The Underground Railroad To Candyland

Photo by Katie Hovland

The Underground Railroad To Candyland is fronted by Todd Congelliere, owner of Recess Records and founder of bands like F.Y.P. and Toys That Kill. URTC is set to release its new LP/CD on April 26th, entitled Know Your Sins, and we’re extremely excited to be streaming the album’s first song, “That I Dunno”. We also spoke at length with Todd regarding the new record, his label, touring and more.

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Bill – Compared to some of your other bands, The Underground Railroad To Candyland has more of a pop and an indie rock influence. How do you feel URTC differs from some of your other projects?

Todd – I always feel uncomfortable doing that. If it was just me, I guess I would probably say it’s a little more bouncy. That’s the only real difference, besides the personnel. Sean has played in F.Y.P. for the last five years and he’s in Toys That Kill too, but he’s not in Candyland. That kind of makes a difference. Sound-wise it’s a little more carefree and bouncy. One person said it’s kind of like Toys That Kill and New Order put together, but I think that’s just because we covered a New Order song. I try and collect what other people say and form my own opinion. It’s hard for me to say, just because I write all the songs the same way. With some of the sillier ones though, I know right away they’ll be for Candyland.

Bill – In what ways would you say the new album, Know Your Sins, is superior to the last URTC record?

Todd – It’s not much different or better necessarily. I think there’s definitely a formula that I follow. There was a while where I thought it was going to be exactly like Bird Roughs. I think there’s a little more to the lyrics this time around. The lyrics don’t make a lot of sense on the first one. They make sense to me, but I can see where if somebody just read the lyrics they wouldn’t really get it. I hesitate to say this one’s more thought out. It was really loose and free as far as how we wrote and arranged the songs. There are more lyrics and they’re more serious. I hate saying that, but it’s probably true. It has to be true. The first record was pretty much nonsense, just me writing about what I was watching on TV, so I would have to think that.

Bill – Tell me about the first song on the new album, which we’re gladly streaming, “That I Dunno”.

Todd – That’s actually one of my older songs. Every album I do, regardless of what band it is, there’s always that surprise, last-minute song that keeps me interested in the album. I had the riff, most of the lyrics and the melody for a long time. We were practicing just before we started recording and Jimmy started doing this weird beat when he was warming up. I started recording without him knowing and I kind of put the song to that beat. It just kind of made that song. It was a stroke of midnight-type thing where we had to get it down before we started recording the next day. I worked on that one a lot after the fact as far as mixing and stuff. It was kind of played like we didn’t learn it the night before, but it just turned out really nice for that reason.

Bill – “And You Think You Can Tame Me” and “Animals! Run!” feature somewhat of a surf rock vibe. Where exactly do these inspirations come from?

Todd – I love all that old, ‘60s surf stuff, especially like Dick Dale. I think with the last album, a lot of people called it a surf album, which kind of surprised me. I knew we had an instrumental song that sounded like it could be something off the Joe Meek production catalog. “No Way! Miss U.S.A!” sounded like, I mean my girlfriend actually thought it was a Dick Dale song, but I was like, “No, I wrote that”. A lot of people called our first album a surf record, which in a weird way made me feel alright. It’s better than just standard pop punk or whatever. I didn’t think the new record would have as much of a surf influence. A couple of those songs weren’t even going to go on the album, we kind of just recorded them last-minute. This is actually the third time we recorded the album. We had some problems the first two times and it’s probably been about two years since we started recording. We scrapped it twice. Those two songs weren’t going to be on it, but then we had time when we were tracking, so we just did them to see how they’d turn out. They actually turned out to be two of our favorites for sure. Those and another song we just did at the very end for shits and giggles, and maybe for compilations or splits, but once they were mixed and stuff they ended up being surprisingly good. I originally wanted a ten-song album, but we couldn’t throw any away, so that’s a good sign I guess. At least for us, (laughs).

Bill – “We Aren’t the World” is my favorite song on Know Your Sins. What does this song mean to you?

Todd – I always have songs about trying not make excuses. That one is pretty much about trying not to rely on the government. All these people are making the same excuses, a lot of people blame the government for this or that, but for most people I know it’s never going to change. No matter who’s president or who’s in this position or that position, it’s not going to really change their immediate life. I know that governments can change other people’s lives, especially like what’s going on in Japan right now. A lot of people tend to make excuses for why their life isn’t going good and they tend to blame people that really don’t have anything to do with it. Maybe they just don’t want to take control of their own life.

Bill – There are several instrumentals on the record, which is cool because it isn’t something that a lot of bands are doing nowadays. What made you want to include these songs?

Todd – The first album had one and I think it’s one of those things where I’ll have this riff and if turns out good at practice we’ll just keep playing it. I like stuff like that on albums just because it breaks it up. I think a lot of people think that you have to listen to a record and focus on every song. You can be focused on a song and then have some background music. It lets the record breathe a little more.

Bill – URTC is known for dressing in costume when performing live. What are some of your favorite outfits to wear onstage and how do you feel they enhance your act?

Todd – We probably do it 20% of the time. It started in Japan, the first time we went out there. They have these stores called Don Quijote and they actually sell these full-fur cat costumes. They’re fairly inexpensive for Japan. The first one I got was a Godzilla one. Our bass player Jack Doyle got a Pokémon one and Jimmy got a soccer field one that had a little soccer ball sticking to his chest. Those came first, but before we left we bought a couple more to bring back. I got a cat one and there was a baseball mascot one. They’re really hot, so we don’t wear them all the time. It’s like wearing a full sweatshirt over your body.

Bill – You guys played in front of more than 1,000 fans at Fest 9 last October. What about that set was most fun for you?

Todd – That was cool just because I don’t even know how many people were onstage playing with us. I’m guessing it was at least ten, maybe even more. There were about four or five of those people who had never met each other before. I remember tuning up and looking over and seeing people shake hands and meet for the first time and then go right into a song. Isaac from The Arrivals played bass with us and we never practiced these songs with him. He played pretty damn good too. That was my favorite part. It was really energetic and a lot of people showed up to watch it. My favorite part was just having people you’ve never played with show up and meet each other and then go straight into a song. Usually that would make me cringe, just thinking about it, but it was super fun. I never got nervous about what was going to happen, it was just really loose and fun.

Bill – Your label, Recess Records, is scheduled to release the new URTC record in late April of this year. What are some of the biggest challenges and/or greatest rewards of putting out your own music?

Todd – The biggest reward is just being able to put it out whenever you want. There’s no waiting for other bands. The biggest, biggest reward is that we recorded it ourselves. I mixed it and sequenced it myself. I did all the artwork. I sent it to somebody to lacquer and master it that I’m friends with. It was just really organic and homegrown. That to me is the best. The challenges are that it takes a lot of money. I think that’s the biggest challenge. There are always these problems that bands usually don’t have to deal with. Being in the band and doing the label, I have to deal with every single problem that’s going to happen. It’s kind of challenging, but I don’t really care about that. At the end of the day it’s really worth it. To pull it off and work with people who for the most part are all good and you know them, even down to the printer. I know the printer, I played with this band, and the distributor is No Idea and I’m friends with them. It’s like a big chain or it’s just going in this big tube where you know everybody; that’s the most fulfilling thing. I guess the challenges aren’t nearly as memorable as the rewards.

Bill – What sort of things does URTC have scheduled for the rest of 2011?

Todd – We’re going to play Chaos in Tejas in May. Isaac from The Arrivals is going to play bass on that one. We’re definitely going to play Fest in October too. I don’t know if we’re going to tour out there. We don’t have any solid tour plans right now. We might do something in August. We rarely tour with a new record for some weird, stupid reason. Like a week after the record comes out Toys That Kill is going to go on tour, so it doesn’t make sense, really. This Candyland record took so long to do that it feels right to go and play shows now. I didn’t really think of tour strategies and things like that, but I don’t think I ever have and I’m still in business, so it’s fine.

Bill – Having played in bands for over 20 years, what is it about being a musician that’s still rewarding for you?

Todd – There’s too many things that are great. I think I’m at a point where I really can’t go a second without understanding how cool it is to be making a living doing this. That’s really just kind of a cherry on top of things. I’ve been in bands for over 20 years and if I get into money problems and have to get a job to get the label out of debt I’ll do it. Just doing a new record and once it comes out; it’s just really satisfying. Especially this new one, just because it took so long and we weren’t being like Axl Rose about it or anything like that. It was just these weird curses that kept happening and when it finally fell into place it was really rewarding. It’s really hard to explain how rewarding it was. Touring is great too. Playing in other cities is one of my favorite things to do.

Bill – For those previously unfamiliar with URTC, what else do potential fans need to know about your band?

Todd – That if we go to their town and play a show they could actually be in the band that night. That’s probably the best thing I could say to somebody that doesn’t know what’s going on with us. Even if they’re not onstage shaking a tambourine or something, usually the crowd at our shows is almost a part of the band. A lot of times people like pick up drum sticks while we’re playing and go and hit some drums. It’s very interactive. That’s all I can say.


The Underground Railroad To Candyland Tour Dates:

3/25 – Oakland, California @ Sugar Mountain
3/26 – San Francisco, California @ Thee Parkside
4/30 – San Diego, California @ Bar Pink
5/07 – Los Angeles, California @ Pherespace
6/04 – Austin, Texas @ Chaos in Tejas