By Mike Romero
Dylan Astle is the front man for Provo indie punk group, Pop Warner. The band has released two EPs: 2014’s Bedroom Demo and 2016’s Pop Warner/Uncle Dirt Split. See what Astle has to say about the formation of Pop Warner, the musical influences that inspired him, and Provo’s relationship with punk. This is part two of our Up The Punx Series, where we examine the Provo Punk scene. For part one, click here.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Who are you, where are you from, and what’s your role in Pop Warner?
My name is Dylan. I’m from Southern California and I play guitar and do vocals in Pop Warner.
What got you interested in punk music? Who are your biggest influences?
Punk music was introduced to me by some podcasts I came across around age 13 and my best bud Kyle. For my 14th birthday he burned me three CDs: Alkaline Trio’s Good Mourning, Rise Against’s Siren Song of the Counter Culture, and Hot Water Music’s Fuel for the Hate Game. I took to the Fuel for the Hate Game last, but it became my favorite album and still is today. I would say that Hot Water Music, Latterman, Joyce Manor, Strike Anywhere, and Appleseed Cast is a fairly all-inclusive list as far as influencing what I like sonically and what I believe “punk” stands for. The first loud punk show I went to was to see Strike Anywhere. I still get the chills thinking about the energy and passion they brought. The volume helped, too. I couldn’t use the phone for a couple of days after the show because I couldn’t hear anything. It was awesome.
[Laughs] That’s incredible. What is it about punk that appeals to you?
Well, to me the purpose of punk is to create a space that’s free of judgment where people can come together, feel safe, and express. It should ideally transcend political or religious views, in my opinion. It should be a place where minorities or just people who don’t have a place anywhere else can come be a part of something. Latterman was the first band I was exposed to who was very forward in their music about the rights of women and non-binary people. I don’t know, that was all a little preachy. I just appreciate that perspective and the positive energy at shows.
How would you define punk music?
This is something I have thought a lot about, and I don’t have a concrete answer. But here are some of my thoughts. I used to think that for music to be “punk” it needed to be sonically aggressive, loud, and fast. But I guess for me now it’s any music that’s made to be an honest expression or create the environment that I previously described. If it’s at all motivated by money or “fans” or whatever, then it loses some punk points for me. Not to say punk music can’t be popular or needs to be DIY or underground only. One of my favorite quotes on this subject is from Thomas Barnet (Strike Anywhere): “I think it’s mean spirited and revisionist to talk about punk as collectively only pure when it’s in this DIY context, because I think it’s meant a lot of things to a lot of people, and done a lot of good on a lot of different levels.”
What’s your personal music history? How many groups or projects were you involved in before Pop Warner, and how did Pop Warner end up coming together?
[Laughs] Well I’ve been playing music since age 14 or so, but Pop Warner is probably the most “serious” project I’ve been a part of? Kyle – the friend from earlier – and I have had many attempts at projects over the years. One of which was called Laguna Hills Street Fighters and was a very crusty (and bad) two-piece. I also played guitar in a folk band my first year living in Provo and had a lot of fun with that. It was actually because of that project that I met our first drummer, Marshall Oelkers, who pretty much assembled Pop Warner himself. When Marshall moved, I ran into Max through some mutual friends and here we are.
Tell me about the other band members. What instruments do they play? How do they contribute to the group on an individual level?
Josh Horne plays guitar. He can shred like Van Halen if he feels like it. In our more recent songs he has written almost all of the second guitar lines. After playing together for a year or so I feel like our guitar styles really gel and we can be creative in a way that enhances the song as a whole. Alena plays bass and also sings. She’s very intelligent with music and can play to abnormal time signatures with little to no practice. Having somebody to harmonize with is also awesome, because I don’t like to sing by myself. Max Pond plays drums and is one of my favorite people of all time. He’s fast, tight, and understands my beat-box-like communication. We grew up listening to a lot of the same music so we’re usually on the same page with dynamics and tempo changes without needing to communicate. My favorite part of our most recent song came from a suggestion of his. Something I strive for with our music is to make it personal for everybody playing, even if the basic structure of the song or lyrics didn’t come from them. When everybody contributes creatively, that’s what it becomes.
If you were to go out to lunch with Pop Warner, what would your experience be like?
We would most likely be at Del Taco. Maybe Chipotle. I’d probably ask you what you’re passionate about and we’d talk about it. Maybe we would talk about some surface level politics or recent happenings with bands we follow. Eventually Blink-182 would come up and Max and I would argue about them being good or bad.
[Laughs] How did you decide on the name? Did you ever play Pop Warner football growing up?
I did play Pop Warner football growing up, and that’s where the idea for the name came from. I felt like I learned a lot about myself playing football as a kid, and my Dad was the team’s coach every year I played. I really value the time I spent with my Dad and playing football, and when I asked people what came to mind when they heard the name and it was always something different. I liked the ambiguity. So we rolled with it.
We asked Ted Richards of Doris Day. a similar question about emo. Pop Punk really hit the mainstream in the late 90’s and early 00’s. Do you feel like it’s going to become a niche genre? Or will it make a mainstream comeback? Who are some of your favorite genre leaders on a national level?
That’s sort of hard to say. Early 2000’s bands like Taking Back Sunday and New Found Glory are still selling out stadiums right? I feel like those bands that became popular some years back will continue to be successful as long as they feel like playing music. As far as making a “mainstream” comeback, it might be harder for that to happen because of how many current talented bands there are that play that style of music. I saw a great pop punk band last month on tour. For me, they sounded as good as Yellowcard or Simple Plan or any of those bands that went huge in the early 2000’s. But they were in a small venue on a DIY tour. I don’t know. I doubt pop punk like that will ever be as huge as it was ten or twenty years ago. As far as national leaders, Joyce Manor and The Menzingers are some of my favorites that have gotten some national attention.
You’ve been doing a lot of shows with Doris Day. and Uncle Dirt. How did you get to know those guys? What is your relationship with them like on a musical level?
So I’m related to most of Uncle Dirt. Max (guitarist) is my brother and Rawson (drummer) is my cousin. Taylor (bass) has been a friend of mine for 5 or so years now? And Brendon is my roommate. So I’m pretty much in the band [Laughs]. I met Ted and the Doris Day. homies at the storage center where we used to have our practice space. All very kind people.
Talking about the Provo Punx specifically, what is the Provo punk scene like? You guys are some of the more visible names in that genre. How do you think your efforts are shaping things? What do you think your work will do to shape the Provo scene overall?
We’re just going with the flow. We’ve thrown a couple shows at the Provo Bike Collective that have been cool for us. A couple of our friends that came told us it was their first time seeing anything loud or high energy in a DIY environment. Rad. But I don’t think anything we’re doing is “shaping” the Provo scene in any drastic way. I suppose a few people have told me they have only heard pop and folk music coming from Provo, so it’s cool to show that it’s a more diverse city than that.
Do you feel like there’s room for punk in Provo? What needs to change in Provo in order for it to really thrive and take off?
There’s certainly room for punk in Provo. The shows that we have been a part of have been moderately well attended. They are less popular than local pop and folk shows, though. For punk to thrive in the same way that other music does in Provo, there needs to be more bands and more shows to attend. Good, passionate, high-energy, friendly shows. As more people become exposed to it, their view of what live music is will change, just as mine did the first time I saw Strike Anywhere and Polar Bear Club. It’s crazy to me that people grow up having never been to a show where they felt comfortable singing along at the top of their lungs or dancing hard. More bands, more good shows, more people wanting to try it out.
Are there any other bands you’re close to? Who are some of your favorite local punk and emo bands?
A lot of my favorite local projects are based in Salt Lake. We’ve played a few shows with Wicked Bears who recently put out an amazing EP. Very true and honest Lifetime-ish pop punk. Problem Daughter has been around for many years and is an outlier even in the Salt Lake scene with (to me) a very Gainesville/Lawrence Arms sort of sound. Amazingly passionate band, and some of the nicest people I’ve met. Baby Ghosts is another great punk band with a unique sound. Adam Klopp has been involved with some of the best music that has come from Provo and Salt Lake, and he recently started a new project called “Choir Boy.”
You recently released a split with Uncle Dirt. Why did you decide to collaborate with them on the release? How has it been received?
We’re all friends and had played a handful of shows together already. Brendon and I had the idea to do a split and the next night we ran into Stephen Cope from Studio Studio Dada at Del Taco. Three days later we were tracking with him. It just sort of happened.
Why did you decide to feature “Erica” and “Taco Tuesday” on the split? Do you have any stories about how those tracks came to be or what they mean to you?
The rest of the band voted to record “Erica,” and I felt like it was the sonic outlier on our demo. So the split was the perfect place for it. Taco Tuesday was one of our most recent songs at the time, so it felt relevant and I wanted to record it while still “feeling it,” I guess. Both songs are very personal to me and attempts at honest expressions of feelings and struggles and whatever. However, I prefer to keep exactly what I’m talking about to myself. That way the listener can take from it what they want or embrace whatever they connect with.
“Erica,” in particular, features some frenetic, sugar-sweet guitar lines. To me, the introduction sounds like a pop-punk version of Two Door Cinema Club’s “Undercover Martyn.” It’s great. How do you guys come up with licks like that?
[Laughs] Thanks man. Very flattering. That lead guitar riff was just something that happened when I couldn’t sleep one night. I honestly don’t remember. Josh’s guitar solo is what brings that song home for me.
You mentioned you tracked at Studio Studio Dada with Stephen Cope. Did you do live takes or track separately? Where did you have it mastered?
We tracked it all out separately. Drums, guitars, then vocals. Stephen was fantastically patient when we would repeatedly screw something up, or insist on re-tracking something after hearing a mix. Stephen let me be very hands-on in the mixing process and I learned a lot because of it. He gets an A+ and I would recommend him to anyone. Bret Meisenbach from Baby Ghosts mastered it for us. He also did a really great job and helped me learn a lot.
Do you have plans for a future full-length release?
Absolutely. Maybe in a year or so from now. We’re recording a single with Corey Crellin from Porch Lights right now. We’re very stoked on it.
When can readers see you next? When is the next Pop Warner show?
Nothing booked for now. We haven’t had very much time to work on new material, so we’re going to focus on that for a bit. Also, hit us up on Facebook for a download code for the split.
Last question. Would you rather drink a gallon of mayonnaise in 10 hours or 10 gallons of mayonnaise in 10 days?
One gallon in ten hours. But Josh would probably take the ten gallons in ten days – he’s pretty into mayo.
Make sure to like Pop Warner on Facebook and check out the Pop Warner/Uncle Dirt Split EP on Bandcamp. You can listen to “Erica” below.