Pop-punk has some deep-rooted history in San Diego. Mainstream bands such as Pierce the Veil and Blink-182 were born and bred here, leading the way for other pop-punk bands to follow. What’s nice is that a revival seems to be taking place with this type of sound and music, with both of the previously mentioned bands and many others releasing new, airwave-grabbing hits this past year. Seeing local bands such as Alive & Well creating some comparable, yet incredibly original, pop-punk tunes during this moment in music is exciting.
PACIFIC recently sat down with Matt Vernon and Mike Mule, two members of the hardcore-influenced, make-you-wanna-dance band, at Modern Times Beer in North Park to chat about moving from Philadelphia, the band’s first EP and what’s on the horizon for the up-and-coming San Diego-based musicians.
PACIFIC: How and when did you guys first start playing together?
Mike Mule: The beginning of the band was Jan. 1, 2014. We were at Underbelly downtown and I was wearing a Chariot (a metalcore band from Georgia) hoodie. (Matt and I) started small talk at the bar because of the jacket. It’s a band that not a lot of people out here know, so if someone’s wearing it you’re going to acknowledge it. I had another hardcore band at the time (I Trust You To Kill Me), so after talking I asked him to come out to the show ... The guy who started (I Trust You To Kill Me) had left, so I reached out to Matt later on telling him we needed someone to fill in, if he was interested. He was like, “Yeah, shoot me the email of all the songs and I’ll learn it.” Funny story, when I shot him the email, we had chatted online through craigslist, like, a year prior, but never met up. So a string of emails came up and it was like, “What? You’re that dude?” So we’re both, like, Philly kids and both from the East Coast, probably been to a handful of shows together and had just never knew until we met at Underbelly.
Matt Vernon: At that point in time, I was replacing the last original member of that band, called I Trust You To Kill Me ... So, then the drummer ended up taking a job in San Francisco and so it was like, “Well, band’s over.” I had been writing a bunch of pop-punk songs, meeting with guitarists and stuff on the side, though. So I asked Mike, “Do you wanna do this?” and he was like, “Absolutely!” I asked him, “Ever play bass?” He was like, “Nope!”
Mule: Yep, so now I play bass. The first couple practices were weird. You know, how do you go from 13 years of guitar to bass? All I wanted to do was play guitar on the bass. It’s actually a lot more fun because I get to run around.
Vernon: If you know Mike, he’s already like a hype-man for life anyway, so if you take some of the responsibility away with less strings, he can just run amok on stage. His bass is wireless now, too.
Your first EP, “From Basements to Beaches” came out in June. What inspired that album?
Vernon: The first album was about me moving to California. It was everything I wanted it to be. Everything on it was about my decision to move, the transition, and that’s the whole EP, basically.
Mule: The title came from, you know, playing basement shows - and now there are no basements. It’s the idea of being in a whole new world, man.
Vernon: Everyone in the band has a similar take; we all have the same kind of story of moving. We were discussing what to do (for the album cover photo shoot), and how our band works is (that) we think of these giant ideas and are like, “OK, we have to do it." We were like, “Let’s put a couch on the beach. No, let’s build a whole basement.” So it was a lot of fun: 3 a.m., building the walls of this “basement” in my street. We rented a 25-foot box truck to take it to the beach. It was so much fun.
Mule: The photographer was, like, shocked when we had a basement. They thought we’d just have some, like, couches and a table and we were, like, “Oh, no, we built a whole basement for it.” That’s kind of the theme of our band - we don’t do anything the easy way.
Where did you record?
Vernon: We did the EP at this place called The Cottage in L.A., and it’s a studio owned and operated by Beau Burchell from Saosin that was a childhood hero of ours. Our drummer had a guy who knew a guy and we reached out. They told us to send them everything we had - from crappy phone recordings to full-on pre-pro. He reached back and said, “I’d love to work with you guys.” He has so much work coming to him, and he says no more than he says yes. So the fact that he was able to do it was something.
Mule: I think the first major shot for the band was like, “Dude, Beau from Saosin said yes.” He said he liked it. We did it in two different sessions, in January and March. The thing that got in the way (of finishing sooner) was Saosin, because (the band was) recording too, and so he was like, “I can’t for a second, I gotta do my own thing.” That was another funny thing: If it wasn’t for Saosin we would’ve had it done sooner.
Vernon: The whole time, we were like, “OK, let’s be professional and not fan girl the whole time.” As soon as he left, we were sitting in his studio and I got to pick up his guitar that I have a DVD from, like, 2006 of him playing. I played “Seven Years” on a Saosin guitar, in Saosin’s house and I just giggled myself to sleep.
Mule: He was a cool guy. It was really good. He taught me how to make coffee, because I f***ed up the coffee really bad ... I’d like to consider him a friend by now, I’m sure he tells our story of what not to do.
What have you been up to since the release?
Mule: We toured and we have ideas of new music, but nothing really concrete yet. We’ll record in the near future.
Vernon: We came off the tour we did in September and were, like, at this place where it’s only been six months since we made this last EP. A lot of bands may wait a year or more. We had such a good time on tour, we want to do both but it’s a very expensive and time-consuming thing.
Mule: We are all working in restaurants and retail, so once the holidays are over we can really try to plan a tour.
How is that - trying to balance working and band life?
Mule: Oh, it’s impossible. I’ve had to quit so many jobs or I’ve been let go of jobs. You’re making some sacrifices, but you’re also doing what you want to do. You make it work; if you want it to happen, you’ll do it.
Have you been able to book shows pretty easily in San Diego?
Vernon: There’s a huge market for shows, and the bands we play with are very welcoming. There’s a lot of shows and, in my experience, it’s a lot easier than getting shows on the East Coast.
Mule: Soda Bar and The Merrow have been great to us. The all-ages shows are harder to get, because there’s no bar, so they make sure you want to bring people in. San Diego (people are) weird, they’ll go to the show and they’re just there. C’mon, have fun and do something.
Why do you think the crowd is that way?
Mule: Two things. I think there’s something every night here, and whoever you’re inviting is here to do their own thing - a band, an actor, an artist. This is the land of that. People don’t have to care because they have other stuff going on.
Vernon: Part of the appeal of this place is that at home (on the East Coast), people get a job and they settle down and that’s perfectly fine. Here, though, it’s like lost boys and lost girls - where everyone has something they are pursuing.
Why do you guys play the pop-punk genre if hardcore is your personal favorite?
Mule: It’s just really fun. You can write the same hardcore song over and over again.
Vernon: You’re also limiting yourself, kind of (with hardcore). If you make it big in the heavier scene, you’re doing so despite all odds, no mainstream collaborations - there’s no market for it, really. I sing like a 14-year-old girl, so I’ve kind of embraced the fact that I sound like a pop singer. When people see our shows, it looks like dudes that have come from a hardcore band because it’s a wild show. I am very focused on making sure it’s being sung properly and played accurately, though.
What local bands do you like around town?
Mule: Our buddies all the time are the Montell Jordans, the guys we toured with. Hard To Hit, Short Stories ... there’s a band called Hot Nerds and they are real crazy, noisy and they’re a lot to take in at once. I saw them at the Hideout and they were awesome. Caskets is a fun band to watch, too. They’re more like the NOFX kind of pop-punk.
What’s the best venue you’ve played here?
Vernon: Soda Bar and The Merrow are tied for me. I love those venues.
Mule: I know not everyone in the band will agree with this, but I really like this place called the Industry in Chula Vista. I like it because of the potential. The dude that runs it is a pastor. So he does, like, church, then hardcore shows. It’s just a warehouse - the Take Offense dudes made the stage. Our show there was when it was first made, so it smelled like lumber. The tough thing about it is it’s in an industrial park, so there’s nothing around there and there’s no bar, so it’s hard to get people out there. But there’s a band called Angel Dust that came down and played there - and it was the craziest thing I have seen in, like, 10 years. The girls at the show ripped the mic out of the guy’s hands, jumping everywhere, and the guy was like, bewildered.
Vernon: There were just a bunch of girls in crew-neck sweaters just, like, screaming the songs.
Mule: Then, this band Turnstile played and I never saw so many full-tuck front flips from a lead singer. He would just flip into the crowd. There was that much of a crowd that you could do that. I like it because it reminds me of home and everyone is just there to have fun. I tapped the girl who stole the microphone and said, “Hey, that was awesome.” She just punched me and was like,"Thank you” and I was like, that’s awesome ... even though that punch actually kind of hurt.
What’s the goal for Alive & Well as we approach 2017?
Mule: The goal is really to tour more, and more full-time. We want to play Warped Tour. We would like to do an out-of-state tour, but a full U.S. tour would be awesome.
Vernon: We’d like to get signed, too.
Matt Vernon - vocals and guitar
Mike Mule - bass and vocals
Pat Hughes - lead guitar
Eric Brozgold - drums
Dec. 14: Silverlake Lounge in Los Angeles
Jan. 14: Soda Bar
Feb. 16: Tower Bar
For more information about Alive & Well, visit the band’s Facebook page.
About the brew
We grabbed beers with Mike and Matt of Alive & Well at Modern Times in North Park, also known as the Flavordome. This brewery, which lives off 30th Street, is one of two Modern Times tasting rooms in San Diego. The brewery offers 16 taps, growler fills, merchandise and its own brand of coffee at a location that’s central to the beer scene in North Park. 3000 Upas St., North Park. moderntimes.com