A deep freeze has descended on New York City just a few days before I leave for a full US / Canadian tour with Pharmakon and I am left bored in my room with a cold. I usually wait longer between photo updates, but this past month or so have been pretty prolific. I feel freer just knowing what I am about to do. Treacherous, redundant days are numbered. The smog has been cut.
Hailing from Austin, Texas; Institute emerged in 2013 to become one of my favorite contemporary punk bands going. While made up of members from other Austin hardcore punk staples like Glue, Wiccans and Blotter, Institute is more informed by early 70’s anarcho crossover bands like Crisis and Warsaw (but the dudes are careful not to let themselves be defined as too Gothy). I had a chance to meet up with Moses Brown and Arak Avakian when they happened to be passing through New York City on their way to Toronto. Along with their friend Harry, they were fresh out of a stay in Newport, RI where they had made up a fake contracting business so they afford an ‘opulent’ Canadian getaway; starting off by ordering every appetizer at a fancy French place called Le Gamin in Greenpoint, where I first met the duo.
Following their addictive debut demo, Institute will be releasing a new EP on Sacred Bones Records this October 14.
Well, I wasn’t able to find out much information on you guys. How did Institute come together?
M: I wanted to write some songs, so I just did and recorded them on a four track. I had five songs but then our bass player Adam called me up thinking I had a whole band already. I said “Uhh, No. But I got these songs, you want to do a band?” One of those songs I wrote, “Dead Sea”, was eventually used for Institute, but we as a band wrote the rest of the demo in a month or so after that.
So Adam sort of pushed the band into existence?
M: Yeah, sort of out of confusion.
I was wondering if you intentionally set out to do something really different from the more straight forward punk stuff you were doing with Glue and other bands that you are all involved in?
M: There was no conscious effort. We just wanted to start this band.
That’s sick. I missed you guys when you played here last time, which sucked. But I saw this video of you guys playing in Boston and I was surprised by how hard people were going off. For some reason, when I was listening to the demo… Everything comes off as punk but…
M: It’s melodic…
Yeah, it’s melodic and some parts and weird and some parts are slow. I was wondering how Austin responds to you guys?
A: People Pit!
M: Like it’s Glue… It’s confusing. I think people don’t know what to do. The fact that we are in hardcore bands and usually play hardcore shows in the same scene… Most people that come out want to push around if they like a band.
So moshing is the only way the fans know how to react to music that they like?
M: I want everyone to jump up and down.
A: Most of the time it just seems like everyone wants to be in front of each other.
M: But it is a good response!
What was the response like in New York?
M: It was actually really good! I think Adam Whites said that in New York people are either going to love you or they are going to hate you.
M: He said that we won over the crowd. To me, it was just a show.
A: It felt very regular.
I think that the problem with playing at Lulu’s is also the space was so weird that everyone could have just stood there eating pizza and whatever.
A: Naw, it got wild.
I really like the lyrics to the songs. It isn’t some faux Goth overly sentimental sad shit but not ignorant boring punk posturing. A lot of the songs seem to tell a story, are they autobiographical? Were there any songs that were hard to write?
M: I just want to lyrics to be authentic. I like to be able to scream at people in a crowd about the things I don’t like about myself. That said, I don’t take myself seriously at any point. the lyrics come from the perspective of like “wow look how stupid I am”.
What are you inspired by lyrically? Are there specific themes that you find yourself coming back to?
M: I write about being a kid a lot. How disappointed I am with my childhood. A lot about me being disconnected, shutting myself off. I always say that I wish I had a regular childhood, like got in trouble, pissed off my parents, partied in high school, but I didn’t do any of that. I got nothing out of childhood, I ignored it. I feel screwed up now because of it.
Are you making up for lost time?
M: No! I’m doing the same thing but I’m conscious about doing it now. I am cool with it.
What was your childhood like?
M: I was talking about this recently… Harry was talking about how shitty of a kid he was and … I don’t even think my parents got mad at me.
A: And Moses and I have known each other since we were like ten years old. I would always go out and stay out late and want to break into a building and throw cans of paint onto the highway or drive a golf cart around or whatever and Moses would be like ‘ gotta wake up at seven’, and wouldn’t come along.
M: I was super regimented. When I didn’t have something to do I would wake up and skateboard for three hours and then ride my bike home and … always do the right thing. Or what I thought was the right thing. I didn’t let myself have any fun.
Were you a straight edge kid?
M: Naw. The High school that we went to… There was no straight edge scene. I didn’t even know it was a thing. And then after high school we met people who were in hardcore bands and were like huh?
A: Yeah! And our scene didn’t exist at all until we were kinda older, 19 or something.
Did you guys kind of make it?
M: There were definitely older guys who had bands but there is definitely a new batch of bands in Austin.
A: There have always been bands in Austin, but not always crowds
Did you start playing music together?
A: Pretty much. I used to go over to Moses’s house to skateboard. At some point I got a guitar for Christmas. His Dad had a studio and all this sick gear. I was really amazed; I had a six-inch practice amp and this shitty guitar…
What was your first band together?
M: Lemonade Stand Syndicate. It was really bad.
What were your influences?
M: The Hives and the Dead Kennedy’s.
That is an interesting combo.
M: It was weird.
A: I wanted to start that band because I knew a kid in my class and I thought that he talked crazy. I asked him to sing in the band and swore it was a real band.
M: We played like three shows… We played a wedding…
You played a wedding!?
A: Ya! It was cool.
M: I think the demo is still up on myspace.
I am curious about your decision to release a record with Sacred Bones but also don’t wanna do any PR or any of that stuff.
M: We wanted to work with them. When the demo came out and people liked it, we decided to say yes to whatever we could do. Why the hell not?
A: The demo was pressed onto a 12’ on Deranged and the whole experience kinda sucked. We didn’t know the dude, and we had no idea what was going on.
M: He was distant from everything, from the artwork to the pressing at the factory; it was like no one knew what was going on. But after we did the 7’ with Adam…
And he is on top of his shit for sure.
M: Yeah. And with the new record… I am insane about the artwork and the way that things look. Sacred Bones were down to do all this screen-printing, making sure the jackets were the exact paper that I want.
A: And they offer any opportunity from zero to one hundred. We just knew between meeting Taylor and Caleb and playing a few shows with Destruction Unit that it was the right choice to make.
Well, the album art seems important to you, Moses. And I know that you make art as well. Tell me a little bit about the artwork for the album and how your personal art differs from art that is associated with the music that you make?
M: The whole theme of Institute is really influenced by Dada stuff. I am into abstracting Dada. Stupid shit. Dada was already about the absurd, so I’ve just been making it even more absurd by cutting images up and scrambling them around. I wanna steal things and take them to a next step. I am not sure how it connects to the music really, except that Dada is punk. The new personal art I’m trying to make is honestly informed by Institute art. Institute could have gone a very different way, in terms of how it looks. The first demo was brutalist architecture… Very angular, black and grey. But it looked too Goth.
A: We had to be really careful not to step into being too Gothy.
M: We have nothing against death rock; we just want to be a punk band.
But there are definitely parts of your music that seems informed by peace punk and Goth? Especially the guitar work. Are you into those things but careful about being a punk band?
A: It’s hard to specifically cite our influences, because we write everything together,
M: The feel of the band and the direction that it is going in is very much like early anarcho / death rock back before it was defined and basically just still punk. The demo feel, epileptics that 1st UK Decay 7”. All of the classics’ demos. Then obviously Crisis and Warsaw. I like a lot of death rock stuff, but I am more into the early stuff that is more punk.
So you guys have a new drummer?
M: Yeah, I think our old drummer was having trouble balancing being in a band and going to school.
A: Our drummer used to sing for the band Recide. They played for four years and just recently stopped playing. I don’t want to say that it was his baby or anything, but it seemed to be everything to him musically.
So who is drumming now?
M: His name is Barry, he is from Houston. He plays in Back to Back.
A: We are good friends with everyone in that band. I was always listening to their demo and thinking, fuck, these drums are really good. As it turns out, Barry had recorded everything on all their records. He is just one of those guys that can do that. We had one practice and I feel like we can tour again already.
Do you think he can change the direction of the band at all?
M: He’s on the exact same frequency as us
I thought Houston was pretty far from Austin?
A: It’s about two hours, but in Texas, that is not that far to go. You are used to driving. If you wanted to drive to LA from Austin, you’d already be half way by the time that you have left Texas.
I know there is a pretty good scene going in Austin right now. Are there any bands that you feel are being overlooked?
M: Pinkos got overlooked hard. They are no longer together.
A: Scattered across the USA now.
M: But they might reform in Chicago. They were really good and nobody cared about them. There are also a bunch of good brand new bands but I don’t have much of a connection to them yet. Pinkos were one of those bands that I loved and I couldn’t understand why nobody else did.
A: There is a band called Detestados. They don’t have a demo or anything, but they have probably played six or seven shows. Spanish vocals, but sounds like Italian hardcore. It’s tight.
Any other new Austin music to look out for?
M: Adam just started this band called Bad Faith, our 16 year old friend Parker is in this new band called Stacker. All these bands are demo-less, but that’ll change soon.
A: Try and listen to the new 7” on Video Disease from Iron Youth.
M: Not a punk band, but I just finished a tape of experimental music I’ve been working on called Peacetime Death. I have to mix it, but then it’ll be totally done.
Well, before we sign off, I got to ask you about your vacation!
M: It’s good!
A: So good. We love Newport.
M: It’s cool too because we just got back from Glue tour which was essentially a vacation. We went West and just hung out at the beach everyday and saw nature.
A: I have been on vacation since May fourth. My lease ended at my house and I graduated from college a few days later. The morning after that I left for Institute tour. I’ve just had the same four tee shirts in my bag all summer. Anyway, tonight we are going to surprise our friends in Impalers when we show up in Toronto. Take that, read this in the future.
You can pre-order ‘Salt EP’ from Sacred Bones Records now: http://www.sacredbonesrecords.com/products/sbr119-institute-salt-ep