It’s Not Your Call if Reunited Daughters Whip It Out Onstage
There’s that old adage about everyone having two deaths. One occurs when you take your last breath. The other happens the last time someone says your name. Providence’s polarizing noiseniks Daughters drew their last breath sometime in August of 2009, shortly after wrapping up their final self-titled album. There was no fanfare, no official press statement — just a quiet, unceremonious death. But the second death, that last utterance of their name by their last fan, just wouldn’t come. Daughters came out seven months later to wild praise. And perhaps more importantly, the stories of the band’s live shows lived on in infamy.
The four core members of Daughters all contributed to their imposing presence and unnerving sound. Jon Syverson was a criminally underrated drummer. He had the speed and chops of any of the greats of grindcore, but he’d plow through songs with a cigarette dangling from his lips and a middle finger pointed at the audience. Nick Sadler deconstructed conventional rock guitar technique until all that was left were anxiety-inducing screeches and skronks. Sam Walker displayed a similar disdain for notes and chords, and instead opted to use the bass as a blunt object of low-end power. And in the center of the melee was vocalist Lex Marshall.
Anytime I’ve wound up in a conversation with a stranger or a new acquaintance about Daughters, the same thing happens: “Oh, I have a story about this one time I saw them.” There is always a story.
“Nick busted up his face stage-diving and then smashed two guitars.”
“British hooligans threatened to beat the shit out of them on stage.”
“Security had to stop the show because the fans were tearing down the barricade.”
“Someone set the club’s trash cans on fire.”
But most of the time, the stories revolve around Marshall. There was the time he puked on the front row of festival-goers in Japan. Or the time he had to flee the stage at the L.A. Knitting Factory because cops showed up to arrest him for public indecency. There are so many stories involving nudity, lewd behavior, blood, mucus and urine that it’s a wonder the band was able to tour so heavily for nearly all of the '00s without winding up in jail or in the hospital. Well, the latter actually happened a few times.
Ultimately, Daughters ended for the reasons most bands broke up: They couldn’t be in the same room with each other. Marshall got sober, started a hardcore band called Fucking Invincible, and tried to put Daughters in the past. But the band had become a minor legend. People kept talking. And in 2013, the band reunited for two sold-out shows in their hometown. Three years later, they’ve lined up a short run of dates on the East and West Coasts. Marshall, in his characteristic sardonic and self-effacing manner, talked with CLRVYNT about these reunion shows.
What was the rationale for getting back together? Are you testing the waters for more activity? Did you just want to play a couple of shows and that’s it?
We’ve been talking about it for a while. Ever since we did those reunion shows three years ago, we’ve been recording bits and pieces, making demos … we spent a few days at [Providence studio] Machines With Magnets, where the plan was to have Jon come up from Austin and the four of us were going to go in, record a bunch of stuff and put it out. We weren’t gonna overthink it. But we forced it and it wound up feeling unfinished. We were unhappy with a lot of it. So it got shelved. But we’ve worked constantly since then. We have a shared Dropbox that people can put ideas in, or Nick will hit us up with a bunch of ideas and we’ll coordinate to meet up and talk about plans. So, we’ve been constantly working together, but not in a functional way where we’re like a real band.
While Fucking Invincible was out in the spring, everywhere we went, people were asking about what was going on with Daughters. There’s always somebody somewhere who saw us in, like, Chapel Hill in fuckin’ 2002 or something. Or some 19-year-old kid who’s psyched on the band and talking about how we never got to see us. It’s crazy. People are actually still into it. So, I got home and sent out a group text saying, "People are interested in us doing something. We shouldn’t fuck around. We should just go out at play some shows, because this writing thing is taking way longer than it was supposed to. Let’s not concern ourselves with that; let’s just play some shows and things will happen after that. Everything will happen by itself once we get in the mindset of being in Daughters and being with each other."
It’s almost like there was something toxic in the air in the early '00s where there was this notion in everyone’s heads that if you just toured enough, things would work out. And I think that really exhausted people. And it oversaturated the market. But anytime I talk to someone about Daughters, it’s like this mythical thing. People loved that band, but I think you wore yourselves thin. People knew they could see you again three months later because you’d be back through on another tour. Now that it’s been absent from people’s lives, people are hungry for it.
We played a lot. A lot of it had to do with us all being poor, and we didn’t have much going on for us in the city. So, we thought we’d just go out and play and not have to worry about real life. We were in our 20s and we could just fuck around. Why would I stay at home and pay for all of my drugs and alcohol when I could go on tour and everything was free? We didn’t think things through at all. We put out three records over … I don’t even know how long … and there are three- or four-year gaps between them because we were playing all the time. We didn’t stop. We didn’t come home from tour and think about writing and planning things out and doing the right thing. We didn’t think about any of that. We just kept playing. Kept playing and drinking and thinking it would all come together somewhere.
That was my band experience as well. There was even some weird Protestant work ethic thing where we thought if we just kept touring, just kept working on the road, then that’s a good thing. You’re literally putting in the hours, and it will eventually reap some sort of reward. There was no consideration for quality as opposed to quantity of touring.
I always wanted to play. I was so bored with rehearsals. Recording was such a drag. I just wanted to play. When we made a record, I wanted it to be super natural, like, "Let’s sit down, write some shit, record it, and then we’ll just go back out and keep playing." That’s what I wanted, because all I ever gave a shit about was playing shows. I just loved doing that. Everything else seemed tedious. It felt like work. And I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to do work. I had a job; that was my work. This was supposed to be fun.
Something I’ve been trying to come to terms with is the artistry behind composition and creation, as opposed to the artistic merit behind being a performer. I know a lot of musicians who love the process of composing and writing, but touring is just the necessary evil to pay the bills. It makes me feel guilty to admit that I just love playing music. I love making something happen in real time, onstage. And I can totally understand how someone sees the act of performing being less valid than the act of writing.
Regardless of which side of the fence you stand on, one perpetuates the other. You can keep playing and playing, but eventually no one will want to hear you play the same record over and over again. And as much as I love performing, there were times when I thought, “We’re gonna do this set again?” The great thing with Fucking Invincible is that if we’re writing, we’re just writing. We’ve been playing a 7” live that doesn’t even come out for another month, and we’ve been playing it for, like, eight months just because it’s new shit and we like it. By the time it comes out, we’ll probably just play a few bits off of it and playing a bunch of new shit that isn’t available.
You’re obviously a lot older now …
A lot older? Oh my God, why would you say that?
Dude, it’s been, like, 10 years since you guys wrote the last Daughters stuff! Is there any nervousness about playing those songs and harnessing the same feelings behind them?
I don’t want to overthink it and wonder what’s going to happen. I might be past the naked stage of my life where I have to pull my dick out in front of a bunch of strangers all the time. I think I’m past that. You never know what’s gonna happen, though. When we played the reunion shows, I had been in this mindset where I didn’t know physically what to do with myself. Like, am I going to climb a wall now? I just don’t know.
But I’m not worried. People might come and think something crazy is going to happen and that I’m gonna jump out of the ceiling or drink beer out of somebody’s shoe or piss in my own face. If these things happen, then these things just happen. I haven’t planned it. I haven’t ruled anything out. But to go in with an idea, it almost feels unnatural. Like it’s a Beyoncé act where I’m gonna go over here and now I’m gonna go over there and then this thing is going to happen. It just feels very artificial. I’ve done a lot of stupid things while playing, but I’ve never thought, "Oh, now’s the time to do this stupid thing." It just happens.
I remember being 18 years old and going on my first tour and doing dumb things like streaking through parking lots — doing all these things where you think you’re an adult and you’re totally liberated, but you’re behaving like a child who doesn’t believe in real consequences. Now I’m 39 and I think about doing that stuff, and all I can think is, “Man, I could’ve wound up a registered sex offender.”
When I was young ... I think for most people, when they’re younger, there’s this self-centered attitude of me me me me. I’m doing this thing and it’s fun, and if you don’t like it, you’re a fucking drag. Now I’m older and I don’t want stupid dumb bullshit thrown in my face. I don’t think getting older means calming down or general dullness. I think you just become more aware of other people and how what you’re doing affects the people around you. That was part of getting sober. When I was thinking about the way I was acting, I’d fucking hate myself if I wasn’t me. If I — drunken Lex — had walked into a room as I — sober Lex — was sitting there, I’d think, "This guy is a fucking moron. He’s acting like an idiot, he’s loud — get him out of my face." When I started thinking about myself like that, it just seemed so pathetic and self-centered. Why be that person?
It’s a level of self-awareness that a lot of young people — or a lot of drunk people — don’t have.
I’m feeling more deliberate now. Like, if I’m going to a show to see a guy take a piss in a cup and throw it in the crowd, then I should expect to have piss thrown on me. But if I’m at the grocery store and a guy just took a piss on my leg, I’m gonna get mad. And I didn’t think about that a lot when I was younger, and I wound up getting in a lot of confrontations because of it. I didn’t consider that it was probably more about my ego than it was about some sort of expressive thing.
I don’t know what’s going to happen at these shows. This is the conflict where I’ve decided that I’ve become a smarter person as I’ve gotten older, but I’m still a self-deprecating angry person who’s just gonna see what happens, let the chips fall where they may.
Well, it’s good that you don’t know what’s going to happen. Jon talked about Daughters being a "punk interruption" in the early years. You guys would show up and play these shows, and people would have no idea what to expect. And your whole mission was to just leave people shell-shocked. But now there are expectations. There’s so much anticipation. But what’s the point of just reliving 2004? It seems so much more exciting to give people a dose of 2016, however that winds up manifesting itself as far as Daughters goes.
I’m not interested in fulfilling anyone’s hopes or preconceived notions. I’m not interested in being this person that people think I’m supposed to be. I’m not interested in people who think, "Well, he’s sober and he’s old and this band is boring now." I can’t be bothered caring about that shit. It’s not for me to decide how people react.
So many people hated our band for years. If people don’t like it now, it won’t be any different than it was then. You got to let that shit go. This is punk, and things are just going to happen. If you expect things to be a certain way, you’re going to be disappointed. I never thought, "Well, tonight I drank this guy’s piss, so tomorrow I’m going to have to do something else crazy." I mean, one night I’d be doing god-knows-what in front of a room full of strangers, and the next night I’d be feeling unhappy with my life, so I’d just lean on the mic stand and turn my back to the room, and I’d play the whole show like that. That’s what comes with it being natural. Sometimes it’s not going to be very entertaining, but I wouldn’t know any other way of doing it. I can’t do pop music’s choreographed nonsense and disingenuous salesmanship of selling a product as opposed to actually making art.
Sometimes I’m gonna do a still life; sometimes I’m gonna go through a blue period. And if you don’t like blue, fuckin’ sorry, but I’m using a lot of blue. Maybe I’ll get back to the shit you like at another time, but this is my expression, and this is Nick expressing himself, and Jon and Sam … we’re all expressing ourselves, and if you want to appreciate it, great. But don’t come in here and demand that we give you what you want. Because this is for us. Glad you can take part in it and appreciate it, but don’t make demands. This is our art.