I sat down with Punchline last week in anticipation of their 20th anniversary shows to talk about how it feels, what’s coming next, and what crazy stories they’ve accumulated over the years.
Chris Fafalios – Bass
Steve Sobaslai – Guitar
Cory Muro – Drums
Trevor Leonard – Guitar (not present)
Q: You have your 20th anniversary shows coming up, and you noted that July 8th is the exact 20 year anniversary of Punchline. What specifically is that the anniversary of?
CF: First practice. We have a video tape of it. For some reason, our friend Johnny was filming us at… that was our first ever practice, right?
SS: Yep, it’s dated on there.
CF: Yeah, it has the date on it. I always confuse whether it was the 8th or the 11th, but it’s the 8th.
SS: We could look, that’s on YouTube, isn’t it? The Rewind DVD is on YouTube. So we could look it up.
CF: It’s pretty close, it’s within 3 days if it’s not. But I think it’s the exact day.
SS: We give a 3 day guarantee.
CM: We don’t want any fake news here.
Q: And you guys (Steve and Chris) were in high school at the time, right?
SS: Yeah, and Cory was still in the womb.
CF: YOU WERE STILL IN THE WOMB?!
CM: Let’s see, when was that… ’97? Okay, so I was 10.
SS: What were you doing in July of your 10th year?
CM: I was probably at… church? That’s usually where I was when I was a little kid. I was wherever my mom took me, so probably church.
Q: So this is more for Chris and Steve, but how does it feel to be around for 20 years as a band?
CF: Good, I mean, Cory has been here for… 9 of them now. But it does not feel like 20 years. We’ve been saying that, because it’s been 20 years, but that hasn’t sunk in at all.
CM: With me being a Punchline fan before I joined too, it is still weird to think that Punchline’s been a band for 20 years.
CF: I guess the first little bit of reality was today, when I went and spoke to a class of kids that were learning punk rock songs at Sunburst music school, and I was thinking that our band was older than every kid in that class by, like, six or seven years. At least!
SS: I can’t wait for our bicentennial.
CF: I mean, we could be a band for 50 years! Do you realize that that’s a possibility?! I want to do it.
CM: I wonder what the longest band ever is, that never broke up?
SS: Ooh, that’s a great question.
CM: Right off the bat, I would say, my guess would be the Rolling Stones. But I dunno, that would be my guess.
CF: Unless there’s a polka band somewhere! Or are we just talking rock bands?
CM: I’m talking any band, just a band that is the longest band. Maybe it’s in the Guinness Book of World Records?
CF: Maybe we could break that record. We gotta eat healthy, exercise, we gotta live to be 110 or something.
Q: So tell me about the Kickstarter. I know that’s been funded, you want to do a Netflix music special, how is that coming along?
CF: Just the other day, we found–well, it’s not official yet–but we think we found the place where we want to film the live show portion of it.
SS: Which was a huge concern, because we want the setting to be gorgeous and elegant and very nice for all the people that are coming out.
CF: And we think we found the place, we should know in the next week or two, and then we’ll know the date of the filming for all the people that backed our Kickstarter and got the reward to be in it. We just wanted to make sure that we made it a special night for everyone. So, yeah, we’re there and we’re aiming to have that filming in November. We’re thinking that’s probably when it will be. But, yeah, it’s happening! I was stressed out a little bit because things were kind of taking a long time because, just finding the location, we didn’t want to rush that. But it’s coming.
CM: And the Kickstarter too was just a crazy thing, because we were pretty far away from that goal going into the last day. And that last day was crazy, because it was just one percent, one percent the whole day, us texting each other.
Q: And you ended up going over by a pretty significant amount, right?
CF: Yeah, the thing about that was, and I saw someone went on our Facebook and commented, “Oh, you guys just funded this yourselves!” Well, the honest part of that is, if it got close enough, we would’ve covered it.
SS: Who wouldn’t do that?
CF: But it was amazing that we didn’t have to do that. We were prepared to do that, and then someone accused us of it, and I wanted to be like, “Fuck you, buddy! It actually happened, people actually made it happen!” But I would’ve have nothing against doing that.
CM: I even had someone hit me up, a super random person, who totally gave me the vibe like, “How much do you guys need? I’ll cover it?” So we had those options, but we just sat there and watched it climb by one percent, one percent, and then we were over it.
SS: And we’re very thankful. It’s really cool that people did that.
CM: And that’s not the first time that’s happened to us too, I think the Punchline fanbase kind of… like the phone tree!
CF: It’s crazy that after 20 years… I feel like every couple of years something happens, I’ll get these times where I’ll start to feel down, like we’re not accomplishing enough, and then sometimes like that happens and it’s just this whole new invigoration, and this momentum, and now I’m excited to play these shows, we have a new album coming out in the fall, we’re doing this special, and I feel so excited about music.
CM: I think that last day we were kind of like, “Shit, we’re not going to make it…”
SS: But the people showed up.
CF: And I’m so appreciative of that, that’s why we’ve been a band for 20 years.
Q: Have you had any progress talking to Netflix about getting your special on there?
SS: We can’t really talk to them until we have something to show. But we have more connections than we ever thought we would, and two people who have worked with them before, so it’s not going to be a Hail Mary situation, I don’t think. I think they’ll actually get to check it out.
CF: I have one friend who got a couple documentaries on there, and a couple of other people have told me some names and leads on that. But as long as we can get it on– Netflix is tough now, like maybe tougher than ever. But Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, one of the services that a lot of people have… as long as we can get it onto one thing, I’ll be happy. But Netflix would be the ultimate, it seems like the thing that most people have. We’ll make it a really good thing first!
Q: And one other totally random question about the Kickstarter– I noticed that one of the rewards was a bucket. Why was there a bucket on your Kickstarter?
CF: Um, we just, uh… why was there a bucket, Steve?
SS: Your stomach is like a bucket, alright? All day, when you’re eating, you’re putting all different kinds of foods in the bucket. You gotta make sure, sometimes if you put too much food in the bucket, you gotta think about, you gotta carry that thing around! You know what I’m saying? So when you eat, think about what you would want, think of your stomach like a bucket, and what kind of foods you want to put in your bucket.
CM: But still, why was there a bucket on our Kickstarter?
SS: Because your stomach is like a bucket…
CF: Yeah, we gotta send out those buckets…
SS: I don’t know, it just happened. We finished writing them all out, and we read them back, and then one of us was like, “Hey, how about a bucket? Put a bucket!” That’s it.
CF: We only offered three of them.
SS: It was in the heat of the moment. It was an unplanned bucket.
Q: Moving on, you’re working on releasing your next album in the fall. I know with Thrilled it was just Steve and Chris sending songs back and forth. Was it the same process this time around?
SS: It was all four of us, and we recorded it ourselves. We’re all working on it. It’s cool, we all have a setup to record in our own homes, and then we did some at a studio in Nashville, and another studio in Nashville, our buddy Ben’s place, and we’re going to do some more recording in Pittsburgh.
Q: And how does the sound compare to previous albums?
CM: There’s going to be a couple songs on this record that I think people are gonna, at first listen, be like, “Damn, I didn’t expect that kind of song.” I think for us doing the record ourselves, we don’t have that outside producer trying to keep us inside of a certain box, so there’s definitely some parts of this record that just step outside of a box that we maybe would’ve have if we worked with anyone else.
CF: I would say that a big thing about this album that I’m excited about is that– well, last time I think that Steve and I tried to just write songs in a way that you knew there was no limit to the sounds you could use, like if you wanted to use the craziest sounds ever… “Let It Rise” is the perfect example, like WHATEVER, just do it, and just try to write good pop/rock songs. And this time I feel like everything is real organic, and real, and rock.
CM: Yeah, I would say that Thrilled was kind of out of the box because of the production of it, and the sounds, where this record is going to be out of the box because of the songs.
CF: These are songs that four guys in a room with a bass, two guitars, and drums could play without the need of additional synthesizers and programming and things like that. I have no problem with the fact that we did our last album like that, but I like… I would like to make the next album whatever we’re feeling at the time.
SS: Is there any cursing on the album?
CF: On our new one?
SS: <laughs> or cussing?
SS: I think there’s a curse, but no cussing. Little bit of cursing, not a lot of cussing.
CF: I don’t think there’s much cussing on this album.
SS: That’s on the record!
Q: Are you planning on touring in support of the new album after it’s released? Full US tour or just the northeast?
CF: There’s a lot of factors, whether we do it like we’re doing these 20 year anniversary shows, where we go out and play a couple of shows and try to hit the Friday and Saturday of a city, or… it would probably depend on if we get a good support slot on a bigger tour, or if we decide to try to do a full, or most of the US kind of thing as a headliner. It’s just, we gotta gauge our demand.
SS: We should retrace the steps of our first tour.
CM: And we all have jobs and stuff, too, which… I think the thing that’s keeping us from not doing a full US tour is just the right situation, the right thing to come along, but I think that if that thing were to come along, we would all totally be down to do that.
CF: We’ll see what the reception is on this new album and how much demand for that full US tour there is. If there’s demand for it, hell yeah we’ll do it.
Q: Speaking of touring, do you have any shows in particular that really stick out?
CF: I feel so stereotypical saying this, but we played a show at–this is a back in the day one–at Club Laga in Pittsburgh, around the time when the Rewind EP was out and the power went off at the show, and I believe we played the song “Stop” and the crowd sang along to the song with no power. It was one of those, wow, this horrible thing happened but the people at the show just made it so it was even way cooler. That sticks out to me. That had to be… 2003? Just a cool older memory.
SS: I think the first show we played in Japan ever, or maybe the second show. Club Quattro. We toured Japan, we were asked to come over there and tour by our label’s partner label in Toyko, and we went over there and had no idea what to expect. And the shows were sold out and people knew the words to every song we played. It was crazy. And the clubs–I love that in Japan they have… that was a bigger club, 800-900 people, but every single club there, even if it only holds 100 people or less, has amazing sound and lights. And I feel like in the States that the size of the room tends to dictate how good the production value is, and I don’t think it should be like that.
CM: This one is kind of good and bad, because it’s a Japan show too, it was my first show in Japan. Steve lost his passport, so Chris, Paul, and I went to Japan without him. He stayed in Chicago to try to get a passport expedited. So we flew into Tokyo and had to drive a few hours to… Nagoya, I think, was our first show. But we literally were onstage, about to go on, and Steve wasn’t there. And then it turned from what could’ve been the worst show we ever had to play to Steve walking in, walking through the crowd, picking up his guitar, putting it on, and going on stage.
SS: I seriously walked in, put my suitcase down on the side of the stage, walked onstage, picked up my guitar, and we started playing.
CM: So that show’s kind of the worst and the best memory all in one.
SS: Wait, since you also did Japan, I’ll do one more story. We can’t have two Japans. Well, maybe we can. But we played in a gazebo in Little Rock, AR for four people.
CF: And 5,000 mosquitos.
SS: It was sold out, mosquito-wise. That was in 2001.
CM: I was in 8th grade.
SS: We were thinking about you.
CM: Did the size of the venue dictate the production value?
SS: It sure did! The promotor was like, “This is the PA,” and I’m looking at it like, “That’s a stereo…” But there was one guy, this punk kid who had a mohawk, and he was like, “I drove an hour and a half to see you guys.” So, it was cool.
Q: After 20 years, are there any songs that you feel obligated to play but are totally sick of? Like, you actually hate “Heart Transplant“?
CF: Um… yeah. <laugh> No, actually I like Heart Transplant.
CM: I don’t like Heart Transplant until we’re playing it at a show. Then I love it, because the crowd loves it. We just play it all the time, it’s just that. Every band has that song, I’m sure. At practice it’s like, “We have to practice this one,” and then it’s, “Eh… let’s just call practice now.” But when we play, it might be the favorite song we play, because everybody loves it.
CF: Steve has really been pissing me and Cory off when he’s been talking shit on “21 Forever,” because I like playing that song and I think it’s one of the best Punchline songs and Steve doesn’t like it, and I think that’s messed up.
SS: I just don’t like it as much as the rest. I mean, we can put it on the list, it’s not like I dislike it that much.
Q: I heard an interview that you did a month or two ago…
CF: Yeah, right?! He is so off!
CM: The song is not… don’t listen to him.
CF: He said it was a slut shaming song, but I did not look at it like that at all. I would never write…
CM: And if it is, he (Chris) wrote the lyrics… what an asshole, right?! <laughs>
CF: No, we wrote the lyrics to that together! Anything I wrote for it was not with that intention at all!
SS: I feel like I remember you saying something about that… <laughs> No, I’m just kidding. I mean, it wasn’t intended to some kind of expose… I just thought of it one day, and I was like, “Wow, now that I’m older, I look at that song and I would never write a song of that theme.”
CF: Well, the way I look at that song… first of all, yeah, we’re from the male perspective. But I feel like a male or female could look at that. It would be if you were dating someone or liked someone who was always drunk.
CM: Got that party bug.
CF: So is that really that bad? I don’t really think…. I think a lot of people can relate to that.
SS: Okay, I take it back <laugh> I’m just happy that someone’s listening to these interviews.
CF: I listened to it! All three of us listened.
SS: Thanks guys!
CM: You sent it to me and said, “Listen to this,” so I did.
SS: Still counts.
Q: Do you have any advice for bands starting out? Is there anything you wish you had differently 20 years ago?
CF: I would… this is a question where there are just so many thing I could say, because I think we did a lot of things right. One of those things I told those kids at the music school today is, when you play shows–and this sounds so obvious–but when you play shows, get to know the other bands. Talk to them, make friends, and don’t just play and leave, or not watch the other bands. Because when you’re playing in bands, you’re going to be more successful and your whole area is going to be more successful if the bands and people who go to shows are all friends, and you make something cool together, rather than just thinking only about yourself. There’s also the obvious stuff, like get a good recording. Don’t release something that isn’t the best thing that you could possibly put out.
CM: And it used to be way harder to do that than it is today… today you should be able to get a really awesome sounding recording for not that much, and the thing that I see bands do a lot now that’s maybe a bit backwards is going out there and headlining shows, like their first show is a headlining show, and they don’t have any music out… and this might sound a little bit, I dunno, asshole-ish, but know your place. And that’s okay when you’re a new band, what’s best for you to is try to open for a show that has an awesome band on it that people are going to come out to.
SS: Pay your dues.
CM: Yeah. But I think there’s bands that have paid their dues that maybe start a new band and do that too. But just be smart about it, there’s going to be more people at that show that you open, then if you do the headlining one. So do that, make some fans, put out some music, and then when the time is right, when you can draw 100 people, headline a show.
CF: A big thing that helped our band early on, and our band started kind of at the beginning of everyone having the internet and being on the internet all the time, is to acually promote your band and talk to people in person and not just on Facebook and Instagram or whatever. You have to actually go and… if you’re a new band, maybe go see some bands that are in your style of music and get to know the people there and tell them in person about your band, and not just hit them up with Facebook spam. I think Facebook is really good for promotion, but I think you’ve got to do a little more than that, and I think that’s how you get to know people, develop relationships with people that support your music, and also just, on a less networky sounding thing, you make friends.
CM: I don’t know how, but I kind of fell into playing a lot of covers recently, which is a lot of fun. And the Emo Band was kind of an idea that was supposed to just be a Pittsburgh thing that hit it off, and people really loved it, so we decided to take it to other cities. And it started to really catch on, and people really wanted to bring it… but the Warped Tour cruise thing happened because our friend who books our shows just reached out to Kevin Lyman and said, “Hey, I think what we’ve got going on would be a really good fit, here’s a couple videos of what we do,” and 10 minutes later Kevin called on the phone and said, “Yep, I love this, my people will be in contact, we’ll figure it out, and that was that.” So I’m stoked, because obviously there’s quite a few bands on that cruise… like, I would want to go on that cruise even if I wasn’t playing.
Q: And Steve, you said in your earlier interview that you’re trying to get more into producing. What have you been doing in that regard, outside of Punchline?
SS: Okay, alright. I’m going to be recording some songs for the band NightBeast. He’s a guy, he used to tour with us, we travelled all over the place together, and he’s just this big, warm, awesome fellow, covered in tattoos. He has a tattoo of me, which is really cool, and I feel like I have to get a tattoo of him at some point, I’m working up to it. But he has a band that’s kind of an Andrew W.K. party like band. So I’m going to record some songs for him, and I’m recording some songs for this band We Speak In Colors, and… who else?
CM: You’ve always got your fingers in something.
SS: Yeah, always working on something. But I would love to record some more Pittsburgh bands, for sure.
Q: And then Chris, I know you do your animated videos. What would you say is the favorite video you’ve done?
CF: I just did one for Bowling For Soup, for their song “Don’t Be A Dick,” and that was a fun one to do. I mean, their songs are really fun, so you really have a lot… I’m actually doing another one for their singer’s other band now, but I liked doing that one, I liked doing the Anti-Flag one because I got to draw political figures and make them look like assholes and stuff, that was like right up my alley, and I really like making things just to make myself laugh, so I like making the phone call videos I do sometimes… but yeah, it’s been cool that I got to do some cool videos. Like, I didn’t really think… I only started doing that a year, year and a half ago… I mean, I’m glad that people hit me up to do it, and I want to keep doing it, hopefully. Sometimes it’s a little intimidating when you’re starting a thing from scratch and you have to draw everything, and it’s a big long process, but it’s pretty rewarding.
Q: So, time for some Pittsburgh-specific questions… what are some local bands that you think are doing good things?
CM: Yeah, there’s a lot of good bands. I really like this band, I actually haven’t seen them yet, but there’s on the top of my list… they’re called Starship Mantis. They’re definitely not punk, but they’re a good kind of funky… they’re just all really awesome musicians, that kind of thing. So that’s a band that I have in mind, and I want to see them live, I’ve just always had something going on every time I see that they’re playing. And, one of you is probably going to say this, but I think the Pimps are–Eternal Boy, they’re called now–I think it’s awesome what they’re doing with the Four Chord thing, and now they’re signing bands and stuff. And they’ve been doing it for a really long time, staying true to what they like. Definitely respect them.
SS: <pulls out his phone> I have a list. Side Eye, Cotopaxi, Kayla Schureman, Bindley Hardware Co., Naked Spirit, Meeting of Important People. That’s my list. I’ve been making this list, and my girlfriend’s like, “Why are you making this list? What’s it for?” and I was like, “I dunno, maybe it’s for Punksburgh.”
CF: You know who I saw a couple of months ago and I thought they were really good–Look Out Loretta. They like fast, melodic punk. And I don’t know, I feel that they had a song at that show that wasn’t released yet, it was called “31” and I was like, “Damn, that’s a good song!” I wanted to use it on our podcast “Men In Their 30s Only.” But, yeah, I like the punk rock bands, so they would be the band that comes first to my mind.
Q: How about local businesses or artists?
CF: I like Commonwealth Press, they do our merch and stuff, they’re good people, and they do an awesome job on everything that we order through them. I think it’s so cool that they’re… you know, some of the people there are people we’ve known forever and their business is big and they do a great job.
SS: Also, up in Allentown, Black Forge Coffee House. Punk as hell.
CM: Every time I get asked a question like this I always shout out The Smiling Moose, it’s like my favorite place. Actually, going back to the question about our favorite show, I want to change my answer, because the last time we did shows we did a surprise show at the Moose. And that might be my favorite Punchline show we’ve ever played. I thought the energy in that room was just great, it was kind of an unexpected thing, it just had that kind of “not a lot of pressure” vibe to it. Yeah, maybe we’ll do something like that again someday.
Q: And I know this can be a contentious question, but what is your favorite Pittsburgh pizza?
CM: Fiori’s. No question.
SS: Michael’s. 26th & Sarah, in the south side. I lived next door to it for a long time and it’s great pizza.
CF: I live in Greensburg, so I don’t eat a lot of Pittsburgh pizza, but there’s two pizzas out my way: Jioio’s, which is a crazy sweet pizza, you either love it or you don’t love it. And I love it. And the other one is my home town classic, Jake’s Pizza in Belle Vernon.
SS: Jake’s is super good.
CF: Among the people I roll with, nothing will ever be better than Jake’s.
SS: If you had just said pizza, I would’ve said Jake’s.
CF: It’s within 45 minutes of Pittsburgh, so, yeah, Jake’s pizza.
Don’t miss Punchline this Saturday 7/8 at Mr. Smalls with The Berlin Project, Two Birds, and Drop The Act. An after party featuring A Week In July and a super secret guest headliner will follow at The Funhouse at Mr. Smalls.