Chicago punk band JuiceheaD are touring in support of their new album, ‘How to Sail a Sinking Ship,’ released October 4 on Misfits Records. The three-piece features Rob Vannice on guitar and vocals, Tommy Kloss on bass, and Mike Garelli on drums. The trio crank, and their songs get right to the point — this is music that you can rock out to. ‘How to Sail a Sinking Ship’ combines a classic punk rock sound with a modern feel; songs such as “Lorraine” and “American Dream” bounce with ska-like energy, while the tracks “Black Roses” and “When I Fall From Grace” feature cello and bagpipe arrangements, respectively. Clearly, JuiceheaD aren’t afraid to step outside of the box while still paying homage to the sound that they represent.
Rob Vannice has shared with us his very personal thoughts and experiences with recording JuiceheaD’s new record, detailing how each track on the record came to be. Read on and learn ‘How to Sail a Sinking Ship.’
The first song on ‘How to Sail a Sinking Ship,’ entitled “Better Days,” sets the tone for the record perfectly, both musically and lyrically. The story it tells is half fiction (I didn’t lose my car in a high stakes poker bet — I don’t even know how to play poker), but sums up everything I was thinking during the songwriting process. It’s a song about being down on my luck, [but] with the knowledge that I can change my own luck through perseverance. I think it’s a song that anyone can identify with as we all go through our own personal battles. In any case, all we can do is keep moving forward with our heads held high, and that is how to sail a sinking ship.
“Rotting from the Inside”
It would be hard to tell from the upbeat groove of “Rotting from the Inside,” but this song was written from a very dark place. A lot of ‘How to Sail a Sinking Ship’ details the loss of my father to cancer, how I chose to deal with that loss, and what I would consider to be a very unusual mourning process. “Rotting” does not have the silver lining that “Better Days” has, and in its place are themes of isolation, paranoia, anger, and disillusion. The song sums up my mindset in the few months following my fathers passing and outlines the bitterness I was forced to face in myself, which I was eventually able to come to terms with.
“Death of Democracy”
This song was written with the straightforward idea that if democracy is dying, then we are all doing our part to kill it. Our fear is what feeds the governmental machine, period. Most people would say that they are all for less government, but their actions are a direct contradiction. The laws are being passed at our request and with more laws to be enforced, naturally there are going to be more taxes. We all know that the government isn’t going to pay for the enforcement themselves. It’s all on us.
On the surface, “Lorraine” seems like it’s telling the story of a sour love turned deadly. That would only be half the truth, though. The song is actually a metaphor for drowning your problems, whether it be alcohol, drugs, eating, gambling, etc. Coping mechanisms are crucial tools for the human mind, but sometimes the medicine is more dangerous than the disease. One thing that has always fascinated me about people is our ability to rationalize — no matter how abstract the thinking process needs to get, or how unethical our actions are.
This song is written about repetition in our daily lives and the inability to change, even having acknowledged that change is the only way off of the merry-go-round. This is exactly the reason for the repeated verse. Believe me when I say I didn’t run out of things to say about this subject; it just fit the theme of a song about repetition to be repetitive. I love the outro to this song because it breaks the cycle and carries the song out on a more positive note.
“A Fire That Always Burns”
This is the last song written for this album and one of the most potent songs on the record. I believe that actions speak louder than words and that it is each and every person’s duty to take responsibility for themselves as well as their actions. It seems that so often we doom ourselves to repeat our past mistakes, and rather than examine cause and effect, we march through the ashes of tragedy towards the same outcome. That being said, we are just as responsible for our current state of affairs as the government is, and no one is innocent. We all feed the fire with disregard for how it is affecting our future.
“No Good Deed”
Speaking of personal responsibility, “No Good Deed” takes aim at a society of people who are always right even when they aren’t. For everyone that you have a finger pointed at, there are ten more fingers pointed at you — no matter how well you can rationalize. Everyone has a mind of their own, but that doesn’t mean that their opinions are truths to be pushed on anyone else. It is perfectly okay to have a point of view and to think for yourself, but we must learn that it’s okay for others to be able to think for themselves as well. This song ties in with the themes of “Death of Democracy” and “A Fire That Always Burns” but doesn’t necessarily have a political undertone. Let’s agree to disagree and maybe we can make some progress.
“Kiss Your Pretty Ass Goodbye”
Unlike the use of metaphor in “Lorraine,” this song is about the bloodthirst of a man done wrong by the woman he loves, and rather than taking it sitting down, he takes matters into his own hands (see “Covered in Blood” from the album ‘The Devil Made Me Do It’). Anyone who has ever been cheated on by someone they really care about can identify with the sick feelings that follow the knowing. The thing that I like most about this song is that it is left open-ended. Does the girl die? Does the male subject get shot down in a standoff with the law? Or maybe the man wants to get gunned down because he feels he can’t go on without his love, and can’t do harm to her either. It’s a perfect ending in which the listener can draw their own conclusion.
“Black Roses” tells the story of a couple who has recently had some sort of horrible fight or falling out, and before they can reconcile, the girl dies in a car accident. Not seeing another way to go on without her, the man drives to the cemetery where she has been buried with a bag of sleeping pills and a bottle of hard alcohol. We presume that the girl has gone to heaven and the man acknowledges that while he cannot go on without her, his suicide will send him to hell. The man does commit suicide, but do we really know what ultimately happens to us when we die? I’d like to think that they found each other again. The lyrics and the music work together perfectly to set the somber mood of the song, and the addition of cello, an idea proposed by producer John Cafiero, who brought in and conducted the incredible performance by Melora Creager (Rasputina, Nirvana), really makes this one of the most unique songs in the JuiceheaD catalog.
“How to Sail a Sinking Ship”
The title track details the determination that kept me afloat during the long distressing period. This song finds me out of the mindset of “Rotting from the Inside” and onto the long road of reawakening. During this period of songwriting, I didn’t realize I was changing the course of the album. The whole album was a form of therapy for me, and this song was my mantra which helped me to understand what I needed to do to get back to myself.
As the times change, so does the game. It’s hard to separate the illusion and the reality of the American dream. Is the American dream just a corporate slogan to boost the morale of the American worker, or is it something that can actually be attained? And if it is attainable, what exactly is it? That is a hard question for anyone to answer, but one thing is certain, as long as there is a sliver of hope, the people will work towards it. Either that, or they will try their best to stay medicated.
“When I Fall from Grace”
I mentioned coping mechanisms earlier, and when certain coping measures are brought to extremes, you don’t end up with the best possible outcome — you end up with addiction. I’ve gotten enough of a glimpse into the world of addiction to know that if you get off of that roller coaster, you are lucky. This song is about acknowledging addiction and facing it head on. I have witnessed the devastation that can occur when coping goes too far, and I only wish it were as sweet and melodic as this song, but sadly, it is not. It is a personal prison that can kill.
I really like the melody of this song and we were fortunate enough to get The Punk Pipers to perform bagpipes on the track, which added just the right bittersweet flare.
This is one of the first songs written for ‘How to Sail a Sinking Ship,’ and one of the most aggressive songs on the record. When people say that punk is dead, I always kind of scratch my head and wonder what the hell they are talking about. Sure, first wave punk happened a long time ago, setting the bar for punk bands to come, but punk rock is not a time period, it’s a mindset. From its inception, rock ‘n’ roll was all about rebellion, and you don’t hear people saying rock ‘n’ roll is dead. The way I see it, as long as there is a reason to rebel, punk rock and rock ‘n’ roll will never die. As long as there is the disenchanted youth of the world, there will continue to be new innovators in the punk rock world.
“No Regrets” is a very straightforward song that speaks for itself. Although tough times come and go, they always come to pass, and as long as I learn from past mistakes, they really were not mistakes at all. All my roads have led me to where I am today, and with that being said, I have no regrets.
“Pissing in the Wind”
“Pissing” explores the theme of isolation and loneliness with the knowledge that I am responsible for where I was at the time of writing. The songwriting process for me has always been very therapeutic, and sometimes, as with this song, I am able to learn something about myself that was always in the back of my head, but lying dormant.
“Take You Home”
This was one of my absolute favorite songs to write. All the pieces came together so naturally that the song almost wrote itself. The lyrical content has to do with that beautiful girl at the other side of the room who is completely unattainable but you can’t drag your eyes away from her.
I typically don’t read the obituaries, but one afternoon I found myself looking at the obituary for Rick James. I picked up my guitar and wrote “Rick James” directly from the information detailed in the article, and by 6 PM that evening the song was completed with a little of my own insight laced throughout the lyrics. I am intrigued by the tragedy that goes along with so many great musician’s stories, and I suppose that in the end we all fall victim to ourselves. The sad part is that he was aware of his demons and couldn’t help but feed them. “Rick James,” for me, represents a long list of extremely talented people taken away from the world, and their true potential, before their time.
“Until We Meet Again”
I wrote this song as an open letter to my recently departed father. Sometimes as a kid I remember thinking that I was going to be a different man than my father was. I suppose that I didn’t understand his perspective, but in the wake of his passing, I realized that I was just like him and I am proud of that.
My father knew he was sick for a long time before he let anyone know. He didn’t want to be a medical guinea pig, and I can’t tell you how much his bravery affects me to this day. He knew he was getting close to the end when he and I had our last talk and I was so in shock that I wasn’t able to communicate the things that I really wanted to. A week later, he didn’t know who I was, and that was the hardest part for me. This song was a way for me to tell him what I needed to, and I hope that he hears it.
“Sail On” is the perfect summary to ‘How to Sail a Sinking Ship’ in its message and its honest approach, and the album would not have been complete without it. This is my favorite song on this record, because at this point, I had nothing to hide from myself. I would say that you’d have to listen to the song to know what I’m talking about. One does not see the other side of the mountain simply by looking through it.
I am extremely pleased with the final results of this record, and I will always be able to look back on it and remind myself of tough lessons learned. And hopefully other people get a lot out of it as well.
Pick up JuiceheaD’s new album, How to Sail a Sinking Ship.
For the band’s upcoming tour dates, check out their official website.