Steve Caballero on intersection of punk and skateboarding with new band Urethane
Caballero burst onto the skateboarding scene in the groundbreaking years of the early ’80s and ’90s, skating alongside the sport’s most iconic figures while living in Southern California during its renaissance period, where punk rock was at its most prolific and refined. Taking influence from his surroundings, Caballero had the opportunity to pair his passion for writing music with other talented and like-minded people to create projects of his own.
Some notable ones include Soda and the Faction, but remarkably, decades into his career, Caballero has formed what could be argued as his strongest musical project with the arrival of Urethane. The skate-punk band are rooted in playful nostalgia for the era that he came up in while also pushing the genre to greater heights, just as he did with his approach to skateboarding. On tracks such as “Gravity,” Urethane cement themselves as a band that aren’t afraid to write massive hooks. With a heart-on-their-sleeve mentality, it’s resulting in instant classics that feel like a breath of fresh air.
From what I understand, you were already playing in a band and heard your now-bandmate and frontman Tim Fennelly’s music and then decided to come together to form this project.
I was jamming with a band on bass for about a year-and-a-half, and after a while, we realized it was time to find a frontman for the band. I put a message out on Instagram looking for a singer, and one day I received an email from Tim, who was at the time working on a solo project. He sent over a few demos to listen to. I really liked the way he sang just by the demos. I played it to the other guys in the band, and they were apprehensive about it.
At that point, it was really telling for me that maybe my friends and I are not on the same page for what we want. I was the only one that was pushing for Tim to join, but they refused him. I thought about it for a while, considering if we should keep looking for singers, but I decided then to start my own project with Tim. The rest is history.
I feel like you made the right decision sticking with Tim. How did the process evolve after that?
Once I decided there was a future with Tim, the next step was to find a drummer for our band. Tim found a drummer really quick and immediately linked up with Dylan Wade from the Bombpops. I learned a few of Tim’s songs that he had ready for his solo project, and we decided to use them for this project. I was trying to figure out how he put songs together, as I had never worked with a guy who writes so many pre-choruses.
I’m a straightforward punk guy, so it was a change for me. At first, it was difficult to get used to it, so we ended up finding a balance with how we structure songs and add my influence to the band. Four months into jamming, I decided to pivot from bass to guitar. I feel like I am a much better guitar player, and Tim was instantly on board and brought in his friend Chad [Ruiz] to play bass, as he was already interested in being a part of this project.
No joke, a week later after we all got together as a four-piece, it instantly sounded so much fuller and powerful, and within a week of Chad joining the band, he hooked us up with a record label. Chad brought up how he was really good friends with El Hefe from NOFX, who runs a small label called Cyber Tracks. We took an interview, and they ended up signing us off the demos that Tim had already made before the project was even fully formed.
This project doesn’t simply feel nostalgic with the skate-punk influences. It really feels like it is breaking new ground for the genre. The arrangement of the record alone feels like it was done with so much purpose and intent, and I love how collaborative it all seems with the guest features. What was the process behind this?
We definitely put a lot of pressure on ourselves, practicing twice a week and really homing in on the arrangements. For the guest appearances on the record, those were all my ideas since I had access to people who would bring attention to the album. I instantly knew I would call Toby Morse from H2O since he already owed me a favor for collaborating on his band’s last record [Use Your Voice].
I really took on a producer role when working with him, and it took a while for him to nail it at first, but when the process came together, it was really cool to see. Speaking of production, this record was the first time I had ever worked with a traditional producer. We ended up choosing Cameron Webb to produce the record, and just seeing his credentials alone, I realized that he made a ton of my favorite records for bands such as Pennywise, Alkaline Trio and Strung Out.
Instantly, I knew it was going to be a good idea to work together because he actually knows what he’s doing. Cameron really wanted to hear my influence on this record and was pivotal in starting the conversation with the rest of my bandmates since they already respected him to let me take a little more charge and offer my critique and changes for the songs. I ended up writing a lot of new melodies and leads for the record in the studio, so when it was my turn to add my parts, I had the comfortability to add my influence.
I feel like you brought this really bright, melodic element to the band, while the lyrics deal with these heavier subjects, and it creates a really interesting sound. How did this come to be?
To be honest with you, I am not much of a lyric dude. I focus more on melodies and harmonies. I did end up singing on this record more than I thought I would because it just worked out with the way I write harmonies — I have never sung so much in a band before this project. Tim and I really work well together, and the more positive feedback I got for my vocals, it made me want to do it more.
I can obviously hear some classic influences with this project, but I am curious about current artists that may have inspired the band as well. What music is currently inspiring you?
The most current influences that added to what I like would have to be Rise Against and Alkaline Trio. I wasn’t initially keen on Alkaline Trio’s music until after [frontman] Matt Skiba joined blink-182. [I] was impressed with how he changed that band with his songwriting. From there, I dug into Alkaline Trio’s music more in reverse order and really started to like that band.
When I started writing songs with Tim, I used my influences of ’90s punk and love for singalongs and harmonic bands like Face To Face, MxPx and Pennywise to really bring it together. This record is a product of everything I have loved and listened to since 1982.
You have been such a positive influence on skate culture for decades. How has your skating career influenced you in both your life and how you approach art?
I’ve learned a lot through skateboarding. It taught me a lot about discipline, perseverance, getting over fears and learning to fail before you can succeed. I feel like a lot of people are not attracted to skateboarding because it takes a lot of patience. What I’ve learned from patience is the definition of long suffering, which is the same for music. Fail to succeed is huge for me. If you can get over the fear of failing, you are going to be successful in whatever you do. Whenever I am attracted to something, I put a lot of hours into it, and sometimes people do not see that.
A lot of people like to use the term “natural talent,” which is used loosely and something I do not believe in. To me, I feel people use that term as an excuse not to be good at something. I think people should be different and be themselves. You do not have to be greater than the greatest. You should just be happy to have fun and [be] where you are at in life. People are attracted to positiveness and things that make you smile. I want to give people the ability to believe in themselves no matter what. We are multidimensional, creative beings, so if you put the work in, you can be anything.
This interview appeared in issue 400, available here.