I met Future Punx before their headlining show at Shea Stadium on April 14. Doors had just opened and people were slowly seeping into the unmarked DIY venue. The night’s opening group, Pujol, was beginning to soundcheck and, amidst the noise, we failed to dig out a quiet space to talk. The band’s van seemed the best option, so Chris Pickering (bass and lead vocals), Jason Kelly (drums), Jake Pepper (guitar and vocals), and I headed outside and piled into the their silver Honda Odyssey.
Pickering also runs the record label, Dull Tools, with Parquet Courts’ Andrew Savage. Parquet Courts released records on the label until fame and Rough Trade stole them away, but the two bands remain close friends and still share a practice space. Fellow Future Punk, Heather Strange, does Dull Tools’ PR. Strange has been a band member since its inception, managing the lights and projections during shows. Her role grew larger when key/synth player Britney Boras left the band in January, though; to accommodate the loss, Strange learned how to play a keyboard and joined the band on-stage—she now also sings and continues to operate all of the lighting. Strange joined the interview about halfway through by climbing into the trunk.
Future Punx’ first LP, This is Post-Wave, was released late last year on the Dull Tools label. The ‘post-wave’ designation is both a wordplay on post-punk + new wave and a self-styled way of life. Boras’ sudden departure waylaid any further writing, but it also spawned a newfound energy—a rebirth of sorts. From the warm confines of the van, we discussed what this next Future Punx phase is going to hold in store. Only one thing’s for certain: it’s going to be all about that post-wave.
When did you guys first get into music, individually, and then how did you come together as a band? What’s the story?
Chris: I can touch on how Jason and I met. We were both in this scene in Denton, Texas, where he’s from. I’m from a nearby suburb. I think we both got into bands in that area and then got involved with the local scene. Jason moved out here with his band Fergus & Geronimo. Jake ended up getting looped up with those guys, and then once I moved to New York I started playing with them. That’s kind of how we all came together. Once Fergus & Geronimo was done, the three of us started Future Punx pretty much right then and there.
You guys were all in the first band together – what was the impetus for switching from that band and creating a new identity with Future Punx?
Chris: Well the project before was more like Jason and our friend Andrew [Savage]; it was more like their recording project, so the live version of that band always changed. And then Andrew ended up getting super busy—he’s in Parquet Courts—and that’s right around when Light Up Gold came out. More or less, that was why we had to start a new band. As far as the sound changing: that last Fergus record was funky and pretty new wave-y compared to some of their older stuff. And when we were jamming on that on tour we were really enjoying that kind of groove, so when we started Future Punx we wanted to keep it new wave-y and funky. And we eventually introduced the sequencer into the mix and then it started getting more electronic and that’s when the Future Punx identity actually started to form.
So what is post-wave?
Jake: It’s our own genre that we play, but it’s also more than that. It’s kind of a state ofbeing that we try to approach the whole project from. When you talk about music, it obviously indicates that we’re combining the post-punk and new wave styles, but it’s also about combining everything because we’re now in a place where everything is available to combine. It’s bringing the punk mentality even further into the future.
What the post-punk era did, in my view, is apply the punk aesthetic to this raw, primal approach to playing music but took it beyond just playing rock ‘n’ roll. They said ‘let’s get funky, let’s try all different kinds of music.’ But that era kind of trailed off in an interesting way. It turned into a lot of different things, but there are a lot of loose threads there that we’re trying to pull through to the present. That’s kind of what post-wave is all about.
Yeah I read one description that said it’s an “open-hearted approach to exploring the astral planes of punk”—what are the astral planes of punk?
Chris: [laughs] I feel like Jason might have said that quote. Jason: Did I say that? Are you sure? Might’ve been Heather. Jake: It’s a good one, though. It sums it up.
Chris: Yeah I mean what is punk, you know? There are so many possibilities for anything and it’s hard to define anything besides from how any individual might perceive it.
Jake: And when we speak about the astral planes, we’re indicating that we want to pull from the entire collective subconscious. We’re coming from a punk background but we don’t want to limit ourselves in any ways. We’ve learned to express ourselves in a certain way, but we want to broaden the palate infinitely. To me, that’s what the astral planes would represent—everything is up there, or around us anyway.
…In a funny way, the term post-wave itself is almost too limiting. Ideally there would be a term that could convey absolute possibility. Just by putting a term on it you have to limit it in a way.
Chris: But I like that it does imply that it’s after and any way that could happen…it’s so everything that it is just the future.
Jason: I think we have to incorporate a little bit more of a Coldplay aesthetic and then that’ll help.
Chris: [laughs] I’m not sure what that means.
What about the Coldplay aesthetic?
Jason: You know, three big chords over a Future Punx beat. Chris: So there’s even room for Coldplay in post-wave. Jake: Brian Eno produced two Coldplay albums…
Jason: Damn frickin’ Brian Eno, mastermind.
Brian Eno, what a guy. Was he one of the guys that inspired you to get into music?
Chris: I kind of got into him after I was pretty into music, but he’s definitely been a big influence on the music that I’m making now.
Jason: He just had such a big impact on showing people how fun it can be to just play around with anything, and use a recording studio as an instrument, and exaggerate mistakes…so much really fuckin’ beautiful perspectives that he’s had.
Jake: Not quite, we are preparing to write. We got thrown a curveball when Britney left the band and we were right about to start writing at that point. But we also realized we had to buckle down and make sure we were ready for some shows that we already had booked. It seemed like that was the direction we were being pushed in so we had to put writing on the backburner. But we’re this close to diving in and we’re all really psyched about it. The energy has really ramped up I think. We’re also talking about a whole new approach that will allow us to collaborate more and incorporate the tracks in a way that feels more organic, too.
Chris: Part of our new setup was moving from having a hardware sequencer onstage to running Ableton on the computer. Now that we’ve got this setup ready to go, we have a new way to start creating and a new tool to work with. So yeah we’re all definitely excited to get on some new stuff. We’re talking about doing a single or two to get the juices flowing.
Jason: In the last three weeks, we’ve restructured the band. Heather’s on synths, vocals, running lights, and tracks, and we just debuted at Bowery Ballroom opening for Sunflower Bean’s album release show… Then we played a bunch of super dope shows. We blasted through South By. Then we came back and played an insane show with Gorilla Toss and Downtown Boys.
Chris: We’ve had all these shows booked, too, so we’re ready to work on these songs but it’s like, damn when are we gonna practice? And we have a tour coming up in May, so with the way things are going, we’ll be ready to crank some shit out.
[Heather enters through the trunk.]
Heather, to catch you up—we’ve talked about a lot of things—but I’ve heard that you had to take over on short notice onstage doing a bunch of different things. Do you want to talk about how that ramping up process was, and how things are going now?
Heather: It’s going well I think. I’m still trying to get a handle on doing everything in a less stressful fashion. Doing projections while needing to play keys and sing, sometimes, gets a little overwhelming, but with practice I know that will come. Everything else, though…the lighting and stuff was tedious, but I’m familiar with everything that I’m working with, so that was streamlined pretty well.
Yeah I’m having fun with it—I like being on stage. And I’m exciting to start being a little more involved with the music and getting the lights to be even more mind-blowing than they are at this point, and then developing from there.
When did that switch happen again?
Heather: Last month. Like February 25th—the day before my birthday was the first day I played on-stage. I had about three weeks to get everything set. We all had three weeks.
Chris: We were having a band meeting to talk about our plans for 2016 and that’s when Britney was like ‘I can’t do this anymore, just too busy.’ She’s another band called New Myths, wasn’t like we had a bad break or anything. She just had to do her thing.
Heather: Yeah I’ve been in the band since it started, so I’ve been to every show, I know all the songs. I mean, other than me not knowing how to play a keyboard, everything was fairly easily transitioned.
Chris: At that meeting, we know we had these two more shows and then South By already in the books. And we just knew that we had a three-week time period and said, ‘if we have this be Britney’s last show, then we’ll have three weeks before the Bowery one to get Heather ready.’ Britney was down to stick around and she even said that, if we needed her, she’d do South By, but we were like ‘might as well just take that three-week chunk and dedicate it to the switch.’
Heather: South By was a crash course in getting everything set quickly and troubleshooting and all the other technical stuff, which still seems to happen, but we’re working on it.
Yeah that’s a huge transition.
Heather: Yeah once you throw reliability on a computer in your setup, it seems to be really frustrating. Yeah, we’ll get it.
Jake: And it kind of energized us, in a way, too, to have to do that. At that point, when we had that band meeting, we were kind of going to decide what to do next. And it was decided for us in a way. It just stirred up a bunch of energy and, like I said before, forced us to put writing on hold. And now that energy’s built up and we’re psyched to write. It feels like it happened for a reason, you know?