The Ramones Forever Fuel Dark Thoughts’ Blunt Punk Rock
“When I first got into punk, it was the first time I was given this rush of self-esteem. I became a person.”
That was when Jim Shomo, frontman of Philly’s three-piece thrashing punk group Dark Thoughts, first heard the Ramones. And there was no turning back. You can hear the whole group’s teenage fandom on last year’s self-titled full-length through its rallying vocals; barrage of loud, fast, minimalist guitar harmonies; and sharply chaotic drumming. When you flat out ask the band — comprised of Shomo (guitar/vocals), drummer Daniel Cox and bassist Amy Opsasnick — the Ramones is the one group that helped mold their style. The only group. “We could rattle off some names of some similar bands, but at the end of the day, that’s pointless,” Shomo says. “The Ramones are the only band that we’re all interested in and that we think about.”
Dark Thoughts are a speed trip through blunt punk rock, with the band every once in awhile testing the limits of those constructs. Take “Addicted to Debt,” for example. Ramones-inspired, no doubt — but midway through the track, the band kicks in the kind of bright guitar power solo that rarely made it into the legendary group’s repertoire. And “No More Soul,” in its 22 seconds and four chords of raw power, still harbors a little lovesickness in its lyrics. “No, I never had the money, honey, but your voice is like a symphony that I play on a tape in my room when I feel bad.” Swap the music, and it’s almost as if you could turn it into an indulgent indie love song.
There are outfits that mimic the the Ramones so closely that they might as well call themselves cover bands, but Dark Thoughts aren’t that. Along the way, they’ve built a uniqueness to their sound that’s both a compliment to the band they grew up admiring and a flawless execution of the hard, fast rules of punk rock. And, when they see fit, it's a departure from everything they’ve ever learned.
Read our interview with Dark Thoughts below ahead of their sold-out April 7 gig at Brooklyn Bazaar with the Marked Men, Hank Wood and the Hammerheads, and Vanity, presented by CLRVYNT.
What's the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a band between your first EP, Four Songs, and this year’s self-titled release?
Amy Opsasnick: The most important thing between writing and and putting out a record — or really making anything in a creative way — is that we should always be doing it for ourselves, and also for our friends. If there's anything to learn from this record to the next one, it's that we should just keep doing whatever is the most fun for us.
Take us through your songwriting process. Who does what?
Jim Shomo: I write the structure and lyrics, which are normally too long and have too many unnecessary parts. I then change them several times until Amy decides if the song has the right sense of style. Then she drinks a cider.
AO: And Daniel tells us both if we're doing it right or not. Oh, and also plays all the drum parts perfectly all the time.
JS: Yeah. Daniel's really good at drums. We couldn't do it without 'em.
Jim, you mentioned that you all stand in the same formation as the Ramones onstage. Are there any other nuances that you do as a band that mirror the group’s technique?
JS: I have a Marshall head that’s similar to what Johnny Ramone used, but it’s not the same type. When we were figuring out ways to make the band essentially sound better and figure out what kind of tone we were doing, I found through some very nerdy channels — Googling guitar forums of different kinds — someone who had taken a photo and jotted down the amp settings of what he played his Marshall at. It’s a very specific setting, and I have mine dialed to the same thing every time we play.
What is it about punk music that made you cling to it at such an early age, and for so long?
JS: Punk is the only thing I’ve been interested in since I was a child. I only do this. I’ve only been doing this since I was, like, 10. It’s not like there’s going to be another thing and I’m going to attach to another thing. This is the only thing. And I think that’s why a lot of those timeless things really resonate with people — bands like the Ramones. [It’s like] what affected people in 1977 is affecting me in the mid-'90s as a young kid, and still affects me as a 28-year-old today.
Do you remember the first time you heard the band?
JS: Probably my parents’ basement on the computer, but the time that sticks with me most is when I bought a CD copy of It’s Alive that I used to listen to on the bus on my Walkman. The first half of it was exactly how long it would take to get to school, and the same for the second half on the ride back. This was like fifth grade, [and] I would go to and from school and only listen to that, every day.
AO: I have an older punk cousin, so I got really into all [of that] at the same time. The Ramones, the Mr. T Experience, Operation Ivy, the Dead Kennedys — that’s the other band that’s my favorite band. It’s all the classic stuff, you know? That was in fourth or fifth grade, and that’s how I learned of them.
How do you idolize a band down to standing in the same formation and using similar gear without playing copycat? Where's the line, and how do you make sure you’re not crossing it?
AO: That's easy — we will never be the Ramones, so there's no way to cross that line. But it's definitely important to note we're not, like, a "Ramonescore" band. It's not like we're going to put out a T-shirt ripping off the Ramones seal or anything; we just really love the Ramones in a very sincere way.
Johnny Ramone was quoted saying, "I think Ronald Reagan was the best president of my lifetime." He's also claimed that punk music is right-wing. Do you think it's strange that someone so ingrained in the punk legacy could think like that?
JS: Johnny Ramone was a right-wing asshole. He played guitar really well in a band with three other people coming from different backgrounds that were all also generally fucked up in many different ways, but we feel that it's more important to take an influence from something and make that thing your own. Yes, the Ramones are a huge influence on our band and our lives, but that doesn't mean we have to think like them or take on any of their politics, nor should anyone else. There are plenty of other '70s and '80s punk bands that our politics align with, who, in turn, were also influenced by the Ramones. Hero worship is bullshit. It's more important to take history and make it your own.