Interview with Aguirre Frontman Patrick Flynn

This is hands down the best interview I’ve yet to do as a music journalist. I’ll keep the introduction short as this piece is quite lengthy and detailed in nature. Aguirre is a mixture of contemporary and modern punk rock infused with political and social ideologies against tyrannically corrupt governments and oppressive social contracts. Had the privilege to sit and email back and forth with the poetic mastermind that is Patrick Flynn about the regards and intentions of this project.

Right now you can stream or download Aguirre’s latest release, Overexposed, over at their Bandcamp. Seriously, this has been the best punk record I’ve heard out of New Jersey in a fucking minute. Definitely give this record a start to finish spin and feel what is The Wrath of God..

Interview with Aguirre Frontman, Patrick Flynn

Head Walk: Aguirre is certainly one of the most lyrically entertaining punk bands I’ve heard in quite some time. What influences your writing when it comes to lyricism?

Patrick Flynn: This is the main thing I’ve taken away from the release of Overexposed, which is more and more people are becoming aware of the lyrics, and they are responding to it in a very positive way. This didn’t happen with the first release, and I want to thank you, and any others who noticed, because the lyrics were really my primary motivation for joining the group. The other reason being was that I had wanted to play in a project with Paul again, who I consider a great and versatile talent, as well as a very good friend.

I knew from the onset that I wanted the lyrics to be a form of social commentary and social protest. I didn’t want the songs to be atypical, and thereby forgettable. I am a big fan of folk music, especially the work of Woody Guthrie – who is one of the best American writers. I have to mention Serling as well; he is another major influence – especially in regards to social commentary. Rod Serling is paramount in my mind. Guthrie had a famous quote I’ll paraphrase here: “Anybody can make something complicated – it takes a genius to make something simple.” I wanted to make simple, direct songs – songs that told a story and didn’t put any unnecessary affectation on anything. Cut straight to the heart of it, as it were.

Another major lyrical inspiration, believe it or not, is Randy Newman. I consider him the country’s greatest satirist. I find it a great pity and a tremendous shame that the man is reduced to the caricature people make him out to be (re: Family Guy, and that hilarious MadTV sketch). Take, just for example, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”, arguably his most famous song behind “Short People” or “I Love L.A.” (these two songs are Master Classes in irony and the concept of unreliable narrators) – I forget who mentioned it, but once I was told me to look at the song as a metaphor about America’s foreign policy. My mind was blown. I mean that with all sincerity; it really affected me. Just the power that lyrics can have, and the layers you can excavate (should you choose to, and should the writer be talented enough) – it’s extraordinary.

HW: The political and social climate of our generation is a popular debate. From styles of ethics, questions on morality, and the overall state of tension within our nation, what stands out to be the most problematic in your personal opinion?

PF: I would say the climate is both a direct result and response to the media’s apparent refusal (or lack of spine) in regards to speaking truth to power. I imagine it is not in their parent companies’ best interest to educate the public. George Carlin used to say, “It’s a big club, and you ain’t in it.”

That is partly what the song “Theories” is about (an unreliable narrator – in this case, a conspiracy theorist who writes of society’s ‘evils’ in a manifesto before presumably taking “action”). This idea that all our choices are merely dictated to us, different shades of lipstick on the same pig, as it were. It’s not a new or even novel concept: the ever looming “Establishment”. It’s a boogeyman, and a catch-all, but there also may be a kernel of truth in it.

Look, Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite are dead; Woodward and Bernstein no longer seem the gold standard, and it’s as if they’ve been superseded by the all-consuming noise of ad revenue. It’s a shame. Even before Trump labeled them “fake news”, CNN was a joke. I think Jeff Zucker (the head of CNN) once said something like, “Trump is bad for the country, but he’s great for CNN.” – It’s that mindset that is destroying the American social psyche.

On the flipside, we’ve got this “fake news” accusation, and that term is particularly dangerous – even borderline fascistic. Stalin did that. Hitler did that. Not good company to be in. His cabinet terrifies me. The bill he’s introduced is designed to eliminate agencies wholesale, which came from Steve Bannon naturally, is absolutely bone-chilling. This is why he chose these cabinet members. The motive is clear: he aims to destroy the Executive Branch entirely.

With the age of Trump’s administration, ethics are irrelevant, morality is forgotten, and greed is good. The people who will suffer the most, ironically, are the people in the places that voted for Trump in record numbers, and if you look at polling, Bernie would have won those places. Why? I would argue that it was because he gave a shit, frankly. Clinton couldn’t be bothered to stop in any of those states even ONCE; it was her “firewall” she said. That worked out so well for her, didn’t it? It’s the ignorance of the populace – the collective dumbing down of the American people. It all leads back to the media, and the way news is presented – no context for anything, nothing beyond sound bites and surface level coverage, packaged into digestible clips you can watch over your smart phone.

HW: Your last record, Poverty Row, was furnished by Kevin Carafa and recorded over at Bedside Manner. Overall, the record seemed to be an idea or experiment in what this band’s sound would definitively become on Overexposed. Since that 2015 debut, have there been any changes within the band, and would you say that’s credited to this reshaped sound?

PF: The first LP could be considered a demo – I feel comfortable with that. It was recorded with one Blue USB microphone plugged into Brandon’s Macbook inside Paul’s garage (or what once was a garage). I can’t say enough about Kevin Carafa, and his magic with that LP. Thanks, Kevin. Personally, I love that first CD. There are a lot of songs on there that make me proud, ones we didn’t do on Overexposed. For example, the opening stanza of “Juice Man” is something that a student loan creditor said to me, verbatim. I’ve never forgotten it: that matter-of-factness, the lack of compassion.

On a side note, going back to folk music, throughout the 1960’s, Pete Seeger put out LP’s with titles like American Folk Ballads or Songs of Struggle & Protest. So, my original conceit was to call the first album 21st Century Protest Songs, but I was voted down. Poverty Row has a lot of layers to it, both thematically and otherwise, so I’m happy with how it ended up. It came together for me especially when Paul had the idea to do a video for the entire album – that was really fun to compile. It took a month’s worth of work, I didn’t think it would go anywhere at first. Lots of people have seen music videos for a single, as it were, but an entire album? It ended up separating us from the pack and got the word out in a big way. I was happy about that.

In the very beginning, I know the guys were looking for a vocalist. Paul and I had a good experience when I played bass for time in Young American Artists, so he reached out to me. I think the first song I wrote for Aguirre was “Tin Shield and a Blue Coat”; it was a direct response to the riots in Ferguson, which were ongoing at the moment. I sent a draft over to my friend, Tohm Bakelas (who was also offered the vocalist position, among others). He gave me my original confidence that I should do it – and I really took to it, thereafter. I mean, I have to give the fellas a lot of credit – they really gave me free-reign over the content of the band. Even the name Aguirre itself came about through my love of Werner Herzog – since then, I’ve created this reasoning behind the name; but the original catalyst was my love of that film, and its director.

Our sound, that is to say, the palette we play around with is really all Brandon. The dude is a great guitarist. He came up with riffs almost instantaneously. He is really talented. I mean, who would believe this was his first band? I feel like he is very inspired by bands like Agent Orange, a band who I never even heard before this band, and now I can’t get enough of (I will note, that I got Brandon into Weedeater, so it’s even).

We started out on with Vince Basile on bass, a real cool guy, good friend, and great talent – I always loved Barcode Youth back in the day, the only heavily political band in the scene really, but beyond that they just ripped so hard, and played with such passion – so I was stoked when he agreed to join. From that point, we were really off to the races – all ten songs came together very quickly and effortlessly. We played a lot of live gigs, which some of us enjoyed, and others less so.

Around the summer of 2016 we kind of took a break – right after Bernie Sanders lost the nomination. That was a big blow for me, personally. I was crushed. It’s funny – we would always play the songs live in short bursts, so I would call them “Bernie Blocks” – I think, looking back, maybe it was too much, you know? Maybe I was making the band too much of a vessel for my feelings, without being aware of everyone else’s? That seems selfish of me, and that’s unfortunate. It was right around that time, some members left to pursue other projects and Aguirre laid dormant for a period.

It wasn’t until my brother Chris started badgering me about this guy named Tom Wyka that things started to move again. He’d tell me how Tom went to every Uncle Mark (around the house it’s called ‘Destroyer’) show – even if it was in a barn in upstate NY, on a Wednesday afternoon – he’d be there. I was like, “yeah, whatever.” But he kept at it, and eventually I reached out to him. One day, Tom came to practice and he already knew most of the material. Not only that, he began expanding on the bass lines soon thereafter. It knocked me flat. So, when you talk about “new dynamics” and “new sound” it really harkens back to getting Wyka involved. I feel like he made Paul and Brandon really start to listen to one another, almost like jazz musicians do. I was just along for the ride.

Tom wrote “Molt”, the opening track, at a practice just randomly. The guys started jamming on it, and I literally freestyled the entire song then and there. Talk about cohesion, focus, and clarity – it was all there. You can’t reproduce it. I feel like, honestly, the best time I was in Aguirre was the lead-up and recording of this new LP, Overexposed – personally it’s one of the most fulfilling creative acts I’ve ever been able to be a part of. I’m very fortunate to be involved. It was bittersweet, Tom moving to Austin – but I can’t be happier for him, and if our band ends with this one record as a testament to its existence, I couldn’t ask for anything better.

HW: This presidency has exposed an ever real and persistently harsh reality within our country. “100 Days” was lyrically displayed as a sarcastic point of view towards the conservative right. From the oil drilling, to back room trades, and the overall corrupt bearing of President Trump, what is it exactly that just pisses you off about him? What could we do as a community or scene to combat such a tyrannical administration?

PF: What pisses me off about the man is that he is ignorant. Worse still, is he boasts about it. He is a liar and a braggart and could potentially become synonymous with a man by the name of Benedict Arnold. Now, it is not yet treason to say such a thing about a sitting president, but give it four more years and it could be. Who knows? That is the threat, and it is a very real one.

What can we do about it? Put very simply: resist. It may seem trite and banal after hearing it so many times, from so many different people, but it’s as good as a piece of advice as I have to give. I’m not suggesting you protest every hour of every day. I’m saying be aware of what’s happening around you. Take an interest in what’s happening at the local level, and for Frank Zappa’s sake get out there and VOTE! It’s one of those things that I believe in so fervently, it’s really the reason we go to war in the first place, if you really think about it. It’s that liberty we all take for granted, you know, while we’re concerned with our appearance, and entertainment, and gossip, and random scandal.

Like Bernie has said time and again, ‘nothing gets solved without a massive public outcry’, like the kind of protest we saw with the Women’s March on Washington, following Trump’s inauguration. As a wiser man than me once said, “Be the change you wish to see.” Or as my father is wont to say, “Wish in one hand and shit in another, then see which one fills up first.” It’s easy to be a keyboard warrior over the internet, or talk a good game in public. Actions speak louder than words. If you want something bad enough, then do something about it.

HW: What were your influences in being a front man for a hardcore band?

PF: Influences in terms of presentation, like stage presence? Probably Iggy Pop, although I never nearly took it as far as him, the man is a machine – even now. His new record might be my favorite, in fact. I’m too chicken. People compare me to Rollins often, which I find very nice. One time we played at the Meatlocker and this girl comes up to Paul and me, saying: “You guys are the best Steve Albini band I’ve ever heard!” I gave her a Poverty Row CD then and there. I mean Big Black is amazing – so is the stuff he produces, like Tomahawk.

I guess my major influence is Cat Stevens. Someone told me that I reminded him of Cat back when I played bass in this post rock band, Datura while I was going to school in NYC. I guess it was because I really get into the music. I think that’s apt in any case, even when I’m a spectator. If the music’s good, then I’m into it – for real and for keeps. I don’t really get into mimicking any one person or style. I’m just me, and I only want to be me – what other choice do I got, right?

HW: Would you say that you develop a character, or personality, for each of your projects, or is Aguirre just a satisfying emotion or feeling you need to address through music?

PF: Like I mentioned before, I’m not too into the whole ‘pageantry’ of creating personas; it seems silly in the wake of David Bowie and Ziggy Stardust. However, I can see why people would want one. I mean, The Legendary Marvin Pontiac for example, is a world away sonically, from any of John Lurie’s other material. So, doing an LP under a pseudonym makes total sense in a case like that (shout out to the Lounge Lizards and The Voice of Chunk for being absolutely amazing).

I would agree however, that I like to write lyrics from a point of view that is decidedly not my own. I find that it makes things challenging, and when it works, more rewarding. This project, in particular, has also been extremely gratifying in the emotional catharsis dept. – for me, at least.

HW: What’s on the plate for Aguirre this year? Any tours or plans for this project that you would like to address?

PF: I feel comfortable at this point confirming that Aguirre, as an ongoing project, is finished. In my eyes, our ‘last show’ was Wyka’s swan song at Boontunes shortly after finishing the Overexposed sessions. That felt like closure. Afterwards, it was became very delicate – we had previous commitments made, and luckily we were able to honor those. Our good friend Tyler Hahn stepped up and played those with us, and he’s been a very good trooper throughout; I want acknowledge his help. I’m grateful to him for stepping up like that. It may not seem it, but it means a lot.

It’s tough when people have different points of view, and they want different things. Sometimes it’s an untenable situation. It’s not about right or wrong, or anything like that. It’s just respecting people’s opinions. Listen, I am so proud of the work I did with these guys, I think it’s some of the most interesting and creatively stimulating work I’ve ever done – and I’m honored to have been a part of it.

What does the future hold? Well, Brandon’s started a really awesome group called Jippo with some of the members of Fuhgawee Hunting Club – their EP is up on Bandcamp, and it’s really great. Paul and I hope to continue the thread that we started with Aguirre, we’ll see in what form it takes, but it’s my hope that it’s just as rewarding as this experience, because this has really been a highlight, playing with these guys. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.

HW: Any last words or shoutouts?

PF: Thanks to anybody who noticed. It really does mean something, believe it or not.

I am the Wrath of god.

Photography courtesy of Nikki Skinner.

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