Interview: Condominum

Twin Cities-based band Condominium started out playing fairly straight-forward ‘80s-style hardcore punk, but over the past seven or so years they have incorporated a variety of stimuli—veering into garage, no wave, psych, and AmRep-like clamor—which has resulted in a sound that is not easily pigeonholed. Their latest EP Carl finds them furthering the noise and arty experimentation that left a lasting mark on 2011’s outstanding Warm Home LP, but also digging their claws even deeper into the feverish anger from which they were born. Each component of their sound is functioning at a high level of intensity. The vocals sound meaner than ever before, the bass playing is downright nasty, the guitars are urgent and assaulting to the senses, while the drums fill every available nook and cranny with skillful pummeling. Carl is a powerful piece of art and the perfect coagulation of their recorded output thus far – a strong indicator that they are capable of taking hardcore to places rarely explored. 

I had originally submitted this interview to Maximum RocknRoll Magazine, who said they wanted to run it, then said they didn’t, then said they did again, before ultimately deciding that no, they were not going to run it because Condominium broke the rules of punk (an absurd concept, actually) by putting out a record on Sub Pop. Oh well. The good news is that after several months of it hanging in the balance, it’s finally seeing the light of day. So if some of the information feels dated, I apologize. It first ran in The Soda Killers issue #6. (There are still a limited number of copies left, so if you'd like one, let us know ASAP.)
-Nathan G. O'Brien

Let’s get the basics done first.  Who are you and what instruments do you play?

Matt: I'm Matt and I play bass and sing

Brad: Brad and I play guitar.

Joe: Joe=drums

I know you have a new 7” out and just got back from tour, but I’d like to go back a little bit here first.  Can you talk a little bit about how the band came together, how long Condominium has been a band, and how you arrived at your current lineup?

Matt: I started writing songs for Condominium in the summer of 2006 while I was still playing in Formaldehyde Junkies.  Originally the band was going to be just me playing all the instruments and writing songs to sound like mid-period Anti-Cimex and only doing tape releases. Doing everything myself turned out to be way too hard so I asked Brad to help me out, and we enjoyed it enough that we thought it was worth putting together a proper band.  Brad and I recorded the demo and enlisted Kim and Joe to play with us.  Our first show was in the summer of 2007.  So originally we were a four-piece, but after a couple years Kim moved away so I started playing bass. Being a three-piece has worked out okay since then.

Brad: There have been some peripheral members. We have played half a show with a second drummer, a mic’d video was the vocals for one show, Leonard the dog is on the LP recording, and Leonard was in on the second Radio K session.

What’s the bands creation process like?  Is one of you the primary song-writer?  How are ideas presented?  Do you jam until something works?  Who brings what to the table? 

Matt: We are a pretty slow moving band. Usually I come up with an idea for a song on my own, maybe do a really rough recording of it, and bring it to practice. Then depending on how bad it is we either spend a lot of time or a shitload of time changing it until we like it. Then after it's pretty well formed, I'll eventually write lyrics for it. Over time the song writing process has changed a little bit. Originally I was in the habit of writing everything on guitar first, coming up with all the riffs and building off of that. When I took over playing bass I sometimes started with that instead, and lately I've been trying to build songs by starting with drums ideas. We've never had much luck just “jamming”, for whatever reason. I mean, I don't think punk music generally lends itself to those sorts of free-form jam sessions, but maybe we're just too uptight or something.

Brad: Matt is the prophet for sure. My “additions” usually arise from my inability to play the songs correctly or when I don’t really understand what Matt wants me to do. Also, while we don’t jam that much, we do work on things together. Sometimes song writing is an exercise in how hard it is to talk about music, even for the three of us that have been playing together for so long now. Is the song a “ripper” or a “jammer” or somewhere in between? Should the drum beat be “crazier” or “less chaotic” or more “driving?”  Should we be going for “mid-tempo rager” or “stomper” or something more like [me doing the robot dance]? We are pretty good at reading into these vague or cryptic ways to talk about how music sounds, which is one of the benefits of being comfortable with each other playing music. However, we still rely mostly on Matt to bring the riffs and ideas.

Let’s talk about the recording process.  Your LP Warm Home has a sound or a feeling to it, I guess, that’s really hard to describe.  It conveys some feeling of dinginess or like, dirtiness –a really nasty, dirty, distorted, loud sound.  I think it perfectly encapsulates what it’s like to see you play live.  It’s like there was a definite mood set.  Is that something you consciously tried to do?Matt, are you the sole sound engineer?

Matt: Yes, so far I've engineered all our records, either in our old practice space, or now at A Harder Commune, which is the studio I built in my basement.  Whenever we record we do have some ideas about how we want it to sound, but usually I try not to over think it too much.  I'm always of two minds about how things should sound which makes it tough.  Brad and I always talk about wanting to have this massive, super heavy modern sound like Tragedy or something, so that informs some of our choices, but at the end of the day that is not what we actually sound like.  The flipside of that is that I really like recordings that are just sort of awkward and not super slick, but that really do a good job showing off the actual sound of the band playing together and all the idiosyncrasies of their music.  I really prefer to work fast and not try to micromanage every little detail.  So my approach to engineering our records is caught somewhere between those two ideas.  There are probably lots of little details I'd like to change about how Warm Home was recorded, but overall I think it does a good job striking a balance between heaviness and awkwardness.

Brad: It’s funny that you think Warm Home sounds dirty, distorted, and loud. Maybe it’s because I’m always standing directly in front of my amp when we play, but the record sounds tame and clean to me in comparison. I think I have unrealistic expectations for how crazy, distorted, and heavy the recording should sound, but I’m always underwhelmed. It’s hard to not want to quadruple track every pick slide and go huge, but I’m glad that we didn’t for the LP. It’s cool that the record sounds unique to other people.

Each Condominium release seems to show you guys evolving. Warm Home showed you toying with some noise and experimental nuances.  Do you make a conscious effort to further develop your sound a little bit each time out? 

Matt: Letting ourselves evolve is an important part of this band.  I realized early on that as much as I love fast, straight forward hardcore, I would get bored doing that forever. Our experimenting with other sounds has never been an attempt to actually change our whole style or even be “original”. It's fun. Being in Condominium is a way for me to always be reevaluating my ideas about music.

Brad: Can evolution be intentional? I’m not sure if its evolution or intentional development, but I think we’re all open to new ways to be raging. As far as process, we do talk about new sounds or influences to incorporate down the line, but it’s not always “further out there.” Sometimes we want to try to write a hardcore song with a more straightforward beat. But yeah, sometimes we are trying to make “world music” or something truly “out there.”

Joe: Really, it’s like, are we musicians or just playing punk? Just playing punk rules! Don't get me wrong – there are lots of great bands doing it really well right now, but it takes some sort of stylistic purity that I’m not sure we are capable of. I feel like Condo has become an outlet for all our more trained and thoughtful musical minds. Pigeonholing can work great, but Condo can't be contained. We are all influenced by tons of shit from rap to jazz to 10 notes on a summer’s day so if we're being true to ourselves it'll shine through while retaining a semblance of what we originally set out to do.

You’ve used a variety of imagery for your release; from photography to collage to drawing. How is it determined who does the artwork and what it will look like?

Brad: Matt and I have done all the artwork (Matt drew the last 7” and we found the other pictures and did the collages together, pretty much). Basically, it involves looking for something that looks cool. It really is that stupid/mindless.

How did each of you get into punk or hardcore or whatever?

Matt: I got into punk because I had some friends in high school that played in a street punk band and asked me to play guitar with them, so they introduced me to a lot of stuff.  I also give a lot of credit to NOFX, because they drop references to some dope stuff like Reagan Youth and Rudimentary Peni.

Brad: I grew up in suburban Cleveland and had two babysitters when I was young that were into punk and hardcore. One of them was in a sloppy hardcore band that beat each other up and wore wrestling masks (h100s/ 9 Shocks Terror clones) and the other was in a sXe metalcore band called Choice (sounded like Strife or Earth Crisis). They took me to shows and made me tapes. They got me into pop punk as well as hardcore. I mostly dug Screeching Weasel, NOFX, Operation Ivy, Rancid, and others at first, but slowly got more into the other stuff. I started trading tapes in the mail when I was 13 and that’s how I heard Crass and Subhumans. Then I was never the same again.

Joe: Always was punk.

When I originally contacted you guys about doing an interview, it was for another unnamed publication. One that sells add space, covers a variety of music other than punk/HC. You guys decided against it. I’m not sure if this is on the same track, but can you talk about your approach to, I don’t want to say “image” necessarily, but like ethos or whatever.

Matt: I think for the most part our ethos is based on two things; one, being our long-time involvement in the DIY underground punk scene, and two, that we don't really have big ambitions of being popular. To me, things like the unnamed outlet you mentioned exist for bands who are actively seeking attention. Not that that's the worst thing ever, but to me it feels beside the point for Condominium. Also, even though we obviously haven't stuck to being a strictly DIY affair, I do care about maintaining some level of independence and control over our own work, so that DIY mentality has definitely informed many of our choices.

Brad: It’s definitely a loose ethos behind our selectivity. Maybe that is a bit sad. For interviews and shows, it’s mostly that we just feel uncomfortable in certain places (bars, ad-driven music “journalism”, etc.) and choose places we like rather than places that will make us more popular or whatever. In this instance, I actively follow and enjoy HotDogDayz and not the unnamed outlet.

Can you talk about the internal struggle of “being punk” or living a DIY lifestyle or whatever? Or just being a human being.  Like, for example, I have a real issue with how my views on life, being a decent person, etc. directly clash with where I work.  It’s a delicate balance.  How do you maintain a balance?

Matt: Well, I don't know; the internal struggle of being a human being maybe goes beyond the scope of an interview.  But in my opinion, that balance is something that is sort of self-regulating, not some static right or wrong thing.

Brad: Tough question for sure. Punks, in general, might put a little too much stock in “being punk” as some sort of oppositional or resistant lifestyle. In my mind, “lifestyle” politics of that sort are a bit delusional. While the personal is political, it cuts both ways. The search for personal purity or getting caught up in hypocritical individual consumer behavior distracts or other forms of privileged guilt can often distract one from the larger picture. The point is that “we all take part in creating the system,” no matter what lifestyle choices you make. Being aware of the limitations of our actions in the current context is important.  That being said, balance might not be the right word. Finding individual peace or contentment or balance in a fucked up world is perverse. It will be an unending struggle or antagonism in this world as it is structured.

Joe: Oh man, life's a struggle. Just thinking about what you're doing but having fun as long as it's not at the expense of others, that's important. I think that's legit. Punk can be really restricting; I think it's important to view it as liberating. In that regard Condominium is the punkest band I play in.

In 2013, you guys did a residency at Grumpy’s in downtown Minneapolis.  Considering you guys play a lot of DIY and all-ages spaces and houses, was it strange playing in a bar?

Matt: We did five shows there total, every Saturday night for a month. Our sets were pretty typical length, and we had one other band with us each week. We tried to mix up the sets each week, and we did learn a cover song (Flux Of Pink Indians - “Some Of Us Scream, Some Of Us Shout”), but we don't have a huge number of songs to choose from.  I think we got a fairly diverse mix of people in the crowd but I'm not sure because when we're playing it usually seems too awkward to look at anyone.  It was weird playing at a bar and I wasn't totally crazy about it, but at the same time I think the setup they had at Grumpy's was way more pleasant than any other bar I've been to.

Brad: It was a bit weird, but when you think about it, playing shows in general is weird. While the side room was cozier and less bar-like, I don’t like being in bars in general and this didn’t change my opinion. Also, I wish they had better food there and that it was free for the bands.

When you tour, how do you normally decide where you’re going to travel to and what venues you’ll play? 

Joe: We book our tours just like any other DIY punk band would; by building up contacts locally as touring bands come through or being in touch through email or mail. We always push for all-ages gigs in (ideally smoke free haha) houses or DIY spots. The less legit the better; although we do enjoy a sense of organization.

Do you make a point of seeing stuff and enjoying yourselves, or is it mostly about doing the gig?

Matt: I always sort of want to spend time actually seeing the cities we're in and having fun, but I am pretty neurotic about sticking to the tour mission. That unfortunately puts a damper on my social and tourist activities on the road.

Brad: Our past west coast tour was a blast for me. Got to see tons of friends and family, buy records, eat a wild assortment of vegan treats, played some pickup basketball at Muscle Beach, took my brother on tour as a roadie, hung out with Leonard the dog outside the cities, stayed with my other brother, and played some pretty rad shows. We had some days off in choice places (Vancouver, L.A). In general, we set up shows through friends and stay with people. I like seeing new places and all but I generally prefer going places I have already been and doing the same things I have done in the past. Nothing wrong with hitting the same burrito joint in San Francisco as before or the record stores in Portland that I have been to many times.

Do all of you volunteer at Extreme Noise?  If so, for how long, and what is your role?  Can you talk a little bit about the experience and/or the store for those that might not be familiar?

Brad: We are all long time volunteers at Extreme Noise, a collectively run all-volunteer record store on Lake St. in Minneapolis. Celebrating 20 years of existence next April, EN has long been a crucial part of the scene in the cities. I have been volunteering since 2005 and am currently the volunteer coordinator and a board member. I also order records and work a shift with Matt (Saturday nights). As a tangible institution, the store provides a unique way to be involved in the scene without “just hanging out” (which is sometimes what we do at the store). By ordering records, organizing them, selling them to people, etc., you can productively engage with music without it being “personal” (being in a band, buying/listening to your own records, etc.) or all about shows. While I like shows alright, I prefer this other way of interacting with music/the scene.

Your latest 7” Carl is out on Sub Pop.  How did that come about?  It’s safe to say that Sub Pop is the biggest label you’ve worked with so far.  Were there some difficulites, or was it a fairly easy process?

Matt: A guy from Sub Pop was at the Grumpy's show we played with Feedtime, and I guess he knew our
band and asked if we'd be interested in doing a record on their label.  In some ways they have been super nice, but yeah there have been some difficulties with the whole thing. We took forever to decide whether we even wanted to do it, and then had to bungle through negotiating our contract. Then there was a big hassle with the artwork and we had to start from scratch at the last minute.

Brad: It was cool to try out this label that is very different from the others we worked with in the past (and to just be able to say we are on the same label as Nirvana). Some people there, especially Dean, have been more than awesome. But the difficulties arose from the simple fact that we were just dabbling in this “bigger” scene and found out we were pretty resistant to the music business on that level (dealing with copyright for artwork, forced PR-type interviews, contracts, etc.) No beef, just different vibes and now we know more what that world is about in a way.

Joe: This plays into what I wrote earlier about being punk. For me, it was such a strange opportunity that it would have been silly to turn down. We didn't sacrifice anything musically (the cover art couldn't be what we had wanted), and it was a glimpse into a world different than ours and a reaffirmation that DIY is the way to go. No hate!

Are any of you currently playing in other bands?

Brad: I am playing drums in vegan straight edge hardcore band called No More. They were already a band and were looking for someone who maybe knew how to play drums but was definitely vegan and straight edge. I fit the bill. It’s fun to play drums again (haven’t played drums in a band for years), even if I’m not that good. Also, watch out for War Scientist.

Joe: I'm gonna answer this just to get a hold myself. I play drums in long running crust-metal outfit Cognitive Dissonance, NYC/MPLS based hardcore band Question, and Winnipeg based kang/D-beat band Loutish. I play bass in a sort of Japanese HC influenced band Zero. There are other projects but nothing too concrete now.

Aside from hardcore and punk, are there other genres of music you’re passionate about?  

Matt: I wouldn't say there are whole other genres I'm passionate about, but I do spend a fair amount of time listening to music outside of the punk world. Variety is the spice of life. Punk rules.

Just curious, anyone a rap fan?

Brad: I dig rap quite a bit. Not much newer stuff, but I can never get enough of ‘90s shit. Especially shit I can collect on pro-printed cassette. Recently, the following have been in heavy rotation: Lord Finesse - The Awakening, Jungle Brothers - Done By the Forces of Nature, and Ghostface - Ironman. I guess I like other shit too.

Joe: I like industrial, electronic music (early Aphex Twin and the likes), KLF, jazz, hip-hop, blah blah. None of it gets me like punk though.

Let’s talk about other interests for a moment.  Brad, I know you’re a basketball fan. I imagine we could have an entirely separate interview just about that.  

Brad: Yeah, hoops could be a long topic with me, whether it’s about playing pickup or pro teams/players. I need to pick your mind about local high school hoops. The reports on those games are one of the best parts of HDD. I will say that I'm pretty into the Minnesota Lynx. I went to game one of the Western Conference Finals last night (9/26/13.) They blew out the Phoenix Mercury. Getting the title this year for sure! (We did! -Ed.)

Joe, you’re an artist of sorts.  Without incriminating yourself, would you mind talking a little bit about that - what drives/inspires you.  Again, I’m sure we could have an entire interview with just you on this subject. 

Joe: You got flicks of my work... Yeah interview my nom de plume, he'd have something to say... But yes, that is a different side that relates to the freedom in drumming and creating and it’s all intertwined and extremely important to sanity and getting to know oneself.

Are there other bands, especially in the Twin Cities, that you enjoy playing with or are especially
fond of?

Matt: Yes! Even though I'm not the biggest fan of live music, I've been feeling really good about the local bands that are around these days.  I really like Hasps, Frozen Teens, and a bunch of others.

Brad: I would add Kontrasekt and Wild Child as well.

Joe: Cosigned on both of those responses... Varix (read our Varix interview here,) Sistema Inmundo.  Otherwise I'd love to see the homies who can shred pick it up and start a band. It takes work but it builds community and self-knowledge! Stay Inspired!!!

I want to thank you for doing this interview.  Wrapping up, do you guys have anything else in the works you’d like to mention?

Matt: We're working on finishing up writing a new 7” called Thug that we'll hopefully put out soon.

Condominium Discography: 

4 Song Demo Tape, cassette, self-released, spring 2007
Hello Tomorrow 7”, self-released, January 2008
Live On Radio K, cassette, self-released, summer 2008
Pupils 7”, self-released, October 2008
Live On The Bloc, cassette, Blinded Records, July 2009
Barricade 7”, Fashionable Idiots Records, August 2009
Gag 7”, Deer Healer Label, March 2010
Warm Home LP, Troy, September 2011
Carl 7”, Sub Pop Records, May 2013
Thug, soon...

Contact: You can generally find information about ordering our records on our website.  We've also posted free downloads of all the out of print records, which is most of them:

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