Published Mar 26, 2011After 11 long years and several side-projects, pop punk gurus Screeching Weasel have returned from a prolonged hiatus with their first studio effort since 2000's Teen Punks in Heat. Although veteran Screeching Weasel fans have matured over the past decade, perhaps trading in their leather jackets for suits and ties, Ben Weasel and his motley crew of bubblegum punks haven't budged, injecting their signature brand of foolproof melodies and snot-nosed grit into each song, a feat that these stalwarts originated and mastered. Never shy to point the finger, the spiteful "Follow Your Leaders" is Weasel's verbal attack on the current meathead state of punk rock, where the corporate-funded Warped Tour reigns supreme, while'50s rock-infused "Baby Talk" carries the album's strongest vocal hooks, with guitarist Dan Vapid's harmonies merging flawlessly with Weasel's nasally, doo-wop-inspired chorus. The 14 tracks come to an end with the sharp-tongued "Little Big Man," the final word on a feud between the band and some former labelmates, affirming the cult status Screeching Weasel have achieved throughout their dysfunctional legacy. The wait for First World Manifesto was well worth it and a wave of nostalgia and comfort can be embraced knowing that Screeching Weasel are back and making punk rock fun again.
Some songs on First World Manifesto, most notably "Dry is the Desert" and "Three Lonely Days," sound like they could have come from your latest solo album, These Ones are Bitter. Were these songs leftovers from those sessions or were they written strictly for a Screeching Weasel album?
Weasel: "Dry is the Desert" was written for the album. Most of "Three Lonely Days" was too, although the verse goes back seven or eight years. "Creepy Crawl" was a Bitter-era tune, as was "Fortune Cookie" and "Beginningless Vacation." But most of the stuff is new.
Follow Your Leaders" and "Little Big Man" both cast some stones at a few unnamed bands. Being involved in punk rock for more than 25 years, do you feel as if the music has become a parody of itself? Did Screeching Weasel reform to restore punk rock?
A lot of punk music was self-parody long before I even knew what punk was, so it's nothing new. I wanted to do a band that embodied the great things about punk, both musically and attitude-wise. It took a few records to get the formula right, but we always had that "fuck you" attitude. We've always made enemies. I don't trust anybody who doesn't make enemies in punk; it's a sign that you're toeing the line instead of being an individual. What I liked about the pop punk scene of the '90s, with bands like us and the Queers and MTX, was there was no clique; we didn't sit around in bars holding court and name-dropping or anything. That's really changed in that scene now. People take themselves way more seriously. The cool thing about pop punk in the late '80s and '90s was that the stereotypical punk stuff was far less prevalent; it was pretty much just a bunch of geeks and fuck-ups that didn't care about creating our own clique. We laughed at all the other punk rockers, then we became them, except me. I'm still laughing!
A lot of original Weasel fans are stoked that you're back touring and making records. Is it strange to come back to your legion of followers, as well as a whole new generation, more than a decade since the band's hiatus?
Not at all, it's been a total blast so far. Circumstances and personalities conspired to keep us off the road for so long that this seems like the first time we've really been able to go out and do things right. Every time I change the set list I'm adding songs we never played live before. So it's still exciting for me, and the fans are great. Screeching Weasel fans hate most other punk music, just like I do, and they're extremely loyal. So whether it's the old fans or new ones, we get along swell. The fans have been really kind to us. I feel very fortunate to be able to do this after having dropped the ball for so long.
Has your newfound Catholic faith been beneficial in your songwriting process or your current perception of punk rock?
I'm sure on some level it helps me creatively, but I don't really think about it. I don't have any Catholic stance on punk. From a musical perspective, punk mostly sucks, and from a cultural perspective, it completely sucks. I've felt that way for at least 20 years.
Do you ever get any flack for it from other bands in the scene that don't necessarily share the same views?
Oh, yeah, there are plenty of atheists who chide me for not being a good enough Christian while somehow managing to completely miss the irony of accusations like that.
The newest incarnation of Screeching Weasel features the return of Danny Vapid and the absence of John Jughead. What made Vapid want to come back after being away from the band for so long and how was it writing songs with him that were strictly for Screeching Weasel and not the side-project you both play in, the Riverdales?
You'd have to ask Vapid why he wanted to come back; I'm just glad he's here. I've been friends with him since we were teenagers and I've always loved working with him. I only wrote one tune with him that ended up on the album ("Dry is the Desert"), but I'm hoping to work on more with him for the next one. (Fat Wreck)