“Choice”: An Interview with Crazy Bag Lady

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When I think of a hunk, the one and only Patrick Swayze comes to mind. Swayze is the hunk for me because of his versatility. How many hunks can hold their own in a comedic dance-off with Chris Farley? How many have the sensitivity and muscles to melt the heart of Jennifer Grey?

That’s right – only Swayze. And, as it turns out (and as the interview you’re about to read attests), Crazy Bag Lady find Swayze as hunky as I do.

But seriously…

The Savannah quartet – consisting of Derek Lynch on guitar, Josh Sterno on vocals, Daniel Lynch on drums, and Zak Barnum on bass – play short, melodic, and catchy punk songs that pack a punchy power rare to today’s music scene (I’m reminded of Ramones, Minutemen, and Black Flag). And their superb lyrics are just as memorable as their music, their casualness leading to some terrifically funny moments.

Crazy Bag Lady’s album Hunks (which is available now on Retro Futurist Records) captures the band’s aesthetic to perfection. Hooky, infectious, and, above all, fun, it’s the kind of record you’ll play over and over again.

Please read what Josh and Daniel have to say about it – and stay tuned for our review on Monday, May 18.

SEM: Thanks for talking to us today, Josh and Daniel. Please describe the beginning of the Crazy Bag Lady story. When did you guys meet and why did you start playing together?

JS: I’ve been friends with Daniel since middle school, and we had been playing in bands for years. Derek and Daniel are brothers, and he [Derek] had his own band that we played around town with during the same time.

DL: Derek and I had been wanting to start a project of some sort for a while. Josh was in a band with him that ended in 2012, and once we all had nothing going on, it just sorta made sense. We all worked with and knew Zak, so once we had messed around with a few sounds, he fit right in on bass.

SEM: When did you meet Phil Cope and Laura Pleasants from Kylesa?

JS: We had met them through various shows, but we really started hanging out when Chase Rudeseal [our original second guitarist and long time friend] moved to play bass with Kylesa.

DL: He pushed for Phil and Laura to check it out, and once they had heard a few songs, they started looking to catch a show from us.

 

SEM: Under what circumstances did they sign you to Retro Futurist?

JS: They wanted to scope it out live, and they conveniently caught us at the Dollhouse for Graveface Fest, where Kylesa was headlining. I knew it would be a good show for us, so we made it a goal to have the best performance of the show. I was pleased with how the night ended.

DL: It was a stacked bill and a killer show: a really proper setting for us, and for them I guess! I barely pay attention to anything live, but Josh ended up doing half the set hanging 15 feet from the rafters, climbing from the roof of the indoor studio there. They contacted us a few days later about cutting a record.

SEM: What did Phil bring to your sound as a producer and engineer?

JS: Phil definitely brought his years of experience to our sound, which was pretty noisy at the time. I’ve never heard myself quite like how we put it down at the Jam Room. I had lost my voice a week before, and he coached me through it. Really showed how great he is at producing, as well as being an engineer.

DL: For our debut, the clear cut that shines on Hunks is a big surprise to us. Phil really makes magic happen, even when it’s unexpected. You play songs so many times over, and you think you know them like the back of your hand. Phil comes in and exposes the underbelly.

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SEM: What was the most inspiring thing about working at the Jam Room?

JS: Recording in the same studio that has so much history in not only amazing acts from the Columbia-Savannah underground, but a lot of great national stuff as well. That really got me excited from the time we got there. Of course Lemmy kept us motivated every time we had to use the old john.

DL: Being around great minds the whole time was huge as well. Jay [Matheson], Zac [Thomas], and Phil all have a unique work flow that is as intense as it is productive. They really make sense of molding an album. Staying artistic but treating it like business as usual.

SEM: How would you describe Crazy Bag Lady’s live show?

JS: Like Hell in a Cell 1998 with the Undertaker and Mankind.

DL: Choice.

SEM: Josh, please describe what you wear on stage and what inspires it.

JS: Modern Swayze. If Swayze was in Hell in a Cell 1998 with the Undertaker and Mankind.

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SEM: How did you guys come up with the band name?

JS: Gucci, Armani, Michael Koors, Kate Spade, you name it. My girlfriend loves handbags. She can’t get enough of them. I came up with the name on a whim talking to her one night back in 2012

DL: I was in a really big Erykah Badu kick back in ’12. I really love all of her stuff. I walked in on Derek and Zak listening to her hit single “Bag Lady,” and I said, “Whoa there! Crazy! Bag Lady? I was just listening to that on cassette in my ’88 Chevy S10.” Needless to say, it stuck.

SEM: What about the album name, Hunks? It’s terrific.

JS: I’m a huge wrestling fan and once the name Hunks hit the table, I was sold.

DL: We’re all really big into hunky action movies too. Pretty much all we watched in the studio was Pumping Iron and Bloodsport.

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SEM: Who handled the cover art for the album and what do you want to convey with it?

JS: Our good friends Clayton Walsh, Gordan Rabut, and Lomaho Kretzmann form the SAV art collective Fist City, and they did the artwork. We trusted them with representing us well with a classic album cover. Nothing too serious, nothing too goofy, but something that worked well with the sound.

DL: I got together with those guys to show them the record. They really dug it, so we got down to talking. This was the first project where they all collaborated and being big fans of their work, we were super excited. I said to them, “Hunks, nothing but Hunks….on the Beach,” and they ran with it.

SEM: Most of your songs clock in at two minutes or fewer. Were you inspired by bands any specific metal or punk bands to keep things short and sweet?

JS: Honestly, no one in particular.

DL: We’ve always just been fond of the idea of short, fast songs when it comes to the bulk of our music.

SEM: I’m also reminded of Ramones. Are you a fan of Joey, Josh? You seem to be channeling him on many of the songs. This is really apparent on “Fan of Yours.” Is this an homage?

JS: Of course I’m a fan of Joey! Not an homage per se, but I can see where it could be taken that way. It’s actually a love song, which a lot of Ramones songs seem to be as well.

 

SEM: What role does humor play in your songs and Crazy Bag Lady’s aesthetic? I’m thinking about “Fresh Fruit” and “Sexy Bully” in particular?

JS: I think the humor is unintentional firsthand. We like to have a certain playfulness with the lyrics and the sound. “Fresh Fruit” is a good example of that. We decided on the repetition of “I want it” over a something wordy. People have really taken to it!

DL: Josh and I write the lyrics, and we decided at the beginning to not be very upfront or too serious when it came to subject matter. The casual nature of the writing allows for it to come off as humorous, but you can also dig and find your own personal connections with the songs.

SEM: How did you guys develop the lyrics for “Swatter”? Would you choose some of your favorite lines? The track is like a combination of KISS’s “Strutter” and Black Flag’s “TV Party”!

JS: I’m not familiar with that KISS song, but I love “TV Party.” I particularly like the second verse, “dropped dead right in front of my face / I could wait for the pace / put your bet on a simple race / so it’s safe to end up in / I never meant it to complicate.” That’s a good take on the playfulness in the lyrics I had mentioned before.

DL: That song is really just about a mosquito that doesn’t want to be a mosquito. I’m big into the way it kicks off with “I don’t wanna fly.”

 

SEM: “Late Loves” is a masterpiece of black comedy. Can you guys think of any other bands that use black humor in quite the same way that Crazy Bag Lady does?

JS: All that comes to mind is the way a lot of 90s’ rock bands wrote their songs and lyrics. No one in particular really, but what we ended up with was very reminiscent of that disposable feeling you get from that era of music.

DL: Very vague, with no huge purpose. Eat it, shit it out, whatever. “Happiness” on record.

SEM: Let’s talk about Derek as a guitarist. How did you guys react when you first heard the highly creative riffs on songs like “Mobile Phone,” “Drunk Leaf,” and “Sexy Bully”?

JS: I’m always pumped on what Derek comes up with. He has his own unique style that is undeniably Crazy Bag Lady.

DL: I’ve always known Derek to be an extremely original guitarist, but he always seems to surprise me. He can take the most simple riff or structure and transform it into a banger.

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SEM: What about Zak as a bassist? His playing on songs like “Timehead” really stands out. What does he contribute to the band?

JS: He’s exactly what we were looking for in a bassist. To the point, simple and solid. On top of that, he’s an all around great person to be around, and just as eager as we are to do this. Love that dude

DL: When we were originally looking for a bassist, it seemed like an easy fit to get Zak, who was our good friend and had a great knowledge for music and playing the guitar. Once he settled in, he single handedly formulated the low end that you hear on Hunks. That is obvious especially on tracks like “Intention.”

SEM: Daniel, the songs that start off with your isolated drums are really cool. Would you please talk about “Walkmen” and “Appetite”? Why did you guys decide to begin these tracks with just you?

DL: “Walkmen” came together as an opener for a set we had started playing, so the drum intro was more of a nicety. Once we had gone into the studio, I didn’t give it a second thought actually! “Appetite” is a similar story, where we had started playing that song right after “Intention.” Snare drum is the last thing you hear at the end of that track, so they sequenced well together.

SEM: Another question for Daniel. “Walkmen” opens the album. Do you have any favorite albums that begin with just drums?

DL: Beat Happening’s self-titled release is a burner, one of my all-time favorite records. “Our Secret” is also my favorite song from that whole album. Come to think of it, I think I just ripped them off.

 

SEM: “Migraine Symptoms” is the most surprising song in the set. It’s the closest thing to straight-up metal on the record, and it’s also your longest song. How did it come into being and why is it sequenced as the 10th song?

JS: We wanted to split the record in half with that song, with a good poppy to heavy ratio. I can’t say for sure with the sound, but it was really just our attempt at writing a slow song.

DL: It ended up being a favorite with a lot of people, and with the length of that song and the length of our usual sets, it’s a rare song to catch.

SEM: Let’s talk about “Out of the Way.” It’s a very catchy piece of pop punk – very melodic. I wanted to ask Daniel about the drum riff. You don’t play the song straight. What am I hearing in the drum track that’s so creative?

DL: When Derek showed me that song, I noticed how straightforward the guitar was, so I really wanted to add a little swing to it. It starts the way it came off to me initially, and gradually I add a few grooves in here and there to achieve that swing.

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SEM: What are the plans for playing Hunks live?

JS: Play it for as many people as we can! Watch as much Hell in a Cell 1998 with the Undertaker and Mankind.

DL: The bulk of the album are minute long songs, so I don’t think we’ll have trouble keeping these songs in rotation alongside new material.

SEM: Finally, who’s the biggest hunk in the band?

JS: Well, we’re all Hunks but Zak is the tallest person in the band, so he’s the biggest hunk.

DL: Me, duh.

All images provided by Tom Cartmel and Hissing Lawns