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Interview: John Hoffman of Weekend Nachos

. . .

Weekend Nachos is a punk band releasing records on a metal label and regularly touring the United States and Europe. Over the course of three LPs they have progressed from a powerviolence sound into a much more violent blend of d-beat and sludge. A split 7” with veterans Lack of Interest is on the way. Weekend Nachos’s blend of Infest, Eyehategod and Madball has been derogatively referred to as “jock powerviolence”. After this interview, naysayers may have to refer to them as “jock nu-metal”. This conversation with vocalist John Hoffman picks up while discussing some of the finer bands of ’90s experimental heavy rock.

— Todd Nief

. . .

There was a guy at the gym wearing a 311 shirt the other day.

Dude, Andy [Weekend Nachos guitarist] really likes 311, right? I actually like 311.

Andy was a nu-metal kid around that time.

I don’t consider 311 nu-metal.

Neither do I.

It’s like if you mixed nu-metal with Matchbox 20. Somehow in the middle is 311.

I think 311 falls in with that weird early ’90s funk/alternative rock hybrid.

I don’t know if I should give this as an example since they only had like one hit song . . . it has that baseline . . . [starts singing Crazy Town – “Butterfly”] Dude, that song fucking sucks.

Man all that stuff in the early ’90s was super weird. All that proto-nu-metal where bands were just combining metal, funk, and grunge.

And also bands that added hardcore to it like Life of Agony. They were like this grunge band but also a New York Hardcore band. Weird.

I didn’t really get into anything other than punk or hardcore until I was like 20 years old. When everyone was young and listening to every band of that era, I was just ignoring it. Then, when I got into it, I knew only to focus on the good, classic bands. So me getting into metal isn’t me knowing about every metal band since 1994 or whatever. It’s more like me listening to bands like Slayer and Carcass that everybody knows about and going from there.

How did you get into nu-metal?

Dude that was one of those things . . . I started hearing all of these songs that I randomly hated in high school, and I was like, “Why did I hate this? This is way better than anything I listen to.” So I started listening to Linkin Park. And I was like, “Well, this is about six years after I should have liked this band. But now I like them for real. And I will never denounce them again.”

How many nu-metal riffs have you stolen?

I just steal nu-metal attitude if anything. I take the nu-metal angst and I apply it to hardcore. And it works, because the most menacing hardcore has nu-metal attitude stolen.

[laughs] Like what?

Cold as Life. Blood for Blood. Those are all nu-metal bands, really. Maybe not Cold as Life. I guess I shouldn’t name actual hard bands. I should name bands like Tear It Up that are really fast, pissed off thrash bands that sing about suicide and stuff. Those are nu-metal bands at heart. “You sound like you’re a fast punk band, but you’re really nu-metal.”

[laughter]

Like how American Nightmare is a pop punk band?

Exactly! If you just took the attitude of AN, it would be some sensitive pop punk band or some weird screamo band. Any time suicide or being depressed about girls seeps into a hardcore band’s lyrics, you just have to figure out what genre the band’s ideas are coming from and call them that instead. That’s really the most important thing.

[laughter]

I remember when I figured out that all of the bands talking about “backstabbers” were just upset about girls. That was a weird, eye-opening moment.

You think all these songs are about real things, but it’s really like, “this guy ditched me when I was trying to go to Wendy’s!” Most of my songs are just about stupid shit like that. “This guy didn’t come to my party that I invited him to.”

You don’t have parties.

No, I really don’t. I’m just trying to apply it to an idea that other people will understand.

Wait, are you recording? I didn’t realize that you started the interview. That’s a pretty good method.

Yeah, I mean you started talking about nu-metal and I was planning on asking you about it anyway, so there you go.

Dude, if you have a specific question about nu-metal, you should ask it and I’m more than happy to answer it for real. Because 99% of the things I say are just to try to make my friends laugh.

So what’s the deal with the name? [laughs]

Dude that would be so awesome. What if you sat down and I was trying to goof around and you were like, “John, I want to start the interview. What’s the deal with the name Weekend Nachos? How did you come up with that?” And I was like, “Well, it’s this National Socialist Black Metal thing.”

You can actually put that in the interview. That I jokingly said that Weekend Nachos is this NSBM thing. “It’s no big deal, you have to read up on the NSBM style and the politics to get the name Weekend Nachos.” Even the biggest idiot would read that and be like, “That’s pretty funny. There’s no way.”

So how do you actually write songs, given that you’re a drummer for the most part.

I think that I have the brain to come up with riffs. I just don’t have the musical skill to play them, because I’m not a guitar player. All I do is think about riffs in my head. Or just songs in general. Or just cool parts. Most musicians, especially guitar players, I think are actually demented. They just have riffs playing in their head even if they’re at like a job interview. Right now, I feel like I have songs in my head.

Three out of four of us, minus Brian who’s just a weirdo, we just have the skills in our brains to come up with riffs. You either do or you don’t. No one can really teach you how to write a riff. You can teach someone how to play a riff, but if you’re naturally into riffs, you can come up with them in your brain.

What about stealing riffs.

No joke, when I was combing my hair today before leaving my place to come here, I got it in my head that you were going to ask me something about stealing riffs. And I was like, “What am I gonna say?” That’s a good question.

When we steal riffs, it’s not like, “Let’s make this sound like it’s our riff.” To the trained ear, it’s probably not going to piss them off [if they recognize a stolen riff], it’s going to excite them. It’s kind of like a tribute. If you can hear this Sepultura riff in this punk song . . . someone who’s knowledgeable probably isn’t going to be like, “Those assholes ripped that off from Sepultura!” They’ll probably be like, “It’s really cool that they’re tributing that riff.”

It’s more of a fun thing for me. There’s definitely songs of ours that have a riff from another song. But we try to make it a combination of mixing it in so it’s not a direct rip-off, but also keeping it so someone who knows what they’re talking about will notice the riff and appreciate it.

Stealing riffs is more like a riff appreciation thing than a lack of creativity. I guess it depends on how it’s done, but I can say that for Weekend Nachos, I really just enjoy appreciating riffs and giving a little something extra to people who are paying attention. If it goes unnoticed, people are not only not going to know that we stole a riff, they’re also going to think it’s our riff. But somebody that knows about it is going to be like, “It’s really cool that they used that riff.”

It’s not something that I’m really ashamed of. When I hear a band stealing a riff, I’m like, “Well, this makes it more fun for me to listen to this band.” And I actually respect them for doing it. Well, depending on how it’s done.

When you plan on stealing a riff, is it like, “Yo, I’m going to still this riff!”

Sometimes, yeah! I’ll be like, “This riff is so good, this is just going to make our song cooler. It’s too bad, but I need this riff. I’m going to use it, because otherwise I’m going to imagine this riff only being played by this band ever.” Sometimes you just gotta steal something that isn’t yours.

Like I said, the people that are listening to our band . . . I don’t think most of them are angry enough to actually be pissed at us. They can appreciate it. And if they can’t, I’ll just be like, “Dude, you need to relax. It’s not like we’re making money off of this riff. Everybody knows that this band is better, we’re just trying to make you aware that we like this band, so you’ll think we’re cool.” [laughs]

So it’s like listing your influences on Myspace? [laughs]

Exactly. I’d rather have riffs in our songs that tell you what bands we like than make another Myspace profile.

I wanted to ask you about the nu-metal angst being applied to hardcore. Weekend Nachos is a negative band. Very negative. What is the actual goal of making negative music?

This is the “cheesiest” thing about our band. I legitimately write lyrics, not only to express myself, but because I know what it’s like to actually feel screwed up when you’re growing up. So many people who are into punk and hardcore feel that way. And sometimes all that it takes to get through the day sometimes is hearing a song that you like where you can relate to it. Anytime you can relate to a song it instantly makes you feel better. Or at least makes you feel like you’re not alone. That’s hard to admit because it just sounds so cheesy. But that’s the truth.

The goal of negative music is to express something that I’ve felt better about over the years, but still exists inside me. I know there’s people out there that don’t feel better about it, and they maybe never will. But at least they’re striving to do something about it.

People come up to me now, and they say, “Hey man, your lyrics are really awesome and I really relate to them.” And that’s the goal. There’s no other goal that could possibly be in mind. I don’t want people to be afraid of me or think that I’m a hateful guy. If you can relate to this song, or if you just think that negative, hateful lyrics are just bad-ass and cool, that’s fine too if that just helps you appreciate a band.

Even a band like Slayer, it’s not like I’m like, “Oh man, I still relate to this after all these years!” But there was a time when I was like 19 or 20 and I was getting into metal that I read Slayer lyrics, and I was like, “Oh shit, this is awesome. My parents would be pissed at me for writing these lyrics. But this makes me feel good.”

So there is actually a positive goal. But is there a negative goal as well? Is there any desire to make people feel bad?

There really isn’t. It’s hard to say because I started this band when I was 21 years old. And I’m almost 29 now. So I feel way different now than I did then. When I started this band, I was kind of a dick. The goal was to bum people out.

The goal now is to do our own thing regardless of if it bums people out. I will be the first to say that, when I was 21 years old, I was trying to bum people out. Now, it’s more like, “We’re going to do this, and, if it makes people feel good, that’s awesome. If it makes people feel bad, that isn’t necessarily awesome, but it is what it is. That’s what they’re getting.”

There’s definitely not a negative goal at this point in any way. I want people to feel good all the time. The negativity of Weekend Nachos is a very positive thing, if that makes any sense. Anybody that can relate to a positive song can listen to a positive band. They can listen to a pop band or something. When it comes to hardcore, the negativity just fits. I’m not going to mosh and punch somebody in the face in the pit to a band that’s singing about loving their girlfriend. It’s not that I care about the status quo, but that just doesn’t make sense to me. If there’s a heavy, violent, fast band playing, and they have songs that are also very negative, the end goal is just to make people feel good about life.

At this point, with all of us being adults, there’s not a single negative goal. I don’t like when people fight at our shows. If the show is crazy and violent, that’s awesome, but I don’t want anybody being hurt. The goal is to make people happy and to make them feel like there’s something going on that they relate to.

There’s people that negative and violent music makes sense to, and I’m one of those people. That, in turn, makes me feel good. So the end result is a positive thing and only a positive thing. I don’t want anybody to feel shitty ever, because I’m not 21 and trying to stir up shit anymore.

What’s the role of humor in all of that?

It’s just us. This is what you get. We’re ridiculous people. When you’re angry at a certain age, people who are older than you are thinking, “They need to relax. They need to just have fun.” When you get older, you learn to cope with your problems and you start to feel that way, too. Just have fun. Be a goofball. Enjoy yourself.

If you can’t add some sort of light-heartedness to negative music, then you’re just all on one side. Just balance it out so you can stay sane. We project ourselves as goofy, sort-of-angry people, because that’s just who we are.

It bums me out more as an adult when someone is so focused on trying to make you believe that they’re not silly at all. It’s like, “Who are you kidding? I know you laugh when you see Dumb & Dumber. Why can’t you just show that part of yourself, too?”

Dumb & Dumber. Good choice.

Well, there’s funnier movies.

Like Surf Ninjas.

Surf Ninjas is honestly an awesome movie. Three Ninjas is what I would say is better. And Good Burger, when it comes to children’s movies that transcend into adult life.

Dude, I just thought of a riff right now, but it turns out it’s a riff we already have.

Which one?

It’s a new one off of the Lack of Interest split. It rips off that Bolt Thrower song “Powder Burns”. Originally, when Drew brought that riff to practice, it was literally the same riff. And I was like, “Dude, we have to do something to that so it’s not exactly the same.” And then we made it so it’s just a little bit worse than the original riff, but still cool. [laughs]

That’s the trick to stealing a riff. Don’t try to make it better, try to make it slightly or a lot worse. So everyone knows the original riff is better. That’s my official statement on stealing riffs.

Don’t want to show anyone up.

Well no matter how hard you try, it’s not going to [be a better riff] and you’re going to look even worse. So, you might as well just go for the worse riff and it will just fit.

Relapse is mostly a metal label, but you’re a punk band. At heart, at least. Are there any conflicts? I know you have a lot of strict DIY ethics.

There’s no conflict to me, because it’s never about what the label does so much as it’s how you work with the label. Your favorite DIY label could end up releasing a record that is so successful and sells so many copies that, in order to respect the band, they have to put it in certain stores.

So, we work with Relapse no differently than any other label that we work with. A good analogy is that . . . say you’re dating a girl who is super religious. Which I am actually. And say you’re really opposed to religion. But, you figure, “If this girl doesn’t care that I’m not religious, then I shouldn’t care that she is religious.” I use that as an analogy. If this bigger label that is mostly about business in the metal scene is willing to work with us and respect what we’re about, I can respect them. I think it’s really about how you do business with somebody.

Originally, we were wondering if there would be a conflict, but we also knew that this label would really open up a lot of different people to our music. Which it has. I would admit it if that didn’t happen, but it has. It’s opened us up to people who would have never ever given our band a second thought if they thought we were just a hardcore band. That’s a step towards uniting different scenes, even if it’s just one band, and I still think that’s cool.

Also, as you guys have gotten more popular, have you had conflicts with what your initial goal was as a band and what is required to maintain that band at a higher status level?

There’s only one area that I would say we do things differently now than when we started, and that’s our merch. We have a merch company now that prints our stuff, but the guy who runs the company is an actual friend of ours and he works with us as a friend and not a businessman. He started working with all hardcore bands. Now, he’s opened up shop a little bit. But, his merch company is as DIY as it gets. It started from the ground up, and there’s no bullshit.

So even the one thing that we don’t do ourselves now, is still within what we’re trying to do. As far as everything else, like booking tours, releasing records . . . everything we do is either done by us or done by someone who we’re close enough with and involved enough with to where there’s no difference from where we started.

Booking our tours is something that I do myself. I still to this day don’t want a booking agent, because I don’t think we need it. I don’t like the idea of not having 100% control over where we play. I don’t like the idea of someone else handling that.

We don’t operate on a guarantee. We try to look out for ourselves on the road. In my opinion, all a guarantee does is strong-arm people into thinking that they have to work for you. You can establish that kind of trust without something written down on paper. If you really know how to talk to people and give and take, you can operate on a level that doesn’t involve contracts.

That’s how I book our tours. Sometimes, it doesn’t work out, but most of the time it does. I would say that 90% of the time, we get what we need just as well as any contract would allow us to.

So I guess I would say no, that I don’t think we’ve made any compromise. It’s always been about us. And working with the scene and other people. I feel like we do just as much for the scene as the scene does for us, and that’s how it’s always going to be.

Do you have goals or anything that would cause you to say, “Ok, we do need a booking agent . . . ” or anything like that?

We would rather work as hard as we know we can, and not take anything for granted. It takes longer, and it requires more work, but that’s just what we’re about. And that’s what I think hardcore should be about. That’s what makes it different, because nobody’s getting handouts. You’ve got to work for the scene as much as the scene works for you. And I have tremendous levels of respect for any band that still operates that way. We’re more popular than we were seven years ago, but I don’t think we’re at a level where nobody can understand how we were able to do it like this. And even if we are at a level where people can’t comprehend it, we’ll still be doing it this way.

And do you have a goal of making a living off of the band?

No. It’s not realistic. If someone makes a living off of their band, more power to them. I don’t think that goes against any kind of DIY principle at all. People have that idea in their head that once a band is a band for a living that they’re somehow wrong for that or that it’s not sincere or that it’s not DIY. But how could it not be? It depends on how you do it. How can it not be DIY? You’re literally doing it yourself. You’re making a living yourself doing what you love to do. There’s nothing more DIY than that. You have to make a living somehow. Would you rather work for some shitty corporation? That’s in many ways less DIY. It all depends, it’s all relative. But people really need to figure out what they’re slandering, because most people don’t know what they’re talking about.

If you’re making a living making people suck your dick and screwing people over and being an unethical business person . . .

Who wouldn’t want to make a living making people suck their dick?

Well in a literal sense, that would be incredible. That’s really the ultimate goal for Weekend Nachos. Not to play shows anymore, but to make people suck our dicks for profit.

But in a metaphorical sense, if you’re screwing people over and using bad business practices to make your living, whether that be with your band or with something else, that is always going to be something that I disagree with.

People think they can just look at a situation and judge it based upon what they see in front of them, but that’s never going to be the case.

What’s the deal with this Lack of Interest split?

That’s going to come out as a 7” now. It’s going to be cool. It’s a good “old meets new” thing because Lack of Interest has been around since the early ’90s. They were a huge influence on us and a lot of other powerviolence bands. We started probably 12 or 13 years after them, I don’t really know. It’s kind of a cool band from the past and a current band on one record, and I think a lot of people will be excited about it. And I’m also excited about it.

Why give your songs away [on Twitter]?

You need to sell records to tour. It’s not financially possible to not sell records and shirts on tour. We’ve always just figured that there’s so many people downloading things, why not just give in and not try to fight something that’s inevitable?

We’re a band that’s very much about sound and gear, and we’re not really afraid to be into the musical aspect of what we do. We don’t want shitty versions of our songs out there. If someone’s going to steal our music, I want them to actually hear what the song sounds like. People are going to make shitty vinyl rips. And they can take a stream and turn it into mp3s I guess . . . I sound like an old woman right now . . . and that’s going to sound fucking terrible. So, we always put a high-quality rip out there. It was Drew’s idea, and I think it’s a good one.

If people want to support us, they’re going to buy the record. If people don’t want to support us, I’m not going to say I’m totally cool with that, but . . . it’s like how people who ride bikes just need to accept that we’re in an age where cars own the streets. You’re not going to fucking fix that. So I’m not going to complain about people stealing music because that’s just how it is.

It sucks for any band to know that you’re not selling as many records on the road as you could to make touring more comfortable because everybody’s already downloaded it. But, honestly, it’s being the bigger person. By putting your songs out there, maybe even more people are going to want to support you by buying the record. I’m sorry to say it, but it’s kind of a good business practice. It’s the noble thing to do. Just let people hear you in the best way possible, and just hope they support you. At that point, we’re the band that gives you free shit. And that’s cool.

With this new release, is there anything that you’re going for that is different than before.

Nothing specifically, but the goal is to always make sure that we’re not at a standstill. Some people think that progression is this weird, forced, artsy thing. I always see it as never wanting to bore your audience or yourselves. I don’t want to feel like I’m creating something that I already created. We’re not forcing ourselves to progress, but the mindset is always there . . . not to progress in a specific direction, but in some direction.

I think of the split as more of a continuation of “Worthless”. These are five new songs that could have been on “Worthless”, but there’s a bit of a different feel. My vocals are a little higher-pitched and a bit more raw. Every time we record, I try to make it a bit more live. When you think that you’ve done it as much as you can, there’s always next time to try and top that.

So, we just try not to fall in to the trap of being a band that’s released the same album five times. At that point, you’re not only boring your audience, you’re boring yourself. So I’d say there’s no specific direction we go in, but we always try to write songs that are in some sort of different direction. Everybody’s always got some pick of which record they like of ours. They’re always saying, “I like ‘Worthless’, but I hated ‘Unforgivable.’” Or, “I like the ‘Torture’ EP.” That feels good to hear people saying that, because it means that we don’t have two records that you can flip-flop.

How does that affect your live sets?

We always play songs off of every release. It’s getting harder because we don’t like to play for very long. Once you’ve been playing for over 20 minutes and you’re a fast hardcore band, you start to overstay your welcome. I don’t like to see bands play for that long.

I guess if it’s like . . . The Moody Blues are playing or Iron Maiden are playing . . . its’ like, “I can relax and watch this for a long time and it’s great.” But I don’t want to see a band that depends on keeping up an energy level play for that long. It’s not realistic, and I like for bands to go out on top.

So yeah, it’s getting harder to play songs off of every release and keep the setlist within that timeframe, but so far we’ve managed. I like to make the setlist something for everybody. Or if they like everything, then they’re probably stoked.

Anything else? I have to go to work soon.

Where do you work?

At a gym in River North.

There’s some apartment hotel suite thing called River something. My friends and I threw a picnic table off of the roof.

Cool.

It was actually not that cool.

When?

I think it was like 2002. It was honestly pretty fucked up.

I mean yeah you could end somebody’s life.

Thank god that we didn’t. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but we destroyed somebody’s expensive property. Probably some shitty rich guy, but still, that’s not cool. I wouldn’t do that now. We can end the interview there. We were just reckless. Not cool. There’s some 19-year-old kids doing that right now, and it’s like, “Well, in nine years, he’ll feel bad about doing that.”

I got kicked out of the dorms freshman year of college for throwing my chair out the window.

See, that’s not as bad though, because I guarantee you that it didn’t land on, like, a yacht. I’m honestly feeling really shitty about this right now. Let’s just end the interview there, and make sure your readers know that I felt really crappy at the end of this interview over something I did almost a decade ago.

Todd Nief is the guitarist for the band Like Rats.

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