EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Darius Koski from Swingin’ Utters

Photo: Alan Snodgrass

LOS ANGELES, January 29, 2014 — Darius Koski’s road diverged in a punk rock wood. Classically trained in the world of violin, Koski took the road perhaps more travelled by giving up the violin and picking up a guitar, and that has made all the difference. For 25 years, Darius Koski has played guitar for the San Francisco punk band Swingin’ Utters. Back in November, Wells On Music spoke with DariusKoski regarding Swingin’ Utters, Filthy Theiving Bastards and recording for the Tony Sly Tribute compilation.

Scroll below video to read the interview.

Kevin Wells: What made you stop playing classical music?

Darius Koski: I got burned out. I didn’t really listen to that kind of music in my own time. I always wanted to play guitar in a rock n roll band, not whatever orchestra s**t I was doing, which is cool, but it’s not as romantic as being in a rock band [laughs].

KW: What bands initially got you into punk music?

DK: The very first ones were probably The Clash and the Sex Pistols. Those were the first two punk bands I ever got into and then from there, you know, the obvious s**t that anyone would say, The Ramones and whatever.

KW: How did you come to join Swingin’ Utters?

DK: We all sort of knew each other in Santa Cruz and kind of liked same kind of music and were already kind of in the same scene anyways. It was Greg [McEntee] and Johnny [Bonnel] and Kevin [Wickersham] and this guitar player, he never recorded anything, but this guy named Eric. They started it in ’88. They played covers. They played parties. I don’t think it was a very serious thing and that lasted a couple years. I joined in ’90 and we started writing originals and playing in clubs and started getting a little more serious. It was pretty much because we, more than anything, sort of bonded on particularly liking certain kinds of punk rock, I guess? I mean we all liked the American stuff too, but we really liked the British stuff a lot. I don’t think it was quite as popular in those days, I mean punk was pretty dead in the late 80s and early 90s. So, it was actually sort of a unique thing at that time. Yeah, I went to high school with Greg, so we all kind of knew each other.

KW: Why did the band take a break for seven years?

DK: Well, kinda, we didn’t really take a break, we just didn’t release a record really. I think it’s, well, I don’t know. It’s kind of gotten blown out of proportion a little bit, but not really, I guess because 2003, I think, was the Dead Flowers record and 2004 was the live record and a few years ago we put out the B-sides record. In the meantime, some of us were just kind of burned out on touring and I didn’t really like the idea of putting out records and not touring behind them and I wasn’t sure that we would even be able to do that anyways. It was just us working and raising kids and stuff like that. And then time just flying by also because the time just sort of flew by and it’s really weird that [the break] actually lasted that long. Time just really flew by, but when you’re raising kids and stuff that happens.

We never stopped playing though. We played regularly. We played every single one of those years. We played live shows, it was just very rarely out of state. We didn’t go to the east coast or midwest. We went up north to Seattle and stuff like that. We did a lot of California dates, but really just long weekend stuff, no real tours. Eventually we got together and talked about it. It was kind of like, “Do you want to keep going like we’re going? Because that’s fine, we can do that. Or do you wanna sort of be a real band again and make records and tour?” Everybody happened to just, I don’t know, everyone was just into it again. So, we started it up again, I guess, but we never actually went away, we just kind of went away as far as the whole, um, ha, I don’t know, we basically went away because we were sort of really active mostly only on the west coast and only a small part of the west coast.

KW: At the end of the month, you will be releasing a three-song E.P., Stuck In A Circle. Can you talk about that?

DK: One of them was actually recorded pretty recently for the Tony Sly comp and then the other one was recorded in 2011 for Here Under Protest and that’s from that recording session. The other one is from [Poorly Formed].

KW: Was it cathartic at all recording Not Your Savior for the Tony Sly record?

DK: Yeah, the whole thing was emotional, you know, his whole death was pretty crazy, shocking, s**tty, but it was really cool to do it. It was the first thing I thought about and I’m sure it was the first thing Fat Mike thought about was doing a comp like this. It was kind of a no brainer. I think we did a pretty decent job of that. I just wanted to do something unique and I think it worked pretty well. I think some of the songs on that comp are really great. You could tell that people actually, you know, put some effort into it. It was a good sort of tribute, you know?

KW: I have always enjoyed that Swingin’ Utters releases a lot of E.P.s in addition to the full length albums. What made you start doing this?

DK: Just to be active and I write a lot and we all kind of write songs and pretty much always have material available, so just to keep active and put stuff out there. I like when bands put out a lot of s**t. I mean, a lot of my favorite bands put out tons of records, you know? I remember Johnny has a ton of Billy Chyldish records and Thee Headcoats records and stuff. That dude has put out so many records, it’s unbelievable. He’s so prolific. Even like all-time great dudes like Elvis Costello, that dude still puts out a record every year. I mean, it’s amazing how prolific he is, but I mean if you’ve got the material and it doesn’t suck, [there’s] no reason not to put out records. You know what I mean?

Just speaking for myself, that’s always been the most important thing to me. I know the live performance is really what it’s all about, but I take the recording stuff really seriously because I think that’s what ultimately really what a band is judged by. You play a show and it’s gone forever once it’s done, but these records are there forever. They’re like books, you can read ‘em over and over again, you can listen to them over and over again, you know, forever. It’s more of a document. It’s your legacy or whatever. I would love to just put out as many as we possibly can. The sort of tentative plan is to put another E.P. out in the next several months, at least, and then another record whenever. So, yeah, just keep doing it.

KW: When you decided to start recording again, was there ever any question that you would work with Fat Wreck Chords again?

DK: No, we never even thought about it. It had been so long. Another thing that started up the conversation, I think, we were playing a show or at a show and I was hanging out with Fat Mike and he just was like, “What the f**k are you guys doing? Why don’t you just put out a new record?” [laughs] “When are we gonna do a new record?” And he was kind of bugging me about it and I was kind of like thinking, “Yeah, you’re right, we should do another f**kin’ record.” That sort of started the conversation and we just, I don’t know. It was stupid. That, for me at least, started the conversation. So, no, I never thought about going to another label or anything like that…ever. And Fat Wreck Chords was never not interested in it, so that helps.

KW: Has touring gotten harder or easier over the last 25 years?

DK: Way harder. [laughs] Just because it’s harder when you’re older. We’re just tired more. That part of it is harder. We can’t quite go as crazy as I used to. It takes days to recover. [laughs] But, yeah, I think it’s harder know, but it’s never been like a super easy thing anyway, so. It gets grueling and boring.

KW: How is it on your kids when you leave for a tour?

DK: It bums them out. They don’t want me to leave, but it’s been their whole lives. It’s not like it’s new to them or anything. I don’t know. It has been heart-breaking in the past because, you know, at certain ages it’s harder. It’s a little easier know that they’re 15 and 12, but they still don’t want you to go. It’s just kind of the way it is, you know?

KW: Have you passed your music bug to your two boys?

DK: Yeah, my younger kid plays a little bit of drums and bass. His choice, he just wanted to play drums and bass. And my older 15-year-old, he’s really specially musical. He’s really good at the guitar already. He’s totally self-taught. I haven’t even myself taught him that much stuff. He plays guitar pretty well and is now just sort of randomly teaching himself piano. It’s really a little bizarre to my wife and myself, but he seems to have taught himself piano and can sort of play piano.

KW: Have you gotten them into punk music?

DK: Umm, yeah, not especially. They’re not like little punk kids or anything. They both kind of listen to everything. They have good taste in music because me and my wife are super music snobs. [laughs] We would talk serious s**t to them if they listened to crap. [laughs] If they listen to hip hop or rap, it’s good hip hop and rap. It’s good metal. My older kid listens to a lot of Metallica and I was like, “Yeah, well, you should listen to Judas Priest too,” and he was like, you know, whatever. They listen to everything. I think my younger kid likes punk a little more than my older kid. One of his favorite bands is One Man Army, so, there you go.

KW: Are there any plans in the future of doing more Filthy Thieving Bastards records?

DK: Not really. We’re not abandoning it, but we don’t have any actual plans, concrete plans or anything. We’ve just been too busy with the Utters and I want to start focusing on solo stuff too. So I don’t really know if that will happen or when that will happen again. I’m sure it will, but it’s not really something that’s being planned right now or anything.

KW: Is there anything else you would like people to know about you, Swingin’ Utters or anything else you may be working on?

DK: I do plan on doing the solo stuff hopefully soon. I’ve been putting it off for 20 years. Then Jack and Miles have started this other band. They’re really great. They’re called Toy Guitar. You should check them out. They’re on Adeline [Records], they have a single out.

Swingin’ Utters’ Poorly Formed LP and Stuck In a Circle EP are out now on Fat Wreck Chords. A Tribute to Tony Sly is available from Fat Wreck Chords with all proceeds going to benefit Tony Sly’s family.

Kevin J. Wells is the Sports Editor for Communities Digital News and also writes about Major League Baseball, punk rock music, and food. Follow him on Twitter @WellsOnBaseball

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