by Ryan Wilkinson
photo: Sam Porter
Interviews in noisy public places can be a pain for those of us who have to transcribe them later, but DNA Pizza, the restaurant next to DNA Lounge – one of San Francisco’s last all-ages venues – was a perfect match for a conversation with members of Chicago band Typesetter: warm and friendly with lots of heart, but enough rough edges to be a suitable backdrop for our interview. The sun was already well below the horizon, but I arrived in the middle of a debate on whether or not to drink more yerba mate (a delicious and highly caffeinated tea, for the uninitiated) before their set – traveling the country from one sweaty venue to the next for weeks at a time really drains the battery, as it turns out.
Yes, living The Dream™ has a cost, but Typesetter seems as happy to pay it as any other touring band. Supporting their new album Nothing Blues — their first with 6131 Records — guitarist Kyle McDonald admits that “in a perfect world, we would tour this record all of next year, but also record next year.” It sounds ambitious, but looking at the stylistic jump between Nothing Blues and the more straightforward punk of their previous LP Wild’s End, ambitious moves are right in Typesetter’s wheelhouse.
That leap in musical style, fueled by the addition of Sarah Bogosh on keys, trumpet, and other instruments in the studio (and Natalie Krueger of Minneapolis band Sleep Debt in the same role on the road), transformed the punk band’s already complex arrangements. Loud guitars and bass lines that refuse to sit still make space for punk and pop stylings to meet and intermingle in more ways than anyone expected, except maybe the band themselves.
“I think we just instinctively or intuitively knew that the scope was gonna be bigger for our next record,” singer Marc Bannes asserts. “We all played in punk bands when we were younger, but we had ambitious goals of being bigger than that, sonically more expansive but playing with that kind of energy.” And the energy that has carried them through their career is undoubtedly present and expertly channeled on Nothing Blues, with singles ‘Monogamy I (Gliss Happening)’ and ‘Technicolor’ favoring 80s pop-style oohs and harmonies over their tried and true cranked-up guitars.
Energetic noise has been vital for Typesetter, winning them a Riot Fest set and tours with Red City Radio, Speedy Ortiz and Against Me! this year. It begs the question: why mess with success? “There’s something about growing continuously – like, ‘What more can we do, what more can we add,’” Bannes explains. “I feel like it’s part of the Typesetter DNA now, that the next thing has to be different from the last one. Every record’s gonna be different from the last one for sure, we’re never gonna make the same record twice. And that’s just part of the impetus we’ve always had, which has been, ‘write really interesting shit.’”
Beyond growth and writing interesting shit just for the sake of it, the sound you hear on Nothing Blues has been a goal for some time – “I think Marc has always envisioned writing a song like ‘Technicolor’,” McDonald jokes when I ask if they had ever imagined writing something quite so poppy. “Yeah, I think it is something that Marc has been trying to do forever,” bassist Alex Palermo adds with a laugh, “and we finally hit the nail on the head.” McDonald also credits part of the change in direction to the addition of drummer Matt Gonzalez to the mix: “I think it feels different from record to record, but ever since Matt’s been in the band, there’s a clear pivot from there. And the stuff we’ve done in between, I don’t think Nothing Blues is that far out of left field from that.”
In addition to their maturation as songwriters, the members of Typesetter discussed their personal growth since their last LP. Nothing Blues was written during a difficult time in Bannes’ life – in the terrifying moments where he took that first step of recognizing that he had a problem, in his case with mental health. “I want to convey the positivity in doing that. I think the fear for a lot of people, in admitting that you have mental health issues, or any sort of obstacle in your life, is that admitting you have a problem is very intimidating. But really, it’s liberating,” he confides. “I am, for sure, a better person today than I was at any other point of my life – isn’t that the point?“
With anxiety and depression seemingly running rampant among today’s youth, mental health has been a huge topic of discussion for bands (along with the rest of the internet). While no one has all the answers, Typesetter agree that it’s important that those in a position to do so speak about their own experiences. As Palermo puts it, “I think it’s really important to seek help and try to open up to other people, and relate to other people, and try to not get rid of that, you know? It’s something that our band has worked really hard to try to do, to try and make everyone as comfortable as possible in very uncomfortable situations.” And while seeking help is vital, Gonzalez points out that it isn’t always easy: “I think it’s also important to talk about it from the other side too, in that it shouldn’t always be put on somebody who’s struggling to speak out with their friends. Sometimes it’s really intimidating for somebody to find the courage to talk about it with a peer that they trust… I want to inspire that in more people too, just checking in on your friends and not necessarily putting all the weight on them checking in with you.”
Palermo goes on to discuss the various ways the band tries to take care of fans’ mental health at shows; from ensuring that gender-neutral bathrooms are available at every venue they play, to posting signs explaining how to reach security in the all-too-common case of harassment. “While people don’t always say so, they might be having the worst time ever because of something as stupid as, say, feeling uncomfortable going to the bathroom at a venue because of gender, because they don’t identify as either/or, so on and so forth. So it’s an important thing to me, and to the band.”
Overall, we have a positive conversation that reflects the message of Nothing Blues: improving yourself takes lots of work, but it’s beyond worthwhile. Take, for example, twin songs ‘Monogamy I (Gliss Happening)’ and ‘Monogamy II (Bad Actor)’: “A lot of alternative music is about bummer shit, it’s about depressing stuff, you know – and that’s good, it’s good to write songs about depressing shit and get all that out, that’s part of the appeal of the whole thing. But both of those songs are hopeful songs that are about unlearning some aspects of toxic masculinity and patriarchy that you have kind of internalized,” Bannes explains. “And for me personally, they’re about examining the way that I navigate close relationships and romantic relationships, and the really positive things that can come about when you realize that a bunch the bullshit that you’re taught and you internalize is actually bullshit, and you don’t need to live that anymore.”
As our conversation comes to an end, the band starts talking about tea again (they have an assortment of tea bags in the van – you can never be too careful with your voice on the road), leading me to wonder if I can become a tea person too. Hell, if Bannes can drop toxic masculinity, I can ditch coffee, right? We all leave the restaurant to do what we need to do before gathering for a stellar show upstairs, the band bringing to life their punk anthems and harmonious pop tunes alike to enrapture the young group that has formed before they hit the road again. Another city, another venue, another crowd – but if Nothing Blues proves anything, it’s that new territory is the only place Typesetter feels at home.