Interview by Amy Gabba
1. Ok so obviously, you guys aren't racist but I do know you get a lot of questions about your band name. What made you choose this one?
JAMES: The short answer to your question is we thought it was funny. We started our band in late 2006, right after the infamous Michael Richards set at the Laugh Factory. We were bouncing through a bunch of name ideas--I still wish we'd gone with Sons of Shatner--and someone suggested Racist Kramer. We all about died laughing and that was that. It's just so absurd and there is admittedly something about our name that feels wrong, which made it seem very punk-apropos. But my opinion on our name changes from year to year.
Our name has been, um, "less than helpful" at times. For whatever reason, some people find it offensive; I'd like one of those people to explain to me what exactly is offensive about it. The name doesn't imply support for bigotry, or that we espouse white nationalism (we don't), or anything else I can think of that in any way condones or justifies racism, prejudice or ignorance. If anything, it's a good reminder to occasionally take a hard look at yourself, and the attitudes and prejudices that might be lurking beneath the surface. There's just a very strong knee-jerk reaction in the world (and in punk rock circles in particular) right now to anything that might be considered offensive, or even bordering on almost being offensive. Which is weird in the historical context of punk rock--"Circle Jerks" is in a lot worse taste to me than mocking a sitcom character, and the Bad Religion guys said--I'm paraphrasing here--they liked that the crossbuster logo would upset people. I don't know; we still think the name is funny and it's definitely memorable, but it's closed some doors for us. Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke.
Lately I'm in a "it's punk rock to piss people off" phase and so I'm very comfortable with our name. Everybody is so goddamned uptight about everything right now that it feels cathartic to annoy the militantly woke, especially because they are choosing to be annoyed and don't see the irony there. Though I will say that being in a band called Racist Kramer wasn't quite as comfortable during the Black Lives Matter civil unrest last year--a principle and movement which we actively support.
GRASON: I always go back and forth on our name. I look back to the 90's and if someone had told me my band name was offensive, i would have laughed... but now I feel like we live in a very transformational time where there is a lot of encouragement to change the ideas and rhetoric behind racism, sexism, homophobia etc. While we make that change, it's really easy to have your guard up and I think the word "racist" can certainly trigger a negative response. At the end of the day, the word "racist" isn't offensive itself, but I'm also happy to have the converstation if someone has an issue or concern.
2. How long have you been a band? How has your style changed over the years?
CJ: Fifteen years.
JAMES: Crystal anniversary!
CJ: We started when I was 19 in my parents' basement after Cheech [Jared Mackay] and I ran into James leaving a guitar shop with a new bass amp.
I would say our style has "changed" or rather "upgraded," maybe even "evolved," at three different points. (1) When we finally got Grason in the band. (2) When we got James back from a brief hiatus for law school. (3) When Cheech started embracing a metronome. We developed a higher production quality when we "got back to work" in 2016. Stylistically, in the beginning we started out by carrying on the traditions of the bands that inspired us to start RK. Now, we get to play off one another's individual styles and grow together.
JARED: I think our style has remained pretty consistent over the years. My goal has always been to play in a fast skate punk band, as that is my favorite genre of music since I first heard Screeching Weasel’s boogadaboogadabooda while skateboarding in junior high school and after attending my first real punk rock show which was The Vandals and The Mr. T Experience. I just love playing drums real fast haha.
3. How did you hear about and connect with Mable Syndrome?
JAMES: It's been a few years so I don't remember exactly how we found Mable Syndrome, but I think it was via the Face to Face Fans and Collections page on Facebook. (Like Jessica, I am an enormous Face to Face fanboy.) As I recall, Jessica had posted something about Mable in that group right when my girlfriend and I bought a house together, and I had a lot of time to listen to a new podcast while I was tearing out moldy drywall and putting in new flooring.
Connecting was easy--a podcast by people my age, interviewing bands I love and discussing the genre of music I play. Even though Mable Syndrome is built around women and their lives in punk rock, it never felt exclusionary or like cis guys weren't welcome. I've just been a fan of the podcast and organization since then. I'm very much a deep-dive guy in most aspects of my life--I can nerd out pretty hard on guitar amps, dirt bike suspension, hardwood floor finish, whatever--so getting new perspectives and experiences on and in punk rock from women in different parts of the continent has been really fascinating. I shared a few interviews with the rest of the band and we all got on board pretty fast from there.
We've met a lot of new friends because one of us was wearing a Mable shirt. It's changed the way we define ourselves as a band a little bit, too; punk rock has never been more overtly open to women and non-binary persons than it is right now. For a long time it was like 90/10 men/women or worse. Mable has been pretty instructive on why this evolution is inherent, necessary and overdue without leaning on a bully pulpit--it's just a collection of experiences and insights and that makes it super approchable. Generally, punk rock is less concerned with gender now and we are excited to be watching and supporting that. There are more women at our shows and the shows we go to. Women are buying more merch and bands are making cool women's merch. They are not putting up with bullshit behavior by dudes in the crowd or on stage. Bad Cop Bad Cop put out the best album of the past two years as far as I'm concerned. I don't want to suggest that we were, like, misogynists until four years ago, but our attitudes and presumptions have improved since we started paying attention. It just feels like we discovered Mable at the right time and it's been helpful for us as both musicians and human beings.
I love Mable Syndrome. I love listening to Kristen and Jessica talk about punk rock, their lives, their families and their friendship. I love learning about new things and finding new tools to be a better self as a result of their content. I love that I met Jorja at a Face to Face show and discovering we already ran in the same circles but had somehow missed each other until that night. I love that you flew to our record release show from Toronto because you believe in an unsigned band of thirty-somethings. This answer is getting really long, but we are grateful that you are doing what you're doing and that you share it with us.
4. So tell me about this new Record. It’s called “In Redemption” and it seems to have a bit of a common theme throughout the record.
CJ: I could go on and on for hours if we really wanted to unpack the whole thing, but the truth is that it’s all in there. Musically, we all have our own imprint on it. The fifteen years together plus the ten before that where we were kids growing up, learning our instruments and discovering punk rock--it’s all there. In Redemption is deeply introspective. It’s hard to summarize what it really means to me and what lives in these songs and in the words; in every single harmony.
It was such a labor of love and an honor to produce it. I had the support of the three guys I consider to be the greatest musicians with whom I could ever want to be in a band. Our unofficial fifth member Alex Goyzueta helped us get the drums recorded and was a vital support in the production process, as he has been our entire lives. That’s what makes this record special. We’re a family of friends that have been through a lot together and we got through it making music that we love. We’ve made mistakes and missed opportunities but we had to go through it all to create In Redemption together. I think it’s all in there, for someone else to interpret for themselves and decide what it means to them. I know what it means to me.
GRASON: This record was definitely an interesting process. I had just come off a major surgery, the pandemic was raging and we just were in a frustrating spot trying to figure out what our next steps were. CJ had a great idea to really push the idea of writing this record like a story about our band. Since we have been through so much together and worked so hard, it made a lot of sense to tell that story and to write something that got us really excited about playing music again.
5. I see Matt Appleton from Reel Big Fish plays on Simon and obviously I’m a big fam because of the ska influence. How was it working with him? Is there a story behind the song?
CJ: Yeah!! Fuckin’ pinch me, 'cause I still think I’m dreaming sometimes. I have loved Reel Big Fish since I was 9 years old and Matt’s work with them and Goldfinger, and he produced the new Big D and the Kids Table! He’s a powerhouse in ska and punk. A dream to work with him, and such a professional. Joel Pack (Broke City, Comfort the Killer, Air Supply) produced our 2 singles in 2016 when we came off hiatus. He works with Matt all the time so we asked him to put us in touch. I honestly couldn’t even believe it was happening. I gave Matt a couple scratch demos of some fake horns I arranged for reference and what he sent back was absolutely incredible. He’s such an incredibly talented person and so nice. It’s such an honor and privilege to feature his talents on our record.
We had some issues getting Simón together at first. I had my own rendition of it that had strayed from what Grason had originally conceived. My version was a bit contrived and didn’t flow well with the rest of the guys; it felt very Suicide Machines or Op Ivy. So we let it go for a while as it’s sometimes best to do. One night Cheech and I were talking about it being important to have a song that solidified our stance against racism. We grew up working with Hispanic people. In fact, Cheech speaks fluent Spanish, that he learned working at the car wash. He even lived with a Mexican family, friends of ours, for some time. Before we were a band RK, was a mobile car wash company that Cheech and I operated for years. He’d often respond with a very enthusiastic “Simón!” when I’d have questions. I figured since a lot of songs have hooks that have “yaaaaa” in it I thought why not “Siiiimóóón”? I had been listening to the Specials to get some inspiration for the track over those few weeks. One night I stripped the song back down to Grason’s original chord progression, and I wrote the Simón melody. The rest just worked itself out (as good songs often do). Cheech and Alex did a fantastic job on the drum arrangement and JP solidifies his position as Bassist Kramer with another perfect bass line that is its own epic adventure. Production for this song was so much fun. We recorded auxiliary percussion for a whole night: layered shakers, time stretched a vibraslap that we had overnighted, frog guiros, a triangle that I reversed. Getting Cheech to do vocals on the second verse was magical, as was the lyric writing and translating we did together. We had so much fun hanging out in my bedroom/studio making music and good times. Laughing at bad vocal takes. Arguing over how to properly hold the vibraslap. Ha.
6. Do you have a favorite song on the album? Plans to do a video?
JAMES: I did not like Radio Destructo when we were writing and arranging it. Too weird and disjointed. But now I think I like it the most for those reasons. Anyone can write a pop song; pulling off fingertapping over the forbidden drum beat, hardcore chugs, ska and bossa nova in the same three minutes takes at least a little skill or vision or whatever. Plus we snuck that Andrew Bernard thing in at the end. Roo-da-doo-doo!
CJ: Just like my mom, I don’t have a favorite. They are all my favorite. Each one has its own little place in my heart.
As for a video I could tell you exactly what I would do for each song, in every budget. From Fighting For Air as late night DIY superheroes in the city stopping minor crimes. Myself as “Fatman”, Grason as “Neurotica”, Cheech as “The Needler”, and James as “James Peterson;” maybe we have to defeat the evil “Sleep Apniac."
JAMES: So superhero me is basically just me? Thanks, I think.
CJ: To Anchors shot entirely underwater in a well-lit pool.
JAMES: If we're shooting it in a pool, I might end up with The Needler title.
CJ: We could set up drums and amps at the bottom of the pool and fill it with sharks? If we could figure out how to do split screen, we could do Let’s Stay Together. We could all play our own partners in various scenarios. Maybe we do Tontine mad max style at a golf course and we’re all in geriatric makeup, driving armed golf carts.
But I digress, yes we do have video pitches.
JARED: My favorite song is probably Angrier Days. Its fast, aggressive, has a breakdown(I have a lot of love for hardcore), and is pretty humorous. I don’t think we should be taking ourselves to serious and some of my favorite bands( The Vandals, Nofx, Guttermouth) have bought me that although punk rock is serious in principle, we gotta be able to laugh at this crazy world as well.
7. What’s next for RK?
JAMES: Tour? We all have jobs and mortgage payments and adult shit to handle, so being gone for two months probably isn't in the cards. We're aiming for a bunch of short runs through the western US late spring. Might do one New England/Mid-Atlantic run depending on some regional events later in the year that we can't talk about yet but are super excited for. I lived in New Jersey for a while (RIP Maxwells in Hoboken) and really want to play for our friends out there. Maybe we can play some dates with the Bouncing Souls? Maybe my balding head will start re-growing hair? Equally likely.
CJ: I don’t know. Whatever it is, we’ll face it together. We found out you can make all the plans you want but the universe doesn’t care about them. You can schedule a tour and then everyone can start getting some weird virus that broke out. It can all get put on hold. But we learned that we can pivot! We can invest time and money in perfecting our craft. I can learn how to record music and turn my closet into a vocal booth. The pandemic presented an opportunity for some artists to sink their time into their passions. We were lucky and fortunate enough to do just that.
I can only say that we hope to be on the road next year as much as possible. We each have responsibilities and yet we’re all in unique positions to take some time off from real life next year to go support this new record in other markets. I love that feeling you get on the freeway, just looking out the window, when you’re on the road with your friends. That’s exactly where I wanna be next spring and I look forward to those moments.
We’ve come a long way since getting back to work in 2016. We can confidently sell out venues in our hometown. We can produce our own records and release them ourselves. We’ve made songs that genuinely mean a lot to people. So we’ll keep trying to do that, and if people share it and show up to shows, perhaps it can grow into something sustainable. Regardless, we will keep doing it for fun no matter what the future holds for us.
In Redemption is good. Writing, recording and producing it was very cathartic. It was fun to make it with my friends. It has given my life tremendous meaning and I love these guys so much. I’m grateful to be a part of it and I can’t wait to get to work on the next one.
JARED: Of course I would love nothing more than to play music for a living, but as long as I get to play fast punk rock music with my friends, I’ll be pretty happy.
8. Where can we find your music and merch so we can support you?
JAMES: We are on most streaming platforms. The best way to support us is to buy music and merch from racistkramer.com! Streaming services pay a laughably tiny mechanical royalty per song and it sounds like that number is going to get smaller in the coming round of DMCA updates. Buy physical copies of music directly from the artists you like, kids, or all of them will have to get construction jobs like James from Racist Kramer.
I shouldn't joke about that. Construction jobs are good jobs and I love mine.
CJ: I'm grateful for our new friendship, Amy. Thank you.
JAMES: If you're over 21 and near Salt Lake on December 10, we have our annual holiday fundraiser at Urban Lounge in SLC that night. All cover songs, free entry, lots of ways to donate to the Utah Domestic Violence Colation, there's a chance to win a bunch of cool prizes from local businesses...all in all it's just a really fun night. We didn't get to do it in 2020 so we're prepping for a banger this year.
Our goal is to raise $10k for the UDVC; we did almost $7k in 2019. Every penny we raise goes to them--no administrative fees or any bullshit--and I know they can really use that money to help women in need. Lindsay Gezinski at the University of Utah put together a pretty shocking report on Utah's domestic violence response needs and one of the easiest ways to address the listed shortfalls is money: affordable housing shortages, more bilingual staff, more legal representation, law enforcement and church leader training; basically all of the big-ticket problems can be alleviated with increased funding.
Planning a fun event and raising money will be our major focus for the next two months, so come hang with us at Friendsmas21 if you can. Gonna be a great night and will provide actual help to people who really need it.