EASTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONS
The SiS Interview by Jose Fritz
At the end of a two hour block of interviews his spirit was broken, he was tired, and he needed to ready for their album release party at the Silverlake Lounge. It was then while his defenses were down that I began to interrogate Greg Lyons, drummer for the Eastern Conference Champions. Their new record, Ameritown is released tomorrow. His excitement is visible in the air. Josh Ostrander said in one of their home videos “We just want that shot. That chance for people to hear it and make up their minds.” They would get it.
Jose Fritz: Why release so many damn EPs? Suretone put out three EPs leading up to Ameritown, was this part of a plan?
Greg Lyons: Yeah, they’ve been great, we’ve asked for a lot and they’ve given it to us. When we go to the label people know who we are, not just our guy, but also the interns and the president. It’s been amazing.
JF: You seem comfortable with it. I meet a lot of bands who have no idea what’s going on at their label. It’s usually a black box to them.
GL: Definitely. It was like that for us when we were in Laguardia. When we went to New York to visit the [Universal Records] office nobody knew who we were. It’s much better now.
JF: Suretone Records is a partnership with Interscope Records and the Universal Music Group. It was Universal that failed to adequately support Laguardia. How do you feel about their fingers still being in the pie?
GL: We notice it at all, we make the songs the way we want to and they’re totally supportive.
For once, a great band is on a label that believes in them, supports them and all together they are making the same great bet on victory. For hockey fans like these there is only one kind of victory: the Wayne Gretzky victory, the total absolute triumph. In another home video Josh says “We are completely in awe of our situation. “ He was referring not just to their good fortune and boldness, but also this transcendent situation with Suretone Records. They recorded The Southampton EP on their own, intending to shop it and go back to the gigs and showcases they did as Laguardia. They didn’t have to. The strength of the EP was such that none of that was necessary. It was played for the president of Geffen, and that was enough.
JF: The arrangements on the record are really involved. I hear a bottle slide on “Navy Man”, a glockenspiel on “Some Sorta Light.” How does that come about creatively?
GL: We went into the studio with the songs all fleshed out. …and we were allowed to try all our ideas. Some things stuck other things didn’t.
JF: How did Maura Davis from Denali end up singing on “Hollywood?”
GL: Well we toured with her new band Ambulette. …We sent her some stuff and she sent us a tape back. It was great; we decided not to mess with it.
JF: that’s the same version on the Southampton EP?
GL: Yeah it is.
JF: Why’d you re-record the other two for Ameritown? “Nice Clean Shirt” and “Gucci No. 3?”
GL: Well “Gucci” ended up basically the same, but the original version of “Shirt” was great. It was supposed to be the single; it was the one they were all excited about. But it didn’t fit the record, it wasn’t as good [of a recording.] So we tried recording it a couple different ways and it didn’t come out like it did before.
JF: If it’s not the single, what’s the new single?
GL: “The Box.”
JF: What’s the name of the secret track?
GL: That’s named “Ameritown.” That’s our song, it’s not going to be a single but it’s just about us. We wanted it on there, but we didn’t want to have 13 tracks, so we made it a hidden track and named the album Ameritown.
JF: You guys are that superstitious?
GL: Well yeah, we’re big hockey fans!
I didn’t ask what the title meant. There was too much magic there. You can’t trivialize these things. You examine the poetry of the words of that song and let them speak for themselves.
If the drinks don’t come, and the smoke burns your eyes
Maybe its time to duck out, tell these animals good night
And all the mistakes, if you want to be with him
I never said it’s over, I just said this is it.
It’s a long ride I know, Better walk you home
Their star is in ascendance as the Gnostics would say. It’s the most American of American success stories even if my declaration is premature. They’ve weathered failure, departure, neglect, and hard labor. The passage to enlightenment is long and hazardous, meant to test your resolve and endurance.
JF: The bios all say that you did manual labor for a living after Laguardia. Were you trimming hedges or is that a euphemism for shoveling shit?
GL: After we quit Laguardia I got a job as a bartender and we worked for Josh’s dad doing landscaping. We weren’t mowing lawns. We dug holes and ditches, shoveled gravel, laid paving stones in the hot sun. We did everything.
Their trials were not over. While on tour, literally crossing Death Valley, a wheel bearing burned out on the Green Sherrod. It was a big V500 conversion van, and one with enough mass that at the right speed they would have all died like Cliff Burton. They decided to get it fixed in Baker, a town 2 miles away.
GL: They said it’d get fixed in a couple hours. We ended up stuck in Baker for two-and-a-half days. We stayed at Arnie’s Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Don’t go there.
JF: Did you know that Hunter S. Thompson was arrested for public drunkenness in Baker?
GL: No, but I think I know what bar that was at. There’s this joint attached to a Denny’s.
JF: I was always under the assumption he brought his own.
From Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, chapter 12 “Tuesday, 12:30 P.M. . . . Baker California . . . Into the Balantine Ale now, zombie drunk and nervous. I recognize this feeling: three or four days of booze, drugs sun, no sleep and burned our adrenaline reserves—a giddy, quavering sort of high that means the crash is coming.”
But the crash did not come. They crossed the desert and reached L.A. with “…no egos, no attitudes. [They] checked that at the door years ago.”
JF: You’ve had a lot of hard times. In February you had all your gear stolen. Did any of it resurface?
GL: None of it. We checked around the pawn shops. I’ve heard since then about the way these guys work, they ship it overseas, sit on it for a year then that’s it. It’s just gone.
JF: I heard about that like two days after it happened. The bloggers seems to really care about you guys.
GL: Yeah they’ve been really good to us. There was so much support when that happened. Zildjian and Mesa gave us some discounts; some music stores gave us some breaks. People really helped out.
The trials have passed and the way they weathered them speaks well of the way they will handle the ones of the future. Friday is their second album release party, this one at the Khyber in Philly; the traditional home town release party.
“It’s a long ride I know, Better walk you home”
GL: I guess we’ve known each other at least 10 years. I was in Trip 66. …Josh was a couple years younger than me. He was this really nice kid that came to our practices, eventually he started playing with us.
JF: How did you know Vern?
GL: We always saw him at parties; everybody liked him, great guy. He was in a West Chester band CKY. They were popular with the skater punk kids.
JF: You know Vern has his own fan club, separate from ECC.
GL: Vern talks to all the kids at the shows and they remember him. He’s totally approachable…everybody likes him.
We wrapped up having run about thirty minutes over my allotted interview time. Greg was polite and frank; retracted none of his answers to my questions. Not even the stuff about the homosexual body builder with the same name as he.
JF: Have the Eastern Conference Champions released anything other than The Southampton Collection, The Home Away EP, and Ameritown?
GL: We also did two 7-inches. One was titled Home, it had a song that didn’t make the record called “Shamus”. The other one is Away…
JF: I always ask those catalog questions early in a bands career so I can pick up those obscure items and sell them for hundreds of dollars on eBay after they become hugely famous and successful.
GL: I hope that happens for you.