New Jersey pop-punks MAN OVERBOARD are about to release a new five-song EP, Passing Ends, on October 28 via their own label, Lost Tape Collective. Next year, they'll release album number four via Rise Records, already a work in progress. Brian Kraus caught up with singer/guitarist Zac Eisenstein, singer/bassist Nik Bruzzese and guitarist Justin Collier at their headquarters to talk about the new EP, their advantages as a band, bending their own genre branding and staying productive during the most trying year of their career.
Did you guys have an urge to get back to playing acoustic on Passing Ends?
ZAC EISENSTEIN: Yeah, we did. We made one a while ago and I think we wanted to make another acoustic EP. It's not like we made an EP and they all turned out being acoustic; we set out to make an acoustic EP. We actually didn't even really plan on having a song that was full-band, but we were kind of like, “Screw it, we'll just throw [“Passing Ends”] in there.”
How did one full-band ripper sneak its way in there?
EISENSTEIN: That's actually a really, really old song!
NIK BRUZZESE: That's one of the first songs we ever wrote.
EISENSTEIN: Yeah, one of the first we ever worked on together, years and years ago. It was the song's time, for whatever reason.
JUSTIN COLLIER: I think by the time it came around, we had already decided on putting that song on there.
EISENSTEIN: We always have a big list of songs that we can possibly record. If you got 30 songs, five of 'em you're gonna think are better acoustic. We just took those ones.
What are some of the new songs about?
BRUZZESE: Some of the songs kind of tie in to each other. It all boils down to coming face-to-face with some kind of tragedy and the first time we were ever in the studio after it happened. The songs tie into the struggle of trying to find yourself in some kind of weird way.
EISENSTEIN: They're either about succumbing to the awfulness around you or trying to fight through it or thinking you may not. We had a pretty rough year, for personal reasons. Probably rougher than we ever have since we've been a band. I think it reflects in the EP.
With this EP being finished for months now, how's the new album coming along?
COLLIER: We're writing and demoing songs right now. We're gonna go record it early next year.
EISENSTEIN: We're trying to do everything the way we used to as far as hanging out at Nik's studio a lot, which is how we started our band. We're just trying not to do anything different, but we're getting stuff done and that's why I came here tonight. We're gonna work on some ideas. With our process, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
I want to talk more about the process. You recorded Passing Ends yourself and are self-releasing it on Lost Tape Collective; that's nothing new for you guys. How much of an advantage does the DIY mentality bring? And who does what?
BRUZZESE: All the business Justin basically takes care of, as far as talking to day-to-day managers and being the tour manager. As far as the music goes, I've always had my own studio. Long story short, I met everybody in Man Overboard through recording Front Page, which everybody was in. So I've always had this band idea with them. Our process right now is I come in the studio—and all of us are drummers—so when we make a demo, it's us on every instrument. It's easy. I would say that's our advantage, just being pretty talented at playing other instruments.
EISENSTEIN: Any given Man Overboard song was probably written mostly by one person. It varies who the person is, but whoever it is, we get shit demoed pretty quick because of who wrote the songs. Rather than [when] a lot of band [members are like “Oh, I wrote this song. Now I'm gonna teach it to the drummer and now I'm gonna teach it to the bass player and then we can demo it.” One guy goes in and does every instrument and shows everyone, like, “Here's this song.”
COLLIER: It's a pretty unique position compared to a lot of other bands, where they have to write a record, practice, go to a smaller recording studio and record demos, then send them to the producer, get notes and go back and do them again and finally do their final product at the real studio. Zac will stay up all night and write a song and in the morning go to the studio, record the drums, bass, guitar, vocals and boom! We have a rough demo for everybody to listen to, right there. I think that's one of the unique things about our band that we have to our advantage.
Maybe that's why you have more music out than most bands that have been around as long as Man Overboard.
COLLIER: Yeah, that's probably true.
BRUZZESE: We're not super-different; we’ve just got our own studio. We work hard at what we do, as far as songs go. We're always in here writing. Just because we have our own studio doesn't mean that's why we put out enough music, I think we'd put out the same regardless of if I had the spot or not.
EISENSTEIN: Yeah, he's right. We have our own studio combined with all of us being pretty productive musicians, meaning we just have a lot of ideas and like to get them out quick. As soon as we think of something, we want to show it to everyone else in the band. We don't sit on ideas for very long. If we do, we kind of decided it's not a good song.
Zac, I know you put out solo music as Farpoint. Are there any more side projects brewing or is your focus solely working on the new album?
EISENSTEIN: The focus is Man Overboard, 100 percent. I don't know. There's always a million things I want to do or the other guys want to do.
BRUZZESE: We probably could both have about 20,000 side projects.
EISENSTEIN: Hell yeah, we have so many different ideas. Metal band. Hardcore band. Weird indie band. [Laughs.] We definitely have our plate full with Man Overboard, so that's the focus.
With all the branding behind the band, do you think Man Overboard will always be a pop-punk band?
EISENSTEIN: I don't think so, I think if we would have ended our band last year, then maybe. We're just human, man. You go on tour and stay away from your family and your home—your songs change, your mindset changes.
BRUZZESE: Yeah, you grow up, no matter what you do. We're not going to hide it, if that's what happens.
EISENSTEIN: Nobody I know gets older and even listens to the same music, so I can't imagine writing the same music, you know? Hopefully, the people that are fans of us, are just fans of what Nik writes or what I write and that's it—it ends there. Hopefully it's not just that they only like it because it's considered pop-punk. Which, I'm sure it is to some kids. But I hope it's not a lot.
COLLIER: I feel like a lot of the Man Overboard catalog, we stick the pop-punk label to ourselves pretty hard, but at the same time if you listen to a lot of our songs, you would say, “Oh, that's not really a pop-punk song.”
EISENSTEIN: And I think there are tons of bands like that. I don't think we're gonna be the most pop-punk band in the world for our whole career, but I don't think we're gonna do any drastic changing that any bands haven't done before. If you look at early Brand New albums and compare them to what they do now, it's night and day. If you look at all the changes AFI went through, or even Green Day, maturing on albums like Warning. It'll always be us, but I don't think we're gonna force ourselves to write songs that sound like our old stuff.
You mentioned having a really rough year. Nik, on that note, how did you tear your ACL and how did surgery go?
BRUZZESE: Surgery went good. I tore it doing some stupid home activities involving stairs. I was super-scared going into surgery. I was freaking out a little bit; I never had surgery. I was a big baby, but I'm cool now. I'm off crutches and going to rehab almost every day. Hopefully I can dunk after this. That's my goal, like Rookie Of The Year, but I'll slam dunk, maybe. Throw a 90 mph fastball.
COLLIER: It's not a widely known fact, but Nik is actually the fastest guy in the band.
EISENSTEIN: That's 100-percent true. Not widely know, or believed. Anyone who wants to challenge the kid can race Nik.
BRUZZESE: Hell no, I just got ACL surgery!
Sounds like that Seinfeld episode where Jerry declares “I choose not to run!” So you had to postpone the UK tour because of that. You rescheduled it, and now your opening act, Hostage Calm, just broke up. Does it feel cursed?
EISENSTEIN: Yeah, right?
COLLIER: I was talking to our agent today. We had to reschedule the tour because of Nik's ACL and then Hostage Calm broke up. She was on her honeymoon and she was like e-mailing back like, “Alright, we'll figure this out.” Anything that could go wrong with this tour, pretty much has, you know? We're going to replace Hostage Calm with another band; we don't know who yet. Everything will come together. It's also kind of funny because it's branded the European Heart Attack tour, but by the time that tour rolls around, it's going to be almost right before our new album comes out.
BRUZZESE: We should call it the Don't Have A Heart Attack tour.
Whose idea was the new Real Talk Radio podcast?
COLLIER: We used to do a podcast back in 2010, that was on our old website. Last year around Heart Attack, we did a show on idobi Radio. We just kind of brought it back in a new format. With idobi, we had a schedule we had to adhere to, it had to be in by a certain time and it had to be a certain length, and it was just too much pressure for us. It just kind of became a hassle, so we figured we'd have fun doing it. We kind of did it on our own terms. The advertisements say a bi-monthly podcast, but we don't promise anything.
EISENSTEIN: What a boring answer! [Laughs.] I was into the idea of doing a podcast because it was something to do. “Hey, we're here! Our tours are getting screwed and Nik's half-crippled, but we're here! We're not breaking up!” Just, you know, don't forget about us.
If your band is quiet for a month, people just assume the worst.
EISENSTEIN: Exactly, I was just into the idea of doing anything.
COLLIER: We like to stay pretty interactive with fans, so I think it's a good outlet for that.
What's it usually like at home in Jersey?
EISENSTEIN: After a tour, we take a couple weeks break from each other, but we've been home so long. Me and Nik hang out as much as we can now, just like we did before the band. If we're only home for a month, we probably don't see too much of each other.
BRUZZESE: Our studio is where our merch store is, so we have a big area. It's like a headquarters. Me and Justin normally come here every day in the morning to late afternoon and do at least something. We just stay steady working.
EISENSTEIN: Before there was any money to be made or any records to be sold, this was just where we hung out. It's natural and it just feels good. We have a Man Overboard compound. Somebody's always there.
BRUZZESE: That's kind of why we did the acoustic thing. This is where my dad lived. The studio's here. He passed and that's what “For Vince” is about.
EISENSTEIN: A lot of this record is paying our respects to Nik's dad, which is awesome. Like I said, it was one of the crappiest years for us. He was an important guy for the whole band, not just Nik, and all of the shit we ever did got done [was done] on his land. Here we are, where we made this EP, so that's a better answer to the [initial] acoustic question.
Did the road also wear you guys down?
EISENSTEIN: I think it definitely did. We've been home just long enough that we're recharged and ready to rock it again.
COLLIER: I think the road would be a lot worse if we weren't always doing something new. I see a lot of bands that do the same tour over and over. We're lucky enough that we can support a band like All Time Low and we can tour with Taking Back Sunday, and then we can headline and go overseas. That's kind of what I get out of it. We're always doing something different than the last thing or the next thing. It keeps it really exciting for me. On any album cycle, you have to find a balance between headlining and playing directly for the people who are already your fans and then making new fans. You have to find the middle ground between all that. That's how you grow your band. I always look forward to headlining; I think we all do. It's our show, we get to play the songs we wanna play, we don't have to pick songs to fit in a 30-minute set and Zac gets to write whatever set list he wants.
You have your fifth holiday show coming up later this year in Philadelphia.
COLLIER: We did it at the First Unitarian Church the first year, the second one we did at Union Transfer and this will be the third year at the Theatre of Living Arts.
How'd your 2014 lineup (State Champs, I Call Fives, Tiny Moving Parts, Front Porch Step, Light Years) come together?
BRUZZESE: Usually the lineup consists of bands that Man Overboard fans like that Justin also likes. This year, there's a couple we've toured with and a couple we don't know too well that were interested in playing, friends of friends, stuff like that. Kids are stoked, so it should be really fun.
COLLIER: We usually try to have somebody kind of cool on. Last year we had this band, Fight Amputation. We've known them for a long time, they're from our area. That was one of my favorite things we've done with this show series so far.
As a band, your path doesn't cross too often with heavy music.
COLLIER: When we had Fight Amp on the show, it was a packed room when they played and I think a lot of kids were scratching their heads when they walked off. We knew that was gonna happen.
EISENSTEIN: We were stoked! I remember walking around during the day being like, “This is so cool. All these kids are gonna be confused!” [Laughs.]
COLLIER: But at the same time, they played and I doubt that anyone who wasn't friends with us knew who they were, and they sold merch. When you're a young kid and you go to a place like Warped Tour, and you go to see a pop-punk band or you go to see a metalcore band, you walk out liking a band of the other genre because you saw them. You're like, “I didn't even know that kind of music existed.” And that's fucking sick! alt