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Artist Spotlight: The Gutter Daisies release “American Pie”; talk humble beginnings and their love of Green Day and pretzels

Los Angeles trio The Gutter Daisies have gone from a basement punk rock band to the next group to storm the scene. Their latest singles bring a sense of frustration aimed at social media and the phony emotion that comes with the death of a celebrity. Atlas spoke with singer Doug Rockwell and drummer Mike Diggs about finding an authentic sound, the perils of too much social media and their unashamed loved of pretzels.

Atlas Artist Group: How did the band come together and how did you find your sound?

Doug Rockwell: Mike and I have known each other for….going on 10 years. We’re both from New Jersey originally and we just met through some mutual musician friends. I used to have a studio back on the east coast [and] Mike ended up coming in, tracking drums for me one day. We just kind of chased each other for a year, trying to get into a band with each other….and it didn’t happen for like a year straight. And then we ended up starting this band together on the east coast- finally- called Love Electric and that’s how we started playing together. We were in that band for maybe a year and half or so and then I ditched him like a horrible friend and moved out to Los Angeles.      

Actually that’s right, Mike was the dick and quit the band because he was a baby [both laughing]. I moved out because I was so distraught by Mike leaving me high and dry that I needed to leave it all behind and get out of New Jersey! Nah, I’m just kidding. But I moved out to LA because I also write and produce for other artists and TV and film and stuff; a lot of my work was out here. Mike ended up just moving out a year later. We love playing together and we were really good friends before that. We just wanted to start playing again because it had been a few years since I had played. I grew up playing in bands- right out of high school, I started touring, it was just all I did. I lived and I breathed it. 

So we originally started off just the two of us looking for other band members to do a pop-funk, Bruno Mars meets Meghan Trainor kind of thing because it was kind of popular a few years back. And then….nothing was working. We had some really awesome songs and nothing was sticking. It didn’t feel right and I think what we realized was that it wasn’t coming from a genuine place of where our roots were as far as being in a band. We all listen to everything and we’re inspired by everything and we’ve played in a lot of different projects, but something that was our own project needed to come from the heart. We took a few months to reevaluate what we wanted to do as far as our own project goes. We just said ‘fuck it, you know what, let’s just play in a band where we don’t give a shit what anybody thinks’. We don’t care if anyone hears the songs, we don’t care what happens with it, we just want to play for basement rehearsal ears only.      

We knew Miles [Franco] from other projects too and we were just like ‘wanna play in a band that’s just grungy punk rock shit, what we grew up on, and we don’t care if it makes it or not?’ And we’re like ‘yeah!’ So that’s kind of where it started.

The thing that I appreciate so much out of it is that there was no intention. We’d all grown up playing in bands and our main goal was to make it. With this one, there wasn’t that pressure we put on it and, ironically enough, it ended up becoming something that we decided to really pursue. The music just came out from the most genuine place it could. I think that’s what we thrive on. It came from a really genuine place and it’s not contrived and we’re not trying to make it sound like anyone else other than what comes straight from us. 

Atlas: What names come to mind when you’re thinking of your creative influences?

Doug: Believe it or not, the main inspiration for everything we do comes from Michael Bolton.

[Both laughing]

I’d probably say Green Day, Weezer, The Hives, Nirvana. It’s a little all over the place because Mike and I are also big Phish fans and Vulfpeck and that kind of stuff. That integrates into our music in a way that no one probably notices, but there are some weird progressions that we try to sneak in there before Miles yells at us to hone it back a little.   

Mike Diggs: We’ve all got our own influences and we all meet in the middle somewhere, but I do think that Doug and I overlap a little bit more than Miles. There are a lot of times where Doug and I are very heavy on something that Miles is not as comfortable with and we all have to find a way to meet in the middle.    

I think the snarkiness comes from- definitely the music, the way we play and perform it because it does keep you on the edge of your seat- but also the lyricism in the songs. Doug is the main songwriter when it comes to the lyrics and the skeleton of the song before we start fucking around with it. He’s a professional songwriter, so having someone who’s really good at the English language and grammar and sentence structure and just being a creative person and molding words together….if you listen to our lyrics, they have a very interesting, creative way of being sarcastic or satirical so it makes us sort of funny and also serious like “American Pie” has that vibe to it.     

Atlas: What message are you trying to convey with “Celebrity Suicide” and “American Pie”? 

Doug: We do cover a lot of topics in our songs and we do have songs that are not as serious and a little more satire. We felt that this was the right time to release those two particularly. With “Celebrity Suicide”, it kind of stemmed from social media, and the media in general, and how they exploit people’s tragedies. Sometimes they don’t even pay any mind to people struggling until they’re gone because it can be the top new story. There’s just so many people that struggle with depression and anxiety and stuff like that and I think when everyone’s lives are put under a magnifying glass because of things like Instagram or even just tabloids, it just blows it up ten times more and just causes so much more mayhem. 

“Celebrity Suicide” is a little more specific than that, but it is about the exploitation and how people tend to hop on a bandwagon and say that they can sympathize or empathize with a certain person’s downfall. Yet, what they’re portraying on Instagram is like ‘oh my god, I’m so hurt by this person’s passing’- that’s the caption of their post, but their post is this glam shot of them staring off into the distance. It’s an obviously Photoshopped picture, something that has nothing to do [with the caption]. If someone passes away or someone kills themselves, god forbid, and it’s someone in a band that you loved; if you want to pay an homage to them, maybe post some of your favorite memories of them or the first album you got from them or one of your favorite songs or a picture that isn’t a picture of you Photoshopped! There’s such a disconnect there that it only led me to realize that there’s an ulterior motive behind this. I don’t want to point the finger at everybody because there are plenty of people with genuine emotions, but there’s a slew of people who just want to get their photo liked, who just want people to start engaging with their social media for branding. There’s a lot of things that didn’t feel genuine and it got to me and that’s where “Celebrity Suicide” led to.   

“American Pie” is another topic of anger; it’s little more broad to where it’s really where the shape of America is these days, between school shootings and depression and suicide and just the struggle. It’s real and I think a lot of people are frustrated with the way things are.

Mike: “American Pie” really outlines this cycle that we go through. There seems to be tragedy and after that there’s a lot of finger-pointing or complaining and then we get over it and forget about it and then it happens again and we talk about it….we get into this vicious cycle. At the time we wrote it, which was not too long ago, a lot of things were heating up in the political sector. It’s still holding true now before we’ve even released it. It’s kind of weird that we came out with these songs back to back. 

Doug: The biggest thing that I was inspired for this song was the fact that the same thing keeps happening. People are just turning their heads and pretending it’s never happened before. No one’s doing anything about it. People just say ‘send thoughts and prayers’ and it’s not fucking doing anything. There’s no Facebook or Instagram gods that are going to save the world. People need to be proactive about it. 

Atlas: What do you hope fans take away from your music?

Doug: I think we just want people to see us for what we are and appreciate that. We really just want to make this come from the right place and people can pick up on when something is real and when something is contrived and fake and being done just so it can be noticed.

Mike: I like the fact that we’re writing this stuff and putting it out into the world because it’s a conversation starter. I think by having these conversations, it’ll just push all this stuff out into the open. I think the best way to take action is to….be educating yourselves always. There’s a lot of things you can look up and research, there’s a lot of people that you can talk to and you can just keep educating yourselves. Stay educated- that’s the best way you could take action because then the action you take is going to be smarter. Talk to people around you and have that conversation. That way, when you do use social media as an outlet for something, you can do it in a way that brings out something more positive rather than just blindly throwing up words and all this garbage we’re getting shoved in our faces every day.

Atlas: What’s coming up for The Gutter Daisies?

Doug: We’re definitely going to be releasing more music because we’ve had a lot that we’ve worked on over the past year. Originally we were going to be releasing an album or an EP and we decided to try to take the singles approach just so we could put more focus on each song. We’re going to be pushing a lot more new music. 

We are working on getting a tour up and running. Obviously that might be pushed back a little farther now. Really just getting more music out there and getting into more places to play outside of Los Angeles. The past two years, we’ve really just been running the LA circuit. We got to do a west coast run with our friends in Dog Party last year which was great, but I think we’d love to work our way outside of LA.

Atlas: If you could put together your dream tour package, who would be on the lineup?

Doug: I’m going to go back and say Michael Bolton. 

I’m not going to lie- I was that kid obsessed with Green Day. I was eight years old and saw “Basket Case” on MTV back when MTV meant music television. They were my favorite band growing up. They’re not anymore, I don’t listen to them the way I used to….but I will always fucking love the shit out of them. Just the kid in me that got me to play music, I would always have to say probably number one for me would have to be Green Day. 

I think that’s just any rock band’s dream, even if they deny it and say they hate Green Day but they’re one of the biggest fucking rock bands in the world and they’re still going. Generation after generation [and] they’re still reinventing themselves and kids are still discovering them! You’ve gotta give a band like that credit. I think Foo Fighters would be awesome to do, too. 

Mike: A lot of the bands I’m listening to right now aren’t necessarily bands that I feel we would fit on a tour with.  

Doug: We tend to listen to a lot of stuff that has nothing to do with the music we play. 

Mike: Doug mentioned them earlier but I’ve been listening to a lot of Vulfpeck lately. That sounds like a band that I’d just love to hang out with because they’re just a bunch of music nerds and I think just being around other music nerds would be really fun.

Atlas: Is there anything that you wish you got to talk about more? Anything else you’d like fans to know about you?

Doug: So listen- my favorite thing in the world to eat are probably pretzels and I don’t think enough people appreciate pretzels. There are some people I know that won’t even eat pretzels. It really bums me out because pretzels are fucking great.  

311 gets so much weed from their fans; I want our fans to bring us pretzels. Bring both.

Mike: If I could say one thing to everyone- nobody knows what they’re doing. We’re all just making this shit up as we go along. As for the band, if anybody’s even a little bit interested in who we are and what we’re about, we’re just three kids that love music and . We’re just trying to make other people happy with what makes us happy and hopefully we can continue to do that. That’s what it’s all about.    

Doug: To sum it up, I think our slogan is The Gutter Daisies: Music and Pretzels. 

Stream “Celebrity Suicide” and “American Pie” now!

Story by Olivia Khiel
Photos courtesy of The Gutter Daisies