Good Guy Bad Guy at Birdy’s Battle Royale (credit: Jonathan Sanders)
If you missed your chance to check out Indianapolis punk band Good Guy Bad Guy when they played during week five of Birdy’s Battle Royale, tomorrow will be your perfect chance to hear them and twenty more locals ready to win you over to Naptown’s punk dark side. 5th Quarter Lounge is sponsoring Punk Fest 2015, starting tonight and continuing all day and night tomorrow with more than thirty regional bands all competing for your attention.
I had the chance to talk with Stephen Ajamie, lead singer for Good Guy Bad Guy earlier this week, and he had plenty to say about the band’s past and future, the difficulties in drawing large crowds to last-minute gigs, and why you should make sure to get to 5th Quarter as early as possible for their noon performance.
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First of all, what’s the story behind the band? How did you guys get started?
It’s an interesting story, I guess. Back a year or so ago I was trying to get a band together so I put a posting on Facebook. And then Shane, who is actually our bass player we had for a little bit, messaged me and said “hey, I’m starting this thing out, do you want to come play with us and see what you like?” So I went that route — it was Shane and Amir, and then they also had a singer named Kevin. So we played for a couple months and then unfortunately Kevin couldn’t show up to practice for six weeks in a row, which was awesome. [Laughs.]
But we kept practicing and eventually we did hook up with Phil, our drummer now. I came in not knowing what the music was going to be, but Phil came in looking for a pop punk type band, which obviously we don’t play. We haven’t yet truly established a sound, which is funny. But it was the four of us … me and Shane took the vocal duties because we kept looking for a singer. We’d both sang with a band before and figured we might as well just do it. He left the band last year in April, so we’ve been rolling as a threesome ever since.
We’ve looked for a bass player here and there, but the three of us have good chemistry so I’m honestly not that worried about having a bass player. Having two guitars, me and Amir don’t really play a lot of the same stuff. We’ll do a lot of the same chord stuff together but then we’ll switch it up, alternating the lead. It’d be nice to have a bass player to fill out the sound, but then again when you’re playing with the same guys for long enough, the chemistry we have is so good that a lot of the stuff we’ve written so far just came out of jamming. Amir might start playing something at the beginning of practice, or I play something, and once Phil comes in then we go back and organize it. But I think that’s the best thing I love about playing with these guys.
You said you haven’t really pinned down your sound yet. What influences were you guys bringing to the table?
Oh man … I know Amir’s really metalesque, it seems. And I’m into that pop punk genre, while Phil’s all over the place with his interests. It’s interesting that I think the influences we listen to don’t really end up coming out, if that makes sense. I’ve always said a couple of our songs — “Hello Cleveland” and “We Got Phil” — they almost have an AC/DC thing, which is straight-up rock. And I never really think about them as an influence. But I listen and there it is.
My own musical taste is all over the place. One week I’ll want to listen to Stevie Wonder all week and the next I’ll want to listen to nothing but Michael Jackson. Even though I always joke “I hope they don’t take my punk rock card away,” because the scene can be so “you better listen to this or you’re not punk enough!” Every day though there’s a different influence on my mind, and that should be the punk rock attitude anyway. The whole idea behind punk is to be accepting of variety, non-conformity.
Do you ever find yourself re-writing or arranging your songs on stage?
Only when we’re practicing. On stage maybe by chance we might decide to extend something out, but I don’t think it’s ever by design, honestly. Usually right before practice we’ll get there, and we practice every Saturday so there’s consistency. We don’t have a lot of songs, so we’ll play through our set every week and then we shoot out ideas and just run with it. I think when we’re done with Punk Fest we’re really gonna get the gears going writing new stuff, because we have been playing these same songs for probably the last year. And I’m ready to add a couple new songs to that.
Have you had the chance to do much in the studio yet?
Nope. All the stuff we’ve recorded was recorded by ourselves in Amir’s basement. We’d mic up the drums first, then our guitars, using my iPad which has GarageBand on it. I’d rather go into the studio though because it’s a lot of work doing the mixing and mastering on our own.
But you got good demos out of it.
Yeah and the thing is these days your home studio, you can almost make that into as good quality, with the right microphones and the right setup, as a studio. I’d like to get back into a studio though — I’ve done it once, because when I interned at a studio their reward was that I got studio time. So with my last band we went in for like six hours and I played and did all the mixing and the recording, which would never happen again. It’s just too much, but a good experience to have. At least I kind of know what to do, and even Amir and Phil, we know what we want to hear. So we might as well do it ourselves. Maybe when we hit the big time we can go into a studio.
You played Battle of the Bands at Birdy’s, and you’ve got Punk Fest coming up. Have you had a whole lot of big shows yet in Indy?
We did Melody Inn’s punk rock night in October, and last June we did Morristown’s Summer Music Festival out in Morristown, Indiana. We did Sabbatical once, but that was a last minute gig. That’s the thing too — we keep getting stuck with these “Oh! We need a band now!” gigs. The Battle of the Bands was unfortunate, because we didn’t know until that Tuesday that we were in. So while we didn’t bring many people out, we really couldn’t. Our fan-base is a lot of married couples with kids, so you can’t just tell them on a Tuesday to come out on Friday last minute.
I’m really curious about the Punk Fest because we’re playing at 12:15 in the afternoon. Hopefully people do show up, but you can only tell so many people, you can only throw it out there so much. But from the looks of it there’s not that much else going on this weekend so that might help.
It’s funny that you’re playing just after noon. Any earlier than that and you should probably just say it’s not early but late, an extension of the night before.
Exactly! And I think Punk Fest actually keeps going from there until early the next morning. If someone survives all the Friday night bands, then stays the whole day Saturday, they’re a true fan!
What are you guys wanting to do in the future? What do you want to push yourselves to do — would you rather tour more or write more?
It’s funny because we never talk about it, we just kind of go. So I hate to say there are no plans, but we just keep saying we want to play more. Even if it’s just every couple months, we just want there to be some consistency so people know of us. Honestly, we don’t have plans. As long as we’re enjoying it, that seems to be the goal. When it feels like work we’ll probably be OK calling it a day. But right now we have fun practicing and when we play shows, even if there’s just two people there I feel like we get a good response. Battle of the Bands was a tough crowd for whatever reason, but hopefully that was just a blip in the road. Because I thought we played the best we’d played in a while.
What do you want to say to people who haven’t heard you before but are thinking of checking you out at Punk Fest? What would make them want to get there early?
I think our music is the best thing we offer. It’s simple, you can sing along, and the personality we bring with our music really fits. We don’t try to be something that we’re not. I’d say just come out to the show, see how much fun we’re having while playing. You look at some bands and it’s like they’re just up there going through the motions. That may be their gimmick, but even if you are going through the motions, at least act like you’re interested in it. We’ll definitely interact with you and keep the crowd engaged. If you want to come get heckled, heckle us! We’ll throw it right back. But just coming out, seeing all the different bands too. There’s going to be a good variety. I’ve got a couple bands I’ve kept tabs on because I do want to talk to them after their sets, if I can find them in the crowd.