When Zach Quinn (PEARS) and Brian Wahlstrom (Scorpios, Gods of Mount Olympus) first decided they wanted to write music together – on one of Joey Cape’s One Week Records tours – they had no idea what kind they were going to make. They could just feel there was a creative energy between them that would lead to something really good, whatever that ‘something’ was.
“On the first night of that tour, “ remembers Wahlstrom, “we weren’t rooming together, but by the second we had decided to. And although we didn’t come up with anything about a band, we did decide on that tour that we wanted to experiment and write some tunes. Initially, we thought it was going to be an instrumental EDM project…” “But whatever it was going to sound like,” adds Quinn, “we were going to approach it as a double-header project.”
Thankfully, it wasn’t an instrumental EDM project. It took a few years, but one day, when Quinn was touring with Gods Of Mount Olympus, he and Wahlstrom decided to jam some of the new songs they’d written together. Paul Rucker (Armchair Martian, Street Dogs, Drag The River) happened to behind the drums, so he started playing along. That, Wahlstrom says, is when the band really formed in his mind. With The Gamits’ Chris Fogal in tow, they made their first album at the end of 2018, before the band even had a name and before they’d played live. They eventually decided on Bandaid Brigade, and called the record I’m Separate.
Sex Is Terrifying is much more intentional. It builds on the 1980s-inspired foundations of that first album, but also digs deep in search of its own specific sound. The result – made without Fogal because he no longer lives in the US – is a glorious mix of the band’s heritage in the scene with the music they actually like. ‘Punk yacht’, if you will.
“That first record was all over the place,” says Quinn, “which meant we gave ourselves a lot of space to play in. Which is a gift but also a curse. It doesn’t help narrow anything down.”
“But then,” adds Wahlstrom, “there were also some times when we were like, ‘Yup, that’s starting to sound like a Bandaid Brigade song now somehow, even though we weren’t really able to define exactly what that was.”
Recorded at High Tower Studios in New Orleans by James Whitten, who co-produced it with the band, and then mastered by Chris Beeble at the Blasting Room, Sex Is Terrifying is a cohesive collection of whatever it is that makes Bandaid Brigade songs Bandaid Brigade songs. Which is to say there are powerful choruses and soaring melodies aplenty, all injected with ’80s synths, plaintive punk guitars and self-deprecating but poignantly poetic lyrics. Whether that’s the catchy, carefree grooves of “Hit The Buck” or the upbeat loneliness of “Loveless Love” – whose lyrics give this record its title – the forlorn yet anthemic fragility of “Like A Stone” or the sumptuously soul-tinged “Broken Toy”, the driven defiance of “Abacus” or the buoyant but existential optimism of “Did You Dream?”, this is a record whose songs navigate to both the extreme highs and abject depths of human existence. It also feels very much like an antidote to the world we live in. That, given both the state of the world and where Wahlstrom and Quinn were mentally when the band began, is no surprise.
“It truly did start with some tragedy happening in our lives,” says Wahlstrom. “Literally the day we started recording drums for the first album, my wife called and left me. Zach was the guy next to me, who just held me in his arms for a week while we made the album together. And then he was going through issues with his girl at the same time. There was just a lot of stuff.”
Although their emotional situations have ebbed and flowed since then – Wahlstrom is in a better, place, Quinn was deeply affected by the aimlessness of lockdown – the purpose of the band hasn’t in the slightest. Possessing a go-for-broke attitude inspired by them not having either a label or anyone they thought would care about their band, from the very beginning Bandaid Brigade has been an exercise in rebelling against conventional norms. At the same time, it’s just Wahlstrom and Quinn being themselves and making the music they love without irony or fear of not fitting into the scenes which their other bands are part of. Much of that was cemented by Rucker’s presence.
“He’s a professor of that era – and all music,” says Wahlstrom. “He and I have been playing together since about like 2012, and our favorite thing to play is Billy Joel songs. We actually had a gig in Mexico, and they paid us to play cover shit and we did mostly Billy Joel and Elton John. So this really comes from the bands that we like to listen to, not the bands we played in.”
While vastly different to those bands, Bandaid Brigade is nevertheless a punk band, albeit one that doesn’t really sound like any of their contemporaries. Certainly, it’s a universe away from the frenetic hardcore punk of Quinn’s other band. That’s something that’s caused confusion among some of their contemporaries.
“A lot of our punk friends,” says Quinn, “are like ‘I don’t understand this!’ And they walk out of the room. They think maybe it’s a joke. And it is a joke, but it’s also deadly serious. I’m super sincere, but everything I do and say is also tongue-in-cheek. And that’s what I love that about this band, because it’s the personification of that attitude. In a strange way, punk has made itself trite now, so now I’m doing the other thing to rail against! It feels anti-authoritarian in some way to say, ‘Well, we’re going to play yacht rock!’”
Perhaps most important of all for Bandaid Brigade, though, is the freedom that Quinn and Wahlstrom have found through collaboration to really explore the process of creation. That’s very much enabled by the firm friendship they’ve built up. No idea is too silly or off the wall. Rather, using the mantra of “Yes, and…”, they’ll try anything once.
“It’s made me realize that that’s how cool stuff is made,” says Wahlstrom, “by saying yes and letting it develop. I thought I was a creative person, but having a real collaboration has been the coolest part of this whole thing.”
“There’s finally an outlet for all this music that I listen to,” adds Quinn, “and all this music that I feel inspired to create that PEARS doesn’t do. We like to experiment with the format, but we’re a genre band. Whereas this is just absolute creative chaos. There’s literally no rules, so any idea I could have there’s a home for it. And that’s the coolest fucking thing.”
“I’ve never had anything close to this,” agrees Wahlstrom. “I feel like I’m able to be myself and be who I am as a musician and writer, but also my personality. I’d tried to play piano in punk before, and Zack was the first person in that punk community who said that that’s what I should be doing! This is a project where I can totally be myself. This is my home.”