Without a doubt, the DC music scene became several decibels quieter in the months following Presto Bando’s final performance on January 4th of last year. Their Southern-fried punk rock was hard to ignore, and singer Brandon Ables’ vocals encroached on the terrain of a deranged “future Dylan”. The band’s live shows were always a highly energized spectacle, and set a high watermark for performance art few other bands were able to match. During the band’s final set, Ables (vocals, guitar) cheerily described the “hatred” he and his bandmates had developed for one another to an uncomfortable audience, urging them to take their CDs, “because we’re just going to throw them in the trash anyway.”
Following their “break up”, Corey Shinko (bass, vocals) and Ables told me of plans to do a “posthumous” release, and this was a topic I pestered them about incessantly throughout the spring and early summer of 2013. Finally, there was an oddly timed July 4th “Pre-Release” Party thrown by Emanuel Pires, who Ables and Shinko claimed to be recording with at his home studio in Annandale, Virginia. Several more months passed, and I admittedly began to wonder if the project had been scrapped before I received a text from Shinko in November asking if I’d like to meet with him and Ables to discuss the now-complete 11 song record, entitled Witchtopher Columbus.
Read our full interview with Presto Bando after the jump, where they discuss the reasons behind their “break up”, the recording of Witchtopher Columbus, and Ables experiences working as an ice cream man.
On January 4th of 2013, you “broke up”, and you played what was billed as your “farewell show”. What prompted this “end” to Presto Bando?
Corey Shinko: When we used to be a band, we all lived together. Then Evan [Samek, former drummer] moved out so we’d all have to make a time to practice. And when it became just me and Brandon, well, first off his relationship with a person I won’t name, when him and I were living together, and it was kind of the dying phase of Presto Bando and I had a lot of anger. I was really upset with both Brandon and Evan. Evan would skip practices sometimes, and when he did come to practice, he only wanted to play specific songs, and we could never really play new songs. So at the end, we could really only play the same 10 to 12 songs over and over and over again. And I’m not a gerbil to run in a cage. And I don’t think anyone really wanted that. And so, Evan kind of drifted away first, and then Brandon got into this relationship with a woman, and she just began living at our apartment and they never talked to me about that, so there was a bunch of nights where I had my bass out, I had pressed play on the songs we had previously recorded, was running through my parts, thinking of different new lines I could do and stuff, and they were walking out the door on their 36th date of the month. And I was really upset. I think that was probably the lowest part, and that was definitely the worst as far as the songwriting went, there just wasn’t much happening.
Brandon Ables: I was in a weird spot in a relationship where I didn’t give a shit about the band anymore. Evan was at a spot where he didn’t care about it. Corey was the only one left that cared but had to make some vital life decisions that would affect not the next year or two but like the next decade or so of his life. And all that came into play and we figured out, we would be like, let’s just make it easy on us and stop playing out.
But was it always your intention to reform?
CS: Yeah, I’ll give you that: Brandon and I secretly knew we were going to do another album when said we were done that night at the last show, but we knew that Evan was going to leave for good, so in part it was totally true. But I want to add that there’s always been the feeling that Brandon and I would always come back to playing music together. I mean, I’ve moved out of state a few times. Brandon moved out of state. But we’d would always come back, we’d always play together again.
Corey, your bass playing in Presto Bando has always been a bit on the “wild side”: You take more of lead role melodically than a lot of other bassists. I’ve also heard you say that when writing your parts, you often wouldn’t listen to your drummer. That’s different than how rhythm sections “traditionally operate”, where the bassist and drummer play to each other to establish a groove. Was this a product of personality differences, or did Presto Bando have a less conventional approach to writing songs?
CS: When [Brandon and I] started the band, I never particularly paid attention to the drumming, but I could say the same thing about Brandon’s playing: When he plays, I get the general thing in my head and that’s it. It doesn’t matter what else is going on. I don’t think it came from a general dislike of any one person. In actuality, how I became the bassist that I became was the product of a lot of improvisational playing, a lot of solo playing where it didn’t matter who was playing what, and I think that helped with the improvisational aspect of the band. Because you know, the way [Brandon] plays his guitar changes every single time he plays the same song. And so Evan [drummer] could also kind of change the way he would play the drums from song to song, so in essence, that statement is somewhat true. I didn’t really care what Evan played. I didn’t really care what Brandon played. I didn’t really think they cared what I played. Everyone played their own thing. I’d say it’s always been like three different languages all having the same conversation.
What have you been up to in the meantime since last January?
BA: I keep writing songs and showing [Corey] stuff and he’s kept writing and we’re both keeping our chops up for whenever the live band comes back.
CS: And we wrote and recorded this whole new album, Witchtopher Columbus, which took several months.
Is the album made up of new songs, or older pieces?
CS: This album has songs ranging from eight different years.
BA: “San Francisco” might have been like ’05 too. There’s a lot of old stuff but a lot of new material too. We’re just trying to balance it out now, keep ourselves interested, and to build some sort of catalog, you know, because we’ve written over a hundred songs and we have probably around 63 that are recorded at an acceptable level right now.
Describe the recording process of Witchtopher Columbus.
CS: We recorded it in a garage. We had to do Brandon’s rhythm guitar first. That was recorded first with scratch vocals. And since Evan’s not here any more, Brandon played drums and then I played bass to his rhythm guitar, which had his scratch vocals on it, which we then discarded and he put on the vocals, and then after that, we went and did some backing vocals, little effects and stuff like that. And this was engineered and produced by Emanuel Pires in his garage. And so when we were finished with that, he worked out the way he wanted the album to sound. Then we took it to Marco Delmar at Recording Arts, which is where we had taken the first two albums (Broad Ditch, Rake).
What was it like recording with Emanuel Pires?
BA: Emanuel’s great, man. He’s put in the work to become a producer. He started out in the electronic, club scene. He knows Ableton real well.
CS: He’s the lead guitarist of an instrumental prog rock band.
CS: Dela Sante, yeah. It’s a five piece band. And he’s also a co-worker of Brandon. So they have a lot of dialogue in the day time. In the beginning I had to just trust Brandon. I didn’t know him like Brandon did. But I’m happy that we recorded this album with him. He was very open to going in multiple, different directions. He was always in our corner, so that was good.
And that kind of contributed to this new album being so much more fun and creative, and that was something that we had kind of lost touch with in Presto Bando: It wasn’t fun, it didn’t feel creative anymore.
How would Emanuel make things fun recording?
BA: He would save what ideas we would have, you know, however wild they were, he would find a way to make them work, you know? He would tell us if shit was working or not, you know? So he would be like, “Do that again.”, “Why don’t you try it like this?”, you know like real producers work with bands. It was a good process. Everything turned out well. He made the right decisions, you know?
So what are the arrangements like on this album?
BA: They’re mainly vocally driven songs, and that’s part of what turned Evan off from wanting to play on these tracks. So personally, my [guitar playing] is not as interesting as past albums, like, I’m truly just playing chords and saying a lot of shit over it. [Corey] plays brilliantly, he’s basically the lead instrumentalist of the band.
CS: One of the tracks I really want to highlight is called “Wrap One”, as in, you know, wrapping a condom around your dick. And you get a really good sense of Brandon’s drumming on that because on that one track, there are two drum takes. We’ve got two drum sets going on. So you get a sense of Brandon’s variance on the percussive side, on that one.
BA: But also, the songs are more traditionally rooted in the way that I learned songwriting through like punk and pop punk genres so it’s like verse-chorus, verse-chorus, a little breakdown, back in, possibly outro at the end, and just simple pop writing, but structured around really wordy stuff. Maybe two or three of the songs have really interesting key signatures. The rest are based in A, but hey, what are you gonna do, you know? A non-musician isn’t going to be able to tell, and that’s who we want to pick up the record.
Brandon, percussion was your first instrument. How was it getting back to playing drums on this record?
BA: It was good. When I had first thought about playing on the album, I wanted to bring my electronic set to my apartment and like play for a month or so to get my chops back playing, but I didn’t have the ability to do that, so I went in pretty much cold and did one or two takes for each song. You know, I just limited what I was trying to do and I knew the songs better than anybody else, so I knew where the fills needed to be, what needed to be accentuated, and it ended up pretty good.
But I don’t want people to be thinking about the drum playing when they’re listening to the record. I wanted to develop a different aesthetic. Evan [Samek] was a brilliant drummer. His stuff on “French Girl” and a few of those other songs are brilliant drumming and while my drumming’s not up to that caliber, it’s good enough, you know?
Corey, what’s your favorite track on the album?
CS: My favorite track on the album, which is both my favorite one to play and my favorite one to listen back to is called “Oh Sir Are You Sir”.
It’s about an alien space dream. What made it so interesting is that it doesn’t sound like rock and roll. It sounds unlike a lot of stuff we’ve played. It’s got a theme to it that’s funny, and it takes you on a ride, a space ride. And you can really close your eyes and let Brandon’s lyrics guide you into what’s going on and allow my bass to kind of create the sonic world that’s around you. And with the percussion involved in it, which is a great song too on the drums, everything kind of just moves you through this weird ethereal mode. And again, it’s not like songs we did before like “Echo Echo E-Cho” or “Jenny Octopious”, but I just think it’s a really interesting song, one that’s been there in us the whole time, and I’m really that happy people are going be able to see that side of us.
Brandon, what about you?
BA: I would say probably “Ice Cream Man” and that one, I wrote the chord progression down when I was down in Florida with [Corey], that was like spring of 2010, right before he came up to join the band, and we renamed ourselves Presto Bando. But it’s basically about my dad pressuring me to go to graduate school, and we had a big argument because I didn’t have the nerve to tell him that I wasn’t going yet, or wasn’t ready to go. We had had that conversation over lunch after some film we had gone to see and we didn’t talk for a few months afterwards. It was a big emotional experience and I had trouble finding my own self worth again after that. I was like, “Who is it that I care about impressing on this earth?”, you know? Is it him or is it other people or is it myself? It’s about that struggle, about questions like, “Am I used up already?” “Have I made bad decisions?” “Have I melted away?” “Have I lost my shape?”, “Am I just a nuisance now, or do I still have a tangible ability to create, to be something, to be a real man and have a successful life?”. That’s what it was about, so that’s why I like that one the best, and it turned out fucking great, and it’s the most mature chord progression that I’ve ever written, by far.
You told me at an earlier point that the title came from a job you had working as an ice cream man?
BA: Yep. At the time that we had the fight, I was working at Gifford’s Ice Cream in Rockville, and you know, that was an okay job for me because I worked through the winter into the early spring and that was the slow period, so I was able to read on the job, I was able to write without anybody talking to me.
Did you wear a hat?
BA: Yeah. I had the blue Gifford’s hat, which I still have and is still in rotation on rainy days. So that was the immediate reference to that argument between my dad and I, because he was like, “What are you gonna do, are you gonna work in the ice cream shop for the rest of your life?” That was I was at that time, that’s how I identified myself.
So you guys have been away from the DC music scene for a bit. Have you missed it?
BA: I have. I mean, I’ve missed playing with the band and shit. But I don’t miss driving into the show hungry after work and being pissed off that these motherfuckers aren’t there, and I have to unload all the drums and amps by myself, drive to find a parking space, not be able to find a parking space, pay for parking, walk in and find out, “Oh there they are, they’re at the bar down the street, drinking”, that I don’t miss at all.
What about you, Corey? Because Brandon’s continued to play a handful of shows by himself here and there.
CS: Yeah. I’ve been patient. It’s a matter of timing. And the situation hasn’t called for it yet. You know, could I have played with [Brandon] every time he’s played, and been a backing bass? Yeah, I could have. But I’ve always thought there’s two types of musicians in the world: There’s songwriters, and there’s accompanists. You can either song write or you accompany. And I’ve always been an accompanist. And my job as an accompanist is to be sure of when it’s needed, and when it’s not needed, when it will help the most and the least. So this new album coming out is going to be when I’ll come back. I missed it. Yeah, I’ve been fucking missing it. Yeah, I miss yelling at the top of my lungs. I miss slamming the shit out of my bass on stage and just forgetting about everything in the world. I get a little jealous when I see him playing and stuff and I’m not up there, but I’m older now, you know?
So do you think the break has been helpful for you guys?
CS: Yeah, definitely. The break’s been helpful. I know that when Brandon plays now, it’s not necessarily what you’re going to hear every time. It’s always something different, and you know, like he was talking about in his writing style, he’s just kind of experimenting and stuff. That’s something I’ve always known him to do. And so with each of these shows that he plays by himself, you know, it’s really more of an experiment of him. Once I step into the joint now, it changes. There’s more rules, there’s more things to work out. And so, playing apart has allowed Brandon to really experiment with different sounds, and it’s allowed me to react to the different things that I hear him and I can go through things in my head, and I think that alters the shape.
You guys are in need of a new drummer.
BA: I mean, we have a dream of what the drummer we want will sort of be like, but we haven’t put out any ads, we haven’t been scouting anybody. I mean, our drummers have always been strong personalities with their own creative paths that we’ve been able to draw on for a little bit. But we don’t have anybody, so we either buy a drum machine or find another drummer.
Have you played with anyone during your break?
Has that been intentional?
BA: Nobody’s been asking to play.
CS: We haven’t been actively seeking anyone.
You’ve been described by some as sort of a band’s band. How would you respond to that characterization?
CS: Yeah, that’s accurate. Most of our fans are bands. We kind of a prided ourselves for a little bit on the fact that we never really booked any shows. We went for a whole year almost and never even booked a single show ourselves. We just had them booked for us. And it was kind of lazy on our part, I think that’s kind of what stunted us a little bit, but as far as that goes, we were very happy to know the other bands, to get to hear what they heard. And it always made things more interesting: The conversations you could have, you know, this is another band, so you could talk about music in a way that you couldn’t with someone who doesn’t play. And there was kind of this mutual respect for seeing what they were doing, and how they had to get all their shit ready for the shows. Playing with other bands that were out of state, out of the country, that was always really cool. And I wouldn’t trade it – I would rather play for a lot of bands than people who weren’t in bands just because it felt like a collective consciousness.
What are Presto Bando’s goals for 2014?
CS: We’ve got a lot more songs to record. Our first goal is to find a drummer. Our second goals is to start playing live shows again. We never really cared what shows we played at. Actually, there were a lot of nights when we played in front of five people, seven people. It was never about trying to get more fans or trying to play at the main venue on a Friday night. We didn’t care about that as much as just having a place to go and unleashing some of the emotions we had on stage and showing the crazy for a little bit. And so that’s what I hope we can still do, you know? Getting famous, that was an 18 year old’s dream. Now it’s just having some place to feel alive again.