INTERVIEW: Ink and Sweat and the Sonic Confessional
We’ve settled into a corner in The Bricks of Ybor – the lunch crowd is coming in and outside it looks like rain. Sulynn Hago is beside me, Ryan Fouche across the table – they are two parts of Ink and Sweat along with drummer Leo Suarez. The Tampa hardcore trio has found a home in every corner of the Bay – now, they have independently released a self-titled four song cassette of demos with tracks that explore themselves and will to connect through bursts of melodic guitar and harmonies. Ink and Sweat is indeed a band of songwriters, craftsmen of both the riff and word – Sulynn and Ryan’s lyrics function as an expansive inward discourse, propelled by the punk instrumentation that seems to have been born in a nineties daydream.
The rain starts hitting the window – the teas and beers come to the table and I ask them about the track that tears open the tape with lamentation and forewarnings, “Shit Claw-Hammered.”
“It’s really easy to write a song talking shit on someone – I always find myself starting to and then thinking…but at the same time, it kinda is a song about a friend of ours let’s face it, he’s an alcoholic. He’s an alcoholic,” Ryan says. “It’s almost like a cautionary tale for ourselves. I drink a lot. I work at a bar. I’m always drinking. Everyone has their vices – his just got out of control and crossed some lines. Like, ‘come on dude, get your fucking shit together.”
“It keeps you in check, it reminds you not to lose control – everyone drinks,” Sulynn says. “We feel pity, too.”
It brings Ryan back to reflect on the culture he came out of.
“Because nobody really cares, especially in the punk community,” he says. “There has been a divide in the punk community, I feel like, between these party punks and then a backlash with these DIY punks.”
Where does he fall?
“I walk the fence,” he says. “My last band [Homemade Handgrenade] was deeply entrenched with these kids who drank all the time – they were basically scum bags. The whole point of that for me was, ‘get as fucked up as possible and go onstage.’ Yeah, it was fun, but there was no real musical integrity or moral integrity, and that’s kind of where this scene – it’s where I grew out of that scene and needed to find something a little bit more positive.”
As for the motive to get fucked up beyond belief, he has his thoughts.
“I think that’s a backlash to straight edge punk – it’s all backlash: punks are punks. You tell a punk to do something, he’s gonna say ‘fuck you.’ A bunch of straight edge kids tell you not to drink anymore, it’s like, ‘fuck you, I’m gonna drink and fuck as much as I want.”
“It gets into the world of being in a band,” Sulynn says. “Some people look at being in a band a different way. Like those people we’re calling party punks right now,” she laughs. “Maybe playing in a band isn’t just music; it’s another outlet to just get shitfaced. Punk shows do get rowdy, but that kind of rowdy is different – it’s controlled.”
“There’s always a scene for it,” Ryan says. “You listen to Mean Jeans – and they’re incredible – but they’re doing it to be stupid. There’s an interview in Razorhead and they’re like, ‘yeah, it’s fun to go onstage and do something stupid and if everyone hates it, I don’t fucking care.’ But that’s not the direction I wanted to go when we started this band. I wanted to have some inner dialogue.”
Ink and Sweat would grow as a stark parallel to their days in former outfits.
“The work ethic is also definitely different – I don’t wanna use the word serious; we do have fun and joke around and we drink, but it’s usually after we play,” Sulynn says. “We work so hard to write music and to play shows, so why would we just do that while being drunk?”
“The song…I kind of hate that I singled somebody out, but I needed an example to channel my energy. It’s basically about someone who took the party punk scene a little too far and now it’s just their guideline to life and they’re a waste.” Ryan says – he drinks from his cup.
“It also applies to people who take drinking and get out of control of it and lose grip. Their life goes downhill – it is like talking to a person, in a way. If it’s a friend, you have this care for them and don’t want to see them going down that route. Watching it, you feel a lot of things – pity – but also that they’re pathetic,” Sulynn says.
But Ryan doesn’t want to be mistaken for anything.
“It’s really not a shit talking song, I’ve even approached him about it,” he says. “He’s like, ‘I don’t give a fuck.’ But I do give a fuck, and it hurts me to see the direction he’s going. And if he doesn’t give a fuck I’m gonna make sure I don’t get there myself.”
There is depth in the writing of Ink and Sweat – they tap into the nostalgia of nineties hardcore without relying on the past and find their own voices in each narrative.
“We take pride in our lyrics. Ryan and I have a separate practice away from full band practice, we have a lyric practice where we have notebooks and a chalkboard – we’ll sit on the porch with acoustic guitars and just have a workshop. We’re both English majors, too,” Sulynn says.
Ryan had found the chalkboard on the side of a road and put it to use when they both had come to a halt on a track – each word is granted weight.
“We don’t just write,” Sulynn says. “We’re trained to constantly revise, to make it the best we can, same with the music. I think lyrics are as important as the music. I’m not sure if a lot of bands think that way.”
What guides the pen?
“There are a lot of bands where people literally say, ‘fuck lyrics, they don’t matter. I think, ‘they don’t?’ I want the music to be reflective of the band but to make sure the lyrics are reflective of how you feel,” Sulynn says.
“I’m in The Get Around, it’s kind of this fictional band right now. We write lyrics, and they’re really stupid. But the point of the band is to have nonsensical stupidity. If it works for a band it works for a band. I just know it wouldn’t work for Ink and Sweat because we do care a lot about what we’re saying,” Ryan explains.
Often in hardcore, lyrics can be a casualty to the riff, or serve as hollow placeholders. Sulynn and Ryan would elaborate on the motives for thought, pausing for drinks in between:
“I think as long as it’s honest. If it hits a certain emotion or person, I don’t think we ever have any goals. I just wanna keep it genuine,” Sulynn says.
They both connected it to their pasts.
“A lot of bands are really political, and I’ve definitely had my foot in the political water with writing, but for the most part, I kind of like keeping things personal so I can relate to it on a long term basis.”
“Like journal entries,” Sulynn says, “where it’s stream-of-conscious and you’re digging deep. It’s personal politics; you’re still dealing with a bigger issue.”
With subjects, they always tend to look inward, rather than too outward or far from home.
“I more like to keep the songwriting to an inner dialogue than the tragedies in Darfur – I think there’s enough bands doing that and there’s a place for bands to do that but there’s also places for bands to be interpersonal,” Ryan says. “It’s just like literature. It’s art – you have contemporary art that’s almost meaningless. You have the Dada movement that back in the day; the point was to be pointless. Everyone has a point, at least I hope.”
The influences come from the daily life, with literary figures periodically slipping into the dynamics that bring about the writing.
“I like Billy Collins,” Sulynn says. “It’s similar to punk, the poetry is…it’s hard to describe…it’s clever and tackles little subjects. It’s hard to describe. A lot of it can be straightforward but there is a creative way of expressing something similar.”
“I can’t really pinpoint something; I probably draw more from lyrics,” Ryan says. “I always liked stuff that’s very succinct and to the point, like Hemingway, and the really sarcastic stuff like Phillip Larkin where he’s not afraid to use the word fuck in poetry – that’s incredible to me. It’s more of an idea, the nature of poetry – the clever nature of it with everything very compact. That’s what I want to bring into my lyrics. If I have two lines, I want to be able for somebody to read those two lines and get a paragraph out of it.”
Sulynn went on to explain another offering from the cassette, “My Mind Is Sorry.”
“One day I just woke up,” she says. “Sometimes, I’m affected by something I’m dreaming about – I can be in this deep sleep and a dream can wreck my day and immediately when I wake up, it leaves me in this weird place. It’s this inner dialogue, whenever you’re feeling negative. I tend to have anxiety issues – I exaggerate certain scenarios; one of the lines is like, ‘everyday I’m living in a mental hell.’ It’s whenever you’re struggling with anxiety.
“I had that riff for like three years.”
When his former band Pie Party collapsed after a tour he packed full his Corolla and moved to Tampa on a whim – he wandered through aimless jam sessions until finding Sulynn, where the foundation for the track was laid. The instrumentation is precise and impacting, but intentionally simple – they write songs.
“When it gets overly technical, it isn’t even listenable, just numbing – there’s no feeling. When you’re playing hundreds of notes in twenty seconds…it’s bad ass, but how does this speak to me?” she says.
“Everything goes together organically, nothing forced – I think that’s what we’re striving for,” Ryan says. “If we can pull that off we’re doing something right. You always want a little bit of texture. I mean, I could write Ramones songs all day long – and I do – but it’s not the direction we’re going. Hopefully the songs can come across as well-written but not overly technical. We’re not really afraid to do something weird – if it sounds good, why not?”
I bring up Leatherface – their ear for blending emotive melody with melancholy comes to mind when listening to the tape. Ryan had seen them at Harvest of Hope and me at the Orpheum so many years ago.
Ryan reflected on seeing the greats:
“They’re like sixty years old. When I saw them he was still in your face, talking shit to the bouncers. They definitely are a band that kept their ethos all the way through. His voice is brutal. It’s so weird to see bands that were huge in the nineties, then the 2000s, you get these kids who never heard of them. Like Seaweed – they were headlining this fest I went to. I thought, ‘who the fuck is this band?’ I look around and there are tons of thirty-five year olds. It’s a goddamn shame. It’s a bummer.”
In the age of the internet, Ryan feels the prospect of sensory overload.
“You don’t know where to start,” he says. “It can be difficult to work with, especially in the DIY community. We just saw a band we’d never heard of, they played in a house – and they’re like sixteen years old – Valmara – they fucking rip. But I’ve never heard of them and they’re just right across the Bay. Maybe I’m just getting old. I’ve given up on finding bands on the internet – I don’t really check out bands on punknews.org or anything. I like going to a show and seeing a band, and if they’re good, buying their merch instead of Facebook or whatever.”
An ongoing battle for them both has been the parallel of the live and recorded performance – they both contemplated.
“When you’re at a live show, you can hit a level of perfection, even if it’s not the song perfectly, that you’ll never be able to duplicate on a record. Like Cheap Trick, ‘I Want You to Want Me,’ nobody knows the recorded version, because it sucks – but they played it live and they played it really fucking well one time. I think there’s a disconnect in live music and recorded music, and with recording music the point is to get as close to that as possible.”
“Recording is not as forgiving with little mistakes, but isn’t as raw either,” Sulynn says. “As you’re recording, you have to put yourself in a live mindset but when you’re recording it’s a little more artificial. Once you have it recorded, it’s done, it’s set in the world. It’s cool because then you can see a progression with one person or a band – I enjoy that, watching band progressions from album to album; in punk, too. Most people aren’t self-taught. To hear someone’s vocals get stronger…that’s probably the most beautiful thing in punk. With a recording, who knows who will listen to this? Someone across the world could listen to this and think, ‘I wanna start a band.’”
Will the kids want to grow up and be Ink and Sweat?
Ryan laughed. “I don’t even wanna be in Ink and Sweat when I grow up.”
Then he pauses and the refills hit the table.
“Would it be really cliché if I talk about a Fight Club quote for a second?” he asks.
It would – but I tell him to do it anyway.
“There’s a part in the book that’s not in the movie,” he says. “Tyler Durden meets the narrator for the first time. It made me think about the live experience. Tyler is putting together these logs on a beach…and the narrator’s like, ‘what’s this fucking crazy guy doing?’ He goes over and asks him what he’s doing, and at a certain point the sun hits the logs to where the shadow looks like a human hand, but only like that a few seconds, then it’s gone – destroyed. That’s how I feel about the live experience. You push out as much energy as possible and want everybody to see it at that moment, but the recording is almost like taking a picture of it and saying, ‘look, that shadow looks like a hand.’”
Then we turn to “Dissonant With Everything,” the second track on the tape – Sulynn’s use of major scales and intervals dominate throughout it. When she confesses her knowledge, Ryan laughs and calls her a nerd.
“It’s about getting pissed off, but a different take – losing your temper but the backlash, but the backlash doesn’t come until you’re left with the consequence,” Sulynn says of the song. “It’s like being regretful, feeling guilty. It’s a struggle, dealing with anger – it’s not easy.”
As the motif suggests, it’s an equally personal introspection.
“People might not think of it – I’m pretty chill – but I lose my temper,” she says. “It’s probably why I like hardcore a lot; it’s a lot healthier outlet. It’s pretty personal, sometimes nerve wrecking to have it public. You have this slight fear of being judged for it, and yeah, maybe that sounds cool, but there’s also a shame that’s added to this. But it is liberating to be able to open up that way about something so personal – I dunno. And there’s a line about my dad – once that recording comes out, I usually give my parents recordings, but I dunno if I fucking can. It’s [the lyrics] something describing my temper, and then I say right after it, ‘my father’s temper,’ but you recognize it as something inherited. It’s a hatred toward anger, which is weird.”
In her experiences in music, Sulynn has realized that gender still rests at the forefront of many minds. Only days into Ink and Sweat’s existence and she was already being asked if she was dating someone in the band. And yes, there are stories.
“I was putting fliers up for the OFF! show,” she says. “I was at a record store and there was some asshole there working, and he was like, ‘oh, are you putting up fliers for your boyfriend’s band?’ Then he looked at the flier, trying to figure out what band sounded girly – like there’d be one called ‘Glitter Gods’ or something. It’s so annoying; I fucking hate it. It’s like – have you not gotten it by now? It’s not that unusual.”
“I mean, what does it even fucking matter? It drives me insane,” Ryan says. “It’s a huge point of contention now in the punk scene. If the band’s good, they’re good – no matter who’s in it.”
“And with Feral Babies [her other band] there hasn’t been focus that there’s a chick guitar player – I love that,” Sulynn says.
Now, more refills for the tea – the rain has vanished into a sprinkling.
“I think what gives any song depth if having some sort of issue and having resolve or conflict in it – that’s what makes a short story,” Ryan says of “Giving Up on Giving Up,” the final cut from the tape. It details a personal journey, one that ended with revelation.
“This song is about me being disillusioned about who I was in the punk community – you kind of question why you’re doing things. I started getting disillusioned around the time Homemade Handgrenade broke up [circa 2010]. I didn’t like the people we were playing with. I was getting more conscious of gender issues – a lot of people were very misogynistic and just doing it for the sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Which works for bands, but it’s not my band – never really was. I felt like I was in the wrong scene. I had met Criminal Culture years and years ago – they were great dudes and I liked their politics. Whenever they came through town we’d help each other out; I grew to gravitate towards their politics than the almost jaded, fucked up politics of the scene that I was in.”
And it was then he knew change was a must – all the signs were right.
“I got a text bomb where everybody in Tampa – all my friends now – texted me and said ‘move to Tampa.’ I saw it and it was either that or New Orleans – I had to have gotten ten texts. I said, ‘fuck it.’ I put my shit in my car and moved down here. I said I’d give it a year – if not, I’ll go get my Master’s and get a real job. I’ll just give up on it. I started writing this song about the time I dropped being vegetarian – I was so gung-ho but I started questioning my motives, like, ‘what am I doing? Do I still believe this?’ I had this weird existentialist crisis. It was a big general one, but the vegetarianism inspired me to write the song. It’s me saying I don’t know what I’m fighting for – that’s the conflict. In the end, it’s resolved: whether I know what I’m fighting for or not fighting for, there is something here, an honesty in this scene and these DIY ethics to propel people to be better than I, rather than the scene I was coming out of where a band would come into town and it’d be noon and the first thing they’d wanna do is Wild Turkey shots.”
What became of the scenes he left behind for Tampa – have they collapsed on themselves yet?
“It’s still around. There’s bits of it in every town: Gainesville, Tallahassee, even here. They do what they wanna do, but I don’t wanna participate in it. I walk the fringe of it – I’ve seen it ruin musicians, seen it ruin good friends. It may be bigger than what I’m doing – I’m just not concerned with it. Sometimes you have to burn a bridge or two. I was telling a friend once that you have to cut the fat – you hang out with all these people in a common scene, but would you hang out with them if you didn’t have the same musical taste? Sometimes, no. Should they be friends? Should you really watch their back? At times, no. There’s still really good people in those scenes – there are key people that and there are people that are incredible, but I didn’t fit into it,” he says. “This is where I feel most important comfortable. There’s more thought behind it. It almost goes into our band name: sweat. You have to put forth effort to actually get fucking somewhere. For me, it wore me out and made me jaded. I almost didn’t want anything to do with punk. But I found this scene and it rejuvenated me. It’s a bummer to be in any scene with people who are assholes; there are even assholes in my scene. I’m gonna start naming names – just kidding. You just gotta bear with it and look in the good of your scene. It’s what this is and what it is to me: realizing you can’t be jaded. You really can’t. Take it and run with it until you die at about thirty-five.”
In the midst of struggle and personal evolution, what are they fighting for?
Ryan finishes his drink. “I’m not a righteous person, I’m not a very spiritual person,” he says. “I don’t wanna push anybody to define what is or isn’t fair to them, but in a song I can what I think is fucked up. If someone disagrees or finds truth or relevance, that’s fucking awesome. That’d be wonderful. But what I’m fighting for is surviving on my own terms. I don’t wanna get a teaching job – I don’t even wanna work for someone else. I’m working at a local business and it’s fulfilling, but I’d like to work for myself, be my own person.”
“It’s fighting to stay happy, true to yourself and ideals,” Sulynn says.” It goes so where to work – you’re doing this now but you’re fighting to make it better in your life throughout. We target those sorts of issues in our songs, overcoming whatever we’re dealing with it. While writing it sometimes you figure it out, which is rad – you’re learning through writing, about yourself and what you’re handling.”
Ink and Sweat is indeed a hardcore band with punch and depth, but they function as a sonic confessional for its songwriters.
“If I’m gonna be critical of other people, I gotta be critical to myself,” Ryan says. “You’re never going to get anywhere being an asshole – you have to be an asshole with purpose.”
Ink and Sweat play the Awkward Age record release show tomorrow at Fubar in downtown St. Petersburg, more information on the show is available at our calendar page. Stream four songs from their new cassette below and download it at their bandcamp page.
Ink and Sweat Demo Tape Tracklist:
01. Shit Claw Hammered
02. Dissonant With Everything
03. My Mind Is Sorry
04. Giving Up On Giving Up