By Nicholas Jason Lopez
With current members from Middle-Aged Queers and former members of Yaphet Kotto, The Cost, Bread And Circuits and The Boxcutters, Oakland, Calif.-based group Agonist Party marked their arrival on the scene in late August with the music video for “Michigan’s Juvenile Delinquency Statistics.”
The track appears on their self-titled album, out via Outpunx Records, the label started by Middle-Aged Queers last year.
The project started as a way for bassist/vocalist Shaun Osburn (Middle-Aged Queers) to put out material that didn’t fit within the realms of Middle-Aged Queers’ style and eventually got Mag Delana, Dave Slaverade (Boxcutters) and Jason (Halphorio) on board to work on what was originally meant to be a three or four-song EP to stay productive in lockdown.
The prolonging mindset of the pandemic from “Oh, it’ll be a few weeks” to “Welp, guess this is the new normal” stretched the EP out to a full-length album and stressful attempts to self-record led to Tim Green being recruited to engineer it at Louder Studios back in April.
The Music Bugle had the opportunity to talk with Osburn/Slaverade about their self-titled album and more.
Music Bugle – What is it about Oakland, California that makes you the most proud of it?
Dave Slaverade – I’m from a working class Midwest background, so when I moved here in 2009, I related to it much more than hoity-toity, motorized skateboard, $9 mimosa San Francisco next door – and the methier Bay Area flavors like Antioch and Fremont are something I moved from Michigan to leave behind, so Oakland was a middle ground that suited me nicely. It’s got a rich history of art, social justice, food and cultures from all over the world mixing it up together. Like most things, the negative stereotypes are mostly false. It’s been an enriching home of 12 years. Though it is getting more “San Franciscan” each year… That’s why when prospective SF gentrifiers ask how I like living here, I tell them, “Everyone in Oakland constantly gets stabbed and robbed. Or robbed – then – stabbed ‘cuz they’re dicks. For the love of god, don’t move there with your stupid Mini Cooper and corgis, unless you want them stolen and stabbed.” Just doing my part to keep rent down.
Shaun Osburn – I am somewhat of an anomaly in that my family runs four generations deep in Oakland. My grandfather built his house here in 1938, just before Black Americans started to migrate en-masse to Oakland to escape the constraints of the Jim Crow South. Unlike many other white families who fled during the Urban Flight of the 1950s and 1960s, my family stayed. Because of our longevity, I get to see Oakland through the lense of family history, regional history and my own life experiences.
As a child and even as a young adult, I thought Oakland was the center of the world. MC Hammer started off selling his demos out of the back of his car at A’s games when the team was in their prime. Metallica lived in mansions in the hills. The Black Panther party started here and to some extent, I still feel like it’s the center of the world. A lot of people spend a great deal of time and money trying to get to the Bay Area and stay here. I just had the good fortune to be exactly where I was supposed to be all along.
Music Bugle – How did you decide on the “Agonist Party'” name?
Dave Slaverade – I had the idea of “Agonist” for a hardcore or more aggressive project for years. The first songs we wrote together were on the post-hardcore side, so I pitched the name. Shauners did some research and turns out there’s, like, 18 “Agonists” out there, mostly in Scandinavia, because of course, so he thought of the variation “Party” at the end and boom! To me, it describes the project’s purpose during Covid. We were bummed out in lockdown, separated from our regular bands due to health concerns of certain members, no more shows or parties or fun to be had, so we got together in a room 15 feet apart from each other wearing uncomfortable N95 masks to just vent the depression and frustration of it all. It was our little agony party we allowed ourselves a few hours a week. Made for some cathartic honest tunes and I’m glad we made a positive out of a negative.
Shaun Osburn – Agonists are chemicals that bind to receptors to create a biological response. Generally, they are either hormonal or from extraneous things like drugs. I liked the idea that it could be a hormone party or a drug party.
Music Bugle – What was your goal for your debut album?
Dave Slaverade – To just honestly and accurately lay down the work we put in. In total, it was eight months of writing, then recorded in one weekend in April 2021 with Tim Green at Louder Studios, then a little over a month of mixing, tweaking and mastering. In only nine months of even existing, we had a whole damn record. Some middle-aged dudes have children and start families. We made a record. I was just super proud we pulled it off. The beauty of this project is it brought being a band dude back to basics. There were no shows to be had, no merch to sell, no handies to give promoters to get on bills, no room for ambitions ‘cuz the world was shut down. It was just some buds getting in a room and seeing what happens for the sheer fun and expression of it. It was like being 14 again, just less Jnco jeans.
Shaun Osburn – Middle-Aged Queers weren’t practicing and I had a slew of songs that would not have worked for that band anyway. The original idea was to record three-four songs and put out a 7-inch EP, but the weeks of the shutdown turned into months and we kept writing more songs. It was a good way to sonically capture the initial year of COVID.
Music Bugle – Did your first music video come out how you hoped?
Dave Slaverade – It’s odd, because Shauners wrote the main body of the song and lyrics. It’s pretty much his song, yet somehow, this native Californian captured my experience of growing up in rundown, hopeless Michigan… The malaise, the sense of no future, just living and dying a worker bee in middle American capitalist dystopia. He nailed it. I’m playin’ with a regular Kreskin over here, so when he asked me to sorta manage what went into the video, I made sure it included what I grew up around – burnt-out buildings, fucking around on train tracks, raging at a show, watching workers drink themselves to death… Yeah, bit of a bummer, but we’re fuckin’ called “Agonist Party,” dude. Whaddaya want?
Shaun Osburn – Being from California gave me an incredibly sheltered view of America and the world as a whole. The song draws heavily from my own experience meeting kids in the DIY punk scene in Michigan. Touring across the United States in previous bands was a real eye-opener on just how neglected and abandoned many parts of this country has become.
Music Bugle – How do you compare the music of Agonist Party to that of your other respective projects?
Dave Slaverade – I’m best known for a gutterbilly act called The Boxcutters from Lansing, Michigan. We got paid in drugs, wrote songs like, “Jerk Me Off In My Grandma’s Coffin” and “Fuck Me ‘Til I Puke” and joyously upset the audience absolutely ripshit on substances. Believe it or not, people dug us. Thematically and sonically, Agonist Party is incomparable. I’m happy to finally make more earnest and artistic music. As a kid, bands were mostly just a fuck around with my dumb buddies. As a grown-ass man, I like grown-ass man things and would like to create more refined and ambitious music. This record sneaks in post-hardcore, shoegaze, psychedelic, post-punk and even some folk twang from the Boxcutter days. I always respected bands with broad range like The Clash and Ween and Blur and hoped to one day be in a band with that kind of wide latitude to be anything and everything it wants to be.
Shaun Osburn – Some of our stuff is very akin to a band I was in from 1999 to 2003 called The Cost. The rest is a lot more “rock” than I have played in the past. I definitely get busier in my playing in this band than any other bands I’ve played bass with.
Music Bugle – Where do you go when you need a break?
Dave Slaverade – I’ve been hitting the road and getting the fuck outta lockdown dodge. Recently, I took a 15-day trip to Austin, New Orleans and Santa Fe. Other than almost getting beaten to death by bikers in backwoods Texas, it was a refreshing time.
Shaun Osburn – I don’t really break. I work two full-time jobs, play in two bands, volunteer with local organizations and have a brand new nephew who lives with me.
Music Bugle – What’s a quote that motivates you to keep doing what you do?
Dave Slaverade – “If you know you’re gonna miss, miss big…”
Shaun Osburn – “Your heart is a muscle, the size of your fist. Keep on loving, keep on fighting.”
Music Bugle – What was the moment that made you want to become a musician?
Dave Slaverade – The seed was planted at age seven, seeing the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video pop off in ’91 and thinking it was the most terrifying and exhilarating thing ever. Then, blossomed at 13, when the punks at school took my weird goofy ass under their wing and invited me to their practice space to watch them do terrible Green Day, Nirvana and NOFX covers. They eventually shoved an instrument in my hand and made me participate. I’ve since learned two more chords and many more bands.
Shaun Osburn – Seeing the music video for Poison’s “Talk Dirty to Me” on MTV in 1988.
Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise?
Dave Slaverade – Lots of Nina Simone and Alice Coltrane have been on my turntable. Everyone should worship at the feet of Spellling now before she’s officially your queen. The new Kanye is his best since ‘Yeezus’ – unless you count ‘Kids See Ghosts,’ which is his best ever. I’ve been working from home one-and-a-half years now, so plenty of groovy electronic classics are in my ears for that, like Burial, Four Tet and Massive Attack and punk-wise, Exhalants, Portrayal of Guilt and Krimewatch are newer bands I’ve been excited about. Old-school wise, I’ve really enjoyed Rudimentary Peni’s new record – Tour, Dammit! – and the new Descendents LP with the classic lineup is wonderful. As close to another ‘Milo Goes To College’ we’ll probably ever get again.
Shaun Osburn – SNFU, Hawak and Former Members of Alfonsin.
Music Bugle – What’s something that you wish happened more in today’s music industry?
Dave Slaverade – I wish artists would get more focused on being artists and less on being these business and media moguls out for clicks and exposure. At some point, it became hip to be a go-getter… I remember my friends laughing our balls off at shit bands with EPK’s and pouty-faced press photos with the sideways pelican hair – whatever the fuck you call that ’00’s emo hair. Now, that’s beyond the norm and you have to have social media presence, your own BBQ sauce and all this bullshit that has nothing to do with music. I understand artists for generations have been getting dicked hard out of an ability to live by dishonest business owners they sign off to and it’s important for an artist to be about their business, but just becoming those very dishonest business owners yourself is not the solution I wanted to see. They’re not your “market.” They’re your fans. It’s not your “content.” It’s your music. It’s not your “brand.” It’s who you are and what you have to say. I prefer my artists human, non-conglomerate and out for my heart, less for my cash.
Shaun Osburn – I hate packaged tours. It has totally decimated a lot of local scenes and made it very difficult for smaller bands to tour in general. Young locals don’t get a chance to play with more seasoned musicians and it makes rock music being more of an impenetrable insiders club. Taking one band out with you on the road is awesome. You can still have one or two local or touring bands, but this four-five band package bill with no local support thing is annoying, so much so that I intentionally avoid those shows even if it’s bands I like.