With their fourth full-length Keystone just out on Hopeless Records, Pennsylvanian four-piece Digger continues their move from to-the–point hardcore to a braver, more intricate punk sound. Trading as much on the Replacements and Hüsker Dü as they do on Rancid and NOFX, Digger constantly refuse repetition, favoring progression and playfulness over easy ways out — not to mention their incessant touring schedule that few other artists can measure up against. It’s an approach that has served them well, and Digger have an ever increasing and loyal fan base to show for their sins and scars. Ink 19 spoke with vocalist Chris Benner about music, love and life on the move.
Your new album Keystone is just out • how’s it doing, any feedback yet?
It’s doing well. We just finished our US and European tours and the response have been great. The feedback has been good for the most part. There have been a handful of bad reviews but that’s nothing new. It comes with every new CD we put out. Sometimes I like reading the bad reviews better, because they never really mention the music and usually take personal shots at the band. The best bad review so far for Keystone was some guy who rambled about George Bush for more than half the review and then said that we sounded like New Found Glory. Reviews mean nothing in the end because they are only an opinion. And just like assholes, we all have one!
You seem to have shifted more towards melodic punk on the new album. How’s it working out live? Has the audience adjusted to the new sound and the songs yet?
Yeah Keystone has a little bit more off a rock vibe. I never really thought that we were a hardcore punk band, but I understand that the new songs are not as fast as the songs on our first two albums. It has worked out well with the live show. The new record gives us a more diverse-sounding set list. We still play songs from all four full-lengths and take requests from the fans. The energy is still in the music and live show, now more than ever. The audiences have been cool with the slight change; no one has thrown any glass bottles at us yet.
What motivated this shift towards a more melodic style and more confessional, personal lyrics?
It was a natural progression for me personally. Seven years ago I was singing about girls who stole my hat and high school teachers I didn’t like. Now lyrically it’s about the girls who broke my heart, and traveling around the world. If I was still singing about high school… well I don’t even know what to say. I definitely took a more personal approach to songwriting on this record. Musically it’s a bit more technical, but it’s pop/punk/rock in the end. I wrote many of the songs on my acoustic guitar in my parents’ basement. Maybe the songs are more melodic from the writing method that I used and the environment I placed myself in. I don’t know… [laughs]
You’ve been at this for so long, don’t you ever tire of the constant touring-recording-touring cycle? You must almost feel like the grand ole men of punk-pop.
Actually I’ve been doing this since 1990 when I was in the band Weston. That’s funny, I never really thought about being the grand ole men of punk-pop. I like it though. I love music plain and simple. I appreciate music in all forms and styles. I do get tired from traveling but not from being in a band. Music is my passion and I wouldn’t trade the last seven years of Digger for anything. Recording is the easy stuff for me, plug in and play. Yeah that sounds good, next song…
Could you give us a brief history of the band?
Digger started in 1995, signed to Hopeless records in 1996 and toured the USA with a 7″ single. Powerbait was released later that year, and we toured again and again and again. Member changes and a whole bunch of beers later Digger released album number two, The Promise of an Uncertain Future in 1998. More touring, beer, a European tour, and member changes produced Monte Carlo, our third full length in 2000. Love triangles, burritos, tours, van accidents, and of course member changes gave light to the EP Trainwreck in 2001. One and a half years later after more trips across the USA, Canada, and Europe Keystone was released October 2002. Every record on Hopeless Records, which we are very proud of!
I guess Digger was sort of spawned from the new punk explosion, with bands like Green Day and the Offspring. But also, and especially on your new album, I hear a lot of ’80s indie and punk influences, Hüsker Dü and even Black Flag. What inspired you to go out and do this in the first place, and what bands are you currently listening to?
When Digger started we were all Green Day and NOFX fans. But we spawned the band from a lack of nothing better to do with our time and energy. None of us were interested in college and working full time jobs. That’s funny that you say that about the ’80s influences because the bands that I have been listening to are The Clash, Archers of Loaf, Elvis Costello, and the Smashing Pumpkins. I never really give much thought to what kind of music influences me and we definitely weren’t intentionally trying to sound like anyone but ourselves. Currently I’m listening to the Foo Fighters, 3rd Eye Blind, Frank Sinatra, and Mustard Plug.
How about the Pennsylvanian punk scene — any good, or is it the very reason why you’re never home and always out on tour•?
Honestly, I have no idea. I’m never here long enough to check out local scenes. I know when we play shows in PA they are good. I’m sure the scenes in all the big cities are good too. When I’m home it’s almost just like being on vacation. I get relaxed and settled, and then I have to leave again.
What about the whole punk/DIY “ideology” – is that something you’re tying in with? I guess being on a relatively big label like Hopeless and having all this merch will have some people calling you sell-outs and stuff like that. Is that something you get a lot of?
We’ve been a DIY band since the start and I think most bands are DIY if you really think about it. Someone is doing the work… I don’t really tie myself in to the whole ideology of it, because DIY only means what it means to yourself. Sellouts, no not really. I get the occasional hate email from 14-year old kids telling me I’m a sellout. But nothing really bad or heart breaking.
Hopeless are treating you nice? Would you consider a major label if the offer ever came up?
That’s is something that we would have to discuss as a band if we were ever put in that position. Consider it, yes. Go through with it is a definite maybe. Lose any artistic freedom: no. Hopeless treats us great, except they haven’t sent us the new Ferraris and Mercedes we asked for from the signing bonus for Keystone. But they did buy us sushi and beer at CMJ 2002, which made me very happy! Friendships are the most important thing to have with a record label.
You’re pretty prolific. How do you find time to record while constantly being on the road? And how do you see Digger with regards to the live / studio-band situation?
Touring so much actually gives me time to write songs in the van when we drive. Sometimes if I’m at home too long, I get sidetracked from songwriting with video games, friends, the internet, etc… I see Digger as both a live and a studio act. You can take away a different feeling from our CDs than our live show. But like I said, it’s all a matter of personal opinion. Bands that can do both well always gain more respect with me.
Family life / relationships — is it at all an option for you? Is touring what forces you to write all those sappy love songs?
[Laughs] You know it. It’s just what has inspired me to write about the past year or so. My family is really cool and supports me. Relationships are always tough when one person isn’t there to have the relationship with.
Future plans — anything in the can yet?
Make more music and tour. Our direction is fate and luck. We have a long road ahead of us for 2003 with our touring schedule. Most of it will be in the USA. Everything is being planned at the moment, but you can always check out our website to see what we are up to.