“When we decided to get back together, making a new record was part of the deal,” bassist Joel Tannenbaum told Vanyaland this week as he and singer/guitarist Brian McGee and drummer Sean Rule prepare to descend upon Great Scott in Allston this Sunday night. “Writing songs and playing shows were always intertwined for us. We literally do not know any other way to be a band. We were already writing and swapping demos months before Riot Fest.”
At the point of the reconvening, the underground history of Plow United was already steeped in lore, having been primarily based on the east coast but venturing out with some national acts and famously (or infamously) aborting a European tour before throwing in the proverbial towel do to the unrealistic attempts to balance life in general with the typical music-industry-based frustrations. There was a certain mystique in keeping things in the past; especially with punk rock often regarded as a young man’s game, making the Riot Fest appearance that much more out of the blue.
“If we’d wanted to be taken out of carbon freeze and wheeled onstage at a big festival to play our 20 least unknown songs, and that was the extent of it, that would have been pretty easy to pull off,” Tannenbaum says. “When we agreed to start playing again, we wanted to be a working band, not a nostalgia act, and that’s a little trickier. And it’s not like people are sitting around wanting you to fail, but there is a sort of ready-made narrative out there of ‘band gets back together, doesn’t get it anymore, makes shitty overproduced album’ and people tend to like easy narratives.”
Having decided to dial it back to the beginning, Tannenbaum says they focused on writing Marching Band the way they used to write records. “We tried to be true to ourselves, and to make music and to write words we believed in, and once all that was done there was this long period where you’re left wondering if people are gonna give it a listen on its own merits, but there’s not much you can do about it.”
The result is a bit like stepping back into a time machine. Marching Band has the energy, the sense of daring and a flow that isn’t forced in the least. Most tracks check in under the two-and-a-half minute mark with in your face titles like, “The War is Over and Our Side Won” and “The World is a Slum.”
“Well, first of all, if anything, Sean has more energy now than he did in the 1990s, so that helps a lot,” Tannenbaum says. “I have no explanation for this — although I do have a few theories about secret genetic tests performed on babies in Delaware in the early 1970s. It’s just how he is. So yeah, we load in, we get levels, Sean starts playing, and Brian and I try to keep it up.”
The first single off Marching Band is titled “Act Like It.” The refrain, “you got no future, you might as well act like it,” repeats throughout the song, but the last thing it could be about is what lies in store for Plow United. Tannenbaum cops to genuine mix of emotions when the guys began moving forward again, but it’s sort of evened out.
“Surprised, confused, shocked, terrified — you name it,” he says. “But more than anything we are just grateful that people are interested and wanna hear the songs and want to come to the shows and hang out. It’s the best feeling in the world.”