American Television is a four-piece Punk band from the Washington, D.C. area that got their start in 2013. After releasing a good chunk of singles and an EP (2016’s Reaction), the band signed with LA-based Wiretap Records and released their first full-length album, Watch It Burn, on January 24th. The album is the result of pent up anger over how the world has regressed into a pit of selfishness and corruption.
I recently had a chance to talk to the guys from American Television to talk about television, politics, the D.C. music scene, and – of course – their music.
First off, for anybody not familiar with American Television, can you tell me your names and your positions in the band?
Jerred: Hi, I’m Jerred and I’m the water boy in the band. I play a little guitar too but usually only one string at a time.
Steve: Vocals and guitar.
Bryan: I play drums.
Edwin: I am the bassist.
Is there a story behind the name of the band?
Steve: When we started this band, we thought reality TV had elevated the worst possible human behaviors to being worthy of fame, so it was a bit of a commentary on that. Seeing as we now live in this turbulent 24 news cycle stirred up by our own reality star president, it seems our line of thinking was spot on.
Speaking of television, do you guys watch a lot? If so, what are some of your favorite TV shows?
Bryan: “Think You Should Leave” on Netflix.
Edwin: I, for sure, don’t keep up with current television. Outside of the Weather Channel I pretty much live off reruns: “Home Improvement,” “Friends,” “How It’s Made,” “New Yankee Workshop,” “Woodright’s Shop”… I’m boring.
Steve: “Breaking Bad” is the GOAT. “Righteous Gemstones” is my new favorite.
Jerred: I have two small boys at home, so I tend to watch a lot of “Paw Patrol.” Luckily, I’m getting them into the classics like “Looney Tunes” and “Tom & Jerry” but damn if that stuff isn’t violent. It puts modern cartoons to shame hahaha!
When did you all begin to gain an interest in playing music? Were there any specific musicians that triggered your interest in writing and performing?
Edwin: I first gained interest in music when I was about seven. I first started playing bass when I was nine in school orchestra and jazz band. Blink-182, above all else, was the first band that really stuck with me and opened the gateway to SO many bands and genres. Mark Hoppus, to this day, remains as the one single musician that has influenced me the most.
Steve: I began playing guitar around age fifteen. MTV was full of Grunge at that time, so it was easy to catch the bug. I grew up on Long Island, and I was most influenced to take the stage by the local scene happening in the late 90s – The Movielife, Silent Majority, Latterman, and dozens of others showed me it was possible to be young, make music, and make something special from it.
Jerred: I grew up in an absurdly religious household and my Mom would only let me buy records from the Christian book store. I got into Punk by discovering MxPx and other Tooth N’ Nail bands which proved to be a gateway drug, leading me down a path to Green Day and Blink-182 which, in turn, led to Bad Religion and NOFX. Punk’s one hell of a drug!
Bryan: Pretty much when I first heard “Nevermind” by Nirvana. Obviously, that opened a lot of doors into other Alternative and Punk music, but that’s when I first realized that it was possible to learn an instrument and start a band with friends.
D.C. has a pretty rich music history. What is the overall D.C. music scene like these days?
Edwin: A crazy melting pot of talent and genres; so many great artists around the area. There is definitely something for everyone here.
Jerred: It may not be what it used to be in the eyes of Punk purists but there’s no shortage of amazing artists and incredibly talented musicians in and around D.C. It’s kinda like a glass half empty or full scenario. It’s easy to focus on the fact that venues all over the city have been disappearing. But, at the same time, we’ve been incredibly fortunate for a new generation of spaces like The Pocket and The Pie Shop to start popping up and filling the void created with the loss of places like The Pinch. We have a beautiful vibe here and I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of the community in the DMV!
Bryan: Honestly, it’s a little rough for lower or middle tier melodic or poppy Punk bands. The big acts still do great, but it can be a hard place to break into for new bands. We try to do what we can by booking a few shows and hosting Breakin’ Even Fest. I wish more package tours would leave slots for local openers, as we have some great locals like Curse Words, Teen Cobra, BraceFace, Menage A Garage, Fail Sons, and a bunch more I’m forgetting.
Do you have any favorite eateries in the D.C. area? Is there any food that you would consider to be “local” cuisine?
Jerred: Ben’s Chili Bowl for the win! It’s probably the most famous, popular for its chili and half smokes.
Bryan: Plus Ben’s has some really solid veggie-friendly options.
Steve: My wife and I have been digging Mi Vida. It’s a Mexican restaurant near The Wharf, D.C.’s new waterfront district. We usually eat there before seeing a show at The Anthem.
Are there any locations in D.C. that aren’t too touristy that you would recommend someone coming into the area to visit?
Edwin: Rock Creek Park is pretty cool.
Steve: Comet Ping Pong is a cool stop. Pizza, ping pong, and if you stay late enough you can catch a show in the back room.
Bryan: Let’s just talk about more places to eat! Definitely check out Galaxy Hut or SpaceBar in Northern Virginia. They make amazing grilled cheese sandwiches with lots of toppings, with vegan versions available for a lot of them. Plus tater tots.
What local venues are your favorites to play at?
Jerred: Pie Shop! It’s hands down my favorite stage in D.C. It’s intimate but in an amazing way, the sound is nothing short of spectacular, and they take really good care of everyone that walks through their doors, musicians and music lovers alike.
Bryan: I’ve really enjoyed the times we’ve played the Black Cat. I started going to shows there when I was in high school, so it’s always a special experience to get to play there.
What sort of things do you like to do outside of music?
Steve: Hiking, biking, travel with family, and trying to build things. I built some shelves under my staircase in the fall – they turned out level, and that’s good enough for me!
Edwin: Outside of music, I enjoy hiking and rock scrambling. I also tend to dabble in wood crafting and lutherie.
Bryan: My wife and I go to the movies a lot, like a few times a month. And I’m a huge fan of the Baltimore Orioles. I’m trying to see them play in every MLB stadium.
Jerred: I’m an avid runner. I try to squeeze in at least 15-20 miles a week if I can. It gives me a chance to clear my head and sweat out some of my daily demons or at least that’s what I tell myself. Let’s be honest though, it’s so I can eat like shit and drink too much!
Getting back to music, you just released Watch It Burn, via Wiretap Records. Was the songwriting and recording process for this one different than that of your previous releases? If so, in what ways?
Steve: For Watch It Burn, we wrote collectively at our practice space. It took longer to generate these songs, but we’re always happier working on things together. We brought Great Divide to the studio intentionally unfinished to see what it would be like to arrange that and incorporate ideas as they hit us – the end result included backup vocals from our friend Genevieve Moore.
How has the current political climate affected your songwriting? Has it helped, hindered, or given you more ammunition?
Steve: We didn’t set out to write a politically charged record. As we began pulling these songs together as an album we started thinking, “Oh, we’ve got a theme here. We’re pissed off!”
Living near D.C. puts you very close to the snake pit of politics. Empathy is a non-existent trait to most these politicians who boil everything down to dollars. As long as the machine keeps doing that, we’ll keep yelling about how humanity needs to care for each and lead with the heart.
Do you have any favorites from the new album?
Jerred: How do you choose your favorite child? They’re all perfect…
Edwin: I sincerely love every track on Watch it Burn; they’re all my favorite. Playing the songs live though, I absolutely love “Awkward Universe,” “Parasite,” “Wasteland USA,” and “Drinks.”
Bryan: Proud of all the songs equally, but the upcoming video for “Wasteland USA” is one of the coolest things we’ve done and I’m really excited to share it with everyone.
How did you guys hook up with Rob and Wiretap?
Steve: We’ve been communicating with Rob for a while. He has included our songs on the Attention! comps he releases via Bandcamp. We’ve always felt Wiretap was the best label for our sound, so we let him know we were working on something big and we got down to making it happen.
Are there any plans to tour in support of the new record?
Bryan: We have the record release show this weekend in D.C., and then some dates around the mid-Atlantic in the Winter and Spring, but no full-on tour plans.