Philadelphia-area band A Victim Of Good Times was formed in 2011 by vocalist/guitarist Matt Gaines and bassist Mike Lebovitz, who were later joined by lead guitarist Clay Thomas and drummer Dan Sagherian. Since that time, the group has been creating live show mirages of bumper Nash skateboards, knee scrapes and the backseat of your parents’ borrowed car throughout the Philadelphia area.
Drawing on ’90s indie-rock mainstays like Dinosaur Jr, Pixies, Modest Mouse and Sunny Day Real Estate, the band has just finished recording their first full length album,The Full Catastrophe, which is available for download here.
Matt: I grew up with The Doors, Public Enemy and punk rock. I started playing solo acoustic songs at open mic nights. I later started November Radio, then formed A Victim Of Good Times.
Clay: My first band was jamming out Rush tunes in a basement with some high school friends… just imagine how great that sounded! While in college I joined a band, Svingali, that was mostly originals with covers peppered in to fill out enough for three sets. Following college, I moved to California, where I spent a few chaotic and wonderful years drinking beer and grilling bacon in a band called Bad Press. I have since moved back east and had few small projects to fill the void until I was introduced to Matt and Mike.
Mike: I started piano lessons when I was seven and studied classical, theory and jazz, then gave it up for the bass when I heard Primus’ Sailing The Seas of Cheese. I’ve been in a lot of bands over the years — my favorite after AVOGT was the surf band in San Francisco — and have recorded a ton of solo material. I think too much about what it means to be a bassist and my role in aiding a song’s melody and blah blah blah when I really should just be trying to write interesting bass lines.
Dan: Grew up with punk and new wave on my mom’s side and blues on my dad’s… fave bands include Fugazi, Sonic Youth, Polvo, Jawbreaker, REM, Constantines, Jesus Lizard, Television, The Kinks, The Who, Dead Kennedys, Spoon, etc. I played in several hardcore bands during my high school years and later played drums in Brody with Fred from Taking Back Sunday. After that I played for a few years in Philly-based Overlord and with the Paul Edelman Band.
Are you guys all from Philadelphia? How has growing up and/or living there now influenced you?
Matt: I’m not from Philadelphia, I grew up in Chichester which is a suburb of Philly. But I love how PA is close to the shore. Every song we have has an element of sand and ocean in it.
Clay: Originally from the Philadelphia suburbs, there was always a buzz about music that was hard to miss. I guess I hung out with the right people, there was no shortage of new music to listen to (punk, hardcore, hip hop, metal, alternative, etc.).
Mike: I grew up at the end of the R5 and now live by the Melrose Diner on Passyunk. Growing up in the suburbs has made me want to drive everywhere. Seriously, the Acme is just five blocks away but my first instinct is to get into my car. Trying to break that.
Dan: I grew up in Center City Philadelphia. Walking home from school on South Street and being exposed at an early age to places like Zipperhead, Skinz, Spike’s Skates, and Philadelphia Record Exchange definitely influenced my musical tastes.
How did you guys meet one another?
Mike: It’s a Craigslist success story. Matt and I answered each other’s ads and got together first. We played as a trio for about a year before parting ways with the original drummer. Then a friend of Matt’s took over the throne and brought Clay along with him. That lineup lasted for about nine months until that second drummer unfortunately chose another band over us. So it was back to Craigslist, where we found Dan. And we’ve all been madly in love with each other ever since. The wedding is next week.
How has the band (and your sound) evolved over the past few years?
Mike: Matt’s our primary songwriter and he often talks about how he’s learned to not write songs he thinks people will like, but rather just write what he likes to play. His previous band, November Radio, was a popular bar band that catered to the bar patrons, and he started AVOGT to be more honest. Because honesty is more important and will eventually connect with someone. We all pretty much ascribe to that.
What was the most challenging aspect of recording The Full Catastrophe?
Mike: It actually went really smoothly and was one of the best experiences we’ve had as a band. Mike Bardzik at Noisy Little Critter Studios was amazing to work with. If there was any hiccup, it was when we went back later to work on the production. I was in the hospital and the choruses in the opening track just weren’t punchy enough, so the rest of the guys all took a turn re-recording the part.
What is your songwriting process like?
Matt: For writing songs, I really just plug in and mess around until something hits with me. After that I take it to the band and they put their spin on it, sometimes making it totally different. If I write something and someone in the band changes it, my first response is to hate it but through the years I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut and be patient. Ultimately I end up loving what they did. Everyone in the band is a much better musician than I am so I’ve learned that, even if I don’t like something at first, I most likely will end up loving it after I let my guard down and understand it. The funny thing is that the song that I love the most (“Red Red Red”) is a song that I didn’t write, Mike did. Lyrics are extremely important to me, sometimes more important than the actual music. I find them difficult to write at first but after I get the first line, I know what the rest is going to be. I like to have the music first because that paints the scenery for the lyrical content. When I’m writing a song, I’ll just have vocal gibberish to get the vocal line down then add the lyrics in later. But to answer your question, when writing a song, it’s all a total accident… except “Loyalton,” which was a long, thought-out process.
Clay: Sometimes pre-meditated, thinking of a sound, smelling something familiar… play and see what comes out. Listen, play and repeat.
When you’re in need of inspiration, where do you turn?
Matt: I don’t really know where inspiration strikes. I’ll go through long stretches where I can’t think of or play anything. Almost everything I do musically is an accident with the exception of “Loyalton.” I went into that song with a full-on idea of what I wanted to do. Other than that, I don’t really have inspiration for song writing.
Clay: Hearing new bands, learning something new, putting myself outside my comfort zone, or playing something other than guitar. Sometimes a new piece of gear will really set it off. Sometimes it comes out of thin air.
Dan: My musical inspiration is stress… Music is a stress reliever for me — I take it all out on the tubs.
What has been your most memorable live show?
Mike: We played a Halloween basement show where every band covered a well-known band. One group did the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, another did The Flaming Lips. We did Weezer’s first album in its entirety, and by the time we got to “Buddy Holly,” the whole place was singing along, inches from our faces.
Aside from your own, what’s the best song ever written?
Matt: The best song ever written is “Rain Song” from Led Zeppelin.
Clay: There are way too many to choose just one. Right now, I guess I’ll have to go with a tie between “Freight Train” (I prefer the Garcia/Grisman version) and “The Logical Song” (Supertramp). Honorable mention to “Close to the Edge” (Yes).
Mike: I’m going to be a pretentious dick and say John Cage’s “4’33.”
Dan: From which genre? I’ll say “Waiting Room” by Fugazi.
Musically or otherwise, what do you miss most about the 1990s?
Matt: I miss my thrill of music from the ’90s. I was driving the other day and that song “Detachable Penis” came on satellite radio. Not really a great song, but totally represents what the ’90s were. Bands were experimental and had a great sense of humor to them… the ones I liked, at least.
Clay: Not being tied down to anything or having any responsibility, the innocence. Fortunately that extended into the 2000s for me.
Mike: I miss John Kricfalusi making good cartoons. Yes, the dude’s original handful of Ren and Stimpys bought him a full pardon for all the Adult Party Cartoons and Ripping Friends he makes, but enough with the crap already.
Dan: I miss heavy music with pop hooks. Today’s bands tend to be either too twee or AM pop/synth. But I love British Invasion-style hooks and musicality coupled with heavy instrumentation. I also miss bands with actual personality… everyone is trying too hard to be cool these days.
You can only eat at one Philadelphia-area restaurant for the rest of your life. Which one do you choose?
Matt: If I didn’t care about my health, it would definitely be Mazzella’s.
Clay: Teikoku in Newtown Square.
Mike: I want to say Han Dynasty (the one in Exton, they have the most extensive menu), but I think my intestines would be horrified.
Dan: Star of India in West Chester.
The Flyers-Rangers series in the NHL Playoffs is currently tied at one game apiece (Editor’s note: This interview was conducted on 4/22/14). How do you like the Flyers’ chances the rest of the way and what does the team need to do to improve next season?
Clay: As far as first round is concerned, as long as the Flyers show up and play their game (which they didn’t do in game one), they will dispatch the Rangers. The Flyers are deep and can figure out how to win.
Second round prospects, facing the Blue Jackets will be tough as they took the regular season matchup. If facing the Pens, the Flyers will move on to round three. Third round will be tough if facing Boston or Tampa Bay. Let’s hope we get that far!
Next season, continue to build defense, consistency and discipline overall. Pretty much the biggest issues I see.
What are you guys working on next?
Mike: New songs, new album. Playing shows. Getting people to those shows. And Clay’s working on his entry for the World’s Best Beard competition.