Skip to content

The Swingin’ Utters – On The Road Again, Hangin’ At The Climax Lounge

Johnny “Peebucks” Bonnel – lead vocals
Spike Slawson – bass/vocals
Chuck Worthy – rhythm guitar
Greg McEntee – drums
Darius Koski – guitar/vocals/the occasional accordion

I will always correlate the Swingin’ Utters with my first radio show I had years ago at KSCU. It was an early morning slot, which was really hard for a vampire such as myself. But after the music was spinning and I was gulping my morning mocha, my co-host DJ Saki Bomb and I were off, mixing my chocolate with his peanut butter, or my Blur, Freuer and Front 242 with his Pennywise, Mad Caddies, and a Santa Cruz band, Swingin’ Utters.

I hadn’t heard anything from the Swingin’ Utters in a while, so I was stoked and pleasantly surprised to get their new release, Dead Flowers, Bottles, and Bluegrass from Fat Wreck Chords.

The first track, “No Pariah,” is classic Swingin’ Utters, permeating with their raucous method for making your head bob uncontrollably. “Elation” is a driving, pedal to the metal, bullet shot of energy, while “Poor me” has a rhythm line that makes you want to get up, dance and scream the words at the top of your lungs.

The pleasant surprise arose again with “All That I Can Give,” which took a sharp turn off the punk rock turnpike and headed south to the flatlands. With a snappy, yet isolated acoustic edge, the vocals spoke of destiny and the expression of self, “my heros have fallen, been abandoned/I’d rather walk in my own shoes/most of my idols have just vanished/cleared dusty shelves for something new.” That’s when it hit me. These guys were still rockin’ as hard as ever, but had an evolved level of maturity in their songwriting and ability to get out of their own comfort zone of predictability, something that you don’t come across all that often.

“Don’t Ask Why,” makes a huge nod at the old school style, with a Hagfish type of guitar and vocal formula, while “Lampshade” tinkles the ivories and makes a toast to any drinking song from an Irish pub. I even thought I heard a bit of Who influence in the intro to “Letters To Yourself.”

But it was “If You Want Me To” that caused me to hit “replay” a number of times. Something I rarely do. This track pulls at the heartstrings not only in melody but in lyrics as well. With just a guitar and a Spike Slawson on harmonies, the song is full and vibrant – the definite highlight of the album.

In that same eclectic realm is “Shadows and Lies,” with a vibraphone effect that gives Darius Koski’s vocals a ’30s radio feel, taking his tranquil style and ballad to a whole new level. The violin, viola, and keyboards on this track, and the unique qualities of this record as a whole, has the Swingin’ Utters standing apart from their punk counterparts.

From his East Bay home in California, Darius Koski, the group’s singer and guitarist, gave us some insight on their new direction, and enthusiasm for getting back on the road to promote Dead Flowers, Bottles, and Bluegrass.

KB: Some of the new songs, like “No Pariah”, sounds like classic Utters. But there were a few tracks, like “All That I Can Give,” “If You Want Me To,” and “Shadows and Lies,” that really separate themselves from the others. For instance, the vocal harmonies and simple guitar strings on “If You Want Me To” are just amazing. Is this something that the band has always had in your back pocket, or something new?

Darius: Well…we’ve done it to a certain extent. We started dabbling with some stuff on the first record. There was this one song, “Last Chance,” that I sing with just a guitar and an accordion. As time went on, we got signed to Fat. We had a little more money to work with, so we had more time in the studio. We basically got better…I think. For instance, writing better songs, and got better at our instruments. I’ve always been really interested in country music and traditional music from pretty much, anywhere. And like the acoustic stuff. I think we really started doing it full-blown with Five Lessons Learned.

For this record, I think it’s especially good ’cause it doesn’t have the typical sort of…well, everybody keeps mentioning the “Irish” thing. And I don’t really go for it. I think that people hear that ’cause I’m a huge Pogues fan. So I know it’s in there somewhere. I think that we actually did the acoustic stuff on this record with a different sort of feel that we haven’t done in the past.

KB: I think the “Irish” thing is really evident on “Lampshade”, but that’s probably the only one that has a hint of the Pogues type of thing.

Darius: Right. And that’s fine that it’s evident. The only reason I don’t like it is there are a lot of bands around like that right now. I just don’t want people to think we’re getting into this “Irish” thing. Like on “If You Want Me To” was for Spike, the first time he’s gotten on any record. So that was cool musically. And I did the lyrics to that. The way that turned out…it’s not super country…I don’t know what it is.

KB: That’s the thing. You can’t really categorize or classify it in any way. In fact, I can’t really think of anything to compare it to.

Darius: That’s good.

KB: Absolutely. That’s when you know you’re kind of forging your own path musically and setting new ground for yourselves with your songwriting.

Darius: Yea. A lot of the stuff on this record…”Shadows and Lies” sounded pretty much the way I wanted it to sound like. And I was going for that kind of beginning. But a lot of the stuff turned out, almost accidentally. A lot of the songs were harder than I envisioned them, but they ended up being kinda cool and I was into it in the studios. It was hardcore for the Swingin Utters. Then the “All That I Can Give” song, the beginning of it started off almost like a Beatles-y song, then turns into this crazy, western song (laughing).

KB: It’s got a kind of a rockabilly edge to it, in terms of the rhythms. I could totally see some guy with a stand-up bass.

Darius: We almost got a stand-up bass guy to do it, but we couldn’t really pull it together.

KB: Well, that could be a little hard to take on the road. But it would have been cool. Maybe you can do it for a show at home or something.

Darius: Exactly. There’s a guy, Lloyd Tripp, who has played stand-up bass on some of our records before. But we recorded the majority of it in L.A., so it would have been hard to work out.

KB: Who did you work with on the producing side of things?

Darius: With Blag of the Dwarves and this guy, Brad Cook, who has co-produced with Blag and done a shit load of other bands.

KB: How did you guys decide to work with them?

Darius: We’ve known Blag for years. He’s always wanted to work with us. I was so excited to work with Brad Cook ’cause he did The Color and the Shape by the Foo Fighters, which is totally one of my favorite records. He’s got a lot of experience and ended up being brilliant in the studio. We just wanted something different. We had been working with the same people for a long time now. And we never really got what we were going for. And now, this is the closest that we’ve come.

KB: I can hear that. I think that you guys have really got a lot of depth to your sound and a lot more substance to each song. You’ve definitely taken up a few notches.

Darius: That’s good. That’s what we’re going for. I’m really…we’re all really happy about the record.

KB: How did you find your new guitar player, Chuck Worthy?

Darius: He was playing in a band that our drummer, Greg, still plays in called the Lust Killers.

KB: What kind of music do they play?

Darius: They’re kind of rock…like the New York Dolls.

KB: Right on.

Darius: So Greg was available and he was willing. I knew him…barely. But I knew him as a really nice guy. He’s like five years younger than us and is really motivated and into it. I really didn’t want to go through that pain-staking process of finding another guitar player. I just wanted to find a guitar player. So it basically came down to, “So can you play rhythm guitar? Are you NOT an asshole?”

KB: Yea, the two key elements.

Darius: That was it. And, “Are you willing to tour?” He was willing to do everything, so it’s all working out.

KB: There was a mention that you guys are still working jobs and that it’s hard to get away from your families. Are you guys able to do your band full-time?

Darius: No…I have a job as a butcher. When I’m home, I work like 60 hours a week. Then our singer is a silk screener for a T-shirt company that does all the band’s T-shirts.

KB: Oh, is it that one in the East Bay called…concrete something?

Darius: Cinder Block.

KB: Right.

Darius: Then Chuck works at a café…Greg I think is unemployed right now. And Spike is in the Gimmie Gimmies. Basically, we could do this for a living if we toured more than we do, ’cause we make money on the road. But we don’t sell enough records to make money off of just the records that we sell. So the problem with that is…I got two kids, Johnny’s got a kid, and we don’t really want to be on the road eight months out of the year.

KB: Yea, that would be tough.

Darius: A month out of your kid’s life is a lot. So we made kind of a rule that we won’t go out for more than a month at a time. But we are going to tour a little bit more and see what happens this time.

KB: Have you guys ever done the Warped Tour?

Darius: Yea. We did the first Warped Tour and two weeks of the third one. But we haven’t done any since then.

KB: Are you interested in doing that again?

Darius: Very interested. We pretty much get submitted every year. I would have loved to be on this one, but it just didn’t work out.

KB: Has Fat come to you to work on a music video or anything, ’cause I understand you’ve only done one and that was quite a while back.

Darius: We did one actual video that was for a cover song for this compilation that just got re-released called Punk Rock Jukebox. I haven’t gotten any copies yet, but I heard the video is on the CD. Oh man, that was like…six or seven years ago. Then there was Peep Show, which is just us playing live. But yea, we haven’t done anything. It’s something that I’d want to do, and we’d have to talk to Fat about them basically paying for it.

KB: Do they fund videos?

Darius: I think they might be more into it now than in the past. They like the really, super, low-budget stuff. So, I don’t know…actually. That’s something I really need to find out, ’cause I would really love to do a video. And it’s fine if it’s low budget. We don’t need to spend a million dollars.

KB: No shit. You see all these videos that cost hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars. I think it’s just one more way to eat up the musician’s profits.

Darius: Yea. I’m sure it will happen at some point. It’s just a matter of how much money we’re willing to spend or they’re willing to spend or whatever.

KB: Plus, you could take advantage of the film community in San Francisco. You should be able to hook up something with that. Then I saw that you guys were in some kind of contest on MuchMusic.

Darius: That was really weird.

KB: How did that happen?

Darius: I really have no idea. It had something to do with the Punk Rock Jukebox compilation I think, ’cause they had this video that had been laying around for years that nobody ever really saw. I don’t know if [the record label] sent it to them. But I got a couple emails from MuchMusic and an email from Blackout, which is the record company that released the compilation, saying, “Your video is on MuchMusic,” on this thing called Oven Fresh.

KB: Oh yea, I know about that. I’ve seen it.

Darius: I think it’s this thing where videos compete with each other.

KB: And you vote online.

Darius: Then some of them get tossed and some of them survive. We survived the whole week. It was kinda cool. We were up against all these huge bands. It was really weird and it totally came out of nowhere. I was like, “What the hell? How did they even discover this video again?”

KB: That’s such a trip. But hey, take you what you can get.

Darius: Oh, totally! It was great. For a band like us, we don’t get a lot of stuff like that.

KB: Well, you get some good press in stuff like CMJ and Alternative Press, don’t you?

Darius: Occasionally. It’s not like big interviews or anything. I think Alternative Press just gave us a good review for the new record, so that was cool.

KB: So how long have you guys been doing this?

Darius: See, that’s a really hard question to answer, because…okay. There was this band called Johnny P. Bucks and The Swingin’ Utters. Evan, who was our old bass player, and Johnny our singer, and Greg the drummer…and another dude that left the band a million years ago. They played parties and stuff but never really played clubs. They were not really serious at all and they only played cover songs.

I joined in ’90. Then we gradually started playing originals and shows out in Santa Cruz, and trying to be a band. Max joined in ’92, but we didn’t really start to get serious until ’94. That’s when we recorded our first record and went on our first tour. So we were kind of lingering around for a few years, but it’s really hard to say. We had some releases before ’94, but that’s when we quit our jobs and went on tour.

KB: In ’96 I was at a college station KSCU. Your CD at that time was really big there.

Darius: Juvenile Product.

KB: Right. And it was also big with the kids ’cause you were local. So what kind of places did you play in Santa Cruz and San Jose? You played the Catalyst, I’m sure.

Darius: Yea, the Catalyst…man, I’m trying to think of all these clubs that don’t exist anymore. I think the Keynote in Capitola. We played Crazy’s once.

KB: Did you ever play Marsugi’s? I still kick myself for not seeing Nirvana when they played there.

Darius: Yea, and the Cactus Club and an art gallery somewhere. We played everywhere in Santa Cruz I think.

KB: Did you ever get to Gilman? I would expect so.

Darius: A million times. I would say we would play there once every two or three months. But we haven’t been there in a really long time.

KB: These places that are on your tour now, other than the Climax here in Denver ’cause that place is still fairly new, have you been to them before?

Darius: I was going to ask you, what’s that place like?

KB: It’s really cool. I know one of the owners, Kurt, and he’s all about taking care of the musicians, as are the rest of the guys that run it. They’re all from the musical community here and wanted to do their own thing. It’s kind of funky retro with a good layout where you can check out the band from wherever you’re standing. They’re in a neighborhood called Five Points that was the hub for Afro-American culture and music in the ’30s on through to the ’50s. They’re really good about running the show, and have a pretty good sound system.

Darius: That’s cool. I just can’t wait to get on the road and touring again. It’s been so long.

KB: How long has it been?

Darius: That’s a good question (pondering). I think it’s been since The Damned Tour, which was a little over a year ago.

KB: Holy shit. You guys are way due.

Darius: Yea, totally. I’m really pumped up about this and I’ve talked to everybody about it. I really want to push this record for one thing, ’cause I think it’s a good record. We’ve been out of the loop for like, five years. Now I want to get back and do it as much as we can, ya know? The only thing that’s stopping us is being away from our kids. But this is what we do, and I’m gonna do this for the rest of my life. So I gotta just find a way around it and I’m not gonna stop doing it. And they all know that.

We sure hope so. The Swingin’ Utters will make their first visit to the Climax stage, along with One Many Army and Pistol Grip this Sunday, March 23. You can get more information on the band on the Fat Wreck site or at


Sign up to our newsletter and get updates to your mailbox