Atlanta, Georgia to Los Angeles, CA punks illiterates join us at Hollywood’s Enigma Coffee to chat about their debut album Makeout Mountain, running their music publicity and media service agency Baby Robot Media, and keeping up with the never-ending changes of the modern music industry as both personally and professionally.
illiterates is comprised of:
Steve Albertson – vocals
Steve LaBate – guitar
Jesse Cole – bass
Ryan Sloan – drums
So from the anticipation of your debut LP, Makeout Mountain, you have its lead single as “Svengali.” What inspired the song musically and lyrically, and why did you choose it to be the lead single?
Steve LaBate: Yeah! So that one, we recorded ourselves. Us and the other guys in the band, Ryan Sloan and Jesse Cole, we got a cabin for the weekend at this alpaca farm up in North Georgia.
Steve Albertson: Yeah, there were alpacas everywhere! So we just loaded up with mind-altering booze and had a crazy weekend banging out a ton of songs. With the Atlanta and L.A. combo, just getting these long weekends in is part of how we work together. Our plan was to get like eight songs done, and I think we ended up with like four at the end of that thing.
Steve L: It was just us cramming into a house for the weekend and doing nothing but hanging out and getting crazy. *laughs*
Steve A: And to play some rock n’ roll.
Steve L: Yeah, drink some booze, and play rock n’ roll! *laughs*
And I’m sure the alpacas helped too!
Steve A: That was one of the best parts because when you need a break, you just go and play with the animals. *laughs*
Steve L: I took this one picture of like everybody else in the band standing with the alpacas, and I wish someone else had been there to take my picture because it ended up looking almost like the cover of Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys. *laughs*
Steve A: But anyway, writing the song when we were doing it, I started getting these really big feelings of Big Black, Steve Albini‘s first project, Bad Penny, and just a bunch of those songs while we were in the musical part of it. But then lyrically, the girl I was dating at the time’s mom is this like staunch Republican, and she thought I was brainwashing her daughter into liberalism by just like, you know, caring about people. *all laugh* So like, at some point she had bought us both bathrobes with glitter things written on them, and on the back of mine, she wrote “Svengali,” who is this known hypnotist who would lure women away and take them off to do who knows what.
Steve L: Yeah, history and time have not been kind to that term. It does have a negative connotation.
Steve A: Yeah, it definitely isn’t a good connotation at all. But I thought it was pretty funny that that was what the thing she referred me to.
And that she actually had that written in glitter. *laughs*
Steve A: Yeah, right?! *laughs* So it kind of morphed into this idea of ‘I’m the driver, and I will dominate you!’ and all these kind of things. When you listen to it, it’s like, ‘Oh it’s a fun race car song,’ or something like that. But there’s kind of that darker connotation to it.
Steve L: I always think of, Speed Racer and Drive when I hear that song. Definitely gonna be in a lot of car commercials.
Steve A: Yes! *laughs* We have another album already ready that we’re gonna release after this one that we’re already prepping for. There’s another kind of fun race car-y kind of song in it where my voice is very high and then it has parts where it’s just like *car noises* So I guess there’s a theme to it, a little bit. *laughs*
That’ll be the theme of the next album! Race cars!
Steve A: Yeah, just race cars! And I don’t even own a car! *points to Steve L* He doesn’t even own a car either! We don’t even care about cars! *laughs*
Steve L: I think it’s kind of like, at least for me, one of those rock n’ roll tropes, you know? Going back to the early days where people would write about cars and girls and partying. Maybe there’s a place for that.
Steve A: Yeah, even on the cover of our album too, Makeout Mountain, my buddy Jacob Elijah, who I did a comic book with back in 2004, did the art for this. He was like “Well, what are you thinking?” And we’re like, “Uh, just the lookout peak from all the movies and stuff.” And then he was like, “Well, what kind of car do you want?” And we had to Google ‘What is a cool car?’ *all laugh*
Steve L: It was like a Dodge Charger I think.
Steve A: No! It was like a 1950s Ford Mustang or some shit.
Steve L: We’re totally outing ourselves about not knowing about muscle cars. *laughs*
Steve A: I also don’t want to be known as someone who knows about muscle cars. So that’s fine. *laughs*
Steve L: I appreciate them from afar, but I don’t really know about them.
Steve A: I get into movies with fast cars. The original Mad Max is one of my favorite movies ever. So, I’d get into car movies and stuff, but I don’t think I’d ever get into cars. Rare books, that’s what I’d collect. Cars? Who collects cars?
Rich people. *all laugh*
Steve A: Yeah, let’s get rich! *laughs*
And then buy all the cars, rare books, and alpacas! *all laugh*
Steve A: Right? I’ll get my own alpaca farm! All the sweaters you could wear! *laughs*
Steve L: I actually have a pair of alpaca slippers. It made me feel a little weird petting the thing. I guess you don’t have to kill it to get the hairs. So I guess it’s alright. Moving on! *laughs*
*laughs* So kind of getting into the other songs on Makeout Mountain. Apart from “Svengali,” would you like to give us a sneak peek on the other topics and stories we’ll be hearing in the album?
Steve A: It’s kind of split between personal stuff and some political things too. The album kicks off with the track “White Privilege,” which is all about how we totally understand our place as ‘white guys in society,’ and the nonstop, horrible murders of black people by police. We wrote that song years ago at this point, and it just keeps coming up. Not only that, but we have all the ICE shit now too. It’s just fucking pertinent.
Steve L: We feel it’s important to claim and recognize your privilege, but to also call out the injustices that you see are happening on a daily basis.
Steve A: It’s also important not to be passive about it and to keep people aware.
Steve L: You know, we’re the kind of band where not all of our shit’s political or super heavy, but we feel like we can do both. It’s like, sometimes you’ll have a fun song that’s just a dumb party song. And other times, shit just hits you and it’s serious. You’re angry, you’re frustrated, and you just wanna channel that into some music that will hit some people and get them thinking and get them doing something.
Steve A: Yeah, the second song on there is “Ramones City,” which is totally what he’s talking about. It just turns into a fun party song, which is more rap and all that.
Steve L: We also have a kind of working-class anthem. At least that’s how I see it. It’s called “Mayonnaise Elbow.”
That’s kind of an odd name. *laughs*
Steve A: This comes from Jesse, our bass player, where he had this story about one of his first jobs. Just food service shit. He was like, “I would always get my elbow in the mayonnaise and no one gave a shit!”
Steve L: The whole point of this though is that situation when you’re in a dead end job that you of hate where you’re busting your ass and just trying to get by.
Steve A: It is absolutely a pro-union fucking song. And it’s funny because me and him *points to Steve L* own a business too, but we talk about political stuff a lot. We’re close to anarchist kind of shit.
Steve L: We’re in the business where we sell sleeveless jean jackets and pins. *laughs*
Steve A: Yeah! *laughs* But it’s just all about, unionizing, man! The bosses can tell you what to do, but like, you guys are the workers who actually make things happen.
Steve L: Yeah, there’s some stuff too that’s kind of sentimental, sort of looks back at your teenage years or your early friendships. I mean, with the song “Makeout Mountain,” we kind of the end of that song where there’s this breakdown and you can almost hear the wind rustling. I’m imagining myself in high school at the end of some crazy night where I did a bunch of acid with my friends, the sun’s started to come up, we’re standing over this cliff overlooking the town, coming to the end of this crazy trip. That’s the beautiful moment of just complete reveling in where you are in your place in time, right there.
Steve A: Yeah, and lyrically too, it’s kind of about relationships that I’ve had, in which some of those are more the honeymoon phases where there’s the inside jokes that those women will get. It’s also about hanging out with your friends and having these moments that you don’t know are special until afterward when you look back on it.
Steve L: I feel like it’s discussing moments as if you get older, where it’s those little moments where you feel totally alive and really conscious and everything hitting your senses. It gets fewer and further between I think because you’ve experienced a lot of things. That newness that you find when you’re younger, I don’t know, I feel like I’m always chasing that now. “Owl Commander,” I think is another important one on the record. We have a video for that that’s gonna come out pretty soon, and this is one of Steve’s really close friends that we grew up with.
Steve A: Yeah, she passed away maybe like two or three years ago. But she’s the one that got me into rock n’ roll when we were in high school. She was the one that played the guitar, and I tried starting my first band with her. I ended up joining a band before she ever did, which is kind of funny, but she played a bunch of stuff too. She had a band called 8 Inch Betsy, and we just started a record label for this record that we’re doing now, and their last record will be the second record that we put out.
Steve L: We want to put our own record out first just so we could fuck it up and make our mistakes now, so we’re not blowing it for somebody else. But yeah, the 8 Inch Betsy record is probably the next thing we’re gonna release on the label.
Steve A: And it’s super rad, her parents gave me this giant box of all of her writings and stuff. She used to make these acoustic songs that she would just write for people and record them on four-track tapes, so there are all these tapes that exist all over the country of people she made these songs for. At some point, I’m gonna collect all of those and release them too. She’s a super special person, and it sucks that she passed away. That’s my ode to her. There are parts of that song that have to do with our childhood, sneaking booze from the parents, all different parts of our lives, I was roommates with her for years and years on top of it.
That’s the great thing about music like you said, you can look back on these memories of all those people you knew back in the day. Kind of like bringing them back to life in song.
Steve L: I love that. When you guys see the video, it’s a pretty cool connection to what the song is about.
Steve A: Yeah, so the concept of the video is this little girl finds a guitar, tries playing and stuff, and then she ends up finding us in a garage playing. But the coolest thing is she’s wearing an 8 Inch Betsy shirt through the whole thing. It’s an ode to Meghan [Galbraith] the whole way through.
Steve L: It’s kind of like, that kind of represents her, or the next generation carrying on with some kid right now picking up the guitar for the first time, and she’s gonna form an amazing band and blow all of our minds.
Steve A: Meghan also volunteered for Girls Rock! Chicago, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with that organization, they’re a girl rock camp that’s all over the place. But they also have a scholarship in her name as well. Even after she passed away, there are still people getting free camp in her name.
It’s such a good thing to have those kinds of programs for the younger generation. We’ve gotta keep it going! What better way to honor someone than doing an amazing thing for something that they love?
Steve A: Females in particular! It’s still very male-dominated in the rock n’ roll businesses. We deal with music people all the time, and we try to keep our roster pretty even. But I still feel like it’s pretty heavily male.
Steve L: I think that’s changing though, so that’s cool.
Steve A: Hope so.
I think you guys are doing a pretty good job at it. And which song was your favorite to write and record for the album?
Steve L: Well it’s funny.
Steve A: They’re two totally different things.
Steve L: Yeah, well I mean, our writing process is not the kind of thing where any of us is sitting on our room really thinking like, ‘Oh I’m gonna write this song.’ We just start playing when we’re all in the same room together, and then we write everything together. One of us, whether it’s me or Jesse playing bass, will kick in a riff or something, and Ryan will just start playing drums, then Steve will come in to start spitting syllables before it has words.
Steve A: Were in another band in Atlanta called, Sex BBQ, which is way more kind of prog rock and weird. *points to Steve L* He played guitar in that, I didn’t sing in that, there were two girls that sang. I was just playing keys and other stuff.
Steve L: He’s like the multi-instrumentalist kitchen sink who kind of plays whatever.
Steve A: Took forever to write a song though. So the way illiterates even started was we were asked to play at this punk rock poetry reading kind of thing.
Steve L: It was really just a poetry reading, it was only punk rock because we were on the bill. *laughs*
Steve A: Exactly! *laughs* So Sex BBQ couldn’t do it, but he was like, “Well, do you want to start another band to just like do it?”
Steve L: That’s why the name is illiterates because we were just dicking around. *laughs* “Alright we’re gonna play at a poetry reading, let’s just be idiots and call it illiterates.”
Steve A: We didn’t know what the project would turn into at all, but then we wrote like four songs in the first practice. We have this thing where if you’re playing something that’s complicated anyone could throw up a red card or veto it and be like, “Simplify!” And it was just so exhilarating after the Sex BBQ run.
Steve L: With illiterates, we just wanted to have raw energy.
*random passerby* Hell yeah raw energy!
He got inspired by you! *all laugh*
Steve A: It’s that fucking fast car song! *all laugh*
Steve L: So yeah, we wanted something totally spontaneous and like, ‘Let’s just not think about it and play whatever comes out.’ It was just so much fun, and we’re such good friends with the other guys too. I love the chemistry we have. I’ve known Ryan since I was like a sophomore in high school when we used to play in a band. Jesse, I met through Ryan when we were freshmen in college. I introduced them to Steve, we had known each other for like six years from playing in like three bands together. It’s just a lot of comradery, and it was everything I needed and wanted out of a band at that moment.
Steve A: Yeah, those guys are rad! I lived with Ryan for a little bit right before I moved here to L.A. too. Super cool guys!
That’s so cool! You guys have that brotherhood that’s been around for years since school!
Steve L: Yeah! Actually it’s funny, when the other band had gotten a little stressful I was just like, ‘I want to have the most fun possible,’ which turned into ‘Who do I want to be in this band with?’ and then ‘Who do I want to hang with more than anybody else?’ and that was kind of a big part of it. I put like a little ad on Facebook that I was looking for people to play with, and I think at the end of it I put ‘We have to like hanging out with you.’ *laughs*
Steve A: Me and him both have very, very strong personalities. *laughs* But the big thing with the band is like, no ego. You couldn’t get mad if someone said ‘no’ to what you’re doing.
Steve L: Although most people just try to roll with it, you know.
Kind of going into what you guys were saying just on a business standpoint in the music industry. There’s been a noticeable trend that’s been kind of recurring a lot with bigger bands that single based releases are more popular than full-length releases. I wanted to ask if you think that there are any pros or cons for that since you’re also on the business end of everything.
Steve L: Yeah, I think that there’s a lot of genres where the single is becoming common again, particularly hip-hop, r&b, and pop music. If you’re talking about rock n’ roll though, the album is still revered as an art form and still seen as substantial and more newsworthy when you put one out. So I think people are going to care more when you put out a full record for a rock n’ roll band.
Steve A: Another big thing I notice now is the way that Spotify works in particular. That’s what Spotify wants you to do is to keep releasing singles. So you drop a single one month, you drop another one the next month, and if you follow that plan, it’s gonna pop off and stay on your feed all the time. That’s why they’re saying do this thing because that’s the way it’s gonna go. Also, the way people consume things, even if they take your entire album, nobody’s really listening to entire albums that much. They’re listening to a couple of songs, or they’ll put them on shuffle, or they get put into big long lists with a bunch of albums and shuffle that. So it just depends. But the thing that we do in our business is publicity, so we deal with rock critics and things like that, and they are very much still on albums. Although they’re barely doing reviews at all anymore, single song premieres are hard to come by too. So it’s a complicated thing!
Steve L: Yeah it’s weird, part of me loves it because I want to listen to the catchiest songs on the record over and over. And I definitely love a good pop song, and I mean pop in like the classic sense of just a really great catchy melody and a good hook.
So an earworm?
Steve L: Yeah! Absolutely! I love early rock n’ roll, whether its late 50s, early 60s kind of stuff. That was kind of the dominant form then, releasing singles. But then, I grew up like a lot of people my age just loving and listening to albums. I think that there’s always gonna be a place for the album, as like a piece of art for a certain niche, for people who want to hear it from beginning to end. We’re still sequencing things that way.
Steve A: I have no interests in releasing just singles or even EPs really. I don’t know, maybe that will change. My opinions on that are weird, but nobody’s making any money selling records and nobody’s making any money selling singles either. You might be able to sell vinyl. That’s something that’s going on right now.
Steve L: That’s where I meant to go with that. I think that people still love the album as a piece of art, as a collective listening experience. We are pressing a few hundred copies of the illiterates record on vinyl for those that want to hear it and experience it in that way. They’ll sit down and it’s a very intentional thing. I think that’s how those people are gonna survive.
Steve A: Plus our record is less than thirty minutes long. It’s not very long. I love short songs, I always have, and it’s kind of a punk rock thing anyway. *laughs* But once we get our bit down, there’s no need to repeat it and repeat it.
Steve L: illiterates in and of itself, the whole thing is based on working with spontaneity and working quickly and all that. I think most of our songs are like a minute and a half, and two and a half minutes. I think the longest song that we’ve ever done was three minutes even. *laughs* The shortest was about thirty seconds. And it’s kind of the whole thing of if you have an idea that should be enough. You don’t have to complicate things. Two parts? Sure! Great! One part? Great, if that’s all you have and that’s the idea.
Steve A: On the next record we have a song called, “God is E Flat.” That is like a super fucking fast, punk rock jammer.
That’s so cool because you never really hear artists doing the short songs anymore. They’re always at least three minutes I feel like.
Steve L: Yeah, these are super short compared to the stuff being put out now. And yeah, I think about this record being about twenty-four minutes, which is cool because it lets us do a twelve-inch record at forty-five RPMs, super rare. You get a better sound quality that way, so that’s cool. And think the next record is twenty-two minutes.
Steve A: Also, our live sets are fucking fast and furious like that too. We never ever do 35-minute sets.
Steve L: Well it’s like The Ramones. They would play for like 25-30 minutes and they just blasted through their set. They would just blow the doors off and walk off leaving everyone wanting more!
They’re like, “Hold on, hold on! Why are you guys leaving?”
Steve L: Yeah, that’s our philosophy.
Steve A: We’ve never worn out our welcome on any stage *laughs*
Yeah, sometimes they just go on and on. Mostly just talking though.
Steve L: I could fill it out talking if I wanted to. *laughs*
*laughs* “You’re getting a 45-minute set, deal with it!”
Steve A: I don’t know, I don’t think that’ll ever happen. *laughs*
Steve L: Well now you know that we’ve got two records written. We got some of these tour dates coming up and I think thirty-five minutes would give us a little chance to play a few songs from both records.
Steve A: Yeah, we’re doing four dates out in Atlanta, Athens, Birmingham, and Nashville throughout September.
Steve L: I think we might do some dates out here in like October, November, something like that.
Steve A: But it’s harder to coordinate with people on the other side of the country. *laughs*
I can imagine. But it seems like you’ve got a good feel as to how to make it work.
Steve L: Yeah!
And what artists and bands have influenced your guys’ style and sound? Physically too! I mean, you guys have a fun uniform going on right now. *all laugh*
Steve A: So, the Warriors movie and Mad Max. I’ve never really listened to any other records, so only movies. *laughs*
Steve L: It’s not true! People just say that! It’s so funny, like, when we started it’s like you always start somewhere.
Steve A: Starting with like MC5, Dead Boys.
Steve L: Mudhoney.
Steve A: Yeah, like the late 70s, early 80s punk rock stuff.
Steve L: A little bit of grunge, maybe.
Steve A: Yeah, a little Dead Kennedys, getting more closer to hardcore stuff. But where we ended up, is way more psych.
Steve L: I think that was our producer, Matt McCalvin. Man, I was so excited to make a record with Matt! He’s a buddy too, and I always loved the bands he played in. He played in Gringo Star, he played in Mermaids.
Steve A: He also played a band called Zoners, which was goddamned my favorite!
Steve L: Paralyzer, Naarc.
Steve A: Actually, we’re playing with Paralyzer for our Atlanta show, so he’ll also be playing with us on stage.
Steve L: I think that every band that he was ever in, they’re all my favorite bands in Atlanta. *laughs* The other record that would we got in the can is definitely more stripped down, more straight ahead. We did that with Ed Rawls, he recorded [The] Black Lips, The Coathangers, and Those Darlins. Also Deerhunter. But, the other ones make more sense together as a raw thing.
Steve A: But with Matt McCalvin, he did a song called, “My Enemy” that when we do it, it’s just like straight up punk rock. Like fucking *guitar sounds* super fucking fast with this breakdown bit in the middle. If you listen to that, it gets to that part and then all of sudden it’s like, “bwah!”
Steve L: Yeah, it’s got like thirty different things going on. It’s got some weird chants and weird instruments going on. And that’s the thing, working with Matt, was awesome, because he can play anything. He played keys, and kind of like merged all kinds of weird stuff on there. I feel like it turned out to be a lot more layered and lot more psych-y because he was there.
Steve A: We absolutely do not give a fuck about our live show being what the record is. The record is totally a separate thing. We just wanted to have as much fun as we could with it. We got weird, and it’s kind of fun to get that weird.
Steve L: Yeah, it’s so funny because we’re such a stripped down and raw band live. On Makeout Mountain, there’s a section that has layer upon layer upon layer of stuff going on, but a lot of it is really subtle and I think it makes for a pretty interesting listen.
Steve A: Even with “Svengali,” there’s a little intro bit and that’s all. It’s a fucking weird jam that just kind of happened while they were doing a sound check and we decided to tack it on.
Steve L: There was a moment when we were recording “Svengali” where Matt was rolling and the rest of us just started playing. It was this jam that we were messing around with that was almost like “L.A. Woman” by The Doors, or something like that. It’s probably what I was thinking in my head. It just got to the point where he’s like, “Alright, cool, we’re ready!” And then without even stopping, we just shifted completely into “Svengali.” It just kind of worked in a really cool way even though the two things have nothing to do with each other. One was completely made up on the spot, and we just thought it sounded so cool together that we kept it on there.
Steve A: But then again, a record is a collection of what you’ve done before, but it’s also very special for that particular time when you recorded it. It’s your life, and who you’re doing it with and what’s happening is a huge part of it.
Steve L: Hence the name!
Steve A: A record of a moment in time! It’s like a documentary in music form! *laughs*
Steve A: Yeah! Listen to our documentary, Makeout Mountain. *laughs*
Steve L: Audio documentary!
Steve A: Audiomentary? It’s a podcast in record form.
*laughs* So the both of you own Baby Robot Media.
Steve A: Yeah!
Apart from being a musician and being a business person, what are some major differences that you’ve seen between the job aspect and the fun music aspect?
Steve A: The biggest is that I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing until I started getting into the music business. I’ve been playing in bands for a very long time, and I didn’t know what I was doing up until then. My first band was called Dr. Killbot in Chicago, I worked right next to Touch and Go Records and I knew Corey Rusk. I knew everyone at Touch and Go so my entire life could have been a resource to be like, ‘Hey! How do you be a band?’ *laughs* I never took advantage of that. *points to Steve L* He was an editor at Paste Magazine. So when we started off, he had this inside scoop on how to do it. I’ve always been a writer, and my background is in filmmaking too. So we make music videos and we do a bunch of things for Baby Robot, it’s always been an idea to be a big media company. But, publicity is the main thing, and once we started doing it, then I started doing basic research. Now I know a lot! *laughs*
Steve L: We always have this conversation. I think like six of the seven people that work for Baby Robot have played music and have toured and have been at bands. When we have conversations with bands, even if they don’t end up working with us, we always really wanna just educate them and let them know how things work and be a resource for them. Because, yeah, when Steve and I have this conversation, it’s like, “Aw, shit! If I knew what I know now when I was like 18 and playing in bands I just wouldn’t be doing this shit right now! *laughs*
Steve A: We kind of split it up a bit too. *points to Steve L* He oversees our publicists, two in Brooklyn, one in Atlanta, one in Memphis, one here. And my daytime job is talking to bands and letting them know what we do. I could spend maybe three hours on the phone talking to different bands, just letting them know how it works because no one ever did that for me. I constantly offer up any extra help that people want. And that’s the thing, a lot of people don’t take a chance on it. But, the employees that are also musicians also help us in what we do because we care, you know?
Steve L: We’ve all been there.
Steve A: We know what it is like to put out an album. We know how much time goes into it, how much of your heart and soul goes into it. For us, it’s really coming from a point of understanding so we’re never gonna take you for granted.
Steve L: I mean, I guess what the difference is that playing with rock n’ roll shows is a lot more fun than sending emails. *laughs* So I guess I’d rather play in bands all day, but if I’m not, it’s nice to help bands out.
Yeah! And that’s so awesome because you do, like you said, understand where they’re coming from, and what they’re experiencing. And you actually wanna help.
Steve L: That was definitely a big part of it. Just like Steve said before, when we started Baby Robot, I was a writer and an editor for a long time for Paste Magazine. Initially, the reason I left was that the print magazine folded due to the recession, so all the ad dollars dropped off. But beyond being at that point, I was like, “What do I want to do now?” I thought it would be really cool to go beyond interviewing a band or writing a review, find bands that I really love, do something a little more hands-on, and direct, and actually be on their team to help them get up to the next level. We work with all levels of bands, and a big part of what we’ve always done is finding new talent to help jump them up to that next level of getting them a record deal, get them a booking agent, get them a manager, and lawyers.
Steve A: Yeah. We’re a shitty punk band, I’ve been in punk bands my whole life, and I’ve been fed the DIY fucking lie. You gotta be able to know what all the different aspects are, but it’s physically impossible for you to do everything you want to do if you want to be a successful band. So it’s like, knowing a little bit of everything. Booking, law shit, publicity, marketing, licensing, it doesn’t end.
Steve L: It’s insane.
It’s the music industry.
Steve A: It’s too much for one human being man!
Steve L: But at the end of the day, you have to remember what it’s all about and why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s about how much we love music and those kids who did nothing but listen to music constantly. That’s always been such a huge part of everything we’ve done, from playing music to going to shows, to reading books about music, to listening to albums for hours on end. It’s cool to be a part of it from every angle.
Steve A: The funny thing about this job is that I’m listening to like four albums a day or something from brand new bands. It’s kind of cool to have your finger on the pulse of things. Now that I’m saying it that out loud, every now and then I need a palette cleanser to be like, ‘What is good music!’
Steve L: I need some [The] Rolling Stones or some [The] Dead Milkmen so I can recalibrate on what’s good and what’s not again! When you start to get old, it gives you a reason. I guess they say that for a lot of people after they turn 30, they’re not discovering new music anymore. We’re never permitted to do that because we have to know what’s going on and what’s coming out. So it’s a good kick in the ass to never stop discovering new music.
I’ve definitely done that, and I’m not even 30! *laughs*
Steve A: Oh no! *laughs* One thing we started doing too, was starting our Baby Robot Spotify playlist. We’re putting out our bands that are out releasing things around Baby Robot, but also it makes sure that we’re keeping up with new stuff that’s coming out and we get to pick out the things that we like and kind of put that out there too, which is something that we do anyway. It definitely helps me to keep figuring out what bands I like that are out right now. Caroline Rose, go listen to her record…and Soccer Mommy too. *laughs*
Steve L: Did we ever answer the question about what influences the band? *laughs*
Steve A: I did, a little bit. The Dead Milkmen is my favorite band of all time. How about that?
Steve L: Yeah. I like The Dead Milkmen. I don’t know, I just can’t remember any bands. *laughs*
Steve A: How about The Replacements?
Steve L: Yeah, I like The Replacements a lot.
Steve A: I’ll just answer for him because I know his tastes. *laughs*
Because you’ve known each other for so long! *laughs*
Steve L: Right! *laughs* I think that are many things on this new record that I start to think about, especially now. I think that’s a good way to do it. There’s shit like Minor Threat, but also The Ramones and Sex Pistols and Sonic Youth. At least for stuff that I was doing on guitar. But even with early rock n’ roll, Booker T. & the M.G.s for example. It was a pretty wide range of stuff.
Kind of going back to discussing the playlist world, with social media and streaming taking over everything, do you feel like it’s been easier or harder for artists to make a name for themselves?
Steve A: It is hard as hell going through the white noise of what’s going on.
Steve L: I think the difference is before all of that stuff, there were so many barriers for that entry. That was the hard part in the days of the record labels and records selling millions of copies. I think it’s easier to get a foothold now, but like you said, there’s so much stuff coming out and the barriers to entry are a lot lower. Right now, how do you stand out? There’s so much music just to sift through all of it. It’s very tough to get through and then stick around. Especially without a lot of label support.
Steve A: The part to that too is right now, it’s never been easier to make a record, like in your bedroom or wherever. Because of that, there are more great records than there ever has been. The good stuff with rising to the top and the mediocre stuff will just sit in the middle.
Steve L: I don’t know, you think so?
Steve A: I do. Let me just say, that there’s great stuff that doesn’t get found, that’s for sure. Like, a sheer amount, but we talk with so many bands, and we tell them all the time, “Great music! That’s your ticket in! It’s just the beginning.” If you made a shitty record, we probably wouldn’t even be talking.
Steve L: Great music surprises with submission, but then it’s like, “Well, what’s your story?” You know?
Steve A: And that’s what we do with Baby Robot, like, we craft that story for people so they can get publicity or get written up in certain things. It doesn’t have the impact that it did in the 80s. You know what I mean? You got a write up in Rolling Stone and you’d sell a million records. We worked with a band called The Handsome Family, who did the theme song to True Detective Season 1. I talked to them, and it was like, ‘If we had gotten this in the 90s we’d be millionaires! Although we got a bunch more fans, we didn’t buy a mansion.” So as far as digital marketing and all that stuff, it’s super important. Even with us, we’re shifting more towards that in our own business more and more all the time, and trying to keep up with the algorithms and what’s going on. Each platform is complicated and constantly shifting, but we keep on top of all of that. So, I’d say that you should never be a very broadband where you’re for everyone. It is very important that you are niche and that you know who your audience is so you can focus on those people.
Steve L: For illiterates, our audience is…
Steve A: Shitty drunk punk rockers. *all laugh*
Steve L: *laughs* or just dumb drunks.
Steve A: So when we’re doing Facebook targeting, we just do dumb drunks. *laughs*
Steve L: “Do you like Old Milwaukee and The Stooges?” *laughs* That’s our audience right there, that overlapping intersection.
At least you know who you appeal to, or at least who you want to appeal to. *laughs*
Steve L: Based on what you said, I think one of our new goals on the business side of things is to get The Handsome Family a mansion. That would really make me happy.
Steve A: I would love it too.
Steve L: I feel like I owe Rennie [Sparks] that just for the hilarious responses she gives on interviews.
Steve A: They are the best people and some of the greatest musicians on the planet. They make the raddest songs. If you haven’t listened to The Handsome Family, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Not punk rock! *laughs*
Steve L: That and they have very little to do with the sound of illiterates. *laughs*
Hey, but you’re showing love to other bands that are not in your genre. I love it!
Steve L: Of course! We listen to like a million different things.
Steve A: True. Right now I’m wearing a [The] Manx shirt, they’re here in L.A. too, and they just play spazzy crazy music.
Steve L: Pretty sure that every time I’ve seen The Manx they’re either covered in blood or mud…
Steve A: Or wearing sparkly diapers. *laughs* They’re fucking crazy people.
I think you have to be a little crazy to live in L.A. long term. *laughs*
Steve A: A little. *laughs* Maybe it’s because of the heat. It is hot here!
Yes, yes it is. *laughs* So a couple of fun questions! If you could you choose three bands to go on a tour with, who would they be and what would you name your tour?
Steve L: I would choose Gringo Star, The Black Lips, and Mermaids, and the tour would be the ‘All my favorite Atlanta bands Tour.’ *laughs* Wait, I want to change my answer now! *laughs* No, actually, I would love that. It’s funny because, I mean the Gringo Star guys we’ve worked with before, and Mermaids was Matt that produced our record because that was one of his old bands. [The] Black Lips, I’ve run into them a lot in over the years. It’s funny, even though they’re more accessible, just being in the communities I’ve been in I think that they’re still some of my favorite bands. *turns to Steve A* You ready man?
Steve A: Me? Can they be through any time or do they have to be active now? I can pick whoever I want?
It could be whatever your heart desires!
Steve A: Dead Milkman, Dead Kennedys, and King Missile.
Steve L: Nah, you should have said another ‘Dead’ band! *laughs*
Steve A: Dead Meadows? *laughs*
Steve L: Wait, no. Dead Boys!
Steve A: Dead Boys! Yeah, there we go!
Steve L: Dead Kennedys, Dead Milkman, and Dead Boys.
Steve A: There you go, all the ‘dead’ bands! Dead Kennedys, Dead Milkman, and Dead Boys, Illiterates. And we’ll call it, the ‘Dead Illiterates Tour.’ *laughs*
Steve L: It’s funny, I think for a long time on our Facebook page when it has influences or whatever it just said, “Dead Boys, Dead Milkman, Dead Kennedys”
Steve A: Why did we not put ‘dead’ in our name? After all that? Dead Illiterates. That’s great actually! Are we The Dead Illiterates?
Steve L: Maybe we should just call our next album, Dead.
Steve A: The Grateful Dead fucked that up for everyone.
Steve L: I like The Grateful Dead, personally.
Steve A: We’ve had this conversation before too, where this asshole *points to Steve L* and our old drummer Steve Brown from Sex BBQ had sat down and been like, “Steve!” We’re all Steves for fuck sake! I’m gonna find The fucking Grateful Dead song that you’ll like!”
Steve L: It doesn’t matter. He doesn’t have the patience.
Steve A: Ugh!
Steve L: I even tried to play some of their early garage shit and I just don’t think he cared. *laughs*
Steve A: Nah. Just watching someone jerk off in a mirror is all that is, it’s terrible. I’m sorry can we say, “Jerk off?” *laughs*
Steve L: What kind of rating are you going for? We’ll get you that NC17! *laughs*
I don’t give a shit. *laughs* Why should I censor you? Censorship sucks! *all laugh* And what do you hope your audience will take away from your music?
Steve A: For a musician, you are the story. When you were a kid and you went to a show, what was that show that changed you forever? And for me, I used to go to all of these shitty punk rock shows…
Steve L: At the VFW Halls…
Steve A: Yeah! VFW Halls! There’s a place in this town I grew up in, there were all of these punk bands that were from all around and would come out. Before that, I had seen bigger bands like Stone Temple Pilots and shit like that. Through that, all these older bands that would be in these giant stadiums where you can’t reach them didn’t seem appealing anymore. I went when I was like fourteen to one of these little shows, and because it was so accessible people were just hanging out in the crowd with you before they walk on the stage and play. Every band that I’ve ever been in, I’ve had that feeling of “Oh, I could get up there, I could do this. I should do this.” And there’s not this separation of music. *points to Steve L* Him and I have this thing with The Rolling Stones. We dislike them because of that distance between being a rock star.
Steve L: I mean I think more about the difference between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. One is a man of the people, and one is a kind of a bit aloof.
Steve A: And that’s my thing. We want people to see us and hear us and to think, “Oh this is fucking wild and crazy, I wanna get into it!” but to also have a message that we think is worth telling. Pay attention to what’s going around you, whether that be politically or whether it be things that are happening in your own town. Be aware of your friendships, be aware of your relationships, be present in all of this stuff. And keep track of it! Just keep it in order, because life keeps on moving.
Steve L: I think for me, we’re all guinea pigs in this whole weird social media experiment that’s kind of kicked off ten to fifteen years ago. No one knows what it’s really doing to us. It’s stressful and weird. I think the physical, in-person human connection is down. You know? I feel like, if there’s anything that I want out of illiterates is an aesthetic that we talked about when we started the band, which is just camaraderie, friendship, spontaneity, and intensity. I feel like when people listen to our music, whether it’s at a show or on the record, I just want people to feel that human connection. I want people to just be able to have something to turn to when you’re stressed out from all this shit going on with politics or work or relationships when everything is intense and overwhelming. I mean, we get to go and play music, whether it’s at practice or a show with our buddies and all of a sudden, just like that, you feel so good and you forget about that shit that’s bringing you down. I feel like it’s kind of essential to have that escape and that kind of release. Maybe not an escape per say, but maybe to be able to just blow off some steam and feel normal again and feel human for a while before you get sucked back into the vortex.
Steve A: I feel like that’s the same for me too. I’m very project oriented. I wrote I put out a comic book a couple of years ago. I’m into films and music, and all of these things. And some of the best relationships that I keep up are because I don’t do any of this stuff on my own. I love having people around me that can create with me. It’s a big part of who I am, and it’s how I maintain relationships with people in a meaningful way.
Steve L: It’s all about best friends pretty much, and people I’ve been in bands with since I was a teenager. That’s who you end up hanging out with because you’re busy and it’s your time to go do your own thing. You go to band practice or go play a show, and that’s who you end up hanging out with. And that’s where I found my best friends.
Steve A: It’s really easy to blow people off, and binge watches a show or whatever, but then when you have an obligation, you can’t just be like, “Meh, I’m tired today.” You’ll be held accountable by other people.
Steve L: That’s what this band’s about…
Steves: Accountability! *all laugh*
About Enigma Coffee:
If you’re an escape room aficionado, you’ve probably heard of Enigma Escape Rooms. The idea of being trapped in a room with your best friends, your significant other, or a group of strangers has become a worldwide phenomenon, and gives us all a chance to live out some spy goals. As one of the first escape room companies to hit the L.A. circuit, they’ve got rooms ranging from mystical to scientifical to crime drama-esque that are sure to appeal to any hardcore escape artist. As a business, they’ve grown so much that they felt the need to reward their visitors with a much deserved caffeine fix in the form of a perfectly placed storefront.
Now, the Enigma Coffee shop itself is far from being ‘escape-room themed.’ In fact, its modern minimalist interior and black bricked exterior lined with black umbrella-ed tables gives the shop an edgy-chic atmosphere with an air of mystery. When you step through its doors, you will no doubt be greeted with kindness and patience from Katie and her crew, especially when you have someone like me who walks in not quite knowing if they’re in the mood for a latte or a drip coffee. Ironically, I opted for the Enigma Blend loose leaf tea and I absolutely did not regret that decision. I do smell a trip to one of their escape rooms in the near future, so a good brew will absolutely be needed before I racking my brain to solve clues.