Daniel L. Mitchell
True North, in a nutshell, is one of the most unique and nearly indescribable bands in the world of postpunk today. Their music tends to push, pull, wobble, and explode, usually without warning, but does so in a warm and welcoming manner. In our current climate of watered-down emo saturation, True North’s music stands out as an accomplishment of unbridled creativity and a penchant for rock.
Their latest full length, Somewhat Similar combines various elements of angular postpunk, jazzy basslines, and erratic yet powerful drumming; all of the members of the band take turns singing and screaming, with Dave Diem’s (of Twelve Hour Turn fame) being the most instantly recognizable. Ryan Murphy and Matt Sweeting’s guitar sound more overdriven than distorted, and come off sounding screechy, yet melodic, in Gang of Four or Shellac style. Mark Rodriguez’s drums are driving, forceful, and big in the mix, making his off-kilter timing and unique fills the true stars of the album. I recently had the honor of gleaning the thoughts of True North, on all manner of subjects.
How would you describe True North’s sound to a novice music fan (say, your uncle, who loves ’70s classic rock)?
Dave: I usually dodge such questions. I probably shouldn’t. I just feel silly describing our work. I generally say we are a four-piece writing our own music and playing rock.
Ryan: Nowadays, not even my grandma is shocked by the term “punk rock,” so strangely enough, my family tends to throw that term around. I have no idea what strangely deluded description that fills anymore, so I usually say “music from the moon,” because, most of my family still believes we never landed there and that still raises eyebrows.
Mark: Loud noise that sometimes doesn’t make sense.
Matt: As contemporary as tomorrow.
Who writes the majority of your lyrics / music?
Ryan: We all are active in writing the music. The words we sing we write individually with a common theme or issue in mind.
Mark: We all write the music collectively. I try to impose my ideas via mouthing “guitar” parts to the other guys. They do a really good impression of the guitar parts that I come up with. I don’t write lyrics, except the ones I do on the new record.
Matt: We all sing and if the person is singing, they wrote the lyrics.
Who designed the album’s artwork?
Mark: I did the artwork, and Matt and I came up with the concept. It’s pictures of our friends, or people we know that have inspired us in some way. I just took the pictures and fucked with them a little.
Your song structures are angular and technical; is it hard to put a song together when you guys are practicing new material?
Dave: For me it is sometimes because Mark comes up with atypical beats and I don’t always hear an appropriate bass line right off. But things are always ironed out and the work makes the finished piece that much more gratifying.
Ryan: It’s always come relatively natural to us. I just think we all have different approaches, and it ends up creating what it is. We’ve never been anything intentionally, especially technical.
Mark: No, it’s actually really easy. We’ve all been playing together for a long time, so we’re used to the way each other plays. They know that I’m going to do some beat that’s off time, and I know that Matt will do a solo, while Ryan stands there. The hardest part of writing a new song is getting us all together in one room.
Matt: There is a fine line between genius and idiot. Let’s just say I think I can see the other side, and I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. But, not surprisingly, it’s really easy for us to write songs, especially after the first couple of years.
Your drummer has an interesting / bizarre way of playing fills; any comments?
Ryan: I call his beats “cow punk.”
Mark: What does that mean? Weird fills? I play what I hear in my head, that’s all.
Matt: If you can imagine this, a lot of the songs we write, we write them around drum beats. Mark is very “creative” and is the arranger of most of the stuff we come up with.
Are you guys fans of the following bands: Corm, Crownhate Ruin, Hoover? I hear each of these bands in your music.
Dave: Hoover remains one of my favorite bands to this day. I have followed most of the projects those guys have been in since.
Ryan: That era and the communities those bands came from seemed to spawn a lot of music that had an effect on some of us, for sure.
Matt: Crownhate Ruin told funny jokes, Hoover was kinda uppity and Corm was very sensitive. I’d like to think that we have a bit of all of this in what we do, although we lack the DC area code.
You recently came back from an eventful tour — can you give me the low down on the highs and lows?
Dave: Matt, Mark, our driver Robert, and I were playing basketball before our Swiss show. Matt and I collided. His knee rocked my thigh pretty violently. It was a total accident and a hematoma formed under my muscle. It swelled up to almost twice its size. Finally after some debate I went to the emergency room and had to have surgery. So now it looks like I have a zipper on my leg. Also the hospital didn’t want to let me leave until I paid. Once they finally realized that we weren’t gonna cough up any loot they kicked me out before I could sponge anymore free care off of them.
Ryan: I can’t believe the amazing things we saw, the amazing shows we played, the amazing people we met… and the horrible shit we went through. But in the end, 95% beauty and 5% totally fucked.
What are your favorite songs to play live?
Dave: Pretty much every True North song has been my favorite at one time or another. We pretty much enjoy playing all of the songs we still remember.
Mark: “The Chair Sued the Chamber,” “Junior,” “You Joj or Fob?,” and “Single Fin Mentality.”
What towns are most receptive to you guys?
Ryan There’s a lot of love in St. Augustine.
Mark: I’m not sure any are•
Matt: You know surprisingly, we have yet to play in one, but I’m sure it’s on the horizon. I do really like playing anywhere in Florida and L.A.
Do you prefer the members of Hot Water Music with beards or clean shaven? Why?
Ryan: To be honest, a couple of us are quite jealous of anyone who can grow a full beard; it’s quite sad, but some of us have gone to the doctor and been diagnosed with what they call “Rat Beard.”
Mark: I love moustaches on everyone.
Matt: hmm… I will go with beards, although I like Chris clean shaven.
Let’s say I’m a 13 year old kid, just getting into “punk rock;” what five records would you recommend to me, to make sure that I am led in the right direction?
Dave: 7 seconds’ The Crew or Rock Together Walk Together, Rites of Spring’s End on End, Green Day’s Kerplunk, Screeching Weasel’s My Brain Hurts, and Fugazi’s first and second EPs. There are too many others that could be subs.
Mark: Gang of Four’s Entertainment, Liars’ They Threw Us All in a Trench, Les Savy Fav’s go forth, Weakerthans’ Left and Leaving, and Pulp’s different class.
What are your personal feelings on Somewhat Similar; I feel that it’s unique, powerful, and really a solid album•
Dave: I am extremely proud of this record and the other fellas in the band. I feel that we came up with something rather unique and I am excited about the direction our music is taking.
Ryan: I’m really happy about this record, because I think it represents all four of us perfectly at a time in our lives; with the lyrics, the music, the imagery… it all meant something really important to us• where we were at a certain moment in our lives, and to hear other peoples reactions to that is absolutely amazing.
Mark: I’d have to say that you hit the nail on the head. I actually really like the record. I think that it shows us progressing as a band in conjunction with our surroundings that influence us. We all change as people continually, and I think that as a band we follow along with that. This is the first record that I have ever done, in any band I’ve been in, that I can still listen to after recording. That, to me, makes it a great record.
Matt: I really like it. You know jazz musicians in the ’50s and ’60s, people like Freddie Hubbard and Elvin Jones, guys that played on a lot of albums and wrote a ton of music, they talked about albums as “snapshots of their lives.” Each record would just kinda capture the day, the mood they were in. I’d like to think this record really captured where we were at when we made it. There is a ton of personality on the record and the layout, which is why I think most people are like “what the hell is this?” “How do they write that music?” “Why does this look so weird?” “What the hell are they saying?” I like that.