We’ve all been there on a Friday night — standing in a dark, sweat-exuding crowd at a local bar waiting for your friend-of-a-friend’s band to play. This particular Friday took place last month at the Fun House (Eastlake’s punk-rock sanctuary reimagined as part of El Corazon). It was getting late, this was my second venue stop of the night, and I was beginning to wish I had stayed home to watch Stranger Things.
But then Choke the Pope took the stage with their first song, “Crapitol Hill,” and I instantly regretted my smug crankiness. It was as if my mom set me up on a blind date and J. Law walked in the door.
Choke the Pope present as three musicians who just met each other, but sound like they’ve been playing together for years. Standing onstage, they sonically give the crowd the middle finger, yelling lyrics such as “F*** your American dream, f*** your vanilla ice cream, f*** everyone out there who’s better than me!”
Choke the Pope’s pop-punk style is reminiscent of bands I grew up on, particularly those on now-defunct label Lookout! Records — which first signed groups like The Queers, Screeching Weasel and — of course — Green Day.
The current situation in Seattle is something that makes all of us uncomfortable. We’re just watching the rich get richer and everyone else stay, in the same place or getting worse.— Sean Dwyer, Choke the Pope’s bass payer
“I’m hugely influenced by a lot of those ’90s Bay Area bands. I'm guessing the other boys would agree,” says Sean Dwyer, Choke the Pope’s bass player. “I hate to admit it, but all three of us have history playing in ska bands, so I think we have a lot of subconscious pop influence from that,” he continues.
Nick Vasquez (vocals/guitar) and Paul Davis (drums) round out Choke the Pope. They’ve been active in the local Seattle music scene for years and recently released their newest album, Emotional Material, through Seattle independent label Den Tapes. The label releases on cassette tape, a practice which intrigued the band.
“We felt it was a cool opportunity to have a physical product as unique as a tape,” says Davis. “[The cassette] comes with a digital download so you can still get our music on your modern devices, too,” he adds.
Choke the Pope’s music is full of satire, anchored in hook and humor. Seattle’s current Silicon Valley-esque tech makeover bears the brunt of most of their taunts.
“We're all Washington natives and a few of us have grown up in the city,” says Vazquez. “The current [tech boom growth] situation in Seattle is something that makes all of us uncomfortable. Were just watching the rich get richer and everyone else stays in the same place or gets worse,” he says.
Song like “Someone Pay My Student Loans” and plaintive lines like “Why won’t anyone give me a f***ing job? I went to college,” paint a pop-punk portrait of overeducated, underpaid artists struggling to tread water in an overpriced city like Seattle.
I ask Vasquez how the snark in his songs typically goes over with audiences.
“We don't try to sugarcoat anything when it comes to our content,” says Vasquez. “I’m truly aware that I’m not the most amazing guitar player in the world, but I think that our lyrics and content are where we shine the most.”
Despite their aversion to the “Californication” of their city, the band is still finding ways to musically define Seattle as their home.
“It's definitely harder to be an artist [in Seattle] because of rising rents and cost of living, but there are tons of opportunities to get involved within the local scene,” says Dwyer. “Some of my favorite places to see bands are Victory Lounge or Black Lodge. I'm constantly discovering new killer local bands. It makes me feel better about playing in bands when so many other people are, too.”
Speaking for myself, it’s refreshing to see a band responding to the community they’re a part of. I’m not sure I can take another singer/songwriter toasting the farm life while renting an apartment in walking distance of Whole Foods.
James Germain is a graduate from the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs with a degree in English literature. He’s written for CultureMob and Vinyl District in Seattle and has been bartending and playing music for over 10 years. He’s currently the bar manager at Bitterroot in Ballard and enjoys listening to old jazz tunes at home and behind the bar.More stories by James Germain