Interview with Sarchasm

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We jumped on Zoom with Alex Botkin (bass/vocals, he/him) and Mateo Campos (guitar/vocals, he/him) from obnoxious, smiley Bay Area alternative rock band Sarchasm. They’ve been cranking out tunes for an impressive ten years! Unfortunately, Stevie Campos-Seligman (drums/vocals, they them), was unable to make it. In this interview, we talked about anxiety, how songwriting helps process emotions, and whether or not they would choose to be reincarnated as a ghost in the 924 Gilman bathroom.

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What is your go-to gas station order? 

Alex: Mateo you start, I gotta ponder this.

Mateo: I try not to eat food at gas stations, but on tour we’ve come across a lot of gas stations with cold brew machines. That’s my go-to, like oh my god they’ve got a cold brew machine. I like peanuts, too. Either an Arizona or a coffee.

Alex: I’m a big fan of peach black iced teas, and I’ll probably get something like an egg salad, because I like to live dangerously. I feel like I pick the worst things. If we’re at Buc-cees, it’s a little different. Buc-cee’s I’ll go for a giant bag of kettle corn or something. We as a bad try to not sink too much money into it. I bought a cowboy hat once, that was good. A really stupid hat is probably my go-to gas station choice.

So you got started as a band between the ages of 11-15, which is a pretty impressively long time to be a band! What wisdom have you learned along the way that you’d like to share with us?

Mateo: Be friends with your bandmates. If you’re not actual friends in real life and do actual friendship things as well, unless you’ve come into a great situation it’s not going to work out. We’re not only friends, we grew up together. Alex and I went to high school together, we used to have an annual Hunger Games movie thing together, we stay real life friends outside of music, too.

Alex: The hardest parts of our band have been when me, Mateo, or our drummer Stevie have been out of state for college, and when we would come back it would be purely focused on the band and not any aspect of friends or anything like that. It definitely made it a lot less enjoyable. People try to act like the business stuff is enjoyable, and that’s definitely not the case. I think being friends first also allows us to be more critical and smart about things when it comes to stuff like finances and things like that, so I know we aren’t going to wreck everything by having disagreements about things that do have to be discussed.

That’s been the downfall of bands, we’ve seen. They weren’t really friends, they met forming a band, and it fell apart once they started having to deal with stuff like money. Like, we all own a van together, we rent a practice space together, we have van insurance, we have all of these expenses that go with being in a band. And if we weren’t friends, it would be less appealing to go through all the negative stuff without having the benefit of just hanging out and enjoying each other as people.

We lucked out, Mateo and Stevie are siblings and I met both of them through a Craigslist ad that my mom posted about looking for a band. For anyone reading, don’t do that. Not a good idea when you’re thirteen. My mom did it, so it was okay. We didn’t know if we would be friends first and it definitely worked out in our favor. Yeah, we wouldn’t be here ten years later if we hadn’t gelled on a friendship level.

Mateo: We’re all in this really special type of relationship together. We’re siblings, we’re friends, we’re bandmates, we annoy each other to death, we fight in the middle of the country, we cry in motel rooms and in Denny’s, all of it.

Your Facebook bio describes you as “anxious.” What are some things you worry about?

Alex: Existence.

Mateo: Do you want alphabetical? I worry about the future all the time, I worry about time, I worry about when I’m walking my dog and a random person gives him a biscuit, the biscuit has been poisoned. Random stuff like that.

Alex: Jesus. I think we all specialize in being very anxious and play to our strengths in that in some ways. I’m often anxious about being not too weird, but not normal enough and not weird enough and fitting into this middle gap of odd normalcy.

Mateo: Radical normie-ism, if you will.

Alex: We’ve experienced that with our band occasionally, like trying to be really out there with our music and trying to fit in too much with our music.

Mateo: I think we’re all anxious in different ways.

Alex: I’m anxious about trying to think of what I’m anxious about.

Mateo: I have trouble talking on the phone. I hate phone calls. Our drummer Stevie gets really anxious in group chats, so sometimes they’ll just not look at their phone for weeks and weeks.

Alex: Stevie makes us so anxious. Stevie’s gotten us kicked out of multiple bars because for a period of time Stevie wasn’t 21 and would ask for water or a cup of ice and then get carded and get us all kicked out. Or we’ll be about to play, and we’ll look at the drum throne, and there’s no Stevie and we’ll see them walking to the bathroom right before we’re about to start.

Mateo: Or we’ll have a certain time commitment, and fifteen minutes before we have to leave Stevie’s still in bed.

Alex: They’re not hear to defend themselves. We’re a very anxious band.

Listening to your self-titled LP front to back, it seems like there’s sort of a narrative being told of inner turmoil that then concludes with “Supertramp,” where you talk about not wanting to hate yourself anymore. Is this a personal journey you are detailing here? was this narrative intended?

Mateo: Yes and no. I feel like it wasn’t explicitly intentional to write a narrative, but every single one of our releases was documenting a moment in time, and self-titled in particular documents what it’s like to be in your early 20s and all of your friends are starting to move away and start their careers, but you’re kind of an adult but you’re still living with your parents, and you’re paying taxes but your parents still ask you where you’re going every so often. And you put the pandemic on top of that, and that added a whole layer of feeling stuck-ness and a weird “I don’t want this, but I don’t know what I want type of feelings.”

Alex: A lot of that album did have to do with being a band for a decade, there’s a lot of pride and happiness in that but there’s a thing of a lot of, as much as every band might not want to admit it there is an element of wanting to be a successful famous band. I feel like we’ve been a pretty OK band for the last three or four years, before that it wasn’t quite as good. There’s an element of the journey it’s been over the last ten years, and seeing the evolution of the band, and finishing college.

That album has a lot to do with putting the last decade as a closure sort of mark, and now this is sort of the beginning of adulthood in a lot of aspects, because we were teenagers in high school, and college, and still living dependently off our parents and such, until this album. And now it’s a more independent focus, and evolution musically. I don’t have as much to say on that, though, because my songs aren’t really written specifically about that stuff. Mateo summed it up pretty well for sure.

Mateo: Whether or not we intend to write a narrative or something that strings together, it usually ends up happening on its own. The only intentional conclusion to the narrative is “Supertramp,” which was written third to last out of all the songs. We knew at that point that “Wither” was gonna be the first song, and because “Wither” has that outro, I was finishing “Supertramp” and I thought it would be cool if this was the last song, to conclude an album with a callback to the first song, and see if anyone notices.

It’s really cool that you guys noticed, only one other person has actually even brought that up to me. But anyway, that’s what’s really cool about it . We might be saying a specific thing, but someone else could be listening and have a totally different other story attached to it, and that’s cool.

Alex: I think we try to do that as best we can with adding an ambiguity to the characters, and trying to make it not super, super personalized, even with the songs on the self-titled and the albums before that that have had elements.

I write trying to be as general as possible and filling in certain stuff, I think that’s something that gives songs more longevity, because I’ve definitely written songs like, “That’s sophomore year of high school me and not me anymore.” Giving it a more broad sense means it feels less weird playing this song a few years after we’ve put it out, and it still feels important. Maybe not in the same way, but it still feels meaningful.

your song “When’s My Right Time, Kent?” deals with themes of feeling small and insignificant and bored; since your bio mentions liking superheroes, first is this a reference to Clark Kent? Second, how does songwriting and other creativity help you deal with these tough emotions? 

Alex: It’s a reference to the weather reporter from The Simpsons. He gets pissed off because the news reporter wins the lottery, and the weatherman starts screaming on the traffic report, “When’s my right time, Kent?”, because he’s pissed off about not owning property. Which sort of fits with the theme of the song. Sorry, what was the second half of that question? I thought of The Simpsons and became blinded by my own obsessions.

Mateo: For awhile, I feel like songwriting and playing together was the only outlet the three of us had for those big feelings and tough emotions. I know for “Kent” specifically, Stevie wrote that after getting rejected from their top college, trying to transfer from community college, and they’re not really good at expressing their feelings and they were super down. It was a big crushing blow.

They wrote that song, they figured it out, life went on, and then they reapplied and got in. They were like, wow, this is cool, I feel so much better knowing I got past it and if I got rejected it would have been okay. But with the added bonus that they got in and they’re attending. I still primarily use songwriting and writing to process and explore all of my big feelings. Some of them never go past notes on my phone, but it’s the most helpful way I think.

Alex: It’s very therapeutic. Oftentimes if I’m writing or we’re writing, stuff will come out that I’m not even aware has been bothering me or has been in the back of my mind, but it’ll reveal itself through what I write or work on. It does help to do that and become a little more aware of what has been bugging you. If you’ve been really busy and can’t focus, it can really help you zone back in on what needs to be focused on a little bit. And it feels, there’s a validating sense of creating something positive out of something negative.

That’s a really nice part, and I think it’s tough sometimes to be honest with yourself. This is a lot of why I especially don’t write from my own perspective, I try to write from a character perspective. If I can disconnect myself from the song a little bit, it can help me be a little more honest with the feelings I’m trying to portray and I don’t get as caught up in the anxiety of something very personalized, and that sort of thing. If it’s through the lens of this other persona, it feels like it can be more honest in a weird way.

Mateo: I feel like I approach it from the exact opposite direction sometimes. I’ll over-personalize, with my first drafts or something. I’ll say exactly what I’ve been feeling, even if its super embarrassing or cringey. Last weekend, we spent the weekend in the studio working on some new songs for a split that’s hopefully coming out later this year.

One of the songs, I was feeling really weird leading up to recording. It’s a super personal song, the lyrics I thought were super embarrassing, just overdramatic melodramatic like, “Wow my life sucks!”. And we recorded it, and I did the vocals, and we listened back, and I was like “Oh okay, this works, I feel better now.” Because I yelled, and I yelled exactly how I’ve been feeling. It works, it’s not melodramatic, it works, the feelings work, and the words work. One of my favorite things about being in this band is that everything shouldn’t work, but it somehow does.

“Belong” is another powerful track that really sticks out on the record, and I feel like a lot of people could also relate to despite it being so vulnerable and personal. What does this song mean to you today?

Mateo: That’s another Stevie song. Stevie’s nonbinary, and it’s been a lifelong journey for them as well because they have been trying to live authentically nonbinary, as no category as they possibly can. “Belong,” I think, was one of the first really explicit songs about being nonbinary. What’s cool about the way it’s written, and the way we put it together, is that it’s about wanting to belong, and not quite knowing your place, in the gender binary or status quo or master’s program, I don’t know. It’s like, I just want to belong.

Alex: I can’t think as deeply as Stevie could about it. I think it’s nice though, because it is applicable to a general sense of everything. Everyone feels like they don’t fit in at some point. Stevie’s really good at writing things that seem poppy in the surface level, like fun hooks, and then you get into the underlying thing and it has a lot of layers to the meaning and is really intelligently thought out. But initially comes across as a well-crafted pop melody thing. I think that’s a thing that has certainly made that song, “Kent” and “Belong,” so good on the last album. They have so much meaning to them but they’re just so good. Which I think gets overlooked sometimes, because it’s often like you have one or the other, and it’s hard to find that combination.

You frequently sport a “Camp Scorpio Counselor” t-shirt that accompanies “Scorpio Texas Ranger”. What’s the story behind this?

Mateo: So the Camp Scorpio shirts came out of a music video, where Alex plays a kid at summer camp, Camp Scorpio, but he’s having a dream because he fell asleep on the playground. He’s Indiana Jones.

Alex: Montana James. Don’t want to get sued.

Mateo: It kind of started as a joke, Alex was like, we should make matching camp counselor shirts, we can wear them, it’ll be cute and funny. We made them and we wore them, and then we were like, what if we make more shirts and sell them to people so everyone can be a part of Camp Scorpio. I don’t think anyone really knows what it is, we don’t even know what it is, but it’s a fun little thing. I made a camp welcome letter for the people who buy the shirts, like, “Welcome to Camp Scorpio!”. Do no harm and take no shit.

Alex: It’s kind of like a pseudo-fanclub. A lot of my titles, for Scorpio Texas Ranger, I don’t really know where it came from. I know it’s a riff on Walker Texas Ranger, and I think I had been hearing a lot about zodiac signs and it was a play on words sort of thing. A lot of our ideas are like, “This is fun!” and then it just sort of happens. We have a guy who’s a friend of ours locally, who makes all our shirts, and it was super easy to get those made up for the video. They’re this weird heather material, like one color but kind of speckled with gray. It’s kind of this really horribly ugly dark green gray thing, and then we decided since it was not the best looking shirt we would put a weird font on it.

Mateo: Stevie is a double Sagittarius Scorpio rising. I don’t know what it means, but it means that they’re super weird.

If you could be reincarnated as a ghost, but only exist in a corporeal form in the 924 Gilman bathroom, would you? Why or why not?  

Mateo: Yes, but it would be the bathroom without the urinal, because it smells less bad, and only if I could knock stuff over and open and close the toilet seats. Preferably when someone is walking in. Just cause chaos.

Alex: Oh man, it used to be my job to just go in and replace the paper towels for those every week. I feel like I would fall back into the routine of cleaning them and putting stuff back in the normal place. I would probably just follow Mateo around and put stuff back when he wasn’t looking and reorganize. But yeah, I’d be into it. I feel like it’s where we’re all headed anyway.

Mateo: That’s probably what purgatory is. Or it’s like a 924 Gilman meeting, where everyone has an agenda item, but no one can get people to quiet down enough to state their agenda items. That’s what purgatory is.

Alex: The toilets there have gained the reputation of being the toilets that were there when Green Day played there, but they’ve been replaced since then. People sometimes make jokes about it, like “The original bathroom when Green Day was there!”. Like, no. We prefer to upgrade, it’s not a museum bathroom. It’s not preserved as 1992 when Billie Joe Armstrong was there.

Mateo: To be honest, the bathrooms are not that gross. That’s the number one thing. That and the sound system, I’ve been volunteering at Gilman for like 13 years now. The two biggest compliments that we’ve gotten in the past five years are “Wow, the bathrooms are much better than I remember them!” and, “Wow, the sound is much better than I remember!”.

You were recently part of a rally/celebratory lineup at People’s Park for their 52nd anniversary. How has combining activist measures with your music endeavors been important to you?

Mateo: I feel like if you aren’t an activist in 2021 you’re part of the problem. We don’t identify as activists, we identify as people who want to make the world better because it shouldn’t be a whole big identity thing, it should just be what you’re trying to do. We are all political, partially because Stevie and I have no choice to be political in the bodies and experiences that we live in. And also because it’s just the right thing to do.

I don’t do activism for praise or to be seen doing it. I don’t really like protests, I don’t like being out and being seen and things like that. I like mutual aid and doing what I can to support and things like that. I like using music and using our platform to show others who might not feel safe at protests or safe engaging in direct action to show that there are other ways to make the world a better place. There’s volunteer space, there’s mutual aid, there’s learning, there’s education, even just donating $5 once a month to one organization can make worlds of difference. I think that’s a sentiment we all share.

We’re all very anxious people, and none of us like the big direct action protest stuff, but we do try and direct people to other ways people can support. Or to the rallies and marches and direct action stuff if that’s what you want to be a part of. I’ve told plenty of people, this is where this is happening if you want to go, but if you don’t feel safe there here’s other things you can do. People’s Park was cool, I wasn’t there because I had to work so our other guitarist Amy just played. But it’s important to do what you can with what you’re comfortable with.

What are some of your upcoming plans?

Alex: We have a split that’s gonna be released sometime this fall, probably around October, with a band in Knoxville called Bad Idols. We just recorded that, there will be an announcement about that soon. We’re tentatively only booked for one show, and that’s Fest in Gainesville, FL. Assuming that’s safe enough to happen, we’ll be there.

Mateo: We have a song on a Rancid tribute album, similar to the Dookie tribute album that we put together a couple years ago, coming out this summer.

Alex: Not much beyond that, we’re always writing and looking forward to stuff. We’re mostly just excited to tour when it’s safe and finally be able to promote the album. Apart from the show we did at People’s Park, we haven’t played half of the songs on that album live in front of people ever.

So there’s that, and because we all volunteer very actively at 924 Gilman, we’re very excited to restore that when it’s safe to and preparing for the reopening when we can and kind of getting the Bay Area DIY scene up and running again once it’s safe.

That’s gonna be our main focus, our touring focus will be put off a bit because late winter early spring of 2021-2022 is gonna be when every band on earth is gonna be on tour suddenly, and you’ll have nine bands playing the same tiny town in Nebraska at the same time, and it’ll be impossible to book good tours for a little bit, unless you’re pretty successful and can do pretty well. I think we’re gonna hold off, hunker down here, play Bay Area shows, and once it’s gotten to be March or April next year tour again. We always have ideas on stuff, we’re always trying to release music when we can. That’s pretty much it, the main things are the split and Fest.

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