The Book Club is:
Russell (He/Him) – Team Lead, Guitars, Vocals
Juno (They/Them) – Drums, Kindest Person in the World
Owen (He/Him) – Bass, Mixing
Eric (He/Him) – Guitar, Keys, Gear Nerd
Nick (He/Him) – Vocals, Aux Percussion
Dan (He/Him) – Euphonium, Trombone, Trumpet
Maddie (She/They) – Vocals, Clarinet
Ethan (He/Him) – Bass Trombone, Contra
Sean (He/Him) – Alto/Tenor Sax
Zach (He/Him) – Bari Sax, Mario Party Baseball minigame enthusiast
Mustard had the pleasure of speaking with The Book Club. Together we discussed the submission process, their creative process, their 2021 release “check us out at your local library”, and so much more!
1. Mustard is grateful to have The Book Club join them at Music Shelf. How is everyone doing?
AUGHHHHHHHH ( AUGHH!!-Meme Sound Effect)
(the members of The Book Club could not figure out how to put their feelings into words and instead felt that this soundbyte would be an accurate description. Though, they are humbled and excited to be interviewed by the lovely Mustard.)
2. The Book Club has ten members. What is the submission process to become admitted into the book club? Is there a specific genre that you focus on?
Russell: The band doesn’t really have any sort of process for joining, the band is just sort of an accidental amalgamation of friends who want to play music. If there was a process though, I don’t think it would be anything more than to just be chill with us and be comfortable with an instrument you like. My writing leans heavily towards ska-core a lot of the time, but I think we’re most comfortable with just a general “ska” as our descriptor.
Ethan: To piggyback off of Russell, we sort of joined over time. There wasn’t much of a process in joining – I volunteered to join and play tenor sax, at a time when I didn’t know how to play saxophone, and now I don’t even play it anymore, having picked up bass
trombone in senior year of high school for jazz band, and contra in the fall of 2022 after about 2 years of deliberating and thinking on it.
Eric: I moved in with Owen in college and basically just showed up to a recording session one night. Though I had played with Russell, Owen, and Maddie to record some covers in my garage during lockdown. It took me a little bit to remember everyone’s names but I integrated into the band pretty quickly once we started putting gigs together.
Sean: Like Eric, I joined The Book Club in college, but I got the invite from Russell to join because at the time, there was no sax player and I happened to fill that role.
juno: The only qualification for acceptance is being a good person. We are all lucky enough to know each other and try to do our best to do what we can for this world we live in.
Owen: I have known some of these people for 15 years. We were all friends before we joined the band. We grew up together at different points of everyone’s life. We play music that we like (ska).
3. When did The Book Club first form? Has The Book Club received accreditation?
Russell: The band has gone through a lot of membership changes in the past, but the short version is that it formed in 2013 back when me and Juno were still in middle school and we played popular pop-punk and rock covers at the time. While members would come and go, the core of the rhythm section formed when Owen joined in early high school, and then we transitioned to a ska band (because Owen and I accidentally fell in love with 90s ska), and by the end of high school, where Nick, Dan, Ethan, and Zach joined. In the years that followed, Maddie, Sean, and Eric entered the picture, and Eric was the push we needed to actually start playing something other than high school grad parties (fun times) and become a part of the local scene (also fun times).
No accreditation, but here’s to hoping someone with too much power somewhere likes our music too much.
Ethan: What Russell said.
Owen: To put more info on the backstory, Russell and I went to Warped Tour 2016 and we were walking around and heard Less than Jake by pure accident. Then later that
day, I think it was waiting for Sum 41, we saw Reel Big fish. Seeing the amount of fun they had on stage was something I really enjoyed, and I started listening to them after the show. I wanted the book club to be like them. Dancing around, everyone singing along and having a blast. That was when we decided to play Sell Out by Reel Big Fish at our high school’s talent show. I recruited Dan, and some of our older members. It was originally going to be just something fun. We would incorporate a few ska songs into our sets but still played punk and rock. After we discovered bands like Streetlight Manifesto and other newer songs is when we truly fell in love with the sound we are building off of today.
4. When are Book Club meetings held? Can these meetings be live-streamed?
Russell: Well, sounds like someone wants to be a part of Book Club shenanigans and tomfoolery. We hold them when it works out for all or most of our individual schedules, and they just sort of happen week to week as we need them. It feels like a miracle that it happens as it does, considering many of us are transitioning from college to work life right now and in the future, but I think we all make time for it one way or another because we love doing this.
Live-streaming has been floated around plenty in the past, especially during Covid, but hasn’t happened… yet… Keep your eyes peeled? Sounds pretty fun to me.
Ethan: They’re infrequent, honestly; when we can practice, we do, and if we decide to meet to discuss stuff, we’ll likely practice beforehand so as to not waste time while we’re all together.
Eric: I’ve been toying around with doing some live streaming in the future. I think we have all the gear to set one up so let us know what you’d want to see from us. Maybe some collab streams with some other bands sometime?
Sean: We practice whenever we can wrangle some type of a majority of people to coordinate availability. Being such a big band, it’s near impossible to get everyone together at the same time, but we try to accommodate as much as possible. I am pro live streaming (what Eric said^^).
5. Who (or what) influences The Book Club?
Russell: I have always loved fast, distorted, guitar-driven music, so the implied aggression from instrumentation like that just sort of leaks out when I write. The band has a lot of variety in influence though, and in no small part because of how many members we have, so you’ll hear influence from jazz and sea shanties and power pop
throughout our sound. Personally, my biggest influences have been Jeff Rosenstock, Streetlight Manifesto, and PUP, and for ska more recently, I have been loving what’s been going on at Bad Time Records and Ska Punk International for a bit now. We’ve
been fortunate enough to become friends with a bunch of bands in the scene. Shoutout to our new buds in Dissidente, Hans Gruber and the Die Hards, and Devon Kay & the Solutions (there must be something about blank & the blank named bands that instantly makes us friends)
Ethan: I don’t do as much heavy lifting when it comes to writing, but I try to stick with whatever is both what I’m listening to and the general feel of the song. A lot of my specific inspiration comes from artists like Peter Gabriel, but simply out of his approach of trying anything and everything under the sun, musically. In addition to him, I do take some inspiration from sources like drum corps, as well as choirs and other ensembles with clear and defined voicings, like brass and string quartets and the like. I have no shame in stealing ideas from our other songs, and one of the pieces I’ve been working on recently is a different take on Be Good… Or Else… that draws heavily on drum corps ballads, while remaining distinctly ours. It’s definitely something to look out for.
Eric: I’ve always had my foot in punk rock but everyone in the book club were what introduced me to the new ska scene. But I also like to dabble in noisier garage and psych rock which tends to come across in my playing. I’ve also been teaching myself more on the audio engineering side to better control our wall of noise.
Sean: I’ve always been a sucker for a good horn line, and that’s what initially drew me into ska. Personally, my biggest influences include bands that write gnarly horn parts like Kill Lincoln, JER, and Streetlight Manifesto. A lot of my inspiration comes from gaming soundtracks too, that’s been a weird thing that I’m really passionate about. Anytime I can make a little nod to some of my favorite games, I’m happy.
Juno: big influences are gonna have to be jeff rosenstock, bruce lee band, Hans Gruber and the Die Hards. My own personal biggest drumming influences are kevin higuchi and brian blade
Owen: My tone is influenced by bass players such as Roger Lima from Less than Jake, Chris#2 from Anti Flag, and Joe Principe from Rise Against. Juno and I are also both classically trained musicians with a lot of jazz experience.
6. What is The Book Club’s creative process?
Russell: Everyone in the band writes to some degree or another, but I have been the main songwriter since we started writing. Writing, for me, has been changing a lot recently, but generally it’s just been to write an idea down as it comes to me, be it a general concept or something like a riff or chords, and then I let that idea lead me until it just can’t anymore. At that point, i take a step back, and ask myself what I want the song to be as a whole, and with a more solid image in mind, i start drawing from more explicitly intentional inspiration of similar songs i like in how they handle setting the tone of the song, transitioning between sections, instrument mix, and just generally all of the cool little tricks bands use to solidify their own sound.
Sean: I solely rely on manic spurts of creativity to come up with song ideas. I don’t write nearly as much as Russell, but anything I have written has stemmed from a horn lick (or other little melody) that I come up with as I’m going about my day. From there, I think about how I can expand that little composition to a more cohesive piece of music. I typically tackle lyrics and general meaning of the song last, but sometimes I have early ideas that heavily influence how I tackle certain parts of the song.
Ethan: I haven’t had the same experience and success in songwriting as Sean or Russell have, nor the lyrical expertise of Russell and Maddie, but I try to get 2 or 3 main ideas down in a Musescore document and then, over time, try to connect them to each other. If I’m doing some revisions/edits to something someone else wrote, then I’m just trying to take what’s written and make it more accessible (for lack of a better term.) Regardless, it’s a collaborative process the entire way through, and I’d be surprised if any of us are playing the songs exactly as-written after the first or second runthrough at practice.
Eric: I struggle with finding a starting point when writing and find that I have better luck building off of existing ideas. Our last demo This Time is the perfect example of that writing process.
7. The Book Club recently tweeted that once you begin touring you won’t know what to eat due the lack of Sheetz. What is everyone’s favorite order at Sheetz?
Russell: I am unable to leave a sheetz without mac and cheese bites. I have tried. I lost. Sheetz won.
Ethan: I’ve been branching out more and more, but my fallback classic order is a spicy chicken sandwich, Wisconsin cheese bites and jalapeno ranch, and a BIG Arizona green tea.
Eric: I’m bad at making decisions so I’m a sucker for an app sampler with boneless bites and mozz sticks (sorry I’m living up to the stereotype)
Sean: Every time I try and stray from the Big Mozz, I get sad. So that’s a must. I also typically get some type of app – tots, wisconsin cheese bites, or boneless bites are some top picks.
Juno: I am always down for a sheetz breakfast sandwich, they hit the spot.
Owen: Retweet on the bfast sando. It does not matter what time of day. They just hit different.
8. If The Book Club could tour with any artist or band from the current scene, who would it be and why?
Russell: local Pittsburgh scene? HERALD’S GOOSE. Ska scene? HANS GRUBER AND THE DIE HARDS
Ethan: I don’t personally pay as much attention to the scene as pretty much anyone else in the band does, but for local, definitely Herald’s Goose, and full on ska scene, probably JER and/or We Are the Union. Any 3rd wave standard band would be sick too, and I personally would get a kick out of touring with the Aquabats!, having grown up with their music pre-Yo Gabba Gabba.
Eric: Pretty much any band from out of town that we’re still in active communication with is a band we would probably tour with. Definitely anyone on Bad Time Records or Ska Punk International or any of their friends. Our show on April 20th with Dollar Signs, Devon Kay & the Solutions, and Hans Gruber & the Die Hards is completely stacked with bands we’d play with every day if given the opportunity.
Sean: I would sell my soul to tour with just about anyone from Bad Time Records, but specifically JER, Kill Lincoln, and We Are the Union. If we ever got the chance to tour with Jeff Rosenstock I would [redacted] my pants. Would also love to tour with some Pittsburgh homies like Herald’s Goose and Main Street Detour.
Juno: Also adding Hans Gruber & the Die Hards, Frog Legs locally as well!
9. The Book Club gets the chance to perform in any part of the library. Where do you perform and why?
Russell: wherever they keep 1984, so i can point at it and say “this is literally 1984.” Playing at a library would be for real very cool though, if any library would actually have us for any stupid reason I’d drop whatever i was doing to make it happen.
Juno: I am all for performing in the LGBTQ+ section in addition to general fantasy sections.
Ethan: Wherever the Animorphs/Bionicle books are kept. I love those books. (I also have a slight in with our local library from volunteering there throughout middle and high school, so it may be possible if they have a day where they want community musicians performing).
Sean: My high school job was working in a library and my favorite part of working there was going to check out the used book store and bringing donated books down there. I once bought the entire Game of Thrones series for $5. But I would totally perform there.
10. In 2021 you released “Check us out at your local library.” Could you share more about this release? What was the process like putting this album together?
Russell: Its release was very haphazard; we initially set out to put some demos together and try the DIY recording thing, since Eric and Owen love that whole side of music production. One thing led to another and once we had the four songs together, releasing it to streaming platforms was the next natural step after discovering how (relatively) accessible it is to do nowadays.
Eric: It was a really cool experience getting to record this EP right after joining the band. Owen and I got to turn our college apartment into a DIY home studio for a few years which I totally took for granted now that we actually have to coordinate times to meet up and record.
Sean: As someone who knows close to nothing about the production side, I was just glad to be able to record the original music we had at the time. We thought it was important to just get something out there for people to listen to. It almost felt like getting that release out was validation that we’re here and we’re ready to rock your socks off.
11. Humans have gone back to wanting to ban and restrict books. What are The Book Club’s thoughts on this?
Russell: Scary stuff… I’ve never been the most avid reader, but I don’t think that should matter when considering the political angle the people who are trying this have and the impact banning a book will have on art and expression everywhere. The writing is on the wall that conservatives being against what they call “grooming” and “sexual content” is another attempt at dehumanizing minority groups and limiting the resources they have to being themselves, and part of that is the expression of self and information that books have to offer. Media literacy has never been their strong suit.
Juno: One idea I had was to bring the banned books on tours with us whenever that happens. I identify as non binary and trans and i want to pursue every method I can to resist those who seek to silence and persecute people who are just trying to live a life comfortable in their own skin
Ethan: Call me what you will, but those people are a bunch of idiots. I feel no shame in wishing ill-fortune upon them.
Eric: I don’t have much else to say that the others haven’t said already. But it’s absolutely terrifying seeing all the forms of hatred and bigotry being normalized again. Social issues that weren’t controversial 20 years ago are suddenly being amplified by bad actors to fuel this pointless culture war.
Sean: LEARN TO READ BOOKS BEFORE YOU BAN THEM HOW ABOUT THAT??? Anyway, books are important. As a kid, reading was one of my biggest passions. Books are avenues for people to explore new worlds, learn new things, and discover things they never thought could be discovered. Banning books is an attempt to prevent the general public from gaining valuable knowledge and experience.
12. A human gets the chance to see The Book Club perform. What is your live performance like?
Russell: We spread the gospel of ska throughout the local scene by getting up there and playing our best. We just generally encourage people to have a good time in the ways that they want to, and it’s always great seeing plenty of people skanking to every song, even if it isn’t ska. Sometimes there’s jokes. A lot of times the horns have to play in your face because there’s no space on stage. We get intimate and dance and it’s nice.
Ethan: We get to the venue. We load in. We play an awesome show. Afterwards, people cheer. We get paid trillions* of dollars.**
**This has not yet been proven to happen.
* Russell recommended the use of Trillions.
Sean: After making an effort to fit on the stage (or giving up entirely, like we do at the Mr. Roboto Project), we MELT. FACES. And encourage people to enjoy the ska that they’re about to listen to. We try to keep our shows very light hearted and fun, and are all for audience interaction when the time is right.
Juno: a lot of fast ska punk, we try to have as much as we can on stage. It’s important to never lose that sense of fun.
Owen: Fast, Loud, and Fun. Be ready to dodge, dip, duck, dive, and dodge. Be sure you know that “skanking” is not used as a derogatory term at ska shows.
13. What is next for The Book Club?
Russell: We’re gonna keep writing and playing and recording music at a pace we’re all comfortable at. I’d love it if it opened up avenues for us to be able to do it closer to like all the time but for the time being, as long as we love it, we will keep doing it. That being said, we have some demos in the works for a bit of a bigger project on the way and I’m looking forward to making it happen the best it can.
Ethan: From a professional/full band perspective, we’re gonna keep writing music and keep chugging along, but personally, I’m gonna watch some Breaking Bad and maybe play some Destiny. Also gonna stare at Musescore until something good comes out of it.
Eric: Songs are being demoed, shows are being booked. The year is already shaping up to be pretty busy for all of us. I’m really looking forward to getting to see some of our friends’ bands come through Pittsburgh.
Sean: We have a lot to look forward to in the next year, between shows, projects, and making more music. Since our EP, we’ve written and played a whole bunch of new music and I anticipate that’s going to continue. Personally, I had one of my manic bursts of creativity the other night, so I’m going to take some time to refine the minute of music I wrote in a fit of rage (creativity). And probably go to Sheetz
Owen: It has been a while since we have released anything, but don’t worry. There is more coming. We have a lot in store for you.
14. Where can readers listen to your music?
Russell: Stream it anywhere!!! And everywhere!!!!! All of the time!!!!!!!!!!!! Ethan: also from our EP CDs, available at all our shows
Eric: I try to keep our website as up-to-date as possible with shows and new releases. Check it, Join our email list. http://www.thebookclubpgh.com
Check out some recordings of our live sets and a cover of ‘Drive Everywhere’ by Hans Gruber and the Die Hards
Owen: Wherever you get your sounds. Check Us Out at your Local Library