An Interview with Desaparecidos: Freaking Out And Firing Up

After a decade-long hiatus, the pop-punk Omahans of Desaparecidos are making it look easy to just pick up where they left off. After reuniting in 2012, they’ve steadily released six new tracks, signed with Epitaph Records, and recently embarked on a four-month-long national tour. What’s more, they’ll be promoting their new album—the first in 13 years, Payola.

Below, drummer Matt Baum reflects on the work he, Conor Oberst (vocalist/guitarist), Landon Hedges (vocalist/bassist), Denver Dalley (guitarist), and Ian McElroy (keyboardist) are up to for the band’s next phase.

How’s the tour going so far?

Well, we leave tomorrow. So right now, we’re still in warm-up mode. We did some stuff in New York, but that was just promotional stuff. But tomorrow we’ll be on the bus to head out to Indianapolis—beautiful, sunny Indianapolis.

And are you excited to be back on the road again?

Oh, absolutely. I get antsy when I’m home for too long (laughs). Yeah, definitely. I love it—chilling with your friends and stuff. So it’s just kind of a big, ridiculous, good time. It feels like a vacation. […] Everybody in the band, we’re all close, good friends of mine. So you’re just rolling around with a bunch of idiots forever.

And is it nice because you guys have been gone from the scene for so long? It must be something you haven’t gotten to do in a while.

We’ve played some shows and stuff, and we’ve done some tours in the past couple years, but yeah, it’s been more than a year since we’ve been out doing stuff, so getting back in the saddle is always nice. This one can keep us busy through the end of November, basically. This is the most we’ve done in a very long time.

Do you find that this time around (versus the first time) are you getting old fans coming back for Payola? Or younger, newer fans? Or both?

It’s a mixture, honestly. I’m an old guy, so I can look out and spot old guys like me. And I was really surprised that there were a lot of younger fans that—I don’t know if they’ve just discovered the record since it’s been out, or they picked it up because they heard that we were on Epitaph now, or along those lines—I’m not really sure, but it shocked me. I saw it. I thought it would be an older crowd. But truthfully, the crowd’s younger, and I love it. They know the words to the songs, they like to jump around, and freak out, and I’m really tired of audiences that just stand and stare at you. I mean, nothing against older people at concerts—I do that, you know? (Laughs) But it’s nice to have a younger, rowdy crowd freaking out and firing up.

And has that new audience had an impact on the way you play, or the music you want to make?

I don’t think so. I mean, that was really all our decision, and really up to us. We knew we were gonna make another record, and I don’t think we ever really had any discussion like, “Let’s try and make it sound like the last record,” or something. I don’t know if we’re capable of doing anything but what we’ve done. When this group gets together, the way we write music, we all write it together in the band room. It’s very old-school indie rock where we chip in, “What about this part?” (mocks guitar rift) (laughs). And we’re like, “Yeah, that’s cool, and then we can go like this.” I think when this dynamic gets together and we write songs the way we do, it’s just its own, and the volume and the feeling is going to be what it is, whether we like it or not. I don’t know if we could get together and be like, “Alright, let’s write something really strong, something really nice.” Or “Let’s write like, a death metal song!” (Laughs) I don’t think we could.

But it sounds very natural, the way it comes out.

Yeah, it’s sort of a Midwestern thing. Everybody in Omaha, every band I’ve been in, and all the bands I know, the way we do it, we have basements. We’re snowed in, three/four months out of the year, so you get together, you start a band, and you just kind of play, and someone will be like, “What was that? Do that again!” And everybody builds on it.

I wish we could write sheet music, and look at it from a distance, and be professional enough to show up and hammer it out. But we’re not exactly classically-trained musicians. We’re indie rockers, you know?

That has to have its benefits too, not having too rigid a mentality.

Oh, no, definitely. There’s definitely a freedom that comes with both, it’s just a different kind.

So I see you guys are playing more off the new album, not surprisingly. Payola is being received pretty well by critics, so I assume the fans are liking it, too?

Yeah—honestly, we just did a show in New York a couple weeks ago, at a place called Shea Stadium. It’s a little punk-rock club, that was built up out of Bushwick, a little sort of industrial area, by our buddies The So So Glos, and we wanted to play with them, just because it was their old place, it’d be fun to pack out this sweaty punk-rock club.

Truthfully, we started playing new songs, “City On A Hill” for example, and I don’t know if people have been watching the video, or they got it as a bonus track for pre-ordering the record, but a huge amount of these kids sang every word to the song. And it kind of blew my mind—like, I don’t know every word to the song!

Perks of being a drummer.

(Laughs) Yeah, perks of being a drummer—and it’s really cool, and I’m glad people still pay attention to lyrics and stuff. And I’m not trying to talk shit about other bands—that’s not what I’m doing at all, but I feel like a lot of shows can become fashion shows. You’re being there to be there, or there to be seen, because Cool Band X is playing. And I feel like a large amount of our fans pay attention. And they will learn the words, and they’re interested in the words, and they come and scream them right back at us.

When you have new material–our older songs have been around for more than 10 years, I get it, people have time to marinate with that, but when you have a song that just came out two weeks ago, and kids already know the words, that’s amazing. They’re yelling out titles that they wanna hear, too, like a brand-new song, and it’s like, “Well, we haven’t really prepared that one, but we can give it a try!”

And about “City On A Hill” and Payolait’s very critical of American media, hypocrisy, greed

It’s just kind of like the story of America—it’s almost like a reverse-cheerleader chant, where we’ve been told all this stuff about how kickass America is, and American exceptionalism […] I don’t think it’s a vitriolic song at all. I think it’s like, “Hey, this is our country, and we love it just as much as you do, but there’s some problems with it, and let’s not forget that.” […] I love being American. I love America. I think it’s a great country. Do I think we’re better than everyone else? Well, we have more money and stuff, sure. But let’s use it to do good. Let’s do good by example. And remember, we come from a flawed place. We are flawed. Just as flawed as anyone else.

You guys are very political; punk rock is very political by nature. And you’ve gone after Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and you’re very vocal about issues concerning Latino Americans, immigration, etc. So have you guys been talking about the whole Trump controversy since that’s blown up?

I think the more we pay attention to Donald Trump, the more he wins. The more we discuss this, the more that guy gets exactly what he wants, and that’s just to be up on a camera. Donald Trump knows he can’t win a general election, and right now he’s firing up a conservative base that does not win elections. He’s firing up a paranoid, racist, conservative base. […] I take him as seriously as I take Rush Limbaugh, which is not at all.

Well said. And to sort of get back to the music again, you host a podcast called “The Two-Headed Nerd,” is that correct?

Yes, I host a comic book podcast. I grew up reading comic books all my life, and worked in a comic shop for a long time. […] It’s for people who want to make an informed choice when they’re buying and want to know what they should be reading. Comics are just—I don’t know, about as important to me as music, if not maybe a little more just because it’s just always been a part of my life.

That was going to be my next question, actuallyit’s sort of an interesting duality. Is there a similar appeal to both comics and punk rock drumming? Is it a Hobbit-Led Zeppelin thing at all?

I mean, I don’t know—I can tell you, being in both worlds, there’s a lot of similarities. A lot. I mean it’s just a different entertainment form, basically—I grew up a nerd, I was a short kid, I got picked on, I played Dungeons & Dragons and shit, and I loved my heroes. […] I mean it’s been the same with music: I’ve collected and listened to music all my life.

I’m voracious with new music. I always have music playing around me, and I collect these new bands and new songs and new genres. I mean I’m pretty psychotic in what I listen to. I listen to everything from jazz to Norwegian black metal. If it’s interesting, I don’t care where it comes from or what the genre is, or if it’s cool or not, I just wanna hear it. […] But the two worlds are very much alike, where there’s a lot of great stuff out there, but if you just looked at the mainstream, you’d go, “Man, 99 percent of the stuff out there sucks!”

It’s the underground stuff that really makes it.

Well, no, there’s still mainstream stuff that’s really good. What has happened is the indie guys are starting to really come up. […] They’re doing a great job, because they’re bringing this fresh voice, as opposed to the hardline editorial, that wants the plain-old-bland Superman story. They realize, “We have to be interesting, we have to stay ahead, we have to diversify, we need more female characters, black characters, transgender characters, and in order to do that, we need to go and get people that are outside of our rigid nerd realm that are doing this,” and that’s the independent guys. So yes, there is very good stuff in the mainstream, and the mainstream is starting, in my opinion, to take way more chances than mainstream music right now.

Do you have any plans to change your sound at all? Are you planning to do anything different after the tour?

Me personally or the band?


After November, we don’t have a lot of plans yet. We just wanna do this tour, and focus on that, get it under our belt, and see what the next year has to offer as far as tours with buddies, or something like that. But we’re going to focus on this record for a while and honestly, I don’t know what happens next. Maybe you don’t hear from us for another 13 years, who knows?

Hopefully not!

(Laughs) We’re mysterious like that.


Desaparecidos’ new album, Payola, is available now through Epitaph Records. You can catch them performing at Webster Hall in NYC on Aug. 6 and Union Transfer in Philadelphia on Aug. 7. For more information, visit their website