Published Jun 26, 2010By name alone, Walter Schreifels might not ring the loudest bell, but his storied punk past definitely will: as a member of seminal youth crew bands Youth of Today and Gorilla Biscuits, front-man for major label post-hardcore stars Quicksand, sort-of member/mostly collaborator with former Gorilla Biscuits band-mates in CIV, and of course the singer and guitarist in the too-short-lived alt-core Rival Schools ― to name but some ― he's got former glory for miles. Now into his days of "aging gracefully," Schreifels has released his first solo album, An Open Letter to the Scene, a smart, quirky folk-pop album that's more Ben Kweller than Black Flag, and less a cranky lecture to kids these days than an appreciative reflection on a pretty cool career. On the phone from a park in his home base New York, Schreifels waxes enthusiastic on the freedoms of being a solo artist, the renewed energy it has put into the upcoming new Rival Schools album and his affinity for our near and dear 905 punks.
So how are you doing? You've been continent hopping, I understand?
I have been, yeah, I've been very busy! I just got back from a tour in Europe, I had just done some East coast dates before that, and I was in England for a couple of weeks before that, and I've been in Tokyo, so the last month and a half has just been a whirlwind, but all good stuff!
And aren't you currently based in Berlin?
No, actually! That's some Wikipedia misinformation that needs to be updated. I do have an apartment in Berlin, and I lived there for a couple of years, but for the last year I've been in New York. But I just went back to visit and it was super nice, and I'm going back this summer for a couple months, so it's kind of like a second home for me.
So I guess it's safe to say things are going well for the album? You're getting out lots for it?
Yeah, things are going well. It's just kind of a thrill to have this album out and to be playing under my own name, and to be playing these songs. I think I might actually be playing in Toronto for North By Northeast as well, by the way, so it's been real good. Very, very fun for me.
The sound of this album is really quite different than anything you've done so far, and I'm curious if the writing or recording approach was different as well?
Yeah, it has been a different process. I got into a point with bands where generally I would make the music all up and have ideas for the melodies and maybe some words here or there, but I'd really concentrate on the music much more than the lyrics and the song structure. But this album was all written on acoustic guitar and it was very organic in that the worlds and the music were all coming at once and I wanted them to work together so I could play them on acoustic guitar, so that was a different approach, and also, this was going to be my solo record, so I was coming into it with a different feel and kind of different thinking behind it as well.
There's a real storytelling aspect running through this record, sharing snippets of your career so far and stuff. Is it important for you to preserve what's been, to have a document like this?
Some of the songs are kind of leading into things that have happened to me, or it's nice when something happened and I can tap directly into that experience and write from that feeling and write music and lyrics that kind of capture that idea or sentiment. It is a bit of storytelling. Sometimes it's more direct or sometimes it's a bit more poetic or something maybe and open to interpretation. But I think that doing quote-unquote solo songwriter stuff, I do feel a certain amount of freedom to sort of indulge myself. it kind of comes with the territory. So I'm letting myself do whatever kind of comes, and I do really like relating it to things that happen to me, or that I have some sort of feeling about that I can draw from.
I get a sort of sense of closure, too. Would you say that's accurate?
Yeah, in a sense. Having done all these different bands, and having played all these shows, and all these different things, I feel like opening up something new is sort of the beginning something and the end of something at the same time. I'm definitely addressing, like, through the album, it tells a story ― or at least it does to me ― of things that I've done, and it's telling them in a new kind of way than I have in the past. But it also relates to all the things that have come before, like, there's an Agnostic Front cover on the record, and I'm doing a CIV song, which, I wrote that song but I never got to perform it myself. There's a song called "Requiem" which, gosh, it's got to be 1 years old that I've recorded about 15 times and never released, so I'm so happy to put that thing to bed, so to speak. So yeah, there is a sense of closure about it, but I'm also, with this album, creating a platform to just move forward with music and be able to not so much depend on a band, or a scene, or anything to prop me up. It gives myself a sense of, you know, whatever I want to do, I can do it, and I can go any which way I want, artistically.
And you are still working in bands, too ― Rival Schools actually has a new album on the way?
Yeah, I have a Rival Schools has an album coming in October and I think this solo album allowed me to feel a lot more comfortable in doing that and allowed me to enjoy it a lot more. With Rival Schools I kind of felt that I was a little tied into the band, especially being on a major label, I just felt tied into too many other things. And having done it for so long, it kind of felt constricting. But having done this album, I realized that it's fun to play in a band and it's fun to play in that band and the people that I collaborate with, and we enjoy it a lot more. Or, well, I do anyway, and I think I probably bring that to the table. It's nice to be a part of that too, and bring my creativity to that, but I channel different things into that. It's a more collaborative side whereas with my solo stuff it's exactly how I want it, for better or for worse!
You have been through sort of rapid-fire dissolution of lots of bands but you seem pretty unaffected by it, you just get another project on the go. Did that or does that ever actually wear on you?
I guess for me, with each band, I'm kind of interested in this idea, with this group of people, some sort of scene or target idea, and I kind of run through that, and then I want to do something completely different. So, that's cool, because I think it's good for an artist to want to do something different, but when you have to shut the whole operation down and start from scratch with new people and build it all up, it is pretty exhausting. I've managed to do it four or five times, and at this stage of the game I don't really feel like doing that anymore, and I think as a solo artist it allows me to not have to. I can go and do a disco album, or a reggae album, without having to break up the band to find disco people to do it with. So now with Rival Schools, wherever we go as a group, it's okay and it doesn't have to completely define my whole creative being. I think it's important, at least, for me, I have so many musical interests, and things I want to express, and directions I want to go, so doing a solo album frees me up to do that and to bring my best game to Rival Schools without having to break the band up every time I want to make a reggae album.
This reggae album is serious business.
Oh yeah, it's going to come. It might be like an elderly statesmen kind of album, like a Lee Scratch Perry kind of old and crazy reggae album, but it'll happen.
The album is out on Dine Alone here in Canada, and I was curious about your history with Joel [Carriere, founder] and the label?
I met Joel ― I dunno, I feel like everyone knows Joel somehow ― I was on tour with Walking Concert and Eagles of Death Metal and I met Joel at the show just randomly by chance, and he's a big Quicksand fan. So from that time, since befriending him, he just really plugged me into Toronto and Canadian music, and he was just kind of my guide into it. I'd of course played in Canada but I never really felt the kind of connection that I feel to it now through Joel and Alexisonfire, Moneen, Attack in Black, and I just have so many friends there now. He said he wanted to start this record label and asked if it was cool because "Dine Alone" is one of the songs I wrote for Quicksand, and I was like, "do it man, that's fucking awesome!" It's pretty cool to be on a label that is named after one of my songs, I feel like I'm in good hands!
Special Walter treatment!
[Laughs] Yeah! I really feel like he has a vested interest in helping me out and doing right. Just all the people at the label, you know? I know them, they're friends, and it's really nice.
And you've actually worked with Dan Romano from Attack in Black on some stuff recently?
Yeah, I actually just recorded an album with Dan in March. I just had so many songs, and, with this album just coming out, I had enough songs for another album and I just wanted to do it while I had time, because of touring, and the Rival Schools album coming up, I didn't know when I'd get a chance to record it. I went on tour with Attack in Black some years ago and we've just remained friends, and I just think Dan is super talented. I came up and we recorded at his house but I haven't even heard the music to be honest, I've been on tour since then, but Dan is doing some mixes now, so I'm looking forward to hearing it sometime soon! It probably won't come out for a while but I just wanted to have it in the works.
Did he play on the record too?
He played a lot on it, yeah, for sure. I mean, he can play everything. I came up with a drummer from New York, but Dan played drums on a few songs as well. He played a lot of piano and keyboards on it, some guitars, and you know, we made a record together, and it sounds fucking ― well, when I left I was like, it rules. I'd done a lot of recording in New York at the same studio and I needed something challenging and new, and we worked way more old school, you know? There were no computers involved ― I mean ultimately computers will get involved because they always do, but we recorded in such a way that we had to pretty much do it live, which is how I started doing things, so that was really exciting. And I got to live in Welland, Ontario, for nearly two weeks, which was awesome. I won a lot of Tim Horton's free coffee while I was there! It was a good time.
How was the rest of your Welland experience? What did you do?
I played pool, and drank beer, and drank Tim Horton's. That was it.
That is quite the Canadian experience.
It was so great! I got real into it.
And now off that topic, back to the album, because I want to ask before we go, but I love the song "Save the Saveables," and the word saveable. What's that, to you? What are you singing about?
I guess it's sort of from a Christian idea, just wanting to reach out to those who could use the help, you know? I guess some things you can't save. It's hard to put my finger on and explain because I didn't really think about it. But I guess that's what I feel when I'm singing it, that there's some things out there worth saving and you have the chance to hold the hand out or not. Like, starving children, or a failing relationship, or like, electronic equipment. It's more a sentiment, but I don't think it's so specific, which is good. Or my songs ― we were talking about a sense of closure ― I was saving these songs, even, so people could hear them [laughs]. I dunno. Stuff like that.