David Gamage is a hard-working musician/label owner/publisher with nearly three decades of experience. He performed or still performs with bands such as Couch Potatoes, Rydell, Come The Spring, The Atlantic Union Project, runs a record label named Engineer Records, publishes books via Earth Island Books. We talked about the book he’s writing, his bands, books, and many other topics. Enjoy!
First of all, I would like to thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. How have you been?
David: Hey Djordje, thanks for asking, and you are very welcome. I’ve been very busy lately, shipping books and records all over the place, which is even more time-consuming and troublesome than ever thanks to logistical problems and what seems like a lot more customs hassles recently too. I have a busy life with lots going on, but find plenty of help and wouldn’t change it for the world.
I remember you being a member of Couch Potatoes. The first release I got my hands on was Couch Potatoes/Wact split 7″ back in the late 90s. Later on, you were in Rydell, Come The Spring, and now The Atlantic Union Project. Have I missed some bands/projects along the way? How did you get into punk rock in the first place?
David: Ah, the first band I was in was a terrible punk noise affair called The Yobs, which was in my mid-teens. We weren’t good at all, but managed to get hold of some equipment and make a racket in various peoples basements and at party’s. We were influenced by metal and punk, but the less said about that the better. My first proper band was Couch Potatoes, in my later teens. We were all school friends who’d gotten into bands like Descendents and Dead Kennedys and had adopted that d.i.y. punk spirit, figuring we could do it ourselves. We practiced quite a lot and got better at playing, so started to gig. We had some real adventures and played some great shows, and very soon I was hooked for life. Couchies persevered for several years, playing loads of great shows with bands like Green Day, Alice Donut, Jailcell Recipes, Understand, Policy of 3, Bob Tilton, Goober Patrol and NoFX, also touring in Europe – which I always love – and putting out quite a few records both on vinyl and CD. Frisbee, our split with Wact was indeed one of them, released around ’95. Probably the best was the album ‘Excess All Areas’, with our original line-up, and then later, the ‘Outweighed’ album with our new line-up. This came along after I played in another band, called Joeyfat, that were more of an experimental indie, grunge style of hardcore. I just wanted to write music and gig all the time, so played more good shows with those guys too. We supported Alloy, Spermbirds, Down By Law and loads more. We kept very busy. Couch Potatoes and Joeyfat were my bands from around 1990 to 1996. Crikey!
In 1997 I formed Rydell. That I guess has been my main band, as we played together for over a decade, gigging and touring a lot, alongside great bands and friends such as Hot Water Music and Hunter Gatherer, both of whom we released split records with, as well as Piebald, Dismemberment Plan, Leatherface, Pale, Discount, Burning Airlines, Spy vs Spy, Samiam, Blue Tip and many many more. We were a kind of early emo band I guess, and has some good reviews and good records. We toured a lot in Europe and eventually signed to a larger US label, Headhunter / Cargo, who went ahead and booked us a great US east coast tour. It would have been awesome, and we were due to fly out on 12th September 2001. The day after 9/11, so we never got to go. That sucked, and after that we seemed to have a run of bad luck and slow down a little. Still, we released some good records, including three albums and a bunch of splits and benefit singles. It was definitely a good and formative time of my life, playing over 800 shows with a band is bound to affect you.
More recently I’ve been playing in a new band called Come The Spring with other ex-Rydell members and friends from hardcore bands. We’ve put out three CDs and had a lot of fun, but during covid our singer got a bit flakey – it happens, it’s all been as bit stressful lately – so when we wrote the new record we asked a friend from the US, Craig Cirinelli, to sing on it. So we’ve called in The Atlantic Union Project. I have to say I am so proud of it, these new songs are as angry and fresh, powerful and political, as anything we’ve ever written. It seems that this old punk grew up and mellowed, but then came back with more energy and enthusiasm than ever before. I guess it’s the state of things in the world right now, it makes people angry and want to do something.
Looking back from this time distance, what is your perspective on the British melodic punk rock or underground scene in general compared to the scene nowadays? What are the biggest pros and cons of the scene back then and today?
David: Hmmn, early on it was a scene. You had to create it for yourself locally, but then you got plugged into a network of such generous, energetic like-minded people that it just rolled along. With all the ease of the internet and digital formats now I actually think its harder to get a scene going. No one seems interested enough. It’s all too lazy. There are new scenes emerging, of course, and some great bands out there too, so I hope it may all come back.
It was mainly punk, hardcore and pop-punk back then, all alternative rock. Now it’s more accepted but more splintered. I guess you’d call what we do now post-punk. There were always fads, some that stayed and became lifestyle choice, like straight-edge or vegetarianism, and some that didn’t so much. I do think Rydell were one of the early emo bands, certainly in the UK, and I guess now that would be seen as a bad thing – but it was heartfelt and important at the time. It was a little bit different to most of what was going on.
For example, a review of our first album in Kerrang magazine said;
“Rydell, Per Ardua Ad Astra, is one of the best British emo albums ever made.
The smokey atmospherics of Afghan Whigs, the twin vocal attack of Hot Water Music, gorgeous melodic arrangements a la Braid. Frankly, this is a quite fantastic collection of influences, and a suitably fantastic album.
The band is made up of former members of such UK bands as Couch Potatoes, Joeyfat, Wact and Rude Dog. Their collective experience enables them to embrace both the upbeat, poppier side of the emo genre – ‘Why Couldn’t We Have Met In The Summer?’ is Get Up Kids-meets-Promise Ring, and the less instant, more thoughtful side too – witness ‘The Plot Is Lost’, a laid-back, passionate beauty.
There are a lot of good British post-punk bands around, but few reach the heights of their American forefathers. Rydell do. And occasionally they go beyond them. Utterly brilliant”.
And Rocksound magazine kicked in too with;
“Rydell’s line-up has one hell of a c.v. Having played over 800 shows between them (including supporting some band called Green Day), they combined forces to form this melodic hardcore/emo band and plan on taking the world by storm. With the rising popularity in that scene it appears that they couldn’t have picked a better time to unleash ‘Per Ardua Ad Astra’ on their following. Songs like ‘Why couldn’t we have met in the Summer?’ are dripping with power and melody, while also possessing that abrasive edge that the emo scene is well known for. Rydell offer up emotional journeys like ‘Ghost Culture’ making this another interesting addition to their impressive resume”.
Magazines and more importantly fanzines were massively important at the time. Now it’s all internet blogs and social media, which of course is still important, but then zines were really the lifeblood of the scene, and maybe that’s why I’m so into publishing and books on punk rock even now.
Can you tell me something about your latest music project, The Atlantic Union Project? I know all the band members are experienced musicians, but maybe you would like to introduce them to our readers.
David: My current band, The Atlantic Union Project, is basically Come The Spring with a new singer. Macca (our bassist) and myself (guitar) both came from Rydell, Simon (our other guitarist) and Jamie (our drummer) both played in a straight-edge band called Strength Alone. We roped in Craig (our singer) as I’ve known him for years as a friend and good singer through his previous bands Elemae, Damn This Desert Air, World Concave and Hidden Cabins. We recorded the music here in the UK and sent the tapes to Craig during the covid lockdown, just trying to stay creative during difficult times. He added the vocals and it came back great, better than we’d hoped. Now we’re speaking with a few labels about the release and developing it. We’re releasing videos and digi-singles while we wait for the CD and vinyl to be pressed. (That can take over six months now!)
How would you explain the sound of The Atlantic Union Project to someone who’s stumbling upon your band for the first time?
David: We’re a melodic hardcore band, so noisy guitars and driving rhythms, the sort of thing you want to see played live! It’s post-punk, taking influences from Minor Threat and Dag Nasty up to Hot Water Music and Jawbreaker. It’s powerful, it’s angry, it’s truly heartfelt and it’s still melodic. These songs are as catchy as hell and all have a message. I’d urge anyone to give them a listen.
There’s a trailer video for the EP, called ‘3,482 miles’, as that’s the distance between us lot in Brighton, UK, and Craig in Boonton, NJ, USA, HERE and you can watch ‘The Actuary’ HERE and the brand new single, ‘Trustworthy’, HERE.
The band also has its own website and all social media channels too, so anyone can just get in touch and we’ll send you the physical release when it’s out.
Considering that most of the band members of Come The Spring are now part of The Atlantic Union Project, do you guys still exist as a band or you’re on the break until the time is right?
David: Yes, I guess Come The Spring is on a break now as it has morphed into The Atlantic Union Project. The problem is though, that CTS used to play quite a few shows, whereas the TAUP singer lives across an ocean so gigging is a bit tricky right now. We do plan to get together and jam, then play a few shows, starting late spring this year. So I guess we’ll see how it goes.
What’s coming up next for The Atlantic Union Project? Do you guys plan any release or some gigs in the future?
David: OK, so tomorrow Punknews will premiere our new single, ‘Trustworthy’ in the US, that will be followed by Punk Rock Theory premiering it here in Europe and then on 25th March ’22 the digi-single will come out. This is all just stalling for time while we wait for the pressing plant really, but videos can be fun. Craig’s coming over late April / early May for a week or two for us to jam and play a few shows. That should be fun, and then we’ll see where it goes from there. The labels we are speaking with in the US want us to come over and tour, a lot. That would be great fun, but is quite tricky, as we are all older guys now, married, with families, jobs, etc. It doesn’t stop us making good music, but it does stop us constantly being on the road. We have to be realistic, so a few long weekends or a well-planned week somewhere is much more likely.
You are also running a prolific DIY record label, Engineer Records, for over two decades. What are the biggest challenges of being a publisher nowadays? Are people still interested in physical releases, or the underground scene levitates more towards digital media?
David: Yeah, I’ve always been part of the scene and wanted to do more. I’ve run a fanzine, put on shows, and helped out at various record labels. I was working with Dennis Merklinghaus and Emre Aktas on Scene Police Records back in the mid to late nineties, around the time Couch Potatoes was ending and Rydell was just getting started. Alternative bands are used to puting out their own releases, even then, and I figured I’d just set up my own label. Initially it was called Ignition Records, but after a run in with a bunch of chumps who worked for that load of shite Oasis, we had to change the name and became Engineer Records. That’s why all our catalogue numbers start with IGN even now. Engineer Records has been going over twenty years now with well over three hundred releases, The Atlantic Union Project’s ‘Trustworthy’ single will in fact be IGN340.
I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved at Engineer Records, putting out great releases and bringing to light totally unheard of bands, as well as many you may well know of, including Chamberlain, San Geronimo, Planes Mistaken For Stars, Dead Red Sea, Speedwell, Hunter Gatherer, Hot Water Music, Rydell, Joshua, Kover, The Moirai, Rentokill, Nikson, The Blackout Argument, Breaching Vista, Junior Achiever, Fugo, Kyoto Drive, The Satellite Year, Nutcutters, WeCameFromWolves, Sirens & Shelter, etc as well as various benefit compilations and covers tributes to bands like Shudder To Think and Seaweed.
It’s gone full circle for the label, originally vinyl, then CD, into digital streams and now back again, with most releases on all three formats and even a few cassettes too! It’s not just about the release though, it’s more about the promotion, pr and distribution. We try to support and push all our bands and part of doing that is trading with and supporting other independent labels too. It’s back to that punk rock ethic of d.i.y. underground culture.
We get lots of streams but that doesn’t really help us or the bands. We sell a few records, but that was mainly at shows, so we need gigs to come back strongly after these long covid restrictions. Everyone should buy their favourite bands records, and try to support truly independent labels.
How has the culture of supporting the scene changed over the years, in your opinion? Is it somehow affected the way your record label operates today?
David: Well, like I said, digital streams don’t really help. A download is ok, or even a comment or like on a video, but really labels need people to buy the bands records and merchandise. We sell stuff online and post it out, we always have, but that costs more and more every day, so gigs are still the best way to promote bands and move records. There needs to be more of them so support your local venues and promoters. Generally record sales seem to have slowed. We really have to watch costs as each release has to pay for the next really.
What are the plans for the future of Engineer Records? Are there any exciting new releases you would like to recommend to our readers?
David: Ah yes, some of our new releases are the best we’ve ever had. Check out bands like Bear Away, All Aboard!, Neckscars, Tired Radio, Jukebox Romantics, The Stayawakes, Born Infected, Stubborn Will, or Barking Poets and you’ll be blown away! Just go to https://www.engineerrecords.com where you can watch videos or listen to clips, or any of our social media.
Our next release is a 7” for a quirky US indie band called The Dreaded Laramie, a co-label release with our friends at Sell The Heart and Wiretap Records. That’s a more common thing now, split label releases to spread the pr and distribution and cost of releasing records. We’ve always done it, but it happens a lot more now.
Then we’ll have The Atlantic Union Project 12” and CD, followed by the new Bear Away album on LP and CD too. I’m speaking with a great new band called Abermals, they’re from Mallorca and remind me of Piebald or Promise Ring so that’ll be good. There’s other bands on the label going into the studio soon and we’ll just have to see what comes out of it. We take each day as it comes, but have no intention of stopping.
Besides Engineer Records, you are publishing books under Earth Island Books. Can you tell me something more about it? How do you get on the idea of becoming a book publisher?
David: Well as well as playing in bands and running the record label I’ve always be into publishing. I started with my own fanzine, BHP, back in the day and I like to see ideas become reality. I’ve had to get jobs to fund releases and tours in the past, of course, and a few years ago set up my own publishing company called Earth Island. We work mainly on magazines, about design, print, packaging and the environment, and that pays me and a few friends a wage. During the quieter times in the covid lockdowns we decided to use the contacts and knowledge from our publishing company to further our passion for punk and alternative lifestyle so started Earth Island Books to publish books about punk and hardcore, or written by punkers I know. We’ve been going nearly two years already now and have published twelve books so far. Just check out: https://www.earthislandbooks.com for more details. There are some real crackers there. For us it is all about quality and the right subject matter.
Your authors are people from the underground punk rock scene, experienced zinesters, writers, and fellow musicians. Do you plan to keep it that way, or maybe some other non-music-related authors are also welcome in Earth Island Books?
David: Currently our authors are mainly people from the underground punk rock scene, experienced zinesters, writers, and fellow musicians, like Ian Glasper and Tim Cundle, Alex Anesiadis and Roy Delaney, but we would welcome anyone and are speaking with several new authors now. It has to be quality, but as I said, we like to make ideas reality, and being old-school nerds, we like physical tactile things rather than digital where possible too. Any authors should check out our catalogue and get in touch.
I believe you’re also working on the book. Can you reveal some details about it to the readers of our website?
David: Yes, well, its interesting, like we discussed in this interview, I’ve been in the scene a while and know a lot of the big bands, having shared the stage with them and sat chatting over a few beers. I speak with my own friends, and my two sons, about some stories from these gigs and they say, man, you need to write that down, so one day I did. The more I scribbled down my notes the more I remembered, and it made me laugh out loud very often. It also made me realise that it was the people, the promoters, the venues, the audience, just as much as the bands. It’s all one big family. I hear a lot of third-hand nonsense about bands and people too. I was there, I met them, I partied with them and I can tell you what really happened and what they are like, so at least you’ll get te first-hand version if you are interested. So, I am writing a book about the scene and my own experiences in it, focusing on the time from Couch Potatoes to Rydell, but looking at the other bands and people involved. It may not be of any interest at all to anyone other than me and my old bandmates, but there you go. I’m doing it anyway and if I finish it with something that could be worth printing then I’m in the very lucky position where I can. It’s actually nearly done but I keep going back adding stuff and want it to be better. At some point I’ll just have to stop and go for it. Right now it includes all sorts of ups and downs of life in a relatively unknown gigging band, from sleeping on the floor in piss-smelling German squats to raucous Christmas parties hanging out with Green Day. If it’s any good, then I want to write a book about Engineer Records and all our bands and releases too, maybe mentioning my more recent band adventures. I’m sure no-one cares, but I’ll do it anyway, and it’ll be a positive love-letter to the scene we are all a part of.
What does the future holds for Earth Island Books? Are there any new titles planned for the future?
David: Yes, we have lots planned. The book we are currently shipping out by the boxload is ‘We can be the new wind’ by Alex Anesiadis, all about pop-punk bands and no doubt including some of your favourites as there are loads in there, from 7 Seconds to All, Pegboy to Superchunk! We’ve also just published Ian Glasper’s new collections of metal and punk band interviews from his time at Terrorizer magazine. This one is in two volumes as it includes so much good stuff, featuring everyone from Discharge to SNFU. And right now, our latest book, is a hilarious comedy novel by Roy Delaney, the drummer of UK punk band Hacksaw, all about the worst Eurovision song contest ever, with all the mishaps and mayhem you can imagine from that. Up next, we’re discussing an updated collection of several hardcore fanzines into book form and then a great series of books about The Clash albums too. We’re pretty much always up to something and welcome any suggestions.
That’s pretty much it. Thank you so much for your time. Is there anything you would like to say to our readers at the end of this interview?
David: Thank you, Thoughts Words Action, for your time and the interview. I hope a few people have found this interesting and maybe you’ll come and visit us at Engineer Records or Earth island Books. Please check out our bands and authors. Their art is superb and important. There’s plenty of room in this scene for everyone to support and help each other. Here’s to Unity, Creativity and Positivity!