For those of us who love tons of melodic interplay in our punk, I have a band that should be on your radar.
Featuring dudes who have also been members of such musical outfits as From Ashes Rise, Young Livers, Arctic Flowers, and Deathreat, the Portland, Oregon outfit have two EPs out now packed with one big hook after the other.
Though many of the previous bands its members have played in before were of the heavier/harder side of the sonic coin, Amusement is perfectly suited for fans of Seaweed, BIG Drill Car, Pegboy, and Doughboys.
I spoke with Amusement guitarist Stan Wright and vocalist John Wilkerson about the band, EPs, and future plans for 2024, which includes new music.
The obvious first question would be is how the idea of forming Amusement came together. There’s such a strong melodic sensibility to what you’re doing, so I imagine that was paramount to the discussions right from the start.
(Stan Wright, guitar): Amusement started close to 4 years ago. I had started experimenting with alternate tunings and wanted to change my overall sound. Basically whenever I start a new project I try not to repeat what I've done before. This was at the beginning of COVID and I'd just had my daughter.
So it was alot of late night guitar playing with no band in mind. What came out was very different than anything I had played in previous bands. I jammed with all different folks seeing what direction it could go. After a few years, I jammed with John Massel who I knew from Bothers. I had recorded them and seen them live, so I knew he was an amazing drummer.
Then Matt, who had played guitar in Bothers, joined us and it was perfect. After a few months songs came together quickly and my old friend John Wilkerson came to listen and try out singing. It immediately clicked.
When I listen to the tracks you’ve released so far, I can see people who dig bands like BIG Drill Car, Doughboys, and Pegboy getting into it. What were some of the influences you guys brought into the Amusement songwriting?
(Stan): I can definitely hear all those things. We've gotten everything from Seaweed to Superchunk, even Hüsker Dü and Leatherface. I'd say we all have similar influences when writing for this band.
For me, I hear a lot of mid-'80s through '90s punk and alternative in what Amusement does. I love SST and Dischord bands during that time. We've all played in hardcore bands in the past so I feel even with the melody and song structures we always have that bubbling just underneath.
John, I’m curious about your vocal approach for Amusement since you are best known for your harsher delivery style in From Ashes Rise. How long did it take to develop and feel comfortable approaching this vocal style?
(John Wilkerson, vocalist): It has been an interesting journey finding what I can sound like again. The last time I recorded vocals in any capacity was at least a decade ago. So the rust was super thick. It is a challenge and it took a few attempts to get reasonable vocals to tape.
Humbling but I feel like a i have an earnest approach and work within the song. Still figuring it all out. Its funny because I can still absolutely belt it out. So hoping that occasionally I can tap into that “talent."
Where there any specific vocalists you looked for in the inspiration department for this Amusement vocal approach?
(John): My love of hardcore and melodic punk ran concurrent when i first started finding bands in the early '90s. I have high regards for folks like Ian McKaye (Minor Threat, Fugazi), Frankie Stubbs (Leatherface), Blake swartzenbach (Jawbreaker), Lance Hahn (J Church), Bob Mould (Hüsker Dü, Sugar).
They really spoke to me. And they taught me you can make a damned good song with a three note range. Thats all you need sometimes. Where the ability to “sing” isn't as important as just being able to do the music justice. Bringing what you can vocally/lyrically for what you hear in your head. Feeling the song and fleshing it out with the words.
Tell me a bit about these two EPs coming out this winter. How did you connect with Council Records and Extinction Burst? How far back do you all go with each other?
(Stan): We had played a few shows and videos were circulating from our first one. Extinction Burst offered us and then we connected with Council. I've known the Extinction Burst folks from Esperanza and hardcore over the years. Same with Matt at Council. His label and bands have always been inspiring. It's amazing to work with friends who care about the music we're making.
What kind of lyrical concepts are you taking on with Amusement and these songs you’ve already released?
(John): As you grow up life changes. The reality of being an adult sets in. The same rage and paranoia becomes deeper and more isolated. Life becomes richer with experience but also more hardships manifest. You are not 20, the world is still catastrophic, suffering is immense But life deeply beautiful all in the same moment.
I had a great conversation with a friend who has accomplished so much with his music. He floored me when he talked about having “music grief." Losing that part of life that allowed you travel the world untethered. To play music, to inspire in whatever way, and create. That resonated. I had never contemplated this. I was fully living in this grief for a pretty long time. Amusement is helping chip away at that boulder.
Because I haven’t had that outlet or a voice I realized my lyrics are pretty damned dark.
A lot of what I am writing about is coming from avenues of grief, regret, isolation, and death. All this cooped up feeling finally turning into words and also trying to process as i go. Hoping to tell a story through it all. It just manifests for better or worse.
The song "You Will Never Hear This" on your playlist is about a good friend that committed suicide. Its me trying to crawl into his brain, my brain, and figure out why. He showed me the gun a few years earlier that he was going “to protect his family with.” He only shot it twice. Once in the wall, then himself. So heavy and haunting. In many ways this is a song for everyone. Everyone reading this can relate in some way. Thats the unfortunate part.
He would have hated the song too, but the title is literal. Never heard the song about him never got to complain about it. Never will. However, if anyone listens to the song it becomes a ridiculous title. So thats the duality and ridiculousness that weaves its way in. An absurdist nod to someone dearly missed. My way of dealing with it.