Interview: The Brokedowns [January 2015]

By Mike Petruccelli

Hailing from the small, yet musically inclined town of Elgin, Illinois, The Brokedowns are the type of punk band that you either love to death or have never heard of at all. Regardless, they have put on some of the most insane shows I’ve seen over the years in Chicago, and to say that all of them are characters would be an understatement. So, by taking a sketchy bus ride and a short walk from my house, I was able to meet with all four members at their practice space. Considering this is a four person interview, you might want to remember their names: Jon Balun (bass/vocals), Kris Megyery (guitar/vocals), Eric Grossman (guitar/backing vocals), and Mustafa “Moose” Daka (drums). We had a chance to discuss their music, their hometown of Elgin, GG Allin, taxes, and their new album ‘Life is a Breeze’. It was a pretty hilarious time.

Okay, first question. After doing a good amount of EPs over the years, when did the decision to make another album come about?

Kris: We recorded in March of 2013 and picked it up in like, December of 2013. It was really different, we demoed everything for this album in our space. We had all the vocals figured out in advance. Usually we’ll have a batch of songs and the vocals get figured out eight months down the road. We thought this was going to move really fast, we were like “Dude, we’re going to have this done in like two weekends, we have everything set!” But, nah, it took like a year (laughs).
Jon: It also turns out that some of the vocals we did just didn’t work out so we had to go back into the studio with Joe [Joe Gac, the sound engineer on the new album].
Kris: Yeah, it ended completely in May of 2014, but it’s not like we were toiling away, there were a bunch of breaks in between months.

There are a good amount of tracks on ‘Life is a Breeze’ (16 tracks, to be exact). What are you guys trying to do? Don’t you know the kids have shorter attention spans these days?

Kris: (laughs) It’s still a half hour though! There are some shorter tracks on this one but also some of our longer tracks as well. There’s a couple that are around the four minute mark. A few of them are definitely our longest songs.
Moose: Yeah, we never really hit the four minute mark with songs.

What about ‘Coke Mule Blues’ though? The closer on ‘New Brains for Everyone’?

Eric: Oh, but we purposefully dragged that song out though.
Kris: Yeah man, it was like eight minutes of Moose playing drums (laughs).
Moose: And no joke, the whole time in the studio those guys were telling me to stop and I kept playing drums, then everyone came back in for a while and dropped out again. Before we recorded that song Kris said to me: “Hey man, just keep playing drums for a little bit, we’re going to mess with some shit after recording” and I just went with it.
Kris: There was one point where the whole band was playing and you can hear my guitar cut out, then I walked over to Eric during the song and physically put my hand over his guitar.
Moose: I think we recorded that album in the track order and it was 4am by the time we played it. It was dark in the studio.

What’s it like working with Joe Gac from Meat Wave? I know he recorded your last record ‘Species Bender’ as well as your recent EPs. What’s the working dynamic with him? Is it relaxed or super focused?

[whole band looks at each other and laugh at once]
Kris: I’d say it’s probably way too relaxed at times. It’s so insanely not focused but Joe is the best, dude. We would get into Youtube wormholes and we’d look at the time and be like: “Holy shit, 5 hours just passed”. He does kind of lay the hammer down on us at times and he’ll be really blunt about things that suck.
Jon: At the same time though he would be like, “Do whatever you want” and I would ask him if the take sounded good and he would just be like, “Uhh…I don’t know, do you like it Jon?”
Kris: But that’s toward the end of recording [laughs]! When we start he’s super optimistic but towards the end of the end of the record he’s like, “I don’t give a shit at this point”.
Eric: Yeah, that’s when starts to gets tired of us.
Moose: Yeah, he’s totally not like that usually. We do this to him during recording.
Kris: He’s made it super easy for us though. I don’t think we would have recorded half of the shit we’ve recorded if it wasn’t for Joe. We definitely wouldn’t put out as much stuff in the end. He also does mobile so we’ve recorded in Moose’s house, Jon’s house, and a bunch of places. We actually recorded ‘Species Bender’ in seven or eight different places. It’s pretty remarkable what he can do.

I’ve noticed there’s some switch up between vocals with Kris and Jon on this album a bunch, more so than anything previously. How does it get decided who sings what?

Kris: This one was definitely different. ‘Life Is A Breeze’ is mostly me singing and writing, but with deciding songs, if I write a song and Jon doesn’t immediately feel it, I sing it because it’s weird to sing someone else’s lyrics, you know?

How does writing go musically with you guys?

Eric: Usually, it’s Jon and Kris that write a lot of the stuff.
Jon: Yeah, usually we write them and then we go to practice and work them out.
Kris: They’re short songs, you know? We can do things pretty fast for slow shit moves with us (laughs). We recorded those three splits with Vacation Bible School, The Slow Death, and Wide Angles in one day.
Moose: The one thing that’s funny about that is that we only practised the song ‘Crime Still Pays’ a couple times, but when it was recorded I started it differently and we just recorded it differently. That was the first time we ever played that song like that.
Eric: Yeah, and the song ‘God Hates Math’ on the new album was a song I originally sang but eventually Kris became the one who sang it. We slowed it down too.
Kris: Originally it was double timed. A lot of songs end up like that where the song originally sounded different than what we recorded.
Jon: I don’t know if it’s conscious or unconscious in our band but we usually don’t dwell on the songs for too long. Once we write and record it we’re usually like “Okay, next” and try not to think about it too much. There’s no need to make it perfect, so why think about it too much, you know?
Moose: If we need to change it, we’ll just change it. It will always change if we spend too much time on it.

Oh yeah, real quick: what’s with the intro on ‘God Hates Math’? It sounds like a kid singing at the beginning.

Kris: That’s my kid and my wife humming in my kitchen, and then my phone was on a window sill and Moose was on a speaker phone yelling, “Stop it! Stop it! Get off the phone!”

When you guys write, there’s a lot of external themes most of the time like religion, politics, etc. Do you get a sense of release and therapy from your songs even though they aren’t extremely personal at times?

Kris: There’s definitely a cathartic element to communicate ideas and stuff like that. Writing anything lyrically I’m never in my life been like “This is the fucking message, yeah” [laughs]. It’s always been something very frustrating or my take on things.
Jon: The release for me is more of just playing live. To me, that’s the part that feels good, you know?

I usually don’t ask this but who did the artwork for ‘Life Is A Breeze’? It’s super weird but considering some of the nature of the album it makes total sense.

Moose: Oh man, our buddy Matt, that’s him right there.
[The whole band points to a naked self portrait of a man on the wall which I didn’t realise was even in the room until they pointed it out to me]
Moose: Yeah, Matt Semke. He has a website with all of his art ( He’s done a couple of EPs and also ‘New Brains For Everyone’.
Kris: He plays music too, his new band is called Loud Nerves and they are from Minneapolis and they’re fucking amazing.
Jon: Also, he was the first person who we traded shows with out of state. We were still in high school when we met him.
Eric: Yeah, we used to trade shows with his band Straight To Your Brains and we’ve known him for almost 15 years now.
Kris: He’s definitely a good friend of ours. But yeah, the artwork for ‘Life Is A Breeze’ was supposed to be like a postcard in a way. A lot of the songs are about hating Midwest winters and most of it was written during the winter.

You released a video for ‘Cash For Gold’ recently and I’ve noticed with your videos they are usually weird but this one was pretty lewd compared to previous ones. The video is GG and Merle Allin trying to find jobs around the city and naturally getting fired for reasons you’d assume they’d get fired for, how did that idea come about?

Kris: Videos are usually so fucking dumb and lame and if they aren’t funny or at least, if you don’t have someone gifted and able to make them funny, you shouldn’t do them. We came up with the idea for ‘Cash For Gold’ and just shot it ourselves. It was mostly shot on a phone.
Eric: Yeah, we aren’t the type of band to do a video of us just playing in a space and singing. It’s just not us, you know? .
Me: Oh totally, I can agree with that. I think shooting it on the phone gives it a special charm as well.
Moose: Also, all the videos we’ve made have had some sort of bad parenting element to them [laughs].
Kris: Oh man, that’s so weird, they do have a bad parenting element to them. We did cut it out of the script for ‘Cash For Gold’ though, there was a parenting scene in that one. GG and Merle were going to be babysitters and Eric was like “Hey, maybe we should give my kid a knife”.
Eric: He’s seven years old, he totally knows knife safety.
[Interviewer’s Note: I started laughing hysterically at my desk while transcribing this because I totally forgot about the knife safety line]
Kris: But yeah, also Ian Floetl has a huge part in ‘Cash For Gold’ as well, he did all of the Three Stooges effects and everything. He was also the Wizard in ‘Wizard Symptoms’ and ‘Apocalypse Seaside Heights’.

So does the song ‘Murder Junkie/CPA’ have to do with GG Allin as well?

Kris: ‘Murder Junkie/CPA’ was written while I was watching the GG Allin documentary ‘Hated’ while I was doing my taxes, and I hadn’t watched it since I was 21. The song is about my 21 year old brain watching it and my 35 year old brain watching it and how I realized how dumb my instincts were when I was 21. There is also a soundbite after the song ends and it’s from one of his spoken word performances, and I spent hours trying to find something that linked him to taxes or something very adult. I watched, like, every available Youtube clip I could find and downloaded torrents of audio just to get the soundbite of him talking about it.

So, I’ve been meaning to ask this because of the opening track, but is Joliet, Illinois REALLY the “Maui of the Midwest” and what qualifications does it have to back up such claims?

Moose: No. Moving on!

That’s exactly what I was expecting. You guys are all from Elgin which is just outside of Chicago. What do you think of the music scene these days there and in the city?

Kris: My first all ages show was in Elgin and it was Screeching Weasel when I was 13. During the 90s it was a big spot for nationally touring bands. A lot of cool shows happened there. The Descendents played in Elgin at one point, you know? It comes in waves, though. There’s not much there to keep young people, there’s not university or anything, but there is always something happening and people are always making music there.
Eric: When the Subject House and Gasthaus were around a lot of shows were being booked. We did play a basement show recently and it was pretty awesome. Yeah, it just takes someone to set something up and people show up in Elgin.
Moose: 2005-2008 were great. Against Me! came through there once as well and we booked a show at a skate park there and it was one of the best shows. Off With Their Heads played my graduation [laughs].
[Interviewer’s note: we then continued to talk about Wayne’s World and small towns in Illinois for a good 15 minutes]

Okay, last one! What was it like playing Red Scare Anniversary and Awesome Fest this year? Did you guys have an “awesome” time? (HEYYYOOO)

Eric: I didn’t make it to Awesome Fest but Red Scare Anniversary was a blast. We played super early, around 4:30 in the afternoon. The best part was that we were done and we partied the whole day.
Kris: We’re never upset to play early, we’ll always play early.
Eric: I woke up in my basement the next morning going “Oh, okay, that was fun”.
Kris: I had the flu for Red Scare so I went, played, and went home directly afterward. It was still a great time though.
Jon: Awesome Fest was rad too, it was our first time as a band playing in California which was really cool. It was good for us as a band. It’s like Ian’s Party in San Diego.
[Interviewer’s Note: Ian’s Party is a 3-4 fest held the first week of January in small venues in Chicago that feature mainly local acts]

Try these three interviews

Interview: Greywind [Reading 2016]

Interview: Arcane Roots [Reading 2016]

Interview: Trash Boat [Reading 2016]