The Terry Malts aren’t your typical Bay Area garage band. In fact, they’re not really a garage band or a punk band—or even a typical Slumberland Records band—at all. The band’s three members—comprising singer/bassist Phil Benson, guitarist/vocalist Corey Cunningham and drummer/vocalist Nathan Sweatt, started off in jangle-rock revivalists Magic Bullets before branching off into Terry Malts, a fast-paced, fuzz-rockin’ trio that fuses Ramones-style hooks and brevity with the deep-voiced panache of Morrissey and reverbed insouciance shared with several of their labelmates. Their second album, the Neil Young-reffing Nobody Realizes This is Nowhere (on CD or LP) is another quick and dirty delight, as was their first album, last year’s Killing Time. I caught up with the band just as they were set to release Nobody, which is in stores today. (See photos from their Amoeba performance here.)
Me: What is the “Malts Mansion” mentioned in your press release? Do you guys all live together? Tell me about it.
Phil: We don't all live together, although that is a funny concept. I picture there being a fireman's pole down the center of it, which we would slide down like Batman into our underground rehearsal cave. No, sadly we're actually in different parts of the state now. So, I suppose in that sense the "Malts Mansion" could be a collective dwelling space that we frequent inside of our heads maybe? Ha ha.
Me: I love the new record! Love that it's still loud and untidy. How did you guys avoid the sophomore slump?
Phil: We never really stopped writing songs after the last LP. And I suppose the reason the songs haven't changed much is that we've been playing so long with each other that we simply understand what we're trying to do with Terry Malts.
Me: The new album carries over the sound of the last record, but it feels a little fuller, cleaner, less reverby. Did you do anything different in the recording process this time around?
Phil: We didn't do much different in the recording process. We recorded ourselves again. One thing we did differently this time was we used a couple more mics on the drums to easier separate drum tracking. Poor [mixer] Monte [Vallier] had to deal with a really washed out recording on the first record because we maybe used three mics for everything, and of course all the sounds blended together. That actually ended up lending to the gnarly sound of Killing Time though, so we lucked out.
Me: I hear some of the old jangle sound on "Comfortably Dumb," though it's still drenched in noise. How did that song come about? Was it important to have that song on there as a balance to the rest?
Phil: "Comfortably Dumb" was originally recorded as a super fast, super short version of the song. More like a sister song to "Life's A Dream." Like that fast. But in the end we realized that I'd recorded the vocals off time for a noticeable chunk of the song, ha ha. And it was too late to fix, so we were considering scrapping it. But then Corey went in and worked the album version out at home and presented it to us and we were like, "That sounds excellent!" So it stayed on the record. Maybe someday we'll reveal the original version, who knows?
Me: I'm still curious about that sharp change from Magic Bullets to Terry Malts and how the sound changed. What possessed you guys to make that change?
|Phil Benson at Terry Malts' Amoeba performance|
Phil: It wasn't a conscious transition. Terry Malts was merely a side thing the three of us had while Magic Bullets was drummer-less. We figured, well, we've got this practice space that we pay rent for every month, so we may as well get some use out of it! And then we started getting more show offers and people wanted to put out our music so we said, the heck with it. Let’s do it full time, since Magic Bullets was kind of at a standstill at that point.
Me: I like that melody still factors in so strongly in the music, even as you push the distortion and speed to its max. Do you usually start with melody and build out from there, or are songs built from jams? What’s your songwriting process like?
Phil: There is no real sole process that we adhere to. Some songs are worked out at home, words and all, usually by myself or by Corey. Some songs are created entirely by messing around at practice. After a while we found it was really easy for the three of us to crank out a decent song, or at least one we were okay with, nearly every time we set out to write something new at practice. The idea is really to not spend too much time on anything. A lot can be lost in over-thinking a song. If it takes too long to settle with us, we usually just scrap it right then and there.
Me: I sort of get the same feelings when I listen to your music that I did when I was 12 listening to Green Day, although obviously you guys don't sound like them and the context is different. Do you think you aim for the gut in the same way? Is it ever hard to pull back and keep things simpler with what you're doing?
Phil: Oh, it's definitely a gut thing. I've said it before, we're huge proponents of the effectiveness of immediacy in writing. The whole idea behind Terry Malts was to dumb things down and to get to the raw core of the songs without having to try too much. That, and to make music we wouldn't completely butcher if we got too drunk to play, ha ha.
Me: Can you guys make me a list of your five favorite punk and/or jangle records?
Phil: I can't speak for everyone, but my fave punk records are The Adolescents’ self-titled debut, Minor Threat's discography and Wire's Pink Flag. Corey might say Flipper's Generic and maybe a Fang record? Nathan might say Operation Ivy, and I dunno, a Husker Du record probably? As far as "jangle" goes, I'd say The Pastels' Up For a Bit With..., The Feelies' Only Life and Close Lobsters' Foxheads Stalk This Land would be in my top ten at least.
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