Punk without pretense. The Southern California outfit known as Pulley practices just the basics of raw, old-fashioned punk music, without the syrupy drippings of today's want-to be-bad pop rockers. Instead, it's nothing but straight-ahead, gut-crunching, yet melodic music that is fast and furious, stopping only to see who's left standing. Recently Guitar Center sat down with Scott Radinsky and Mike Harder, voice and guitar, respectively, for Pulley.
GC: First off, Scott, how did you get started singing?
Scott: Kind of by default. I started off playing drums when I was about 13 in a punk band. We had this singer who left to go to Newport Beach to live with his uncle for the summer. We were going to keep playing shows, and we had a lot of shows going on in Hollywood. We needed a singer, so I stepped up. If it would have been a bass player who could have filled in, then the bass player would have been singing.
GC: What was the name of the band back then?
Scott: Scared Straight.
GC: A lot of people can relate to a lot of your songs especially the lyrical content. Do you consciously make an effort to write lyrics that people can relate to? Do you try in some small way to shed light on issues that are important in today's society?
Scott: Depends on who writes a song. I think everything that goes on in society today is always something that sparks your brain and you write about some sort of topic. It's kind of like whatever happens on whatever day and whatever mood I'm in, whatever's going on. I guess I don't think about it as much as I should.
GC: Mike, tell me about your guitar rig.
Mike: I use a Les Paul Standard Tobacco Burst. It just feels the best for me. It's the most comfortable guitar for me as opposed to a Strat or anything else like that. I use the Les Paul with my Marshall, a Mark II 1979 50-watt head. It's definitely the best amp I've ever owned. It's what I've been using ever since Pulley started for the most part. I don't need anything else. I went through that whole phase of spending thousands and thousands of dollars. I just wanted to find a sound. It didn't matter to me. And no amp's ever lasted with me like this. I went through everything.
GC: How did you get started playing guitar?
Mike: Some friends of mine used to play and I've always been into music ever since I was a little kid. So I kind of made the natural progression to wanting to play. My friend just taught me some stuff on guitar and took it from there.
GC: Pulley has a straightforward sound. Do you guys use any pedals or effects? Or do you use just the sound that comes from the amp?
Mike: I've always messed around with a distortion pedal here and there. Once in awhile I'll use like a Phase 90, an old MXR Phase 90. But for the most part I've always used just the amp. But on the new record, I messed around a lot with a Cry Baby. So I think I'm going to use that this year, that and an MXR Micro Amp.
GC: Are you going to use it live at all?
Mike: Yeah, I think I am. I'm going to at least try it out. It's tough with our shows to use pedals.
GC: They'll get kicked around and broken?
GC: What's the next thing you'd like to get? Is there anything on your wish list?
Mike: I'd like to get another Les Paul Standard, all black gold top standard. That's on my wish list.
Scott: Maybe something bigger than the four-track, a little extension musically. Not too many wishes, I'm pretty stoked with where everything's at right now.
GC: What gear upgrades would you recommend to an intermediate player?
Mike: To improve your sound, I'd have to know what you're using right now. I think you need to start off with a guitar. Gibson Les Paul and Fender Strats to me are the best sounding guitars, very distinctive. That's going to define your sound. Then I prefer tube amps. Obviously I prefer Marshall. But Mesa Boogie, Marshall. There's a lot of good stuff out there. Even little combo amps, like Fender Twin Reverbs, are really good amps with either of those guitars. I think that's a step in the right direction.
GC: What kind of pickups do you have in yours? Do you have the custom pickups?
Mike: I have a Seymour Duncan Jeff Beck pickup. I actually have that in my Les Paul. I also have a Strat and I put that pickup in there, too. I reconfigured the Strat because the standard is all single-coils. But I cut it out and put that Jeff Beck in there so I'd have a back-up guitar that was as close as possible to my sound.
GC: Say I'm a singer in a band and I want to improve, what should I do to improve my voice? What are some things I can work on to make me a better singer?
Scott: Well that's kind of a corny question in a way where the answer's going to be corny. The question's not corny, but the answer is kind of corny. There are all kinds of vocal lessons you can take or get these books and stuff at music stores. I don't know. To me, the bottom line is I'm not into the whole thing. I've been singing, screaming for so long. I try to sing but it's all been kind of what I've learned myself. I just try to warm up a little bit before I sing live. It's pretty harsh after awhile just to start belting out.
GC: So no vocal lessons ever? Just pick it up and run with it?
Scott: Just start singing and try to keep my ear to the melody.
GC: Talk about the writing process. How does the band write?
Scott: Depends. Some people come in with a complete song. Mike, a lot of times he'll write music and I'll end up doing the whole melody line and writing lyrics to it. I'll come in with a song that's completely written, guitar, music, vocals, everything. Usually, it's me and Mike that are just doing it either over the telephone or together.
Mike: It's definitely a democracy. Everybody puts their two cents in. Everybody's got good ideas in this band.
GC: When it comes to your music, how would you want to be remembered- as a great singer or a great songwriter?
Scott: Those are two different types of people and you go out and play live and stumble across those people every night. I want to be both. I want the real artistic person that's into the lyrics and conscious of what's going on and reading your stuff and throwing questions at you and quizzing you like "What does this mean?" and I like the guy who goes "That's a great entertainer." So, is that selfish to say both?
GC: What's the coolest new piece of gear you've gotten?
Scott: I bought this thing that plugs in, like a power converter, I plug it into my cigarette lighter and I can plug in my four-track and actually drive and sing at the same time. You can get some funny looks on the freeway. But I can sing into the four-track our songs. Rehearse in the car as I'm driving!
GC: Do you have a home studio? If so, what's in it and what do you think of the equipment that you have?
Scott: I have a closet with a little four-track, a microphone, some headphones. That's all I got.
Mike: We have a Tascam 388 that we just got actually, but we've worked with one before. We don't have any computer-based recording gear yet. But I'd like to get some in the future because I'm definitely sold on it. But I'm still kind of a fan of analog. And you know we've done a lot of pre-production on your standard Tascam four-track, which is sufficient in my book. I've gotten a lot of good stuff off of it.
GC: How delicate is the balance between your baseball career and your music? How does the band function with you gone six, seven months in the year?
Scott: Well they all have pretty good jobs and this particular band kind of started off as a little side thing. We were going to do it four months out of the year and we continue to do it four months out of the year. I don't know how they deal with it. You know they probably all have different answers. I was kicked out of a band because they couldn't deal with it, or asked to leave a band because it started happening and I was kind of slowing it down. So we started this one around that idea, where this is what it's going to be and it's going to be a good time. Everybody's got other musical outlets or jobs, but this always happens for four months.
Mike: When Scott's not here, we usually just try to discipline ourselves to come in and usually during that time we write new music. We take advantage of that, just to write for the next record.
GC: Do you think there will ever come a time when music will become 100% of your life?
Scott: It's possible. I wouldn't rule it out. I think possibly it could be my only hobby, possibly.
GC: Nowadays, the word "sellout" is sort of thrown around a lot. Is that something you guys take to heart when you hear it? Are you quick to defend yourselves or is it something you just blow off?
Scott: Sellout is something that happened to be said about us in the last five years or a word that's been used. What's selling out? I mean, a band gets lucky enough to be played on the radio and society has finally accepted what we do? For a long time you didn't see anybody with any kind of relation to punk rock music. And now it's kind of what it is. It's kind of an accepted part of music today. So, sellout? Whatever. If a band is on the radio, good for them. Everybody's got their own opinions of it. I'm kind of over the whole thing. Play music. Have fun. We do punk tours and I sleep in that bus every night and have fun.
Mike: If you're backing what you're doing and you believe in what you're doing musically, you're not selling out. If you're making a ton of money, being played on the radio and you're on MTV, who cares what anybody else thinks as long as you're standing behind what you're doing.
GC: You guys just released your fourth record. Tell me about the recording process. What goes into a Pulley record?
Scott: This time there was a lot of thought went into it. A lot of thought into the songwriting, you know the melodies. We did a lot of pre-production, a lot of four-tracks, sent tapes back and forth and you know "how's this, how's that?" Fine tuning everything. It was done with a good engineer.
GC: So you guys worked with Ryan Green again on this record, and he's worked with everybody in the punk community, from NOFX to Strung Out to Good Riddance. What's it like recording with him? How closely do you work together with him when you're recording?
Scott: We work good, man. When we did our first record, the only punk band he'd ever done was NOFX and they just did their record. So we were kind of new to him. We were kind of one of those earlier bands and it's been great. We've done three records with him and established a good relationship. Everything goes smooth. And the next record will go that much smoother.
GC: How long does it take to record an album for you guys?
Mike: It's been standard like three to four weeks.
GC: When you guys did the first record, how did you get started with a record company?
Scott: I was in a band that did a record that did really well at a time when the label it was on was starting to really boom. That was the band that was taking off and I was asked to leave. But, I kind of established a relationship with the label from the previous band, but was given the opportunity to start another band. I actually thought about it and called some friends to jam and have fun with it. Play shows and have a good time, an outlet to keep playing shows and having a good time because that, for me, that's the whole thing, playing in front of people. They just give us the opportunity to tour.
GC: What's your most memorable live show?
Scott: There have been some good ones, but I'd say some that were way back. I played some good shows in Texas a long, long time ago with the Big Boys. And it was like during a Christmas vacation so all these schools, college towns. It was raging. Austin, Texas was a good show.
Mike: Canada, 1997. We played this little town called Alma, I think that's the name of it. It's outside of Quebec City. It was like the longest drive of my life. We had to drive through this like crazy snowstorm. It took us like ten or eleven hours to get there from the city we were driving in. It wasn't really that far away. But it was like snow on the ground, huge blizzard. Get to venue, it's like dumping snow. Nobody's there and we were like, "No one is going to show up." Next thing you know it's nighttime, major blizzard, and all these school buses start showing up. School buses. And we're like "What the hell is going on?" And they're just shipping in loads of kids. I guess these school buses went and picked up kids from their homes or whatever to bring them to the show because no one could drive. And it turned out to be like a sold-out show. It was totally amazing, the energy in the room that night was just incredible. There were probably 800 kids. It was unbelievable.
GC: As a band, do you guys practice a lot?
Scott: On our own, I think we all practice a lot. Some of the guys actually rehearse with other people and jam with other bands. I rehearse a lot on my own with my four-track. When we're here together five months out of the year, we rehearse a lot. A couple times a week and play shows usually on the weekends. You know, two three times a week we're playing.
GC: So you talked about yourself practicing, how do you work on your vocals when you're not with the band?
Scott: They'll sit in this room right here where we're at and do something on the four-track and mix it down and send it to me. I got my own four-track, pop it in and put the headphones on and write a song.
GC: Do you warm up before a performance? And if so, how?
Scott: That goes back to the other question. You know it's like to me all you got to do is warm up before you sing live. I kind of go "Huhhhhhhh," that's what I do. Talk to myself, kind of act like a nut.
Mike: I used to never do anything. Ever since I hit 30, it's changed. So now I'll just try to fiddle around with my guitar and try to warm up a little bit, maybe stretch a little bit. Nothing too exciting.
GC: What advice would you have for a young player who might want to model their career after yours? What would you tell someone who said to you, "How can I be successful and get to where you are?"
Scott: You can never set your sights too high. I mean, as corny as that sounds, it's like you can be anything you want to be. You know what I mean? And there's only two things that I've ever really wanted to be as a little kid. Maybe I've been kind of blessed or whatever but I don't take things for granted. I'm stoked for where I'm at. I have a great time and it's nice to be able to go play shows, go play baseball. It's fun. Those are the only two things I want to do. So, never set things too high. Be realistic. If something doesn't work, find something else. And go with that just as hard.
Mike: I would say don't get caught up in the whole success part of it. Just have fun. Don't get too serious with it and say, "I have to make it. I got to make it," because you're just setting yourself up for a big let down. Just have fun. And for some reason, when you have that attitude, things happen for you.
GC: So looking into the future, what's next for you guys, for Pulley?
Scott: For Pulley, well we're heading on tour tomorrow. We've got a string of shows for a couple of months where it's like Friday, Saturday, Friday, Saturday all up and down the coast. Probably write some more songs, play as many shows as we can, write some songs. That's kind of the direction it goes. Play as many shows on one record, and write another one.
GC: When are you guys going back in to do a new one?
Scott: It's usually a year apart. But we've got a lot shows still to play, and a whole record to write. So the shows come first and songwriting will kind of come when it's supposed to. You can't really force it.
GC: And finally, have you or do you shop at Guitar Center and what do you think?
Scott: Yeah, I shop at Guitar Center. I don't shop at it frequently, only for the fact that a microphone can last me a long time. I've gotten a few cables there. I wish there were more on the east coast sometimes, in places where I'm at where there isn't. I like Guitar Center. It's got too many nice and expensive things.
Mike: It's the one convenient place you can go to find anything you want. So, I bought my Les Paul there, this cabinet there and pedals, everything. It's just easy.
Photo Credits: Top, header image from photo by Melissa Baffa. Individual photos of Scott Radinsky and Mike Harder by Michael Lovejoy.