Texan pop punk group Bowling for Soup is a classic band that we all blared on our radio driving to and from school. With hits like “1985” and “Stacey’s Mom”, we can’t help but reminisce on our punk phases. Yet for Bowling for Soup, the punk scene has stuck with them and so have their fans. With over 20 albums in their discography, these guys aren’t going out of style any time soon. BFS played a show at the Hi-Fi last weekend, and PATTERN chatted with bassist Erik Chandler to discuss the early years, the band members’ personal relationships, and their keys to success.
Aubrey Smith: For someone who has a well-defined music style, do you ever miss the good old days when you went from band to band, still trying to figure it all out musically?
Erik Chandler: That’s a hard question to answer because I still write in several different styles personally. And I know Jaret does as well. It’s cool to know that BFS knows where we’re going. It’s cool for our audience as well because they’re pretty sure what a Bowling for Soup album will sound like. We’re not trying to reinvent our wheel. There are plenty of people, who I have major respect for, that do. Jeff Tweedy is one of my favorite songwriters of all time. But with every Wilco album, I have no idea what it’s going to sound like. I’m going to buy and listen to it and I’m probably going to love it. It may take me a couple of times through listening to get my head around exactly where it’s going.
That makes it nice for us and our audience, but there was some charm back in the day. This band started when I was 19 years old. At 16, 17, and 18, when I was just starting to cut my teeth (as far as bands go), I was in a few bands at the same time. No band sounded like the other. It’s like, ‘OK, I gotta go over here and write these kinds of songs for this band and then I gotta go write this acoustic folky country stuff for this band.’ Chris and I were in the same bands at the same time. One was this screwed up funk band and the other was this all-acoustic, slightly hippy (in the sense of 10,000 Maniacs) folk. But it was interesting switching gears between the two because we would do back-to-back rehearsals. But I was young. I had a lot of stuff rolling around in my head.
AS: Sounds like you have a lot of fond memories of that time.
EC: Oh yeah, it was fun. We had a blast. Both of those bands broke up at the same time, and Jaret’s band with our original drummer broke up within a month of each other. That situation is how Bowling for Soup got its start.
AS: What songs were you most eager to remake on Songs People Actually Liked? Was it a completely different experience to record them with all the new production technology?
EC: It was really tough to decide which songs we were going to re-record. All of them are special in different ways for all of us. You gotta take everyone’s opinions into consideration. We knew which ones that we wanted, but we wanted to know which ones other people wanted us to re-record. Because we would sit here and redo all of them if we could. It even came to a point when we were a couple days into the session and we were like, ‘Oh crap! We forgot about this one. Yep, we gotta do that!’ Then there’s three or four more added on to the end. And then finally it’s like, ‘OK we gotta stop. This is the definitive list.’ We had to stop so we wouldn’t get in way over our heads.
AS: You would just re-record your entire discography.
EC: Yeah, exactly.
AS: Do you ever feel like you know your bandmates a little too well? Do you stay in constant contact with them when you’re on break?
EC: We absolutely know each other too well. The four of us know each other better than we know anybody else, including significant others. On the road, we have a rule of common courtesy. That’s what keeps people sane and from blowing up on each other. I’ve washed people in the shower before because they needed help from injuries and sh*t like that. For lack of a better term, we have a very intimate four-way relationship. It’s beyond friendship. It’s more of a family situation. We are in pretty much constant contact with each other when we’re at home. These days it’s more via text. We have a band and crew text grid. Then we have a band only text grid.
AS: The secret group.
EC: Exactly. So we can talk sh*t about them! But we don’t live as close to each as we used to anymore. Jaret and Gary see each other quite a lot because they live 10 to 15 minutes away from each other. Chris is about half an hour from them, and they are all up on the north side of the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
I live downtown. So to get to any of them, it’s almost an hour’s drive. If we have band lunch (which we try to do once a month so we can at least all four get together), it’s under the guise that we are going to talk business. But it’s more talking about our kids and ‘oh my God my dog sh*t on the floor the other day…’ It’s more doing that to make sure we keep our connection and nobody gets too far off the rails. It’s keeps us connected in a good way.
AS: Before social media could make someone famous, you had to tour your ass off. How did you grow individually, as well as a band, from all the years and years of touring without rest?
EC: Well that’s where the relationship we have with each other developed. We spent nine years touring in a band. That’s tough. We were doing 200+ shows a year touring in a van. We did the count the other day – we went through six vans in the nine years that we were touring. Our first one was an old beater. El Guapo was his name. That van… [laughs] oh God… that’s where we learned what it was going to be like. There was a period of time where we just could not get the thermostat on the radiator fixed. When we toured Texas in the summer, we couldn’t run the air conditioner or our van would overheat. So we got in the van, rolled the windows down, opened up all the pop-out windows, and rode to the next town in our underwear. If we were driving at night when it cooled down a bit, that was a treat. That was still Texas in the summer; over 90 degrees at night, but just cool enough to run the conditioner without overheating the van. We learned a lot from that van. From then on, we bought new vans.
AS: Did each van have a special place in your heart?
EC: A couple did. They all had names. We were stoked about one we bought because it was a conversion van with a high top and back seat that folded down into a bed. Then the captains chairs in the middle would fold down so you could actually get some decent rest. We quickly named that van Meadowlark because it was lemon.
AS: What advice would you give the 20-year-old you if you could go back in time?
EC: Keep doing it. Don’t get discouraged. We almost packed it in about three years in. I had some screwed up personal sh*t going on. There was actually a time when I was waiting to be kicked out of the band. We made it through that stuff, came out on the other side, and were a stronger unit for it. We’ve only had one personnel change in the entire time. Our original drummer wasn’t happy doing it. He was still hanging on. Once he decided to leave, our new drummer… our new drummer, who’s been in the band for what, 17, 18 years now… It was like everyone was on the same page and moved forward.
When one person isn’t having a good time, it brings a toxicity to the whole situation. It’s just sticking through that and getting to the other side of it. Then things become better. I don’t know that I was ever really discouraged. Through all those times, we were constantly moving forward in an upward direction and gaining a following when we were still just mainly touring in Texas, which is pretty remarkable. There are Texas country artists that make a ton, ton, ton of money touring just in Texas. It’s just so big, you can go everywhere. From Texarkana on the East to El Paso on the west is a 16 hour drive. Halfway from Los Angeles to Dallas, Texas is El Paso, Texas. So there’s a lot of places you can play there.
So we were just going around in Texas and decided that we needed to start expanding. That was one of the first big mistakes we made. We thought, ‘We have this going for us in Texas, so let’s go on a national tour.’ That’s what you do so people can see you play. Right? That’s not the case at all. [laughs] We were still a little bit naive thinking we were going to roll into Virginia Beach on a Tuesday night. Here’s this band from Texas who no one has ever heard of in Virginia Beach. We got ourselves into a lot of credit card debt, and that took us a while to take care of. But we did it, and we learned from it. That was the biggest thing. We had no idea what we were doing. The only way we learned how to do things right was to screw up miserably and then have to figure our way out of these messed up situations that we found ourselves in.
AS: But that’s how you grow. You can’t mature if you keep succeeding.
EC: Yeah, exactly. That’s what has kept everybody levelheaded. Nothing was ever handed to us. That’s a problem a lot of times with a lot of young artists, especially in the pop field, where somebody is just plucked, groomed, and handed this thing that is very special. Not that they didn’t work toward being there, but they didn’t have to go through the absolute grind because all the sudden some record label has poured out tons of money.
It doesn’t exactly work this way, but – ‘Here! We’re just going to buy you a top ten hit by sinking this much promotion into your stuff.’ By the time that we got into the major label aspect, we’ve been through enough to say that’s not how it works. To keep our own identity with the big wigs trying to say ‘do this and do that,’ we can say ‘oh no, that’s not how we do things.’ That ended up being great, but it also caused problems for us with records labels.
There came a point when nobody at our record label wanted to work with us because we didn’t like doing what we were told. They were used to having artists that would. But at the same time, that was a period of time being surrounded by an amazing group of people there. When we found the people that wanted to work with us, they were like, ‘I like the way these guys work.’ They were old school.
AS: There’s a level of respect there.
EC: Yeah, they were old school folks that liked our attitude. They liked that we would say what we thought and not just follow orders. Now, coming out of it and being on the independent side, having our own record label and crowd funding, it’s made all the difference in the world because we’ve seen it from both sides. We own the record label and actually make money selling CDs now. Which is something that never happened back in the day. You know, several million albums sold world-wide and never saw a penny. Now that we are out of the major label situation, it’s all on our own. We are now like, ‘Oh that’s what that feels like. That’s cool.’
AS: ‘This is actually rewarding.’
EC: [laughs] Yeah!
AS: What’s the best and worst thing about writing a chart-topping song?
EC: I don’t know that there’s a worst thing about it to be honest with you. There are a lot of artists who will regret some of their hits or be upset that they play shows where people come to hear that one song. We’ve been lucky enough to have fans that are not like that. People were yelling out deep album cuts the first night of this tour, for instance. We’re like, ‘Seriously?! OK, wouldn’t have thought that and we haven’t played that in three years… uhhh you guys know… it starts on C, OK 1, 2, 3, 4….’ So that’s really cool.
But there are a lot of people like the dude from Flock of Seagulls. This is not calling anybody out or saying anything that he hasn’t already said himself on many occasions. He absolutely hates playing ‘I Ran’ and is very vocal about the fact that he hates playing it. That was their one big hit. People come to see them play and only want to hear ‘I Ran’. And he’s like, ‘we still play it because that’s what people came to see, but I just hate playing it.’ My whole thought behind that is, isn’t that an awesome crowd reaction to the thing you started doing this for? If there’s a song that I wrote thirty years ago that people still want to come hear me play, why wouldn’t I enjoy playing that?
Luckily, [knocks on fake wood] knock on wood, [knocks on real wood] I found some real wood. Luckily, we get to play a nice mix of the entire 23 years. It’s a little weighted to some of the earlier stuff right now because we go with the idea of: you don’t see Foreigner because you want to hear the new Foreigner album. But we’ll throw in a couple of pieces from the newer album, and everybody seems to love it. But when people call out songs from the newer albums and that we never intended to play live because there’s just no room in the set for it, that becomes a big problem. We’re getting upwards of 20 albums.
AS: Right, how do you even chose?
EC: You get an hour and a half to play every night. So it’s a difficult ordeal. Some nights when we’re calling audibles and playing songs that we hadn’t intended to play, then we start skipping stuff that we meant to play. After the show, we’ll be sitting on the bus and saying, ‘Holy crap, we didn’t play this one!’ But it works itself out. But to simply answer your question, I don’t think there is a bad side to writing a chart-topping hit. The good side is people enjoy hearing it!
Feature photograph by Will Bolton. Portrait photograph by Wil Foster.