Ali Koehler Talks Pop Punk and Dogs Wearing Sunglasses
Get stoked, pop punk fans, your favorite record of 2013 is out this week! Upset, the new trio featuring Ali Koehler (Vivian Girls), Patty Schemel (motherfucking Hole!), and Jennifer Prince, are releasing their debut, She's Gone, on October 29, and it is the best sugary delight one could hope to find in the bottom of their trick-or-treat bag.
The songs—nearly all of them falling under the three-minute mark (as any decent pop punk song does)—bounce through memories of going back to school, dealing with mean girls, and messing around with crushes. While its youthful energy is definitely fun enough to still resonate with adults, it's also the record you should pass on to any tweens and teenagers you know—Upset's perfect balance of confidence and unpretentiousness will inspire anyone who listens to pick up a guitar or drumsticks (or at least have a very loud sing-along in their bedroom).
Singer Ali Koehler kindly answered my questions about pop punk, mean internet commenters, and, of course, the fluffy white sunglasses-wearing dog in their promo photo.
My first question, the most important question: What is the name of the dog in your promo photo, the one wearing sunglasses? That's Maddie, the photographer's dog. We took all these serious photos, and then she jumped into our lap, and the dog's owner was like, "Oh, I've got a good idea," and put some sunglasses on her. It was really funny.
I read that you met Patty Schemel on Twitter. Is that really how it went down? That is true, she followed me 'cause she's a fan of Vivian Girls and I was the drummer, and I was like, "Oh, holy shit, Patty Schemel follows me." So I direct messaged her, I offered to watch her daughter for her 'cause I'm a nanny, and we exchanged numbers. A little bit later, we were texting and talking about music and decided to play together. I had already been toying around with the idea of starting a band with my friend Jenn as well, so it just morphed into one band.
I was a big fan of Hole growing up, and I really love pop punk, and then I wondered, "How the fuck do you ask Patty Schemel to be in your pop punk band?" [Laughs] It's funny. I love pop punk, and she really likes the Descendents, but at one practice I was like [hesitantly], "Do you like Jawbreaker? I wanna cover Jawbreaker." And she was like, "Yeah! I love Jawbreaker!" "Oh, awesome!"
Which other old pop punk bands are you still in love with? I was really into emo more than pop punk—I got into pop punk a little bit later, at least pop punk that's cool to like. Like the Ergs. The Ergs are cool.
I love that you name-dropped them in your bio, too, as a similar-sounding band. I went to college in New Jersey; I went to Rutgers. I used to see the Ergs a lot, and I really love them. It's funny because the woman who wrote our bio, she wrote that we sound like the Ergs and Lemuria, and I was like, "That isn't that big of a selling point for that many people," [laughs] but I like it, so whatever. I agree with the sentiment.
As I've gotten older, I feel like it's a little harder to have a relationship with pop punk, given the "whiny dude who hates all women" mentality that seems to happen a lot. My friend tweeted something like "Early 2000s pop punk and emo turned me into a radical feminist." I was like, that was my journey, too! I loved the Get Up Kids, and then I loved Bikini Kill. My boyfriend was like, that doesn't make any sense, to like both of those types of music. I don't know—you just get sick of hearing a bunch of dudes shitting on girls, even though the music is really good.
Do you deal with any of that misogyny in the modern day, as a female musician? I'm sure it's going to happen. With Vivian Girls we used to get the harshest shit said about us. Like, really fucking hateful, unwarranted nastiness. But so far with Upset, maybe just because it's on a smaller scale, we haven't really had that yet. I've kind of been waiting for it. I'm like, "Has the internet grown up in three years? This is crazy! Nobody's commenting about whether or not they'd fuck one of us!" Which is sad that that's what I expect.
I'd love for internet commenters to get to a point where three women can be in the same photo and it doesn't turn into a game of Fuck, Marry, Kill. Yeah! When Vivian Girls started, Rookie didn't exist—I feel like that's a really positive website. And people are taking steps to moderate their comments a little bit more, which is good, because people don't need to read that stuff. It has nothing to do with the purpose of music, so why are these websites condoning it by leaving it up? It's stupid.
I don't know how you feel about revealing what songs are about, but in the song "Don't Lose Your Dinosaur," what's the dinosaur referring to? That's referencing a quote from the movie Step Brothers. There's a part at the end where they get their shit together, and then they come to a Catalina wine mixer and play this song after they haven't played instruments in so long, and it's really ridiculous, but the dad is basically telling them, "Live your dreams, man, don't lose your dinosaur," because Dale told a story about how he wanted to be a dinosaur when he grew up.
Nice, I like that. I was worried you were going to tell me it didn't mean anything. No, I feel if I don't have a connection in some way to what I'm saying, it feels really insincere, and I just scrap it.
In that Rookie interview, you said the reason you chose the band name Upset is because that's often how you feel. Does songwriting help? No, I find that if I'm really depressed, I can't play music at all. It's only when I'm feeling better that I can. I don't know, it comes and goes. That's how it happens for me. Like, for a year I can't imagine writing a song, and then all of a sudden one day I'm like, "I'm gonna write 15 songs!"
I don't know if this will be taken as an insult, but while I really love your record now as an adult, I also wish I had it when I was in high school. No, that's not an insult at all. I really like that.
It's something I would love to give to all 15-year-old girls. I loved bands so much when I was 15, and I miss that. I wish I could feel that way again. I just wanted to make something that would make someone feel that way. I still get that feeling every so often, it just comes in smaller spurts, so I feel like I have to capture it when it happens.
Upset play Black Lodge on November 15.