Interview with Gared O'Donnell, Planes Mistaken For Stars, August 2006

I recently visited a Wovenhand concert and met Chuck French and Neil Keener who currently form 50% of Wovenhand, beside their involvement in their own band, Git Some and their past with Planes Mistaken For Stars. I was glad to meet them because it also reminded me of the fact that I still have an interview with Gared, the singer, in the vaults somewhere that needs to be published in written form. That interview is pretty old by now. I made it in August 2006, made the radio show and forgot about it. Many things have happened since then. Planes Mistaken For Stars released Mercy, their last album, before breaking up in 2008. But Chuck and Neil told me that Planes Mistaken For Stars are back together, re-releasing Mercy on Deathwish and working on a new album and tour. Good news, all around and about time I write down that interview, so here we go.

From l.t.r.: Gared O'Donnell, Mike Ricketts, me, Chuck French and Neil Keener, August 12., 2006
(Photo: S.R.)

R.: Up In ThemGuts had a real good flow as an album. What can we expect from Mercy?
Gared O'Donnell: I think the new album has a pretty good flow to it. It’s got more songs that stand on their own than Up In Them Guts. Up In Them Guts really was…a piece…from start to finish. The new record is like that in some respects but in another respects it kind of has songs that you could remove from the record and put on a 7”. I think it’s a nice balance between Up In Them Guts and some of the older stuff.

R.: You were supposed to tour with Converge but that didn’t happen. What happened?

Gared: There was just a bunch of stuff happening. Chuck’s daughter was being born, so he wasn’t going to be able to do the tour. We called up Jamie Drier - our old bass player - to fill in. It was going to be nice because we never really had much closure – there wasn’t a last tour with him. So when we went to get him we got a call from his mother that his dad was dying. Obviously we scrapped the tour. We had to cancel the tour because of births and deaths… [laughter] The two biggest reasons you could possibly have. We were gutted… no, we’re gutted about it now because at that time we didn’t think about the tour too much. We got our own stuff to deal with. But it’s a bummer because Converge are old friends of ours and they were one of the first bands that took us out on tour. Right when Fuck With Fire came out. It was us, Converge, American Nightmare and Hope Conspiracy. It was a great time. I wouldn’t rule it out. We’re probably going to be here with them next time or in the near future. We are very like-minded. We’re not the same sonically but I think that our approach is very similar, our attitude about what we do.

R.: Did deaths and births influence the new record then?

Gared: Every record that we write is like a time capsule. It is supposed to be a document of that time, of the surroundings. I strife to just be as honest as possible. For prosperity’s sake. The records are supposed to be kind of like a journal for a period in our life. Up In Them Guts was about the three years between Fuck With Fire and Up In Them Guts and now Mercy is about that time period between Up In Them Guts and now.

R.: Could you tell me something about your process of writing?

Gared: It’s a mixed bag. Sometime we’ll have the song first and then we tailor the lyrics around it. I always have a ton of stuff written. Until I hear the song the lyrics aren’t finished. I think it is very important – and I think not many people try to do this anymore – to tailor a song around a mood or a feeling. I think it is very important that the lyrics fit with more sonic aspects. We all just come to the table with what we have and it kind of falls together. Sometimes it doesn’t fall together. Sometimes it’s an uphill battle to get the song right.

R.: So what influences you as a band while writing an album?

Gared O'Donnell: Just Life, living, Whiskey, Sex...

Mike Ricketts: Whatever I listen to or am into at that time I try to draw from it.
Gared: ...humility, humanity... The whole process of breathing. [laughter]

R.: So what were you listening to in the tour bus today?

Chuck French: We were listening to Marvin Gaye today. And...

Gared O'Donnell: ...Thin Lizzy. Neil Young. Curtis Mayfield.... 

Chuck French: ...New Model Army. Jesus Lizard.

Gared O'Donnell: Mostly old stuff. There’s not a whole lot of new stuff that we collectively listen to. 

Mike Ricketts: A few things here and there but…

Gared O'Donnell: Few and far between. I just don’t know what it is...

Neil Keener: They don’t make Rock’n’Roll like they used to. [laughter]

Gared O'Donnell: Yeah. That's what it is. [laughter]

R.: In a lot of interviews I heard that bands that play loud or heavy music just like to relax in the tour bus.

Gared: The general feeling that I get these days is that all the bands that we listen to were their own entity. They didn’t come from the same cookie cutter. I think a lot of contemporary music  - whether it’s punk rock, or hardcore, or whether it’s pop music - people instead of doing their own thing and trying to be inspirational and trying to be inspired they are trying to be successful. The main goal of older bands and bands that we really respect and love was that they didn’t want to play music they have to. And that is where we’re coming from. Their goal was to be creative and to have that catharsis, to exorcise those demons. If success came along with that, then that’s even better. That’s great. I would love to make a living doing this. But I’m not gonna fucking compromise. If we wanted to sound like – you name it – we probably could. Mikey’s an amazing drummer. There’s nobody better than Mikey in my eyes. The hard thing is to do your own thing. Sometimes it is frustrating ‘cause you see so many people who have achieved certain levels of success. And you’re like: “Why?” They sound just like… whatever band. You pick it. How many bands do we need that sound exactly like… well I’m not gonna name names…

R.: Please do! [laughter]

Gared: No. But you see what I’m saying. The stuff that we listen to are people that stood alone and did their own thing. Like The Jesus Lizard, for example. Name a band that sounds like the Jesus Lizard. Besides the Birthday Party. Jesus Lizard sounds like The Birthday Party. But that’s a different story. That’s me being a record geek. I could go on. [laughter]

R.: Do you all live in the same city? Is it easy making music together?

Gared: Yeah, yeah. It’s not hard and it’s not necessarily easy because we all have families. When we’re at home we all do our own things but we also hang out. You kind of have to remove yourself from that not becoming your identity. Or you just end up being a creep. [laughter]

R.: Do you see yourselves in a certain genre?

Gared: We’re a Rock’n’Roll band. Just a Rock’n’Roll band. It’s just Rock. Why limit yourself to a genre? Especially if you’re talking about Punkrock and Hardcore it’s such a limited and limiting genre. You only have so much of a window to work with and if you’re straight out of that window you’re not Punkrock, you’re not Hardcore. With those things it has a lot more to do with style than substance. 

Mike Ricketts: It goes back to those bands that are rehashing what’s already been done. If you try to tailor yourself to a certain genre, or try to be a certain style, then you’re not being true to yourself.  To me, music should be as honest as possible. You shouldn’t try to limit yourself by genres. It’s really hard being inside a band and trying to label yourself because it kind of defeats the purpose, you know.

R.: If you want, make a wish for a song to be played on my show.

Gared: I would say, play Gentleman by Afghan Wigs. That’s a great song.

Chuck: I’d say, Bad Reputation by Thin Lizzy.

R.: Why?

Chuck: Because it fucking rips! [laughter]

Neil: I would say Cortez the Killer by Neil Young.

Mike:  The first song off Deep Purple in Rock. It’s one of the best songs ever. And Two Headed-Dog by Roky Erickson and the Aliens.

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