Straw Hats: A Punk Rock Odyssey Disguised as Unwanted Spaghetti

Featured image courtesy of the artist

How much fun is too much fun? When does fun get in the way of actual work? Is it possible for a project to be taken seriously when the goal is to have fun? These are the kinds questions that the members of Philadelphia Punk trio, Straw Hats, choose not to consider as they attempt to hammer out a song as fast as they humanly can. Members Robby Grote (Drums), Braden Lawrence (Guitar), and Breshon Martzall (Bass) first began making music together since they met each other in High School. The project was put on hold for a few years while Grote and Lawrence were busy with their other band, The Districts (you might have heard of them?), until this year where they released Straw Hats’ debut self-titled EP in March as well as Is This Split EP with Tangiers. Where The Districts take elements of Blues and Folk Rock into their soulful music, Straw Hats is a wild Punk Rollercoaster filled with raucous vocals, lighthearted tongue-and-cheek lyrics, and an unbridled sense of freedom. Following an epic show at Johnny Brenda’s, I talked with the band about the rumors surrounding Straw Hats and one John Paul Brady, the story behind their classy bright red jumpsuits, and making lots of noise.

ROP: How did Staw Hats first come together and how do you make the time for it among all your other projects?

Robby Grote: Breshon and I met at a Photography class in high school.

Braden Lawrence: Breshon introduced me to whoopie pie when we first met. I was at the train tracks and he walked over, gave me a whoopie pie and was like, “Hey! Sup, my name is Breshon!” Rob and me were in a band, so we asked him “Hey dude, do you like punk?”

Breshon Martzall: And that was it.

ROP: It feels like you guys really work together as a group on these songs. You rock the same outfits, take turns singing, it truly feels like it belongs to each of you equally.

RG: It definitely started as a joke. It still is a joke, but we love doing everything about it. The idea was we’re gonna switch up instruments and sing at the same time. It’s kind of funny. It started as something didn’t take too seriously and it still is something we don’t take too seriously. We’re taking it more seriously in the sense that we’re playing more, but just because it’s fun as shit.

BM: We just want to be able to have fun and play better places other than just basements.

ROP: That’s the biggest thing to me is that it looked like you are always having a lot of fun! Is that looseness just a part of the project’s DNA?

BM: Probably all of our lyrics/songwriting process makes every song so fun to play. We’ll just get a couple of beers and all brainstorm on stuff. Then we make up weird nonsense.

RG: We just start playing and suddenly it’s like, “Oh yeah let’s do that!” We working on something yesterday when we were practicing for this show. We started working on this idea that was pretty cool, and then we got to this other idea where we like, “This is sooo dumb!” *laughs*

BM: Sometimes it’s dumb, sometimes it just doesn’t work.

ROP: Who catches you when at that point?

BM: Everyone will just sort of make eye contact at a point and it’ll be like, “..ehh…” There’s always a moment we’re playing something till somebody says “Okay this stupid, we should not do this!” *laughs*

RG: Well it’s a joke to the point that we want it to actually sound good, but we don’t care if it’s stupid, I guess? I feel like the purpose for this band, for all of us, is strictly fun. If it’s not fun, it’s not fun. It’s why most of our songs topics are kind of stupid.

BM: I don’t want anyone to take us too seriously.

RG: Even the ones that are more serious are still jokes. “Drones” is probably the most serious song we have. It’s about actual drones and it’s also a joke to us. It takes on a kind of serious thing, but we still have fun.

ROP: I heard there’s a John Paul Brady concept record in the works?

BM: No!

RG: We can’t talk about it yet. Just know that John Paul has a story that needs to be told.

BL: His story is coming out.

RG: This is the tell all. This is the TMZ exclusive.

BM: We’re working on an odyssey.

BL: We’re taking his story and getting it out there. People need to know about it. The truth is out there.

ROP: Has this project been something you’ve been able to revisit consistently?  BL: We did it… kind of and then we stopped for about four years.

RG: We did one show four or five years ago. We don’t even remember one of those songs.

BM: I think we used to cover like Tom Waits or something.

ROP: It seems like you have been able to dive back into Straw Hats with little difficulty, though. Has it always been this easy for you guys?

BM: We’ve all known each other since high school, so just get a beer in us and we’ll try to make something good. *Laughs*

RG: I feel like… playing a set as a Punk band has it’s own challenges. We’ve all been in Punk bands before and, for all of us, we enjoyed playing punk songs and playing fast. We all enjoyed Punk Rock beforehand, but trying to play a full set of it at first was really challenging because suddenly I’m like “This is too fast!!” *Laughs*

BM: If there’s any challenge for us, it’s playing as fast as we want to. We want to play it out fast.

BL: There are slow songs too, though. Those break it up for us.

ROP: How fast would you want to play if you could, then?

BM: 180 bpm. That’s how fast I want to play. Actually, fuck it! 360 bpm!

ROP: Where did your uniforms come from?

RG: Thrift shop! At first I had nurses scrubs we worse.

BM: Yeah, that’s true. Those got disgusting after the first show.

RG: Braden and I were out at Bulk Vintage in Port Richmond when we decided “Hey let’s find the Straw Hats uniforms.” Then, we found this bin that had a bunch of overalls and jumpsuits. We were going through them like, “No this won’t do!” before we found these three red jumpsuits. It was just meant to be! So then, our friend Katie Lample embroidered them for us.

BM: Yup, gotta give a shout out for Katie Lample for sewing the name into all our jumpsuits. She’s the best, she’s a little bean of joy.

ROP: Did it surprised you when people really responded to the music?

BM: Yeah definitely. When people actually told us it was cool after the first show, I was like, “You guys don’t think this is just stupid?” *laughs* I was like this is definitely stupid.

RG: In defense of the stupidity, it is mostly our friends. But we were definitely surprised at first.

ROP: What’s something that separates Straw Hats from your other bands?

BM: No rules.

RG: I think… with Straw Hats I feel bad saying that it’s a joke because, as lighthearted as it is, we still take it seriously. I dunno, we don’t care about how drunk we are when we play *laughs*. We were talking last night about, “Yeah it’s nice that we can be drunk if you want and fuck up.”

ROP: It sounds like you are able to come back to it whenever you want.

RG: If we feel like it, we’re doing it. If we’re not feeling it then we won’t.

ROP: Are there ever any times where you’re worried about overthinking it?

RG: Eh… Maybe there are times we think about it too much.

BM: If it seems like things are getting too serious we might let up on the gas.

BL: The songs happen pretty fast. It’s either it happens in an hour or it just doesn’t happen at all.

RG: Yeah, if it takes to long we give up. *laughs*

BM: We’re gonna love it, but if it’s too much work then it’s not worth because it’s not gonna sound authentic anyway.

RG: That’s the nice thing for us because, like we said before, it’s strictly fun. So it’s like if any level of stress becomes involved we’re just kind like “Eh, fuck it.”

BM: I don’t ever want to stress about this band.

ROP: I really love how much fun you’re visibly having. I’d imagine it makes for a great escape for all involved to take a break from whatever else is going on and play for friends.

RG: The other thing is we all live together with Connor [Jacobus] and two of our friends. For us, our practice space is about four blocks away, so we’ll just be like, “Hey do you wanna do Straw Hats at 5?” “Yeah that’d be cool” then just walk over and do it. It’s very low key.

ROP: How far do you want to take Straw Hats?

BL: To New Orleans!

RG & BM (In unison): Yes!! TO NEW ORLEANS!

RG: Literally, since we started the band we said “Yeah let’s just do, like, a tour to New Orleans.” Because we had our tour in February and the furthest south we got was Nashville. I would love to do a full US tour for Straw Hats. That would amazing, but Straw Hats is also strictly funded by ourselves. So if or when it makes sense to do a tour we’ll do it.

BM: Yeah, we’re not gonna force it.

RG: We want to put a vinyl out and if we can we will. It’s pretty low key, you know. There’s not a whole lot of pressure.

ROP: What’s been great to see is the sound changing from show to show. It keeps getting tighter and you’ve started introducing more instruments.

BM: Yeah we’ve thrown in the keys for this show and another one before that. We tried to throw “Don’t Stop Believin’” in there. That’s like the dancey thing to do.

RG: I would definitely say part of our idea is we love to confuse people, too.

BM: I don’t want people to ever think they know what’s gonna come next. I always wanna hit them with the right hook.

ROP: Braden, I noticed you incorporate a lot of dynamic effects pedals into your guitar playing.

BL: I like pedals. *laughs*

ROP: Are there any you’re particularly fond of?

BM: Definitely the swell.

BL: Yeah the swell. I just like making a lot of noise. Robby has a bunch of pedals so I just use some of those.

BM: Braden is always the wild card.

ROP: So Braden is the Charlie Kelly of Straw Hats?

BM: Yeah, but we don’t make him do Charlie work. Braden work is different. Braden work is like eating the spaghetti that no one wants.

RG: That’s like your guitar tone! The Spaghetti no one wants!

BL: I endorse that.

RG: “The Spaghetti that no one wants” that’s what our goal as a band is. We became the pasta that nobody wants.

 

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