Crawling from the sewers of New Lenox and Manhattan, Ill., Dunwich Rats have been scurrying around Chicago’s folk-punk scene over the past few months.The band is a five-piece consisting of Chris Armstrong (vocals/banjo), David Pennington (banjo), Sarah Genis (violin), Taylor Haas (upright bass), and Aaron Follmer (mandolin). At Hosh Fest 2 last week, Dunwich Rats released a three-way split with Highway Rugar Bandits and False Idols. I got the chance to sit down with the band during a practice to talk about musical influences, root beer, and their plans for the future.
Ghost Track: How did you guys start playing music together?
Tayler Haas: Me and Dave started playing music together non-stop because nobody else played banjo and nobody played upright, and me and Chris were in a band many a moon ago with Aaron, so he decided to pick up a mandolin.
David Pennington: And then Chris brought what’s her face in.
Sarah Genis: Yeah I have a contract. Chris pays me a hefty salary to play with these guys. That’s why he can’t take us on any sweet trips.
GT: Who do you cite as your major influences for your music?
DP: Kurt Russell.
TH: Kurt Russell, yeah.
Chris Armstrong: Kurt’s definitely there.
GT: How would you describe your sound to someone who’s never heard you before?
DP: It’s kind of like going through the desert on your chopper on a mission to fight off witches for weed.
TH: Electric dynamite. I usually just tell people I play in an acoustic band, honestly.
DP: Yeah, I usually just tell people we play fast acoustic music.
SG: I just tell people I’m in a band of assholes.
DP: Yeah, we’re like a Band of Horses.
Ghost Track: Are there any ideals you try to engage in your music or lyrics?
DP: Scariness and dancing.
TH: Primarily the plight of the root beer brewing crone. Nobody cares about them.
DP: It’s just forgotten history.
CA: I guess I just really like to tell stories more than anything. I just like telling different stories and, while most them are pretty fictitious, I like to convey the human emotions in the themes of the songs, to try to find something people can relate to, even though it’s a story.
TH: And protest tunes. Really into protest tunes.
DP: And we want people to dance.
Ghost Track: Your lyrics tend to be less political and more fantastical than most of the folk-punk I’m familiar with. Is this a deliberate decision on your part or does it just happen naturally?
CA: I just got really tired of listening to, and don’t get me wrong because I like a lot of folk-punk stuff, that was, to quote The Joker, too fucking serious. I felt like people could have a little bit more fun and didn’t have to feel like I was such a fucking downer, not saying that people singing about what they believe in has to be a downer, but I like to tell an interesting story that people can just enjoy. Everyone likes a good story. I mean, I always liked them as a kid and I think that’s what some people are looking for.
Ghost Track: Chris, I hear you don’t like root beer. Everyone else, what’s your favorite brand of root beer?
DP: Sprecher’s is probably up there. What’s that one that we found in that place next to the world’s largest gift shop in Missouri?
SG: Sioux City?
TH: Yeah. That shit was good.
Ghost Track: What’s your favorite pizza topping?
DP: Cheese. I do like spinach, though.
SG: Banana peppers.
TH: Not until this band, but jalapenos.
CA: I’m a big fan of artichokes.
Ghost Track: What’s the best pizza place in the south suburbs?
DP: Tuan’s is hot, dude.
SG: That’s Anthony’s (pizza place).
TH: Cici’s? I guess it’s a hell of a lot better deal than Golden Corral.
DP: Yeah the pizza is sub-par, but you can eat 16 pieces for $5.
SG: Well, Fox’s is the best.
CA: Jet’s Turbo Crust, dude.
SG: No! Don’t put that in there.
DP: They lay it on thick!
Ghost Track: How can we put your new split in our earholes?
TH: Bandcamp or hit us up.
DP: We have compact discs, if you’re into that. We should be getting tapes of it as well if you’re into that and you have a car made before 2003.
CA: I mean, I was thinking about putting it on floppy disc.
Ghost Track: What’s your favorite album of all time?
TH: You’re gonna need to come back in 45 minutes.
DP: I can think of like two I could pop on there and then I’d need more time.
CA: Jailbreak by Thin Lizzy is definitely top three.
DP: Dystopia’s Human = Garbage up there for me.
SG: The White Stripes’ self-titled.
DP: The Shrine’s Primitive Blast. Good god.
SG: The Lord of the Rings soundtrack.
Ghost Track: I heard you guys have a food pyramid for the band. Can you explain that to me?
TH: The food pyramid is how everybody should live, basically.
DP: The bottom big portion is pizza. Then we got cuties and peanut butter. Above that we got root beer and regular beer, and the tippy top is the Devil’s lettuce. Sweet Mary Jane. Left-handed cigarettes.
TH: Wacky tobacky.
CA: Green Day.
Ghost Track: Favorite brand of beer?
CA: I’ve recently been drinking a lot of Old Style.
TH: Yeah, we’ve really been on an Old Style kick.
SG: Champagne only. Miller High Life, please.
DP: For me it’s Busch and PBR. And Mickey’s Fine Malt Liquor.
TH: I’ve drank a lot of Icehouse in my day.
DP: Not beer, but we are also fueled by Evan Williams Bourbon Whiskey. They don’t know yet, but we’re sponsored by Evan Williams Bourbon Whiskey.
SG: We’re also sponsored by Moscow mules. Anywhere that makes them.
CA: What we’re trying to say is please sponsor us.
Ghost Track: Is there anything cool going on in south suburban music that we should know about?
DP: The Suburbanists. Rise Against. Fall Out Boy. False Idols. Highway Rugar Bandits. Davey Dynamite. The Dad Saddles (aka Bad Saddles). Warp Spiders. Sincere Engineers.
Ghost Track: What can we look forward to from you guys?
DP: Hopefully a full-length soon.
CA: Yeah we’re gonna try to do some recording sometime soon.
DP: We’ve got some shows coming up.
CA: Al Scorch just got added to one of them.
SG: Yeah, we’re famous now.
DP: Might have another split coming out soon. That’s in the works.
CA: Trying to book a little tour, so please let us stay on your floors. Or your mom’s house.
Dunwich Rats play 2040 in Chicago on Wednesday, June 24 with Al Scorch, Shitty Weekend, Found Drowned, and Magnus Honey.