Interview: Droids Attack

A band that has recently caught my attention is Droids Attack.

DA is a rock band from Madison, Wisconsin. They began in the early 2000s and have released 4 full length albums since their inception. In 2004, the band won a MAMA (Madison Area Music Award) for best punk album with All Your Chicks Are Belong To Us.

They released their latest full length Sci Fi or Die in February 2016 and are about to embark on a summer tour of the United States.

I had a chance to talk to their singer and guitar player Brad Van and conducted this interview via email.

How did Droid Attack first get together?

Tony (drummer) & I (Brad. Guitar/vocals) met in 1998 at a video game resale shop where Tony was working at the time. I had just finished working with a band I had going for several years, and I was starting to focus on opening up a vintage arcade. It came up in a conversation that Tony was looking to play drums in a band. I wasn’t necessarily interested in starting another project, but he was a cool guy, so I offered to jam with him to see where it could go. We worked well together, so after a few sessions we decided to form a new band. After a few years of trying to land a solid bassist we found a guy named Nate Bush who stuck with us for about 8 years, & played on our first few albums. After he left we got our old friend Darwin Sampson playing bass with us. He has been a friend of ours for about as long as we’ve been a band. He actually booked us on our first show, & brought us on our old record label, Crustacean Records, with our first album, All Your Chicks Are Belong To Us.

What artists or bands were your biggest influences and got you to want to play music?

I grew up listening to my older brother’s albums. My favorites were Metallica, Iron Maiden, & Motley Crue. When I was in high school I listened to a lot of 90’s alt rock bands like Helmet, Tool, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, & Faith No More among others. I played drums back then, but when I started playing guitar I was listening to a lot of Misfits, Black Sabbath, Poster Children, Clutch, & bands like that.

How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard you?

We’re guitar heavy, rhythmically based, hard rock.

What is the story behind the name Droids Attack?

It was inspired by the old 1960’s Topps non-sports cards, “Mars Attacks,” which Tim Burton turned into a movie many years later. Topps produced a continuation to the card series called “Dinosaurs Attack” in the 80’s that I collected when I was a kid. I always thought a Droids Attack series would be a cool follow-up that never happened, so we just adopted that as our band name.

Do you have a specific songwriting process? Riffs first? Lyrics first? Combination of the two?

Usually riffs first, but occasionally a hooky vocal line will hit me & I’ll write riffs to incorporate them in.

Do you prefer songwriting and recording or playing live?

Playing live. My approach to writing songs is very slow. I need to feel like everything falls into place naturally in order for the process to feel authentic to me. Otherwise the songs would feel rushed and slapped together, and I wouldn’t enjoy playing them again and again. I don’t want to be one of those artists who’s biggest hits are songs they wrote in like ten minutes. They’re not the ones they’re most proud of, but now they have to play them every show because it’s everyone’s favorite, and they get all resentful about it. Yeah, writing crowd pleasers gets you paid & all that, but it brings me no pleasure trying to please people. I prefer a bond with our audience that is struck over something I am proud of & feel a sense of accomplishment in creating.

What have been some of your favorite venues to play and/or favorite shows?

We have played some pretty nice venues over the years. The High Noon Saloon, & The Frequency on Madison are our favorite places in our hometown. The Triple Rock Social Club in Minneapolis. The Cobra Lounge, & Reggie’s in Chicago. St Vitus in New York. Gabe’s in Iowa City. We have a few favorite “home away from home” dive bars we love playing too, like The Liar’s Club in Chicago, The Reptile Palace in Oshkosh. We’ve played with a lot of great bands over the years too. Some of my favorites are Torche, High On Fire, Fu Manchu, Floor, Dead Meadow, Earth, and Priestess.

What is the music scene like in general in Madison?

It’s great! Plenty of venues, plenty of musicians, plenty of people that are into being a part of the scene. Every year I host an event called Local Love Fest with my partner, Dustin Boyle, who runs sound at The Frequency and owns a recording studio here in town. Every year we find a group of local bands to participate, and we record them performing a cover song of another local band they dig. Then we compile the tracks onto a CD, put on an event where they all play their local cover songs, and we distribute the disc to everyone who comes out to party. We’ve been doing it for eight years now, and I think the reason that the project is at all possible is that most everybody pays attention to each other’s music around here. Most all of us respect and find appreciation in what we’re all doing.

Here’s a nerdy non-music question: What are your favorite movies, TV shows and/or books?

Favorite movies… that’s a little tricky. I’ve got thousands of DVD’s. One I’ve really enjoyed for years is Ghost World. No Country For Old Men is coming to mind. American Psycho… I could go on, I’m sure. Breaking Bad is my favorite TV series. I also really like the classic Tales From The Crypt, and Eastbound And Down. I haven’t read too many books lately, I mostly enjoy looking at art books & reading graphic novels. I don’t really get into the look of a lot of modern stuff, it’s usually too digitally stylized for my tastes. I prefer classic painting of the pulp era, and pen and ink work, so I stick to a lot of classic stuff when I feel like chillin’ with a book, like the old EC Comics, The Maxx, Hard Boiled, TMNT, Akira, etc.

Here’s a question for the tech nerds: what gear do you guys use?

We’ve got a lot of shit! I like quality built gear, so we’ve invested in a lot of hand built & modified amplifiers, & speaker cabinets. Right now I use a modded Marshall JTM 45, & a kit built amp I made which is essentially a modded Marshall JCM 800. I run those both through a pair of 2×12 and a pair of 4×12 Emperor cabs loaded with Celestion Greenbacks & Vintage 30’s. Darwin uses a Verellen Meatsmoke into either a Verellen 2×15, or an Emperor 4×10/1×15 stack. Tony uses a custom-built DDrum acrylic kit. 14″ rack, 16″ floor, 28″ kick. 13″ Pork Pie brass patina snare drum. We’ve got a bunch of different guitars we use. My favorite is a gold top Orville Les Paul that I customized with a set of Gibson classic pickups. Darwin’s been using a stock G&L for awhile, but we recently picked up a Rickenbacker he seems interested in moving over to.

What’s next for the band?

We just released a Droids Attack branded craft beer based on our most recent album, so we’ve been promoting that. Since it sold really well coming out of the gate we’re looking at potentially doing another beer in the fall. We’ve also talked about doing a tour out East in the fall, and some European opportunities have come up. We might head over there next year, we’ll see. Mostly we’re focusing on writing our next record. Hopefully that will be ready to release in about a year.

Make sure you check them out this summer on their U.S. Tour!

6/16 Des Moines, IA
6/17 Omaha, NE
6/18 Denver, CO
6/19 Bozeman, MT
6/20 Spokane, WA
6/21 Seattle, WA
6/22 Portland OR
6/23 Eureka, CA
6/24 Sacramento, CA
6/25 Los Angeles, CA
6/26 Las Vegas, NV
6/27 Tempe, AZ
6/29 San Antonio, TX
6/30 Austin, TX
7/1 Oklahoma City, OK
7/2 St Louis, MO
7/3 Chicago, IL

Other articles about DA:

Maximum Ink article
Isthmus article

To find out more about Droids Attack, check them out on the web and social media:

DA on Facebook
DA on Bandcamp
DA on Wikipedia
Offical DA website
DA on Twitter

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