Interview: Nick Woods of Fat Wreck Chords’ Direct Hit!
LOS ANGELES, July 5, 2016 — Milwaukee’s Direct Hit! just released their debut album, Wasted Mind, on Fat Wreck Chords. Since 2007, the band and its rotating cast of members have now released five EPs, three full-lengths, and a plethora of split releases with various bands. Recently, Nick Woods took some time to speak with Wells On Music regarding the band and their new album.
Interview transcribed by Becca Jean
Kevin Wells: Being from Los Angeles, Wisconsin doesn’t really seem like the first place one would think of where you would see a lot of punk bands come from, but there seems to be a fair amount of good pop punk bands coming out of Wisconsin these days. How would you describe the Milwaukee punk scene to those who have never been there?
Nick Woods: Good question. There’s not a lot of pop punk in Milwaukee, especially not like us. There’s a band up there called Avenues, another group called Jetty Boys from Sheboygan, but really, I mean, historically, it’s been more of a hardcore and metal town more than anything else. The So Cal scene has never really reached up here. It’s much more of an east coast kind of thing, so it has a kind of weirder identity to it.
KW: What bands got you into punk?
NW: Strung Out. Strung Out was probably the one that I focused on, but the first real punk band that I remember hearing was Green Day. When I was in fourth grade, my cousin put it on and they used the f-word in their music and I thought that was wild, but I first started really getting into it when the first Strung Out album came out on Fat Wreck. A friend of mine played it for me and I never heard music that was that fast before. It blew my mind when I heard it. So that record definitely holds a special place in my heart just because it was kind of the first gateway that I had into the Cali kind of thing.
KW: How did Direct Hit! form?
NW: It started because I was working at a call center and was passing time writing songs in between calls. I was playing in a different band at the time that was more of like an indie power pop thing. That kind of stuff is definitely a lot more popular in Milwaukee than pop punk is, so that was the type of group that I was playing in at the time. I had like a break in between each call that lasted for like a minute or two, so I just kept coming up with these dumb punk songs in my head just to pass the time. When I had enough of them, I thought that my band at the time would want to play them, but they really didn’t want to. So, I kind of just threw a band together to be able to play a couple shows and record them just for a mentally satisfying feeling. That’s where Direct Hit! started, from that original group. It was just me and a couple of friends f**king around in our practice space.
KW: And you’ve gone through quite a few different members, right?
NW: Yeah, I probably couldn’t count all of them on two hands, it’s been a lot. The band started in 2007 and it was just a three piece at the time. The drummer in my band filled in and Jackson Fothergill was playing bass, who is now better known as Officer Bradford in Masked Intruder. He was our original bass player and then after that it was kind of a rotating cast of people, whoever really wanted to play my songs and wasn’t too big of an a**hole. Then by around 2013, we had a more solidified lineup once Devon joined the band and Danny joined in 2009. He’s been in our group for a long time, so he’s the longest tenured member of the group besides me.
KW: Are you the main songwriter for the band?
NW: I have been, historically, but lately though it’s been a much more collaborative kind of thing. Almost every time it’s me bringing a skeleton of a song to the table and then we all work together as a group to flesh it out and make it sound the way it ends up on the record along with Mike Kennerty, our producer. On this last album, Devon had a song that he brought that was almost totally done. He brought it to the table and that hadn’t happened before, and Steve had a couple of things that he brought and that hadn’t happened before. So it gets more collaborative with every album that we put out.
KW: I like how you guys started out releasing just EPs, what made you guys want to start releasing just EP’s and what made you switch to full lengths?
NW: At the time, it was because I didn’t want to spend a really long time putting a full length record together. I was just too impatient. I wanted some kind of plan in my mind just to be able to sort of describe what the project was like to people. My girlfriend at the time, now my wife, was concerned that I was gonna be spending as much time on this band as I was with my full time band, so I just kind of wanted to put a plan together to let her know what I was gonna be doing and how long I was gonna be doing it for. Direct Hit! was originally just supposed to be five four-song EPs and then I was gonna do a full length with the 10 best from those EP’s. It’s obviously grown a little bit since then.
At the time, it was just because I didn’t want to spend two years working on a full-length album before I recorded. I wanted to write a few songs and go and have an actual thing to put on the internet that I could show people. It was just that impatience, I think, that was the biggest reason why. A lot of the groups around the time they’d work their asses off for two years on like six songs and then they’d fly out to LA and record an EP for like $20,000 or something and I just thought that was ridiculous. My full-time band at the time had that mentality like we were really all about making it and Direct Hit! was supposed to be an act of rebellion from that. It was supposed to be totally fun.
I put so much work into making like tiny little perfect gemstones of releases and I said “F**k that, I want to do something different than that.” So that’s why we ended up doing it the way we did, at least at the start.
In terms of why we started doing full-lengths, I think the biggest thing was when people started offering to put out records for us and in order to give our band that kind of lift, to be able to go out on tour and to play to more people and stuff like that, we kind of had to play the game a little of putting together an actual full-length record.
KW: How did the deal with Fat come about?
NW: When Brainless God came out in 2013, that was our last record that we put out on Red Scare, Fat Mike bought a copy of it because he had seen it showing up on so many top ten lists around the internet from Punk News, AbsolutePunk and a bunch of other places and then when our original versions of these songs for the new record crossed his desk at Fat, I guess he told everyone there that he wanted to put it out and that was kind of the way it went. It was a totally lucky by chance kind of thing. It wasn’t like I was calling Fat Wreck every other day of the week trying to get them to put a record out for us. Our manager at the time heard from them and then just let us know. I think we had finished tracking, but we were still not even close to being finished with mixing when we got word of it. So there was still a lot of work to be done on it, but we knew that they were interested and we went from there.
KW: Did you feel any added pressure once you found out that they were interested?
NW: No, I mean, we’ve actively pushed off any kind of pressure on our band. Whenever anybody has started putting pressure on us to do things a certain way or sound a certain way or act a certain way, we’ve just kind of left them in the dust and kept on doing our own thing. Fat really didn’t tell us what to do. They just said that they liked the new album a lot and they liked our last record a lot and they wanted to release it and that was it. It was definitely a little bit nerve wracking, probably more exciting than nerve wracking actually, hearing from them.
Everybody in our band has been following Fat Wreck since we were teenagers. I’m 31, so you can imagine how surreal it is to be able to put out an album on a label that you’ve respected and paid attention to for so long. There was obviously some nervousness and excitement that goes along with that and feeling like you don’t want to let somebody down that you’ve looked up to for so long, but that’s stuff that we can handle. That’s all easy. We’ve never felt pressured by them.
KW: What kind of touring are you guys gonna be doing for this record? Are you gonna hit up any spots you’ve never played before?
NW: I certainly hope so, that’s the goal, at least. The most valuable thing that we’ve gotten from playing in this band is being able to do stuff like that. It’s certainly not money, you don’t get paid a lot for it, but I think that’s been made up for in the fact that we’ve gotten to meet a lot of people that we wouldn’t have gotten to meet otherwise, see a lot of things that we wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise. I’m really hoping that we can make it over to Japan and Australia this time. I’d really like to go to South America. We’ll be touring the states a bunch, we’ve got almost three weeks of touring planned this summer, we’ve got more planned in the fall, winter. I’m sure there’s gonna be more then too. We’re really looking forward to traveling abroad a lot more and experiencing the world in a way that not a lot of other people get to, being able to see how people live their lives outside of resorts and the tourist compounds that every American person seems to end up when you’re on vacation. We get to see inside people’s houses and really get to know how people live and how they talk and what they think about. That’s just an invaluable payment for doing what we do. It helps us identify with common people a lot better than we would have otherwise, I think.