Discount are a strong reminder that elements of pop and punk combined can still contain substance. Increasingly great songwriting fuses grit, melody, energy, the urge to sing along… Lyrics are poignant and insightful, penned in a captivatingly personal style. The last Discount interview I did appeared in the June ’95 edition of Ink Nineteen. A demo was out. Three and a half years, two albums, numerous seven inches, and many compilation tracks later, here we are again. Just released on Fueled By Ramen is a five song CD of Billy Bragg covers. Tours include Japan, Canada, and the U.S., with Japan and the U.S. about to be repeated and Europe shortly after. This interview took place after Refused, Frodus, The Mercury Program, and Discount played at the Vero Women’s Club, September 29, 1998. Present were Alison (vocals), Bill (drums), and Ryan (guitar). Absent was James (bass).
And, yes, I do consider them my friends and they have been on records I’ve put out. If that’s a conflict of interest, so be it. I still have questions to ask and they still have plenty to say.
Why Billy Bragg covers?
Bill: A lot of the Billy Bragg songs are the best love songs to his wife and stuff about real life things that matter, like social issues. The lyrics are pretty much interesting to all of us.
Ryan: Billy’s a lover and a fighter. He does songs on both sides. He writes great love songs and he writes great political songs, and he writes pop songs so it’s easy enough for us to cover. The equation was right so that’s who we did. We considered doing Pixies or we considered doing Elvis Costello but we didn’t want to upset the diehard fans and…
Bill: But then again, we picked Billy Bragg, who has diehard fans…
Ryan: So we’re not looking forward to the reaction.
Bill: I think a lot of people like the idea.
Ryan: We made a big point about writing the lyrics down, because I know when you cover songs, legally speaking, you’re not allowed to print the lyrics, but we did anyway without permission, and Alison wrote this thing that pretty much sums up what we all have to say about it. I mean, that’s one of the main reasons we decided to do him, so leaving the lyrics out would pretty much defeat the purpose of the whole thing. So we wrote the lyrics in there and everything.
What about a lawsuit?
Ryan: No one’s going to see the record anyways.
Bill: And if they do, Billy Bragg would basically be contradicting himself if he were to sue.
Ryan: “Capitalism is killing music.”
Bill: Why else would he say that? Why else would he have a problem with it other than copyright infringement where he should be getting paid his royalties?
Ryan: So basically we’re calling Billy Bragg on his shit right now, and if he lets us down he’s dead meat.
Does Discount have a pretty similar philosophy as to Billy Bragg?
Bill: I would think so.
Alison: I think so, just that are songs aren’t political, only a lot of times I think that we kinda wish they were.
They’re political in a personal sense, though.
Alison: Yeah. I guess so. I guess he just goes places where we never have quite gone before.
You recorded three new songs on tour. What’s that for, and what are you planning next, recording-wise?
Bill: We decided to just do demos… We have a bunch of new songs that we’re going to record eventually for our new record. We don’t know what’s up with that… It’s kind of up in the air. We definitely like what we’re doing now with Kat. Tim and Mollie have done everything for us, and it’s kind of nice, because they’re our friends, and yet they’re the record label, and they do whatever they can. They just bought us plane tickets to Japan! I mean, we have to pay them back…
Ryan: He put it on his credit card…
Bill: It’s not like he’s a rich guy. I mean, they run the label out of a frickin’ trailer.
Ryan: If we move on to a different label, we can’t expect them to make personal sacrifices like Tim and Molly do. I mean, basically all their income gets funded into the label. Tim’s looking forward to a bonus that he’s getting so he can do more stuff with the label. That’s insane. But other labels will have more money and more people and more time to put forth for it, and we a lot of time towards it. And that’s what Tim and Molly want for us as well.
Are you considering other things?
Ryan: Yeah, we’re considering anything right now. So we just wanted to demo a few songs and that was the end of it. We just wanted to hear how they sounded recorded because we liked the songs.
Some time ago you had an offer from an Island subsidiary. How do you feel about the whole major label thing?
Alison: I feel very anti about the major label thing. I don’t want to be on a major label at all. Ever. It’s like you’re working for somebody, and it’s like saying our community can’t handle it or walking away from letting kids we know and people love do it and giving it to just somebody else.
Ryan: But people run major labels, too.
Bill: Old men make a lot of money off of it.
Alison: It filters back up to one really big bad thing that I don’t want to be involved in at all. I have no respect for it. I just don’t like it, so I don’t want to give the thing I love the most to somebody I hate the most. It just makes no sense at all.
You’re saying this about to go on a tour with Less Than Jake.
Bill: That has nothing to do with it. They don’t own us or… [I’m just…] Nonono, I know you’re playing devil’s advocate. But we’re going on tour with our friends, you know? Really, we’re not making any more money at all. We’re playing in front of a lot more people. It’s not like a lot of the people who come out to Less Than Jake shows — we’ve toured with them in the past — really dig what we’re doing, you know, the whole “show us your tits” guys, we’ve got plenty of those. You’ve got that whole thing. It’s not like that’s doing anything for us, we’re really going on tour with our friends and hopefully out of that huge group of people, somebody in there’s going to like us.
The major label thing to me is like a stain. People who listen to us now and find us on their own and have a hard time are going to come and see us play halls and clubs and bars and whatever for a really long time and it’s like a long term thing. This is what we do. But bands that get on major labels are done.
Ryan: There are two ways to do things. You can either be on a major label and blow up really quick. Your time is done after a couple of years, a couple albums and then it’s over. But, obviously, if you put the work into it and you put years and years into it and people have seen you when you’re playing small clubs, those are the same people who are going to come to see you later. That’s more of a strong following. It’s not like it’s people just who want to see the next big thing. You know they’re not half-assed about this.
Bill: They like you. It’s real.
Alison: It’s more of a community instead of having a false one for a short period of time and then going away and never remembering who you are.
Ryan: People who are more connected to what you’re there for.
Bill: Our stuff is distributed through Caroline, and that’s owned by a major label, all that stuff, but the thing is, the people who have control of our record… Caroline sends back our records all the time because our records aren’t what they call a “chain store sell.” They put our records in all those big stores and for some reason, I don’t know, people don’t pick them up there. The thing is, mom and pop stores, kids buy them all the time at those places and they buy them at our shows, and the people who have control of our records right now are us and Tim and Molly. We don’t have to do anything. We have no written contracts. Everything is verbal. We’re basically doing records with our friends. So it’s kind of nice.
Ryan: And obviously, any next choice that we make is going to be based on that, ’cause we’re used to such a close relationship with the person who’s doing the record, so at the very least we have to respect the people who are going to put out the next record. We’re considering anything within certain guidelines.
Bill: Considering, though, isn’t a bad thing. You can listen to everybody talk.
Ryan: If major labels want to come take us out to dinner or buy us instruments or anything they’re more than welcome.
Bill: We’ve done it before…
Ryan: And we got a free dinner out of the deal. Which didn’t hurt us at all.
Any comment on van wars?
Bill: Oh wow. We get destroyed every time.
Ryan: We’re total wimps at it.
What were your best moves and what were theirs?
Ryan: We bought paintballs, and they explode really well.
Bill: And Ryan shit on Less Than Jake’s van.
Ryan: Actually on a paper plate that said “Bon Apetit” on it, with a little flag in it that said “Fear Discount.” But they ruined our van. Eggs, flour, shaving cream, toilet paper, ketchup, and mustard.
Bill: It took two washes to get it all off.
Ryan: It took more than that.
Alison: It was like cakes were being made on our roof. The eggs and the flour and the water — it was so gross.
Did it cook in the sun?
Bill: It was at night.
Alison: We washed it as soon as possible.
Ryan: Up to this point none of us have really been willing to piss in a bag or shit in a bag to throw at the other van, but I’ve gotten over that.
Alison: Remember when we had Mike in the van?
Bill: He was crazy.
Ryan: He shit and pissed in a bag and put vegetable soup in it and we made a little bomb to throw at their van, so we won that one.
Alison: You prepare things for like thirty miles before you let them go. This thing was so complex. This thing had everything in it.
Bill: Less Than Jake beat our asses though. They really did.
Ryan: They had money. They could go out to the supermarket and buy their toilet paper, buy their ketchup, and we’re running on a limited income. When we hit it big like Less Than Jake did, let’s re-do this whole van war thing.
Do you start the van wars or do you just wind up in them due to boredom?
Bill: I don’t know. I think we’re instigators. We totally are.
Ryan: We can’t follow through.
So what do you think it’ll take for Discount to get tough? Van war tough.
Bill: I think we could win now.
Alison: I think we are van war tough, we just haven’t had the opportunity.
Are you going to get back at Less Than Jake this time?
Ryan: Less Than Jake have a tour bus now, and we’re not allowed to do it because they don’t own it. So I guess the wars are over with them.
Back to tours: are you all still friends?
Ryan: We get along. I don’t know why.
Bill: We’re also from here now. We’re from Vero and we saw each other every day anyways, so it’s the same thing, we’re just in a van every day.
Ryan: This year’s not been bad. The first tour [this year] was great because we were with As Friends Rust, and we got along perfectly. This tour was in Canada, and we’d never been there. The next tour is with Less Than Jake so it’s going to be like a goddamn Caribbean vacation. The next tour’s going to be in Japan and Hawaii, and the next tour’s going to be Europe, so how could we possibly fight during any of that? It’s just not a possibility. If we did three months in the U.S., we’d probably shoot each other, but…
How was the tour with Braid in Canada?
Bill: It was amazing.
Alison: Braid are the nicest people ever.
I saw at their Web site that they trounced you in football and Uno.
Bill: They beat us by one touchdown. I’m not going to say it was luck, they played a hard game, but we really fucked up when we were going for the last touchdown.
Ryan: We all drop balls. There’s no blame in this.
Bill: But really, I threw it too far. I led Jason way too much. We should have relied on Jason as the quarterback… but Uno, that’s bullshit, because they didn’t beat us all the time. Uno was totally even.
Ryan: Football they beat us once by one touchdown.
Bill: But they won’t next time.
I have some quotes from the last interview and I wanted to get your comments on them. Ryan: “…it’s this big novelty thing that we’re a band with sixteen-year-old people in it.”
Bill: The funny thing is they still think we’re young!
Ryan: It’s like “Oh, I thought you were young.” No, we grow. It’s been five years, so we’re five years older now. You can do the math yourself.
Bill: It’s not so much a novelty anymore. It’s kind of funny. They want it to be, though. They want it to be a bunch of little kids.
Ryan: I’m not a teenager. I’ve left my teen years behind. I’m ready for bigger and better things.
This one’s for Alison: “We always open for every hardcore band. It stinks.” “No, don’t say ‘hardcore.’ I don’t want to hear that word. I hate that word.” “Do you hate hardcore?” “I do. I hate hardcore.”
Alison: [Laughing] I don’t hate hardcore anymore! I was a little kid and I don’t know what it was… I was really into poppy stuff when I was little. That definitely changed. A lot.
Bill: I remember we played with Ascension and Kilara in Biloxi, MS. It was the first time I ever saw Alison go in. And they were like crazy in everybody’s face and she was liking it, and I was like “holy shit.”
Alison: It was awesome. I’m very much into hardcore.
What’s with the split 7″ with Coalesce?
Bill: It’s just a matter of time, because we want to write songs together — that was their idea, to write a song together and then have our own songs also. It’s gonna be crazy shit.
Ryan: We were supposed to work it out in Denton, TX, but they canceled their last tour so we didn’t get to see them.
Whatever happened to the Palatka/Discount split 7″?
Bill: They broke up and we just procrastinated for a year and a half.
Ryan: Well, they were broken up, then they got back together, and now they’re broken up again. And we procrastinated.
You had mentioned that the new songs you were writing were going to have all sorts of crazy stuff in them. Do you want to shed any light on that?
Ryan: It’s going to have keyboards and soundclips and this crazy stuff.
Alison: We just want things to be really interesting. We just want to experiment with stuff.
Bill: Like a record being like a piece, where you listen to the whole freaking thing. I don’t think the ideas that we’re doing are that crazy, though. Better production and more stuff in between. The songs are different, too. Between songs, even. Not so much just different from the first record and the second record, but the songs themselves between one another are different, also.
Ryan: The new record’s gonna be like a weird mix tape but it’ll be just all our songs.
As far as the samples and things in between songs and having it as one piece, has the new Refused record had any effect on that or is that something you’ve been thinking about for a long time?
Ryan: The Fugazi records do that, too, and there are a lot of other records that do that, too…
Bill: I like those records, those records are so good…
Ryan: Because you want to listen to the whole record because there are all these extra things and when the song ends you expect to hear this little thing after it.
Alison: We want songs to grow in and out of each other and be important to each other.
What’s in everyone’s tape player right now?
Bill: The van right now has the new Bob Mould album.
Ryan: In my tape player right this second is Faith No More’s We Care A Lot album.
Alison: Mine’s Fugazi End Hits.
Bill: Superchunk’s Indoor Living has been listened to a lot.
Discount can be reached at P.O. Box 5312, Vero Beach, FL 32961. Include a stamp. Online visit www.kickbright.com/discount and http://ninjafactory.simplenet.com/discount