It's 8:30 P.M. on a rainy and gray Wednesday night in West Newton, Massachusetts. The New Warden, a pop-punk trio from the Greater Boston area, has just wrapped up an especially sloppy practice, according to them. After instructing me on the ramifications of this immensely popular blog ruining their reputation, bassist Kenny (we'll just go with that) elaborates.
"It sucks you had to see us today," laments Kenny. "We hadn't played together for a month. We just ran through the shit we hardly even play live."
"What are you gonna write about?" asks lead singer/guitarist Jelly Roll. "Are you gonna mention that I wear a t-shirt that has Webster's definition of "role model" on the back, even though I'm like, the worst example of a human being ever?"
That sense of ironic apathy runs through the whole band. What is The New Warden "About", according to their Myspace page?
Sometimes there's a band... I won't say a heroes, 'cause what's a hero? But sometimes, there's a band – and I'm talkin' about the New Warden here – sometimes, there's a band, well, they're the band for their time and place. They fit right in there. And that's the The New Warden. In Boston. And even if they're a lazy band – and The New Warden was most certainly that, quite possibly the laziest in the Greater Boston Area, which would place them high in the runnin' for laziest worldwide – Sometimes there's a band...
"The Big Lebowski", the magnum opus of ironic apathy. But as the Coen Brothers knew, that kind of irony only works when the main character can't HELP but give a shit. Sure, The Dude can act like he doesn't care. He can insist that he's nothing special and that the world should pay no attention to him. After all, he's just a Dude. But the world refused to leave poor Duderino alone. He was too smart, too funny and too damn cool to just sit in his bathtub smoking a joint for an hour and a half of screen time (though I'd probably still find that amusing).
The Dude can deny it all he wants, but for a stoned, unemployed, burnt-out old man, he was a hell of a Private Investigator. And for a group of 20 something bastards who can't sing and can't play their instruments, The New Warden is a hell of a band.
I don't know about you but I take comfort in that. It's good knowin' they’re out there. The New Warden. Takin' 'er easy for all us sinners.
The punk rock cock-tease. It's an age-old tradition amongst asshole bands that like to fuck with an audience. You're watching a band you've never seen before and you don't recognize any of their songs. You feel left out. Then all of a sudden, you hear it. Maybe it's the opening drum fill to "The Sweater Song", or the first chords of "Smells Like Teen Spirit".
You shout out an enthusiastic "ohhhhh!" that can be heard over the drums. You're really going to sing obnoxiously loud on this one, boy howdy. You might even put you arm around the stranger next to you and belt out the lyrics. This sure is going to be fun, you think.
And then, it's over. Just kidding. Next song. That excitement is fun to take advantage of for bands. Why? Because fuck 'em, that's why, I guess. Maybe I'm unfairly biased. I'm always on the fooled end of this trick. For the fooler, I would guess it's quite fun.
In The New Warden's case, Fugazi's "Waiting Room" is their flirtatious but ever-elusive beautiful woman. With one of the greatest opening bass lines in music history, one can be excused for getting over-exuberant at the first few measures being played. And each time, a new set of basement folk or bar patrons await an "I am a patient boy..." that never comes. Suckers.
But with a month until their next show, the trio has some time to give the whole song a go during practice. A discussion breaks out about the guitar chords in the latter part of the song. Jelly Roll strums different combinations, awaiting the shared approval of his band mates.
A cordial debate ensues. It doesn't sound quite right, according to Kenny. He suggests Jelly Roll simplify and just play power chords.
"They throw that 2nd in there, I'm positive," Jelly Roll pleads. "Don't we have that DVD of there's down here?"
"Yea, but I think it's a VHS," says drummer Alex Beaton. He should know, the four of us are in his parent's basement.
Beaton sits in the back of the room, his drums set up against the wall. Lemothe and Kenny face him with their backs to their respective Marshall amps. "You Shriek" is planted on the back of Jelly Roll's amp, the command staring right back at me. A piano is trapped-in on the right side by the large stacks, covered on top by CD's and piles of paper. The opposite shelf features numerous notable board games (Parcheesi anyone?) and the entire Disney Catalogue on VHS. This is a 1990's basement and it intends to stay that way.
I sit behind the amps, a sonic wall of necessary separation. Beforehand, it was requested I "not go all yoko" if allowed to observe the practice. Since I am not sleeping with any members of the band at this time, this proves not too difficult. Except for the occasional nod of approval, I make a point to keep my mouth shut, especially when the important topic of chord structure is being discussed. The debate comes to a speedy and amicable conclusion.
"Whatever man," says Kenny. "I understand. You like playing the chords with all those notes."
And with that, Kenny plays the distinct opening bass line. And then Jelly Roll plays that chord. You know: the one with all the notes.
The group gets through the intro and reaches the second stop in the song. The original has the silence filled in with muted guitar chords and drum fills. Kenny has another idea.
"No, no," Kenny tells Beaton. "Right there, we should just stop and do this."
"This" can be described as a combination of heavy panting and salivating directly into the microphone. Jelly Roll joins Kenny, possibly out of fear. Beaton finally ends the possible case of sexual harassment and kicks back in.
It might not have been pretty, but it was rockin' (I want that to be the epitaph on my tombstone by the way) and the band finishes the entirety of the song. That beautiful woman finally gave in. However, it's still up in the air whether she'll fuck publicly or not. For now, the basement of Mr. and Mrs. Beaton's house will have to suffice.
"That's closer than we've ever been to getting it right,” claims Kenny.
"I don't know, it was sort of marginal," says Beaton. "Marginal Walker."
"We still need to write a song named 'Margin Walker, Texas Ranger'."
No debate on that.
The New Warden has been writing songs since 2008. Jelly Roll and Beaton had played together in the short-lived group “Get the Memo” as early as 2006. But Jelly Rolls’s first band, The Eskapade, is really where the story begins. A horn-filled, ska-punk outfit that most notably won WBCN’s High School Battle of the Bands, Lamothe’s signature pop hooks have translated with ease to the smaller trio format.
In high school, he was a bassist and 2nd singer. Now, he is the front man and driving musical force of the band.
The group plows into a new song. Moreso Green Day than Dillenger Four, it stands out as poppier and less rhythmically complicated than the group’s other new material. It’s a straight-ahead rocker that omits Beaton’s usual fast-paced double-time switch up. But just like Green Day, it’s catchy as hell.
Beaton exhales a deep breath after the song ends and complements the new tune.
“Man, that’s already stuck in my head,”
“That other new one was about the Baptist Church,” Jelly Roll explains, referring to a previous song called "Black Hearts".
“Southern Baptist?” asks Kenny.
“No, Westboro Baptist,” Jelly Roll replies. “The guys who protest Military funerals with signs that say ‘God Hates Fags’.”
Beaton chimes in.
“Aren’t they always wearing some crazy hats?”
“Yea man!” says Kenny. “‘Lovin’ hats, Hatin’ fags’. It’s bullshit.”
The truth is a New Warden song can be about almost anything. That’s because all three members take turns writing lyrics. Yes, even the big, dumb animal behind the drum kit.
“Alright Jelly, actually writing a lyrically-driven song!” says the drummer turned self-acclaimed poet.
There’s the song about taking in a summer day on the porch of their Waltham apartment; one about working at the “best” (read: worst) IHOP in the United States; a new one about having a panic attack while running into an ex-girlfriend; and now, one about bigots in Texas. Oh, and don’t forget “Ork Life”, a definite band favorite. Just to name a few.
So, how to describe the music then? Pop infectiousness intertwined with chaotic rhythmic-precision; a lot of offbeat timing and unexpected song turns that reward you with a sing-a-long bridge. The New Warden may reel you in with pop hooks, but you end up appreciating the surprising cohesion that dominates each song (you can thank Mr. Beaton for that).
It’s much like Bart Simpson’s take on flying first class: “I come for the service, but I stay, for the leg room.”
Most well known for ___________, Fitchburg is home to many underground punk bands that offer up their basements to college aged ruffian’s who have nothing better to do than take in some free music while getting drunk.
The New Warden will go into these situations with about an average of one fan per a show (take a guess) attending. The surprisingly large crowds are mostly there for the hometown bands.
On this night, The New Warden is at the behest of Sexwing Starfighter, an old school punk band with Star Wars themed lyrics:
“If you wanna dress up like that Princess from Alderaan/I think you know I’d gladly be your man”.
Up first though? The New Warden. I sit on a couch in the living-room-turned-venue by myself as the band sets up. All the other attendees are outside smoking or in the kitchen drinking.
“Look at Hillman, our lone fan,” jokes Kenny.
“Hillman, I’m gonna make a t-shirt with your face on it. It’s gonna say “The New Warden” and then under it “Hillman was there”, with your face planted right in the middle.”
“Shit, we gotta get on that,” says Beaton. “Once we get some other fans, of course.”
The set starts off small, with maybe 10 people total in the room. Behind Beaton, there’s a window displaying the droves of people on the porch, smoking and passively listening to the unknown group inside.
But as is the case at most New Warden shows, the small crowd becomes a passionate-if-not-initially-reluctant group of supporters.
Not long after that, a young kid leans over and tells his friend to bring people in here off the porch. They’re missing out and they don’t even know it, he says.
By the end of the set, the room is once again packed. The New Warden play their last song of the night, the appropriately titled "Patron Saint of Perpetual Sausage".