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Salad Days Magazine | May 22, 2024

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Downtown Struts interview – original version

Downtown Struts interview – original version
Salad Days

Did you hear how good Downtown Struts’ Victoria is?

It’s warm and fascinating, with a melancholy touch that goes hand in hand with Dan Cooper’s gruff voice. They move with their own dignity and freshness on the Gaslight Anthem/Hot Water Music axis and they soon learnt the art of touring. Catch them live if you have the chance, they might be a nice surprise.

SD: Which is the standard reaction you get talking to random people about your life in a band?
DS: People think that it’s a lot cooler than it is, they think we’re really lucky and it’s really fun, and not that it’s not fun, but it’s a lot more work than I think people assume. I think everyone’s always really surprised and think it’s really awesome, and like I said it’s not that it’s not, but they don’t say “good job!”, they’re like “you’re really lucky!”, and luck has nothing to do it, I’ve been doing it for ten years!

SD: Do people suppose you really have a 100% rock’n'roll lifestyle?
DS: Yeah, which is not true, we leave tomorrow to go home and all I wanna do is go and play with my cats, that’s all I’m gonna do when I get home! We’re a really small band, I’ve been playing music for a very long time but we’re relatively new, we just put out our debut record this year. I would say that 99% of the world do not know who we are, I’m used to it, it’s ok…


SD: You toured with a bunch of the old guys, 7 Seconds, Face To Face, Bouncing Souls… Do you think you actually learnt something from them?
DS: I would say – and it’s kind of a cheesy answer – you got to learn to love what you do to be able to do it as long as they’ve done it. If there’s anything I’ve learned from them is that you gotta have a positive attitude. If you’re grumpy all the time and don’t really like what you do, then you will hate being in a band, and it’s already hard to be in a band. Those people are really dedicated, that’s for sure. I think people might be surprised for how not crazy the rock’n'roll lifestyle is, I think you can live that lifestyle only if you can afford it. For the most part is go to work, you relax, you get your computer, you call your girlfriend, your wife, your parents, you get dinner, relax, take a shower, you play a show, take another shower, maybe you drink a little bit and then you go to bed. It can be very difficult, there’s some nights where you just don’t want to but usually the crowd puts the energy back into you. If the crowd is kind of boring then it’s a lot harder but it’s still your job, no matter what, I’m gonna try as hard as I can, so for that 40 minutes I am young enough to have that energy… When you get older, I think you adapt to what your body lets you do, so you don’t move around too much, you kinda just stay around. When you’re that old, you assume you’re popular enough to have that lot of people, so all the fans do all the jumping, which keeps the excitement. Band like us, if nobody really likes us, we have to do the jumping to make them think that we’re good!

SD: Do you realize if touring makes you a different person than you normally are at home?
DS: Definitely. It’s funny and it’s really bad bad answer, but we’ve talking about it recently, when we’re on tour we can get naked in front of each other, like changing after show, and you don’t care, but at home it’s a totally different story, you go back to your closed mind self, in your private room with your own private bathroom… On tour you get used to be kinda like in wilderness, you also have to be a lot nicer on tour because if you’re not you start to hate each other, you have to go out of your way to be nice to each other. If anything, touring makes you in some twisted way a nicer person whether it’s real or fake, you gotta do it.

SD: In the lyrics you seem to mention a lot of places, there’s a kind of a geographical theme. Do you already know if during this tour you have seen places that will inspire a song in the future?
DS: Actually the first record, Victoria, was about how we were on the road a lot, we were touring a lot, so all those cities that the record is about, they’re true stories, you know, we did all those things. It’s funny because I was working on the new record and I decided it’s gonna be more personal, more about where I live and what I do and how I think. I think the last record was more about where I went and the things that I did. The next record is gonna be less geographical and more internal, I guess, it’s more about what’s in my head than what’s in the world.

SD: Are you a constant writer or do you need to be quiet somewhere?
DS: I definitely need to be home to write. I get ideas, I write down little things but when I get home is when I really work on stuff.

SD: Do you have any untold rules about the composition of your songs?
DS: Definitely not, everything we’ve ever done has evolved in some way as we’re always trying new things. The record that we’ve been working on, the second one, will sound totally different than the last one. Is someone has an idea that is new, I wanna hear it, it’s kinda the opposite actually, the more you can bring to the table, the more valuable you are to me in a song.

SD: Which is your own background in music?
DS: I think my first love was hip-hop, then I moved to punk rock and country, and now it’s more about singers, songwriters, like indie rock, pop and folk, and I think all those influences molded into what we are today cause I think people consider us a punk band but I think the songs are not really that way, I think it’s just the speed and the energy when we play, and my voice is ruff (raw) when I sing but I can’t help it, that’s the way I sing. I think country has the most influence in what I do, which is kinda weird.


SD: Actually I’ve read a bunch of good things about you, and there was just this one review that wondered why you, and the Gaslight Anthem for example, are still put in the punk category for what it’s worth being there. Do you care to have that word used about this band?
DS: I like it when they use it in a good way, I don’t like it when I feel it’s limiting the band. Stereotypes, labels and genres in music exist for a reason, they make t easier for people to classify band, but I’d rather not to be put into a genre cause like I said I just don’t listen to that much of punk rock anymore so it’s hard for me to relate to the bands that we get compared to and I’m sure Gaslight probably thought similar, they wanted to be a big rock band not just a punk band. Sometimes you can feel it limiting, which is kind of unfortunate because when I was growing up punk was so important to me and now it’s almost a negative term. Now the best punk bands are not even that punk anymore, they’re branching out a little bit and I like that. I can’t really say much more without saying bad things about punk which I don’t really wanna do.

SD: Can we drop a couple of names of stuff you liked or still like?
DS: Growing up I was big fan of The Clash, but then while I should have been listening to a lot of punk, I was listening to a lot of country, Hank Williams, Kitty Wells, George Jones, people like them, traditional 50s and 60s country. I really don’t have that many punk influences, the Replacements maybe if you consider them punk, but I like more their latest stuff which is more rock. As far as current punk bands, there are quite a few, there’s a few good ones in Philadelphia, by the way our background isn’t that much in punk as much as people think, I think that record, Victoria, is more punk than we actually are. I just love country music, I love how it sounds, the pedal steel to me is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard in my whole life. I hate even watching movies that are based in the 50s, so it’s just that feel, it makes me feel calm and the world is anything but calm, so that music takes me to a place where I feel like it’s simpler and easier, and that’s very important to me cause our life in the band is very hectic and frantic. So country has always been my outlet, so I turn it on, relax, have some tea…


SD: If you think to your own songs, which is the feeling you’d like people get from them?
DS: That’s a good question… such a good question I don’t really have an answer to it! Honestly, Victoria is Spanish for victory, a lot of people probably think that it’s the name of the woman on the cover but it’s not, it means victory and what I want people to feel while listening to our music is that they still can get that victory I guess. Life is really hard, there’s so many people on this world and they have all these problems, and I can’t do anything for them other than write music, that’s the only thing that I’m semi-good at, and if I can make them feel good about how bad…, they might be in bad place, I wanna be able to take them out of that place for at least 30 minutes, that’s very important to me cause it’s what I want when I listen to music, I don’t like music unless it can take me to a different place in my head. I don’t like music that is just like “oh, this is fun, catchy”, I want it to move me…

SD: Which is the trouble with a bunch of punk rock from the starting point…
DS: Exactly, it’s like they’re anti that, they wanna be simple and just about having fun, and I think that’s my biggest problem with the punk label because I wanna be more important, I guess, I wanna say more important things, not that some punk bands aren’t doing it already but I think the majority of the world who is not familiar with punk, they think that it’s just dumb. There are good punk bands doing great things but the mainstream media, or even our parents, they don’t see it cause all they hear is loud music, that’s not always what is good about it thou.

SD: Can you tell me something about Pirate Press, the label that put out your Lp?
DS: The owner, who is now a great friend of mine, is Eric, he runs Pirate Press and they press vinyl and records for tons of bands and labels, they’re the best at what they do. He decided he wanted to be able to put out his own records, it started only as Pirate Press and then Pirate Press Records. He started just putting out his friends bands cause he enjoys putting out music that he likes and it started getting more serious, they signed Cock Sparrer, they signed us and they do a great job putting out our record and putting us on the road. Out vinyl is spectacular, we wouldn’t have it without him, they do a great job.

SD: I know they did the first vinyl postcard I’ve ever seen!
DS: Yeah, First time I saw that too, I had no idea!

SD: They also did a couple of amazing shaped vinyls (Off With Their Heads, Infa Riot), are you gonna make something similar?
DS: I don’t know, I love the way they look but I think I’m a little bit more traditional. I like doing colors but I like having the circle! It’s too perfect to change for me.

SD: I also really like the cover, the lettering, the imagery, and I was wondering if you have some personal interest that translated into that cover. And if the Mexican Graffiti Street lyrics are also involved…
DS: Mexican thing has just a strong presence in our music just because I am Mexican, my family is as well, and growing up in San Francisco there’s tons of Hispanic, there’s a lot in Chicago too, and it found its way into the imagery, I would always see when taking the bus, walking down the streets, that’s became what I wrote about. The cover of the record is an original piece which is like a mixture between the Statue of Liberty and Virgin Guadalupe, which is like mixing the two worlds, the USA and their minorities. I didn’t do it on purpose but it found its way into the band.

SD: Besides the obvious, could you give me a couple of reasons to visit Chicago, San Francisco and Indiana, which are the places that basically make up your own history?
There’s a lot of cultures in Chicago and San Francisco, which I tried to put in our lyrics. is that they relate to all different kind of people, whether they’re poor people, rich, white, black… I come from a very diverse line of people, I myself am Chinese and Mexican and American. That’s why I relate so much to San Francisco cause there’s so much of that, that’s where I come from. Indiana is just full of really nice people, there’s not a lot to do there to be honest. They’re really nice people, really modest, there’s some really beautiful place, but there’s no big city. They have the Indiana Colts, the Indiana Pacers… If you like good vegan food, nightlife, museums then Chicago is very good along with San Francisco.

SD: As a young band from Chicago, which are the other good young bands from Chicago?
DS: There’s a new band our friends started called The Howl, they’re more an alternative indie rock band, and there’s always the classics, Alkaline Trio, Lawrence Arms, there’s a lot of band there but to be honest we don’t spend too much time there anymore, we’re on the road so much that I don’t have time to think about it, I want to, but I don’t…

SD: Which is your dream tour?
DS: If I could open up for Arcade Fire, I’d love to go on tour with them, I would watch them every night thru the whole set. It’s funny where you’re on tour you can’t watch every band you’re on tour with, it’s so much music, so loud, but Arcade Fire is probably one of the few bands I’d watch the whole set every single night and just be so happy.

(Txt by Marco Capelli x Salad Days Mag – All Rights Reserved)

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