With NOFX tackling our questions last week, that makes two punk rock bands in a row for our Tell Me About That Album feature, as labelmates Banner Pilot go under the microscope this week. We chatted with bassist and primary songwriter Nate Gangelhoff, who answered questions about the band's third LP, one of last year's best punk rock records, Heart Beats Pacific. The Minnesota quartet will bring their Jawbreaker-influenced brand of Midwestern punk to the Funhouse on Friday, January 27th, but in the meantime you can bone up on the ins and outs of their latest record below.
Do you ever figure out how to play a song that you're enjoying, for inspiration perhaps? I totally do that! For whatever reason, I had a hard time writing any music until I got a drum machine, but once I had a beat to work with it became way easier. So what I'll do a lot is go onto the internet and find a drum tab for some song that I know and plop that in for a few bars, loop it and then play riffs over it. And I learned to play guitar from guitar tabs from bands that I liked, like Screeching Weasel and the Ramones, and played along that way.
How do you decide which songs make the cut for an album and which don't? Is it a democracy? I think it's pretty democratic. For Heart Beats Pacific, I wrote like 80 ideas, and obviously 70 of them didn't go anywhere. So if I bring in something that sucks we'll just shelve it and move on to something else. I'd say we're in total agreement by the end of the album that these are the 11 songs that were best.
Do you have a favorite song on the album? "Spanish Reds" I guess.
How about a favorite lyric? I can't think of a specific line that I would single out, but I like the lyrics to the song "Calling Station" a lot.
Can you tell me about the album's title? I know it's from a lyric, but which came first, the lyric or the title? Going back to what I was saying before about the drum beats, when I do that, I have to save the file, and I have to call it something. I'll usually change it, but in this case that was one of the dummy song titles. I don't remember where I got it. I probably just looked at a book or a webpage or something, but it sounded kind of cool so we kept it. When the song "Division Street" was being written, I had a melody for the final line in the song and I just said, "Hey, why don't we put that at the end of the song?" At one point, we were either going to go with Western Terminal or Heart Beats Pacific as the title, and we went with that one because it seemed that it had a more optimistic mood than Western Terminal. And I kind of like it when records have a title that comes from a lyric in a song.
The record seems sort of cold and lonely, conjuring a Midwest winter. Was that your state of mind when you were recording it? I totally agree that that's what the sound reminds me of. Most of the songs, and I think all of Nick's lyrics, were written over the winter, and I think last year was probably the worst winter in Minnesota of my entire life. It was just brutal, a lot of snow for months, really cold, really shitty. So it kind of makes sense that it would seep into the lyrics.
You guys go full bore for the entire record. Have you considered adding an acoustic song to the mix or some different textures? We tried some other stuff, but the main thing we try and do when we're doing something like that is take a step back and say, "Is this actually good?" We had one song that was in 6/8 time and had a way different feel to it and another that wasn't acoustic but had very quiet guitar. At first it was like, "Hey, this is really cool, we've never done something like this before." And we played for about a month and we were like, "Well, is that actually any good?" And in both cases they weren't very good songs. So I think we try and be our harshest critics. I don't want to force ourselves to do something new just for the sake of doing something new.