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Reglar Wiglar

An interview with Chicago's


Interview by C. Bales

Published in RW #21, 2005 

I met up with the new and improved Peelers this summer at a wine bar in Wicker Park, Chicago. The last show I saw them play was also the last show with all original members. Guitarist, Chris Shaughnessy, moved back to Louisville and bassist, Aaron Watkins, decided to go back to school and finish his art degree. Since then the Peelers have gone through several major changes, including a new line-up and a new record. They've also been through a tragedy; a week before this interview took place, former band mate, Aaron, died from cancer. At Aaron's memorial service I saw how hard this was on the band and on everyone who knew him..

REGLAR WIGLAR: Cheers guys. Thanks for doing a Reglar Wiglar interview.

ADAM: It's about time. Peelers gotta be on that.

RW: I hope you guys brought the questions.

NEIL: What questions? (laughs)

RW: The ones you want me to ask.

NEIL: You got the questions.

ADAM: You're the reporter, man. You just ask us shit. We'll just tell you stuff.

RW: No, no. This is the new wave of interviewing.

ADAM: We're not prepared.

RW: While we were waiting for Jason, I was thinking about the last time I'd seen the Peelers, it was the last show with the founding members. Chris Shaughnessy moved back to Louisville and Aaron went back to art school. I haven't experienced the new line up yet. I've just heard it referred to as the "cute boy line up."

JULIE: The Cute Boy Era. (laughs)

RW: Can you confirm or deny this?

NEIL: You know, hey, we try to do something right.

(Jason enters)

RW: So why don't you guys introduce yourselves for the Reglar Wiglar readers.

NEIL: (grabs mic) so, is this thing on right now? (blows into it)

JASON: Testing, testing.

RW: Yes. Yeah, it's on. It's ready.

ADAM: Alright. Yeah, this is kinda like a little spy, a little spy device. Testing, testing. So I'm Adam, I play guitar.

NEIL: I'm Neil, I'm the singer.

JASON: Jason, guitar.

RW: Okay, so this is part of the new Peelers line-up.

ADAM: Yes it is. We're missing Cory and Chad.

NEIL: Cory's in bed with a hangover.

JASON: He's the drummer.

RW: Really? That's why he's not here?

NEIL: And Chad's in Thailand.

RW: Thailand??? (amazed)

NEIL: He's currently working on a hangover.

RW: So the Peelers have been around since like, 2001?

NEIL: Roughly.

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RW: And how did you guys get together?

NEIL: That was Chris Shaughnessy, an old guitar player, he is the one who decided to get a band together. And him and Cory were talking about it and I kind of muscled my way in and I just said, I'm singin', I don't care what you guys say, I'm gonna do it.

RW: And had you ever sung in a band before?

NEIL: No. Not that band. I've been in other bands. They haven't been very good bands. (laughs) But this one's the best band I've been in, I think. And then we were looking for guitar players and Cory knew about Adam, so we asked Adam to come sit in and check it out and see what we could do, and it just kind of started clicking from there. Then we hired Aaron who's -- you know, 'noodling' -- gave him a spot in the Peelers. And then it just kind of progressed from there.

RW: Yeah, I remember, in its inception, there was like a lot of talk about the Peelers and getting together before you even started playing.

ADAM: Probably from Cory.

NEIL: Yeah, Cory was talking about it for a long time.

RW: Who came up with the name?

NEIL: That was Shaughnessy's idea. A friend of his in the Makers said, 'the next band I get into I'm going to call it the Peelers but I don't think that's going to happen so you can have the name.'

RW: Sweet. Nice hand-off.

ADAM: Yeah, yeah. Makers you know like garage-rock pedigree.

NEIL: We can't be confused with the Irish folk rock band in Canada called the Peelers. They were probably formed around the same time and you know they can't cross over into our territory.

RW: Have you copyrighted your name?

NEIL: Have we?

JASON: We just did. With this interview.

RW: Yeah, the Reglar Wiglar now copyrights band names.

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ADAM: Could you guys do that? So yeah, those guys, the Irish folk art band, are kind of like old and broke, and we're the new hotness.

RW: So, The Peelers have been going through a lot of changes in the last couple months. Starting in September you had a new line up change. So, Jason, you're the new guitarist, how did you become a member of the band?

JASON: I work at Delilah's with Neil and Chris, the old guitar player at the time, and he was leaving so I don't know if it was his decision or Neil's decision, but somehow I kind of forked my way in there through association of working together and we've been on the up and up ever since.

ADAM: Do you want one of these? (glass of wine) It's Spanish and it's good.

JASON: Sure. Si.

RW: So with the new line up, how do you think your sound has changed? How has your sound evolved?

ADAM: It's super tight, always super tight. And better.

NEIL: Better. It's more focused.

ADAM: Like the Peelers before were kind of like a big party—and it kind of still is—but in the sense that the music is more together.

NEIL: Like a tight party.

ADAM: Yeah, like a tight party. (laughs)

RW: Do you think it's because you've found your own sound -- your own voice? -- or do you think it's because of the new people in the band?

ADAM: It's both. Like Chad (bass) and Jason (guitar) are both like really great. And so they're really focused and tight. So it just changed the sound completely.

JASON: I think the musical styles of new members always makes a difference. We all share a lot of the same tastes. I didn't know Chad until I joined the band—and he and Cory are really good friends—but now there's somebody else to work off of. And not playing with these guys before, you pick up new things when you play with new people. I think that's really coming out in the stuff that we're doing.

RW: How about the group dynamic and personalities in the band? How has that changed?

NEIL: I've never laughed so hard in my life.

ADAM: It's funny. It's really good actually. It's really good. We went on a ten day, eleven day tour since the new lineup and it was really great, totally fun.

NEIL: Nobody fought. Cory didn't get pushed in any sprinklers.

JASON: (laughs) Yeah, and everyone's really good about managing their trip, you know, so it works really well.

RW: So how about the new record, you just mixed it right?

ADAM: It's called Let's Detonate. It sounds like a dance, kind of like when people say, Let's do the Mashed Potato--

NEIL: Let's do the "boogaloo" or Let's do the Swim.

ADAM: Yeah, yeah.

RW: Then how would you do the Detonate?

ADAM: Just come to a Peelers show. Come see a new Peelers show. We detonate. We do it for you.

RW: Not to be confused with decibate.

NEIL: No, no. They do that behind closed doors.

RW: So, you recorded at a new studio with a new engineer. You've recorded with a couple of different people now. Some names are pretty well known.

NEIL: Tim Kerr did the first one. It was truly a learning experience working with him, I must admit. Also Kris Poulin a bunch. And Ted Cho.

JASON: Since the new lineup, this was the first recording to happen.

RW: Were you happy with your experience there?

ADAM: Ted Cho was amazing. It was easy.

RW: So how are you going to put this out?

ADAM: We'll just send it to labels. Yeah we'll figure it out and see what happens.

RW: Who would you want to put out your record?

NEIL: Virgin.

ADAM: Atlantic.

JASON: There's a lot of labels that I would like to go with.

NEIL: Columbia.

JASON: Just based on those certain labels that -

NEIL: Sony.

JASON: Just based on what's already been produced by those certain labels, I'd like to be a part of that. Which would be the best for the Peelers, I don't know. Gear Head would be fun.

NEIL: In the Red. There's a label that. . .

Jason: Estrus.

ADAM: The Tyrades are on called Broken Records, which would be really cool. There's another label called Dirt Nap, which would be really cool.

JASON: Swammi.

ADAM: That'd be really interesting. Really awesome. Crypt.

NEIL: Epitaph.

ADAM: Epitaph.

JASON:'Cause they got a lot of money.

(Waitress brings food.)

RW: So if you had to do a video, who would you want to direct it?

JASON: Ron Jeremy.

NEIL: I got a buddy in Denver who said he'd do it cheap.

RW: This is a fancy band interview; bruschetta with strawberries and balsamic vinaigrette. So, one show I really wanted to go to that I missed was when you played with Juliette and The Licks. What did you think of Juliette (Lewis)?

NEIL: Eeeeuh. But we tore it up.

ADAM: We tore it up. We pretty much blew them away.

NEIL: We rocked the house.

ADAM: I mean, she's interesting. . .

RW: Did you talk to her at all?


NEIL: She hid out in her tour bus and ate sushi.

JASON: When they got there they sound checked for forty-five minutes. After we played that show I saw them on Conan and she was like, "you know we're doing it, we're trying to do this rock band thing, we've got a van, touring around." Every tour I've ever been on has been four or five guys in a stinky van, we didn't have a trailer, we didn't have hotels every night. It was just kind of weird to see her like, to have money to throw behind that band.

NEIL: Yeah, we didn't have beer catered to us every night.

ADAM: Yeah, they had one of the longest sound checks I've ever seen a band have.

JASON: Yeah, she didn't know where the mic cable went, how to plug in the microphone.

NEIL: Are you kidding me? I'm glad I didn't see that fiasco. I would have totally lost it.

ADAM: Not only did they sound check, but they wrote new music and recorded it off the board. So everyone stood there trying to be cool and not acknowledge that that's Juliette Lewis standing there. I think the only contact she made with us, is she asked Cory, 'What band are you in?', and Cory said, 'The Peelers' and she's like 'that's a cool band name.'And then the bass player thought that Jason's hair was cool. And he's bald.

RW: I saw her on Conan and thought she was pretty good. But she says she's doing it just like any other band, but—

JASON: You put out one record, and you're on TV? It doesn't really work that way.

NEIL: It's easy when you've got a lot of money.

ADAM: But you know what was weird about them, is you can see her being a pretty dynamic front person, but her band was like, they weren't bad they were actually really good, but her band was kind of generic. It was almost like they were, like they were over qualified, like in this weird way they were too good. They needed to be raw and fucked up, 'cause she comes across like this damaged girl singing, like she's got this really raw thing, but then her band was so polished. I don't think it came off as very interesting.

RW: How would you describe the Peelers' sound in one word or less?

JASON: Damaged.

NEIL: (laughs) No, not damaged.

ADAM: Laser-sharp. (laughs)

NEIL: Solid.

ADAM: Solid. Yeah, yeah, solid. That's good.

RW: (to Neil and Adam) How has your perception of being in a "rock band" changed since you've been in the Peelers? Like what the word "rock band" means? Is that too vague of a question?

NEIL: Awkward silence.

ADAM: I don't know. Like when we started I thought it was just cool to be in a band. I hadn't been in a band for a long time. So that was cool. So it was kind of on that level.Ê But now it's still really cool to be in a band, but it's really cool to be in a good band. And then also it's like, the kind of touring we've done is really not that sexy. It can turn you off pretty hard. I don't think it's changed too much, it's still about playing really good music. Making REAL music.

RW: How is touring different than you thought it would be?

NEIL: It helps to have a lot of money touring. It helps to make a lot of money. It helps to be billed with bands you respect and you admire who actually have draws and draw people out. Those are fun shows. Hey. we've played W.C. Don's in Jackson, Mississippi.

ADAM: W.C. Don's is a hot dog place that doesn't have any hot dogs.

NEIL: They don't have hot dogs, let's put it that way. Nightmare shows, nightmare shows.

RW: So is everyone in your band in a relationship?

ADAM: Well I am. Neil is.

JASON: I am. Chad currently has a girlfriend.

ADAM: Cory's the bachelor.

RW: Cory's the one who gets the groupies?

NEIL: (laughs) No comment.

ADAM: It used to be when Aaron (former bass player) was in the band... Aaron was so zen about it. He could of but he never did. But he could of at ALL MOMENTS and all the time.

NEIL: Who thought the bass player would get all the chicks? (laughs)

ADAM: He could of but he didn't.

RW: BUT he did have a row of ex-girlfriends at the shows.

NEIL: Yeah, that would happen. They would rub elbows.

ADAM: And he managed it brilliantly. He was like the Kofi Annan of like fucking ex-relationships. He was like the UN Ambassador to all these other relationships and he would like have conferences and then move on from there and do other stuff.

RW: When I first wanted to do the Peeler's interview I wanted to know what was happening with the new Peelers lineup. Recently though Aaron died and you all lost a really close friend.

ADAM: Chris Shaughnessy left the band because he moved back to Louisville, Kentucky and Aaron left the band because he went back to art school. That's when Jason and Chad joined.

JASON: I had just joined a band prior to joining this band so all the sudden it was like rockumental because all I was doing was playing four days a week in two different bands. It's still that way which is great because we're both putting out records.

ADAM: Jason's other band is called The Stranger.

RW: That's a nice name. After the book?

JASON: No, well, there's probably a lot of good reasons for that name, one of them being that when you sit on your hand and it goes numb and you masturbate, it feels like a stranger doing it.

RW: Holy shit. That's new. I didn't know that. (laughter) So how often do you guys practice? Jason: Two days a week but ideally we'd like to all get paid for doing this and do this as a permanent fixture instead of having other jobs and other commitments. Obviously we'd have to. I think we'd all like to practice and play more.

ADAM: Totally. And it would only get better.

NEIL: We would dominate. Crush. Kill.

JASON: We go through stints of having two shows a month to one every two months. We're constantly practicing and coming up with new stuff.

ADAM: The new album has eleven songs on it. One being a cover of a band called The Mullins. So The Mullins are great. On the last album we did a cover of a band called The Joneses called "Pillbox."

RW: So what is your song writing technique?

ADAM: Bringing songs to practice and kind of having it filtered through the band and having everyone add their own thing to it. And then it becomes a song. Or it doesn't and if it doesn't stick then it doesn't work.

JASON: Adam writes most of the stuff. Everybody writes what they play.

RW: Even the lyrics?

ADAM: Yeah.

NEIL: And then I edit them.

JASON: Sexifies them.

RW: (To Neil) Well, from what I hear, your vocals are outstanding on the new record.

NEIL: Oh, thank you.

RW: What happened? Lemon juice?

NEIL:(laughs) I wasn't drunk. Stayed off the sauce for an afternoon.

RW: So what are you listening to these days? Are you going to shows? Do you go to as many shows as you used to now that you are in a band?

NEIL: Not as much as I used to.

JASON: I'm playing more shows than I'm going to. That's for sure. Between two bands.

RW: So you're still seeing a lot of live music.

JASON: Yeah, being a part of a lot of live music. But playing a show doesn't guarantee that the music's going to be good. Or even that anyone thinks that our band is good, but F those people cause we know we're good.

ADAM: Right, right, right. There's things that we kind of cross on but everyone listens to other stuff. So there's a lot of different sensibilities in the music. Like, lately I've been listening to a band that I really like a lot called the Rogers Sisters. They're pretty cool and they kind of do that '80s no wave stuff but everyone kind of has their own thing that they dig.

JASON: I don't know. I've got Ray Charles in my CD player right now. I just kind of go backwards in what I listen to. There's good bands out there that I like, but I haven't really purchased anything new. Partially because I'm broke.

NEIL: Still searching for good music.

RW: So how do The Peeler's fit into the Chicago Music scene?

NEIL: We don't really.

JASON: I think we are the Chicago music scene. Definitely. There's a lot of stuff going on with the Criminal IQ and Horizontal Action stuff.

RW: Do you feel a part of all of that?

JASON: Not really. We're not really a part of what their scene is but I think that at some point I think they will think they missed out on what we're were about.

NEIL: They're less groove-oriented.

JASON: It's like real sorry kids. They're whole scene is kind of self-loathing. Kind of damaged I guess. Functional Blackouts. Great live shows. These guys are really good. Some are better than others, but we're, I just think we're beyond all of that. Between the five of us, we're pretty accomplished players I would say. We're not making opus rock music or anything but the stuff that we're doing is tailored more towards a higher class of listener. Somebody with more of an ear than those who want to dress in all black and get fucked up all the time.

ADAM: It's a very narrow spectrum of stuff.

JASON: I'm not knocking their scene, their scene's cool. And those kids are fun.

ADAM: I wouldn't have known about the Mullins if I wouldn't have gone to a Blackout show. But I think with any scene they have their own dogma as to what makes it it. I think true puck rock is not doing that actually. If you want to call yourself punk rock it's being who you are.

RW: Would you call the Peelers punk rock?

JASON: I would.

ADAM: I totally would.

JASON: There's a lot of stuff in Chicago--Naked Raygun being one of the biggest, Smashing Pumpkins obviously as well—with a lot of notoriety, there's so many different versions of Chicago punk rock in my opinion. It's a big city but it's the biggest small city. We know a lot of the same people, we know a lot of the same bands, but they don't all get along the whole time. There's a lot of competition. But I don't think we have a Chicago sound. I think Raygun and maybe Dummy, some of the older bands.

ADAM: Does Dummy have a Chicago sound?

JASON: I think so. And Haggarty's Peg Boy. Raygun and Pegboy are so closely knitted together that they are a real Chicago type sound. And everybody I've played the new record for says that it's not a very Chicago like sound. Not that it's Eastern or Western or anything like that, it's just that people living in Chicago playing different things with different influences coming together to make what is the Peelers. To me it's different. It seems to me that every song kind of has a different angle. You put on some records and it's all the same, the levels, the sound. Every song is a little different and I think that outlines all of our influences. Where some songs, like on the old record there was definitely a cohesiveness to it, but, you know it was a great record and that's one of the reasons why I wanted to join the band. I remember when I first heard it I was really excited and I said to myself, I'm going to be in this band someday, and lo and behold.

RW: Really?

JASON: My roommate Mike--the drummer of Bang! Bang!--we put it on and we were like, 'this sounds fun.' And we were both like, 'This is great' and I was like 'I bet I'll be in this band one day'. Just cause I work at Delilah's. The law of averages says that I'm probably going to play with somebody and I bet it will be with these guys.

RW: You guys are definitely fun.

ADAM: Yeah, well I think all of the music that we like, it's not rocket science. But I think it's interesting Ted Cho was talking about it and he was saying that he thought the album was really muscular but really smart in ways. I think the deal is that we all, at this point, know what we're doing in a big way, so it all seems to fit really well.

RW: So, I'm going to ask you guys a couple of questions from Bravo's "Inside the Actor's Studio".

JULIE: Nice.

RW: What turns you on?

JASON: Everything turns me on. Sexy women.

NEIL: Sexiness.

ADAM: Sexiness, definitely.

JASON: High decibel levels.

RW: Do you guys go to eleven?

ADAM: We go to eleven.

NEIL: We go past eleven.

ADAM: Actually what we do, and I'm going to quote Jim from the Tyrades, he said that he worked on this demo that we did before Jason and Chad joined and he said that we have a sound that reminds him of Guitar Wolf, and he calls it Tokyo Ten. He said we take it to Tokyo Ten.

RW: Which means?

ADAM: Which means loud.

JASON: I think we go from, especially on this new stuff, we go from two to fifteen.

ADAM: I know. I know, exactly.

JASON: There's a lot more dynamics.

ADAM: There's more space. The last record was a real, you know it's funny cause like the way we used to sound before Chad and Jason joined the band, was really a wall of sound.

JASON: High energy. Not to say that this one isn't, but everyone was a part of it and everybody was just fucking, push right in front of your face. But this one definitely is pushing, but there's more, I want to say thought put into it.

ADAM: There's more that we don't do. There's more space where we don't play. And the thing is we don't all play at the same time. Like, I think a lot of punk bands, I think they think the more you play the better it is somehow, but like we figured out a way, like the chemistry--

JASON: The space.

ADAM: There's space and that singing, and guitar and drums and then bass are all kind of like. . .

JASON: Everybody has a place. It's not all just 'get together and play the same thing'.

ADAM: Like the music, we talk to each other more when we're playing. rather than having it just be like hhhhhhhcccccc straight fucking—

JASON: There's a lot of call and response. That's what I was saying when I said we might appeal to a higher listener. Somebody who might be more into music.

JASON: When we're in practice when we're righting a song and all the sudden I hear something cool and I get really turned on by that. I was like wow this song is going to be even better.

ADAM: And that's part of the way we do it now. The way we do it is we're more open and actually trying stuff. I think on this album, like when you hear the vocals and Neil trying all this stuff like the way he's singing it like that's a real turn on, like I'm not gay. I'm not gay but we get turned on by each other.

NEIL: What we do turns us on.

ADAM: Yeah, totally.

NEIL: But we're not gay.

RW: And when the Peelers die and you're at the pearly gates, what do you want God to say to you.

NEIL: I don't know about God, but I want to see Aaron Watkins with a couple of cocktails in his hand.

ADAM: I wanna see Aaron and Aaron say, "You guys had a pretty good run." That's what I want to hear.

RW: So, what did Aaron leave you with- as a band and as an individual?

JASON: He left me the Peelers.

NEIL: He left me with a lot of insight.

ADAM: Yeah me too. Neil: I learned to become more patient, relax a little bit.

JASON: The couple of times I talked to him about the band, he was real excited about the band even though he wasn't a part of it. I always thought he was and I wanted to do more Especially when Chris left the band and I took his place I kind of wanted to keep the band going as they were 'cause it was good as it was. So Aaron left that whole kind of feeling there for me. And talking to him at the bar, he always had ideas as to what we could do, progressing forward.

ADAM: He left me the idea of trying stuff, like experimenting stuff and not being worried about if it's cool. Like when we're practicing stuff, not being so guarded with each other.

JASON: Safe with what you're doing.

ADAM: When you bring stuff, when you write stuff you're really vulnerable. You're showing a part of yourself and it can be really intense.

NEIL: You lay a lot on the line.

ADAM: And I think Aaron taught me to not worry about that, to not care about that as much and to care about being open.

RW: Well, I'm really glad that the Peelers are still around and I can't wait to hear what the Peelers are going to do next. One thing that Chris, from the Wiglar, we always talk about WHY. Why are these bands doing this? Why do they practice hours a couple times a week, why are they spending their money touring, and they are taking off of work? And we're mostly talking about bands that haven't started to make money yet. What is it?

JASON: It's like, it's living. It makes you feel alive. I've been in music ever since I was in fifth grade. I've played a number of different instruments and this is the one I've found that I can have the most fun with.

ADAM: It's like doing what you love no matter what.

JASON: Sustenance.

ADAM: Yeah. All of us in this band are about making good music no matter what. Certainly I am. I love playing rock and roll. And it's a really good thing for me. I think that other bands that do this, and go on these crazy tours, and get in vans and drive around and play at places, like I was talking about, hotdog places that don't sell hotdogs, Toledo, Ohio or you know, whatever, it's fucking awesome.

JASON: It's a pirate's life. It's camaraderie.

ADAM: It is.

NEIL: And I've always been an animated ham my whole life.

ADAM: Me too.

NEIL: In a good way.

JASON: When you're on stage, you don't have to worry about paying bills, even if you're playing in front of your friends.

NEIL: All your worries go out the window.

JASON: Everything in life comes down to that moment. You're with five other people and everything you do depends on what they do and vice a versa, comes together in the right way and it just feels amazing.

NEIL: Chemistry clicks man.

ADAM: Yeah, and you're up there, playing in front of people or even showing up to practice on a late night, on a Thursday, and we do something really cool. That's just amazing.

ADAM: It's also a cool thing to do something, especially these days, where certainly people my age that have like big time jobs and money and like worrying, you start thinking about socking money away for their retirement and all this stuff. This stuff that you thought when you were in your late teens and early twenties that you'd never buy into. I think that to do this stuff is one of the most radical expressions of our culture.

NEIL: It truly is.

ADAM: Is to make music and do things that are seemingly useless. People think they are useless, but even though music is commodified, what we do isn't. And I don't think it will be actually.

JASON: All the people that have come before us, doing this shit, like why can't I? There's no rules.

ADAM: And all the records that we have, we were spinning the other night for Aaron, we were spinning at the Horseshoe the other night for Aaron, and all we did was like compare all these records from people who no one fucking knows about. No one knows about these, a few people know about them. A lot of people don't. And we look at these records, and they're like gold. You know, it's like getting in a van and playing somewhere and then getting out and then loading in and driving somewhere else and you're tired, but then when you get up there and you play this music that is good, it is just so fulfilling.

JASON: Once you taste it, you have to.

ADAM: Yeah, you have to.

Reglar Wiglar

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