“Writing Songs is Weird”: Scenes from a Sunday Evening in a Bar with Timeshares, America’s Next Great Bar Band

It’s a little after 6:30 on a Sunday when I meet up with Mike Natoli and Jon Hernandez, co-frontmen – Jon plays guitar and Mike plays bass/launches himself around the stage like a sweaty pinball – of the Upstate New York-bred twang-punk band Timeshares, outside the Fire in North Philadelphia. Later in the night, they’ll be playing a record release show here for their second LP, a bruised and dented keg of cold beer called Already Deadbut for now there’s a day show going on, so we’re stuck outside listening to cymbal crashes find the club’s walls in the same way a glass bottle might if you threw it hard enough.

And it’s hot, that gelatinous and unforgiving kind of heat that hits Philly every June like a slow-moving jockstrap. We brave it for as long as we can – Jon smokes a cigarette in the same clothes he wore to the band’s Brooklyn show the night before while Mike details the different avenues beads of sweat have traveled down his back – but, after a while, Jon mentions beer, and we relocate a couple blocks down behind the first neon signs we can find. The bar is empty except for the guy tending it and this dude who’s playing dollar rounds of pool in clothes that look like they’ve been more places than he has, but it’s a setting that fits the band.

About a month and a half ago, Timeshares put out the bar band record of the year in Already Dead. With its one, suitably restless gear and proportionally low-stakes anthems, there hasn’t been a record that I’ve gotten this much budget catharsis mileage out of since the Hold Steady’s Stay Positive. But the best part about these guys, and about Already Dead, is that they make you think that the band’s greatest record is going to be their next one, that there’s no ceiling on the bar. This is probably because they’re relatively young, but is that such a bad thing? I always wanted my favorite bar band to still be able to drink everyone else under the table.  So it bodes well, then, that the first time I meet these guys, we wind up drinking together on a Sunday night.

Back in the bar, some Social Distortion comes on the jukebox, and we start the interview.

Rock on Philly: There were four years in-between the two records, which, for a punk band, feels like a lot, but those four years show up on the new record. It feels like you put in that much time. Do you feel that way about it?

Jon Hernandez: Yeah, the time thing doesn’t bother me. I like that we just waited until we had a record. Because I know the climate now is like, “We have to get a new digital EP up every six months, or people will forget who we are.”

Mike Natoli: If you want to know the truth, none of us have ever been in a band that made a second record. So we kind of… it was an oversight that when you make your first record and go out and tour on it for a year and change that you’re supposed to be actively making strides towards writing a new one instead of coming home from the tour and then being like, “Ok let’s get to work.” Cause, you know, shit happens. You hit a writing block. You have a good productive period, and then you hit a snag, so then you have to work on the songs. Everything takes time. But we know now that we’re expecting to make another record [laughs], and we can’t just get to work on that a year and a half from now.

[The pool player drops something, and it makes a sound like a marble rattling inside a bone.]

MN: [Laughing] Did you get that?

JH: I think we were just touring so much behind the first one then one day we looked up and, like, two years had passed. I think, like, I’m not too bummed about it. I think that it kind of helped this record end up sounding the way it does.

MN: It sounds bad, like, laying it all out in interviews, trying to make excuses. It sounds like you’re bulls****ing. The release dates are, what, three and a half years apart? But this record was done for maybe six months before the release date.

ROP: Did you guys have any specific goals for the record when you started writing it?

JH: I don’t think there was ever a goal going in to make a totally different sounding record. [Mike] and I have both answered this question differently. The way I looked at it is: there were things with the first record, in my mind, what we trying to do was to take that formula of punk bands that we love and kind of inject the influences of what I’m also, like, listening to and am inspired by and moved by. I just think with this one, we all got a little better at digging into that influence pile and using it in an effective way. I mean, I think we just got better at writing songs. There are people that disagree [laughs].

ROP: You guys recorded it all yourself, right?

MN: Everything Timeshares has done has been on the same formula where we track it and then a buddy of ours [Steve Sopchak] masters it in Syracuse. Except for the Luther 7’’ we did. We actually tracked that live in one day and had someone else master that one cause our regular guy was busy. We like tracking it ourselves. It’s not a professional studio set-up or anything. A lot of the gear is outdated. But it’s more about… the environment. And the pacing of getting it done.

ROP: That probably gives you a lot more creative control too.

JH: I think so. It also gives us a little more time to like poke at things and say, “Try this, try this.” And the other thing is that we’ve never had any money [laughs], so doing it ourselves has always kind of been it.

MN: And it varies from piece to piece. Like, step by step through the recording process, each piece takes its own pace. But I feel like there are definite parts where I would be nervous being on somebody else’s clock, trying to do what we’re trying to do with a specific part [of the record]. Maybe not so much another part.

ROP: Would you guys be open to recording with a producer, or is this just working so well right now that you don’t want to change anything?

JH: I’m definitely open to it, but I’ve just viewed this whole thing of doing it ourselves as, well, our only option.

MN: Like, no one has ever seen me record bass. I always record all the bass alone. It’s not that I have a complex, like nobody can watch me pee, or something like that [laughs]. It’s just, like, I’m going to hit some parts five times before I’m happy with it, and someone else might be bored watching me do that, or might think the second one was good, but I felt something that I didn’t like.

JH: Yeah, I definitely think that helps. I mean, I did all my vocals in Philly after getting home from work delivering Chinese food at midnight and being like, “Alright, I’ll have a cup of coffee and go down into the basement and sing till like 3 in the morning.”

MN: With sleeping roommates.

JH: [Laughs] Yeah.

ROP: One of the things I love about this record, and I’m not sure if you feel the same way, but I feel like it’s kind of is absent of nostalgia. Not totally anti-nostalgia, though “Heavy Hangs” might be, but it feels deliberately in the moment. This is a whole lot different from some of the bands that this record sounds like, like the Hold Steady or Lucero or the Wonder Years or even older Gaslight Anthem.  Was that something you thought about at all, being young dudes and writing music for young dudes?

MN: [Laughing] We’re not that young anymore.

JH: When I hear the Hold Steady thing, I love the Hold Steady, and Mike loves them even more than I do, because I only started liking them when they started singing. But that was never… Take Lucero. Lucero is just in there. The whole band loves Lucero. We just did a Lucero cover set at Fest. I actually read an interview recently, and I think it was actually with Brian Fallon [lead singer of the Gaslight Anthem], and he said something like, “There are bands that want to sound like Lucero, and they can’t, because they didn’t take the path to sounding like Lucero that Lucero did.” And I think, like, Lucero’s in the soup for us. But that lyrical vibe you get from Ben Nichols [lead singer of Lucero], that’s not the part I take from them. I think the big difference is that there’s this middle pool where we all meet. Hot Water Music’s in there. Drive-By Truckers are in there. Lucero’s definitely in there. And then you come out of that and, you know, Superchunk and Elvis Costello are both vitally important to me. And so that’s where it starts to veer off into something else. People have even attached a kind of Americana vibe to the new record. And it’s there, I totally get that it’s there. And Mike and I love the early Wilco records. And Uncle Tupelo. And everything you’d expect us to say. But, like, I think it’s always more than that, which is what veers it off a certain path.

MN: I mean, geez, I love punk and hardcore bands so much, because they shaped my life and who I am. So I can’t, you know, I absolutely love bands like Propagandhi and Kid Dynamite and Lifetime. So does Jon. It’s in our DNA. It’s never going away, but there’s a huge exposure factor. We made one record and then went on tour quite a bit. And when we tour, we’re seeing punk bands every night, cause we’re playing with them. Actually, somebody took us to their local bar once and was like, “You have to come check out this place. It has the best jukebox. You’re gonna love it.” And what he meant by that was, “You can smoke inside and the jukebox has Rancid and Bad Religion.”

JH: Yeah, so we get to the jukebox, and this dude who took us there gets disappointed when I got most excited about it having The Immaculate Collection by Madonna [laughs].

MN: Also, there’s this thing, like: we love to tour the Midwest. There’s something about driving through cornfields and stuff, where there’s nothing else to do. We just throw on records and chill and let it soak in to what we’re driving through. That gets into your blood, and I don’t always think it’s an intentional thing, when you throw on old Lucero records and come home and there’s a little twang in your guitar. It just snuck into your ear while you were sleeping in the van driving through Iowa. And it’s not just with the alt-country or Americana or whatever you want to call it. It’s everything. Everything soaks in.”

ROP: I bet it’s become a little irritating always getting the influences question for this record.

JH: I love the influence question. It lets me just talk about records I love. Like, “Have you ever heard Argybargy by Squeeze? Yeah, it rules.”

ROP: Recently, I’ve noticed this trend, and you can totally disagree with this, because I’m not even sure if I agree with it, but listening to your record kind of made me realize it: so punk, less as a genre and more as a writing style, has started to become used in a fascinating way to stand in for this type of mental imbalance or a state of emotional distress.  A kind of cue for it. This is at least the case for the punk that’s being talked about the most. You have bands like Against Me! and Titus Andronicus and even Joanna Grusome, and, to some extent, that Torres record, all using these iterations of punk to stand in for these really complex and volatile emotional and cerebral experiences, be it transgender dysphoria or manic-depression or what have you, and I’m wondering what you guys make of this stylistic shift, especially since your record is, in its own way, kind of the antidote to all that?

JH: I think the angle that we’re coming at it from is a little, um, Jay [Mosher, the band’s other guitarist] and I talk a lot about this, cause he and I are Creedence nerds, and love a lot of bands that really don’t have a lot to do with the punk scene. And we talk a lot about how that bluesy style of guitar that Creedence has, that like bendy-bluesy lead playing, everybody stopped doing it for so long that we feel like we’re the only ones still doing it. Not the only ones, but definitely on this record, to play these songs like that, it was fun. I think the pool of influences that we’re taking from isn’t as common as some other things you see now. But on the other hand, bands like Titus Andronicus, um, like The Monitor, great record, and the way it’s structured is so complex in the way it pieces together. And not even complex, but so well thought out. I think we just come from a different school of thought from making a record like that. But still I think a band like ours and a band like Titus share the same ideas in melody and even sometimes in lyrical content. It all depends. I definitely think there’s a lot of intricate guitar-y stuff in that twinkly emo vibe that’s kind of killing it right now. A lot of bands that I love are doing that. And I think our record is not really in that world at all.

MN: On our way down, we were listening to Mike Watt on the WTF Podcast, and he was talking about the early period when the Minutemen started and how there was absolutely no rules about what punk had to sound like. It was entirely about the execution and not about the sound at all. And that being said, I think what was gluing it all together, I mean it was different in every region that punk grew out of, but instability and emotional, I don’t know, whatever you want to call it, punk was this thing that attracted weirdos and people that didn’t fit in to anything else. And I think that’s still true, and I think that’s why all these bands: Against Me!, Titus, and every band in-between, can sound so different but still come together and say something similar.

[There’s a pause. Eric Bedell, the band’s drummer, joins us. He’s wearing a Lucero t-shirt and tells us, jokingly, that it’s actually pronounced “Luck-ero”. The conversation takes on a different pace from here. Everything moves quicker and becomes less structured, like what it must be like to talk to an improv group, or a more civilized and coherent version of the hyenas from The Lion King.]

MN, cont’d: It’s funny cause on our first record, Bearable, maybe it was the sound of it, but people would hear a song, or maybe the whole record, and they’d mistake it for optimistic or throw-your-arm-around-your-buddy music when really we were kind of coming from a painful spot.

JH: We were all miserable when that record was written. We were all in a s*** place.

Eric Bedell: That’s the absolute truth. We were in the s****iest place.

JH: I don’t know if this is a conversation that [the band] has ever had, but a lot of the bands, these pop-punk bands, that people have put us bunched in with, I won’t name anything that I’m talking about, but, I think, I feel a greater affinity to hardcore bands from West Philly like Grower and Direct Effect and stuff than I do to some of those other bands, just as far as how we view punk rock and this scene and our place in it and what it means. You know? I think sometimes sounds aren’t the whole deal.

EB: Look at those hardcore bands, those are our boys. We don’t have a lot in common sonically, but I’m sure we love the same records. We listened to the same records in our childhood and early adulthood, and that’s why we can hang.

ROP: Already Dead is also such a great bar band record. Definitely the best bar band record of the year, and I mean that as a compliment.

JH: We’re probably the only band that you could call a bar band, and we’d say, “Thank you,” and not be offended.

ROP: When I listen to it in the car, which is mostly where I listen to it, I want to be in a bar. I want to pull off and take it into a bar and tell them, “Play this”. Is this kind of feel, this communal, sing-along psalm nature of all the songs something that you guys wanted for the record?

JH: Ok, so Bearable was the one that everyone was f***ing miserable writing. But this one, I don’t know if everyone was happy, but the way I talk about the bridge between them is…

EB: Yeah, this analogy is good.

JH: So Bearable is a record of, like, “What the f*** do I do now?” And Already Dead is a record of, “I still don’t know what to do now, but I’m going to try and figure it out.” It’s an attempt at solving it. Some of it.

EB: Solving the puzzle.

MN: And there’s no solution.

JH: The thing about Already Dead is that it ends, I think, with the only ‘happy’ song the band’s ever written. It’s the last track, ‘Sister’.


ROP: Yeah, I was actually going to ask about that. Is there a story behind that?

JH: There is.

EB: It’s a great story. Is that on your list of questions?

ROP: It was my last question, right here: “What’s the story behind ‘Sister’?”

EB: Wow.

MN: You know what, I listened to him tell this story to our sound guy in Europe perfectly, so, f***ing, take it away.

[It feels as if the lights dim. Somehow, they don’t.]

JH: “Sister” is about my best friend Nina from home, and, uh, so, she kind of had a, uh, unique childhood. And her parents split. And her mom, who is a very lovely woman who I adore, wasn’t in a place to be raising children at first.

MN: She was like an old school punker from the ‘70s.

JH: Oh, yeah, she was in like a band that would play CBGB matinees in the late 70’s/early 80s. So, you know, Nina grows up in the city, in a house that, like, they were paying their bills by throwing raves and s***. Nina’s stories from her childhood are wild. And, like, leaving out some of the more personal details of her upbringing, pretty much, uh, she ends up in her father’s custody. And I meet her years after that. And, um, the whole “sister” thing: one time we were on the front porch, I lived with her and her now-fiancé, who’s my best friend, that’s why the line is, “You’re gonna marry my best friend”, but I was sitting on the porch with her and she told me this story about how back then, um, her mom got pregnant, had another kid, and Nina was always the youngest sister in her family and she thought, um, that she was going to be a big sister. And her mom, uh, wasn’t able to maintain custody of that kid. So the, “I’ll call you sister if you need somebody to” is that. And the reason the song’s about that is, uh, that I had, in that period when Bearable was written, I’m a trainwreck, a complete trainwreck, and Nina pretty much nursed me to OK mental health throughout that whole time. She’s like one of my closest friends in the entire world, and, like, the song’s about how now, I moved out, and I think there’s a line in there about how I don’t live with her anymore, and like her fiancé had a real hard time for a while, so there’s a line referencing that. So at the end, when there’s a line that’s like, “There’s no bad parts/there’s only love, love, love”, it’s like, “Everything’s good now.” So I guess the song is about, you know, “If you can f***ing be alright now, why can’t I?” You know?

ROP: Yeah, definitely.

JH: So yeah, it’s cool. I’m really proud of that song. I’m really glad I got to write a song about someone I love and not someone who, uh, hurt me romantically [laughs].

ROP: There’s a lot on this record about, well, I don’t want to say settling down, but kind of making a decision to start settling. To kind of move forward, in a way. Does this speak to where the band’s at? Or where you’re all at? Maybe both?

MN: I think our lives started doing that, moving forward. It’s like, you can’t live in a room forever where a bomb went off. You gotta leave sometime, even if it’s still hectic and chaotic. You have to get out of there.

JH: Another thing about that is that we all wrote songs for the record, and never really discussed it. Mike wrote four, Eric wrote one, Jay wrote one, and I wrote five, and we never really talked about them. There was no discussion. It all kind of just came out that way, sounding like that. We still haven’t talked about it.

EB: Yeah, we haven’t.

JH: I actually don’t think “settling down” is a bad way to put it. I don’t think the record’s about settling down, but striving to be in a place that you feel it’s ok to settle down in. Mentally, physically. Trying to actually do something good for yourself.

ROP: So the record has been out a month or so now. How do you guys feel about it now that it’s out there? Have there been any readings of it or reactions that have surprised you or sort of colored how you see it?

JH: This record, I kind of felt impervious to what anyone said going in because I’m in love with the record we made. I’m so proud of it. But there are people who saw us in basements when Bearable came out who are thrown off a bit by the new one. And I’m fine with that. It’s actually funny that I’m in a band where somebody can say, “I like the old stuff better.” I never thought I’d be in one of those.

EB: Some people in Europe called it “acceptable”. They don’t really have a filter.

MN: Everything we do, I think, sounds like us. And that keeps us from shying away from any ideas that might be off in a new corner, because we always feel that it sounds like us. The same d***head voices. It always sounds like us.

EB: I didn’t really feel like it sounded that different until we started getting feedback on it. It all just sounds like Timeshares to me. And it’s only been out a month, and we’re just starting to make a push over here for it, so I’m expecting a lot of mixed s*** to start coming our way soon.

JH: Eric’s songs are actually the most divisive on both records. [Eric wrote “Naïve” on Already Dead]. People either swear by them and call them these songs that are invaluable to their life, like there was this one guy who came up to me and said, without knowing who’d written them, that Eric’s two songs hit him on a deeper level than anything else on our two records. So it’s either that or they don’t get them, like the Germans didn’t get them at all [laughs].


ROP: This is kind of an open-ended question, and I want it to be, so answer it however you want, but I wanted to know what your perspective is on the state of music, you know, as an entity right now. With the launch of Apple Music and, I guess, Tidal, and Spotify, the value and just idea of a song or something like a record has become very nebulous. Very hard to define. As a touring band, you know, what are your thoughts on all of this? 

JH: I’m gonna bring up Mike Watt again, cause he says this great thing that the only two things that mattered for the Minutemen were gigs and flyers. But what he meant by flyers is that the records were flyers to go see the band play. And Ian MacKaye once said, and I’m not the guy in the band that quotes Ian MacKaye, that’s Mike, but he once said that bands used to make records so that they could play shows, but now bands play shows so that they can make records. But all that stuff is so far from my personal radar cause all I care about is what lets us go out and get on stages, and I feel like it’s just so hard to see a dime from recorded music, like, ever that I can’t even fathom it.

EB: It doesn’t even factor to us. I don’t think we’ve ever even talked about it.

MN: This isn’t a full-time job. Financially, this isn’t even a part-time job for us. It’s just something that we’re approaching having spent almost a year of our lives playing Timeshares shows. We hit 300 in Europe and are on our way to 365.


Last night we were driving to Brooklyn and arguing about how much money our band actually makes. And it was hilarious. And I was just hoping that someday, you know, I hope something breaks through for the band, so that someday we can look back at that drive, and that argument, and just laugh our a**es off about it. I mean, I have everything we’ve ever made at a show written in a little cash book, to keep a log of it all, and some of the money we were making on our first tour was a little pathetic. Not even enough for a gas tank. And it’s gotten a little bit better, but even if things get better, and even if you’re selling a little more of your merch, there are still expenses and you still accrue debts. And it seems impossible. It just seems like the road from band to, I’m never going to use the word ‘success’, but, you know, some kind of stability, is just getting longer. It’s splintering off. There’s Apple Music and Bandcamp. Spotify. And you have a little money in those, in like 70 different places. And even if you know where they all are, it’s still not enough. So after all that branching off, however many times it ends up being, you’ve lost something. You’re not selling your record directly to someone anymore.

EB: It’s like the expansion of the galaxy. You think you’re getting somewhere, but it just keeps getting bigger.

JH: I actually got an e-mail today that said we have to check a box to make sure our records are on Apple Music.

EB: [Laughs].

JH: Don’t worry guys, I’ll handle that. I can check the box.


But, yeah, for me personally, however long it takes to make a full record, that’s how I want to make music. That’s the only way I know how. You make a digital single or EP and no one remembers it when you play it at a show. And if we like these songs, then why not just make them into a record? We’re just a band that’s gonna make records for people who like records.

EB: Yeah, I’ve never had a cathartic moment listening to a radio single. Not like when you put on a record and you really, like, sink into it. And it can change the way you think about everything.

MN: Who wants a page of a Hemingway story when you can have a full novel?

JH: I’ve actually read some one-page Hemingway stories before and liked them. But I’d rather have a novel.

ROP: What other kinds of media, or art, outside of music, did you guys consume while you’re writing this record? Does anything stick out?

JH: I’m obsessed with Adventure Time. I think it’s the most beautiful medium happening right now, and no adult believes me unless they watch the whole series. But no adult has ever watched the whole series and disagreed with me. But I’m also a big Hemingway nerd. I’m a big Carver nerd. There are references to them on the record. There’s even a song that has a verse that’s a direct, direct reference to a paragraph from Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. But no one more than Elvis Costello. This is all just one big attempt to ape Elvis Costello. Well, just my songs are.

[It starts raining suddenly, a storm that doesn’t look like it’s messing around. For a few minutes, it’s tough to see across the street.]

MN: Oh, s***.

JH: It’s really raining.

EB: And it started quick. Do you have like ten more questions for us? Looks like we have the time.

JH: [Laughs]

MN: I don’t really dip into books or movies or anything like that. But definitely places or stories and, like, the feelings that I attach to them. Stuff that resonates with me over and over again is eventually going to end up in a song. There was a song on the new record that just got like in my head when I was driving back from somewhere. It was like a two-hour drive, and I had nothing to like… I didn’t even know what the chords of the song were. I was just racing home to get to a guitar just to know where… you know, I have this riff, and I don’t know how to play it, I don’t know if it’s playable by a human hand, but, you know, we’ll see when we get there. It just comes out like that.

JH: Yeah, man. Writing songs is weird.

[The rain relents enough, and we close out our tabs before that changes.]

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