to go there.
AJ: The big mystery.
SARAH: We were talking about doing a video the other day. If we did a video I'd want it to have something to do with the lyrics & we were talking about that. Our drummer says, thinking about what the video might look like: "I'm going to need your lyrics, because I don't know what you said here." If there's anything I pride myself the most about, being a musician, being an artist, it's lyric writing. I feel like that's where my soul comes out. I used to write songs kinda linearly, so I'd write the music & the lyrics at the same time. But, with this project it's completely different. I'm basically kinda waiting for the song to be finished so I can write a bridge. From the bridge is where I kinda decide what the rest of the stuff will feel like, & then from there I decide on a subject. There's a lot more thought involved with this project. I've had to adapt with my lyric writing.
AJ: Why the change in approach?
SARAH: Before BANGTOWN I was the one writing the songs & the lyrics. Now, I just don't have the time for that anymore. & that's one of the reasons why I wanted to be in a band. The kind of band that we have is everybody's contributing. It's not just me showing a song to the bass player & the drummer & then they just write their parts. It kinda worked that way at first, to kinda build a foundation for the band, for the songs, for the style, the sound. But, it really does come down to time. I work 2 jobs. I've got 2 kids. I've got a house. Being an adult is a lot harder than being a student & having all the time in the world to write songs that come to you, you know.
AJ: When I talked to your guitarist Matt he said when he came into the band there was a bunch of songs written already that he tried to just put his playing on, but now you guys have come to maybe do some composing with him. Am I right?
SARAH: Yes. Absolutely. That's one of the most important things I want in this band, that every person feels like a contributor. That what they have is something that creates the sound of the band, you know. James is the metal. I'm the punk. Matt is the classic rock, sometimes.
JAMES: Jazz & stuff.
SARAH: He has more of an ethereal thing. Brandon is more classic rock. Then Jeff, he's like ... I don't know about Jeff.
JAMES: Jeff is a mish-mosh of a lot of things.
SARAH: He's like techno, metal.
JAMES: He's played in metal bands or hardcore metal bands. He's very eclectic in his general style. He's one of the best drummers I've had the luxury of playing with. Where he is so open-minded he doesn't play off of what the genre typically calls for. He more just naturally lets it go, not like your typical drum beat on top of a rock rhythm I'm playing. More of an indie metal sound or a jazzier sound. It works.
SARAH: It's kinda refreshing he isn't tuned to one genre. That makes it more expansive, you know.
JAMES: I'd like to admit it now, the drummer is the backbone of the band.
SARAH: As crazy as they are.
AJ: Sarah, at the beginning of our talk you said you started BANGTOWN thinking of it more as a punk band or something. & James, there's you looking to change the pace a little from what you've typically done. From where BANGTOWN started & to where it is now ... today, how would you define the music that you play? Where does it fall?
JAMES: It would be interesting to hear the different perspectives on that.
AJ: I know it's the most mundane question everyone gets asked, but on the other hand it's like the key question.
SARAH: It's a good question, actually, Aaron.
JAMES: For me at least, I think honestly the fact that you can ask everybody in our band & you probably would get a different answer. I actually like that, because I think that speaks to who we are as a band, I think at the core. ... I don't have a huge background in it, but I do know what punk is. I heard punk growing up here & there, never really dove into it. I can't tell you any band off the top of my head. But, we are at the core punk. I think we've got a little bit of, you know, classic rock influence in there ... with a twinge of metal ... a twinge.
AJ: Okay. You've got a 4 song EP on bandcamp with a twinge of a whole bunch of stuff on it. When I was listening to the tracks the other day, I don't know which song, but I remember hearing something & then there was a break in the lyrics & all of a sudden I'm going 'Wait a minute. These guys aren't just playing some thrashing chords. There was a little melody line or something underneath that.' I had to go back & relisten. There was a little bit of a movement underneath it. There were some textures you're throwing in, which is probably the best word for it.
JAMES: I think that's a good way to put it. Main reason why I tried hard to get a second guitarist. There was whole lot of battle back & forth in the beginning stages on having just me play guitar.
SARAH: So I wouldn't have to.
JAMES: For me, I wanted Sarah to focus on being the frontwoman.
SARAH: I've never been a frontwoman without an instrument on me before. So, that was something that was new for this project as well.
AJ: How do you feel about the difference between the 2? Having an instrument versus not having one?
SARAH: I feel naked.
SARAH: It's being completely vulnerable, because there's times when you don't sing. What do you do when you don't sing, you know? Just standing there. I've become a ringmaster now, as opposed to ... when I was playing guitar I could just look at my hands & play guitar & it's okay. Now it's like I'm interacting more. Which is more of what I wanted, as well. I feel like I can actually make a connection better, more efficiently.
AJ: We've all seen singers & guitar players where they are stuck with an instrument & can't really get the audience going. On the other hand, you see singers who once they're done they just stand there like a scarecrow. I remember once seeing a metal band with a female singer who would just stand there in between lyrics looking like she wasn't even enjoying herself. You're right. You gotta be a ringmaster.
SARAH: Actually, meeting James & getting to know him, he was actually a singer for a long time, a frontman. Watching him do what he did was really inspiring for me. It really gave me the confidence to think like I could do that too, maybe, you know. I think I've picked up a lot of things that he did & used them for myself for our shows.
AJ: James, is it you doing the growling backing vocals on your bandcamp songs?
JAMES: Yeah, that's me.
JAMES: Yeah, I'm the one doing the screaming.
AJ: It provides an interesting chorus effect.
JAMES: I think originally when I got my microphone I was just messing around with stuff when we were in the middle of writing songs in the beginning. You know, just trying to mess with Sarah.
SARAH: Then Sarah gave the okay.
JAMES: Then Sarah gave the okay & said, "Maybe you could scream this here & it would be really cool." I went alright. I think "Bomber" is where I had the most screaming in there.
AJ: You don't growl that much. It's just a little bit & I think that's what makes it good. I think of LACUNA COIL ... you're not doing a duet, you're just providing a little vocal support. I think it's a nice balance
JAMES: That we definitely draw on Sarah. I think pretty much from day one she was hitting on "I don't want to do harmony. I don't want to do much overlaying stuff."
SARAH: That's part of the program. I want simple rock'n'roll. That's something I've been pretty adamant about this whole time with James. The growling ... I like that aspect. I like that. When it's thrown in occasionally it makes it sound special. But, also the same thing with gang vocals. That's something I really wanted in our sound as well.
JAMES: It ain't punk without gang vocals. Oi, oi, oi.
SARAH: He's right. So, I just feel like it's something special to add in. It's something that expands our sound. Further it brings in more listeners who are interested in that kind of stuff. It's part of who we are.
JAMES: It's definitely a part of who we are. It also helps us bridge the gap. I mean, the last show we played was a metal show with DEAD SEASON, NOBIS & CHAOS MACHINE & all metal bands. That was something I pushed. I wanted to be one of those bands that can play any show - a rock show, a pop show, a metal show. You know, bridge that gap. Most of the scene is really just metal, no rock or punk. There's really no community.
SARAH: Let's build a community, damn it. That's probably the thing holding Maine back is the fraction that exists. If we put all our powers together imagine what that could do.
AJ: Matt & I were briefly talking about that. He mentioned RUSTIC OVERTONES, which might not be metal but they're breaking beyond Maine. I think people are beginning to pay attention to the state & that's affecting the local scene of musicians who aren't part of the stereotypical folk scene. There's value here beyond that.
SARAH: I see it every show. It's something to be excited about & ambitious about. I feel like our band has come at a time when something big could be happening pretty soon. I think every band feels like that, but ... I don't know.
AJ: Going along that line ... what are you guys doing now? Where are you going?
JAMES: Working on merchandise. First of all.
SARAH: Merch & then a full length. We have enough material now to do a full length. I, of course, want to be picky about it. We've banged out 4 new songs in the past few practices. This is stuff we're talking about, but we're focusing on shows right now.
AJ: Playing out.
JAMES: I think we're looking to build our audience out there, our fan base. Our ultimate goal is to get a little fan base out there. We have a lot of ideas for all of this. Like Matt is very business adept & Jeff is extremely artistic. Brandon is our salesman. He can sell you anything. If not, he'll buy it & give it to you. I think me & Sarah we are idea people. We have a lot of ideas. I think right now we're working on those ideas & finding what the best possible approach would be to go. You can't just make an EP anymore & expect it to sell.
SARAH: It takes money.
AJ: You got to build your foundation.
AJ: Or at least a foundation that interests people. You can't just put something on bandcamp & say here we are & stop there.
SARAH: Actually, we've gotten great response from local radio stations. Even promoters we wouldn't think would give us a chance. One of whom gave us our first show ever & it went great & now we had a second show. I think the connections we've created throughout the years are really starting to pay off for this new project.
AJ: Why did you just say that, Sarah, why did you say you didn't expect you'd get a chance? What are you referring to with that?
SARAH: On multiple levels. Our sound. But, most importantly, until we knew, we kinda have to show ourselves we're good.
JAMES: Prove ourselves. Obviously, on the music scene we've proved ourselves. Like I mentioned earlier, that whole pay-to-lay thing ... there's not very many options out there that are easy to get into anymore. Many clubs have closed down. It's hard for the local pee on bands to prove ourselves. Everybody wants to go see big names.
AJ: In terms of resume, to flesh out the picture ... who have you guys played with before? Do you guys have any bands in your past that still might have a little reputation floating out there or any albums still out there?
SARAH: For me I did a lot of solo stuff for awhile. Then I was in a band called SOME DAMN ENGLISH CITY with a couple musicians that were living in Orono at the time. I think our music stuck out enough where people were always noticing our songs. We were kinda ... what is the phrase ... cabaret punk. I played piano & there was a drummer & bass player. It was bare, but there was aggression. James, take the floor.
JAMES: I guess, it's a toss between the 2 of either DowNsouL or THE END OF IDOLS. With THE END OF IDOLS over the years we played with a lot of bands like POWERMAN 5000, GWAR. I think THE END OF IDOLS carries more weight, but in the metal scene here you're not going to get a very big audience.
AJ: I don't have any more questions. Is there anything we haven't hit on that you want to share?
JAMES: I think we've covered everything, but I think the biggest point is we want listeners to have a good time.
SARAH: Have a good fucking time. Go support local music.