Growing Up For Grown Ups: Stream the new Sass Dragons track

Jason Smith's True Adventure

Growing Up For Grown Ups: Stream the new Sass Dragons track

By Dave Satterwhite

Jun 10, 2016 20:52

Today we have a stream from legendary Chicago punks Sass Dragons. Their album ‘True Adventure’ is out on June 25th on Let’s Pretend Records / No Breaks Records. You can grab pre-orders here and here. To celebrate this we have a stream of ‘Up The Nose’ and an interview Jason Smith (Singer/Guitarist) did with Dave Satterwhite. Check it all out below:

“We’re still a band,” says Jason Smith, nursing a craft beer at his kitchen table. “We’ll always be a band. It’s part of us and it’s part of who we are and it won’t change because we’re all best friends. The three of us have spent more time together than I have with almost anyone else. To legitimize the whole thing—I think that’s 100% what this is.”

“This” is True Adventure, the Sass Dragons’ first record in six years, the product of a breakup, reunion, geographical separation and two years of aggravation to get the wax in the hands of the people. And in spite of its weary default distinction as a mature comeback record, it’s easily the best thing Chicago’s hometown heroes have ever done.

“It’s a coming-of-age record for thirty-four-year-old men,” he says. “That can be delayed when you’re putting on a persona and being a wild animal and fuckin’ around and not paying close enough attention to the things you need to do or the people you need to love. It’s growing up for grown-ups… for emotionally stunted, older men.”
Even with a High Life on deck in front of him at 1 PM, Smith is far from the depraved frontman I once gazed upon in a unique combination of fear, awe and genuine concern when I was nineteen and first discovering Chicago’s local scene. The once manic, shitfaced ringleader of an unrivaled three-piece party patrol known as the Sass Dragons is now a tamer presence—onstage, only marginally so, but certainly offstage. Like his bandmates Mike Oberlin and Jimmy Adamson, Smith is a married man with a self-described “normal life” outside of punk rock debauchery.

“I still party,” he says. “But it’s muted. I think the record was written because everyone’s direction had changed. All of us started working harder at our jobs, started having families, getting married. Everybody’s settling into a new, normal life—still wild at heart, but not the same guys that we were before. I have my moments but in general, I’m havin’ a beer, looking at people partying outside my house going, ‘You should really quiet down out there.’”

Smith, 34, jokes about his relative domestication, but when you take into account the Sass Dragons’ reputation as infamous degenerates, mentions of a “normal life” are pertinent if not profound—especially considering how much debauchery led to the band’s temporary demise.
“On the last tour we did for New Kids on the Bong,” says Smith, “our reputation had preceded us. We’d go places and people would be like, ‘We thought you were gonna stay up all night and party with us.’ And that obviously added fuel to the fire. These people went out of their way to put us up, feed us, get us drunk and now they want to stay up all night partying and being wild and it almost felt like an obligation at times, to be like, ‘Okay, so this is what we’ve already done, this is what people already know of us and we have to keep that up.’ We’d been together for six years, basically the (now defunct, beloved Chicago venue and abject shithole) Ronny’s house band, playing all the time in town and out of town in the Midwest on these jaunts. We did three big tours and that last one was like three and a half weeks. By the end of that, our behaviors had reached a peak where we just couldn’t stand playing together anymore. We couldn’t gauge one day to the next what our mood was gonna be towards each other at any given point in time.”
After a year apart to gain perspective but still all living in Chicago, the three men found themselves hanging out often enough that a friendship without music proved itself unsatisfactory if not unsustainable. The band was back. It had to be. But the Sass Dragons’ triumphant return was met with criticism, however flippant, as early as their first show back together.

Growing Up For Grown Ups: Stream the new Sass Dragons track

“We first got back together in August of 2011 to play that benefit for Minot up at the Lucky Gator Loft in Humboldt Park and the Dopamines—and I don’t mean to shit talk anyone in the Dopamines—but Jon Weiner said something to Jimmy, like ‘Oh, so are you guys just gonna get together for the really big shows? Is that gonna be your thing now?’ And honestly, I thought maybe that’s what we’d do. But as soon as I heard that I was like, ‘No, fuck you! That’s not fair! We just started doing this again, we haven’t decided what we’re gonna do.’ And from then on, it was like, ‘No, this is ours again.’ We’ve always been friends. We needed some time apart for a minute. And then when we all came back together, we were like, ‘Oh, we’re hanging out. Why wouldn’t we play music again?’ It’s silly to think that we’d still go to barbecues together, hang out, be best friends like we’ve always been and not play music.”

And so, motivated by offhand ribbing from a punk peer, the Sass Dragons found themselves on a quest to legitimize themselves—perhaps for the first time since the group’s inception. Known primarily to many for their aforementioned antics, the band was faced not only with the immediate challenge of proving their official, committed return to the scene, but with distancing themselves from a discography that, albeit cherished by many, is laden with enough dick jokes and drug references to rival The Mark, Tom and Travis Show.

“It’s far more serious,” says Smith of True Adventure. “It’s more bittersweet and not about, you know, fucking cops, fucking her on the ground or doing drugs. I always personally resented being called a joke band. Obviously, if you’re cracking jokes every second, you shouldn’t be offended by that. But we worked really hard at everything we did. Even though humor was an element, people were like, ‘You’re my favorite joke band!’ I don’t like that sentence. That sentence sucks.”

I tell Jason that I didn’t laugh at all listening to True Adventure and we both, of course, laugh. His reaction, though, is palpably one of pride. This record is a seemingly out of character yet successful attempt to carve out an adult life for a band whose individual members have already done just that for themselves. Drummer Jimmy Adamson gave up drinking altogether six years ago and became a father—hallmarks of maturity that couldn’t sound further from Sass Dragons songwriting fodder, but believe it, they’re in there. In a notable shift of creative distribution, Jimmy wrote about half of the new album himself, much of it touching on those themes of newfound responsibility. In Smith’s words, Adamson “took over this record and wrote some of his best songs he’s ever written.” He also coined the title, an epithet for the record’s ethos.

“True Adventure, Jimmy just wanted to name it that,” says Smith. “And, from what I remember, for no particular reason. But I found a way to sneak that phrase into a song. And that song, ‘Up the Nose,’ is just about thinking that ‘adventure’ was revolving around drinking and drugs and being wild, only to find out that as that settles down, there’s gonna be more.” With all this talk of drugs and debauchery, Smith is careful to note that much of the Sass canon is rooted in fiction. “I’ve written songs about drugs I’ve never done,” he says. “‘Acid.’ Without speaking to anybody else in the band, I’ve never done acid. It’s the stupidest thing. I’ve never done it and I’m screaming about it all the time.”

Beyond necessary changes in lifestyle and the addition of Adamson’s pen to the process, this new, more personal Sass Dragons is also the product of Smith having spread his creative energies into his other band, the titanic Chicago four-piece Rad Payoff. That band, whose subject matter and musical tone occupy a much darker, more serious space than anything Sass Dragons have made to date, had a kind of rewiring effect on his writing:

“Because Rad Payoff was coming from a bit more personal and earnest space, I couldn’t imagine going back to being 100% goofball. Then the rift between myself as an artist starts to parody. If I can be over here talking about the darkest corners of my mind but be over here talking about huffing angel dust or whatever, making stuff up in order to write a funny song, it seems like the legitimacy starts to wane. So if I write the goofiest song I possibly can here and then write another song about something deep, dark and depressingly personal, how do I reconcile that? When you look at the content from one record to the next, our new songs don’t even go near the old stuff.”

While the physical/emotional strain of being in Sass Dragons may have waned in one sense, the very creation of True Adventure was spurred by perhaps the band’s toughest obstacle yet: Jimmy and his family’s relocation to New Jersey. Adamson’s decision to move set the band writing—“very slowly,” notes Smith, slowly enough to make this LP the most cohesive and direct work in the Sass Dragons catalogue. But there was an urgency compounding that patience, stemming from knowledge that, at least for the time being, this record would be the last thing they did while all in one place. Since completing True Adventure, the Sass Dragons have continued to play shows, mainly in Chicago, but also embarked on their first European tour this past winter. There’s plenty of momentum at work here, and Smith has no plans of stopping. It’s just a matter of making it work.

“I don’t wanna force it at all,” he says. “It might take ten years before another record comes out because of that. You don’t live in the same area. You’re playing four times a year, maybe touring once if you’re lucky. When are we gonna get the time? So we haven’t explored that yet. Jimmy was still in town when we did this. So anything for the future is uncertain. But how hard could it be?”

Photos by Patrick Houdek