Oryctolagus Cuniculus: An Interview with Beth of Won’t Say Rabbit

Won’t Say Rabbit is a garage pop-punk from deep in the heart of New Jersey. Listening to the pair of tracks they currently have up on BandCamp and all the major streaming services, I’m picking up hints of ultra-cool 70s new-wave like The Runaways and Blondie mixed with a distinct 80s vibe. Over the years, the band has consisted of Brian and Tom on guitar and bass (and keyboards) respectively, and Beth on vocals. Drummers have included Frank, John, Billy, and Juan. I was curious to find out more about them, so I dropped Beth a line to see if she’d be up for an interview…

Earlier this year, you posted an image of the front and back cover of Won’t Say Rabbit’s CD from 1991. How long has Won’t Say Rabbit been together? Are you still playing?

Won’t Say Rabbit got together in 1989. We never disbanded, but we haven’t played any live gigs since 1997–yikes! We have all done musical projects individually, including writing new songs, playing and singing for fun, but we are just beginning to get back into our music more seriously in order to rehearse and record new material. Our goal is to release another album and play some reunion shows in time for our 35th anniversary in 2024.

Cool! Can you talk a little bit about the history of the band?

Tom learned to play keyboards as a child. In college, Tom became interested in punk rock music and gravitated towards bass guitar. Brian was about fourteen years old when they met while working at a restaurant called The Fireplace. At that time, Brian had just started teaching himself to play guitar. While Brian was learning guitar, Tom played bass in a band called Fragrant Moth.

When the band broke up Tom and Brian decided to form a band.

I always wanted to sing, it was my childhood dream. I sang in bands all through junior high and highschool. After college I put together a band called Vox Angelica that played gigs all over New Jersey. We released a vinyl 45 that got a bit of college radio airplay. However, by 1987 nothing was happening for us and Vox Angelica disbanded.

In June of 1989 Tom and Brian ran an ad in a New Jersey music paper called the East Coast Rocker. They were looking for a female singer and I answered the ad. They had all the music tracks recorded, so after rehearsing with them for a while, we went into the recording studio to add my vocals to the songs.

We released our eponymous CD in 1991, and once again, I was in a band that received a little bit of college radio airplay, but otherwise, crickets… We did play some gigs that Brian taped and I am currently putting videos from the shows up on our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4mm-iojo8aX4pGk8PnAQ2g

I’m also curious about the band’s name.

When we started we had a different name related to “Oryctolagus cuniculus.”* However, from the time the Internet started gaining popularity, up to the point where bands were using Myspace, we kept receiving less than happy messages from bands with the same name. We vowed never to say that word again or use it in a band name. We thought about it for 25 years and finally came up with “Won’t Say Rabbit!”

That’s awesome! What part of New Jersey are you from? What was the scene like when Won’t Say Rabbit was getting off the ground? Who were some of the other bands on the scene at the time?

The three of us are from Northern New Jersey. The year 1989 was all about Hair Metal Bands. Poison, White Lion, Guns n’ Roses, Bon Jovi, Cinderella, etc. were played in heavy rotation on the radio and MTV. I like all those bands, and just as with any trend, New Jersey was overflowing with musicians that wanted to look and sound like them.

How did being from that particular place in that particular time influence your taste in music and the sound of Won’t Say Rabbit?

The good part about living in North Jersey was the proximity to New York City. In 1989 we were able to drive into the city and see bands we loved like Stiff Little Fingers and The Ramones. The hippest New Jersey scene was in Hoboken where there was a well known club called Maxwell’s. We saw great shows there like Marshall Crenshaw, Wreckless Eric, and The Hoodoo Gurus.

For each of us, our musical tastes evolved much earlier. Tom loves punk and is influenced by X, The Damned, and The Buzzcocks. Brian is a fan of classic rock and says his influences are Cheap Trick, The Who, and Led Zeppelin. I grew up singing along with the radio. I love The Beatles and the fantastic girl groups from the 1960’s like the Ronettes, Crystals, and Shangri-Las.

Currently, your songs “Getcha” and the instrumental “Laryngitis” are available on Bandcamp and other streaming services. The track list for the CD includes eight other songs. Any chance those will become available as well?

Yes, we will be releasing all our songs eventually. For anyone who may be interested, you can follow us here: https://twitter.com/beth60910 , https://wontsayrabbit.bandcamp.com and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4mm-iojo8aX4pGk8PnAQ2g

As someone who’s been playing music since the 90s myself, I’ve seen a lot of changes in the industry and how people make and discover new music. Do you have any thoughts on that topic?

Let’s see, I’m older than you, but I bet you remember cassettes and vinyl. It was so much fun going to record stores and blowing your allowance on the albums or 45’s you really wanted to get. In fact, I was photographed in a record store, at an autograph signing session for Meatloaf when his album “Bat Out of Hell” was released. That picture appeared in the “East Coast Rocker.” (I lost the picture long ago, but sometimes I look on EBay to see if anyone has back issues for sale.)

That’s wild!

Regarding making and discovering new music, you can do it all at home now. When Won’t Say Rabbit recorded our music in 1990, we had to go into a recording studio. The music was recorded on reel to reel tapes and then mixed onto a D.A.T., which was sent off to Discmakers to be made into CD’s. Now you can use software to record a masterpiece from your bedroom and release it on the Internet to your fans.

For discovering new music, Twitter is AMAZING. That’s how I learned about your great music, The Star Crumbles, Matt Derda, plus the other terrific #Tweetcore musicmakers. There are so many people on Twitter who love to recommend different bands and songs to listen to. I’m really enjoying all that energy, creativity, and love of music.

Needless to say, I agree! Why do you think so much music of the 80s and 90s continues to have such staying power?

I think every generation has a certain level of nostalgia for what their parents listened to. Just like punk rock from the 1970’s harkened back to the music and fashions of the 1950’s and 60’s, young people today listen to music rooted in 1980’s new wave (or dark wave for the Joy Division/New Order fans out there,) and 1990’s post-punk, indie, and grunge.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me!

It was an honor! Thank you for inviting Won’t Say Rabbit to be interviewed. I loved your thought provoking questions. I enjoy following https://twitter.com/marc_schuster #Tweetcore on Twitter and look forward to hearing your new music when it is released. In the meantime, I hope everyone watches The Star Crumbles documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6B7mzXeCLOs . I know I certainly learned a lot about the band!**

*The Genus and species of rabbit!

**I swear I did not put Beth up to including these links… She’s just cool that way!

Plucking Melodies from the Ether: An Interview with J Peck

According to his bio, J Peck started writing songs at age ten when someone told him that he couldn’t. Though he describes his early efforts as “trash,” he’s progressed over the years, taking home a “One to Watch” award in the Lights and Lines Album Writing Contest for his EP Come What May, a collection of songs that deals, among other things, with the universal phenomenon of growing older.

You mention in your bio that you started writing music when someone told you that you couldn’t. Can you say more about that?

My  best friend wanted to be in a band probably because his uncle was in one and it was the 80’s. He was telling me all about it when the girl next to us in class said “You can’t JUST write music. You have to have talent.” Well, that offhand comment derailed my life. I can’t abide someone telling me what I can or can’t do. Though too be honest, the music I “wrote” at that point was just melodies that were partially ripped off of other songs I’d heard.

Do you find that being told “no” is a good motivator for you?

This has been an ongoing joke between Paul Bosco and I over the years. It’s not like spite is my only motivation, but it’s a strong one. Luckily, I suffer frequent bouts of crippling self-doubt so that keeps me from getting to uppity.

Would you describe yourself as a contrarian?

Yep, that’s probably accurate.

How has your songwriting progressed over the years?

I think my view of songwriting has changed. I used to feel like I was waiting on a bolt of lightning moment where the perfect melody and lyrics would come to me. Now, it is more a question of chipping away at a song.

Warning! Weird symbolism ahead: I used to visualize writing a song as catching a piece at a time from an ether of melodies, rhythms, and lyrics that were always floating through my mind. This led to songs that would have strange changes in feel from the beginning to end. It also led to songs that were unfinished for years since I need another bolt of lightning moment. I still pluck a melody from that ether, but now I stop at that point. I then treat it more as a sculptor would. The melody, like a stone, has a shape already. I simply need to chip away at it to reveal the true song hidden within.

Interesting! I know that the Lights and Lines Album Writing Contest took place in May, so I’m wondering if the title of your EP – Come What May – is a play on words.

Haha, yeah. I guess that was a little on the nose. I knew from the start that I wanted to incorporate May in the album in some way. It all came together in the last three days of the month when I started writing the last track “Waiting on the Rain.” While I was writing lyrics, I wrote the line “I know that come what may.” So, technically the title comes from the very end of the last song on the album. The album starts with the lyrics “It’s Starting” and ends with the title of the album. I like the symmetry.

I like that! How would you describe the experience of recording an EP in a month? What kinds of challenges did you face? Were there any setbacks? How did you overcome them?

Writing and recording an EP in 30 days was not easy. At the start, I had grand ideas for an 8 song album that went through the lifecycle of a revolution. But halfway through May, I only had 1 song written. I woke up on the 14th ready to give up since it was impossible. I talked myself out of it but I was very close. I even posted about it on the Album Writing Club’s forum:

May 14 2022

I’ll be honest. I want to give up.😔 

I was laying in bed this morning defeated, a little hungover, and thinking “there is no way I will finish this album.” I laid in bed for another 30 minutes thinking these thoughts (very productive). Then something I’ve told my children time and time again came to mind.

“Most people never even show up.”

Challenges I faced? Let’s just say Murphy’s Law was in effect.

  1. Since I don’t have a studio and just record in my living room, I had to record around my family’s schedule. Everyone had to be silent for hours while I recorded.
  2. In the last couple days of the month, I was forced to set up my car as a mobile recording studio. I parked in a Target parking lot, set up my mic and laptop in the car and recorded vocals from until 1 am on 2 different nights.
  3. I also ran into issues with my guitar not staying tuned, so I was forced to tune my guitar between every take.
  4. On the last day while finishing mixes, I could not find the vocal takes for “Waiting on the Rain”. I thought that I’d forgot to save the track while recording in my car, but found the mix a couple days later saved in a file name “car 5-31.”

You won the “One to Watch” award in July. I imagine the temptation to release the EP immediately must have been great. Why did you wait?

Two reasons:

1. I was hoping to win the record contract. If I had, I wouldn’t have needed to mix and master the album myself. I hate mixing and mastering. But when I didn’t win, I was stuck with a lot of work that I put off. So, the album was delayed.

2. I wanted to make sure that the release date was at least a month in the future so that I’d have time to properly promote the album before its release.

What have you been doing in the meantime?

Mixing and mastering the album. Creating album art and an album booklet with lyrics, photos, stories, etc. for anyone that buys the album on Bandcamp. I’ve tried not to work on too much new music though, I’ve written a song or two.

Do you ever get a chance to play live?

I miss playing live. Due to Covid, I haven’t played a show in years. I have some medical issues that I need to be careful about and as of right now I have no plans for playing in public. I am hopeful that an opportunity will arise for some outdoor shows that I can feel comfortable with this year.

What’s on the horizon for you?

I have about 6 songs that I’ve recorded for Blowup Radio’s Songwriter Challenge (Challenge: They provide a writing prompt and give 2 weeks to finish a song). Plan is to clean up those recordings and release another EP in 6 months or so. Tentative title is “2 Weeks at a Time”, though I hope to come up with something better. Bosco and I also have a handful of songs that we have written that we may get a chance to release in 2023.

Nice! Thanks for taking the time to chat with me!

More of a Project than a Band: An Interview with Bjorn Egelius of Abandoned Playground

For my money, it’s hard to top abandoned playgrounds when it comes to creepiness. A single swing swaying back and forth with nobody on it? Add some mist and a set of footprints that just stops, and you have the makings of a pretty spooky trailer, if not the opening scene of a full-on thriller. All of which may be why I was attracted to Abandoned Playground, a hard-rocking band that formed in Stockholm, Sweden, in 2018. Curious to know more, I reached out to bass player Bjorn Egelius to answer a few questions…

How did Abandoned Playground come together?

I’ve known Mikael for fifteen years or so. We both have a long background as musicians. One day Mikael was up in Stockholm and dropped by my place, he asked do you have any songs that I can do vocals on?  We felt it was a really good thing coming out of it.

How would you describe your sound?

A bit heavy with some post-punk influences.

Your most recent single is called “You’re a Dreamer.” Can you say a little about that?

It’s about a person drifting away from you and others close to him/her doing their things with concern for others or themselves for that matter.

I find it interesting that you combine various elements in your music—particularly punk and prog, which used to be perceived as inimical to each other. How did you arrive at that combination?

I have a background as a bass player and founder of a progressive rock band, therhythmisodd, with whom I recorded a couple of albums.  In my younger days I was more into punk and metal.

Mikael also has a background from the punk scene, so I guess it influenced us a bit.

The band consists of you and Mikael Johansson. How do you work together as a team? What is your writing process?

I write the music and and lyrics, Mikael arranges the vocal performance and adjusts the lyrics.

And your recording process?

The music is recorded by me at my “home studio,” shipping it over to Mikael who records the vocal at his end of the woods.  The next step is to hand over the project to Burken (Peter Bjorklund) for the solo guitar.

Finally the programmed drums are replaced with acoustic drumming performed  by Fredrik Gunnarsson.  Usually I rerecord the bass part to make it sit tighter with the drums to make more groovy.

As I mentioned above, I find your band name to be incredibly evocative. What does it mean to you, and how does it reflect what you’re doing with your music?

Funny you’re asking! It has to do with my old recording studio I had for more than 20 years. The landlord needed to take down the building, so my “playground”  had to be abandoned!  🙂

You formed in 2018, so that’s well before the pandemic. How did you weather the early pandemic years as a band?  

Since this has been more of a project than a band (we are actually located in different areas in the country), it was a booster for the project since we had to spend more time at home, which was good for the creativity.

What’s the music scene like in Stockholm?

The music scene in Stockholm is a bit hard, at least for unsigned bands.  The pandemic lockdowns hit a lot of the clubs and bars, of course.

Is there any chance that you’ll play live anytime soon?

Yes, that is something that we feel is really needed. We are planning for it.

Anything else on the horizon?

A new song is coming this later this fall. The name is “it’s a smash hit.”