Darrow Chemical Company's Nightmare Avenue Left the Lone Star State to Talk Of A Plastic Smile with J.V. Bastard

From the ashes of several namesake underground acts, Darrow Chemical Company came together in 2009. Two years later they released not one but two EPs "A Nightmare on Seventh Avenue" and "Live in Brooklyn" following that they went on a relentless touring schedule that lead them to another EP "Long Star State" with yet another EP in the works called "Plastic Smile" with even more touring. Frontman vocalist J.V. Bastard was the one to discuss the EP, touring, and much more madness they have lined-up!

1. Introduce yourself, tell me what you do in Darrow Chemical Company, and how long the band has been together.

J.V.: I am J.V. Bastard (my friends call me Joe) I sing and play guitar at times in Darrow Chemical Company. We are a Punk band that formed officially in 2009.

2. Where is the band based out of and what is your music scene like there? Are there any local bands you could recommend?

J.V.: Darrow is based out of Northern New Jersey, close to New York. The scene here is very Hardcore and Metal heavy, so naturally a lot of the bands are as well. I would recommend "The Cryptkeeper Five"!

3. What are your songs about? (What specific themes do they cover?)

J.V.: I think each record has been a bit different, I guess my niche on the first two EPs was writing about my personal life with NO FILTERS (kinda like Eminem, but rock) I used a lot of my lyrics to talk about relationships, all sorts of relationships. On our latest EP "Plastic Smile I think I made more general social commentaries, and in retrospect may have actually written a lot more about myself. Each EP has it's own little bag of tricks I suppose.

4. Do you write your own songs? (Discuss the songwriting process in detail.)

J.V.: Yes. Our first EP was written just about solely by myself, it was a very personal record and I wrote it at a time when the bands future was hazy.  We were just recording some songs we didn't know if anyone would like it or anything. Since I have earned the attention of the band and I feel it has upped the quality of our composure. I write chord progressions and put lyrics to them, these guys are writing riffs, ya know? On this last one a good friend of mine "Andrew "Stripes" Winter sent us a riff he recorded on his phone and said "this is so Darrow, you guys gotta use this" and he was right, it was.  We reworked his phone demo into what became the title track of our new EP" Plastic Smile" working with friends and people outside of the band I respect was a cool experience and I really hope to have someone else collaborate on a song with us on our future records too.

5. What musical influences do you have as far as music and musicians?

J.V.: Personally I am a fan of bands with great singers, who write great songs, and have great production. at my core I am a metal head, there is just no changing that. I grew up in the Metallica/Pantera/Sepultura age. That will never leave me, but in the end I am a sucker for melody, and love a lot of rock and Punk rock as a result. My favorite song in the world is "Anything Anything" by Dramarama, about 90% of the time when I write a song, I'm trying to capture the vibe that that song does.

6. Who produced Plastic Smile and what was it like working with them?

J.V.: I produced Plastic Smile myself with our guitarist Loki. Him and I work great together as we can completely disagree on something and easily with little to no drama find either the medium or what is best for the song at hand. We have worked together for over a decade on records, and our dynamic is rare. I like to think of him as my Dr. Dre.

7. Is there any story or concept behind the Plastic Smile title?

J.V.: To me it is a touch on faking it to make it. The girl on that cover as I see her is ingenuine, and would rather be following her heart, but instead is working some shit job she hates cause it is what is expected of her. This is a life I have never lead for better or worse. "Plastic Smile" is I guess my little piece on being yourself and doing for you what YOU expect of YOU.

9. How has the band’s sound evolved from the Lone Star State single and A Nightmare On Seventh Aveune to Plastic Smile?

J.V.: "A Nightmare on Seventh Avenue" was comprised of songs I had written over time, and had no other outlet for, as well as me blowing off a lot of steam from my then recent divorce. The albums themes are very domestic, dealing with alcoholism and the darker side of love. I think in the beginning the musical direction was a lot more rooted in a Misfits/Ramones/Social Distortion formula. The Lone Star State EP continued the domestic themes but from the angle of different relationships. Lone Star State was the first one where the band had been writing with me, I think you can hear a lot of transitioning on Lone Star. Now I feel we are more where I wanted the band to be to begin with, a more modern punk sound. I wanted Darrow to be that pop punk band that you'd feel really weird calling a pop punk band, cause we are nowhere near as soft looking or sounding as the bands people think of under that banner. But to call a spade a spade, we certainly fall into a classic Pop Punk genre now.

10. Was your songwriting and recording process any different than usual for this EP?

J.V.: Yes. We put a lot more time into this record as far as pre-production, each song was home demoed 2 or 3 times before we hit the studio, this is also the first record where I had help with the lyrics as well. When the guys came to me with ideas that worked I rolled with them. Earlier in our writing I think those guys saw I had a very distinct and clear vision of what I was saying on those records, this one I honestly didn't have something that personal to say, and I think the forum was more open for input. I like having their ideas to bounce off.

11. What are your expectations for the EP?

J.V.: I really cant say, I am very proud of it. As a musician it is rare to walk out of a studio or away from a session and be happy with it, or know if it's any good or not when only you and the band had heard the songs before. On this EP I was confident in every track, and walked away satisfied with myself, the band, and our engineer. Me liking it is a good start, I guess I can only hope everyone else feels the same.

12.  So why did you want to take the self-release approach with your music? Do you plan to stick to this plan or want to get signed someday?

J.V.: We do it out of necessity. If someone came along offering us an opportunity that would take some of the work out of our hands I would take it. I have sacrificed a great deal of my personal life and health for this band in the last few years, while the successes are great the demand grows with them. My at home relationships have turned into band meetings, and my home has turned into a record label.  I feel very responsible for the money people spend on our merchandise and CD's. Keeping up with constant bulk shipping and distributing has taken it's toll on me for sure in the past 5 releases. In my heart of hearts I think our self made merch, self booked tours, self released records, and self done just about everything else will be acknowledged or seen for its monetary gain by some greedy person who will take a quarter of the work off my hands, and half our money. At this point I may just be okay with that.

13. Why do you think so many bands have turned to using Indiegogo, Kickstarter, etc. to help fund their needs from the fans and music community? Can you tell me about why you made an account on Indiegogo?

J.V.: I was actually way opposed to us doing it. I was always proud that all of our endeavors paid for themselves, when we would record and press cds we would see our investment back at presale, same went for merch and all else. I became very proud that we were self sustaining and that I could carry on with the band doing as I chose without a dollar in my pocket. The problem became that our pay comes in small doses, and receiving a lump sum of money to purchase something like a van, was not a paycheck on the horizon. I kicked, I screamed, and I pleaded with my band to not go this route, and in the end I caved, and it was a great success for us.I never doubted we COULD achieve the goals we set. I just did not agree with the means of raising it. I see a lot of bands take advantage of crowd sourcing platforms. I know what costs what, and I didn't like that bands were asking for. A lot of greed and grandeur seems to come with the people who have the nerve to set these things up. For some artists with great ideas, and good intentions I think it is fantastic. I would do it again if say I wrote an excellent movie script (something very expensive and unattainable personally to financially see through) but at this day in age to ask for several thousand dollars to record a record is just ludicrous, unless you have Butch Vig producing it. You can afford a damn good sounding record for your band on a minimum wage salary if you know what you're doing.

I cant say it wasn't exciting, and wow were we overwhelmed by the response we got, I'm not a religious guy, but for lack of a better term we are blessed by our supporters. I really just hope people don't ruin crowd funding for the bands who could really do something with some start up capitol. Greed is greed though.

14. Do you like being a D.I.Y. band? What is it about D.I.Y. bands that make them so unique?

J.V.: I like it because of the personal relations I have with each of our fans, I end up writing personal thank you notes to everyone when they order things, people really appreciate that, and if we were on a label that just wouldn't happen. From a booking perspective ("Loki", our guitarists world) Its great to know who you are working with. When we book a tour (more than not) its through a fan or someone who cares about the band, rather than a promoter who is just washing a booking agents back for when the nationals on their roster who the clubs actually want come to town. When we book we are usually offered a home to sleep in by the promoter or opening band, a home cooked meal, and we rest a lot easier knowing these people are covering their over head rather than ripping us off. I think a D.I.Y. band ends up earning the best quality of fans that you could ask for.

15. You guys plan to embark on a tour in the Summer, what do you hope to accomplish with this touring cycle?

J.V.: The prime directive of this tour is to kick ass, take names, and spread awareness of our new EP "Plastic Smile" It means a lot to us to keep up our hard working road dog reputation, we fell off a few years in the transition of projects and last year we really started getting back to it. Our band's fans have always been wide spread ,we don't really have a hot spot in any state or country, sure we have better cities than others but our die hards are spread out and catching up with them means a lot to us. While a tour isn't a vacation for us to travel and see friends we are very lucky that the people we work with we are also very friendly with. We intend to quickly follow this tour up a month after we get home to return for a 4 week run for the Halloween season. We are proud of "Plastic Smile", and it deserves the miles.

16. What have you done to prepare yourselves for this tour and all the other showcases you have coming up?

J.V.: Practice, Practice, Practice! On Darrows first US tour we had a lot of bad luck. Our drummer ended up not being able to do the tour last minute, then our bassist as well, we trudged through and did the tour last summer with the guitarist of the opening band (Dead N Wasted) on drums, and enlisted a friend at a bar to play bass last minute. We used Dead N Wasted's trailer and traveled as a 3 piece in a Nissan Sentra. Despite almost all blowing up in our faces with perseverance and determination we made it happen and finished the tour giving the best show we could as not to cancel. This go around we have our drummer on board, and the band has been restaffed to a group of dudes who I am happy with and work as a band I can be proud of. If you caught us on the last tour you will notice a large improvement in our stage show. Its almost like this is REALLY our first tour.

I would say the largest preparation for this tour would be that we booked it on our own. Negotiating contracts, hoping who you are working with is legit, scouting our own local openers, and lastly promoting 44 shows that are NOT in our home town takes quite a bit of preparation. This is where we earn grey hairs. (Loki who books has the greys, I'm still all brown, but the promotion isn't over yet , stay tuned).

17. How does it feel to have won the Ernie Balls Battle of the Bands contest?

J.V.: Man it feels cool to win anything. I disagree with the idea of a "Battle of the Bands" specifically locally, as I find it counter productive to a scene, I truly believe you need to help and work with the bands in your scene to better the whole. Most of these contests for these larger shows want bands to sell tickets for a series of 3 or more shows, and it becomes about who can make the promoters the most money rather than "may the best man win" I admired that The Warped contest was, sign up, and if ya win, ya win, and furthermore, being number one in the contest doesn't assure you a victory. The winners were judged based off the judge's best opinions, and the contest was national rather than local. We had entered this contest last year, and did not win. I did however spend most of last year hearing "I heard of you guys on that Warped tour page" so to me I signed us up again this year for the exposure, and the chance to turn some more people onto the band. Of course winning would be cool, but it was never my motive in the contest. Like the Indiegogo campaign we did, we are blessed with fans who care just about. as much about our music as we do. Strength in numbers goes wayyy beyond "D.A.R.E" class.

18. What do you hope to bring to your performance at the Vans Warped Tour and Ghouls Night Out Fest?

J.V.: Pile on vocals and push moshing. I enjoy breaking down the barrier between the fans and the band in larger concert settings. I have no qualms with jumping off the stage and letting the kids be a part of the shows that we are expected to be on the other side of a barrier at.

19. What else can we expect to see from you guys for this year?

J.V.: More of the same for this year, we will be supporting "Plastic Smile"  until the year's end playing wherever we are welcomed. We have 10 weeks of US shows on our plate as of now. We will probably begin another EP in the early months of 2014. Only time will tell.

20. Where can we listen to your band and where can we buy your stuff?

J.V.: We can be heard on most digital outlets, iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, etc. etc. We actually are just changing over a lot of our digital distro so we may end up out of whack for a few weeks on some of these sites, and hopefully available at even more digital sources as of the July 20th release of "Plastic Smile" Physical copies of the disc will be available directly from the band via our own labels store "W.H.B. Records (http://whbrecords.bigcartel.com) Interpunk.com, and Amazon.com. By years end all should be sussed out for you to catch us on Pandora radio as well.

21. Any final words of wisdom?

J.V.: You are who you wake up and be every morning. You determine what you do, not some degree or some record label or plaque on a wall to say you do or did this or that for a living or career. If you put your heart and soul into something every day, anything is possible regardless of the means. Despite a lot of the sugar our generation was coated with growing up. You really can do whatever you put your mind to. Whatever you do, be who you are and love what you do.

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