Swingin’ Utters: Back in the Swing of Things

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Everyone in this band is a huge fan of music--not just punk rock, but all kinds of music. -Darius Koski. Swingin' Utters plays Burt's Tiki Lounge on July 23

In the early 90s, a five-piece punk cover band set aside their renditions of Cock Sparrer songs and began dabbling with their own original material. They would go on to create a body of work crucial to the story of American punk rock. Though the Swingin’ Utters haven’t released a studio album since 2003, they’ve released a live album, a b-sides/rarities compilation, and earlier this year a tribute record (Untitled 21: A Juvenile Tribute) was released by Red Scare Industries. With news that the band will be releasing a new 7” entitled Brand New Lungs on June 22, a new album coming this Fall and extensive touring in the near future, I felt the need to get an interview with Utters’ guitarist/multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Darius Koski and to get his thoughts.

SLUG: You guys are gearing up to do a lot of touring, more than you’ve done in a while. What’s it like to get things going again?
Darius: We’re going to do something every month until the end of the year, and more touring in the Spring, but I’ve been dying to do it since we’ve stopped, and with the new record coming out I really wanted to support it.

SLUG: I know you and the other guys have to hold down jobs when the band’s not active. How difficult is that? What kinds of problems arise?
Darius: It’s a giant pain in the ass! Personally for me, I’ve just taken jobs that allow me to tour and, if they don’t, I just quit and I move on. That’s just always been my priority. I’ve had the opportunity to have pretty good jobs. Like, I was butcher for a long time and I could have run my own shop and made a hundred grand a year and this and that, but I don’t want to do that because I couldn’t take time off to tour, so I make less money, but I get to do what I want.

SLUG: Since the last record you’ve added Jack Dalrymple, who played in One Man Army. How did that come about?
Darius: I’ve wanted Jack in this band forever, and he wanted to be in this band, but I knew that taking him away from One Man Army would end that band. I didn’t want to be the guy that stole him away, so I had to let that kind of run its course. He’s such a good guitarist and everything that I think now we sound better live than we ever have.

SLUG
: Now with Jack, everyone in the band can write and sing lead. Does it ever feel like too many cooks in the kitchen?
Darius: No. We go in knowing that Johnny [“Peebucks” Bonnel] is the singer—he doesn’t play guitar or anything—and I usually sing a couple songs, and Jack sings a song on this new record, but if there are 15 songs and Johnny doesn’t sing lead on 5 of them, that just seems like too much. As far as writing, I really want to get Jack’s stuff on the next one. This time he seemed a little shy about it, and [bassist] Spike [Slawson] is really writing some great shit and he’s mostly using it for his other band Re-Volts which is cool, but I want more writers on the next record.

SLUG: Over the years you have incorporated many different genres of music into your brand of punk rock. Where did the inspiration first come from to mix folk or country into what you were already doing?
Darius: Everyone in this band is a huge fan of music—not just punk rock, but all kinds of music. I myself have all sorts of jazz records and Sinatra albums, so bringing those outside influences to our music just came naturally. I guess if I had to pinpoint it, it would come from listening to The Pogues—after listening to them who wouldn’t want to throw accordion into the mix?

SLUG: You guys have become pretty accomplished as musicians. Do you back away from sounding too polished?
Darius: It’s a weird, fine line in the studio, because you can make everything sound so perfect nowadays anyway. It’s not just musicianship—it’s the way you mix things and produce things. We’re not like Rush or anything, and we really don’t worry about it in the way that we play. It’s more in the way that we want our records to sound, and with everything digitally recorded there’s so much editing involved, it’s hard not to be artificial. We don’t worry about it too much.

It’s always astounded me that the Swingin’ Utters have been able to play by their rules all this time. The Swingin’ Utters set out to produce electrifying, inventive, unassuming punk rock, and have not wavered from that aim for the past two decades. Without them, the punk rock landscape wouldn’t be half as inspired and not nearly as fascinating. The Swingin’ Utters will perform at Burt’s Tiki Lounge July 23.

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Everyone in this band is a huge fan of music--not just punk rock, but all kinds of music. -Darius Koski.  Swingin' Utters plays Burt's Tiki Lounge on July 23