Originally published in Verbicide issue #4
Not long ago, a punk band formed in the rural town of White River Junction, Vermont. Now, only a few years later, Victory Records’ River City Rebels are exploding onto the worldwide scene as one of the best new bands. Fusing an old-school sound with a two-piece horn section, these seven young men have recently released their second CD, Playing To Live, Living To Play, following a six-date stint on the 2001 Warped Tour. I caught up with guitarists Dan O’Day and Drew Paley in a parking lot outside The Higher Ground in Winooski, Vermont in late August of 2001.
First of all, for the people who don’t know, what do you and where are you guys from?
Dan O’Day: I’m Dan O’Day, I play guitar.
Drew Paley: I’m Drew Paley, I play guitar.
Dan: And we’re from Vermont.
Is everyone in the band from Vermont?
Dan: No, it’s about half-and-half; three guys are from Massachusetts, three are from Vermont, and one guy is from New Hampshire.
The band was formed in Hartford, Vermont, correct?
Dan: Yeah…White River Junction, actually.
How did you guys end up coming together and forming a band?
Dan: I’ve just been at it for years, contacting people left and right. Me and the drummer, Erik [Schmidt], are the only core members who have been at it for the whole time. People leave, we just get more members. They come and go.
Drew: I’m brand new. I’ve been in the band for about six months, not even.
You guys just recently underwent a couple line-up changes. What were they and why did they happen? New singer, right?
Dan: Yeah, new singer [Danny McCool]. He played trumpet and then quit for some unknown reason…he just didn’t want to play trumpet anymore, you know. So then we got rid of our original singer, asked McCool back, and he’s now singing. That left a hole in the horn section, so we asked Jake [Williams] to fill it. He’s the new saxophone player, and he’s been at it for a while. And then Gabe, the old guitarist, didn’t want to continue playing because he wasn’t on good terms with McCool, so he left and that’s when I asked Drew to join.
Drew: That’s where I come in.
Having a good time?
Drew: Having a great time!
How old are you guys; are any of you still in college or high school?
Dan: Everybody’s in college, or in that age range. I’m the oldest at 23, and the youngest is McCool at 19.
Is it difficult trying to stay together and tour when everyone is going off to different schools and living in different towns?
Dan: No, not really, we’ve done it for the past year and it wasn’t that difficult. On the weekends everybody gets together and during the summer we tour it up, and that’s about it.
Drew: Three-day weekends every weekend.
Your sound is often described by fanzines as “Rancid with horns.” Are they among your major influences?
Dan: It varies. Like the first record, it could be anything from Sex Pistols, Against All Authority, definitely Rancid…this second record is more like Bruce Springsteen and The Clash. (laughter) Anything “rootsy,” ’77 style; anything good and traditional.
How were you guys originally discovered by Victory Records?
Dan: We recorded a two-song demo a couple years ago and shopped it to about 45 labels, and Victory was one of the few labels that got back to me, and that was that. They were the best label that offered so we went with them.
What is it like for a band to break out of a small, isolated area like central Vermont and become one of the most prominent new punk bands in America? Do you take special pride in the fact that you’ve accomplished so much being from a remote area?
Dan: Definitely, that’s the whole thing. For years and years I was like, “Yeah, I wanna be established, I wanna be on the scene, I wanna be included with all these great bands.” We’ve been at it for what seems like forever, and we’ve finally gotten to that point where we’re definitely an up-and-coming act, and people know about us. I’m really proud of that, and I’m proud to be able to do it for all the Vermonters.
How are you guys received in your hometowns? Are you the local heroes, the local freak-shows, or are you relatively unknown? (laughter)
Dan: I guess in White River Junction we used to be heroes, but now everyone thinks we sold out because we’re on a label.
You’re taking that kind of crap from Vermonters? Come on! (laughter)
Dan: Yeah, we’ve cut back, we don’t play in White River as much anymore. It’s kind of a shame, because at one point the scene was great. I started booking shows; I probably did about 11 shows.
Where did you put on the shows?
Dan: Legion halls, Elks, roller skating rinks, I’ve done it all in that area, and burned bridges with cops shutting them all down, so that’s why there’s pretty much nothing going on at this point. But it was good; there was anywhere from 100 to 250 kids showing up for that area, which is amazing. It’s kind of dead at this point.
How about the rest of the town, like the older people? Has it been in local newspapers about the “small town heroes” making it big?
Dan: The last CD got a big article in the paper, plus the shows I was doing got in the paper as well. So I guess we’ve been exposed in the paper a little bit, that’s about it.
Single most favorite and least favorite things about Vermont.
Drew: I’m letting you take this one, pal!
Dan: Favorite? I just like being away from people because I’m not a big people person…I don’t like hanging out. It’s good! You can just stay at your house and do nothing—
And play video games, watch movies…
Dan: (laughs) Yeah, play video games, watch movies, read books. And if you wanna drive a few hours you can go hang out in Boston or Connecticut or some place like that. The worst thing is probably having to drive a few hours to go to a show, and there’s not much of a scene here.
It’s not much better in southern Connecticut. Now, what’s the deal with River City High, are you guys the same band as them?
Because people always get you confused with them—
Dan: That sucks, because we’re completely different from them. I don’t know those people but they should change their name or something!
Drew: (laughs) Those are fighting words!
Dan: They are fighting words! I hope it gets back to them…fuckers…
I’ve seen a lot of flyers that say one band is playing, and then it lists the other on Internet postings.
Drew: That happens a lot.
Dan: We did the Warped Tour, and they had us on the list when we checked in as “River City Rebels/High.” It sucks. But give it another year and people are gonna realize who we are, and we’re gonna get away from that, and hopefully River City High breaks up.
Drew: River City High is not the one that bothers me; there’s a band from Texas called “River City Rapists—”
Dan: They’re not around anymore.
Drew: Yeah, but kids get us confused with them all the time.
There is a strong, political edge in your music. What are some common political themes and messages that the Rebels touch upon?
Dan: Racism, equality, equality in the scene, religion…
Drew: Thinking for yourself…avoiding dogma.
Do you ever concern yourself with local Vermont political issues, such as the bigotry of the conservative group “Take Back Vermont”?
Dan: I didn’t read into a lot of that stuff, but Take Back Vermont definitely hit home because everybody had the bumper stickers, and it was just crap. Everywhere you went it was the stereotypical rednecks in a truck with a sticker on the back. It was more of a fashion-type thing than anything else. Probably half these people didn’t even understand it.
Drew: I think 30 years from now the events surrounding the whole Take Back Vermont thing are gonna be looked upon just like we look back on the Civil Rights Movement now and think, how could conditions be like that? It won’t be looked upon to the same extent of the Civil Rights Movement, because it’s not as widespread an issue…but it’s just part of a process of social evolution, and in the future we’re going to look at this as just another step in the direction of social equality.
Back to religion: is it necessarily religion itself and the messages you oppose, or the way that religion and the bible is misrepresented, misinterpreted, and basically made a mockery of by humanity? One could argue that anti-Christianity — like anarchism — in the punk scene is becoming more fashionable and people really don’t understand what they’re getting into.
Dan: I believe everybody should think for themselves on what’s “out there.” For me, I don’t know what it is, what’s out there, and I’m not going to make that judgment until I know for sure what has created everything. If you just follow a book, or only listen to someone else, it seems like you’re limiting your life. It’s common sense on how to be decent and just being a good person. That’s all. Be a decent person and not a piece of shit. My religion is my music; I live for my music, I believe in it, and I believe in myself.
I saw your August 9th performance at the Warped Tour in Boston. How was that experience?
Drew: Hotter than hell.
How many dates did you perform?
Dan: We had three dates that were guaranteed…
Drew: Indianapolis, Minneapolis, and Milwaukee.
Dan: Yeah. The day after they went to Chicago and we were like, “Fuck it, we’re just gonna show up.” We showed up and they put us in a tent. We promoted the hell out of our show, and we still had like 300 kids dancing around our tent and this tiny PA, it was great. Then we drove home, and showed up at the gate at the New York and Boston. We said, “We’re here, we want to play,” and they put us on.
Where did you have the best response?
Dan: Boston, by far.
Drew: New York was a close second.
Dan: New York City was a close second, and Chicago was great, too.
I was impressed with how the fans in Boston were getting into it.
Drew: At 12:10 in the afternoon in 100-degree heat.
Dan: That was an amazing experience. I thought only about 100 kids would show up because it was early, and it wasn’t advertised.
Tell me about the new album.
Dan: It’s called Playing To Live, Living To Play. It’s kind of a concept record if you listen to it all the way through. A lot of the songs are about coming from this area, or just being in a band and playing every weekend or going on tour, and that pretty much sums it up.
(To Drew) Did you get to play?
Drew: Yes, I got to play! It was a month after I joined.
Dan: We recorded in the middle of May at The Outpost in Boston, same place as Dropkick Murphys. I’m psyched about it, it’s a good record. You know, there are some things I wish we could’ve changed, but as a whole—
Drew: Way to promote the record, Dan!
Dan: No! (laughter) With any record, there’s always going to be things you wish you’d done differently, but I’m fuckin’ psyched about it. It’s cool to have the second record out, and hopefully the kids dig it.