On paper, Baltimore punk-rock crew Angel Du$t straight-up don't make sense. They're made up of members from heavy-hitters Trapped Under Ice and Turnstile, but often create upbeat-as-fuck songs that sound like they could be the soft-rock opening for a lighthearted sitcom. And when the band does get a bit aggro on their tunes, they'll still throw you a curve ball — from a genuinely heartfelt saxophone solo to a strummy acoustic guitar riff or just an overwhelming amount of positivity. Yet, it all works: it's sincere, fun and a refreshing break from the typical hardcore fare.
Angel Du$t's latest album, Pretty Buff, finds the band pushing their unconventional hardcore into even wilder, poppier and more fun territory. Single "Bang My Drum" is a rocker that incorporates a wide swath of different percussion (and one soaring sax solo) as frontman Justice Tripp boils down the end of a relationship to its simplest, yet most relatable elements. "Big Ass Love" is an energetic jam bursting at the seams with bongos, acoustic guitars, ripping solos and a huge Lemonheads-esque chorus.
Their diverse sound allows them to fit on bills with ultra-heavyweights like Power Trip and Every Time I Die, as easily as with more melodic acts like Turnover and Citizen. They unite these scenes through their sheer exuberance (and excellent musicianship), defiance of cynicism and pure desire for all living beings to just have a good-ass time.
We spoke to Tripp about the new album, attracting different audiences, and losing his dearest companion.
IS ANGEL DU$T STILL A HARDCORE BAND?
JUSTICE TRIPP We never actively called ourselves a hardcore band. Definitely a band influenced by hardcore, and I appreciate when somebody does and doesn't call us a hardcore band. It definitely means something very special to me, we definitely exist in that world a lot of times. But it's not a hardcore record, it's a rock record that's very influenced by hardcore things and punk things and everything.
I GET THE SENSE PEOPLE ARE WILLING TO RIDE WITH ANGEL DU$T WHEN YOU'RE SHOWING THEM SOMETHING DIFFERENT. PRETTY BUFF IS WAY DIFFERENT THAN ROCK THE FUCK ON FOREVER WHICH IS ALSO DIFFERENT THAN THE ALBUM BEFORE.
We're definitely so fortunate to have that, where people are willing to go with us somewhere different and explore unknown territory. I think a lot of that underground music and hardcore punk who were around just before us that were doing provocative innovative things, like Cold World, made it possible for there to be a Trapped Under Ice. And then a Ceremony or something that blurs the lines, I think it's something we all definitively been as musicians — if you look at all the stuff Brendan [Yates] has made and Dan [Fang] and all the bands he's been in. I've sat in a basement with Dan and we've made like a pop-rock song, a death-metal song, and so on. I've always wanted that to reflect in whatever we do. I think that's what people love about our circle, it's not like we make the heaviest or catchiest music but it can go a number of different ways.
I'VE BEEN CURIOUS, ARE YOU LESS INTERESTED IN HEAVY STUFF THESE PAST COUPLE OF YEARS?
I love heavy stuff, but I think there are bands that are so good at that and have nailed that, and there's also tons of bands that aren't nailing that. [Laughs] I love doing Trapped Under Ice, any record I do with any band I want to be different — the next Angel Du$t record isn't going to be what you think it is right now. I would like people to think it will go one way and go the opposite. People thought Trapped Under Ice would get heavier, so that's when we collectively thought it would be cool to subvert people with their expectations. All the bands — Angel Du$t, Turnstile — are not going to do what you expect.
The live show, if you jump off stage at the second song every time, then that's not punk. You gotta jump off stage on the fourth song, or something crazy. I just want people to see what I'm doing and say, "Oh, didn't expect that." Every time. That's the best feeling.
I HEAR A LOT OF DIFFERENT SCENES ON THE RECORD MERGING TOGETHER, TOO, WHETHER IT'S STUFF LIKE TYRANNAMEN OR NYHC STUFF.
I like that you referenced Tyrannamen specifically because that's actually one of my top favorite modern bands in the world, period. So like, I definitely have never wrote anything like, "This sounds like Tyrannamen," but if you love something like that it's going to be felt. There's a couple of modern bands, some of the modern bands we work with on Pop Wig. Pop Wig isn't some big record label, it's like making the bands happen. We're lucky enough to work with a Bugg and a Big Bite, and all the bands we work with. Those individuals as musicians all influence Angel Du$t, and then obvious older influences like Lemonheads which people use a lot.
One big thing was, I love those older punk bands like the Replacements, specifically writing songs like that vibe, production-wise, but it still has the energy of hardcore-punk music. One influence that might get overlooked is the Feelies, the way they use percussion to manipulate energy is so special. They're such a soft band, but a shaker on the track makes me feel aggressive. Like yeah we can write a fast song or make you stage dive, and that's fun and I love that. But to find a new way to make you feel like that, it's the goal.
I THINK DANIEL FANG MAY BE THE REVOLVER OFFICE'S FAVORITE NEW DRUMMER. WE TALK ABOUT HIM A LOT.
The man played in his hospital gown after his doctor told him, "Don't go on tour or you'll die." He's a psycho. [Laughs] My favorite Daniel quote, we did this Angel Du$t/Turnstile tour, I felt stressed out for him like he must be exhausted. Must be over the shit, and I didn't want to bring it up early. At the end of the tour, I was like, "Man, how do you feel? It's been like four months of playing drums every day, you must be exhausted." He was like, "Dude, the only thing that bums me out is I don't get the chance to play drums more. The whole day we're in the van, I should be playing drums."
I FEEL LIKE I SEE A GREATER VARIETY OF PEOPLE AT SHOWS BEYOND JUST DUDES. WHY DO WOMEN LOVE ANGEL DU$T SO MUCH?
I don't know. I would hope it's because we do something that doesn't feel exclusionary. Maybe because there's less macho edge, not pointing fingers at anybody. But there's definitely something in hardcore where it's like a competition to be the heaviest or the hardest or the fastest or the craziest or whatever. I've been that before, there was a point with Trapped Under Ice where I wanted to be the hardest, scariest band. But there's a million bands that do that well, and we just want to be ourselves. We like anime and puppies and stupid shit like that. It's a cool platform to be as much of ourselves as possible. We don't have to play the role of a "man."
I HAD SOME FRIENDS OVER THE OTHER DAY AND WE WERE FLIPPING THROUGH YOUTUBE. I THREW ON ANGEL DU$T'S "SET ME UP" VIDEO, AND THEY WERE IMMEDIATELY LIKE "AH FUCK THIS SHIRTLESS HARDCORE BRO." BUT THEN THEY WERE SO SHOCKED WHEN THE CROWD JUST SWITCHED UP TO ALL WOMEN BEING IN THE FRONT AND ONSTAGE. IT WAS COOL TO SEE THEIR REACTION.
It's happened a lot and I love that. I can't say exactly what it is, there's a song on the first LP that had women singing on it, and it wasn't a conscious decision or anything to make any kind of "movement." We just want to be welcoming to all people, and grateful and fortunate that could happen.
THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT ANGEL DU$T AND TURNSTILE WHERE I THINK SECRETLY BOTH BANDS HAVE FOSTERED ONE OF THE MOST INCLUSIVE ENVIRONMENTS IN MUSIC PERIOD, AND ARE INHERENTLY POLITICAL BECAUSE OF THAT EVEN IF IT'S NOT INTENDED OR FORCED.
There's definitely a social and political climate that exists in America that needs attention, but it's very sad to me that there are people who are marketing that. There are white men that market that. I am a white man and I'll do anything in my power to help that situation, but I would never market myself that way, or try to sell you social politics. It's not my place.
What I will do is do my best to create an environment welcoming to everyone with the music we make, and I think that applies to all of our friends. There are things we all feel, TUI was all about what I felt, and it's not a bad thing, but I was a kid and very self-centered and dealing with my problems. With Angel Du$t I make a very conscious effort to sing about things people experience. Music is the most political, social healing thing in the world. And if you could do something that could make a bunch of different people share a feeling. It would be such a gift to me to be able to share that feeling with other people.
DID THE DEATH OF YOUR DOG SPIKE IMPACT THE ALBUM?
A couple of weeks before our second recording session, we had a 14th birthday for my dog. We had a whole celebration, his best girlfriend was in town, some friends were in town so we brought him to the park and just had a day. It was sick, I think he was straight-up waiting for that. Dogs are so intuitive and smart, he showed no signs of being old or sick. He was running around, chasing ducks at the pond and literally the next day he was getting sick. I had to leave for tour that day, left him off with his babysitter, and I got a call right after I flew out that he was sick and had to go to the vet. She was an angel, did so much to take care of him. Got the call that the vet wanted to put him to sleep, so I got on a plane and when I got to L.A. they put him to sleep as soon as I got there.
The song on the record about Spike is called "Park." I don't know if it's silly to some people to have those feelings, I had that dog since I was kid. He walked me into adulthood and was there with me through everything. Sadly enough ... kind of the one consistent thing in my life, ever.