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Shot Baker interview

| January 5, 2009 | 3 Comments

Shot Baker
You Aren’t Here


Shot Baker frontman Tony Kovacs finds himself in the unusual position of hoping for continued economic distress. The passing of the presidency from George W. Bush to Barack Obama threatens to take the arts community, including Chicago-based punk bands like his, off its game.

Appearing: Friday, March 6th at Reggie’s Rock Club in Chicago.

“Well that would be kind of . . .” he processes. “If the bands were saying, ‘Dammit, we’re not mad anymore’?” Reflecting for a second, however, he’s unconvinced any serious interruption will take place. “Are some bands not going to be writing as witty of songs? I suppose. I think there’s still plenty of areas to write about. I don’t think Obama’s election is going to make a utopia.”

Financial uncertainty (or despondency) has a way of producing some great art, like late-’70s British punk rock. “I think the U.K. thing, that’s a really good example,” he says. “I’m trying to think of something comparable in the U.S. The early ’80s, when the cities [declined] and weren’t safe or not where they are now – that’s where early hardcore started, in the cities.”

It’s no accident Kovacs’ mind would drift toward the Reagan era. As soon as the Chicago punk community began taking notice of Shot Baker they’ve been hailing the band as the new Naked Raygun, the group that is history’s face of Chicago punk rock in the ’80s.

“I think that’s funny,” he says, “because we have only a couple songs that have a prominent ‘whoas’ section [a Raygun vocal signature], and I think people latch onto that and say, ‘They sound like Naked Raygun.’ Which is fine – Naked Raygun’s definitely a huge influence for us and was one of the first punk bands that we all got into. But we never really tried to [sound like them].”

It (not to mention invoking phrases like “Chicago punk sound” on a scene that never approached consensus) can be seen as a slur on local bands like The Arrivals and The Matics, who picked up the Raygun torch long before Shot Baker arrived in 2003. “This is gonna sound like I’m bashing our band,” Kovacs begins, “but I respect a lot of those Thick Records bands because it seems to me the kind of Chicago punk they’re doing is more – progressive? Does that make sense? Maybe what’s different about ours is it’s stripped-down.” Traditional? “I guess so, but it wasn’t intentional. We’ve never, in the practice space, said, ‘We have to sound really different. We’ve gotta come up with a new angle.’ There’s plenty of bands who do that, and I appreciate it and really like ’em for what they do. ‘This band is a genre-bending new thing.’ We just never tried to. Therefore, a lot of reviews have said, ‘This is nothing new, per se, but people like it for that.'”

Shot Baker have persuaded a lot of people, fiercely protective of their nostalgia, to start poking their heads back in. Aware he’s being drawn into a game of devil’s advocate, Kovacs is prepared for the naysayers. “Oh yeah, absolutely. Did you see that movie, You Weren’t There: A History Of Chicago Punk? If you want to get a sense of what you were talking about – old-school guys saying it’s not the same as it was – that movie really spells out that attitude. I walked away from [it] pretty angry: ‘You know what? Just because you grew old doesn’t mean there aren’t still kids inspired by what’s going on.’ I’m 29, so I saw Raygun when they did their reunion in ’97, but never saw them in their heyday. But. The point is as long as there’s bands making music attitude-wise going against the grain in somewhat of an intelligent way, it’s still alive. As long as there’s still kids to latch onto that. I don’t know. It just changes. Maybe when I’m 50 I’ll look at what’s going on and say, ‘This isn’t what it used to be.'”

When critics look back on 2008, they’ll notice a clenched fist called Take Control (Riot Fest). In only 29 minutes, Shot Baker’s second album launches artillery shell after shell, ricocheting through 11 tracks of self-awakening, disillusionment, and an unraveling allegory called “All Paths Lead Nowhere.” Artistically, Kovacs is right – Shot Baker aren’t a new strain or a Rosetta stone. But as it speeds by, you feel forces galvanizing around it. If only there was more of it.

“To tell you the truth, we’ve gone back and forth and bumped heads about this,” he says, “but the general idea about why it’s so short is we ended up treating it the way we would play one of our sets. We’ve noticed we’re playing the best when it’s under 30 minutes, no bullshit, just 1-2-3-4 go. An attack, then you’re out. No long introductions, noodling on instruments. Just in and out. Better to leave people wanting more than wishing you’d have shut up five songs ago. It goes along with that theory. Quick.”

But “quick” doesn’t mean Take Control was recorded that way. Shot Baker learned first-hand that going to war without a plan can be disastrous. The quartet couldn’t stand their debut album, Awake, and went ahead and re-recorded it.

“We only made 1,000 of the first run,” Kovacs downplays. “It’s not like Suicidal Tendencies re-recording their first, like this classic, far-reaching, ground-breaking album. We felt like it had the potential to be that kind of album if we sweetened it up a little.”

But this is more than a little taboo, especially in punk rock. “It’s not like we felt it wasn’t ‘produced’ enough. It was so sloppy. The guy who recorded it didn’t really care. It sounds rushed, but not in a cool way. My vocals were shot, the instruments were out of tune. Some people really liked it. But one of the things I hate about it the most is you can’t understand what I’m saying. For me, lyrics in any band, when I get into music it’s mainly because I really like the lyrics and I want to hear what the band’s trying to say. I felt like if you could hear what we’re saying it would stick with a lot more people. We might have had a little unease about the taboo aspect, but figured ‘What the hell. This will be better.’ And I think it’s better.” Kovacs chuckles, “It has a better cover.”

If anyone has a problem with it, well, the world could use some new protest songs.

— Steve Forstneger

Category: Features, Monthly

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Comments (3)

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  1. Steve Baggio says:

    Shot Baker not only is one of my favorite bands, but also one of my favorite bands to see live. Every show that they do is filled with energy and that energy flows into the crowd. The ALWAYS put on a great show, and their fanbase keeps on increasing. I encourage everyone to go see them!

  2. Roadie Mark says:

    just got back from the east coast tour with Swingin Utters and the Street Dogs and even already knowing how kick ass the Shot Baker boys are they proved that even more. Thanks for the wonderful experience brothers

  3. Dick Beninya says:

    Shot Baker sucks

    We strenuously object – Ed

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