Setting their sites on rock ’n’ roll glory, Chicago trio Lollygagger has accomplished something very few of their peers have every attempted: creating a full length video record to accompany their self titled full length debut. On a Sunday evening in early fall we caught up with the three vets of the local scene, who fate brought together to create their unique genre blend, at Logan Arcade for a stimulating conversation that ran a gamut of topics. Before we hit the pinball and cabinets (and two dollar off cans) ending with the three of them thoroughly trouncing me in NFL Blitz, we had a lively talk covering everything from the early days as The Peekaboos; to one wild time in Dubois, PA; to the state of punk and politics in rock music. A truly revealing and riveting discussion.
Instantly likeable, Matthew Muffin (vocals/guitar) is as dynamic as any artist out there, while bassist Kinsey Ring is the perfect quick witted foil, and Michael Sunnycide (drums) holds the project together, on stage and off. Chicago is about to get a big dose of Lollygagger action as the heavy hitting trio prepare to premiere their brand new Video Album this week at the Logan Arcade (this Thursday at 8PM), which has its public release on October 17th, while their debut full length Lollygagger hits streaming on the 18th. All setting up the main event: the Record Release Party at Liar’s Club on the 19th.
This stimulating conversation just couldn’t be contained in a short interview so here’s a whole slew of topics we hit over the course of the forty minutes, along with a few glimpses of the Lollygagger Family Fun Variety Hour that have already hit the airwaves.
MM : Matthew Muffin
MS : Michael Sunnycide
KR : Kinsey Ring
CCS: You started as the Peekaboos right?
MM: Mike and I played in another band called The Earth Program ten years ago. We left and formed Peekaboos and had lots of different members over the years. And when Kinsey joined the band he was such a different player style and energy wise that we thought it was kind of a new band. We still play some Peekaboos material that Mike and I had written…
KR: Except it’s much faster now, and some of the bass is playing a counter melody. I’m playing both a bass and lead instrument at the same time.
MM: Made it so we didn’t need a lead guitarist, the Peekaboos had always been a two guitar band, but we decided with Kinsey’s style that a trio was enough.
KR: I feel lucky enough to be able to be that busy to make it work.
MM: And we can both turn up real loud and find expansive ranges.
CCS: So after Lollygagger came to be, you guys jumped right on the circuit?
MS: We put out Life On Terminus, our first EP, right away and immediately went on tour. After being a band for a month.
KR: I’ve only been in the band for a year and change.
MM: I had known Kinsey for a little bit before.
KR: Matt currently plays a guitar I sold him outside of this project ever being mentioned. It was meant to be.
MM: We’re both into vintage games, and when I went over to buy the guitar he was all: “Let me show you my vintage game room,” and I went in and was just, “Fuuuuckkkkk. This is cool as shit man!”
KR: I take back what I said earlier, we are nerds. I mean, we are having this conversation in Logan Arcade.
CCS: So you’re first record was put out by Midwest Action but this one is self released with presentation by DZ Records and The Hive?
MM: We’re on the hunt for a substantial label, if anyone likes the stuff, we’re looking! DZ Records did three of the live sessions on the album, The Hive in upstate Illinois did two of the songs, and we put together all of the skits and traditional music videos. The Hive help a lot on “AC Ripple,” they pretty much did all of it. It’s called The Hive because there is a literal beehive behind it.
MS: Then we recorded a couple songs with Brian Fox at Altered States. So it’s really an amalgamation of everything we’ve been doing over the past year.
MM: It’s Lollygagger 1. Mike and I both like The Bronx and they have Bronx 1 thru 5 and so we made this a library of what we’ve been doing so far, instead of having a concept it’s just a collection of songs that we figured out how to tie together. But we couldn’t have done it without The Hive or DZ, they’ve been a huge help.
MS: While going into the studio was good to round out the newer songs, it was really important for us to have a live component to it. Because when people would listen to our first EP and then see us live they would be “Holy shit, that’s totally different.” There’s a certain energy that you get when you play it live in a room.
MM: The only overdubs we did in the studio tracks were the vocals and I think two of the three were first takes. We just wanted it to sound the way we are.
KR: What really drove that home was: we were out on tour; and a group of people wearing our shirts, from the last tour, which was already a mind fuck, said “We love what you guys are doing, but you don’t sound anything like this” and they held up the Life On Terminus CD and said, “I wanna hear you guys in my car, but how you sound now.”
MM: Yeah, that’s what the new album is all about.
KR: Not to say that didn’t click before but that was the way it was really driven home.
MM: Life On Terminus was all home recorded.
KR: It was recorded in our practice space.
MM: It was essentially a demo.
KR: I think there's only one left and it’s in the vending machine at The Owl. (all laugh)
MM: We’ve already sold half the run of our new album on this last tour. It’s not even out yet.
CCS: So you sold your new album on tour already?
MS: We kinda tend to do things backwards. Most bands would release an album and then go on tour. We go on tour and say “Hey, you want this under the table” and then we’ll come back and have a release.
KR: And the set we toured was the album, so we can say “This is quite literally what you just heard.”
MM: As an added bonus they now get a whole video album coming out. And that’s just free, we’re just putting that out there for everybody.
CCS: Why a video album? Not a lot of people do that anymore. Not a lot of people even do single videos anymore.
KR: Exactly, that’s one of the reasons to do it right there.
MM: One of the reasons not to is it’s a shit ton of work.
KR: We very well could have focused on playing a ton of festivals this summer, but we focused on the video album and now we have a half hour of material to show for it. And no one I know or run into can say that.
MS: It’s to showcase who we are as people too, not just a band. Matt’s onstage banter has turned into a tight five minute standup between tunes, and that’s what went into the skits.
MM: I always liked the Outkast skits, early on they were rough, but as it went on they got really funny and tight; and it breaks up the album in a weird way that works. Music has always been about your voice and cadence; and no matter what you’re really saying, you can learn a lot from how they say it and how they sound when they say it. But to have that extra bit of personality, a lot of times you can get that from a show, banter and what not, but in the online world you can listen to someone on bandcamp but not really know who they are. We want people to smoke a bowl and sit around and watch it together. Don’t watch it by yourself.
KR: An easy transition for me is a lot of what we do on stage isn’t for us to stand there and wag our dicks at you, we’re here to entertain you. I don’t care what you take away from it as long as you walk away from it feeling happy.
MM: To feel alive for a night.
KR: I don’t want you to be bored, that’s why our set is not too long. There should be no smoke break in our set. It’s just gotta be an assault of action and music.
MM: I don’t even like people clapping. As soon as the song is over I’ll just start bantering a half second later and people will just stare.
KR: It’s always to tuning too, so you’re attention is split. And I’ll hear some stuff sometimes that is exponentially funnier because I know you’re tuning at the same time.
MM: It’s like I always have to have two eyes. One looking down and one at the crowd.
KR: Like watching someone drunkenly smash Lego pieces together while they’re tuning a guitar, but you know those pieces don’t fit, you know they’re broken.
MS: In terms of the Lollygagger Family Fun Hour, that’s only a half hour, but whatever; we thought what could we do that is fun and will push ourselves. And as we started doing these live sessions with DZ and The Hive, that’s half an album right there, and if we could do a couple more videos and some skits we’ll really have something. And Matt edited it all…
MM: It took forever man.
MS: It was a new challenge, to do something that we haven’t seen before.
MM: Also served as proof of concept. I want to continue to do video albums. This was a “how do you do this feasibly as a band that doesn’t have multi-million dollar sponsors.”
MS: He mixed the first EP and now he edited the first video album. Lots of hands in many pots.
MM: All the audio and video recordings, all the costumes, everything, was between six and eight hundred bucks. So we were doing it on the tightest budget. Hannah, Mike’s fiance, got us some free costumes.
KR: There are no other circumstances where I would have dressed up as a ketchup bottle. I can think of one other one…
MM: But it’s not appropriate for the public. NSFW. When I squirt, i squirt, that’s all I’m trying to say.
CCS: How long did it take you to put on the green makeup for Mayor McGhoul?
MM: Around two hours, our friend Angela Mishler came out to do it. She does makeup for television. I was looking around and just wanted to do something with monster make-up.
KR: She made you look like a Fox anchor.
MM: Right! We had this idea for a politician: what’s the worst thing a politician could say, and all the jokes are things real politicians have said or done. J.B. Pritzker got caught bad mouthing minorities on secret tape, there was an Austrialian candidate who put out a twitter forum where he said “it wasn’t technically kidnapping.” It’s all real shit, that’s the world. Absurd.
Humor vs. Politics
CCS: And that leads into your masterful balance of sense of humor and political protest.
MM: It’s the only way to stay alive. You can’t be too serious about it.
KR: The time to be “ra ra politics!” as a band has passed. Now you have to have some kind of equalizer. Because if we get up there, it would be really easy in Chicago or with our friends to be “ra ra fuck Trump,” cause this is a think tank we live in, and those chamber walls are mighty thick, they produce a lot of echo.
MM: You can’t have that mindless energy of “I don’t like this cause it’s bad.” You need to understand it from a realistic viewpoint and comedy is a good way to make fun of yourself as well.
KR: It’s just an easy way out, and we can’t get up there everywhere we play and say “fuck Trump.”
MM: Cause we play in Ohio a lot.
CCS: and Indiana.
MM: And Indiana. We get a lot of people coming up to us after shows in these places and they’re like “Oh I love you guy’s set but that Black Lives Matter is a bunch of bullshit right?” Cause they don’t know, from what we’re saying and, we’re three white dudes in a rock n’ roll band which has been traditionally very Ted Nugenty; but we’ll talk to them afterwards and having that human personability to be like “no we don’t agree with you, but now that you see us as human beings lets talk about it.” We can explain to them: no it’s not bullshit and here is why. We’re not coming from a point of aggression but a point of understanding. If someone comes up to us and is a neo-nazi we might beat the shit out of you . . . but there are poles and there are extremes, and understanding and conversation. Because we don’t always agree with everyone on the radical left and we definitely don’t agree with anyone on the radical right. We see a lack of sensibility and pragmatism in world politics, and a lot of those things are the opposite of absurd comedy but absurd comedy is the window to it. If you see yourself in a light that is realistic you’ll see the realistic paths toward solutions. Monty Python was great at it, Mr. Show was probably the best at it. We all love comedy, before I was in music I did comedy, and now I do both.
CCS: You mentioned you and Mike did a lot of the Peekaboo writing? How does the writing work in Lollygagger?
MM: Usually Kinsey brings in a riff and is all I wrote this: “du du dood da du du da” (making fast movements with hands on air guitar); and I’ll take that home and work on it, and dumb it down for myself, making a song out of it. Kinsey smelts this bad-ass material and then we shape it as a band, and Mike sticks it together and makes sure its all coherent. After we have the music, sometimes months later, cause I’m lazy, the lyrics will come by, but sometimes it takes awhile because I want something I feel. The sentiment has to be there to match the music that’s already present. We have about half a new record ready to go. Well not ready, but we’ve been working on it. Like on “Mighty Methuselah,” Kinsey comes in and is all “du da du da da, du du da du da” and I have to say “Ok, we’ll do that, and then we’ll slow it down and get quiet” and it all comes from that one riff he brings in.
KR: It’s always you saying: “I gotta learn it” and it’s always me with “No we’re not slowing it down.”
MM: Oh my god man, it’s always so fast and complicated. I’ve been a rhythm guitarist my whole life and now, to play these intermittent leads, I can hold my own but it’s definitely a learning process for me.
Balancing work and play
CCS: You all hold down day jobs to help pay the bills?
KR: I work for Chicago Music Exchange, at their warehouse.
MM: I’m at Shake Shop repairing amps. If you’ve got a broken amp, bring it to Shake Shop I’ll mod the shit out of it for you.
MS: I do property inspections for people that are buying and selling real estate.
CCS: So when you go on tour, it sounds like you may be set to be able to take off a bit?
MM: The guy I work for, Tom, is in Negative Scanner. So he goes on tour, I cover, and when I go he covers. He owns the shop, so he’s got way more responsibilities than me, so it’s easier for me to duck out. But he’s been a big help and support for me.
KR: Everyone at the warehouse understands, we all play music, we all have shows and go on tour. To work somewhere like Chicago Music Exchange, with a tight group of people, and not get that would be ludicrous. Time is allotted, and we make things work. We all have each others backs all the time.
MS: I have an independent contracting job, so you work when you work and you take off when you need to. I just find a way to eat and do the thing I love.
KR: A big shout out to Brian and Aaron, I couldn’t do this without their help.
CCS: Out there, on the road, would you say that in your experience punk rock is dead? That’s the sentiment in the general scene, but what’s it like in smaller market venues?
KR: The appeal with us is we’re not really punk rock.
MM: Punk rock in ethics maybe.
KR: I’ve never played in a group that appeals to fucking everybody, it’s wild. I don’t know if that comes from our varied interests or what. Sometimes the set is funnier than others, and that resonates; but Matt turns it on and knows how to read a crowd. And the crowd work after the show is where Mike comes in.
MM:Walking around with his ball gag selling merch.
KR: Mike knows how to do it!
MM: As far as punk being dead, I always think of that Hard Times article “Local Punk Insists the Scene Died Exactly When He Stopped Going To Shows.” Music is an entity that people engage with but it’s also an industry that people sell and buy, and punk as an industry is pretty dead. You talk about 1996 revival punk bands, those are the punk bands, and there’s a few metal and hardcore bands; but you talk about new punk bands? I mean there’s Masked Intruder, they’re still on the old ‘96 labels. They’re good, but they have their gimmick that they have to rely on and it’s what propels them.
MS: I don’t have a gimmick. I am gimmick free.
MM: Stick a gag in it Mike! (all laugh)
KR: As the ball gag falls out of the pocket...
MM: It’s a matter of time and energy. Things come and go in waves. I’m a huge fan of Ween, Kinsey hates Ween.
KR: Fuck Ween.
MM: I always respected them because they never changed themselves into something industrially relevant, they were true to themselves.
KR: I give props to Ween. We listen to them at work sometimes, it’s not up to me. Those dudes are hyper self aware and I totally get why you like them.
MM: They’ve always done what they wanted to do, and eventually that resonated with enough people that they gained a following. Instead of just doing what's popular, a consumer product that you can give out to people, that you know will sell. Ween make the weirdest fucking shit, and over time enough weirdos appreciated it that it grew into a collective, it’s own little family. I would rather be one of those bands than one that came along at the right time. We could write garage songs and be popular and get into what people are doing.
KR: I have a problem with bands stomping their foot, unless it’s clearly what they are, saying “THIS IS WHAT WE ARE!” I love that we are able, over a half hour set, to play four or five different genres and it works.
MM: We’ve got country songs coming up on the next album.
KR: And it’s not forced, the way it’s structured, it goes from an introductory place to a big wacky high energy note. Like a roller-coaster that never drops, like if the Space Needle had no top.
MM: It’s almost like a comedy act: you start with the small gags and then everything gets tied together at the end.
KR: We will latch on to a person.
MM: I pick the dourest person in the room and try to make them laugh the whole time. And if I get them to crack a smile I’m a happy man.
MS: And in terms of the scene we’re un-scene. The people who want to go out and find new music are going to do that. The people who want to play in bands are going to do it. People who want to cultivate a scene are gonna do it. It’s a matter of we’ve gone to some huge places and it’s been “meh” and we’ve gone to some middle of nowhere places and it’s been “Holy Shit, thank you for coming here!”
KR: In DuBois, Pennsylvania, at the Highland House, at the end of our set the cops came and they knocked on the door and all the kids screamed “Let them finish! This is their last song!” The Cop flashed us the metal horns and sat in his car while we finished. We went back this year and got a hero's welcome. There were kids hanging out of windows, screaming, yelling at the van. They would come up to us and say “we watched all your videos, we can’t wait for you guys to play, we’re super stoked!” And for that to happen in the foothills of Pennsylvania was wild. To see that… it leaves me with no room for the weird stuffiness that takes place here. It makes you realize it’s not the music it’s the people. A hundred percent. I’m not here to put down anybody, but if you’re going out to see music can you please just enjoy the band. That’s always the joke: “Hey, look at that guy looking all bored and shit.”
MS: People just take themselves too seriously. You know, the Chicago arms crossed...
MM & MS: Head Bob!
MS: That’s fine, if you are concentrating on watching the band, sure. But if you’re there to posture...
KR: I guess people do express themselves differently, I shouldn’t be so critical.
MM: That being said, it may be why its more fun to play in a smaller town. I grew up in a small town and when a band came to see us; it didn’t matter who it was, we’d go out to see it cause it was Friday night. It was the 90’s, so it would be some ska band from Chicago coming to the Suburbs and everybody would be dancing, having the time of their life, and you’d go see them in Chicago and no one’s dancing; it’s just “I’ve been to sooo many shows…”
KR: Now everyone is on their phones. The phone thing drives me nuts. I’m not super integrated.
MM: Kinsey’s trying to de-cyborg himself. He got off Facebook.
KR: I have a choice and I don’t want to be a part of that shit.
CCS: Anything else you got?
KR: All you bass players out there, don’t be afraid of using a pick and stainless steel strings. I’m serious about that.
MM: Other people who play guitar, I got two amps now, that I use simultaneously! Lets fight!