MxPx - The Kids are Totally Alright

Pete Townshend better watch his back this summer when the Who hits the road. MxPx guitarist Tom Wisniewski will be out there too with the Vans Warped tour and if he has half a chance he plans to hunt down the veteran guitarist. And what Wisniewski sets out to do, Wisniewski generally does. Not yet 24 years old, he's already got five albums under his belt, a string of local Bremerton, Washington bands behind him and a side project (Arthur) that he and his bandmates -- drummer Yuri Ruley and singer/bassist Mike Herrera -- dabble in with a mutual friend when MxPx is on hiatus. Which hasn't been often. The trio has been hammering home its bright and snappy brand of punk-pop for seven years, the last five of which have included Wisniewski. After three albums on Northwest indie Tooth & Nail, MxPx made the move to A&M in 1997 where it continued building its following. Chatting with Wisniewski it's easy to see the appeal of the band. Even through a barrage of mumbly teen vernacular the earnest aspirations and intentions are clear. Are there specific skills you've worked on over the past five years in terms of playing?

Tom Wisniewski: Yeah. I learned how to play guitar. Very funny.

Wisniewski: I'm totally serious. I was a drummer before this band. Did you take any guitar lessons?

Wisniewski: No. The only lessons I ever got were from friends. A friend of mine showed me how to play a power chord and that got me through the first year of learning how to play. I'd just play along with Bad Religion or something like that. Just whatever I was listening to. The Descendants. Then when I got in the band [singer and vocalist] Mike [Herrera] was like, "Okay this song goes C, A minor, D minor, G." I'm like, "Minor? What?" He's like, "You don't know what a minor chord is?" I'm like, "Uh-uh." So he had to show me how to play them. Most of the stuff I learned, I learned from Mike. The rest was just common sense. Like a lot of the stuff you do on guitar makes really good sense. You mean it's intuitive?

Wisniewski: Yeah. Like, if you think about it, your fingers should go in certain places because besides that's where they fit, it's like that's where it'd be easiest. There's a reason why you play a scale the way you do and you use your pinkie and stuff like that. You don't just use one finger and go to everything. I mean, if you played slow enough that'd be fine, but there's a reason why you don't. Which guitarists do you admire

Wisniewski: Well Brian [Baker of Bad Religion] is one of the guys I look up to as far as guitar. He's just an amazing guitarist and he was in a lot of really good bands -- Minor Threat, Dag Nasty. Stephan Egerton from the Descendants and All. He actually played on the new record, a bunch of riffs on one track called "Without You." He's another one of my heroes just because besides the fact that he can write amazing songs, he was in the Descendants and All. We're friends with him now, like he calls us and we talk to him on the phone and hang out when he comes to town. How has MxPx changed since you signed on?

Wisniewski: I've been in the band for five and a half years now and I think on the last record we really clicked because it was the record that was most like, not together. Like, for a long time, we kind of went, "Here's a song. It goes like this. Play it. okay." With this record it was like, "Here's a verse, then a chorus. I kind of need a bridge. I don't know what's going on, so let's just try to work through it." On this record it was really more of a team effort as far as arrangements which was really cool because me and Mike would play through a song and we'd both say the same thing right after the song. We'd be like, "Whoa -- that was weird." So we're starting to think alike which is kind of scary. We've been in the band together for so long that we kind of have a lot of the same ideas and, I don't know if you want to say philosophies, but just points of view and ideals when it comes to music. We all share a common goal. Which is?

Wisniewski: Play hard and fast. You know that song by the Descendants -- "We're looking for a few good men to play hard and fast -- sacrifice"? That's pretty much our motto. So what happens when you become a good enough musician that punk is no longer challenging enough. That's why a lot of bands find it necessary to reinvent themselves. No matter how energetically you play them, three chords are three chords.

Wisniewski: Oh we've been like that since the get-go. It wasn't so much like a technical prowess issue, really. We didn't want to do the same thing over and over. That gets boring. Our first record was just straight up punk rock, hard and fast. And then the next record, Teenage Politics, was way more pop. And the next record still was really pop but it got a little faster, and then the next record was a little more rock so it slowed down a little bit and got a little less punk rock -- it got a little more involved, a little more open, a little bigger. And with this new one, The Ever Passing Moment, it's kind of the same thing. I think it's still melodic and punk and really energetic but it's also really rock. It's even more rock, which is good as far as playing live and having energy. Rocking out is just that much funner if you can actually do some cool stuff and you re rocking out. Like look at Pete Townshend just wind-milling like crazy but it sounds amazing. Have you ever seen the Rock and Roll Circus -- the Stones movie? No.

Wisniewski: The reason why they didn't release it until recently was 'cause the Who completely destroyed the Rolling Stones. They play A Quick One While He's Away and it's like Tommy's grandparents or whatever. It was like his first try at a rock opera and, like, on one part of the song Keith picks up his floor tom and throws it and keeps playing and Pete's playing one part just wind-milling as fast as his arm could possibly go, but the chords just sound perfect. Was there a particular experience that inspired you to play music?

Wisniewski: As far as getting into music, my parents' friends had a son who played drums and he's the reason why I played drums. I went into the house one day and he was like, "I got this drum set," and just started playing. He was really good and I was like, "Oh my gosh, I have to do this." So that's when I started getting into drums and not really caring about the clarinet anymore. I mean, I just did school band 'cause it was like everyone does school band. As far as shows go, I went to see a local band called Bad Juju and that was when I knew I wanted to play in a band, and when I heard the Descendants' Liveage I was like, "Oh my gosh punk rock is amazing." Then I heard Bad Religion's No Control and I was like forget about it. Is it ever difficult to reconcile being Christian and living the rock 'n' roll life?

Wisniewski: Like I tell a lot of people, it isn't the '80s anymore. I mean, everyone thinks that back stage is, like, naked girls and a table full of cocaine. It's just not that way. People come up to me and go, "Dude, can I come backstage?" And I'm like, "You don't want to be back there. It's really boring." But in terms of faith, punk rock is so anti-establishment, and religion is kind of an establishment. That's why Bad Religion chose its name.

Wisniewski: I think Greg Graffin had some sort of bad experience when he was a kid though. I mean, there's people who screw things up in everything and there's obviously been a person in his life that probably screwed him up - someone he [then] associated with religion. So he just said, "Oh all religion is a sham then." That's fine. That's his opinion. We toured with them and for one thing he doesn't really hang out at the shows so I never really got to talk to him, but the one time I talked to him he was like, "Why do you have all those tattoos? I thought it said in the bible you can't get tattoos." And I'm like, "Well it says that in the Old Testament." And he goes, "Well, you don't believe in the Old Testament?" And I said, "Well it's kind of like Jesus came and kind of took care of all those laws." He was like, "Hm." That's the only talking I ever did with him. Then at the end of the tour we were flying to New York and he lives in upstate New York so he was on the same plane and we got on and he's like, "Well, we're not goin' down today." It was funny. I got a kick out of that There's a difference between religion and faith. Religion is what turns everyone off of faith.

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