Mustard had the pleasure of speaking with NorCal’s Sad Snack. Together we discuss the origins of their name, how they caught the attention of The Mountain Goats, and later played with them, their influences, and so much more! Check out the interview below!
1. Before we begin, Mustard would like to thank you for being here. How are you doing?
Josh: But enthused.
Sean: Enthused and Amused.
Ilan: It’s 1 A.M. and we’ve just finished the second of our two new singles which we are tracking in June. We wrote it collaboratively on top of one of Josh’s riffs.
Josh: It’s called Sunshine & Lollipops ’08
2. Who is Sad Snack? How did you meet? What can readers (and listeners) expect to hear?
Josh: Ilan and I met in 2012.
Ilan: I was working at that cafe and happened to be wearing an old Arrogant Sons of Bitches shirt.
Josh: And I was like ‘nice shirt, you like ska?’
Ilan: And I was like ‘I’m really busy at work right now . . .’
Noelle – ‘. . . so fuck off.’
Ilan – Yeah, basically: ‘I’m trying to make a fucking sandwich here! With some Mustard! For the Man!” And I still am.
Sean – But you two eventually had time to talk after the sandwiches got their mustard?
Ilan – Josh worked at the shoe store down the block.
Josh – Yeah, one day, finally, Ilan walked into the store and was like ‘Hey, you still want to start a band?’ And I was like ‘yeah, obviously.’ We had this first awful band, which fell apart on stage at a show. Then we tried to start a ska/punk band which somehow became a Cheers (the tv show) themed punk concept album.
Ilan – Oh man, that fell apart though: our bassist got the studio shot up, and there was always some sort of drama. Like we got this huge opportunity to play DNA Lounge during their Saturday Bootie shows through a sketchy drinking contest with this gigantic theater scene dude. It went kinda bad though and at the end of it, I had to call Josh to help me duck out because dude was trying to pull some shady shit once we were blacked out. But we got the show offer from his connection at the venue, and all we had to do was get this one demo of our Cheers stuff to DNA lounge, and they wanted to do this real Cheers nostalgia show.
Josh – With hired actors playing the Cheers cast, and full sets, they were going to throw a bunch of money at it.
Ilan – And all we had to do was get them a demo of our stuff. Literally any quality recording. But our bassist, who was recording it – he’d just wind up magically in a speedball fight with some bouncer across town during every session of working, and finally he got the studio where we were recording shot full of bullet holes. We never did finish it.
Josh – Well, we did record the demo, and it sounded terrible. And we sent it to my engineering bud back east who cleaned it up, but by then it was too late. So we have a Cheers themed concept album that never really saw the light of day. And it’s got some jokey ska breaks on it out of love.
Ilan – So doing Sad Snack was a great chance to hunker down and make the actual ska music we wanted to hear, as opposed to just putting it in as a jokey B-part to a jokey punk song.
Josh – Ilan moved back to SF in June 2021, we started Sad Snack around then.
Noelle – And I know Josh because we played Dungeons and Dragons together.
Josh – And I knew Noelle played sax but had never heard her play any music.
Noelle – It’s funny to listen back to our demos from when we first started playing together.
Josh – Yeah, Ilan and I have been pushing Noelle to play ska.
Noelle – I’d never really heard ska before. My background is playing in jazz and funk bands in college.
Josh – Now she’s writing some of our coolest new songs.
Noelle – There’s no going back now. I can’t put it back.
Josh – And Sean plays in many San Francisco bands, including Umb and Grooblen.
Sean – I met Josh playing shows with their other band Schlub, and Ilan playing shows with their other band Indica In Decay. Initially I approached Josh about covering bass on Schlub parts, but they instead asked me to play in this new ska band. I haven’t really heard ska since my younger years, so I’m really stoked.
Ilan – What can people expect from our music?
Josh – Ska, it’s just good ska. Plus, it’s ska.
Sean – Plus, punk.
Ilan – We’re trying to incorporate sounds which are a bit more spacious, bands like Built to Spill, into ska.
Josh – Definitely playing with some interesting pieces in a trial and error process. Bringing in other music that we like. Like ‘I think this Superchunk type part fits in here,” or “I think this Mountain Goats type part fits in here.”
Ilan – That was disturbingly gratifying getting to meet John Werster form Superchunk and be like “oh hey, we’ve been using your drum parts for sections in our songs for years.” By virtue of just bringing in the silly, weirdo crap that we like, and covering it, we’ve managed to get in touch with a bunch of people who make it. And have an artistic conversation about it.
3. As a condiment and food product, Mustard is curious about how you got your name?
Sean – First of all, Mustard is a fantastic food.
Ilan – Yeah, mustard by itself is pretty good. Like with a spoon?
Sean – I prefer a fork.
Ilan – Yeah, it tastes better if you let a little bit drip through.
Josh – Needless to say, all of our snacks are sad. We went through a lot of putting names on lists and being like ‘maybe it’s this.’
Ilan – You were waking up every other day with 5 different names. Everyone was just like “no.” Sad Snack stuck, but only in opposition to worse names that were starting to gain traction. When we wound up with Skunch as a really bad band name, we went out of our way to create a Skunch character, and a mythology behind them, so we wouldn’t use that name.
Josh – Skunch lives on as its own thing, which is a cryptid with too many bones.
Noelle – And a nontraditional mouth hole.
Ilan – To be seen in an upcoming informational zine, to be published by Fake Publishing Millionaires, drawn by Noelle and co-written by us both.
Sean – Immediately preceding the National Geographic special on Skunch.
Noelle – I like the idea that we’re Sad Snacks.
Sean – You can be sad and still be a snack.
Noelle – Exactly! It’s aspirational!
4. You shared a preview of your song “Kiss Me Thru Your Mask.” Could you share the inspiration behind this song?
I was living in Portland Oregon when a wildfire was approaching in 2020, right at the beginning of the pandemic and during the federal occupation of the city. I was working at a factory and every day we’d be shipping out freshly baked goods to places that had just been evacuated. We had all of our belongings in bags at our doors, or in our cars, ready to have to leave the city in whichever direction the fire wasn’t, at a moment’s notice when the evacuation alert sounded. The fire climbed up the state quickly, evacuating up to the neighboring town. But we never got evacuated. I kept looking at the house across the street in the unbreathable air. We waved and made morse code at each other.
It became a question of ‘why are you going to work at all in all this.’ The song is about being in these kinds of circumstances and deciding not to hold back on telling someone you love them, about kissing someone even if you need to do it through both your respirators, because you never know when you’re going to die.
5. Sad Snack recently posted a cover of The Mountain Goats “No Children.” Can you describe the response to the tweet and the following show?
Ilan – Getting to hang out with those guys was the coolest part for me. He’s a total songwriting hero. We just shot the shit backstage for hours.
Noelle – John Darnell is such a joyful person.
Josh – His energy was very powerful. His hair was glorious. All the coverage didn’t shoot us into stardom or anything crazy, but it gave us this nice kick in the pants, like “you can do this and it’s going to be really good and other people will think so too.” We’re obviously just getting started. If it had happened at a later time when we had a following, it would have had a different effect. What it means for is now is that . . .
Noelle – It means that ska is good.
Sean – We got to make a lot of people smile, and also a lot of people pissed that people are still making ska music. Both valuable.
Ilan – The best thing about it is the bands that showed up, that we listen to already, to defend us on comment threads. Like Bad Operation showed up in a sea of negative responses on the Stereogum comments and said they were here for it. And they made one of the best albums of 2020. We got to meet even cooler people through the crystallization of people’s hatred for ska music.
Josh – Getting to be a part of one of those once-in-a-lifetime music events, like this doesn’t happen at every Mountain Goats show, it was a big surprise. Noelle and my partner Sarah spent the three days before hand-painting and sewing a huge banner, which appeared out of the darkness as we skanked onto the stage to “one Step Beyond” by Madness. All of which, was John Darnell’s Idea . . . and instead of silence and confusion, everyone was really excited! It was a really special moment and an absolute honor.
6. Mustard wonders who inspires Sad Snack.
Ilan – Besides the Mountain Goats?
Josh – Jer from Skatune Network. What they’re doing for ska as a non-binary, black, multi-instrumentalist, producer deserves the lion’s share of the credit for what ska is right now – New Tone, or whatever you want to call it.
Sean – Just the fact that people give a shit about it basically. Also, Jeff Rosentock.
Ilan – I think a combination of the Bruce Lee Band album “Rental, Eviction” and the Jeff Rosenstock album “Ska Dream” really got me thinking about ska music again as a need, not a passing enjoyment. We are the Union is also rad and a half.
Josh – Also Eichlers and Aaron Carnes of In The Defense of Ska. Outside of music, I’m super inspired by cartoons. I love Adventure Time. The Tenderness of Steven Universe. Craig of the Creek, which straight up has ska in it and harkens back to the east coast suburban kids running around in the woods. I’m a cartoonist, so I try to work that kind of dynamic motion into my music. Art to me should say something important, but still be fun and digestible in a way that cartoons really put forth.
Ilan – And bleak novels, or short stories. A song with lyrics which don’t make you question at least a few things is truly unappealing to me.
Sean – I’m a metal-head who plays in a lot of bands who aren’t metal bands. I bring that to every band I play in. In my other band Grooblen, I’m the angriest drummer that I’ve encountered for the soft music scene. I’d like to think the same may be true of the ska scene. Potentially. We will see. I like a lot of distortion and I like to play loud.
7. What is your songwriting process?
Noelle – I haven’t written music before, so this has been new to me. I have a classical and a jazz background. So bringing that to a ska punk band has been interesting. I’ve never collaborated on an art project to this extent. It’s been a really amazing experience.
Josh – We push each other a lot on a creative level. Usually, one of us shows up with a guitar riff, or maybe a little bit of lyrics, or a melody. Ilan usually shows up with a nearly finished song.
Ilan – I’ve have this fear since I was in my first bands that if I don’t show up with the song fully formed, it will get scrapped for parts. It’s irrational, but gets me working faster.
Josh – Then we repeat parts over and over until the structure, lyrics and riffs fall into place. We do a lot of phone demos.
8. Who would Sad Snack love to collaborate with?
Ilan – From our conversations, John Darnell seems to have a lot to say about ska. We could come up with the backing parts, or approach him with some riffs in the hopes that he came up with lyrics for all that. Maybe if he wrote about ska history or obscure bands from the 1980s like that ‘Goths’ album, or his song about John Brown dying. John was name dropping a lot of defunct, forgotten ska bands backstage, and I’m sure there’s some great stories there.
Josh – He’s already said he won’t write a ska song. He really seems to respect the genre, so maybe he won’t approach the space as “oh-ho, i wrote a ska song and this is a one-off!” But I think that he would be down to collaborate with a ska band on a song.
Sean – What if we trick him into writing a ska song?
9. Ska has gained a lot of momentum the past few years with no signs of slowing down. Who does Sad Snack listen to? Who do you recommend readers/listeners check out?
We’re really enjoying Bad Operation, JER, Jeff Rosenstock, Catbite, Bruce Lee Band, Hans Gruber and the Die Hards, Half Past Two, Eichlers, We Are The Union, Flying Raccoon Suit, Joystick!, Omigone, Tape Girl, Grey Matter, Kill Lincoln, Kmoy,
10. Where can fans expect to find your music?
www.sadsnack.bandcamp.com – the studio version of our Mountain Goats cover, “No Children,” is available for free streaming and name-your-price download. All single purchases are donations to the National Network of Abortion Funds. We’ve taken in nearly $700 since the evening of our show with the Mountain Goats, and will be sending the money to www.abortionfunds.org after the upcoming June Bandcamp Friday.