Interview: Elliot Babin of Dad Punchers (also Touche Amore, DNF)
For someone who is essentially the backbone of one of the most celebrated hardcore bands going these days, Touche Amore drummer Elliot Babin isn’t quite what one would expect. He is genuine, a little self-deprecating and completely without pretense — all qualities that make him a pleasure to speak with. In fact, he’s quick to point out his own flaws, stressors, and areas for improvement. It’s difficult to imagine what could possibly shake one of the most skilled drummers on the punk landscape, but the topic at hand isn’t his participation in Touche Amore, or even powerviolence/grind super group DNF (which features members of Trash Talk). Elliot is sharing his experience with writing and recording the self-titled debut for Dad Punchers, a project in which he sings and plays guitar.
In the brief interludes between tours, Babin started writing and recording his own songs. The result is Dad Punchers, a nostalgic, sometimes searing dissection of Babin’s life and the people he has met in his time abroad. The 11 tracks on this “bummer punk” debut LP touch on gender roles, codependency, romantic comedy films, consumerism, body image, dwelling on the past, and living while always moving. Babin’s earnest approach to songwriting, which recalls work by both The Weakerthans and Cheap Girls, earned him a spot on the roster for start-up indie-label Sea Legs, started by Merrick Jarmulowicz (the booking agent for Touche, Title Fight, Balance and Composure and more). The album was recorded by Alex Estrada at Eart Capital Studios with longtime friend Matt Ebert (of Joyce Manor) handling bass and providing back up vocals.
Ghettoblaster caught up with Babin following a short stint around California with Dad Punchers, and days before a Japanese tour with Touche Amore to discuss the endeavor. This is what he said about it…
In Touche Amore and DNF you’re accustomed to being behind the kit. What inspired you to pick up the guitar and give your vocals a shot?
I spend so much time touring, and so much time in a van. I always have this thought, “If the van were to flip over, what would I be bummed out that I didn’t have a chance to do?” I concluded that I would be bummed if I never attempted to write songs and sing or do something incredibly out of my comfort zone. So that’s where the inspiration for it came from. I’ve been sort of writing songs in secret, but I decided I should try something outside of that.
Vocally I think you’ll get a lot of comparisons to The Weakerthans, Into It. Over It., and Cheap Girls. Have you seen any of those in press for the record?
I haven’t. The one that I’ve gotten the most is that I sound like the vocalist for Piebald. I would be incredibly flattered to get compared to The Weakerthans though because they are my favorite band.
Are any of those bands influences for Dad Punchers?
Weakerthans are a gigantic influence. That’s number one for me. I’ve always admired the way that they were able to control the dynamics of songs, going from quiet to loud to rocking to sad over the course of a record. So that’s been a huge influence for me.
The press release for your record uses the term “bummer punk” to describe the sound. Is bummer punk a term that you’ve actually heard people use?
(Laughter) No, it is just a bullshit genre name that I made up. Putting a label on something is never a fun thing and I didn’t feel particularly comfortable using any already existing genre name. So I just made that one up.
Is there a different kind of release or catharsis you get from playing this music as opposed to hardcore-inspired music?
Yes, absolutely. The release of playing drums is a very different one from that you get singing and playing guitar. They both come from very different places. For me, drums is a very physical thing – you get a real release feeling from that just because you’re being active. It’s much more involved because you’re the conductor of the group.
It is definitely a different role to be singing and playing guitar. It reaches to a different place than playing drums for me. And it evokes all kinds of emotions that you don’t realize are down there. There are times that I’m playing guitar and singing and have been moved to tears for no particular reason. And there’s no explanation for it. It’s just digging up something that you don’t really realize is down there.
Is it nerve wracking now that you have to take ownership over whether or not people are digging the songs, not just that they’re performed correct technically?
Yeah, absolutely. I’m the kind of person who becomes obsessed that things need to be perfect and it is hard for me to personally reconcile if things aren’t the way they should be. When I make a mistake or hit a sour note (laughter)…it is a bit of a struggle for me. I’m trying to learn that having fun playing music is much more important than stressing about playing it perfect. It’s a bad habit I have and I’m trying to work myself out of it.
It seems as though there are a lot of themes at work here. What catalysts were driving these songs when you wrote them?
There are a lot of songs on the record that are based on the stories people shared with me during my time abroad. I won’t get into the details… Just being at someone’s house and having a late night conversation with them and hearing about where thier lives were at. So I took some of those and put my two cents to them. Another big theme is coming home after being gone for months. It’s really jarring. You feel very different, and it is challenging to get comfortable with being in one place after having moved so much.
There are a ton of things that stand out to me on the record that I’d change if I were to go back. I’m at the point where I can’t really listen to it. And those are probably only things that stand out to me. That’s the way it is.
Is there a re-assimilation process you go through when you get home? I imagine you’re on the road eight or more months a year…
I’m still trying to figure out the best method for that. The first few weeks I just try to spend as much time alone as possible, because when we’re on the road I’m surrounded by people 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is refreshing to be able to breathe, and not worry about anyone else, or worry about being a host or guest. Then I start cooking a lot too. That is what makes up the re-assimilation process so far.
Do you think someone will discover someday that there is a “punk post traumatic stress disorder?”
(Laughter) It’s funny that you should bring that up. I’ve been wondering the same thing. I was wondering if this routine is incredibly unhealthy or not. Sometimes I feel like it is, but I’m trying to figure out the healthiest way of approaching it. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if that turned out to be the case.
How did Joyce Manor’s Matt Ebert become involved in the project?
I’ve been friends with Matt and Barry since I was in high school. We played in quite a few bands prior to me being in Touche and them being in Joyce Manor. They’re really good friends of mine. Basically, I decided that taking on every single role for this record would be too much and that I should relinquish some of it, or at least one part of it, to someone else to relieve some of the stress. So I asked Matt if he had any interest and he said yes.
Unfortunately we didn’t get to spend a lot of time planning out bass parts. So he showed up at the studio in May and we just went section by section figuring out parts. And he laid down some vocal tracks and that was about it. It was nice to be able to trust him with a really crucial part of the record though.
How did the short tour of California go last week?
It was a lot of fun. I’m still trying to get used to singing and playing guitar in front of people. It is absolutely terrifying. Most of my friends who sing and play guitar in bands got over this in their high school bands, which is something I never did. So it is a struggle for me. But, I’m learning to get in the groove and to have fun with it. The shows were great and people were extremely kind. I played my favorite venues in California. I can’t complain.
Did Merrick Jarmulowicz create Sea Legs for the express purpose of releasing this record or does he have other releases planned?
He had been thinking about starting a label for quite some time. We had been talking about this music I’d been working on and he showed an interest in putting it out. He definitely has three or four new releases lined up that I’m really stoked about. I’m really excited for those to come out. I’m also excited to be labelmates with those other folks and hopefully it will be fun to be part of something new for both Merrick and I.
Touche Amore leaves for Japan this week, which I’m assuming means that the album cycle for the Dad Punchers record will be interrupted. Do you have plans to do another tour on the DP record?
I would love to. Quite honestly though, I’m not sure it can happen at this point. When we get back from Japan, Touche will be working on a new record. I’d love to do some shows here and there. I’m trying to play as many shows in California, Los Angeles, Pomona, Orange County, and the surrounding areas, between now and the fall. In terms of touring the U.S., I don’t have any of those kinds of plans at this time. Maybe sometime early next year. It’s just not working out at this point.
Touche just put out a split with Pianos Become The Teeth, which is an incredible record. Were you stoked to be splitting a release with them?
I was so, so incredibly excited. Those are guys that I’ve looked up to. As people they are absolutely the best. But musically, every time I watch them – and we’ve done full, months long tours with them – every time I watch them I’m genuinely moved. Their drummer Dave is one of the top-five best drummers I know. I admire them in just about every way possible, so getting to share a release with them was an absolute honor.