By: Dan Agacki
Photo by Andy Junk
Please welcome the new kids on the scene. Pay Up could actually be considered kids – with guitarist/vocalist Joe Samara and drummer Leo McClutchy in their first semester at UW-Milwaukee and bassist Kevin Ramirez still attending High School in Sussex. The band has quickly made their mark on the local scene, receiving a warm welcome from their elder statesmen. To coincide with their recent appearance at the Bayview Bash, the band released a new EP.
In their brief time together, Pay Up has transitioned from a punkier mish-mash of styles into a legitimate hardcore band. They've shed the “folk punk/Green Day/cover of Minor Threat covering Wire” melange of the demo, and have focused on a more distorted full-throttle hardcore approach. As SSD once said, the kids will have their say.
Explain: Where are you guys from and what was it like growing up being into weird music?
Joe Samara: We’re both from Sussex. It’s a pretty monotonous part of Wisconsin. It’s that dark part of the Midwest. A lot of conservative ideology that didn’t conform with the kind of music and things we believed in as people. To put it in the punk term we were the “black sheep” of the area. As much as we were from there, I feel like our hearts were really here in Milwaukee.
Leo McClutchy: I probably wore my Bad Religion sweatshirt four out of five days of the week. Every day you get weird looks. Just the typical “who the fuck are you?’
How long has the band been together?
J: Pay Up has been together since January, so 7 or 8 months.
L: That’s when we started getting our shit together. I’ve been playing music with Kevin [Ramirez], our current bass player, since Seventh grade. We were in jazz band together. I played drums and he played guitar, so we ended up playing music after school frequently. It took a while to get a full band together -- not until Junior/Senior year.
How did you end up getting into punk and hardcore?
L: My dad introduced me to the classic rock stuff. He loved Lynyrd Skynyrd. He had an AC/DC Live at Donnington DVD and I watched that religiously when I was in Elementary school. From there I started listening to Green Day and The Offspring and that kind of stuff. The point where I started getting into the more punk stuff, I watched a Bad Religion video on Youtube. From there I started getting into the harder shit.
J: I didn’t really get into punk and hardcore until two years ago when I met Leo and Kevin and I started playing it. There wasn’t a type of music that I could release emotion into to the stature that I now can. To have that outlet is something special, so that’s why it’s something I hold onto. I listen to, I play, I enjoy, and I support it.
L: It definitely appealed to me as a kid because I always hated being told what to do. In punk, you listen to the words and they say whatever they want and I always liked that. And it was angry and I was angry at a bunch of shit.
I remember growing up, I didn’t have any certain destination in mind. In Sixth grade I heard Black Flag. I didn’t know I was looking for anything, but when I heard The First Four Years it clicked.
L: I have to give credit to Dan [Duchaine] from Rushmor [Records, in Bayview] for getting me more into hardcore. I think it was the first time I went there. I probably had a Pennywise CD I was buying or some shit. He asked me if I had ever heard of RKL. I hadn’t. He had the Keep Laughing CD and said [he’d] give [me] a discount since [I'd] never listened to it. I went home and listened to it and it blew my mind. I had never heard anyone play that fast before, or that intense.
You have a new EP. You recorded it yourself?
L: I did, yeah.
What did you use to record it?
L: A couple of years ago my parents got me an eight-track that has two inputs to plug mics into. It was a learning process, figuring out how to get everything to sound good. It’s not like you can just place a mic in front of your amp or your drums and it’ll sound good. You’ve got to work with it.
And then sometimes you go back and you put those mics in the exact same place and it sounds completely different.
J: For me, when it came down to recording, what I was looking for was setting the mood of what Pay Up is. I feel like we’re good at setting the mood for something dark and dingy -- that part of your mind that you don’t want to go to. I feel like Leo, when he recorded this EP, he did an incredible job with all the instruments. It made that mood come together flawlessly. We were so proud of what we did and how far we’d come from the demo tape.
There’s a marked improvement, for sure. It’s faster and angrier. Was it just you two that played on the recording?
J and L: Yeah, it was.
Joe is the only one that sings on the EP? There is a lot of variation between what you do per song.
J: Yeah. That was a thing that me and Leo would struggle with a ton. Everything that we did, whether it be live sound or studio sound, I would come out with one sound and we would be like ‘that’s bad ass.’ And then I would throw my voice out doing eight takes of it. Once we got it down it sounded really good and it was a big improvement from the demo.
Do you have any immediate future plans? Do you see your lineup being pretty steady now?
L: Right now I see Pay Up staying with this lineup. I don’t know how much longer we are going to last as this band. I hope to put out at least one more tape with a couple new songs on it. But, after this project dissolves we do have plans to start a new one featuring all the same members.
J: I think now that we have realized the artistic ability that we have and the support that we have from people around, it’s going to be a lot easier to delve into different projects. I’m already planning a solo project.
As far as the local scene goes, do you think there is a younger scene around? Or is it a lot of aging punks?
L: In Milwaukee don’t really see many younger people playing in bands. I’ll see a few come out to shows, but I don’t think the youth have a very big part in the Milwaukee scene.
J: I would say that the only people within the Wisconsin area that I have associated myself with near our age demographic are George’s Bush, and we only had brief encounters with them. Other than that, I have never really played with or seen anyone near our age at shows.
L: It seems like Green Bay and Appleton, Sheboygan too -- a lot more younger people have bands there.
Green Bay in the 90’s and early 00’s was insane. It was so good. I’ve never seen anything that could match it. The Concert Cafe -- an all-ages club that had shows multiple nights a week.
L: I think that’s a problem for Milwaukee. There’s not a lot of all-ages options. It was cool that Triple Zero gave an option for a little while, but it seems like those DIY space eventually dissolve for whatever reason.
Now that you guys are living in Milwaukee and you’re well versed with the local scene, where do you think it excels and where is it lacking?
J: The scene itself definitely excels in creativity and inclusivity. Milwaukee is a place for anybody to thrive. You can play jazz-punk, pop-punk, or you can just do experimental-noise-thrash-grind. They are going to accept you at some sort of show. We have played shows where they had hip-hop artists open for us. I think it’s cool that everyone supports creativity and not sounding like the same cookie cutter music. Supporting artistry and supporting individualism really makes what the scene is.
The thing that we lack in is repping on the youth. I know we just talked about that -- getting the youth out there, and supporting all-ages venues and things like that. I don’t want to say it’s elitist, because it’s not, but there is that sense that those kids aren’t meant to be there.
A lot of people of age have this attitude like they’re of age, so they get to drink when they decide, wherever they decide.
J: Right. It’s kind of like that rite of passage, and it kind of carries over into that mentality, ‘I’ve been tenured into this scene as a kid. I’ve been there, done that. Now I can go to these hardcore shows in basements and I can know everybody that’s there.’ There’s that kind of exclusivity to those kids who have been tenured within the scene.
Why doesn’t your band suck like pretty much everyone’s teenage bands?
J: It’s a large question, but I think it’s an important one to ask because it tests the character of who you are as people and how you make music. I think, the people that you’re playing with – you have to have a deeper connection with them. We wouldn’t sound the way we do if we weren’t as good of friends. We have that underlying connection that allows us to subconsciously connect with every beat. Along with that, our individualism comes in and allows us to input different ideas.
Leo’s been into punk and hardcore for as long as I’ve known him, since like Middle School. I bring this amalgamation of jazz and folk, old country music and things like that into the picture. On top of that we have someone like Kevin who is a little bit younger, yet he’s got this incredible talent. The kid's a virtuoso at guitar and he has these incredible ideas that he can bring to the table as well. It’s just the culmination of so many different aspects of who we are as people and who we are as friends that really makes the band what it is.
L: Yeah, pretty much. It is always important to me that I am in a band where I am actually friends with everybody. Obviously it wouldn’t work as well if we were just in a band to play music, play shows and go home, not talk to each other until the next show or practice. Me and Joe are living together and we see each other every day. It’s important that we get along so well. We get along in the band and outside of it. And Joe talked about the multitude of different influences that work their way into our songs. It just makes it more unique.
Anything you want to add?
L: Fuck Nazis! Go Pack! Keep supporting local music, support your local scene, keep shows inclusive and keep putting on as many all ages shows as possible.