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Interview with Flatfoot 56
Interview with Flatfoot 56

Having celebrated their 15th anniversary, the American band Flatfoot 56 are planning on starting work on their new album.

We have so much to say about this world and we cant wait to see how all this will evolve - the members of the band say.

During their visit to Moscow we spoke to the musicians about their anniversary, their impressions of their concerts in Russia, as well as Tobin Bawinkels side project, 610. Tobin told us about his teaching career, shared his views on how to keep the family together while continuing making music.

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Were happy to welcome you in Moscow. How is your tour going?

Tobin: O it's very good! We were going around Europe for a very long time before coming here, so it's very refreshing to be in a new place, new culture, new different kind of excitement for the shows and all is just very genuine. So it's good, it's going very well, the show last night in Saint Petersburg was amazing.

What were your impressions from your last visit here?

Tobin: It was amazing actually. Moscow is one of the best places where weve played in the world!

What do you remember most?

Tobin: Probably just the energy of the fans. Like their soul. This is nice, very enthusiastic about everything.

What did you tell your friends when you returned to Chicago?

Tobin:What did we tell them? Basically nobody in America really knows a lot about Russia so its all very new, its all very unique...

Are they surprised that we dont have bears in the streets?

Tobin: Oh no, no they know more about Russia than that! I think we dont understand totally the Russian culture until getting here. When you come here you realize that the kids are the same, kids are the same everywhere we go, they are just excited about music, they are excited about being here. I think Russians have a tendency to be very passionate about punk rock and about harder music so thats the really big thing. I'm a teacher in Chicago and when I told the kids where I was gonna go, showed them a video of our last show in Moscow, they really enjoyed it. I think Russia is kind of a new frontier for music from America so a lot of bands are starting to come over more and more. Its all very exciting.

Can you tell us a little bit more about your teaching? It's something absolutely unusual, a punk rock teacher, like some kind of a movie.
Tobin: Oh sure, sure! I'm a history teacher. I substitute for high school kids, between the ages of 13 and 18. Because of the music I substitute, so it's not that much teaching. It's obvious that I'm not there right now. But it's fun. It's a good job for band members to be in because if you substitute you are not there all the time and they dont need you all the time.

Do they like your music?

Tobin: Some do. The kids that I teach are more hip hop, so punk rock is not exactly that common. In America people who listen to punk rock are usually a bit older and not high school kids.

Are they too young for punk rock?

Tobin: It's an acquired taste, and they havent got to that point yet, but a lot of them would listen to metal and stuff like that, so Im working on it. Whats cool about it is that the teachers that Im working with and the Principal are more into the band I think. The kids like it too, but the kids dont make it up to shows in high schools, when they get to college thats when they start going to shows more, so to them it's not real yet. But we do have some punk rock kids in the school and theyve been to a bunch of punk rock shows, so it just depends.

Interview with Flatfoot 56

Touring with the band, you spend a lot of time on the road. What does the Road mean to you?

Tobin: Lets ask Brandon about that.

Brandon: I'm Brandon and I play the mandolin and the guitar. Since I was really young I always knew that this could be something I wanted to do and I did it a little bit before I joined the Flatfoot. But when I joined the Flatfoot full time 6 years ago my preconceptions of things were kind of blown away and I became so much more. Honestly when I go on the road what it means to me is that I get to see all these great friends I met years ago. But also I gotten to learn so much around the world and the people inside of it and it really turned down a lot of walls. It opened my eyes on certain people in certain countries, certain walks of life. To me the road just means that I get to continue learning and understanding people. Hopefully I impacted some people in positive way, a lot of people. Everyone deals with such difficult things in life, I mean life is a really bumpy ride. I get to understand more about them and hopefully bring some positive influence and change in their life. Who said that life is like a box of chocolates? You never know what you are gonna get.

Tobin: Traveling is the number one enemy of ignorance and indifference. We are a bunch of guys who would never be able to afford to come to Russia on our own. Because we dont make a lot of money at home, we are not rich. This helps us to be able to change our chocolate intake and also see the world and thats a wonderful thing, you cant buy that, its the experience. But seeing our friends and people that we love is the most powerful part of it.

Brandon: The first time when I came to Russia I thought we are going to show up and nobody is going to have a clue whats going on. It just blows my mind that we can be here after an 8 hour flight which is pretty much across the globe. And somehow a lot of people who dont get to deal with me know about anything that I like, anything that Ive done and they give a crap. Its so humbling! It makes you realize how fortunate you are as an individual, and I guess I should use the word blessed, and you could be without realizing that that ever could happen.

Interview with Flatfoot 56

Can you tell us about some unusual or funny situations that have happened with you on the road?

Tobin: Oh a lot! Russia is not so bad really. Canada for some reason has always been the craziest place. Should we tell the Erics story, or should we tell the bottle story?

Tell us both!

Tobin: Both, ok. The first one. Ill tell the bottle story. We were playing in Montreal, Canada and our drummer - Justin, my brother, he slept in the van. One member sleeps in the van to protect it so no one steals your gear. And at night, if you need to use the bathroom you use a bottle. So he did that as weve done many times before and the next morning we took all the bottles that were in the van and threw them in the garbage. Well, within 2 minutes a guy walked by. He picked out the bottle that was for lemonade, no it was apple juice bottle, and thought it was a full bottle of apple juice and ripped the top off, drank it right in front of us. As we were sitting there going: He just drank Justins urine". And he started throwing up everywhere, and freaking out. He didn't even stop to think that maybe you shouldn't drink something from a garbage can. He threw up everywhere. And we actually have a video and I saw it the other day, the video of the garbage can and our drinker. That was pretty funny!

There was another show. We were playing in Denver, Colorado. It was show that we were playing with the Street Dogs and Matt Freeman, there were lots of great bands. So Eric our bagpiper who wears a kilt was on the stage on the second song. Well when you wear a kilt you dont wear underwear under your kilt. Here It's a very high stage and sure a few people will get a look today. So at one moment Eric put his bagpipe down and just ran and jumped off the stage, his kilt flew up and he smacked this guy right across the face with his man parts. Not just slipped, he landed it right on his face and slipped down. Whats the most awesome about it, I didnt see it happen. I was playing, and my band started to play horribly and I'm like: What is wrong with you guys? And I looked at my drummer Justine, he was purple, laughing so hard, Brandon couldnt hold it in either, he is laughing too. And this guy in the crowd is losing it, he is just completely mortified wiping his face trying to get out of there. Eric's response was a mere shrug when he got back to the stage, something like: Sorry man, it was a part of the show. It was the funniest thing we've ever seen. And Im trying to get my band back into being tight again, but they are sloppy and couldnt help but laugh. So there are our two simple stories. Weve been touring for 15 years so weve got a lot of stories. A few years ago we were in Kiev when revolution started. So we were in the middle of national revolt. It's kind of a strange. We have a lot of experience on the road.

Are you going to Kiev again?

Tobin: Not on this tour, In the future. The show was very fun, and kids really enjoyed it. And we really want to come, its our desire to come back as soon as possible. Unfortunately time doesnt always allow. But we love coming here.

Interview with Flatfoot 56

This year the group turned 15 years old. How did you celebrate?

Tobin: We have actually talked about that. Technically the band will be 15 years old. The first show was on the New Year of 2000/2001, that was the first show that we ever played. So I guess if you are counting from there the New Year will be the proper 15 years anniversary of our band. I dont know how we will celebrate well probably celebrate, by not playing a show. We should do something fun I think. Next year is the 10 year anniversary of Knuckles Up - our first Label album. And so we are going to do something for that, maybe some vinyl special edition, hopefully. Its my desire. Its a new question and we have not even thought about that actually. Its pretty big.

Brandon: We spend most of our time thinking about how we are going to continue to survive. And just grow and put out something good for people so we dont really focus too much on this. We still exist. Thats great! I mean the fact that 15 years thats pretty amazing.

Tobin: I was talking to my wife this afternoon, and you know I'm 32 years old and most of my life has been spent doing this, being ruled by the schedule of the band, or the creation. And I love it, I still do, but I think for most bands the focuses are more on how we keep maintaining and doing this, and not destroy our families in the process, thats the number one priority for all of us, how do we do this responsibly and not leave a trail of very happy fans but a trail of very hurt family members weve neglected and the balance of that is a very important thing.

Is it possible?

Tobin: It is! Ive seen bands who celebrate 40 years and when I asked them : Why are you guys started touring more now? They answered: Our kids are old enough now. So they had stopped. They made sure that their priorities are their families in order. And people who are dear to you are the most important thing. Sometimes even dreams can be put on hold. Sometimes fans can say: Hey well wait for a while! You need to make sure that your family is taken care of. Thats whats happening with Justin, our drummer, right now. Hes at home having a baby soon. Conrad is filing in and helping us with that and doing a good job and he probably be more of our main guy from now on. Its just a lot of growing and adjusting, and a lot of people say: I wanna see the original line up. And you know thats cool and I agree but a lot of times the original lineup is just being human beings. If you not human you cant write a good song. Some of the best stories Ill ever be able to write about were when I was just living a normal life. And Justin will always be a part of Flatfoot but he wont be active with us from here and now because he is being a daddy, working a full time Job. But we love him and support him and I want a very happy niece as an uncle. He gave 14 years of his life to this band, and he is respected for sure.

Interview with Flatfoot 56

In September you released a new split between Flatfoot 56 and your new side project "6'10". When can we hear the full release of Flatfoot 56?

Tobin: Our plan is to go home after this tour, sleep for a week and then get together and start focusing and writing together. Obviously with new drummer playing with us its a lot, its important to learn how to work together. Luckily Conrads amazing and he is a good guy so we are planning to write and release something very soon. I dont want to put time on it because I dont want to rush and make a horrible record. We gonna be working on that.
On what basis did you choose songs for the split?

Tobin: What was available I think. Two of the songs are actually from the album Toil that we mastered together with the other ones so we just kind of grabbed some songs that had never been released, exclusive stuff. One of the reason why we did the split, was that 6'10 had been doing a lot in Europe as far as promotion and getting a lot of buzz so it was gonna help Flatfoot have something new to offer when we came back. Its not good to tour with some old records. We want something new to offer.

Can you tell us a bit more about "6'10" and other musicians of the band?

Tobin: Yes, sure! The last 2 years has been spent kind of traveling, kind of slowing down our normal travel schedule and I said I wanted to keep on playing music. Kyle and Justin, my brothers, they both said: You should play more acoustic. So Brandon and I started playing, he played the mandolin, I played the guitar. We did more acoustic shows. Brandon also has another band called In Exile. By the way, 610 is my height.

Why such an unusual name?

Tobin: The Idea was, because the music is more Folk Americana singer song writer style and it was a way to reference to me without saying: Hey its Tobin Bawinkel, my name. I wanted it to be a band, not just me playing acoustic guitar by myself. 610 was a way to reference me without making it the Tobin Bawinkel show. In that band there is a bass player Mike, its interesting that we all leave in a house together. Four out of five of us live in apartments in one house, and the fifth one has his own place. The original bagpiper for Flatfoot is the mandolin player for 610, Josh Robieson, my wife plays, and sings with us as well, she can play drums, she did play drums at our European tour. And Keith Perez plays drums normally. Basically the idea was to make a kind of The Pogues meets singer song writer type of band but keep everything very small in size as far as instrumentation. Weve been doing a lot with that, which is really fun. Its a totally different animal. Flatfoot is: Getting there, kick butt, everyones screaming, destroying the place and 610 is more: Come in, sing along when we play Its a different challenge.

Interview with Flatfoot 56

In the split release, which came out in September, you used your own Winter in Chicago for the cover. What explains this choice?

Tobin: 610 stared to do some covers, the people liked the 610 version of the song and we decided to have it recorded. The split had been actually requested probably 4 or 5 months before this tour so we thought: Hey lets release it, lets do it. We just grabbed songs that were available for the split with Flatfoot, mixing different styles.

Has the meaning of Winter in Chicago changed once it became the cover?

Tobin: The meaning of it? Oh, no. The idea was to sort of make a bit of fun of it, to make it kind of tropical sounding in 610.

What inspired you to write this song?

Tobin: The horrible winter that we had in Chicago that was awful! It was called snowmaggeddon, the Apocalypse.

Brandon: It was so cool, the ice cracked on the lake and the huge waves covered the Lake Shore Drive around the lake, and peoples cars got stuck there for a couple of days under blocks of ice. It was kind of rough, it was a bad winter! There are four different weather zones where we live, and winters can get pretty harsh. You guys can understand Winter. But I will say that every winters different and when you live next to a fresh water lake, its a different kind of weather. You get more snow. Its worse than in Russia, but you guys have it longer than we do. Two months of misery and then it starts getting better.

Interview with Flatfoot 56

In the beginning you experimented with a variety of different styles. What attracted you to the Celtic Punk?

Tobin: Ok, youre familiar with the early stuff! We were a bunch little kids who didnt know what to do, we knew that we liked Punk. We were influenced into what was popular at the time, and I think it was bands like Thursday and the similar. That was a long time ago. We just started to play punk rock, Josh, our old bagpiper he came into the band, and we thought it would be really cool to have a bagpipe in the band, just for fun. AC/DC did it! We hadnt really listed to Celtic bands much, we just thought it would be cool in our 3-piece pop-up band. So we tried it. Weve always liked Bluegrass music, which is very closely connected to Celtic music, it came from Celtic immigrants. There are a lot of different elements that are involved. We also grew up in the area that was highly influenced by the Irish community; it kind of became a natural thing. And then we added the mandolin. We went on a tour and bought a mandolin at a flea market, actually, it was very interesting. Yes, so a kind of natural progression. And we change as time goes on, we get a little harder, we start listening to more hard core and let that influence us.

Now that you have two bands, has it become more difficult for you to write songs? After all, you write songs for both the bands?

Tobin: Well see I havent written a song for Flatfoot for 3 years. We havent really taken time to work together. Its gonna be a big challenge when I get home. I feel a lot freer when I write for 610. There is not as strong of opinions that go into that band than in Flatfoot, because its just a different kind of band. Its two different kinds of bands. Im a storyteller. You dont tell as many stories with punk rock as you do with Folk Americana. I had to switch the way I tell stories, I express things. 610 expresses things like Flatfoot wouldnt want to. Its kind of interesting. My slate is clean when I get home, I dont have a ton of things going on and the mission is to rediscover where I am, how to express things that would affect an American kid just as much as they would affect a Russian kid. And when I say kid I mean anyone from the age of 18 to 40 or 50.

Interview with Flatfoot 56

Over time, has your approach to writing songs changed?

Tobin: Yes. I think if it doesnt change, you arent willing to be affected by the world you live in. There are songs that I wrote when I was 17 when the band started - I would definitely not say the things that I did now, even though I still believe some of the things that were stated. I didnt understand the world and how to express it, lovingly or affectionately or in a positive way. So you know, you go through seasons of your life. I had a song specifically written for my ex-wife and it became very popular, a lot of people love it but that relationship for me is very sour and very frustrating, so to play that song, I had to reclaim it and say: this is not what I originally wrote it for. I have to perform the song for another reason now. At first it was difficult but now I found a new story for it. As you go you start looking for creativity in different ways, I hope I am developing. I know Brandon is writing a lot more too and his recent songs have got really good and I am excited to have some lyrics even by some other guys. I never wrote everything for Flatfoot probably 90 or 85% of it. But Kyle and Justin, my brothers, threw in some ideas. Kyle wrote most of We grow stronger, which is a great song.

Kyle: Justin wrote a lot of good songs. I think we all as a band have grown. There are a lot of things that we can say now that we couldnt say before at Flatfoot. We all started to go though different things. And I think all those things will come to the table when we all start writing together. We all needed to say something about the world. I think we all look forward to seeing how it all shapes as a band.

What are the future plans for both Flatfoot 56 and "6'10"? What can we expect from these bands in the near future?

Tobin: Weve been told by many sources that we need to write a record. So I think thats the mission. A lot of opportunities are coming up and I want to make sure that I dont just run off with 610, I want to focus on Flatfoot fans and make sure that were being faithful. Brandon and I are going to write a record for Exile. You know, Ive been busy with a lot of other things, getting married for example It would be fun to get back to writing again, do some soul-searching and find out what I have to say. And I know the guys will be doing the same thing.

Interview with Flatfoot 56

And to conclude, our traditional question what would you wish to our readers and your fans?

Tobin: I think Brandon said something really cool earlier: Never let politics choose for you what you like. Enjoy life as it is. Preserve your passion and dont let seeing fights or seeing politics bickering on Facebook suck the life out of what you love listening to. Be inspired by anything, be open to any band that comes up who has guts to stand on stage and do what they do. Encourage even those bands that you think are bad, because they can grow and get better. I think Russians can create some amazing music that can affect more than Russia. I look forward to seeing what the future holds not only for the fans but the bands in Russia. The world needs to hear their prospective. America has dominated the scene because we just go out there on stage and do it. The world needs more bands. We need you guys too. When I grew up, the cold war was in full swing. Now we are doing shows in Russia! My brother likes Spartak and most hockey players in Chicago are Russian. Music is a powerful tool and if we use it wisely, itll be great.

Brandon: Just be open to what other people have to say. Its easy to have a tunnel vision of how the world works. There is much more than what our parents say, the media, the government and the friends tell us. I would just say to go out and listen, be open.

Tobin: I often ask myself: how does God relate to all of this? How do I relate to other faiths? Lets be open to people, lets listen to their hurt and their pain. Its amazing when you stop being close-minded. I have been affected very positively by people who come from a different walk of life. We as a band have a rule: never start a conversation if you arent prepared to change your opinion, because it wouldnt be a conversation but a one-sided argument. For example, I like bands that he thinks are crap and he likes bands I think are crap but thats ok! We constantly try to be open-minded.

Interview with Flatfoot 56

Text and photo: Daria Grishina

Interview with Flatfoot 56