Interviewer – Julie Ink-Slinger
Direct Hit! is a Milwaukee-based pop punk band formed in 2007 by singer/guitarist Nick Woods. It consists of Nick Woods, Danny Walkowiak, Devon Kay, and Steve Maury.
Julie Ink-Slinger caught up with Nick Woods recently and got in depth with some searching questions.
In 2007, while part of the indie rock group, The Box Social, you formed your pop punk band, Direct Hit and said that you would release music “like comic books”. Nick! Please help me! What is the correlation between releasing music and comic books?
Short, numbered releases, made available to listeners on a more frequent basis than the once-every-two-years rock album, duh!
Can you describe your musical journey, transitioning from indie rock to pop punk?
I was always into pop-punk, I just didn’t want to admit it in middle school and college while I was pretending to be cool. Listening to “Longview” by Green Day when I was 9 or 10 in my aunt’s and uncle’s basement with the volume down low so they wouldn’t hear Billie Joe say “fuck” is a really vivid memory for me. I loved New Found Glory, and Alkaline Trio, and I was really into my local scene. But I got tired of the sense of humor for a little while once I finished high school, and the people in my scene were listening to stuff from Three One G and Revelation mostly anyway. The fact that the dudes in my band at the time were more into Nirvana and Sub Pop and classic rock pulled me away from it further. But then I finished school, and had to get a job, and my band broke up, which coincided with Red Scare taking off – So The Copyrights and Teenage Bottlerocket dragged me back in. And having spent 4 or 5 years listening to other stuff, it made me look at bands I’d only glanced at in the past in a new light – Groups like Dillinger Four and Frenzal Rhomb who always stood out to me on comps, but weren’t the “big” bands that my high school friends were listening to. I listen to all kinds of music now, but stripping way everything except a melody, the removal of bullshit, has always been appealing to me, and that’s what pop punk does best.
Would you describe your band’s sound as pop, punk, or more punk than pop?
It depends on who I’m talking to. In an interview like this, I’d say more punk than pop, because you probably know what I’m talking about. To people who’ve dedicated themselves to making art, we’re 100% pop. To my parents we’re punk. I’d rather try and communicate effectively than worry about semantics.
Direct Hit has had some line-up changes over the years. What impact, if any, have these line-up changes had on the band’s creative process as well as developing and maintaining band rapport?
It’s definitely slowed down our development. I’m really happy we’ve had the same lineup for the last 4 years. We’re all really good friends now, we’re less likely to feel like someone’s trying to be mean or shitty. We have more honest conversations, and when we’re picking apart each other’s ideas, we give each other the benefit of the doubt that the other person isn’t just trying to ram home an idea because it’s their idea, you know? It makes the process a lot less stressful. We also don’t fight, which we’ve seen other bands do. I don’t think we’d still be together if that was happening regularly.
Nick, what do you consider are the distinct, creative contributions that Danny, Devon and Steve make to the band?
Our group gets more collaborative with every album. There have been a lot of people who’ve come and gone from Direct Hit who have been bad musicians, with self-serving ideas, who if I’d have let them, would have held the group back from going anywhere or doing anything. Danny and Devon and Steve are definitely not those kinds of people. They’re all really good musicians, they all have a good sense for arrangement, and they all know how to work and not just posture and hem and haw. Devon’s voice is way better than mine. Danny’s without a doubt the best drummer I’ve ever gotten to play with. Steve is a technical wizard. I could go on. More than anything, they’re my buddies. We’ve seen a lot of shit together that not a lot of other people have.
Between 2008 and 2010, the band released five EPs for free online which was a generous gift to the public. How influential do you think the freebies were on increasing your fanbase and introducing your music to the general public?
“Generous gift.” That’s rich. I think at the time, releasing music for free was a novelty, which got a lot more people to pay attention, yes. It’s like sexual attraction between people though – A lot of times, people say that’s what draws them to someone else, but they don’t stick together in a relationship unless there’s actual chemistry. I like to think a lot of people gave us a shot because they didn’t have to lose $10 or whatever on the experiment. They’ve gotten into our music because the tunes are good.
In 2011, you released your debut, full-length album, Domesplitter, which consisted of ten re-recorded, fan favourite tracks. If another pop punk band had written and recorded Domesplitter, would the album form part of your record collection and how would you rate the songs?
I do, honestly. At least, there would have been songs off of it that I would still dig. “Snickers Or Reese’s” is still a great tune to me – That’s a sound I’ve tried to chase on every record since. We still play “Kingdom Come” at every show. Some of it’s bad, at least to my taste. But some of those songs I wrote 10 years ago. I like to think our band has grown and learned to do things better and differently, which makes you a bit embarrassed of your previous process. We’re honest about that kind of stuff though. You don’t see me scrubbing the internet of all our old embarrassing shit – Everyone’s got it, whether they admit it or not. That guy from The Bravery was in Skabba The Hut. That guy from The Bravery was in The Bravery.
One of my friends often says, “Julie, Google is your friend”. I don’t know about that, but it does come in handy when you don’t know what a Domesplitter is. Now that I know what it is, why did you call your debut album, Domesplitter? You can, of course, plead the 5th.
Ha, I dunno, it sounded like a catchy name for an album when I was 22. From the minute Direct Hit became a band, I told everyone that’s what our first album would be called. In other words, I smoked a lot of pot in college.
In 2013, you released your full-length, concept album, Brainless God. It is a story about a serial killer and his would-be victim, escaping a satanic cult while seeking redemption before Armageddon. Were there any real life or fictional stories or characters that inspired the narrative?
Not really. The first song I wrote for that album was “Getting What He Asked For.” And I had a few other tunes written, and just wrote more to fill in the cracks. The story pretty much wrote itself, but it started with that one story that just kinda popped into my head one day.
You produced a short film in conjunction with Brainless God. In terms of creativity, can you describe the similarities and differences between making a record and making a film?
Making a film is 100,000% harder than making a record. It requires so many people, and so much coordination, and so much planning, and so much money… That was a ridiculous undertaking. And had I know how much work would’ve been involved, I never would’ve attempted it. I figured me and my friends would bang it out in a few weekends, and it took almost 6 months to produce because I had no clue what I was doing. It definitely explains why it is an actual movie costs several million dollars to make, and why unions exist in that industry. If the people who worked on the Brainless God movie weren’t my friends, I definitely would’ve been sued.
In 2016, the band signed with Fat Wreck Chords, a label well known for promoting punk culture since it was founded in 1990. How did you guys react to the signing?
We didn’t believe it was actually going to happen until they made the announcement. And by the time the announcement was made, we’d acclimated ourselves to the idea. So there was never a big “wahoo” moment or whatever. When our manager at the time told us that they were into putting the record out, we had just finished up tracking it, and we were all like, “yeah, that’d be really cool, let’s do that” thinking it was just one of those things managers talk about to keep you on the hook. But then they didn’t disappear. And eventually they talked about it in public. And then eventually our album was out with their name on the back. Now there’s more than one. It’s surreal. All of us have been watching that label since we were teenagers. It’s tremendously validating to be able to contribute to that scene now.
You released a second concept album in 2016 called Wasted Mind. The songs were based on the use of hallucinogenic drugs as depicted in novels such as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Naked Lunch, as well as your own ALLEGED!! experimentation with hallucinogens. The Beatles and The Doors are famous for songs about hallucinogenic drug use. Is there any truth to their claims that these drugs stimulate creativity and “mind expansion”, whatever “mind expansion” actually means?
Sometimes! Mostly it just makes you confused and annoying though. I’ve written some songs on drugs, but mostly I’ve written them sober. Drugs are a distraction. They’re fun, and they can provide life-changing, memorable experiences. But not enough that they’d ever become a big part of my life. I have kid now, you know? That’s way cooler than any stupid chemical I’ve ever put in my body.
I had a look at your online social media presence and it is apparent that you are a down-to-earth, self-deprecating, witty group of guys. How have you all managed to stay so grounded and so true to the music you want to create, within the competitive, income driven world of the music industry?
We don’t look at music as a career. If we did, this would be a lot, lot less fun, and so we don’t try and put pressure on ourselves to be something we’re not. If I had to worry about landing a tour or selling an album to be able to keep my head above water, I’d go fucking crazy. And we’ve never honestly believed that we’re going to be rich and famous, and we still don’t, so we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Our band is an incredible vehicle for us to be able to experience stuff that very few others get to, and meet people who’ve shaped the way we look at the world. So we don’t compete – We want everyone to have the same experience we do. We get jealous when another group we know gets to do something that we don’t, but we’ve never tried to cut anyone down when it comes to being active and seeing the world from a different angle. Even if I hated your guts, I’d be pumped for you to go on tour and sleep on couches and meet new people with a different point of view. You’d be made a more tolerable person because of it.
Your tour of various Australian towns starts on August 31. How excited are you to play for your Aussie fans and what can the fans expect from the shows?
Lots of sweat, lots of bad stage banter, lots of off-key melody. We’re pumped as fuck!
After you have completed your touring commitments, will you allow yourselves a well-earned break or will it be straight back to the studio to create new material?
We’ve been in the studio demoing new material on-and-off for the last few months, which we’re turning over to our producer, Mike Kennerty, the weekend before we leave. So we come home, get to read all about how bad our new shit sucks, and then spend the next two months working on it until it’s good enough to record in Nnovember. No sleeping.
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