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Livewire's One on One


Sugarcult Comes Clean

Livewire's exclusive interview with Sugarcult

April 10, 2004
"Star" Photos by Karen Bondowski

It's been three years since Start Static was introduced to the world and now Sugarcult's back with a vengeance with Palm Trees and Power Lines which is due to be released on April 13. These guys from California have been touring pretty much nonstop for the last two years! Whether its playing at Vans Warped Tour, or opening for MxPX and Simple Plan, they still found time to get into the studio. Their tour originally was scheduled to start in late March, but due to health problems, they were forced to cancel a few shows. Tonight is the opening night to kick it off. ConcertLivewire's Karen Bondowski got to speak with lead singer Tim Pagnotta (and bassist Airin Older quietly stepped in for a little banter) about the new record, previous tours, life, love and war.

Livewire: So, why did you have to cancel your first few shows?

Tim: Umm, Well because I have this ear condition called Tinnitus, which means, well its just too much fucking loud rock and roll for the last ten years. I got tinnitus which is spelled t-i-n-n-i-t-u-s I think, when I was 19 when I was around loud music, and I never wore ear plugs and then from 19 to 27 I just have always been really careful about wearing ear plugs and never going to loud concerts without having them. And then after our last tour, my ears were just ringing really, really loud. Uncontrollably loud while I was in Japan and there is really nothing that doctors can do. It's like little hairs in your ears that are broken off and leaning up against other hairs and it makes your ears ring all the time and what can make it worse, is more loud music, more vibrations, shit like that. So, I don't know it's going to be interesting. I don't know how long we're going to do acoustic for, you know it might be temporary, but I don't know - there's no way to predict. It's one of those things where it can level out and stay better, but right now my hearing is just too risky to like stand in front of a loud amp and fuck up my ears. It's really important. Yes, definitely value your senses when you know its such an ironic thing I'm the singer, song writer, musician of my band and I produce music too, like I am involved in working on other records and I have this thing with my ears. (smiles) It's really weird, I went to a doctor and the doctor told me that it happens most often to people that have extremely acute hearing, like people who have very sensitive hearing and who can hear more then average people and what's happening is that I'm burning out little hairs that most people don't even have. So my hearing is still really articulate, like I went and had a hearing test and my hearing is great. I have my health. It's not going to kill me or anything like that. Umm, we've never ever had to cancel any shows in our band, so to cancel a week of shows for our brand new record, you know is a pretty big deal. There were some really rough days where I didn't know if I was ever going to be able to play music again. There were some weak days where I thought to myself there's no fucking way I'm ever going to be able to get up on a stage again, I don't have the strength. And I was in San Diego and I was going to the beach a lot and relaxing and like I started writing some new songs and just kind of started finding, discovering more of a spiritual side of myself that I haven't gone to very often, ya know. And I felt like Sugarcult music doesn't necessarily change the world, but I know it makes a lot of people happy and most of all I feel very happy to play music on stage so what's worse, having my ears stay the same and stay at home and give up or go out and try.

Livewire: What's the funniest thing to have happened to you while on tour?

Tim: Gosh, there's so many! (laughs) God, there's so many. Whenever this question is asked I always blank out. This years been pretty traumatic you know in terms of shit going weird and bad. I think there's been a lot of growth in the band in the last year and I wish I had some kind of funny antecdote to tell you, but like when I was just in Japan we were having a really crazy press schedule and I remember eating really bad raw food. In Japan they have raw whale, blowfish and a lot of this crazy food and me and Marko just ate all this really interesting sketchy food and I had really terrible food poisoning and I had to go to the emergency room and get an IV and I just remember sitting there with an IV dripping into my arm going,"oh, shit", throwing up, I was so sick. Literally went from pulling out the IV, getting into a taxi driving to Tower Records and doing an in-store within one hour. I mean things like that have happened this year.

(takes a break to look at whose on the cover of Alternative Press)

Livewire: So, would you say that's the scariest thing to of happened to you then?

Tim: That is the scariest thing to of happened this year. OH WOW! (smiles broadly) Tim turns back the cover of AP and discovers a page for their upcoming CD. Sorry, Sorry. I just get so excited! So, funny things to of happened... Umm.. God damnit, why do you have to ask that question?! It's one of those things like if we had a couple of days to spend, I could probably be like, "Oh, there's that one time..." (smiles) OK, you want to hear a funny story? SugarcultRecently in Las Vegas we played and a couple of girls had driven to the show from far distances to hang out with me, I guess. And I didn't know that they were coming, so I got myself into a situation where I met a girl at the show and had no idea that there were girls there that had come to see me and hang out and I got myself in this crazy love triangle where I met this girl and we went backstage into our dressing room and went into the bathroom area of our dressing room and I shut the door and I was in there with this girl, kind of fooling around. And I hear Marko, he opens the door and goes, "Hey Tim, look who I just brought?" And the door was locked for the bathroom, so it was the dressing room he walks in and says, "Hey Tim, look who's here?" And he brings in this girl and he comes knocking on the bathroom door going hey. And my band was in the room and they were like going no-no-no don't, don't, don't, kind of waving them off like cues, and then someone else comes into the room! I'm in the bathroom petrified, and there are a couple of girls in the dressing room part of the room, so I'm sitting there trying to explain to this girl that I just met what's going on -she's really pissed off. So what happened was, I used my cell phone to call our tour manager and explained to our tour manager what was going on and so like two minutes later I hear our tour manager come into the dressing room go, "Alright, everyone's gotta get out of here! You gotta get the hell out of the dressing room, everyone's gotta go!" So I just waited by the door to make sure that everyone had left and I got up and scurried out. That's one small humorous story.

Livewire: What band would you kill to open for? Dead or alive?

Tim: Gosh, There's so many. The Beatles come to mind, obviously that would be pretty fun. The Rolling Stones, some of those big bands would be pretty rad, but I would like to open up for Green Day. Yeah, I'll say Green Day would be my favorite band to open for.

Livewire: What was your most memorable tour?

Tim: You know, I'd say some of those early Warped tours were really magical because it was our first time ever touring and I was a little bit nervous going out on those tours not knowing what it would be like. That was like 3 - 4 years ago. Yeah, Warped Tour 2000. That first Warped tour was pretty fun. The tour immediately after that was ReelBigFish and that was awesome! It was a blast. We learned a lot from ReelBigFish. Those guys are really cool and they were a lot of fun and taught us how to steal booze from the venues without getting caught.

Livewire: When your not touring or writing music, what other things do you do to occupy your time?

Tim: I like to surf. I like to surf a lot lately. I surf everyday. I like to do acupuncture, I like to do yoga. I like to run, but lately I like to surf.

Livewire: What's a good show for you?

Tim: There's lots of different types of good shows. I like shows that were funny and fun with the audience. Those are probably the best.

Livewire: Do you feel you have a connection with your fans?

Tim: Some of them absolutely. There's a lot of fans around the US that really like our band a lot and come to all the shows and like to stay up with e-mail and website stuff and that's pretty awesome. I love those kind of fans cause they are affectionate. I think our fans in Japan are really affectionate and really nice.

Livewire: What's the difference between a Japanese crowd and an American crowd?

Tim: Well I think with the Japanese crowd really appreciate that you traveled across the 3-4000 miles of water to come see you play and that's a pretty big deal. Pretty symbolic how much you care about when you go over there. The crowds are really interesting when you go over there. It's a complete different culture and their really quiet and calm between songs and stuff, they don't say anything. Their really quiet in general. I think the Japanese culture is really amazing, its really beautiful, it's really beautiful people over there. Just overall, the way they dress, the way they look.

Livewire: Is that your favorite place to tour?

Tim: Yeah, I think so. Yeah. One of them. I like America though too. For awhile ya know, I'd have to admit I was kind of burnt out on touring America. America in general over this last year has been a little weird. Especially with what's been going on with the government. Touring Europe for the first time was some of the most unwelcoming experiences in my life. Just coming across people who can pick up on the American accent and being rude, and give you bad service or kind of mouth off to you.

Livewire: What are your views on the war?

Tim: I am -totally- against it. I think that we are over there for just really unnecessary reasons. I am really against the war. I'm really pro-America but anti this war. I'm a Democrat. Kerry is the best choice cause - the Bush administration are a bunch of liars and crooks.

Livewire: How do you feel when girls throw themselves at you?

Tim: (laughs) (Tim asks his friend, Matt to leave the room so he doesn't pick up on Tim's tricks) Umm.. I don't know. I've never had girls throw themselves at me, so I don't know. (smiles & laughs) Well you know, I've had to take martial arts lessons because if someone lunges at me quick, I need to be able to get them in a head lock and take them down to the ground. I learned this trick where I can take someone down by the ears in like 3 seconds. So, girls don't usually throw themselves at me cause I'll take them down real quick. Bring them down to the ground. I don't like it when girls throw themselves at bands or hang around and stuff, its cheesy. It's really cheesy, it's really creepy. You know a lot of bands love it cause its flattering and guys in bands get bored because their just hanging around the venue late at night looking for something to do but, you know most guys in bands have no business hooking up with girls who are like really young. I think its umm.. I think their taking advantage of their influence over them.

Livewire: What's it feel like returning home from a long tour?

Tim: Umm.. Really good. I'm kind of a homebody now. I really enjoy being home. I enjoy my time off. I care so much about music and I work really hard at this band and that sometimes unfortunately, I can take it home with me and I don't get to relax and when that happens I get so burnt out. I really look forward to the time I get when I'm at home, cause it means a lot to me. It means I get to try and rest a little bit, it means that I can kind of center myself a little bit, you know? Being in a band, being the singer in a band is really, sometimes I feel like I live a very self-centered existence where there's a lot of pressure and a lot of people relying on me to perform or to do interviews or to be an example or to look a certain way or shave for a photo shoot. And you can get really caught up in that and its a really selfish existence and I think life is really important to keep giving back - to keep putting your energy out there and not just absorbing the energy of everything else and everyone else. And sometimes I feel like being the singer of the band - I'm doing a lot of absorbing. So, going home is really important for me because then I get to like put some energy back out.

Livewire: Do you think that depression is ever an issue?

Tim: Yeah, totally. I got a bag full of pharmaceuticals. Totally. But I think being young is an issue.

Livewire: How old are you?

Tim: 27, I still feel real young. I mean not young like teenager young, I feel like your 20s, mid- to late 20s throws like another round at your teens because you have scooped some ground, almost three decades and your looking to see, ok what's my next step going to be, because OK, my 20s have been pretty fucking rad, I've spent a majority of my 20s in a touring rock -n- roll band, am I going to spend a majority in my thirties doing the same thing or am I going to change it up? I really want to change it up. I think by nature I'm the type of person that's constantly challenging myself and I wouldn't feel normal unless I felt depressed at times. Just like I need balance and I feel all kinds of emotions. I have a friend whose just always happy and sometimes I have to question the sincerity of it. You have to. Cause somet imes life throws curve balls at you that are out of control and I'm a human being, I'm a very emotional human being. And you know, when I hear bad news, I get sad. I get depressed.

Livewire: You refer to cocaine a lot, is that close to home for you?

Tim: Umm.. I know what it's like to do cocaine. I haven't done a lot of cocaine, I don't really like that as far as drugs. It's pretty ironic especially right now in my life because I''ve gone through phases in my life where I've done drugs and now... Now I feel like I use it in references in songs to maybe elaborate a point or to use it as a metaphor. I've used cocaine twice in "Bouncing off the Walls" and our new song called "Champagne" and in both versions, I use them as different examples and they just happened to fit and I just thought that was the best word could use to make it fit. But with my song writing, I feel like whether I'm singing about drugs, or whether I'm admitting to my emotions that are personal, that's just kind of the way I like to write songs. I write songs about really personal psycho social events. But, umm.. I'm not really afraid to sing songs about like my emotions and stuff, I don't really have anything to hide and that's one thing that might have to do with my age, like you know, if I was 22, I might be a little bit more like self-conscious about the things I sing about. Lots of times people want to front an image that's strong and harder and cooler then what they really are and it's just not necessarily my style, I think there are certain types of songs that I like to write. I'm not really apologetic or embarrassed to sing songs about myself or admitting that like maybe emotions are a little bit more on the delicate side of the railroad tracks just like I'm not apologetic or embarrassed to sing about my life experiences. Being around drugs. I've been around drug addicts and friends of mine that have died doing drugs and band members that have left our band that have struggled with addiction. I'm going to sing about those songs because they affect me. Like "Champaign" is a song about my relationship with Ben. He struggled with alcoholism. That's just the type of person I am.

Livewire: Are there any conflicts with each other while touring?

Tim: Yeah, oh yeah! Totally. There's conflicts with every band. You know at first when we used to get in all out blow outs, I used to think fuck man, are we just totally dysfunctional and then I started touring with other bands and started realizing that we are -very- functional. SO, many bands like really have conflicts within them. I think if you get four or any number of artistic people that are passionate about what they are doing - where they are in a situation - where they have to work out there differences and communication is a must. Some people communicate differently then others. Some people don't like to communicate and harbor resentment and carry it on for months and months and we have all experienced those kind of situations and when your in a band with four young people that have outside forces pulling on them. They have exposure, whether its fame or lots of people, buying their records or lots of people coming to their shows. Lots of people have money. There's money differences. Some people in the bands don't get paid equally. You have art involved. You have just young people, when your young there's an element of learning that...well there's an element of learning that's always going on that separates the young from the older people who have communication worked out a little bit better. And sometimes we totally argue and sometimes we totally applaud each other. And there's been some times I've heard Marko doing interviews on the radio while driving around town and I was in Tokyo when I heard him on the radio, and I think to myself, I'm so glad that he's doing this interview and I'm not, just cause he sounds so much better then I would sound. And sometimes I look at Kenny while he's playing the drums and I'm like I'm so glad to be in a band with this guy. He's the funniest drummer for me to watch . I really enjoy watching Kenny play the drums. And Airin, today I was singing at sound check and there's been times where me and Airin really butt heads and haven't gotten along, and just like everyone of us in the band and he was singing harmonies to a song and I was like, "God, I just want to capture this moment because this feels really good"

Livewire: How did the band officially form?

Tim: We formed in Santa Barbara like a few years ago, like three or four years ago. Maybe five, I don't know. (laughs) It's been a long time!

Airin : 6

Tim: (laughs) 6. 7. I think it was '99 when we formed. Me and Airin were in class together, a music class and Ben, our old drummer, was in like a sound recording class. We were in music classes.

Airin: He was in my theory class too.

Tim: We took a bunch of classes together and we all just sort of wanted to start a band with each other. I don't know. It just kind of accidentally happened and then once we got it going we had fun playing and we were always pretty driven from day one. But we started when we were probably like.. 21?

Airin: Yeah, 21.

Tim: Yeah, 21 when we first got it going. Which is kind of old compared to most bands now, like Story of the Year, those guys are probably like 21, 23. A lot of bands are pretty young these days when they get going. We were late in the game. I think at the time we just wanted to be a big local band, ya know, just kind of play at the bars, and to play at this one bar called the, Wildcat and it was just more of a fun thing to do. It was like, "yeah, lets just go down to the bar and play, it'll be a lot of fun." And then we started getting paid like pretty good money, we got paid like $500 bucks and then one time we got paid $1000 and we thought "oh my god if we could play twice month and get paid a $1000, we'd be rich." We could start buying equipment. Cause at that time we had some really shitty gear. And then Marko later joined the band. We were probably a band for almost a year before Marko joined.

Livewire: Where'd the name Sugarcult come from?

Tim: That was a nickname that was taken from these neighbors of mine that were these lesbian girls who called themselves the sugarcult and we had an acoustic show at this place called Java Jones... (Tim & Airin laugh) and it was our first show and so we called ourselves Sugarcult for that show and it was probably going to change. One time we were going to change the band name but then we just kind of latched onto it.

Airin: I fought for it.

Tim: Yeah, We we were going to change it. We were going to be called The States.

Livewire: Who are some of your musical influences?

Tim: Gosh, now they've changed so much.

Livewire: Well, who was it that inspired you?

Tim: Oh. Oh! I've always been a big Elvis Costello fan. That's just such a funny question to ask. Lots of things that inspired me to start music. Some movies inspired me like...

Airin: "La Bamba"

Tim: "La Bamba," "Back to the Future."

Airin: Every kid wanted that amp in the beginning when he turns it up all the way and blows the thing up and shoots him way back. Everybody wanted that.

Livewire: Were your parents supportive of you playing music?

Tim: Yeah, They were supportive at a young age. I started playing drums when I was 10. That's kind of how I got into music and they paid for drum lessons and my mom played piano and I used to sing along with my mom, sing like Christmas songs with her. That was a lot of fun as a kid. So we were a musically appreciating family. And then when I started playing music in college, I think my parents were more afraid that I wouldn't be able to pay rent or that kind of stuff. They were just petrified that I would just blow my opportunity to go to college to write and play music and not have anything to fall back on. Now that I do this as a job and we get paid and stuff, they feel a little bit better. Now that I can pay my rent their a lot more stoked and I can buy Christmas presents for everyone now. (smiles) Their a little bit more appreciative.

Livewire: In your childhood, you moved around quiet a bit, how'd that make you feel?

Tim: Made me feel lots of different things, I think that being the new kid in school there were some really, really tumultuous experiences being the new guy. There were times going to school feeling really scared cause when you're a new person you're trying to make a lot of new friends, trying to please lots of different of people and you know when as you grow up you solidify and identify and care a lot less about what other people think, but as a kid your pretty impressionable and you are who your peers are. You are what your fun experiences are and you want friends and being the new guy was really difficult in making friends. And I'm the type of person who likes to hang out with people. There were some very lonely times in school traveling around. I struggled in school. I have a learning disability. I have a hard time. I have auditio dyslexia where if there's background noises I cant focus what's in the foreground. So I really struggled. So I'd get it from both ends. Teachers sending me home with sheet reports cards and students that thought I was a dumbass cause I constantly was asking questions cause I couldn't understand what the teacher was saying. It's funny, I failed music 101 in college because everyone had a keyboard and I couldn't focus on what the teacher was saying when people were playing on their little keyboard. It was really bizarre. It's really ironic to think I failed music 101, but I probably make more money then my music teacher right now. (smiles and laughs)

Livewire: Do you agree when your music is labeled as punk?

Tim: No, I totally don't. I don't think we're a punk band at all.

Livewire: What is punk in your words?

Tim: I don't know. I don't think punk rock is this, (Tim picks up his CD, and AP magazine) I don't know what punk rock is. As soon as someone knows, they need to give me a call and tell me what it is, cause I'm dying to know.

Livewire: What sort of change do you see from Start Static to Palm Trees?

Tim: I think that lyrically, the record is a lot more vulnerable,and intimate and sincere. (smiles) And it takes more risks, I don't think that the record is apologetic. We didn't start screaming on this record cause that's the in thing to do these days. I don't think we made a punk record or a pop punk record either. I think that we made a record that is very indicative of a band that is very confident and is really only trying to make music that we find as we like, that is rewarding to us. And that is all that really matters to us. Regardless if the show sells 100 tickets or a 1000 tickets. Its about having fun and feeling proud of what you built and what you have created. I think that we may have made a record that is a huge growth from Start Static and a lot of people listen that have listened to this record have thought that we're probably going to have a little bit older fan base. And that can be pretty cool. We'll see. I have no idea how this record is going to react with people. Hopefully they like it. I like the art work. (smiles)

Livewire: If you could only describe yourself in one or two words, what would they be?

Tim: I would say... Passionate and compulsive. (grins)

Livewire: Why would you say compulsive?

Tim: I feel like I'm a shark, I need to be moving otherwise, I die. I have a hard time relaxing. Or throwing myself into some area in my life that I want to consume as much as I possibly can. I'm pretty frantic in that regard. But, then I can also totally relax too. Like when I feel fulfilled I can totally chill out. I just have to make a conscious effort to unplug myself. Like right now, I feel completely unplugged....

More Sugarcult
Concert Review - The Rave - April. 7, 2004
Concert Review - The Rave - Jan. 29th, 2004

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