Coming in from the Bay Area of California, alternative/punk/indie band Sarchasm has made its way up and down the west coast touring for the past 4 years. The opening guitar lines grab your attention, the bass makes you groove, and once the drums come in, there is no hope: you’re hooked. It’s the kind of music that you want to listen to on long, aimless car drives or to remind yourself of summer fun during the winter months. It’s feel-good music, but in a rock kind of way. Who said badasses can’t have fun?
Germ Magazine: Hello, and thank you for doing this interview!
I want to start with how you all got into music. What got you interested in being musicians? And then how did you come to start your band?
Isabel: My dad is hardcore as hell (he’s a metal guitarist), and he wanted me to be hardcore, too, so he gave me a guitar.
Alex: I heard The Badmen album [an influential folk-rock album recorded by Pete Seeger in the early 1960s] when I was nine and was so inspired that I decided to pick up the banjo. When that didn’t really work out, I switched to bass so that I could be more like Jack Bruce [of Cream]. RIP, by the way. He was the best part of Cream.
Sofi: Mari and [my] parents forced us into piano lessons, and then later I played flute in the school orchestra. I was terrible at it – I was second-to-last chair – and I was always jealous of the percussion kids. When my sister (Mari) was talking about starting a band, I decided to take drum lessons so that I could be the drummer.
Mari: When I was in 4th grade, I heard “Wake Me Up When September Ends” by Green Day on the radio, and I wanted to be a rock star. Throughout middle school and parts of high school, I kept trying to start a band unsuccessfully, and we officially formed Sarchasm in October 2010 after finding Alex on Craigslist and inviting him over to jam with us. Isabel joined in 2012 when her band at the time broke up, and we’ve been playing as a quartet ever since. (Pro tip! Be careful when you’re on Craigslist!)
GM: Good advice. If you were to explain your sound to someone who had never heard your music before, how would you break it down for them?
Sofi: I usually say alternative pop punk.
Mari: The way I’ve been describing it lately is if the Arctic Monkeys – their early sound – were a pop-punk band.
Alex: I’d describe our sound as alternative prog pop…indie.
Sofi: That’s just a bunch of words that don’t mean anything.
Alex: Fine, okay, alternative punk.
Isabel: I change my answer depending on who’s asking. If they’re well-versed in music, I generally say punk branching indie. If they’re just casual listeners I usually just say pop-punk.
GM: Where do you draw your inspiration from? That is, for writing or for just your sound in general.
Alex: We all share lyrical as well as musical duties, but I guess I’ll start. For writing, I’d say my biggest influences are, uh, probably Colin Meloy [The Decemberists] and Elvis Costello. For playing, I originally learned and practiced as a blues bassist, but writing basslines now I take a lot of influence from New Wave music.
Sofi: In terms of songwriting, I’d say mainly Streetlight Manifesto and the Arctic Monkeys (from the Favourite Worst Nightmare era). Drumwise, the drummers from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Streetlight Manifesto, Green Day, and AFI are my biggest influences.
Isabel: Carina Round, System of a Down, Black Sabbath, and Streetlight Manifesto are my biggest writing influences. Musically, David Gilmour [Pink Floyd], Jeff Beck, and Joe Satriani.
Mari: Lyrically, I write about my relationships with the people around me or things that have happened… that’s pretty vague, but I’m usually influenced by whatever band I’m obsessed with at the current time. For example, right now I’m listening to a lot of Modern Baseball and The Wonder Years, so a lot of the stuff I’ve been writing is about the experiences I had with my friends during my freshman year of college and how I’m feeling right now at the end of my teenage years/going into my twenties. The next album is definitely gonna be kind of a downer.
GM: I think it’s really important to talk about and celebrate women in the music industry because it is, honestly, far too rare. So, have you ever felt any kind of discrimination or a general lack of respect being female musicians? What are your thoughts on the matter?
Sofi: As a drummer, I often get underestimated, and there’s very few female drummers out there to take inspiration from.
Isabel: I’ve been playing guitar since I was ten, and I used to walk into Guitar Center and people would always try to hand me the pink Hello Kitty guitar. Then when I started playing, people would say, “Wow you’re really good for a girl,” and I never understood why I just couldn’t be good for a human.
Alex: As the only dude in this band, I’ll say this: Since this band started, people have always been surprised when I say that I’m in a band with women, which is something I have never understood. Mari, Sofi, and Isabel are all my best friends and are also some of the best, most talented musicians I have ever played with. If people are going to disrespect my bandmates, they’re going to disrespect me, too.
Mari: In the punk scene, especially in our Bay Area scene, which is dominated by predominantly straight, white men, it’s very clear that when we get onstage, people expect us to be terrible. It’s frustrating because after we play there’s always a sort of level of shock from the audience, and a lot of backhanded compliments – “Oh, you guys were pretty alright…for girls,” etc. I think it’s important to understand that when you start a band as a minority – and I’m saying this not just as someone in a female-fronted band, but also as a queer person of color – you can’t be lazy about it. You have to put in the effort to break the stereotypes and get yourself out there and be respected, FORCE them to respect you, or they’ll eat you alive. And that’s the sad truth.
GM: That’s a good thing to keep in mind. Now, I know you’ve done quite a bit of touring and do a lot of shows. Do you have any funny or weird stories of things that have happened while on stage?
Alex: There was this one time during one of our first shows: Someone in the audience decided that what I really needed in order to improve my playing was for them to forcefully hurl a traffic cone directly into my face. Also, they took our duct tape and used it to bind someone to an office chair and push [them] into the mosh pit.
Sofi: We got invited to play at this place called the Mutiny in Antioch, CA, which is a 90-minute drive from Berkeley. It was pretty exciting; we called it our first tour because at that point we’d only been a band for about a year, and it was our first time playing somewhere outside of our immediate area. We got there, and the only people there were the bartender and the band before us. By the time we got onstage, our audience was a whopping total of seven drunk people, two of which were passed out. Definitely the quietest show we’ve ever played.
Isabel: When we were on tour this past summer, our first show was in Bend, OR. The venue was a bar, and the show was 21+, so we were not allowed in the venue before we played; and, the second we finished our set, we were hustled outside and had to sell our merch from the trunk of our van.
Mari: This isn’t really an onstage story, but on the last night of our summer tour, we were exhausted and just generally being silly in Ashland. Sofi and Alex bought a bow and arrow from Rite Aid. One thing led to another, and we ended up having to go to Ashland General Hospital, the ER, and I had to get five stitches in my hand. We were at the ER until like three a.m. I still have a super gnarly scar.
Which would you say you prefer: Being practiced and able to perfect a song in the studio for recording or the immediacy of live performance?
Isabel: I like when our songs sound nice.
Sofi: I like seeing the audience’s reaction to see how they react to a song, but it’s good to have it at a point where you can play it without trouble.
Mari: I like both. I love the act of being in the studio, but I also have so much fun playing live.
Alex: I love playing live. I can improvise and mess around without worrying about the final product.
GM: Thus far, what has been your favorite part about being in Sarchasm?
Sofi: I like the feeling of excitement that comes from figuring out songs and knowing that the song only exists with us.
Alex: I get such a rush whenever we perform. When people sing along to our last song, “Trains,” I just get the biggest smile, knowing that our music is making people happy.
Isabel: It’s nice being able to hang out with friends that respect me for my eccentricities.
Mari: It’s a lot of fun influencing other people. One of my personal favorite moments being a part of Sarchasm was when a younger band’s bassist told me that they formed because of us — that they see us as an inspiration. It’s also super rad to share the stage with musicians I admire.
GM: That’s so great! Speaking of younger bands, what advice would you give to those who might be thinking about getting into music or starting a band?
Mari: Practice. Practice forever. And then practice some more. Try not to suck.
Isabel: Make sure you can tolerate the people in your band. Don’t stay in a band if you don’t like the other members.
Alex: Have fun.
Sofi: Don’t be afraid to try something new, and also don’t worry about sounding like and taking influence from other bands. There are no limits for songwriting.
GM: Finally, where can we find your music?
GM: Thank you again for taking the time to talk to me. I’m really excited about everything you’re doing. You’re all awesome!
Check out Sarchasm’s song “Melting Pot,” my personal favorite from their latest album, Help! I Need An Adult:
If you know a local band that you think deserves some recognition, let me know, and I’ll check them out. Maybe you’ll see them on Germ in the future!