Set It Straight FINAL INTERVIEW w/Curt Baer
*Authors note: the following is the final interview with one of my favorite folks in hardcore and the world in general Mr. Curt Baer who is not only an extremely talented guitarist, but a superior tattoo artist, dedicated core kid and edgeman and one of the nicest individuals you'll ever meet. This interview (like a few others on HARDTIMES.CA) has appeared elsewhere but few bands deserve more recognition than SIS and hopefully this help the unitiated to see how much these Reddings sons rule.. -Kirby Unrest Name/band duties/age/favorite Star Wars character? My name is Curt Baer, I play(ed) guitar in Set it Straight. I'm 29, love the outdoors, snake tattoos and Obi-Wan Kenobi. If you wouldn't mind, please give the Cliff Notes history of SIS from the XSuperfriendsX era to your current state of affairs? Well, the XSuperfriendsX era was a short-lived one, to understate it completely. I think like two "shows", which weren't actual shows we were booked on, we jumped on my other band's gear and crashed through like 2 songs. SIS started out as a side project to that band (Till Death), which Nate and JoeXsizzle (now of Set Your Goals superstardom) and I were in. We figured, "hey, let's do a cheesy posi fun band that we can not take too seriously!" At that point I was playing bass and Joe was playing guitar, we had another guitar player as well. Till Death started having problems, mainly regarding the lack of touring and soon it became apparent that we probably weren't going to be a band anymore. Nate, Joe and I wanted to tour so we talked it over and decided to make XSuperfriendsX the main focus and put Till Death on the backburner. We also decided to change the name to Set it Straight, switch back to me on guitar and Joe on bass (where we belong) and we also let our other guitar player go. Three Months later we recorded "My Favorite Words" and set out on tour. Fast forward three and a half years... Two full-lengths, two split 7"s and a bunch of touring later here we are, and we're calling it quits. What were your first practices/shows like? The first practices were really fun, I had switched roles with Joe from our Till Death duties; I was playing bass and I was basically waaaay overplaying. I've never played bass in a band before and I was essentially playing it like a guitar solo. Didn't sound too good over the oversimplified guitars, so Joe and I switched back. After that practices were frequent and really high energy. The first SIS shows were so weird for me to get used toâ€¦ our first ever REAL show as SIS was Duckhunt's last show at the Phoenix Theater. Kids had never heard us before but they were going nuts and I was going out of my mind with surprise. Till Death was more of a Thrashmetal/hardcore band, I think it would do well nowadays but back then we played for statues and could barely give 7"s away. Then I'm suddenly in this youth crew-esque band with goofy lyrics and simple song structure and kids are going berzerk without ever hearing us. I was really excited but it was a little bittersweet. I got over it quick though, and it seemed like in no time at all we had built up a little hype locally and our shows were turning out real good and kids knew all the words to a couple songs, I felt like it couldn't get any better than that. Personally I've always found SIS to be quite different from most youth crew/old school/posi bands, both musically and lyrically. Sound wise, there's that classic hardcore punk style perfected by 7 Seconds/Descendents/Circle Jerks but I also hear a lot of "Epifat" melodies, No Idea "scruffiness" (for lack of a better word) and even some great power/speed/thrash metal flavor without ever conjuring images of bullet belts and all over dragon print T-shirts. When it comes to the words, some of the subject matter is standard but there is always a very personal and poignant slant that makes it genuine, not generic. Finally, you are one of the few "posi" bands I've ever met that is actually positive, haha. I mean most of the those individuals/groups marked with said moniker are some of the most negative, elitist pudwacks I've ever had the misfortune of meeting, with their only cares being colored vinyl, vintage dunks and horrible, obscure bands that time forgot for a reason. What are your thoughts on that description/these sentiments since that the above really isn't a question? Sound-wise, I think it's no surprise that we sound the way we do in terms of what you can hear in itâ€¦ in the words of Shai Hulud: "If our sound is at all unique, it's because we ripped off bands that other bands weren't ripping off at the time." Haha! My songwriting influences come from outside of hardcore. Some of my favorite bands are Hot Water Music, Small Brown Bike, Propagandhi, Strung Out, Megadeth, Metallica, Iron Maiden, etc. So mix those together and basically there you have it. I just try and write music that sounds good. Lyrically, I definitely feel like most bands don't live up to their lyrics, rehashing the same tired lines while living a lifestyle that is in complete contradiction. I'm not saying our lyrics are great, groundbreaking or even good (in fact some of the early ones are downright terrible, haha), but one thing I can be proud of is that we never compromised our lyrics, and every dude in the band stands by them to this day. We may not be award winning poets with a fifty cent analogy for everything, but we had a message that we stood by and that's more then most bands can say. It's easy to get caught up in the world of crucial test presses and obscure demos but in the end, we feel like it's what you take away from hardcore and apply to real life that makes you what you are, not what you buy or who you know or how hard you mosh. "Live Your Heart and Never Follow" came out not too long ago. How do you feel it compares to "My Favorite Words," what track are you most proud of, and what is the meaning of the title? Comparatively speaking I feel that it completely blows My Favorite Words away. I mean, MFW is essentially our demo, albeit a really long one, and half the songs were written when we were just a side-project band. With Live Your Heart, I had a chance to really write what I wanted to write, and since I wrote most the lyrics, I got to talk about what I wanted to talk about. I think musically my favorite song is the last one, "So Many Questions". That basically sums up the direction my songwriting was heading right before we broke up and it would have been interesting to see where it went with SIS. Lyrically, I'm most proud of "Hourglass", Harry had really come a long way since MFW and I think it shows on that song, plus Eli's vocals are such a brutal contrast to Harry's it hits you like a punch in the face, and the little bit of singing I did was out of left field, but I thought it worked out great. The title of the record comes directly from my all-time favorite band, Hot Water Music, from the song "It's Hard to Know". Those words just speak to me, and they summed up the message of the record nicely. Plus I couldn't pass up the chance to tip the hat to HWM, if more kids in hardcore listened to the words Chuck and Chris write, they'd be blown away at how much more genuine and sincere and honest music can be. I know that "My Favorite Words" was kind of a one off deal with Westcoast Worldwide records due to SIS getting a free 1000 CD's pressed through a "Battle of the Bands" your former outfit, Till Death won a few years back. So how did the relationship with Twelve Gauge come about and why did you elect to stick with a smaller, newer independent rather than seek out a more established one? Essentially it all came down to control. I mean, to be honest we never really went out of our way to try and get signed, in the life of the band we never even sent out one press kit. Still, we had gotten a few offers from some bigger labels (but no medium sized onesâ€¦ weird). We knew that if we went with a major hardcore label, we'd get exposure, maybe sell more records and get to tour the world, but what is the price of that? There's definitely an argument to be made that the more kids that own your record, the more kids get exposed to the message, but we felt like compromising ourselves by being contractually bound to a label we didn't really believe in just to sell records and "get big" would be contrary to the spirit of the band. Plus, we wanted to own our own music. So we opted to go with 12 Gauge, we were being offered essentially the same thing that we were getting from the bigger labels but we had 100% control and we knew that we wouldn't get screwed over. I have some regret that we never got to tour Europe and that we only saw the east coast one time, but what can you do. We're all working dudes who do the band as much as we can afford to, which unless you're on a major or living at home, ain't much. For a band that was never "signed" and never really hyped, we accomplished a lot, and I'm proud of that. Straight edge, while a personal choice of SIS members, has always worked its way into the lyrics, the attitude and the essence of the band. Why are you edge, what are your thoughts on it as a way of life and a worldwide movement, and what is your take on those who have sold out or were never edge to begin with? Personally I never saw much in inebriation. When I first learned about straight edge, it really just defined, or put a name to, what I already was. Over time, my convictions grew more intense as I saw more friends end up total wastes, goal-less and future-less. Having said that, I'm not the kind of guy to hate on people who aren't straight edge, and neither is anyone else in SIS. We've always had a message of "Be who you are, do what you want and don't take shit from anybody, and if you're straight edge, then right on!" I definitely believe that most people who aren't sXe are responsible when they do the things they do and I have no problem with them doing them. It's the portion of people who aren't responsible, aren't in control or do self-destructive things like Coke, Meth or Heroin that I can't respect. Straight Edge as a worldwide movement? I doubt it, not anymore. I want to have faith, I do! There's a handful of other older guys who I think still feel like I feel, but for the most part, what I see day to day on tour across the country, is either kids with camo fingerless gloves that run to the elbow with X's that they bought at hot topic, or your run of the mill "croosh" kid with all the latest gear doing the latest dance, or hard-off crew dudes who treat it like a gang (hence the song "Oblivious")â€¦ maybe I'm old and jaded and maybe we were all like that too, but I don't remember it that way. I remember being scared at my first few shows, before I could make heads or tails of it I remember it being dangerous, and I remember being straight edge was definitely NOT cool in any way. I mean, not to generalize new kids, of course there are probably a ton that are totally legit in both their motivations and their attitude, but there are so, so many that aren't. I feel like it's definitely a 100% personal choice, I think we've done a good job of sending that message out loud and clear with SIS. There are usually a lot of kids just really hammered at our shows, and that's ok. They're among friends and they're not being a danger to themselves or more importantly others, and maybe they'll get a different perspective on things, but if they don't I feel proud that they CAN come to our shows and we're not alienating them, like most sXe bands do. And if they turn sXe, even if only for a month (though I do get bummed on people's lack of commitment), that may have been the month they were drunk driving and crashed into someone I care about. Do you have any other political views/social beliefs, either as a band or individuals? It seems as though there was a lengthy absence of such awareness and involvement in various causes and conditions, but a recent resurgence has changed that. From my perspective though, it seems pretty one sided, with very few willing to take a stand that might truly affect them or possible offend others. Any thoughts? There's definitely a trend going on where it's become "cool" to be down with certain causes, but when the time comes to back up what they say, they're outta there. Hardly any bands make a stand for anything these days, I mean and why would you? It could hurt your album sales if you say something that isn't status quo, and you could lose that big record deal or that insane tour if you offend the wrong popular dude, right? Ugh. That's kind of where the "To anyone with heart, make your stand" comes from. It's not about sXe (though in the context, it conveniently applies). It's about the lack of heart in hardcore today. Oh, there's tons of "Hardcore family! We have tons of heart, see, we put a lion on our shirt and we smash people in the teeth who don't think like us!" kind of "heart", but there's not a lot of people who really care and are willing to take some shit for what they believe in. What do you love most and enjoy least about the hardcore scene as a whole? Bands/individuals you love or despise, trends you'd like to see meet a quick end or movements your glad to see still alive, etc but more importantly, what keeps you involved and interested? What do you feel needs to change and do you have any suggestions for how such obstacles might be overcome? I don't think I'd be doing my job as a critical thinker if I wasn't pissed off all the time at things around me. Things can be better. Within the hardcore scene, there's no government and no rules, so that means it's up to us to change things for the better. I mean there's things that are out of my control that I absolutely despise, sideways hair girl pants fashionable metalcore, sXe gangs, and fixed gear bikes, for example. But when you're in a band, people listen to what you say. They don't have to agree or even care, but the words are going into their ears and registering in their brains on some level. In my mind, that makes it our responsibility, as people in bands, to say something worth listening to. What keeps me interested is when I see bands that get that concept, when I hear music that makes me feel instead of yawn, and when I meet kids who feel the same. Out of 50 douche bags, there's always a few that are legit, and that keeps me involved. That and my abnormal obsession and appreciation of music. Sadly, this is a final interview, as you guys will be calling it quits soon. I know you released a statement via the Internet/MySpace but for those who did not check out, what are the reasons behind your breakup? What are the members planning to do academically, professional, musically in the future and will any further recordings be released? Essentially, Harry has decided that he can no longer do the band while following his dream of being a PE teacher. While I don't necessarily understand or agree, we would be contradicting our message as a band if we kept him from doing that, just as he would be if he didn't do what his heart is telling him to do. It's a bummer because none of us really wanted it to end, I felt like we were just getting started. But here we are, you can either spend years being mad about it or you can move on, start a new band, and pick up where you left off, which is what we've done. I have a new band which we're going to decide a name on by the end of the week, haha. We've got 7 or so songs and we're recording an cdep/7" in a couple months, and we'll be on tour by Christmas break. I hope to kind of pick up where SIS left off both musically and message-wise with this band, but take it further and add even more of those left-field influences I previously talked about. I'm really excited about it. I also have a few other bands I'm involved with in various capacities, not the least of which being Dangers, we're working on a new 7" and we'll be on tour with Graf Orlock this January. I also sing for 32FPS, a "Yemin influenced" punk band here in redding, and I have a thrash metal project band called Deadworld where I do the music (divebombs!) and Joey of Our Discontent fame sings. This is not to mention tattooing full time and co-chillin with my kid. The other three SIS dudes have a band called "The Separation", and they've already played a few shows and have a 7" coming out. If you love D-beat and Mid-nineties hardcore, you'll like them. You can listen to all of those bands on myspace. Even Dangers, and we don't even have our own page! Haha. You guys have deservedly gotten a lot of accolades and respect from kids in and outside of the scene in the last few years. When you started SIS, did you think you'd have cut a couple full lengths, a split and done some heavy touring? No way! I'm really proud of what we did, like I said we were never really hyped and we never really got any help, but we did a lot and we toured with some great bands and made some great, lasting friendships. What more can you ask for? I'm just sorry to see it end. How has the Redding/Chico/NorCal scene influenced and inspired SIS? Growing up in a small town definitely puts certain things into a different light than other bigger city kids would see it. Sometimes even trying to find a place to play is such an unbelievably monumental battle that kids up here don't take it for granted as much and therefore go nuts at every show. That's what inspired the song "Strikes and Gutters", which is a "II" because we played it in Till Death. I felt like the song was still applicable in a way that was important for new Redding/Chico kids to hear, and TD was already a done deal so we brought it back. Other than that, we really drew influence from the world around us, not so much the scene. We really feel more a part of the Northern California scene as a whole as well, not just Redding/Chico, though we do call it home. NorCal is really close-knit and I think it's evident when you go to shows up here, everyone is friends and shows are incredible. Best show you've played, favorite track to perform, and any previews you can offer up about your final hurrah? I don't know about best, but some of my favorite showsâ€¦ Sink With Cali III comes immediately to mind, that was the first time I've ever heard so many people singing along to us louder than the music and I felt like we were a real band at that point. Gilman with Champion was just insane. Rain Fest was out of hand, that circle pit was the probably the biggest I've ever seen and I still can't believe it was while WE were playing. Chain Reaction with Allegiance/Final Fight, Tiki House with Broadway Calls/Shook Ones, our first real tour ever with Life Long Tragedy/Crime in Stereoâ€¦ there's so many, I feel really fortunate. Hopefully our last show ranks up there. It's gonna be really fun, the lineup is pretty much insane and a few of the bands on it are breaking up in the next few months as well, so I see it as kind of "one last huge norcal show" of this last generation of bands. It's on November 17th at the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma, CA. Most important thing you've learned in life: Live your heart and never follow! Farewells/thank yous/endorsements/etc? This part could be really looooooooooong, so I'll just say this: Thank you to everyone who supported us in any way over the years. Thank you to the bands we've toured with, your friendships mean the world to us. Especially to Allegiance, Life Long Tragedy, Broadway Calls, Killing the Dream, Gather, Crime in Stereo, Another Breath, Dead Hearts, Living With Lions, Where Eagles Dare, Crucial Unicorn and all the bands on our last show, you're like brothers and we could never put into words what it means to be friends with bands/dudes like you, we appreciate you deeply. To all who have put their hard earned time and money into supporting this band, Jihad 12 Gauge, Mike Hood, and Jason Outline. To our great friends who book shows, not the least of which Naoma and 924 Gilman, Fatt Matt and the Phoenix Theater, and the almightly Westcoast Worldwide! And most importantly thank you to all the kids who come out, sing along and go nuts, that's what kept us afloat so many times when we felt like we weren't making a difference and not getting any helpâ€¦ your devotion inspired us to keep slugging it out in the trenches when newer, substance-less bands blew up around us. Thank you Kirby for the opportunity to do this last interview! And THANK YOU to Hot Water Music for getting back together!