Matt Bellinger – guitar
Chuck French – bass
Mikey Ricketts – drums
Gared O’Donnell – vocals, songwriter
It was a slightly cloudy Saturday, and I had taken my friend Dawn to Boulder for a day of punk and rock at the Glen Miller Ballroom. From outside you could hear a band was already playing, and as we entered there were these crazy guys on stage, with guitars wailing, hair and bodies flailing. “Who are those guys?” I asked of one of my other friends.
“Planes Mistaken For Stars,” he replied. I’ve always had a fascination with band names, and this was one reminded me of those carefree days as children when you actually have the time to lay on the grass and use your imagination to create sculptures in the skies out of white, puffy clouds. This foursome seemed to do the same thing, only they were perched on the hood of a ’69 Oldsmobile convertible, passing the Jack bottle around as they stared at the cloudless, midnight sky.
Planes Mistaken For Stars can be sparkling and gleaming from afar, but as you get closer, you feel the engines screaming and a force that’s much bigger than expected.
Years later I’m walking through Highlands with Matt Bellinger, guitarist for Planes and Charlie French, their new bassist and transplant from Chicago. I chose Swimclub 32, a new wine bar and restaurant I thought would be a quiet place to chat. But it’s become more popular since it opened and so on this warm summer night, it is full of very loud, talkative people who are obviously enjoying their beverages after a long day at their corporate careers.
Although the crowd is much different from say, Goosetown or Gabors, it doesn’t faze the guys in the least. It was I who was uncomfortable after realizing I had picked a place where they couldn’t smoke. While I was wishing I’d picked a different place, they were so nice and accommodating, and I was instantly put at ease.
Then I bring up the Glen Miller gig, and Bellinger winces, “Oh god, I’m really sorry you saw that show. That was horrible. It was such a huge empty room that was echo-y. It was a weird day, but we had fun.”
After seven years of playing and touring together, not much really fazes them at all anymore. They definitely take the bad with the good. After watching the Metallica documentary Some Kind Of Monster or even reading the Westword story by Jason Heller who has actually toured in his own band with Planes in the past, and this time he played roadie, there’s a huge element of this rocker life that fans really never comprehend unless they’ve been there themselves.
French explains, “There’s a lot that people don’t know, they have no clue. They think it’s all fun…there’s actually a lot of tough times. But it’s all worth it. Even if you’re having some shitty times, you can still have fun with it.”
Although they see their gigs in Denver as good training for the road, having a leg up on other bands at sea level that struggle for oxygen when they throw down, the group has been spending more time on the road than staying here in town. This has enabled them, for the most part, to do the band full-time. Gared O’Donnell, lead singer and songwriter, couldn’t make it this evening because he is Mr. Mom for his 18-month old son, not only to save money on child care, but to be with him as much as possible before he heads out again. While they miss their families when they’re gone, it takes getting on the road to keep the income coming in.
As things have progressed over the last two years they’ve brought more people to the team, a booking agent (which can be a godsend for a lot of bands), and Joe Sarrach as manager. The group was pretty hesitant to let go of the control of their band to someone else, but this manager was persistent about working with them and has actually proven himself to the guys, who now feel a lot more confident about their decision. “He’s done things for us that we weren’t doing for ourselves, like taking advantage of the Internet, things like that. We were just taking the approach of the bands that we grew up with like Black Flag and how they did it,” Bellinger comments, admitting that it’s allowed them more time to concentrate on what they do best.
One thing they did shoot down was going for a major label. Granted, they would sign in heartbeat if they got the right kind of multi-million dollar record deal. “But only if we could do it the way we’re doing it. And that’s not going to happen. All these bands that are getting signed to majors, [the label] gets a whole bunch of bands and see what sells. And then the rest of them are fucked. Ultimately we just want to make a living doing what we’re doing with someone that we actually care about, and who cares about us,” says Bellinger.
Their label, No Idea, out of Gainesville, Florida has been their fifth member of the band; having a close relationship and taking them to their next album, which hit the streets this last Tuesday, July 27.
Up In Them Guts has been in the works for the last two years and is meant to be multi-faceted. The opening track “To All Mothers” reflects a shallow light that rises up from an underground well, with hollow chants that smoke over acoustic guitars and the heartbeat of one drum. The sharpness of “Spring Divorce” takes an obvious jab at the June Bride mayhem, combining the best of all their worldly possessions: scorching lyrics and vocals, progressive beats, cello sounding stand-up bass by AJ Mogis, and building crescendos of strings, metal and fingers flying in fury.
The album was recorded and mixed with Mogis in Nebraska, who also pushed Gared even further with his vocal skills. And towards the end of “Spring Divorce” Gared takes it to the edge. Aside from having to played a stripped down version of it sans the stand up bass, Bellinger said O’Donnell is a bit nervous about singing that song live, so we may not see it on the set list for a while.
With other penned song titles such as “Belly Full Of Hell,” and “Dying By Degrees,” so this is no skipping-in-the-daisies-trip down happy lane.
Bellinger admits that the album can be pretty depressing, but O’Donnell has been looking at his own life and the lives of those around him for inspiration. “It’s a reflection of all of our friends…we’ve stayed really close, about 20 to 30 of us for the last five to 10 years. Also, we’ve never had any political tones. But on this record, there’s this song called ‘Pig’ and it’s the most political song he’s ever written.”
The words ‘corporate’ and ‘religion’ come to mind as the song rages, “Dwarfed by chrome, steel, and iron skies/Hide me in the hills with sniper’s eyes/Let it burn/Let us build again…Let us lash out the tongues that have taught us shame/Let us bind the hands that would have us tamed.”
Planes’ other political path took them on the Plea For Peace Tour, where O’Donnell would introduce “Pigs” with a short speech to encourage kids to vote and take charge in order to “throw Bush off his throne.”
Sometimes there’s a story behind a given song title, and sometimes it’s something pulled out of the fucking air. For the song “Glassing,” there was something of interest behind its meaning. Bellinger thinks back to when they were in England: “There was this guy we were hanging out with who was telling us a story about what they do in the bars. If someone rubs them the wrong way, they take an empty pint glass and with the open end, smash it into that person’s face. That’s glassing.”
French jumps in, “There are these people you see with scars on their forehead and near their eye, and you know why.” As with the rest of Up In Them Guts, there’s more lying below the song than meets the eye and the glass, “People pass along a lot of baggage and a lot of beliefs they don’t necessarily agree with. They got it from their mothers or fathers and pass it along to their children.” He continues, reciting the words, “Where’d you learn to get fucked like that? Little brother’s should be wide, but his head’s been filled with shit.”
For the band, it’s their way of trying to get through to kids who may be led astray by negative influences, be it by their family, their friends, or society. Bellinger says, “It’s so frustrating. Even with my family, there’s so much racism and ignorance. Even my friends haven’t broken free from that. I know people who believe, ‘Well, my parents raised me that way so that’s the way I’m going to be.’ Hopefully, not that many kids in our generation feel that way anymore.”
This year more of the young generation is becoming more aware and active in the political scene, but there are approximately 50% that are not registered to vote and many that don’t know who they’re going to vote for. “That’s the thing about the Plea For Peace Tour, is to reduce some of the apathy in our generation,” says French.
Bellinger hopes that the awareness and activism continue, but worries it may wane if Kerry wins, because we’ll have less to fight for or fight against. “Okay we did it. Yea! Now what? It’s got to be an ongoing thing.”
A quote from O’Donnell came to mind, something I had seen in another interview about the band: the older they get, the angrier they get. Bellinger feels this to be true. And it mostly relates to all the homogenized, commercialized music that’s making it big.
“The music and the fashion, how it’s all sold and marketed. It’s a thriving business. It’s just so weird to see it in the environment that we put ourselves in. When you’ve been touring for seven years and then you see these crappy bands making it. It’s hard not to be bitter. We’re just rock and roll trying to make a dent and turn somebody on with something that’s maybe a little bit more honest. And hopefully inspire them in some way.”
Planes have had a chance to tour with bands much different from themselves, performing with Cursive, The Ataris, and Against Me!, which has led to a lot of different responses from the crowd who may be a bit more indie than rock. Whether the kids are screaming and sweating to the Planes’ set or are standing in judgment with their hair messily coiffed just so and their arms crossed, they still blow out the jams. “Gared just loves that situation,” Bellinger laughs, “Every night he’ll be saying, ‘You need to quit worrying about your fucking eyeliner, your shoes and your hair, and have a good time.’ And that pisses a lot of kids off.”
It’s no surprise that the cooler-than-though boys and girls don’t confront the band, but rather choose to post their anger on message boards instead. Bellinger laughs and shakes his head, “They write things like, ‘They’re so disgusting and they’re trying to put the crowd down.’ It’s like, we’re not trying to put anybody down. [Gared will] say things about us being scared little monkeys trying to move up the evolutionary ladder, but he’s talking about all of us. The kids just hear what they want to hear.”
Planes embrace those shows because they have a chance to go against the grain and stir things up. And maybe make an impact that will have a longer lasting effect than a band who’s sporting the rocker outfit of the day. Bellinger just shrugs, “We don’t look pretty. We’re just who we are, you know?” And with that, the guys went outside for a friggin’ cigarette.
Planes Mistaken For Stars got back into the van a week after our interview to tour with Dillinger Escape Plan, which brings them home for a day to play at Fox Theater, Tuesday, August 3 with Daughters and Read Yellow. From there they’re off to Europe, and hopefully Japan and Australia…with crossed fingers to open for Silverchair.