Photo of Brendan Kelly by Katie Hovland

Slapstick was one of the definitive ska/punk bands of the ‘90s. They were together from ’93 to ’96, and after disbanding its members went on to either play in or form bands such as; Alkaline Trio, The Lawrence Arms, The Honor System, Tuesday, The Broadways and more. They reunited briefly in ’97 for a pair of benefit shows, but didn’t perform again until the summer of 2011, when they headlined the opening night of Asian Man Records’ 15th Anniversary Festival in San Francisco. Last month, the band played Riot Fest in Chicago and we spoke with singer Brendan Kelly a week or so later. We discussed Slapstick’s recent reunions, their relationship with Asian Man, future plans and more. The band’s lineup is completed by guitarist Matt Stamps, bassist Dan Andriano, drummer Rob Kellenberger, trumpet player Dan Hanaway and trombone player Peter Anna.

Bill – Slapstick played its first show since 1997 last year. What transpired that led to you guys playing Asian Man Records’ anniversary celebration?

Brendan – Yeah, well Mike Park, (Asian Man Records owner) wanted to do this thing for the anniversary where he’d get every band that’s ever been on the label to play, whether or not they were broken up. So, I’m almost positive that he called us all up and said, “Hey, I want to get Slapstick back together. Everybody else said they’re down as long as you are.” Of course that worked. It’s a very sneaky and insidious thing to do, (laughs) but we all actually talked about it and were just kind of like, “Man, I wouldn’t do this for anybody but Mike Park.” Mike was so integral in all of our lives, for some of us just when we were teenagers and for others still to this day. We were like, “Of course we’ll get together and play these songs.” It was really fun. When we got approached by Riot Fest to do it again, there were practical considerations involved with people coming from really far away and obviously having to practice for a few days, but we were able to figure out a way we could do it financially and Riot Fest was happy to hook us up.

Bill – How did everything go once the band got together to practice for the first time in years?

Brendan – It was crazy. I showed up and Pete, Dan A. and Dan H. were standing on Mike Park’s back deck just drinking beers. We all had a few beers and then we cruised over to the practice space of some really nice band, I can’t remember who they were. We got into the space and we were all just kind of looking at each other like, “This is fuckin’ weird. This is really weird.” Then we start the first song and it sounded exactly the same as it had 14 years before. We’d all done a lot of prep work beforehand. We’d all listened to the songs for a while, we’d written the set list in advance and by the time we got together we’d all been practicing on our own. Right before Riot Fest it was not the same.

Bill – What were some of the highlights from the show in San Francisco?

Brendan – Well, the best moment from the show was obviously Matt Skiba from Alkaline Trio and his drunken intermission of the whole thing. That was the best part of the show for sure, because there’s plenty of songs and I know that Slapstick holds a special place in some people’s hearts or whatever, but ultimately it’s not that hard to go out to a show and see a band that plays songs you like and have a great time. Moments like that though are just completely unscripted and completely bizarre. To me that’s the obvious highlight of the show.

Bill – What Slapstick songs do you still enjoy most?

Brendan – I like “There’s a Metal Head in the Parking Lot,” I think that one’s pretty good. Strangely, I like “What I Learned.” I didn’t really like that one as much back in the day, but I kind of like it more now. “Broken Down” I really like. Those are probably my favorites. There’s only a couple that I sort of cringe at, like “Almost Punk Enough” is really, really hard to do with my eyes open. It’s just so embarrassing. “Cheat to Win” is fairly dumb, at least just to sing, (laughs). You’ve never really stared humility in the face until you’ve stood in front of whatever, tens of thousands of people as a 36-year-old man and sung words that you wrote when you were 16.

Bill – How did everything come together with Slapstick playing Riot Fest this year?

Brendan – We were out and we just finished our first practice for the show in San Francisco. All of sudden my phone rings and it’s Mike Petryshyn from Riot Fest. He’s like, “Hey, how’d your practice go?” I was like, “Oh, it was great.” He’s like, “Do you guys want to play Riot Fest next year?” I’m like, “Sure, let me talk to everybody.” We figured out what we were going to do, like what it would take for us to do it, and I called him back that day. So yeah, that show has been booked for like a year.

Bill – What did you like best about your show at Riot Fest?

Brendan – I liked the whole thing, it was just so cool. That backstage zone was really, really awesome. Just the total layout of it, it was so winding and huge. I didn’t even go out to the crowd a single time. The best part of any festival situation is that you see all these friends that you haven’t seen in a long time and everybody’s on their own trajectories across the world or whatever. At Riot Fest it was really fun and it was also really weird to be there in the capacity of the singer from the old, broken-down ska band, as opposed to the guy from The Lawrence Arms. Everybody was like, “Oh, I didn’t know you guys were playing.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I know, it’s weird.” The whole thing was great. I think that it was setup really cool. I loved looking out to a Ferris wheel while we were playing. I don’t have a bad thing to say about Riot Fest, it was really fun.

Bill – What was it like playing Slapstick songs in front of that many people?

Brendan – I’ve only played in front of that many people a very small handful of times. There’s a second when you look out and you’re like, “Whoa, it does go back a really long way,” but that kind of thing really doesn’t faze me anymore. I think I’ve said this, maybe just to my friends or whatever, I’m fine in front of a huge group of people, but if I have to do a job interview or give a speech to like three people, that’s terrifying to me. I just actually had a job interview, which went really well, and what I did when I was talking to them was I pretended that we were on a stage in front of like 1,000 people. That was the only way I could calm down enough to do it. I don’t know what that says; it’s just that I’ve spent so much time onstage that it doesn’t bother me. With Riot Fest, there was no like, “Whoa man, I don’t believe we’re doing this.” I mean, there was, like right when we kicked into “Almost Punk Enough” I think I said that, (laughs). In terms of the actuality of the whole thing it’s like fuckin’ anything; it’s like you do your job and once you get used to it, doing it in whatever circumstance is just like a slight variation. I would kind of liken it to those dudes in that real famous crappy poster that’s in a lot of college dorms and crappy bars, where it’s like all the construction workers sitting on the girders above the Empire State Building. It’s kind of like that; it’s just a routine for those dudes. I don’t want to belittle the entire experience overall, it was great, but that particular aspect of it wasn’t too terribly shocking.

Bill – Looking back, what were some of the most memorable shows that Slapstick ever played?

Brendan – We played a show in Elgin that I think was called “The Big Show.” There were like ten bands and we headlined it. When we played, there was something like 950 people there. We were high school kids. Nowadays it’s a little bit different because there are all these young bands that are huge, but back then it really was surprising to me. When we went out on the stage, that was way more like, “Holy crap, I don’t believe all you people are here,” than Riot Fest was. That Big Show was quite an experience. Funny piece of Chicago punk rock trivia: I was talking to Todd Pot of Apocalypse Hoboken immediately when we got off the stage and he was cackling at me about something. I can’t remember what it was, but those shows back in those days were like super aerobic for me. I was doing a lot of heavy skanking and stuff like that, (laughs). It was a hot show, I was trying to catch my breath and I wasn’t feeling that great. This dad comes over towards where Todd and I are standing and he goes, “Hey, my son really wants to meet you.” I said, “Oh man, now’s not a good time” and I turned and barfed in a garbage can, like right at that very moment, right in front of this guy’s dad. And that’s where the title comes from for the Apocalypse Hoboken album Now’s Not a Good Time.

Bill – You mentioned this a little bit earlier, but describe Slapstick’s relationship with Asian Man Records, as well as what Mike Park has meant to the band.

Brendan – We had a gig to open for Skankin’ Pickle in ’93 I think. All the other guys in Slapstick are from Elgin and they had all these connections with Brian Peterson, who was booking a lot of shows. I don’t exactly remember what the circumstance was, but we got this show at the Metro, which was just like a huge deal for us. To play on the Metro stage, we were just kids. I remember afterwards we were standing outside, across the street from the Metro and Mike Park was like, “Hey, I really like your band. I want to put out your record. I’ve got this record label called Dill Records.” We knew Dill because we knew Skankin’ Pickle and we were just like, “Whoa.” We had all been excited before because some asshole paid to print our demo tapes, some local dude, so now we were like, “Oh man, this is awesome.” Ever since then he’s always been the first person that’s put out any project that has come out of Slapstick directly. Anything that any of us has done since, that we’ve been a part of from the beginning, the first release has been on Asian Man. To say he’s a mentor and a guide and all that is kind of an understatement. To go back to Matt Skiba’s awesome intermission from the show in San Francisco last year, he’s the reason that any of us have or had careers in music. He’s a great dude and I don’t have a single bad word to say about him. He doesn’t have a bad word to say about almost anybody on the earth. He’s one of those guys that I think I can look to as a real character barometer. If Mike Park doesn’t like you, I don’t even need to know anything about you, I don’t like you. It’s not good PR.

Bill – What are you most proud of in terms of Slapstick’s accomplishments?

Brendan – It’s hard to say. When that band started it was like Matt Stamps got an Operation Ivy CD and was like, “This would be cool.” I was in this really crappy sort of proto-funk, punk rock, metal hybrid band, and we played with his old band. And he was like, “This guy sounds like he’d be a cool singer.” And then we got some horn players from the high school band, and then we met Dan H. and Pete, who were like cool horn players. We were like, “Cool horn players? Shit, I didn’t even know that existed.” All of a sudden we had this ska/punk band. It’s hard to say this now and not sound like I’m misremembering how important things were, but we were one of like three or four bands that were touring right at first. It was like us, The Suicide Machines and Less Than Jake; we were the only bands doing it. It became this huge thing with bands like Reel Big Fish. I’m not trying to claim that they were influenced by our band or anything like that, I don’t even know, they were probably around before. Less Than Jake has gone on to be this incredibly popular band and it’s like we were kind of part of the very beginning of that whole thing, without having any fuckin’ idea what we were doing, without even being interested in that kind of music. It was like falling ass backwards into something. I remember I showed up and Matt was like, “Okay, we’re going to do some ska.” I’m like, “I don’t even know what that is.” I was talking to Dan Hanaway and I was like, “Dude, if they wrote a book about the history of ska/punk, we’d probably be in it, right?” He was like, “Oh yeah, I think we would be.” That’s so weird, (laughs). Besides Less Than Jake and The Suicide Machines, who were just our buddies that we toured with and hung out with, I never even owned another ska/punk record, I guess Operation Ivy. To me, that’s the most interesting thing about Slapstick and that’s the thing I think back about that still kind of blows my mind. Frankly, I’m really proud of the whole thing. That band went on to form a lot of other bands that I think are really, really cool and I love all those dudes. I do have a certain sense of pride when people ask me about what I was doing in high school. I was playing really cool rock ‘n roll shows and going on tour on the weekends, that’s pretty neat stuff. With the exception of having to sing “Almost Punk Enough” once every year, 20 years after the fact, I really don’t have anything bad to say about the whole thing. I’m stoked.

Bill – Is there any chance of Slapstick ever playing more shows or possibly releasing new music?

Brendan – There is a zero percent chance of us releasing new music I would say. That’s just so hilarious, the idea is so funny, but could there possibly be anyone out there that would really want to hear that? I can’t imagine there is. I know there are people out there that like the band and would be like, “Oh Fuck that, I’d love to have a new Slapstick album.” But it’s just like think about who’s writing it, you know?  It wouldn’t be cool, it would be so lame. I don’t think there’s any chance of any new music. As far as playing other shows, when we kind of signed off on all the Riot Fest stuff this year, the big line at the end of all the emails was, “Alright dudes, see you next year.” So, I wouldn’t doubt the chance of other shows.