The Friday night before DC’s first snowfall of the season, I was standing against the bar at DC9, listening to a band whose EP I’d reviewed a few months back. After rushing home from work for a change of clothes, I’d made it just in time to hear the headlining band introduce themselves and launch into their first song.
After a fun, high-energy set, I got to sit down with Drew, Sean, Stephen, and Alex, the goofy, passionate musicians who make up The Split Seconds. Interviewing these four guys was not unlike listening to them play live: a serious devotion to intelligent musical composition hidden behind a thin veil of charisma and class-clown antics. They are unique as individuals, each bringing something vital and potent to the table. While bassist Stephen is cracking jokes about comparing the band to Toto, frontman Drew and drummer Sean are waxing poetic about Brahms and The Hives, only to be interrupted by honest brevity from bleeding guitarist Alex (but more on that later).
Having never interviewed a band like this before, my mind was making a list of any number of things that could go wrong. Talking to The Split Seconds, though, was more akin to sitting with some friends in a living room than conducting a stuffy interview. Eventually, the relationship of interviewer and interviewee disappeared and any anxiety I had was replaced by a desire to make them feel comfortable enough to let their personalities shine. And shine they did. In the end, know that there was more to this interview than what is written on the page. There is the fun, welcoming vibe of the four bandmates, their intense love for music, a hint of fierce devotion to one another, and a series of very, very bad jokes.
While the men will tell you themselves that the show could have been better (it always can be better, no one is perfect) I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of seeing them live and look forward to an opportunity to do so again. If you are looking for a danceable history lesson in punk rock, The Split Seconds is where you need to be. Your next chance to see them is February 11th at the Commune. See you there.
Jordan: How do you feel the show went?
Drew: I never think it goes well. I’m always unsatisfied. I’m not playing for me. If other people liked it, then that’s cool.
J: Who ARE you playing for?
Sean: I think at the stage we’re at, it’s pretty safe to assume […] the majority of the audience is people who’s never heard us before. First impressions are really important.
Drew: I’m just trying to play our songs well. I’m definitely not trying to please music nerds. I try to avoid that.
Sean: At the end of the day, people are either going to like you or they’re not going to like you. You don’t have control over that. The best thing to concentrate on is having fun because the energy is really, really important.
Drew: Dot Dash was a great band to play with. Cakerblossom, they’re a great band too. Dot Dash, they have a cool, late-80’s like Joy Division thing…
Stephen: They have an eight-string bass!
Sean: And it worked! It wasn’t like “oh, god, that guy’s playing an eight-string bass.” It was like “what is that sound? Oh my God, that’s an eight-string bass!”
Drew: You play with a lot of shitty bands, especially when you’re first starting out. I’ve watched bands and thought “no wonder people don’t come out and see live music.” Who wants to suffer through all of these bands and maybe you get the diamond in the rough every once in a while. So it’s cool to play with these guys.
Jordan: I was a little nervous coming to see you guys tonight, because I really liked the record and was like “what if they’re not good live?”
Drew: Yeah, you can be disappointed, absolutely.
Jordan: I think it’s bad when a band tries too hard to recreate their recorded sound live.
Drew: I wouldn’t even know how to do that.
Sean: Well, when you’re talking about recording there’s a lot of magic that goes into it these days that has nothing to do with what’s going on with the live stuff.
Drew: You know what it is? You have this software now, Pro Tools. And when you’re talking about a homogenized sound, that software is a lot of what’s going on. Everything just turns into robots, and everything gets real, super compressed and stuff like that. This record, we tracked it to tape, we didn’t autotune stuff, and we worked with a guy who used analog stuff to get that more organic sound.
Jordan: How do you put your setlist together?
Sean: I try to start and end the sets really high energy. I try to throw songs that sound a little different [in the middle] so you’re not listening to the same thing over and over and over again. I mean, it’s punk rock. We’re not a jazz band who’s playing like a bossanova and then a swing chart, it’s all kind of the same stuff.
Drew: We have a term called an Oatmeal Band. What that is is when you go to a show and all of the songs sound the same and have the same texture the whole way through and have the same kind of sound the whole way through. So we’re always trying to avoid that. Especially if it’s the first time you’re seeing a band and you don’t know the songs, it can just all blend together.
Sean: There are songs that we have that sound exactly the same, and if you have all the same type of songs next to each other you get that. And what we try to do with the set is throw in songs that sound a little bit different every once in a while so there’s some variation.
Drew: And I like our little surf tune. That’s like my favorite part of the set.
Jordan: So speaking of the surf rock tune, the song with no lyrics, why is it called the Safe Space Song?
Drew: Just because it has no words.
Jordan: So it’s a safe space because you’re not potentially going to offend someone with your lyrical content?
Drew: Yeah, exactly.
Jordan: Do you find that you offend people with your lyrical content?
Drew: Yeah, not at all.
Stephen: Well, you never know.
Jordan: How did you guys become a band?
Drew: I was working on the songs and tracked it with the drummer from Boardroom Heroes. About halfway through the project, I met Sean totally randomly through my mother. He was working at an auto shop, she had a minor incident, and somehow they got to talking. He’s like, “I’m a drummer,” and my mom’s like, “my son’s a guitarist; he’s looking for a drummer.” So we ended up meeting up and the rest is history.
Sean: To give more of a backstory, I didn’t actually have a drum set when I met Drew’s Mom.
Drew: This is funny, I didn’t know about this.
Sean: So I was kind of stretching the truth, I played drums a little bit. [They all laugh] But I got out of college and was like “I don’t want to be a classical musician anymore, I wanna fucking play drums in a band.” And so I was picking her up at her house to drive her to pick her car up, and she’s like [mimicking] “Oh, my son’s just such a good guitarist.” And I’m sitting there like, “yeah, lady.” But she’s like “he needs a drummer”, and I’m like “Oh! Well, I play drums,” and, you know, talk myself up. And I waited two weeks to contact Drew because I had to buy a drum set.
Drew: I was about to contact him pretty quickly, so this could have never happened.
Sean: I would’ve had to have been like “yeah, I’m sorry I’m going out of town and, um, I’m not gonna be – my mom has a thing, bye.”
Drew: The story of Sean getting into the band just makes me realize I need to lie more. We need somebody in the band who can bullshit, because I just can’t do it.
Sean: Sometimes [bullshit] works out so well!
Drew: So Stephen and I, this is our fourth band together.
Stephen: Fourth times the charm!
Drew: He’s our third bassist, and we hope he’s around the stay. And Alex was a Craigslist gem.
Alex: Yeah, that’s exactly what it was.
Drew: I tell you what, Craigslist? You get on there and you just don’t know who’s showing up and you’re rarely happy about it.
Alex: I was putting myself out there. I showed up and I didn’t get knifed. It was a good day!
Jordan: So Drew, you had already written all of the songs, then.
Jordan: So what was that like for the rest of you, to come in and play songs you didn’t write?
Drew: Actually, Sean really has done some different things with them.
Sean: For me, part of it’s been learning the songs and developing as a drummer, because it’s not something I’ve done for terribly long.
Drew: Well, he was also kind of new to punk rock, and so it’s been cool, him coming in and starting to really understand it, especially because we’re looking at that more old school stuff.
Sean: And I will say, I’m at least, like, three times as much of an asshole after joining the band and getting into punk rock than I was before. So I think that’s a success. [Note: Sean is not, based on the experience of this interview, actually an asshole.]
Jordan: So what kind of music were you playing before this, Stephen?
Stephen: Well, I played in Boardroom Heroes, which is like skate-punk, like NoFX or Bad Religion. And I’ve always liked punk rock. So, it was a natural fit; it worked.
Drew: And before that, we were in a band called The Coastals.
Stephen: Which is sort of like power-pop. Sort of like The Split Seconds, in a way. It’s like a natural evolution.
Jordan: Wait, there’s a third band, right?
Drew: Well, we’re working on a side project. [Note: I was told this project is top secret, but let’s just say its not another punk band. Sean, please don’t call you Mom on me.]
Jordan: Alex, what kind of music were you playing before this?
Alex: I don’t know. I mean, I was in college when I met them.
Stephen: You JUST graduated, you’re still in college pretty much, come on!
Alex: I don’t know, I was too busy to play music. I was playing a lot of skate-punk stuff, just pick up, meet some guys on the quad and jam a little bit.
Stephen: Alex is a big Green Day fan. I think we all are.
Alex: Who isn’t, though?
Drew: We get so many Green Day comparisons, and that’s not what we’re going for, that I’m always trying to distance ourselves from that.
Jordan: So what kind of bands would you compare yourselves to, in terms of the style that you’re going for?
Drew: I’m kind of aiming for Buzzcocks, The Clash, The Damned, Generation X a lot. And some more obscure bands from back then.
Steve: Definitely Toto [another round of laughter]
Drew: The Boys, I really like a lot.
Sean: Some newer stuff, too, like The Hives.
Drew: Yeah, we love The Hives. The Living End. We’re big Beatles fans, and I like garage rock and I like Rock-a-billy. I like the surf stuff, and I like Reggae, and I try to bring that stuff in but without it being unfocused. And that’s a challenge, but that’s a good challenge.
Jordan: When you sit down and write, do you think about music theory?
Drew: I used to play jazz – I mean, I still play jazz, I just don’t play it much anymore. So a lot of it’s on an automatic level.
Sean: Theory is, essentially, an organizing principle. It would be like, say you were writing poetry.
Alex: Oh my god. Wait, hold up, there’s a powerpoint slide that goes with this. [Note: Don’t EVER ask Sean about music theory. Put that in ink so you don’t forget, people.]
Drew: So yes, I do. That song “Half of the Time”, that first riff it’s almost like a Charlie Parker, like bebop rock. And I know I’m connecting chord tones with chromatics, but I’m not necessarily mathing it out. But yeah, I know when I’m playing a flat seven and I know when I’m modulating.
Stephen: I have no idea. I’m like “what note is this? Is this a D?”
Drew: That song “21 Months” has some cool stuff in it.
Sean: Like the 2/5
Drew: The 2/5, changing keys, like old American Standards or bebop tunes. I like working that stuff in because it’s kind of fun to see if anyone notices. You know? To put that stuff in and still be compared to Green Day, you’re like “ehhh.”
Jordan: What do you guys like about playing together?
Stephen: Uh, drinking beer?
Jordan: What makes it work besides alcohol? That’s just to make it go down easier.
Stephen: OH! Well, we’re all good musicians. [A simultaneous sound of uncertainty responds to this statement, followed by laughter.] When you get a bunch of people together who know what they’re doing and they’re all on the same page – like, where you don’t have to say anything, they just get it – that’s fun.
Drew: When all the stops and starts are together – like, my guitar was falling out of tune tonight, so I’m a little sour about tonight – but when its tight and it’s loud…
Stephen: It’s almost like we’re telepathic, and everyone understands what’s going on.
Drew: And that’s how the songs are supposed to sound and be preformed. Because you put it on the record and that’s one thing, but when you play it live this is what it’s supposed to be like.
Stephen: Did you see the part where we all stopped and froze for a second?
Jordan: That was awesome!
Stephen: Shit like that is really cool.
Sean: Every song, we’re doing it in every song. “It doesn’t make sense!” We’re doing it anyway!
Jordan: Whose idea was that?
Drew: That was mine, I stole that right from The Hives. Damnit, I shouldn’t have told you that. See? I should lie more.
Sean: The headline of the article’s now going to be “The Split Seconds Steal From The Hives”. [Note: I considered this.] But, making anything original, essentially what you do is you take twenty of your favorite bands and you steal something from all of them. And because you’re stealing from so many different bands, and sometimes even styles of music, you get something that sounds like you. So, we steal from The Hives, we might even steal from Green Day a little bit, I don’t fucking know.
Drew: Yeah, I’m sure we do.
Sean: I mean, a lot of people don’t know anything beyond Green Day. You know, so when we get compared to that, it’s cool because Green Day are awesome, even though I don’t love them. They are super successful.
Drew: I think they’re good songwriters and everything like that. You know, I’ll listen to Stiff Little Fingers, and Stiff Little Fingers and Green Day are writing almost the same song, but the sounds of the bands are so different. And so I try to make the record sound a certain way.
Sean: And we’re still working on that. The sound is super, super important.
Jordan: What are you guys listening to right now?
Stephen: Terrible music.
Drew: I’ve been listening to the Stray Cats, and a lot of psycho-billy. Reverend Horton Heat. So, I’ve been getting into that. I’ve been working on some western swing stuff, but I don’t know how much we can work that in because it’s a balancing act to put that stuff in.
Stephen: Are you talking about “Dirty Shirley”?
Drew: No, that’s our rockabilly tune. So, we’ve got a psycho-billy tune coming up, like more psycho-billy than anything we played. It’s weird because we’ve got a bunch of songs for the next record that’s not coming out for over a year, but we’re working on it right now. And actually, a lot of the songs have a Jimmy Eat World’s Clarity kind of vibe.
Jordan: That’s a divergence.
Drew: You know what? You would think so, and maybe when we get them on the record nobody will hear that. But almost like that, or Alkaline Trio, where they’re more simple in certain ways. I guess we’ll see what it sounds like when they actually come out.
Jordan: Will you play any of that live before it comes out?
Drew: Yeah., once we actually get them to a certain point. They’re just not ready yet, unfortunately. And part of that is just that lyrics take so long to get right, to tell a story. You just have to write, and rewrite, and rewrite to get it tight.
Jordan: What else have you been listening to?
Drew: I’ve been listening to a lot of romantic violin concertos.
Sean: I was listening to Brahms today.
Jordan: Brahms? Why?
Drew: Because I love it.
Sean: Because it’s awesome. [Note: The music nerds finally reveal themselves.]
Drew: Brahms violin concertos, Tchaikovsky violin concertos. I love that stuff. I love classical music, I really do.
Sean: I listen to Queens of the Stone Age a lot. I listen to a lot of metal.
Drew: I’ve been listening to a lot of thrash metal, too.
Sean: Like Meshuggah, if you know them. I love Meshuggah.
Drew: Been listening to Havok.
Alex: I’ve been trying to get up on my guitar game, because Drew has like seven years of experience on top of me. So I’ve been listening to a lot of Brad Paisley, because he’s ridiculous. His guitar playing is spot on.
Jordan: Who’s the best guitar player in the world?
Alex: In the world? Drew. [Note: Aw.]
[Note: Sean goes on a diatribe here about Stephen Segall. Please go up to him at shows and ask about Segall’s guitar playing.]
Drew: I’d say Chris Chaney from The Living End. I admire that guy endlessly. I just saw them in Baltimore, and in DC and I was able to just shake his hand
Sean: And he hasn’t washed his hand since.
Alex: Yeah, you think my hand with the blood on it is bad…
Jordan: So what is happening to your hand? [Note: During the show, Alex commented on the fact that he was bleeding from his right hand and it had stained the white guitar underneath the strings.]
Drew: He smacks the shit out of the strings.
Alex: I’m in The Split Seconds but I only pretend to be a guitarist. I actually just play like a complete asshole, and I tear the shit out of my hand.
Jordan: I’ve seen metal bands, and I’ve never seen that happen before.
Drew: Nah, see in metal? They’ve got these little tiny movements. Punk is all about – it’s almost like the Pete Townshend windmill motion, just smacking the shit out of it.
Sean: There’s an awesome interview with one of the Ramones bassists where he’s talking about the exact same thing. He was saying when they started playing with them, they only play downstrokes; that’s why it sounds so raw and heavy. And he was saying his wrists would lock up, and he couldn’t move his arm after. He’d be beating the shit out of his hands, because that’s the style.
Alex: All downstrokes sounds great though.
Jordan: What are the goals for the band?
Sean: World domination.
Stephen: Make lots of money. Drink lots of beer.
Drew: For these guys [gestures to Alex and Stephen] it’s to get drunker. For us [gestures to himself and Sean, they all laugh] No, we’re just…we’re always trying to get to the next level. For me, honestly, playing 9:30 Club would be just a dream. We were in Washington Post this weekend and for me that’s like, that’s like being in Rolling Stone or something like that.
Alex: What if we got in Rolling Stone?
Jordan: He would die.
Drew: Yeah. But everything is like icing on the cake. I just like playing music in front of good crowds. You know, making good records I can be proud of. We’d love to play Warped Tour, even though – boy – it’s not that great anymore.
Alex: We don’t fit Warped Tour anymore.
Stephen: We don’t need Warped Tour to fit us.
Drew: We don’t fit in DC either, but here we are.
Jordan: What does fit in DC?
Sean: I think the hardcore scene has always been a thing here.
Drew: The hardcore scene’s good.
Sean: There’s a lot of “indie”, but it’s 2015 indie, which is keyboards and whatever the kids are doing these days. Like acoustic guitars, I think that’s what’s going on right now.