Greg McGowan (right) formed Time and Distance as a teen and has kept it going through lineup changes and other challenges for the past decade. (Photo by James Vernon Brown/The Liquid Canvas)
Reposted (and expanded on) from The Charleston Gazette
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After his band's three-week Southeast tour in March, which included a show at South by Southwest, Time and Distance singer/guitarist Greg McGowan has been enjoying some downtime. On Saturday, he's back onstage in an Empty Glass show with Blue Ring and The Red Lights.
In advance of the gig, he talked to gazz about what it's been like fronting the Charleston pop punk band since its inception more than a decade ago.
Q: How did the South by Southwest tour go, make new friends and fans?
Greg McGowan: It was really great; we had great weather and mostly great shows. Met some awesome people, ate some really great food (haha), made a bunch of friends, walked a TON. I got to see Butch Walker play when we were at SXSW, and he is pretty much my favorite songwriter, so that pretty much made my month/year.
A couple days after we were at SXSW we played at Six Flags in Dallas. I'm not personally much of a roller coaster person, but everyone else had a blast riding all kinds of stuff. We finished off the tour with a super fun show in St. Louis that was I think one of our favorite shows we've played in a really really long time, then we got home and ended up playing an all-ages show at the old putt putt building in South Charleston, which was totally awesome and a great way to end the tour properly.
Q: SXSW is such a huge fest, and there are so many bands and shows - do you feel like a band has a chance to be discovered down there, or is it just the thing of playing for so many people, getting exposure like that?
McGowan: It is absolute madness down there. So many bands, so many people - everyone trying to get somewhere fast. You definitely have to be a little bit inventive to get people's attention when there's so many other people vying for it. We went in with a ton of fliers and CDs and just tried to pass them out to everyone we could get to stop and talk to us.
I think it was great exposure for our band, in that we were able to reach people from all over the country and even the world, but at the same time I think we were kind of the outcasts of what was going on down there in terms of the "buzz" trends or genres. There was a GIANT trend of singers who play a floor-tom, and I don't do that, so I don't think anybody wanted to sign us, haha.
Overall it was a great experience and we are already making plans to go back next year and hit it even harder.
Q: What's been going on with the band since you've been back? Rehearsing? hanging etc.?
McGowan: RELAXING. haha. We recorded our "ON" EP last September, and literally have been going back and forth non-stop between rehearsing and touring ever since. We're finally feeling like we are at a point where we don't have to beat ourselves to death with songs, we're pretty comfortable and confident in them these days, so we've been taking things a little bit easy before everything picks back up this summer/fall, playing a bunch of shows around home and just enjoying life for a minute.
At the same time, we're always working on something -- we are working on a couple of acoustic versions of the EP songs now, we're shooting a couple of different music videos very soon, hoping to have the songs and at least one video out before we hit the road again.
Q: Time and Distance goes back over 10 years or so. Talk about the pre-T&D days; what bands influenced you as a youth to want to be in a band, and what are some of your favorite memories looking back on local shows or bands that may have inspired you?
McGowan: Pre-T&D seems so long ago in my head it's hard to even remember what I did back then, haha. I remember seeing Green Day play on late night TV when I was probably like nine or ten, and just having something in my head kind of click like "that's it! That is what I should be doing!" So I got a guitar and started figuring it out.
As I get older, my parents tell me stories about how I was always banging on things or singing to myself when I was a kid. I think doing the music thing fits nicely with my inability to sit still for too long. My brain runs like 100 miles a minute all the time, I've always gotta be working on or doing or thinking about something.
I remember the first local show I ever went to in Charleston was a battle of the bands thing at Common Grounds. I'm pretty sure 69 Fingers played; I know Shindig and a couple of the other mythical bands of the "old days of Charleston" did.
I thought it was so cool that there was somebody from my town who was willing to open up this dirty old building to give all these bands a place to play, and even cooler that kids from my town came out to watch. It really just reaffirmed my already existing thoughts that that was what I wanted to be doing. To me at 13, if I could play Common Grounds to 100 kids on a Friday night, that was the biggest thing that could possibly ever happen to me. If you'd told 13-year old me that by the time I was 23 I would have been signed to and split from a record company, played shows with my most of my idols, and gotten to see the entire country with my friends, from the back of a van, I would not have believed you for a second.
There used to be SO MANY great shows in Charleston and Huntington. I could go on for hours about all the great bands I saw first around here -- but most people have never heard of any of em. Some were locals, some where locals from other places that went on to be HUGE BANDS headlining Warped Tour and stuff (I'm looking at you, Thursday) -- we just had this great sense of community, where everyone was a part of something really cool. Then all the venues got shut down, people got older and had families and jobs and and it kind of faded. I don't ever want to be that dude who makes myself sound old by talking about the "olden days" but I think that a lot of kids coming up today just don't get it, and it's not their fault -- they just didn't grow up with that same sense of community within a scene that I did.
"Scene" never used to be a dirty word, but now it's like, a total insult. At the same time, we've started to have some all-ages shows popping up again, and I'm finally seeing younger bands out playing shows again, so I think it might be coming back a little bit. There is still hope.
Q: So many bands come and go over just a few years, much less a decade. Of course there are the fun times, but how much work has gone into you keeping the band going over the years?
McGowan: It's so hard sometimes. I think I'm just too crazy to quit trying. But it's just life, unfortunately. When you live in a van with three or four other people for a couple of years, everybody's little quirks and things come to be very much known to everybody.
Sometimes people just change and don't want to be pseudo-homeless for over half the year. Some people meet people and want to have real relationships or families, which are super hard things to do in a tiny touring band. I've kind of run the gamut from playing with people I grew up with, to people I didn't really know at all outside of the band, and then now kind of back to playing with my best friends.
The four of us are super tight and we'll hang out even when there's nothing band related going on. Obviously we all fight and get annoyed by each other sometimes still, but it just comes with the territory. We are all able to see the bigger picture of how fortunate we are to be able to do what we're doing, and I think when everyone is on the same page like that, it's a bit easier to keep everything in check.
Everybody involved understands that T&D is my baby, I've been doing it for ten years, but I would not call it MY band. It's all of ours, even if I may be the one who writes a lot of the material or sends the emails or whatever. I think we have a good understanding of how things work well for us, and we kind of just try to stay in that mentality.
Q: From recording to songwriting; over the years how if at all has hashing out material with the dudes in the band changed? This is may be a good point to talk about any strong friendships in the band that make it a fun exercise, and not some big ego thing etc.
McGowan: If it makes any sense, it has changed a ton, and not very much, all at the same time. When I started doing T&D, I was just solo acoustic, so when it eventually became a band we just translated those songs into a band format and that was kind of the way we would write new material as well -- kind of just translating songs that were written acoustically into something that worked with a whole band.
But especially in the last I'd say five years I've gotten way more into doing pretty fleshed out "demos" of new songs at my studio (usually before anyone in my band has actually heard them at all.) The "ON" EP was pretty much written and demoed at the same time over the course of last summer, mostly really late at night all alone with like a bottle of wine or something. That was the first record I've ever written completely that way -- having an idea for a song but not always having any idea how it's going to end up when I start demoing it. Then maybe a day, a week, or three months later, all the parts just sort of come together and even surprise me.
So when we went in to actually record the EP, I had these crazy giant full-on production demos, and we ended up actually taking some small parts (like keyboards and drum loops) straight off of my demos onto the final versions. It was a really cool way to work, but I think the four of us are really excited about trying to get into a room together and create something. We'll jam a lot at practice on riffs or whatever, usually ending up on these ridiculous like 10-minute jam sessions and we've started trying to do it a little bit live to transition songs and stuff.
Q: Over the years you've got to see these platforms like Bandcamp and Indie Go-Go pop up and help give bands their own label. This is not to mention social networking sites. But how cool is it for T&D to be able to use something like Bandcamp as a site to sell music AND make fans by allowing people to hear the songs?
McGowan: I think it's awesome. When I started T&D in 2002, it was literally not possible for me to make a record on my laptop, finish it, and then a day later upload it to the internet, and a week later have it available for sale all over the world, which is pretty much exactly what I did with the "OFF" EP in 2011. I made that record in my bedroom at my parent's house, with my cat staring at me half the time. I put it online with literally no help or advertising budget or anything and it just took on its own life, which completely rules and completely empowered my thinking that I/we can do this all on our own without anybody's help (not that a giant checkbook would HURT…).
With sites like Bandcamp and Indie Go-Go popping up, you're actually cutting out the middleman even further, and putting control into the hands of music listeners to make the things that they are actually interested in a reality. I really feel like this whole system is the future of the music industry. Labels are dying out, budgets for making records are virtually non-existent, and everyone is scrambling because they know the "old model" isn't working anymore, but they have no idea what the "new model" is going to be.
I will tell you this, the whole current trend of things that become popular originating from viral YouTube videos or a television show full of highly-paid celebrity judges deciding what is "good" or "bad" is NOT the new way, and it isn't going to last. Fan-funding, streaming music services (i.e. Spotify, rdio, etc) and the basic principle of music being or seeming "free" is where things are heading. we, with the "ON" EP, decided deliberately to try and embrace this -- we put the record up for "name your own price" download via Bandcamp, really expecting everyone to just enter a "0" and take it for free, but we've been genuinely surprised by the results not being that. Sure, we've had more free downloads than we've had paid ones, BUT I don't think that we would have moved the number of copies of the EP that we have, in the time that we have, if the only way to get it was for $5 on iTunes. Even better, when someone gets our EP for free, and doesn't pay anything for it, it seems like they're more inclined to then pass it on for their friends to check out.
We've been getting a lot of downloads and making a lot of new friends, all through old fashioned word-of-mouth. I think it's a really exciting time, I couldn't have predicted that this is where the music industry would've been five years ago, which has me very excited to see where things are going to be five years from now.
Q: You're in the McGees now too? This can kind of tie back into like, the 69 Fingers days, cool local punk bands. But how long have you known any of those dudes and what's it like stepping in, playing shows, going on tour, recording etc.? Seems like being friends and having fun is what it's all about regardless...?
McGowan: I've known the McGees dudes for years. I met Adam Dittebrand and Chris Woodall in the earlier part of the decade when they were both in 69 Fingers. I knew Mike Withrow from The Concept, and then he played bass in Time and Distance for about three years before he and Adam started the McGees. Then, after the McGees were a band proper, I hung out with all of them all the time, because my studio and their rehearsal space are in the same building.
Late last year I recorded a couple of cover songs for them. We all got along really well in the studio and the songs came out great, so we began talking about me recording their next EP. Over the course of all this, Mike and I had a couple of conversations about me possibly playing guitar with them, then one day randomly I ended up jamming with them while they were trying to put together a new song, and the next thing I knew Mike was teaching me songs three days before I was to play my first show with them.
It's been a blast so far, McGees is absolutely about having fun, and it seems like I'm constantly cracking up at practices and shows. I'm really excited to get the new EP recorded and released because, as just a fan of the first record, I feel like these new songs kind of take the things about the first record that were really cool and the strengths of the band that were already there, and kind of expands on them a little bit more than the first one did.
I think anybody who liked the first record will love the new one, and I think it'll surprise some people who maybe weren't as into the first one. It is pretty funny though, because when I was younger and starting out, 69 Fingers were THE band in Charleston. I remember Adam talking his way into my high school band's shows just by dropping that he was "in 69 Fingers" so it is kind of offhandedly full circle that I'm now in a band playing songs on a stage with him.
"Offhandedly full circle" actually pretty accurately sums up a lot of the things and experiences I've had in my life so far relating to music.
Q: One of the recurring themes in your T&D SXSW tour dispatch was the couch surfing or just meeting up with old friends, flung far and wide in these states across the southeast. Is that what it's all about even after all these years, sharing your music and experiences with your band mates and old friends?
McGowan: Yeah I think you pretty much nailed it. I kind of long ago gave up any "rockstar" aspirations in favor of just being stoked that I'm one of a small number of people who are even fortunate enough to be able to do what I do. I may never make a million dollars, or even be able to pay my bills every month on time, but when I'm 70 I'm gonna have so many cooler stories than anyone else.
It also rules that after doing this for so long I have friends spread all over the country, some of whom I know from West Virginia originally who have moved away, and a TON more that I've met just through touring. It rules to be able to be like "Oh, we're going to xx city, we get to hang out with xx!!" But it also sucks because I have made some of my legitimate best friends on the planet through touring, whether they're people in bands we toured with, or people we met, or stayed, or hung with, and I never get to spend nearly as much time with them as I'd like to.
It's cool sharing the touring experience with the dudes in my band, though; they haven't been doing it as long as I have, so even though I may be bored to death with seeing the same things over and over they always manage to make me see it like it's my first time again.
Q: Looking ahead to 2013 is there anything you guys are particularly looking forward to?
McGowan: This goes completely against my earlier point about how we've been going non-stop since September and are enjoying resting at home, but i am totally stoked to get back on tour. We've not even been home for a month, and we are all dying to get back out. The McGees do a short tour in May, and then Time and Distance leave the end of May for a six-week full-U.S. run with our friends in a band called The Traditional, who are from Buffalo. It's been a while since we've hit the west coast and I'm super pumped to get back out there and see some friends, eat some In-n-Out burger, and visit San Diego, which (no offense Charleston) is my favorite city in the country.
After that, we are going to be doing a Time and Distance/The McGees tour in the fall, which should be insanely fun. Eventually before the end of the year, I'm hoping to sleep some.
Q: This ties back in with the fun, but after 10+ years is it still as fun as it was in the early days? From doing SXSW tour dates to releasing new music how proud are you to have kept the band going all these years?
McGowan: I still love it just as much, if not more, than I ever have. In the years I've been doing this band, and all the years before that, music is the one relationship I can always come back to, no matter how bad I might mess everything up, or how many times I fall on my face in the process of trying.
I love creating music; I love the process of hearing a song come together from an idea in your head to a finished recording that people react to. I love when someone comes up to me and tells me a song I had a part in creating touched them or helped them in a positive way.
I hate the business aspect of it all, but it's a necessary evil I suppose. It's really easy to get yourself mixed up in the politics of the BUSINESS of making music, which is entirely different from the ART of making music.
I've seen a lot of people get really discouraged because band X, who they have some past relationship with, eclipsed their own musical endeavors in popularity, or record or ticket sales or MySpace friends, or whatever. I've had friends with bands that sold way more records than I probably ever will, but then their bands broke up because in their minds they "didn't sell enough records."
At the same time, I have friends who have platinum records on their walls that are still the raddest, most down to earth people you'll ever meet, and love music still for the art of creating. I guess that kinda ties together the thing that keeps me going -- the music BUSINESS has just never ever been what playing and writing music has been about for me.
I feel awesome about the fact that this silly little thing I started in high school is still able to release records and tour and play our songs for people, and I obviously want it to succeed, but generally we release a record, and we sell about the same amount of them every time -- but I don't care how many that is. That isn't how I judge our success.
I judge our success in the fact that for ten years this band has managed to do things our way, without anybody really helping us out or telling us what to do, and we've managed to reach an audience of people who care about what we do and what we create, but maybe not so much about what we're wearing or what the current hip blog has to say about us.
It seems, to me, like our music has resonated with people for that exact reason -- we don't try to be anything that we aren't. We write songs we'd listen to if we weren't in the band, we wear whatever we like, and we get on stage and don't always play every note perfect. Maybe if we had better haircuts (…or if I had a floor tom) we'd be better financially situated, but I digress.
Music to me is about moving people, not dollars and units.
WANT TO GO?
Time and Distance, Blue Ring, The Red Lights
WHEN: 10 p.m., Saturday, Apr. 20
WHERE: The Empty Glass, 410 Elizabeth St., 304-345-3914
We’ve been off the grid for a while, but one of the more awesome things that came out recently was the official video and title track for Rozwell Kid’s February release, Unmacho.
Brought to you by Northward Advance, the same people who brought you The Demon Beat’s video for “Bored Forever,” (and including Adam Meisterhans guitar lessons) we gonna post it to give us a reason to come back soon!