Matt Friction and his band, the Pink Spiders, were on the fast track to success just a couple short years ago. They had a major-label deal, with Geffen, and an appearance on MTV’s Total Request Live for their debut single, “Little Razorblade.” Then things went off the tracks a bit. Like an episode of “Behind the Music” that cut short the meteoric rise part to skip ahead to the part where everybody wonders what went wrong, their debut album struggled, Geffen went cold on them and then dropped them altogether, their tour bus burned to the ground, and two of the three founding members quit the band. Read this article in Nashville Scene to get yourself up to speed.
Now, Friction has reassembled a new edition of the Pink Spiders, and they’re touring to support their sophomore effort, Sweat It Out, released last week on Adrenaline. They’ve got their mojo back, and they’re ready to turn audiences on to their brand of swaggering garage rock. The Pink Spiders are playing at the Independent Media Center in Urbana tonight at 6 p.m. JigGsaw, Trash City Rockers and The Signal open, and tickets are $10 for the all-ages show.
Click the jump to read an interview with Friction.
Smile Politely: I can’t say I’m super-familiar with the Pink Spiders. I read that long article in Nashville Scene. Is that, in your opinion, a pretty accurate depiction of how things have been going?
Matt Friction: Yeah, a lot of specifics were editorially fuzzed, but the history of the band is accurate for the most part, minus a few small details here and there.
SP: Yeah, there was definitely some local flavor in there. I don’t know how Nashville operates, but there’s a lot of political crap that goes on even in a small city like Champaign, so I can understand how that could happen.
MF: Yeah, Nashville’s pretty political, for sure.
SP: Is there a release date scheduled for your new album, then?
MF: Yeah, it’s this Tuesday (which would have been last Tuesday, September 23).
SP: Long time coming, huh?
MF: Yeah, we finished our mixes and masters last November, and we’ve spent the whole summer on it. It’s just been a long time coming, a lot of red tape with the label to get it back and we finally did, so we pretty much fast-tracked everything once we did to get it out as soon as possible. We got that worked out a couple of months ago.
SP: Cool. Did you significantly rework some of the songs, or were you happy with the mix that they had on the masters?
MF: Yeah, well, the label wasn’t really involved with making the record; Brendan O’Brien produced and mixed it, so the version that we had with him, that we originally delivered was great, so we just used the same one.
SP: So, has the guy that made I Am Trying to Break Your Heart contacted you to make a similar movie out of your experiences with this record?
MF: That’s funny, we had talked about doing a documentary, to be released with this album, and we had everything worked out in that regard and we were going to have Brendan O’Brien and all those people talk on it, but then with all the major-label shit that we went through, and with the guys leaving the band, other priorities kind of shifted and I had a lot of other things to work on.
SP: Yeah, I can see where that would take precedence. How’s the new lineup working out?
MF: It’s great, so far. It’s guys I’ve known my whole life, in Nashville, they’re fans of the band, so it’s a pretty seamless transition. They came over to my house a couple of times for rehearsal and then we hit the road, so the new lineup’s probably played 60 or so shows already all summer and on the Warped Tour, so we’ve pretty much made the transition at this point and it’s pretty solid.
SP: As far as influences go, who are some of the bands that you try to emulate or bands that you liked growing up?
MF: Definitely a lot of Elvis Costello and Cheap Trick, Queen, Beatles and Stones, of course, the Who, the Clash, a pretty big melting pot, I guess.
SP: Is there anyone that the Pink Spiders get compared to that really rubs you the wrong way?
MF: We get Weezer sometimes, which, Weezer’s a band that I’ve loved a lot since their first two releases, but I don’t really hear the comparison. I know they dug out some ‘50s and ‘60s stuff like Buddy Holly that we’re into as well, but there are bands that, when I’m writing a song, I can kind of tell where it’s coming from, and they’re not one of those bands. And I think, attitude-wise, we’re the antithesis of Weezer.
SP: What is being on Adrenaline like compared to Geffen?
MF: Well, with Geffen I would have to be pulling in on the reins, checking in with people and making sure they were doing their jobs where Adrenaline is keeping me busy. I’m on tour and doing most of the legwork. It’s pretty easy now, most of what I do is answer the phone and talk about myself for a half an hour, and I don’t mind doing that at all. It was more frustrating before, where we were trying to do shows and making sure stuff was posted on your website and stuff. Adrenaline is just a common-sense approach. They’ve scooped up some bands that were lost in the shuffle at major labels, so there’s a really strong work ethic, or a really smart work ethic, I think even more importantly. Working smart instead of working hard, they’re spending money where they should rather than throwing it down the tubes. That’s the main difference of where we are now rather than where we were before.
SP: Well that sounds like a lot better deal for you guys.
MF: Yeah, much better.
SP: So, tell me about this whole school-bus-catching-on-fire situation?
MF: We were in the middle of a two-month tour earlier this year with a band called the Horror Posters, and the tour stopped in Nashville about halfway through. So, while we were home, we had our van that we’d toured in for years and years and years and pretty much ran into the ground. We decided while we were home for a day that we’d go buy a short school bus and convert it into a tour bus. So, we bought it, and we took it about an hour outside of Nashville, and the fuel line caught on fire and it exploded and burned to the ground. In hindsight, it was not a wise investment.
SP: Well, at least you got to say you got to ride the short bus for an hour anyway. Did you lose a lot of equipment?
MF: The equipment was in the trailer, which was steel-reinforced, so it got a little singed and some of the gear smelled like barbecue for a few days, but it was just personal, like cell phones, glasses, laptops, hard drives, that kind of stuff.
SP: So was that just kind of the icing on the cake after all the crap that you guys had been through up to that point?
MF: It would normally have been pretty easy to just brush off, but the timing of it made it a little bit worse. Because we’re already in this us-against-the-world mentality, and I think it may have worn on Bob and Jon more than me, because I was busy trying to work out all this stuff with the release and for them, they were a little bit in the dark about what was going on and it just seemed like a bunch of bad news all at once.
SP: Well, let’s just focus on the future, then. Did you guys come through C-U on any of your previous tours (ed. note: way to focus on the future, jackass)?
MF: I don’t think so. If I’m wrong, I’m going to sound like an asshole, but I don’t think so.
SP: That’s fine, not setting you up for anything there. My journalistic credibility is on the line here, literally weeks worth of work could go right down the drain. The venue you guys are playing in is an old post office, and it’s a really cool place to see shows, and I was just curious how much information you’re given about where you’re going to play before you get here?
MF: When we have a tour as long as this, ten weeks, we just get a schedule with days and cities and addresses, so a lot of places we’ve been before we know what to expect, and a lot of places we haven’t been before, we just get there and figure it out. An old post office sounds cool. I like unusual venues. We’ve played a lot of unusual places.
SP: What would you say is the most unusual?
MF: Center field at Dodger Stadium was pretty wild, or old bowling alleys where people would be bowling around us as we played. We played somewhere in Illinois, I think, where we were overlooking this military, aircraft-carrier kind of thing.
SP: Yeah, that would be cool. So, it sounded like you guys were making do on $3 a day when you were starting out in that article? Are you able to eat decent when you’re out on the road now?
MF: Yeah, we’re pretty well taken care of. I think that the money issues with the band were definitely pretty blown out of proportion. Nobody’s starving in this band, nobody was starving in the band, and we were definitely well compensated for our time on the major label. At this point, we have guarantees, we have a hotel room, we have catering. We don’t have a crew, we’re loading our own gear, which is what bands do, I don’t really think twice about it, that’s what’s done when you’re an independent touring band.
SP: Do you get many teeny-bopper fans out at your shows now that you’re not being marketed that way?
MF: Yeah, there’s a really weird cross-sectionalization of fans, like the younger kids, some college kids, and some punk-rockers, it’s a big melting pot at shows.
SP: Did you have anything you wanted to add for posterity or anything you wanted to warn the people of C-U about the Pink Spiders?
MF: Just come on out, and get ready to have a good time, it’s going to be a fun show and energetic.