Bar Parents on Punk Politics and Drunk Encounters

Indie rock power trio Bar Parents–the project of singer/guitarist Steve Bunting, singer/bassist Andrew Brassington, and drummer Juliette Pardue–has been bringing its unique spin on punk music to the Norfolk and Virginia Beach scene since 2014. The band’s eponymous 2016 EP is as thoughtful as it is energetic, full of crunchy riffs, melodic bass lines, and arresting beats. They show a diverse range of influences, drawing from hardcore, emo, garage rock, and more.

Bar Parents will be performing at Norfolk Taphouse this Saturday, July 15, along with touring hardcore acts Outlier and Motives. Ahead of the gig, the band was available for a brief interview on their history and experiences in the scene.

What’s the origin story of the band? How did you all meet?

Bunting: Oh man, we go so far back. Me and Julie actually went to preschool together. We didn’t realize it–when we were in high school we met and started hanging out, and the first time I went over to her parents’ house, I introduced myself to her mom, and Julie’s mom was just like, ‘I remember when you and Julie were in preschool together.’ And we both looked at each other like, ‘were we?’ But I guess my junior year, and Andrew and Julie’s senior year of high school, we all started hanging out a bunch. They were both in a band together at the time, but we’d never really thought about starting one until junior and senior year of college. We were all looking to make the same kind of music, and it just all dawned on us, like, ‘the three of us have known each other forever, and who would we want to make music with but our best friends?’ And we’ve all been best friends since we met, so it just was a natural fit.

The night we formed was Julie’s undergrad graduation party, and she’s working on a PhD now, so there will be one or two more of those. I got really drunk and passed out on her parents’ couch, and I woke up and I was like–because we had talked in theory about starting a band–I popped up, and I was like, ‘so we’re starting a band, right?’ Andrew and Julie were like, ‘seriously?’ and I was like, ‘yeah, seriously, let’s do this.’ They were like, what are we going to play?’ and I was like, ‘We’ll play ‘Alive with the Glory of Love’ by Say Anything.’ And we stumbled through a cover of that, and that was the first song we ever played as a band.

Pardue: We were all pretty drunk, and it was a good idea at the time, and I don’t regret it now, I still think it’s a good idea.

Where does the name ‘Bar Parents’ come from?

Brassington: The name came from this one time where Steve and I were going to a show at the Norva. The show happened to be Streetlight Manifesto, so you had an interesting mix of people. You had mostly dudes in their thirties wearing drivers’ caps and a few punk kids peppered throughout. And then you had some younger kids, which is interesting, because they’re I guess a little bit of an older band now. But when there are younger kids at shows, they either got dropped off there or their parents are there. So if you looked over to the side where the bar was during the set, you’d see all the parents sitting there just drinking. So we came up with the term for Bar Parents then and there, and it just stuck.

Has the kind of music you wanted to make or the dynamic of working together as musicians changed over time?

Pardue: That’s a good question. We’re all pretty different styles and backgrounds, Steve has blues and jazz music and other stuff […] I’m into heavier stuff like metal and metalcore, so it was weird when we all started writing together just because all of our sounds were so different, so it was interesting trying to work all of our different sounds and styles together to make something that sounded good. Each of us was a polar end of our genres, and then working together to drift towards the middle of everything. I think it’s made us more flexible as writers and musicians, just to have so many different styles and influences between us.

Bunting: As people, if anything we’ve gotten closer. We have to practice, we have to hang out one or two nights a week, and before it was like, as bad as we wanted to do that, we didn’t have similar schedules, but now that we’re in a band, we have to make similar schedules, which is awesome, because we just need an excuse to hang out more anyway. But we’re definitely all still very much best friends. As far as the style of music goes, that changed after the first song we wrote. We set out to make old school, NOFX, maybe a little bit Descendents sort of punk music, and we wrote one song in that style. We made that a reality, and then the second song we wrote went totally off those rails. And we all had a conversation after we wrote that song, and we were like, ‘well, this isn’t what we meant to do, what do we do?’ Do we try to get back on those rails, and accept that this is a weird one time thing, or do we do what comes out? We all agreed we’re going to do what comes out. And we’ve been doing that ever since. It’s definitely not what we set out to do, it’s not super-duper punky, but it’s music we’re all really happy with, and every time we write a song together I think we all have that smiling and chuckling moment of like, ‘holy shit, we just wrote that.’

What was that first song?

Bunting: It was “Top Gun,” which is the last song on our EP. I wrote that song when I was in 10th grade, or at least the chord structure for it. The intro part, the very first moments of that song I wrote. I was in a different band at the time, and I took it to them, and we all tried to grapple with, well, ‘what do we do with this weird piece of music?’ When we started this band, I took it to Andrew, and he was just like, ‘no, just play the power chords, and with the bass riff, I can fill out the riff you wrote, it’ll be the same gist of a piece of music, and it’ll sound different, but it’ll be really cool.’ And I didn’t trust that, I was like ‘no, this is deeper than that, it’s more of a ballad.’ And then he did it, and I was like, ‘nope, you’re right, it’s a punk song, I don’t know what I was doing.’

That’s happened with a lot of different songs now, like, I remember, we were writing “That Feel When (In Rome),” I think. And I think we both spent an hour arguing over what chord it should end on. It was supposed to be either a D or a B, and then we were like, ‘alright, so we disagree on those two, what can it be?’ And then one of us played an A, and we were just like, ‘no, it’s an A now.’ It was so weird because when that A got played, there was no disagreement anymore. It was like, if it’s not what either of us wanted, and we were both so sure we knew what it should be, and then when it was the A, it was the A, and we were both like, ‘holy shit, that’s what it should have been all along and I can’t believe we stuck to our guns on other chords for so long.’

That song starts out the EP with getting into these themes of, ‘where is home,’ and finding your own place. I wanted to ask about that as an overarching theme of the EP.

Bunting: It all comes from a lot of different places. “Top Gun” in particular, to me, like I mentioned earlier, I wrote that song a long time ago, that was just the music–the lyrics for that song came way way way after, after we finalized it as a band. I guess when I sat down to write those lyrics, it came out as being about a friend of mine from a long time ago, who had killed himself, and a lot of latent resentment that I still had over that because of the way it all went down, which was very quick, and I guess for me being so young at the time, abrupt. I was too young to see the warning signs there. And the band was never meant to be a sad thing. It was I think at times meant to be almost political, but that first EP was just a lot of, at least on the songs I wrote–which lyrically was all of them but “Birds and Trees and Other Things”–a lot of depression issues. “Top Gun” in particular was about dealing with other people’s depression, and the shitty things that does to you. “Maureen Ponderosa” was about feeling out of place, and trying to find other people to fix that, “Rome” is probably the most literal one on the album, playing that song live, I’ll say this, is legitimately just letting it out. There’s a reason that song is so screamy, and it’s because those emotions, when they come out, feel like screams, you know? It’s not a cry for help necessarily, there’s no help required and there’s not a lot that anyone can do, but it’s very much me screaming away how I feel super literally, and not pretending that I need to wrap it in a metaphor.

It’s very much a product of knowing that our scene is a group of people who will understand that sort of thing and probably even relate to it, and not having to feel ashamed of just telling them, ‘hey, shit fucking sucks, and sometimes I feel like I’m drowning, and you know, I’m just sort of waiting for someone to pull me out of the water and stop me from drowning.’ And there are lines in the song about that feeling of actually drowning. It feels suffocating at times, there’s actually a suffocating feeling to it. I wrote that in one sitting in 45 minutes–I pulled over at a Starbucks on my way home from work one night because the lyrics dawned on me after we’d written the music. I wrote it on the back of a receipt with a stolen pen from a cashier. But yeah, It’s very much a suffocating feeling, and sometimes in the screamy, not-so-well thought out moments, it feels tempting to want someone to be responsible for pulling you out of the water, and resuscitating you, and getting you back emotionally on track, even though that’s not a realistic expectation for social interaction. But that’s definitely how it feels a lot of the time. 

“Maureen Ponderosa,” that’s an Always Sunny in Philadelphia reference, isn’t it?

Bunting: Yeah, Andrew and Julie both really love that show, and I don’t, but I’m not entirely in charge of song naming. Andrew was like, ‘can we just name a song this?’ And I was like, ‘yeah, I guess we can, I don’t care.’ I’m sure at some point we’ll pop in a Community, or the Office reference as a song title, for my sake, in exchange for that one.

How about “Birds and Trees and Other Things?”

Brassington: That track basically started out as a little demo I was messing around with in my spare time, just like, I had an acoustic, I was banging out some stuff, and the riff is heavily ripped off from bands like Title Fight and Run For Cover core-ish bands. It’s about being bummed out, but trying to be positive about stuff, and particularly in long-distance relationships.

Who do you see as your scene, or the people these songs are for?

Bunting: In terms of who the songs are for, they’re definitely all for us. We don’t write songs for other people. We’ve had weird drunken 2am moments sitting around as a band talking, like ‘maybe we need to make stuff that other people want to hear more’ and I think we always end up coming back at the end of the night to just like, ‘no, fuck that, we started doing this for us, we started doing this because we were best friends.’ I think we sort of write the songs at each other every once in a while, not in an angry Taking Back Sunday or Brand New way, but just in a, ‘hey Andrew, you and I have the same experience, let me see if I can put it into words for us’ sort of thing.

In terms of who we see as the scene though, everyone who ever has spent any time making a show better, making a show more hype, putting a show together. If I could put specific names on it, especially Padfoot, honestly. We wouldn’t be a band right now if not for Padfoot. George, Karen, Clinton, Kimball, Sawyer, that whole crew. They ran College Park for so long, and that got us off the ground, it gave us a place to play. Matt is definitely, like, if you want to be someone in the scene, those guys and Matt are the people you should try to be, because they keep the scene on its feet 100%. Tyler, Andrew, Ben, all the guys from TBA Productions, love all of those guys to death, they also are putting in their part to keep the scene afloat. Anyone who helps make making music possible for people like us who halfway started a band as a joke and then realized they have something to say. 

How has the Norfolk and Virginia Beach scene influenced you guys as musicians?

Bunting: I don’t think we look around and go like, ‘oh, we need to be more like those people, because they’re doing better than us.’ But that’s partially because it’s not an antagonistic scene, it’s not a scene where like–The Weak Days are in mid-blowup right now, and I don’t know if they’ve always been based in Richmond, I know they used to play around here a lot, but at no point do we look at The Weak Days and go like, ‘holy shit they’re doing well, how do we do that well?’ Looking at those people and seeing what they do to help the scene maybe doesn’t change the music, but it definitely changes how we act.

In high school we weren’t all great people, and probably at points said some shit we wish we could take back, but being around such an accepting, loving group of people has definitely opened our eyes to, like, ‘how can we be more accepting, and how can we be more loving of the people around us?’ I think we were all in the process of waking up to that anyway. It definitely pushes forward the need on stage for us to go out there and tell everyone, ‘hey, you’re accepted here, you’re loved here, no matter who you are, where you’ve been, or what you’re doing, we want you here.’ It changes who we try to be in the scene, just because we have so many great role models that we feel an urge to live up to. Julie has a lot more perspective on issues of actual discrimination in the scene, where like, clearly I haven’t, I’m a cis white dude, I haven’t faced a single moment of that. She has, and she can speak on it more than I can.

Pardue: The people in the DIY scene have been super supportive and super friendly, and share the same ideals as us, and so we just try to play shows with those types of people. I feel pretty safe at most of our shows. There have been a couple where I’ve had shitty dudes who don’t like trans people, but they mostly just give me dirty looks, here and there just tiny little things. But overall, I never really have any problems with people, which is great. One of the most recent things, it was at our most recent show at Taphouse. It wasn’t anything discriminatory against trans people, but just this dudebro when I was setting up my drum set, he was like ‘oh, are you the drummer, or are you just setting up the kit?’ and I’m just like, ‘I’m clearly the drummer, I don’t think you’d ask me that if I was a dude.’ So that was just kind of weird.

There’s always the hope that [DIY] culture is rooted in non-conformity and inclusion, and so it’s encouraging to see that lived out as I think it should be, when often it isn’t fulfilling its potential.

Bunting: There was a really awful long period in punk where there was a very different ethos of like, ‘punk should just be offensive, just for the sake of being offensive, fuck who it offends.’ But I think as much as it sucks that we missed the punk wave, and the time when making the NOFX-style music we set out to make would have been impactful, we missed a lot of those people and we caught a lot of the people who are like, ‘no, punk is meant to offend the people in power.’ So it’s cool to have caught the right side of that ethos. If the wrong side of the music we wanted to make, like–fuck the music we want to make, if that’s the message we had to send to fit into that crew, then I wouldn’t have cared to do it.

I think a lot of times, even still, the general anger of punk music does lose the fact that it was always supposed to be about punching up.

Bunting: Yes, for sure. I guess you just start punching, and at a certain point you lose who or what you’re punching at, when it really was always meant to be like, not about throwing punches, but about why you’re throwing the punches, and how you’re actually, like–as harmful a thing as punching seems to be to do, who you’re helping by punching, you know?

There’s a milestone on your Facebook page that says “Got our first hater.” Is there a story there?

Bunting: Right before we started this band, and actually even now still occasionally, I would play acoustic shows in bars just for some extra money, and because I know a lot of covers, which anyone who’s seen our band live will tell you, we are not remotely shy about busting out a cover, and that’s because I have this weird back catalog of them that I’ll never forget. I also play open mics, just to keep myself fresh on doing that as a practice for those shows. We were at an open mic one time, Julie and Andrew came just to hang out. Andrew will come up and do Front Bottoms covers with me every once in a while, but mostly it’s just a me thing that they come and hang out and get drunk while I do.

And this lady came up to us one time, we all get this a lot, I’m not sure what it is, but she was like ‘you guys look like you’re in a band!’ Which, you know, we are. And she talked to us about the band for a little bit, but then she was like, ‘oh yeah, my son’s in a band, and he’s the biggest shithead, he’s just a burnout, he lives in my basement, he doesn’t do anything else, the only money he makes is from gigs with the band, which is almost nothing, he’s 30 and not doing anything with his life.’ And she was like, ‘what do you guys do other than the band?’ And I think she was seeking some validation that everyone in a band goes through this weird shithead phase where they don’t do anything. I have the degree now, but I was working on a philosophy degree, Andrew was working on an English degree, and Julie, at the time and still to this day, works at NASA. Me and Andrew were talking about our degrees real quick, and she gave us this gritted teeth, like, ‘okay, y’all are doing something,’ and then she asked Julie, and Julie was like, ‘I work at NASA.’ That put her over the edge I think, where she realized her son was the anomaly in music, who just doesn’t do anything, and she was like, ‘no you don’t, you’re lying to me!’ And Julie had her NASA ID badge on her profile picture at the time, pulled it out, showed it to the lady, and she was like, ‘no, fuck you, you’re lying, you don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re just here to make me feel bad,’ and cussed us out for probably a good five minutes before she walked away. 

On the one hand, oh my gosh, we were all like, ‘what just happened to us.’ Two minutes later we all burst out laughing, because it was equal parts sad, because obviously this lady wanted some validation about how ‘musicians just suck as people until they’re famous,’ but at the same time really funny, because it was just bizarre. Me and Andrew have a bad habit of having really bizarre things happen to us for no good reason, and that was one of them.

What are the best venues around where you guys play? Or your favorites?

Brassington: As far as venues go, best is probably going to be Charlie’s Cafe in Norfolk. Every time we play there it’s just the best sound, the people working in the kitchen are great, the bartenders are chill, good staff. Good people all around. I really like playing Taphouse as well, again, you get some really solid people working there. Charlie’s just has that little oomph with their sound, we just always sound good there.

What are your favorite covers to do as a band?

Pardue: “Linoleum,” by NOFX, that’s a really fun one to do, a lot of bass and snare on that, which is really cool. “Where Is my Mind?” is very rad, there’s a little fill there towards the end of the song, I always get really hype when I’m about to play that

Brassington: It’d probably have to be “Where Is My Mind?” I just really like doing that one, there’s the one vocal part in the song that’s like the Kim Deal falsetto bit, so I do that part, and I get to jam on bass.

What do you guys have on the horizon? Are there any upcoming gigs?

Bunting: We’re playing this upcoming Saturday at Taphouse, we don’t really have anything scheduled after that because all of our lives are a little bit crazy at the moment. Once they’ve settled down we’re probably going to keep going with this show break just for a little bit to wrap up writing some new music. Andrew Briggs with TBA productions is talking about doing a live recording of us at the next Charlie show we play, if we can get enough stuff written in time. Maybe this winter, because we all get a little bit of a break in the winter, December-ish we’re talking about maybe trying to do a quick tour up the east coast. That’s not for sure yet, we don’t have dates yet, but we’re all trying to do it because we’ve been meaning to tour for like three years now. 

Pardue: We have two new songs that we’ve been working on–one of them is all done and good, and the other one is more or less done, Steve is just figuring out some of the lyrics and melody for it. One of the songs is more of a political statement song, and it’s pretty heavy, instrumental-wise. I really like it. The other song is a little bit folk-punky sounding. I’ve never really played anything like that, so it’s cool to get out of my comfort zone.

How have politics influenced you?

Pardue: I just believe in the radical idea that everybody should be treated like a human, and everyone should have access to their basic needs, food, water, shelter. Some people just don’t think that’s a cool idea, and it really bums me out. There’s a lot of shitty people around.

I was listening to the EP and it sounded like there was some double bass pedal happening. It might have been on “Rat Toilet.”

Pardue: Yeah, it was probably “Rat Toilet,” at the ending there’s a part where it’s just downbeats for the guitar and bass, and I’m doing some double bass on the off-beats with everything.

That’s not a question so much as, you don’t often hear that in music that’s heavy but not metal, and it’s really cool.

Pardue: That’s what I like about our style. We’re really eclectic, so we go with the label ‘indie’ or ‘indie punk’ because it’s broad enough to capture a lot of stuff. I like being able to throw in some heavier stuff on our tracks. Whenever I go see shows or listen to punk music, it’s very simple drums. They sound really good, but I hate listening to a band where I just hear ‘1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4’. I want to spice it up. So whenever other drummers are staring at me during the set, they can be like, ‘oh, cool, she’s doing a pretty cool drum beat there.’

What do you all do together when you’re not playing music?

Brassington: We just kind of hang out. Steve and I recently got back into watching pro wrestling, we used to watch as kids, but we kind of fell out of it. And we got back into it, got the WWE network and whatnot. We play video games, just hang out, eat food. Drink. Whatever. We just chill, for real. 


For more info check out Bar Parents on Facebook and Bandcamp

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