Meet The Interrupters, the First Female-Fronted Ska Band With an Alternative Radio Hit Since No Doubt
Spend a day at Warped this summer, and your eight hours catching bands between the Journeys and Mutant Super Soda Stages might feel like a long goodbye. It’s the tour’s final year and its lineup has a fair share of nostalgia plays -- but there are still genuine up-and-comers, if you know where to look: specifically, a ska-punk band that’s defying all logical expectations for a 2018 ska-punk band.
As the Interrupters sling skank-ready hooks across half-hour sets, their incendiary single “She’s Kerosene” is starting to rake up radio play on American alternative stations. It’s the catchiest track on 2018's Fight the Good Fight, a 30-minute album that flies by in what feels like maybe half that, a cocktail shaker of all the ska and street punk that would’ve led a late ‘90s Warped comp CD. If it sounds like Rancid’s fingerprints are all over it, well, they are: frontman Tim Armstrong signed them to his Epitaph Records imprint Hellcat upon their 2011 formation, and has acted as producer and co-writer ever since, across three full-lengths. Fight the Good Fight also has “Got Each Other,” a barroom posse cut featuring the Rancid guys jubilantly trading verses.
The Interrupters formed after brothers Kevin, Justin, and Jesse Bivona were on tour with their old band the Telecasters, featuring singer-songwriter Aimee Allen as an opening act. Allen was performing sun-kissed acoustic rock, already several years (and genres) removed from a trip through the major label ringer at the start of the decade, which brought her numerous big-name collaborations but no album release to show for them. The Bivonas have long been your favorite punk veteran’s best kept secret, and finally, years of friendship and collaboration with the likes of Billie Joe Armstrong, Mark Hoppus, and Travis Barker are bringing them a sliver of the spotlight.
“She’s Kerosene” rose 25 percent in spins last week at alternative radio and currently sits at No. 32 on Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart, its peak position in three weeks on the tally. It just debuted on Rock Airplay (which covers all rock formats), so it’s certainly trending in the right direction. Contemporary alt radio doesn’t play much punk and is generally slow to play to female singers, across all genres. So why is there a decent chance your normie Facebook friends from high school will know this song by Labor Day? Allen (who goes by Aimee Interrupter now) and guitarist Kevin Bivona aren’t quite sure, but they’ve got wisdom to share.
So “She’s Kerosene” is really popping off for you guys.
Kevin Bivona: That's a thing that we're grateful for. Something about that song connected, and for the first time in our careers we’re getting real radio play on an Interrupters song.
Aimee Interrupter: It feels like we’re living in a dream.
KB: The music video hit a million views within six weeks of being released; on our first records, the videos took a year to get a million views.
It's been rising on our Alternative Songs chart for a few weeks, and there hasn’t been a song like it on there for years. Alt radio doesn't play much punk in general. How does it feel to be on that chart?
KB: It's like we have a seat at the table we didn't even know was there for us. As a musician, you always want to reach as many people as possible, right? The radio is something we grew up fantasizing about, but when you start a punk band in 2011, getting on the radio is not a thing you think about. But as the band has grown, we’ve started to see the bigger picture. We are really the only band of our kind in there, and that’s such an honor.
Why do you think it’s connecting so well?
AI: I always write about what I know and what I'm going through. If it can help me process my emotions, I’m hoping it can help someone else out there. That song was very therapeutic for me. It's about breaking free from narcissistic abuse and leaving an abusive relationship. I processed that with the song and it made me feel better so I'm hoping it connects with other people. That’s why I make music.
KB: When we're addressing heavy topics like that, we always try to juxtapose it with the biggest dance beat we can get. We're able to speak from the heart about stuff we really care about while keeping it fun for everybody involved, like a big group therapy session [Laughs].
What was your headspace like while writing the album?
AI: I think the theme of this record is fighting the good fight, overcoming obstacles. Being the underdog and coming out on top. I had to do a lot of that in my life.
Aimee, over the course of your career you’ve worked in a bunch of genres and scenes. What does it mean to you to have a hit with a ska song?
AI: Since like my first band in high school, I've been doing punk and ska music, so it's like going back to my roots. I really found my musical home with this band.
Early on, what drew you to ska?
KB: When punk rock connects with you at a young age, it's one of those things that never leaves you. It’s one of those genres that makes you feel less alone: although the world might not understand me, this band understands me. It’s very community-based. Any kind of music any us has ever done has always been ska-adjacent. At the end of the day, what kind of music do I want to play for the rest of my life? This is it! And I can honestly say that.
AI: Me too.
Kevin, between producing, engineering, and mixing, you’ve worked behind the scenes with a lot of commercially-successful artists: Mark Hoppus, Travis Barker, Rancid, Yelawolf, etc. What does it mean to co-write and perform this hit with your own band?
KB: It’s amazing. It’s kind of what I’ve always done in roles with other bands. All those other guys love The Interrupters and they’re our friends. They’ve watched our band grow and given us as many opportunities as they can. Travis Barker let us record [2016 sophomore album] Say It Out Loud at his recording studio for free and put us on his festival, Musink. Rancid took us on our very first national tour. Green Day just took us around the world. I grew up learning to sing and play guitar because of Green Day.
When we were on tour with Green Day, we were hanging out with Billie Joe after one of the shows, and he says, “I have this idea I think would be a really cool Interrupters song.” He played this riff on guitar, and then we went into a chord progression that was this epic melody. He was like, “I don't know if you guys want it -- if not it's cool -- but I just thought it would be cool for you.”
We went home, took those riffs, and turned them into “Broken World,” a song on the new record. We were super nervous to play it for him, because we respect him so much. We sent it to him and I think he responded a half hour later -- the longest thirty minutes of my life. He was like, “I love what you guys did with it. I think this is the first ska song I have ever been a part of!”
Aimee, what was it like being involved with Elektra Records and the major label world in the past?
AI: It was a different time. As a solo artist, I worked on a record with Elektra for a couple years. It didn’t come out, but I did tour a little bit, and did a video that came out. I don't know man, I think it was great the record didn't come out. I was really young… I had really angsty music and I don’t know if it was my best self. I’m just really happy that it didn't come out. I’m also just much more comfortable in a band. I never want to be a solo artist again.
On your Wikipedia, it says Randy Jackson discovered you. Is that accurate?
AI: A little bit. He had heard about me through a friend. He came to a show that I played and heard this little demo tape that I had he sent around. Ultimately it led to me getting signed. But this was before American Idol.
How old were you then?
AI: Oh gosh, I don't even know. 18,19… I was 20.
What did your music sound like then?
AI: It was eclectic. Mark Ronson produced some of it. Don Gilmore produced some of it. They put me with a bunch of producers to figure out what sound I was going to do. It was rock, basically. And because it was me singing, it was punk rock.
From all you’ve learned from these different labels, scenes, and collaborators, what advice would you give yourself if you could go back to when you were 18?
KB: Trust your instincts, be true to yourself. Oftentimes, bands will ask, “What do you guys do differently that got you to where you are?” Honestly, music is all we've ever done. There are months and years in our past when it was really hard to get by. If the only thing you do is be persistent and you've got something that people like, it will happen eventually. You've just got to work your ass off. It takes ten years for an overnight success -- isn’t that what they say? Also don't smoke as much weed and wake up earlier.
AI: Yeah, I would definitely not drink as much as I drank at that age. And I also -- I think this is a mistake other young people make -- I really wanted to be shocking. I wanted to be like, “Listen, I can be tough with the boys, I can be shocking with the boys, I can out-drink you, out-punch, out-punk you,” you know? I think I tried to prove how tough and how punk and crazy I was in my songwriting. I sometimes went for shock over good craft. I was like, “I’ll just throw the F-word in here and that will make it good.” The F-word, as I get older, isn't that shocking.
KB: You’ve kinda gotta learn on your own. Even if I had a time machine and talked to my younger self, my younger self would probably tell me to fuck off.