This time, our Linescratchers interviewee needs little introduction. Ian Fowles is best known by the many bands he plays in and has played in, among these are Death By Stereo, Sense Field, Further Seems Forever, Hunter Revenge, and, more recently, The Aquabats! Ian is a quite articulate, thoughtful musician with an impressive resume, and it is our pleasure to present our latest Linescratchers interview with him. He talks about life on the road, his LDS faith, and The Aquabats!
To find The Aquabats! on iTunes, click here.
First of all, you’re the second Linescratchers interview from the OC. How’s the music scene in Orange County?
A: It’s great. Orange County California has a very rich musical history, and it seems to increase every decade. I don’t know that I could even make a comprehensive list of all the bands that are from here or whose members grew up or live here now. From No Doubt to Thrice, or The Adolescents to Cold War Kids. Every genre seems to get represented. It’s close enough to LA to play lots of shows but far enough away to distance yourself from the varied pitfalls of that scene. There is a real DIY ethic here and great camaraderie between bands.
You have been involved with several successful bands including Death By Stereo, Sense Field, The Aquabats, Further Seems Forever, and Hunter Revenge. Do you consider yourself a “gun for hire” or do you feel an emotional connection with each of these bands as well?
A: Well, each band is definitely a part of my life, so of course I have an emotional connection with the people, places, and music I experienced while playing with each outfit. With Death By Stereo, I started that band with some of my best friends and those times will always be cherished. Just watching something grow up from nothing—watching your dreams and hard work materialize is amazing. However, I left that band to serve a two year mission for the LDS church. I was technically a hired gun in Sense Field, Further Seems Forever, and now Hunter Revenge and also a band called Checkpoint Charley (who also has LDS members). However now, like in Death By Stereo, I am a full-fledged member of The Aquabats! and it’s great to have a little more stability and be able to contribute more to songwriting. It’s been an easy transition, and one of the most fun and congenial groups of people and musicians one could hope to associate with. Even though I haven’t been a member of The Aquabats! from the beginning, we have traveled in the same circles over the years and share many of the same influences, both musical and artistic.
Tell us how you got started with music. Is your family particularly musical?
A: There weren’t really musical instruments around when I was young, but my dad did have a sizable record collection. He would play a lot of music around the house… a lot of the classics like Led Zeppelin, Cream, The Doors, The Cars, etc. I tried playing the cello and the clarinet in elementary school but didn’t like either very much and quit each after a couple months. It was actually the movie Back to the Future that made me want to pick up a guitar. As cheesy as this sounds, when I was younger I saw the film and wanted to play guitar like Michael J. Fox’s character Marty McFly. I wanted to jump off an amp and play behind my head – all of the awesome rock clichés.
So before I got a guitar I would run around my house with a baseball bat or umbrella pretending it was a guitar. Eventually my grandmother bought me a guitar, I took a few lessons, and then I would play all day long. I had formed bands and was playing shows by the time I was 14 (including some of my first shows with Cory Matthews’ band – another Linescratchers interviewee). By the time I was 19 I had received the Louis Armstrong Jazz award in High School, recorded numerous 7” records with my own bands (something bands used to have to do to gain credibility and a following) and played with fairly well known underground punk bands like AFI, Lit, Good Riddance, The Groovie Ghoulies, DI, The Nerve Agents, etc., etc.
Have you been LDS your whole life? How do your beliefs influence your life or music?
A: Yes. I was born and raised LDS and my beliefs and practices encompass everything I do and every choice I make, which of course includes music. When I was younger I was a lot more frustrated and the music I wrote really reflected that. It was just hard, fast and aggressive. It seems a natural progression that as you get older your tastes broaden and accordingly I gained more interest in the more melodic side of music. I also realized I didn’t really have that much to be truly frustrated about, and the bands I played with reflected that transition.
Music and religion are my two biggest interests and passions, and they are each such personal things. So much so that I just finished my Master’s thesis discussing their relationship, and especially how Rock N’ Roll itself can be viewed as a religion. I’m hoping to eventually turn it into a book. I’m not saying I worship music, because I do not. However, I just find it fascinating how much, especially in recent years, rock music has come to fill a function strikingly similar to religion in many people’s lives.
Is it difficult to reconcile a touring musician’s lifestyle with a more “traditional” LDS lifestyle?
A: That is a hard question. I think it is difficult for ANYONE to reconcile a touring musician’s existence with ANY lifestyle, let alone a “traditional” LDS one. There are a lot of jobs that require people to travel, and are seen as “acceptable”, but a touring musician is often labeled a vagabond or wanderer. If people only knew that it really is extremely exhausting hard work, and what we do brings some light into the lives of people, they might think differently.
While on the road there is the subtle deception of progression because you are always moving, always on the go, while in reality the things that matter most are at home being neglected. It is a sticky situation because it is something musicians love to do: play live shows as much as they can – but it takes them away from the ones they love and makes it harder to become stable in almost any other endeavor or pursuit. At the same time, for some it is their livelihood and a way to provide. It can be a kind of a catch-22.
The hardcore/punk scene has a particularly bad reputation with drugs and self-destructive living. Do you feel you have a positive impact on the scene?
A: Yes, definitely. It is actually a more open-minded and free thinking scene than one would think, and I get respect from those around me. There seems to be a lot of rising musicians in the scene that value the music more than anything and don’t want their behavior to jeopardize their chance to continue doing what they love. Plus I have been lucky enough to be with (for the most part) artists that haven’t been as associated with the self-destructive trappings so often popularized by the mass media. Guys in Further Seems Forever shared many Christian values with me, and in The Aquabats!, there are a couple other active LDS members in the band.
Would you encourage or discourage other LDS musicians from choosing a touring life?
A: That is a hard question to answer because I believe it is case specific. It depends on so many factors—the individual, the band, roadie vs. artist, touring conditions, etc. There are some scenarios that I would encourage and others I would not. All I can say is that for me it has been an amazing opportunity and education. I have been places, met people, and experienced so much through touring that I believe it has influenced my life for the positive. I have been really lucky to have done something I love, get paid for it, and travel to over 40 states and 14 countries.
The Aquabats are known for their costumes, masks, and other stage antics. How is playing shows for them different than the other bands you’ve been in?
A: The Aquabats! truly are a wonder. They are an anomaly. In 2006 we did a tour with Rancid, and the next year played on a children’s television show. Not many bands can do that. They kind of have something for everybody. Every night is different and I am still entertained during our shows while I’m on-stage. Our singer has some pretty funny lines from time to time. They definitely don’t take themselves very seriously, which can be a breath of fresh air from the sometimes over-serious punk/hardcore/emo scene. While I am behind that mask in costume, I can really become a character and act as ridiculous as I want. It’s very cathartic in a way.
Have you considered doing solo projects of your own?
A: Well right now I am trying to get something going with just me and Jon Bunch (vocalist of Sense Field, Further Seems Forever). Every year it gets harder finding committed, talented people who you can work closely with. Time also becomes scarce. It is always very hard work getting a new project off the ground than just keeping your current one going.
What goals do you have in your life for your music? Do you want to do it for the rest of your life?
A: Playing music is part of me and I hope to keep going as I have for as long as possible. Of course that would be ideal. I would suggest reading the treatise/lament on being an aging punk in the liner notes of Good Riddance’s “Ballads From the Revolution” record. Vocalist Russ Rankine really articulates the situation well. Some argue that rock musicians however seem to have a shelf life as far as relevance is concerned. I remember reading an interview with Tom Morello (guitarist of Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, The Nightwatchman) who (while commenting on the line “you grow up and you calm down” in the Clash song Clampdown) said something to the effect of all rock musicians should have to quit at 30 or 35. He claimed all of their potency as effective catalysts for change wears off by then. First off, he surely isn’t obeying his own rule and secondly, I don’t know that I agree because I look at bands that continue to put out great material as they age, or don’t even put out their best stuff until they are older. I’m sure I will always play music. The question becomes at what degree or frequency or level or whatever word fits. Music is just so magical. It takes you to another place. There are moments in my life that a single song has had such an impact on me it is indescribable. I would hope to try to create that for others as long as I could, just as I appreciate those who continue to record and perform even if it is not very profitable.
How can we support your music and your career?
A: At this point I guess it’s just kind of the standard answers of buying a cd and coming out to a show. Also if you or anyone you know need a guitarist or bassist for your recording or live performance, send me a message via my personal MySpace page (www.myspace.com/ian1138 ) and if I am available I would like to play. Keep checking http://www.theaquabats.com/ for upcoming tour dates and news on our possible television series debut.