Interview: Del Paxton Keeps on Running
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Del Paxton is more than just a band. The three members of this ‘90s-indebted emo group also comprise what must be the most exclusive running club in Buffalo, NY. Talking to these three musicians about their shared affinity for traversing the terrain of the city on foot (almost) year round feels a little bit like dropping in on one of their club meetings. They’re updating each other on the number of miles they’ve racked up (drummer Greg McClure did around 450 miles in the first three months of the pandemic), they’re giving status reports on injury progress (singer/guitarist Dylan England’s IT band seems to be healing up nicely), they’re trading philosophies of running and how it changes and informs their experience with the world (singer/bassist Zack Schoedel said during our discussion “running has just saved my life”).
Talking to this group of avid runners a few weeks back, I was struck by the ways in which their conversation kept circling back to the ways in which the three of them view their shared experiences in the context of growing into adulthood. “If our band was about getting together and getting trashed we would probably not still be a band,” McClure said. This theme is especially notable for the ways it seems to be at odds with what people (maybe incorrectly) tend to think about when they think about emo music—youthful, sometimes irrational, sometimes self-destructive. But Del Paxton is an emo band that seems to be perpetually bolstering each other up, keeping each other active and healthy and because of that, they seem stronger than ever.
But, let’s not forget, Del Paxton is still an emo band, and they’re slowly putting out songs from their new EP September, Bedtime, Ontario, their first release since 2017’s excellent All Day, Every Day, All Night. The first one of those songs, “September,” captures the essence of some of these notions of growing out of our old selves. Recounting one of England’s trips to the Adirondack mountains with his wife and some of his old friends, the warm, nostalgic rock song brings to life a certain melancholy at the ways our experiences and relationships change over time. “Most of that song is just about trying to preserve some friendships as you get older and how that gets really tough,” England said.
On an especially sweltering Friday afternoon, I talked to Del Paxton about running, their lives outside music, and their experience recording the new EP with engineer Hunter Davidsohn. You can read that below, and you can also listen to the band’s collaborative running playlist, titled “Runny Day Real Estate,” whenever you take your next jog (note: jogging not required). Oh, and don’t forget to listen to “September” and their latest track “Bedtime” right now. September, Bedtime, Ontario is out in full on August 19 on Topshelf Records.
I want to talk about the new songs later, but I thought we’d spend some time talking about your lives outside music. I heard that you’re all avid runners?
Greg McClure: Yeah, I’m actually dressed in my running outfit right now. I’m looking at myself and I’m wearing running shoes and running shorts and a King of Heck shirt and I’m ready to go for my run. At this point, it’s just a thing that not even 100-degree weather really stops me from doing.
Zack Schoedel: I, on the other hand, have not been running because it’s too hot, so you can just consider me the wimpy one. [Laughs] I usually try to run year round, like 6 out of the 7 days of the week I’m usually running. But the past few weeks I have just totally checked out, I have no problem not running in this heat.
Dylan England: I got a weird running injury…it’s called the IT band which Greg told me about. I guess it’s a pretty common injury for distance runners. It’s like that big tendon that runs down the outside of your knee. I actually went for my first three-mile run the other day and I definitely almost died and felt really terrible when I got home. It was just not good, but my leg felt better.
Greg: Oh, good!
Dylan: Yeah, so maybe that’s a good sign. I don’t run in the winter though, so I guess I’m kind of the wimp. It’s too much work and I don’t want to buy the gear and it’s just cold. In the summer and fall and spring though, I run a lot.
Greg: So, just to recap that for you, both of my band members just admitted to being wimps except for me. So maybe that’s the short headline you get out of this whole thing. “Everybody but Greg in Del Paxton: Absolute Wimps.” But that’s running in Buffalo in a nutshell. We have a really wonderful season to run outdoors and then the rest of it is tough to do. I run year round like Zack does, but in the winter it’s on a treadmill and that’s not very fun. At that point, it’s more common for you to run in the spring, summer, fall, but with that super long winter…you’re just trying to make it through the winter.
Zack: I’m trying to think about what running means to me and, if I’m being totally honest, I think that running has just saved my life. Living in a place like Buffalo where the winters are just impossible and the summertime is just impossible, running for me is a way to, regardless of how uncomfortable it is and how depressed you’re feeling and how miserable it is outside, it’s just sort of like an act of rebellion. Getting your blood moving and your heart rate up and your breath going and getting serotonin and dopamine pumping and running through your brain. I don’t know how I would get through the wintertime without running, even if it’s on a treadmill. For me it’s been a complete lifesaver. And it’s cool that we all do it as a band and that we have this other thing that we all do and can all sort of talk about and connect on.
Greg: We actually have a playlist that we share with each other on Spotify. It’s called “Runny Day Real Estate.” And we just constantly add our favorite first and second wave running emo songs on a massive playlist. It’s kind of a fun way to collaborate when we’re running separately.
Did you all always run or did you start doing it as a band?
Dylan: I’ve always ran. I think we all played sports in high school and I think some level of running was always involved. I’ve always liked to run, I’ve always really enjoyed it. I don’t know if I ever got heavy into any sort of distance running, but for me it’s just kind of like yoga or something, I just shut off and do it and don’t really think about anything.
Greg: It’s definitely something that we all kind of did independently, but for me it was encouraged and reinforced because I live really close to Zack, so for the entire length of this band, Zack and I have been able to go for runs together. And then on my birthday last year I ran a half marathon and I asked Dylan to run it with me. Even though we didn’t get into running together as a band, it’s definitely something that we can keep each other encouraged to do.
Zack: I didn’t start running until later in life, until pretty recently. It’s something that’s kind of gotten me through life as I’m getting further on into adulthood. It’s become this central focus point for my life really. It’s the highlight of my day. I usually go out with Greg, because like he mentioned he lives really close by and we can go out together sometimes and do our usual route around the city of Buffalo.
Dylan: We were talking about the playlist, which I think is rad, but I also prefer to not listen to music when I run. Even though I like the playlist and I’ve tried it a few times, it’s just not for me.
Zack: Yeah, I actually don’t like to listen to music when I’m running. For me it’s been like a way to adjust, sort of like a quiet meditation. I listen to music a lot throughout the day at other points, but running for me is like a mind/body meditation where I try to shut off the mental noise and just kind of work through things and allow the energy in your body to have little victories.
Dylan: I will echo that 100 percent. I like to concentrate on my pace and shut my brain off completely. I also don’t like to have any watches or iPods or anything on me really.
Zack: I’ve been meaning to progress into that phase of running. I’m still a little bit too attached on numbers, trying to quantify how far and how fast I’ve gone. But I think it’s super cool that you don’t run with anything and you allow it to be this totally pure thing.
Greg: It’s funny to hear you guys say that because I do listen to music when I run, and it just completely changes the way I listen to music. I sometimes tune in specifically to what I’m listening to, and I always joke that if you write a record that I can run to, I’m probably going to love your record. I fell in love with Vasudeva because a lot of their songs are just really great running tempos.
Zack: 160 bpms or whatever it is?
Greg: Yeah 160 to 180 bpms and I’m sold. I mean, the Tenement record? Every song is mid tempo.
Dylan: Oh, I’ve done that one, only because I’m obsessed with that record, but also because it’s so long. So if you go on a longer run, you hit side C and your run gets really weird.
I know that the song you recently released “September” is about going to the Adirondacks. Is camping another shared hobby for the band?
Dylan: I really love camping, my wife and I were actually in the Adirondacks the Friday when the single dropped. I was like, oh man, this is a time that I actually want to be on my phone, but I came here to not be also. But we have really good friends up there and we try to go up there and camp pretty often. I really like camping. I don’t know if we’ve ever gone on a band camping trip.
Zack: Well we sort of did when we were with the band Alaska.
Dylan: Yeah, we did pull into a KOA there.
Greg: That’s true, that was really fun too. That’s in the music video for “September,” there’s a shot of Zack playing his electric bass at the campfire. And that was I think the first and only real camping experience that we had as a band. It was the beginning of a tour with Alaska a couple of summers ago.
Dylan: Where we grew up in upstate New York, we were very lucky to be very close to a lot of natural beauty. The Adirondacks is a really incredible park that we have in upstate New York. But also, where you guys grew up, Greg and Zack, in Ithaca, I mean, there’s no shortage of beautiful stuff. I grew up in a pretty rural suburban setting, kind of the same, lots of woods. I definitely had the typical boy scout kind of upbringing. So a lot of that stuff is something I typically write lyrics about.
Zack: The place Greg and I are from, Ithaca, New York, is like the gorge and waterfall capital of the northeast maybe. It very much informs the visual landscape of the band and the art we make collectively.
Dylan: Most of “September” is just about trying to preserve some friendships as you get older and how that gets really tough. In college, or when you’re younger, I think I maybe took a little bit of that for granted. Just being able to jam and play music every day and hang out, but as life gets a little more complicated and people start to grow up and have kids and buy homes. Specifically with that song, in my own experience, maybe you have some college friends where a lot of your relationship was formed based on partying and drinking. And as you’re getting older, you’re just happy to see one another. But they’re also like “let’s get super fucked up and go into the woods!” But the anxiety takes over when you get older it’s just like…I can’t drop acid anymore. I don’t want to. I just want to see my friends and hang out by a lake. It’s the dichotomy of getting older and just wanting to be young and just being a little whiny late-20-something. I love my friends, but when you get up there and you’re like “is all we have in common drinking?” Those fears kind of take over. That’s what “September” is really about. It just gets harder when you get older to work around everyone’s busy schedules as you naturally drift apart.
Greg: I do think it makes sense especially when you contextualize it to the fact that the three of us get along really well as a band because we all feel the same way about that. If our band was about getting together and getting trashed we would probably not still be a band. It’s a very healthy thing in our lives that we all feel very similar about. It’s not like the band has to make it! I teach first grade, I teach six-year-olds. I might have band practice where I’m just like, I can’t make it tonight. I’m whooped. And everyone is on the same page and we’re just maturing in that way. It makes sense and it works well.
Let’s talk about your three new songs. How did those come together?
Zack: These were three songs that we kind of wanted to test out at this studio that we weren’t sure that we wanted to commit recording an entire full-length LP at. We have about an LP’s worth of songs written and ready to be recorded. But we wanted to dip our toes in the water at the studio to see if it was a place we wanted to work.
Dylan: I really wanted to record at the studio we recorded at. It was a different experience for us. It was an old friend from Johnson City that I had kind of grown up with, well we all kind of grew up with in our high school band scene. But he [engineer Hunter Davidsohn] has a really unique approach to recording in that he does everything kind of analog. He’s kind of a mad scientist.
Greg: We got a really cool, unique sound out of it. And it was a learning experience for our band.
Dylan: He doesn’t usually record bands like ours. We kind of knew that. I think I was a little stubborn on going that direction because I think to be a guitar band in 2020 and write emo music and actually own that…it’s already not something I’m really stoked on. We know what our songs sound like, and if we went to a typical studio, we kind of know what we’re going to get.
Zack: Another important point to add, from a technical aspect, is that this guy records everything to reel-to-reel analog tape and into sound equipment that was used in like the post-World War II sound recording era. He records a lot of psychedelic and indie stuff.
Greg: It’s important to also mention that after that we gave the session files to our friend Adam Korbesmeyer who mixed it and mastered it. Adam is somebody that works on the totally opposite side of the spectrum. He works on pop records in LA, and he works on big ones. He also works on production sets for pop shows and stuff like that. He did Worst Summer Ever with us and he recorded the split we did with Gulfer. He’s really familiar with the genre and he also has this depth of knowledge of how to record pop music and stuff like that. He understood what we wanted and why we made the choice to go to the studio that we did. And he took those files and mixed them in a way that was like, hey, I’m just gonna take this raw stuff, I’m not gonna do a lot to it, but I’m gonna clean it up.
Has this experience with this engineer changed your plans for the new LP?
Greg: We’ve been writing an LP. We are putting together ideas—I think a cool experience for us has been working with different engineers and everybody we’ve worked with has been incredible. For the LP we worked with someone in Buffalo Jay Zubricky, who is incredibly talented and worked on the Every Time I Die record and does a lot of cool pop-punk records. And now we went and did this other thing with Hunter and now we might go back and work with Adam again. And it’s just kind of cool to work with different engineers. We’re thinking about working with a friend of ours back in my hometown on the next record and maybe more than one engineer on that, maybe bring in someone as an engineer and someone as a producer. The idea for these three songs—I don’t remember who thought of it first, if it was us or Topshelf [Records]—but we just kind of had three songs and we sent them to them and, you know, we haven’t put out music in a really long time, and they responded back very enthusiastically. They were really excited that we are still playing music and really love the three songs and wanted to figure out a cool way to put it out together.
Did you have any touring plans that got nixed?
Greg: No, not really. We were talking to a couple bands about doing some short-run tours with them. We had been in contact with the band Charmer from Michigan who asked us if we wanted to do a few days with them on their longer tour and the band Little Kid from Canada. We hadn’t agreed to do any of those things, but we were definitely starting to think about touring again. But the reality for us is that we’re not one of those bands that can drop our lives and hit the road for two months playing in basements across the country. So what we do now is we just try to be a little more thoughtful about where we’re going and when we’re going and how long we’re going for. Before this long break that we took, we would do like five days down to South By Southwest, play South By, and then just jet back. And then we’d play like five or six days down to Fest and we’d play Fest and then we’d just jet back. And that’s just the reality of the fact that I’ve got to get back into the classroom that next Monday. And it’s a fun way to still be doing it. The alternative is to not be doing it and that sucks too. So we’re glad to just be doing what we can.
Greg, did you have to teach the six-year-olds remotely?
Greg: Oh, yeah. So much. Zoom meetings three times a week. I had a video lesson that I had to record. I try to teach my class with a good sense of humor and when my students were going through this quarantine I was really worried about them feeling sad and lonely and missing the only place where a lot of them get to see their friends. Trying to find creative ways to connect them and give them dance parties and be funny on the videos. I will never show you guys any of that video footage. If you could put yourself in the room, be a fly on the wall, and see a 34-year-old man pretending to do magic tricks in front of a cell phone to teach kids about long vowel sounds…it’s not exactly the image I want bound to me.
Well, if you change your mind, you can always send us the videos.
Greg: Yeah, the next music video could just be me pretending to pull long vowel sounds out of a hat.
September, Bedtime, Ontario is out August 19 on Topshelf Records.
Jordan Walsh | @jordalsh
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