With their new album, Culture Abuse pose some big questions about life. "What am I supposed to do?" asks David Kelling.
"Let there be peace on earth. Let love reign supreme," proclaimed the introduction to Culture Abuse's 2016 album 'Peach'. The band then spent the next ten tracks rolling their eyes and burning the page, feeling a world away from that wish. Inspired by a whole lot of pain, the record wanted love, but it was almost impossible to find. New record ‘Bay Dream' knows it's tough, but it wears that big, stupid heart with pride.
"There's the saying, ‘Shit happens'," starts singer David Kelling. "But my Mom would always say, 'Shit is happening', because it never stops."
Across ‘Bay Dream', Culture Abuse try to find a balance between the good, the bad, the ugly and the ridiculous.
"The whole point of it was not to have any outside influence or feel like we're a punk band, so we have to write a punk record. Instead, these are the songs, this is what I'm feeling. We ran with it. Everyone has an idea of what they want you to do, or be. We made a record that didn't consider anyone else."
David sounds confident now, and the record fully commits to that feelings-first mantra, but as ‘Bay Dream' came to life, there were definite moments of, "wait, what have we done? Is this too crazy? Is this too something else?"
And sure, almost everyone who does something creative gets those doubts. It's part of sharing yourself. The thing is, ‘Bay Dream' is very, very different to everything that's come before.
Last time we saw them, it was Reading Festival, and they were destroying the stage, their equipment and themselves for the show. It would have been very easy for this record, full of "soothing melody and the vocals like a calm wave flowing over the music," David says, to be a step too far. "I wanted a cruising record," he explains. "I wanted it to feel like ripples in the water."
But ‘Bay Dream', beautiful, serene and laid bare, is somehow the perfect next step. It's the answer to what happens when everything you know shifts.
“It was crazy to have all these real deal Hollywood people listening to songs I wrote in my bedroom”
David has spent pretty much his whole life making music, but it's never felt like this. Surrounding himself with positive people, he's been "pulling some weeds, planting some flowers," around himself. "The guys that are in Culture Abuse, everyone's that little misfit underdog," he explains. "It's nice to do what we're doing because everyone is happy and supportive of what anyone wants to do. I've been in bands before where the other dudes made me feel like I never did anything right. I was wrong; I was the one holding everyone back.
"I was in a band for six years, we broke up, and I didn't start another one for four years. I had a freakout, moved to the UK and lived in Swansea for a while."
Eventually he returned home to tour with a friend's band, then realised - "You know what? I wanna make some music."
The first Culture Abuse release was their demo ‘The Day Dreams Of Nothing'. It's why this record is called ‘Bay Dream'.
"You're sitting in your bedroom; you're writing a song. It's a little daydream imaging the whole rest of the world hearing it, and now they are. That's the thing that tripped me out about 'Peach', about everything that happened and everything we do.
"We wrote those songs in a room in San Francisco, and we weren't thinking about any rest of the world. We weren't thinking an hour from now. Do we like it?" That's all that matters.
"Flash forward a couple of years, and we're at Reading & Leeds playing those same songs. ‘Bay Dream' is saying where it's all coming from."
The band recorded with Carlos de la Garza, who's worked with Paramore, Tegan and Sara, M83 and Jimmy Eat World. He's won Grammies. They had Zac Rae (Death Cab For Cutie, Lana Del Rey) play keys.
"It was crazy to have all these real deal Hollywood people, that are huge in the music industry, listening to songs I wrote in my bedroom and liking them. How many songs have I written and been too shy to show anyone? Before making ‘Peach', I had all these reservations, and I realised I was projecting all my insecurities on the rest of the band.
"On this record, I wasn't going to hold back. I wasn't going to be afraid. More and more with making this record, there was this feeling of fuck it. I'm just going to do it. Here we go."
Now dreams are coming true, and the band aren't holding back.
"It was crazy making the record. Everyone was just pouring every bit of themselves into it. We had this opportunity to make a record with Epitaph [Records] with no holes barred, so let's make this beautiful record.
"When we play, it's still going to be whatever we're feeling. Most of the time when we're playing live, I do want it to be a little bit crazy and a little bit of chaos. I don't want to play by the rules where you're told to record a record, then play it live, and it be perfect. I don't want to be a puppet. I want to go out and have emotions to everything we do."
From the "I wish you'd take care of yourself first before you worry about the others" of ‘Dip' to the "Be kind to yourself, even though it gets hard. Don't let the distractions stack up to the stars," of ‘Bee Kind To The Bugs, 'Bay Dream' imparts little life lessons. Rather than preaching though, "It's more talking to myself. Trying to tell myself that it's all going to be okay."
There's been a lot of that lately.
"It's hard ‘cos nothing ever really stops or slows down. You just gotta constantly tell yourself that it's all going to be okay. It's one thing after the other, and I know everyone else feels the same way. When it rains, it pours," he offers. Shit is always happening.
People found a kindred spirit in the chaotic, furious, beaten-down-but-not-out voice of ‘Peach'. People would tell David his words gave them hope, even if he didn't see it himself.
"They'd tell me, ‘The things that you say are so optimistic and positive', but I feel like it's just realistic."
It's the same on ‘Bay Dream'.
"Life is suffering, and when you come to terms with everything, you can be ok with it," he starts before asking, "Isn't that some Dharma Buddhist shit? When you try and convince yourself that life is perfect and nothing can ever go wrong, then when something goes wrong, it's going to destroy you? But if you accept that, yup, shit is fucked up, life is broke; then when something happens, you're ready for it."
‘Bay Dream' is a record about love. ‘S'Why' was written backstage at Leeds Festival with David missing his girlfriend, Barbara. "I feel you pushing me forward to the place I want to go," it starts, diving in with no buildup. "S'why I like you around, ‘cos you make me feel good," it sings, sincere and simple. There's no pretence, no bluster, there's nothing fake or added on in those admissions. Across ‘Bay Dream', it's truthful: this is how I feel, and this is what I like.
"That's the whole thing with this band or trying to do these songs, instead of trying to hide it behind some poetry, let's just write some simple songs that just speak how I'm feeling."
The band aren't trying to hide. There are no scratched vocals hidden under walls of noise. They want to be understood. They want to be heard.
"It's just us trying to be honest. Right before we played Leeds, ‘S'Why' just came out. ‘Holy fuck, we're doing all this shit. We've been gone for almost three months. We're doing this, and it's hard, but it's all worth it. I feel so lucky'."
“Fuck it. I'm just going to do it. Here we go”
The album doesn't just find itself loving other people. It looks at loving what you do, loving where you're going and trying to love yourself. It admits that it's never easy, it all takes work but it is possible. Maybe.
"Everything has been hard," David admits, before pausing. "My Mom has this thing called pulmonary hypertension, it's an incurable condition, and it's fucking crazy. I don't know what to do. Of course she's the most supportive person ever but we have to leave on these tours but I literally don't know how long I have with my Mom.
"What do I do right now?" he asks, not knowing the answer. "Do I not go on tour? Do I choose to stay home, and stay with her? If I don't go on tour, not only do I piss off our label, our manager, our booking agent, I let everyone down in my band. It's not even letting them down but it changes the course of their life, y'know?
"My mum wouldn't want me to stay, but in the future, am I going to fucking forever be regretful that I was gone for so long when I could have been there? A lot of this record is me asking, what am I supposed to do? A lot of it is me just trying to do the right thing."
That struggle is all over ‘Bay Dream'. Homesick in the spotlight, real life versus living dreams. Culture Abuse don't have the answers; they're just trying to keep going.
"At the same time, it is what it is. No matter what, you could beg, you can plead, you can barter, what else are you supposed to do but do what makes you happy?"