Chuck RobertsonFat Wreck Chords
By Bobby Gorman on February 12th, 2014 at The Venue - Vancouver, BC
It’s been seven years since The Mad Caddies last released a new album, Just One More. After deciding to take a step back from the road in 2009, the band released a best-of compilation in 2010 entitled Consensual Selections. Then, they went relatively quiet.
They still did a couple dozen shows a year, but for the most part they went their separate ways – school, producing, side-projects and life. In between that though, they buckled up in drummer Todd Rosenberg’s barn/home-studio to write and record a brand new album. Those sixty or seventy songs that they put together were whittled down to twelve that will make up Dirty Rice - the band’s new album scheduled for release in May.
As the band started off on the road again, we caught up with Chuck Robertson to discuss the album, the hiatus and why it took them fourteen months to write and record.
Bobby: Starting with the basics, you guys are about a week into this West Coast tour with IllScarlett. How’s that going?
Chuck: It’s fun. We’ve had a little bit of weather and everybody’s a little under the weather, but other than that, this tour’s been really good.
Bobby: What did you guys do with your day off in Seattle on Monday?
Chuck: In Seattle, we went to a family friend’s house and we had a crab feast which was really, really nice. We haven’t been able to go to her house for five or six years, so an old family friend. It almost felt like Christmas, like the holidays.
Bobby: It’s nice to go back to rekindle those relationships.
Chuck: Yeah, having a fun day. A really nice dinner and sitting around the fire, it was nice.
Bobby: You guys have been playing two new songs on this tour – Brand New Scar and Shot In The Dark. How’s the reaction been?
Chuck: Good. We’ve actually been playing three – the other one is Down And Out. The reaction’s been great, people have been really grooving to it and like it.
Bobby: The first song that you guys premiered was Back To The Bed on Exclaim TV – how come that one hasn’t made it to the set list yet?
Chuck: That was just one of the earlier songs that was kind of finished on the record. It’s kind of a more mellow song; it’s a little bit later in the album. So we’ve just kind of been playing these ones now, they’re just more fresh.
Bobby: Not counting Consensual Selections in 2010, it’s been seven years since Keep It Going. The four years between Keep It Going and Just One More was quite a long time, why such a long wait this time?
Chuck: Well, we toured on Keep It Going for two years. Then in ’09, we decided we wanted to take a couple years off. We’ve been touring straight for fifteen years, since the band started, and everybody just wanted to do their own thing and be separated from the band for a while. Just to explore other options in life – from school to producing to side projects to family. Just a lot of things that we needed to do.
Bobby: Like you said, you’ve been touring straight for fifteen years. Do you think it’s kind of good to take a step back every once in a while and just refresh?
Chuck: I think it was really, really helpful for the band. I think if we would have tried to just keep going that – I don’t know, we might not be here today. I think refreshing and taking a look back and contemplating your life and where you want to take the direction of the band was really helpful.
Bobby: Probably healthy to get out of the tour van for a little while as well.
Chuck: Yeah, exactly.
Bobby: I know Sascha went to Jamaica to produce a reggae album, and you, Garaham, Todd and Dustin did Ellwood. Do you think having those outlets enabled you to keep the creative juices flowing during the hiatus?
Chuck: Yeah, absolutely. That’s why we did Ellwood. I’m never going to stop writing music, I’m always writing music. So it’s nice to have a different outlet, a different way to get the songs out there.
Bobby: I’ve heard that despite having another Caddies album, you also have plans for another Ellwood album and will be recording in March or April?
Chuck: Correct, I mean that will probably be a little ambitious. Probably this summer we’ll have a chance to get in there and do another Ellwood album. We have another batch of songs ready and it’s just kind of like a labor of love – just for fun.
Bobby: How do you guys differentiate between the bands? Like how do you know that this is going to be an Ellwood song and this is going to be a Caddies song?
Chuck: It’s actually been tough. There’s been a few songs that were originally Caddies and ended up Ellwood and then vice versa, that were originally Ellwood and then used for the Mad Caddies. It’s kind of like what song fits best for the direction we’re going for on the project at the time.
Bobby: It kind of ebbs and flows since it’s all the same guys.
Chuck: Yeah, it’s just kind of how it feels. Like “is that a Ellwood song or is that a Mad Caddies song?” I don’t know, which one is it?
Bobby: Going back to the Caddies – one obvious question I feel I should ask about the new album is the title – what’s it called?
Chuck: It’s called Dirty Rice.
Bobby: Any story behind that name?
Chuck: Not really. We wanted something very simple, we had a bunch of different titles floating around and Keith said Dirty Rice and I think it kind of explains the band. Dirty Rice is just rice where you throw whatever you have around in – so I think it kind of explains the record like that. We’ve thrown a lot of different styles in and it came out Dirty Rice.
Bobby: Which goes with my next question because I’ve only heard the acoustic version of Back To The Bed which is more much slow and reggae influenced tempo wise. So what is this album going to be? More reggage, more ska punk, what?
Chuck: I think it’s more of… I don’t know. I just want to say rock and roll album. There’s a lot of horns but there’s a couple of songs that sound a lot of late seventies. Like Supertramp or Paul McCartney or stuff like that. It was a lot of fun, we didn’t really follow any rules. There’s rock, there’s ska, there’s a couple of hard punk tunes and some reggae. It’s a Mad Caddies record; it’s different than anything we’ve done.
Bobby: Do you think that, once again, having that hiatus where you were able to go out and travel and have a break enabled you to go and bring different flavours to the album?
Chuck: Oh yeah, for sure. And also just having Todd, our old drummer, back because he’s a really great song writer and producer. We got to record the record at his family’s studio, and that was nice being able to record the album at home.
Bobby: That was the same studio you guys recorded your 1996 demo in right?
Chuck: Correct, yes.
Bobby: Was it nice to kind of do this full circle?
Chuck: Yeah, it did feel like this full circle and here we are, back where we started.
Bobby: The album itself was fourteen months in the making. Can you tell us a bit about the process behind it?
Chuck: Well we started with demoing it. We had two different demos. We had what we called the One Mic where we just dropped a microphone in and recorded it live and just listened to that. Then we would actually get into demoing with three or four mics on the drums and tracking it and kind of making it like “okay, that’s almost good enough for an album”. Just so you can really hear it all. We were taking it like five or six songs at a time and we cycled through at least sixty or seventy song ideas to get to the twelve songs for the record over the fourteen months. We had tons, tons of material. It’s going to be fun to kind of go back to the stuff that we liked but we didn’t quite get to finish it or it didn’t get taken to where we wanted to take it. So there’s still a lot of stuff on the back burner for sure.
Bobby: Now, before you guys did go to Todd’s studio, you started recording stuff at Motor Studios in San Francisco – did anything from that make the cut? Or what happened there?
Chuck: No. Well, actually about two of the songs made it from that originally sessions. Transformed, but the ideas are there.
No, that was a very bad idea. We went into Motor to try and write a record and record one; and you just can’t do that. You can’t do that in a month. Whereas with our own studio, we can work reasonable hours where some days you only work a couple hours, some days you work eight hours and sometimes you don’t work for two weeks because you’ve got shit going on. Being able to do it at our pace on our own schedule, I think was very helpful in writing the album.
Bobby: Do you think having that flexibility – having the two hour, eight hour workday – helped you to flesh it out and take the pressure off?
Chuck: Absolutely. I mean it definitely took longer but I think that was a good thing because I think some really good songs came out literally in the last two weeks. Two or three really great songs just kind of popped up out of nowhere like “oh my god, that’s going on the record, that’s just what we were looking for.”
Bobby: Was it different self-producing the record this time?
Chuck: Yeah, like I said, it just takes more time. When you’re spending a lot of money, it’s like “go, go, go,go, go.” I think it’s a different style. If you’re going into a professional studio, all the songs should be completely finished. They should be very well rehearsed and you should be able to go in and record an album in three or four weeks. That’s all it should take. But when you’re writing the record, it takes however long it takes.
Bobby: You gotta try it out. Maybe this note, maybe this note – this chord here or there.
Chuck: Exactly. This song or whatever. There’s tons of songs that we liked at the beginning that are not on the record now.
Bobby: It just falls out of flavour.
Chuck: It falls out of flavour. Like this song is way better than that song. You keep writing and the songs just get better and better. You know more about the songs you’re going for.
Bobby: Now speaking about sound, Todd normally does Japanese commercial jingles in his studio, was it different for him going to record you guys compared to the commercials?
Chuck: No, I mean he does commercials for all kinds of stuff – for television, for movies. He writes full songs. Writes, produces and performs them by himself. Like full band songs. He’ll lay down the drums, he’ll lay down the bass tracks, he’ll lay down the guitars, he’ll sing on them. He actually just played one for us last night that he did like five years ago for this girl he was dating – because he gives them to this song library and they just sit there. Then when people are doing movies or televisions, they go through these libraries and go “oh, I want to use that” and then he finally gets paid for them, five years later. His ex-girlfriend called and was like “that song you wrote for me just came on this movie.”
So yeah, his scope of music is very different. He does everything from hard rock to pop. They’ll be like “we need a song for this” and he’ll record four hard rock songs and then record four pop songs.
Bobby: Which once again helps because, as you said, for this album you went for a lot of different sounds – a dirty rice of sounds.
Chuck: Exactly. And Todd’s recording chops are really up right now because he’s been doing so much recording in his studio. It’s his studio, so he knows how to get the good sounds.
Bobby: Now this album was supposed to be the album release tour as it was supposed to come out on February 4th but then it got delayed. Two questions: One, do you have an official release date yet? And two: why the delay?
Chuck: The delay, life. Shit happens. A lot of personal stuff that I can’t talk about, but shit happens. Family, all kinds of stuff. But I think the first week of May. I’m pretty sure. The album’s mastered, we just approved the artwork. So it’s done.
Bobby: So it just needs to be pressed and then promoted.
Chuck: Yeah. The LPs are going to get pressed this week. The first week of May, whatever the first Tuesday of May is.
Bobby: After this tour you guys are touring with Mrs. Skannatto, who are a new, up and coming ska band. How’d you guys get in touch with them?
Chuck: They were the first band on our Less Than Jake tour that we did last year. They’re really good. Very progressive, and different and interesting. So they asked if they could be support on the tour and we said sure. We always like to bring new bands that people don’t know about and try just help bands out that are just starting out.
Bobby: And their album just came out last summer, so it’s a good time for them.
Chuck: They just sounded a lot different than anything we’ve heard. Very progressive, and new and different.
Bobby: Back in November 2012, you guys re-recorded a new version of Distressed. What made you decide to retackle that song?
Chuck: We just wanted to do something really quick and let people know we were back in the studio. We had been playing that song in Ellwood but we were doing it in the style of Weezer. So just straight power-pop-punk and because of that, we decided we could kind of play that song at any tempo. I always thought that was a really good song and I’ve always hated the version on that record. I can’t even look at that record, I hate my voice on it but I thought that song was good and wanted to revisit it.
Bobby: So how far back in your catalogue can you actually listen to or do you just try and avoid all of it?
Chuck: I just can’t really listen to that record.
Bobby: Is that the one you recorded with Todd?
Chuck: Well we recorded the original demo there, but we recorded the actual album in Santa Barbara, in a studio there.
Bobby: One last question I want to ask you guys is on your rider you always ask for good local beer. Is there any good local beer you’ve discovered lately?
Chuck: That shit is really good, but it’s not from here. Ninkasi Brewery from Eugene, Oregon. We bought it in like Connecticut, but we’d recommend Ninkasi Brewery for anyone who’s a fan of beer. You can get it anywhere – Canada, Oregon, Washington, California now. They do crazy, gnarly, hoppy, IPAs.