Barely a year after their comeback album ‘Life Got In The Way’, The Young Hasselhoffs are already back at it with their fifth full length ‘Dear Departed,’ out now on Mom’s Basement Records. The Omaha, Nebraska based band keeps getting better with every album and keep surprising with their ‘punk rock for grown folk’. We caught up with bassist Jason to talk about all things ‘Dear Departed’.
PRT: Last year, you released your first album in ten years. Seeing as the title of that one was ‘Life Got In The Way,’ I think I can guess why it took so long in between albums. But what have you been up to in those years?
Jason: Quite a bit actually. Phil has been a globetrotting lawyer for the last 20 years, and in the last decade started a family in Omaha. Matt is a professor of biology and genetics and is married and has a dog. I have been an Omaha-area tattoo artist for the past 25 years, and got talked into having a couple kids as well, both of whom are starting to have lives and ideas of their own now, which is challenging. That summary doesn’t quite capture the entirety of the chaos of the last decade, but you get a general sense of why making pop punk music wasn’t necessarily at the forefront of our priorities.
PRT: And what was it that got you excited enough again to pick up your instruments and record a new album?
Jason: I think initially it was desperation that sort of gradually morphed into excitement. We were just coming out of the Covid lockdown, and someone started up a group text thread. We found out Matt had been writing music and had some songs that were pretty promising that he was willing to share with us. Getting the band back together wasn’t anywhere near the top of any of our minds at that time, but having had our lives kind of reduced to almost nothing outside of our jobs and our families for the better part of the year, I know I was certainly in the mood to say yes to something with the potential to be a bit more world-expanding. Next thing you know we had studio time booked in Colorado and things just sort of happened from there. Once we heard more demos and started to get a feel for the new crop of songs, then it started to get pretty exciting. Like, this might not be a total disaster.
PRT: Not only did you release a new album last year, you are already back at it with ‘Dear Departed’. Why did you decide to put out another album so fast after the first one?
Jason: It just sort of happened that way. We basically have time booked out in The Blasting Room every six months or so. We do all the instrument tracking in one trip and then Matt will do the vocals and all the embellishments in a subsequent trip. We just had a lot of delays getting the first record put out, just with the vinyl plant being backed up and such. By Dear Departed, we had learned a few lessons, got a bit more efficient with some things, went through a different plant and got it back much faster. So it sort of produced the illusion of the second record coming out hot on the heels of the first. But the first record had been in the can for well over a year before it was finally shown the light of day.
PRT: Did you write all the songs following the release of ‘Life Got In The Way’ or are you sitting on a pile of songs going back years?
Jason: “Life Got in the Way” had some older songs that Matt had been sitting on for a while, combined with some newer stuff. Two of the songs were written while we were at the studio. So there was some disparity. I think that there is something like a ten-year age difference between “Turnaround” and “When I’m Gone.” Which is kind of crazy for two songs on the same record. For “Dear Departed,” most of those songs were written specifically for that record. I think that’s why it is a bit more cohesive in tone and style, and a bit more indicative of where Matt is at a songwriter currently.
PRT: Beau Basement described your music as pop punk for grown folk. Is that a pretty apt description?
Jason: Yeah, I think that’s pretty accurate. I don’t think that’s necessarily what are aspirations were for the music, it’s just sort of an honest reflection of where we are in our lives, both musically, and personally. I honestly feel like it makes it a bit more interesting. There’s a tension that is created by the unanticipated contrast between the way the song sounds and what the song is about. I feel like it sort of draws you in. Makes you listen a bit closer. And my hope is that it allows people who are in a similar place in their life to connect with the music beyond Just something to nod your head to you in the car. I certainly don’t think we are by any means the only band attempting to grow the genre up. The Copyrights, Borderlines, Bad Secret, and Jeff Rosenstock come to mind.
PRT: I love a good pop punk album, but a lot of the times it is not a genre known for originality. Your songs on the other hand, pack a lot more different influences and are compositionally more expansive than your average pop punk song. How do you go about avoiding the ‘pitfalls of pop punk’?
Jason: I don’t think that there is anything particularly conscious or intentional about the blend of influences that are apparent in our more recent records. I think it’s more organic. To start, the three of us have very different musical influences, which can’t help but determine to some extent the way our band sounds, despite the fact that Matt is writing all of the music. In addition to that, and probably more importantly, Matt himself is a product of an interesting musical background. When he was younger and writing songs for the first time, he connected most strongly with bands like Green Day and MxPx, and they sort of created the foundation of his songwriting DNA. But in the decades since, he has listened almost exclusively to music from the 60s and 70s, so the songs he’s writing now have this really interesting and uniquely anachronistic formula that isn’t really a formula at all. It’s just an authentic expression of Matt’s interests and influences as a music fan, and musician. It’s basically impossible for Matt to fall into the “pitfalls of Pop punk“ because he doesn’t really listen to the genre at all anymore. So the formulas don’t ever occur to him to adhere to.
PRT: Can you walk me through your average writing process?
Jason: Oh yeah, like I said, Matt writes all of the music. He typically starts with a brief snippet of a song written on an acoustic saved as a audio clip in his phone and from there he’ll develop it into a full song. He’s doing all of this in Colorado, by the way. Phil and I both live in Omaha, so we were first introduced to the song in the form of a pretty stripped down demo. Drums, bass, sometimes guitar, almost never vocals. Phil and I learn our parts, and we meet up at The Blasting Room twice a year and put it all together in the studio. Outside of occasional rehearsals together, the songs pretty much only exists in recorded form. Most of them have never been played live. Matt usually records vocals after Phil and I have left, so we hear the song for the first time well after we have performed on it. It’s certainly a unique and somewhat disconnected process. I do miss playing together as a band, the energy in the room when you play a song for the first time together is something this process doesn’t fully capture. But once enough time has passed you go back and listen to the songs and you sort of forget the details of the process and what’s left are these records still sound like us.
PRT: You first started out in 1996. Which place does the band take up in your life now compared to everything else you have going on as an adult?
Jason: Well, it’s just kind of like everything else that you care about, you just have to make time for it. It’s something that we all enjoy working on and making our specific contributions to. It’s fun to make art. It’s even more fun to make art with your friends, and just for the sake of doing it. We have the luxury of having stable careers and supportive families. So speaking for myself, I can say that I make time to handle all my responsibilities for the album artwork, and all of the promotional stuff. I’m squeezing this interview in before I pick my kids up from school. So you just fit it in where you can. So that’s a logistical side, but just speaking about its impact on me personally, it’s been great having these guys back in my life in a more consistent and meaningful way. And it’s rewarding making records that people seem to like.
PRT: Omaha, Nebraska is right smack dab in the middle of the US and not exactly a punk rock hotbed. Maybe a generic question, but what was it like to start a punk rock band without much of a local scene? Or at least, not one that I’m aware of.
Jason: Oh actually back in the late 90s we had a pretty good scene here. There was a local DIY club called the Cog Factory that was basically run by kids for kids. It was a total dump, but we saw a lot of really great punk and hardcore bands there. There’s a great documentary on YouTube about the place. There was no shortage of basement shows and other concert halls that you could find local shows to get on, but you could also open for bands like Chixdiggit or the Donnas which I’m pretty sure we did, not to name drop. There are quite a few pretty good local bands back then too. I’m not sure how popular we were with any of them though. We always had shitty equipment and we’re pretty lazy so we would just show up without drums or amplifiers, and just ask if we could borrow from a band playing right before or right after us. For some reason, they all said yes, but you could tell they didn’t really want to.
PRT: When you released ‘Obsolete Man’ in 2011, there was some legal action due to an alleged trademark issue regarding your name. What exactly happened there and how did you manage to solve that?
Jason: Yeah, from what I understand there was some sort of reality show that his children were trying to get up and running at that time and apparently his lawyers were understandably concerned that their certainly awful concept for a TV show could be confused with a Nebraska pop punk band that hadn’t been active for 10 years. So we received a very polite letter from his law firm strenuously encouraging us to cease and desist under threat of legal action. I’m not sure how you can trademark a last name that a lot of people in the world probably have but it worked well enough to scare the label we were on at the time into burying the record. I still think we should’ve told him to go fuck himself.
PRT: Last one… which one is your favorite David Hasselhoff: the actor or the singer? And if it’s the actor: Baywatch or Knight Rider?
Jason: I can only speak for myself, but Knight Rider all the way. It’s kind of hard to remember this far back, but but there was actually a time where David Hasselhoff was legitimately cool. And he was never cooler than he was when he was driving the talking car, which in retrospect is such a perfect conception of what we thought the future was sure to look like way back in the 80s.
PRT: What’s up next for The Young Hasselhoffs now that the new album is out?
Jason: We have some studio time booked in January to continue working on the follow up to Dear Departed. We have a bunch of songs tracked already, and we are pretty excited about the direction this one seems to be headed. A little more raw, in its current state at least. Lots of feedback and string squeaks. Just going for a slightly less polished sound this time around possibly. It’s too early to tell though. As I said earlier, Matt is the only one that knows what any of the songs are supposed to sound like. We’re also working with Mom’s Basement Records to reissue our first three records on vinyl over the course of the upcoming year. Phil and I are also looking into getting a rehearsal space here in Omaha, with tentative plans to possibly play a show at some point in the future. Seems like a little bit of a longshot right now, but so did the very idea of even being in a band again three short years ago. So I guess anything is possible.