Frontman Dan Yemin, of iconic hardcore band Paint It Black, talks Philadelphia, psychology and punk life.

Frontman Dan Yemin, of iconic hardcore band Paint It Black, talks Philadelphia, psychology and punk life.

Throughout our phonecall, Paint It Black frontman Dan Yemin – who completed a doctorate in psychology in the 1990s – repeatedly refers to himself as belonging with a generation of ‘older punks’. But having released a new EP ‘Invisible’ on No Idea Records last April, 2013, Paint It Black are one punk band, with a strong heritage, that aren’t afraid to evolve and work on new, relevant material. Last month they even made a few rare live appearances in California.

Founder of iconic East Coast hardcore bands Lifetime and Kid Dynamite, Yemin has sung on records which have had a lasting impact beyond popular culture punk rock. In Paint It Black, his acrimonious lyrics – which have touched on feminism, fatherhood and animal rights – are spat caustically with contagious gumption and vigour.

We caught up with the multi-talented musician to find out how he’s managed to balance professional ambitions with punk principles.

How were the recent shows?
Oh yeah, we love doing them. I would say it’s even more special now because we don’t get to do it that much. We did a show with Joyce Manor – they’ve become the most popular thing in Southern California. They’re like Jawbreaker now, and a band we really believe in and support. Every time we play we make sure it’s planned – we pretty much take control of every show, so it’s exactly the bands we wanna see and play with. When we released this record in April [‘Invisible’, No Idea Records] we flew Joyce Manor out here. It’s much more important to us to spend all the money we make making sure the right bands come. So when we were coming to the West Coast they said: “Hey, we happen to be playing this show, come play with us.”

The last three EPs have been on different labels – Bridge 9, Fat Wreck and No Idea. How did that come about?
It’s all planned. We look at records in the same way as setting up shows – we just wanna work with exactly who we wanna work with. The lucky thing about doing this as long as I’ve done it, is I pretty much know everybody that we’d wanna work with, who is also interested in working with us. It’s nice to have that kind of freedom.

What new music did you listen this last year?
Andy, our bass player, does music for a living so he’s constantly devouring new music and spends hundreds of dollars a month ordering vinyl through the mail. His present to me at the beginning of every year is a 8GB flash drive full of all his favourite music from the year before. So I’ll find out soon. It’s usually all styles; punk, rock ‘n’ roll, hip hop, experimental, indie… But I love the Permanent Ruin EP and the new Iron Lung record. I also like the Waxahatchee record, the new Night Birds and the new Swearin’ record that just came out. I try not to pay too much attention to music journalism – it used to be the only thing I paid attention to but now it gets me a little bit depressed. It’s a little overwhelming about how the hype machine works. But The New Yorker has a music writer who’s fantastic – even when it’s about stuff I don’t like. His name’s Sasha Frere-Jones.

Do you think of yourself as a professional musician?
I guess professional just means you get paid to do it. I get paid sometimes but what I actually think about music is that I’m very lucky that I don’t have to rely on music to make a living. No disrespect to people that do, I just feel lucky that I don’t because it means I can do whatever the fuck I want all the time. We can sell out a show in Philadelphia and instead of paying the rent I can fly other bands we want to see out to play with us. That’s a terrible business decision, but it’s a great decision for being in a punk band. It’s gonna sound really snobby but I’ve used the word “curate”; when we set up a show we’re looking at it like something we’re curating. We try to make it as perfect as we can without over-planning it. For people my age and people in their thirties who have been making punk music for a long time, Fugazi is the biggest influence. Not just in terms of music but the way they conducted themselves as a band. So we’re really lucky to have grown up in the shadows of that band. The first show I ever played in Europe was with Lifetime in Prague and we opened for Fugazi. Just watching even how they handled the business of a show has affected everything I’ve done since.

When did you start studying for a career in psychology?
I guess I started studying in 1986 when I was 18. At university my approach was to take everything that looked interesting. We have a lot of freedom here – you can kind of do whatever you want for two years and then at some point you have to declare a focus. So I took everything I was interested in but my main focus was psychology. That was in 1986 when I was 18. In 1992, I went back to school to get my masters degree and my doctoral degree. I thought psychology was interesting and I wanted to learn about it.

Was it hard to share your time between your studies and music?
When I first went to university I wasn’t playing with anybody. When I graduated in 1990, I moved back to New Jersey and started Lifetime. Then two years later I went back to school to get my graduate degrees. I thought I was going to have to stop doing the band but it just became busier and busier and I figured out how to balance it. Studying, doing internships, and then playing shows on weekends and going on tour during the summer. Then I took a year off and suspended my studies to just do Lifetime. We tried to do it full-time and then we broke up, so I finished my degree and started Kid Dynamite. It’s always been balancing academic responsibilities with family responsibilities, or something like that.

Has it been playing in bands or your career that has kept you healthy?
It’s probably been music. And then you know, I think my family has a lot to do with who I am. My parents raised me with a set of values that were not so much about material things – it wasn’t like a classically American set of values. It wasn’t about material things or buying things. They valued education and they valued a version of success that was about happiness and fulfillment, and being engaged and interested and satisfied. Finding some meaning in your work, that’s always been important. And then I think punk rock and my community of people here in Philadelphia that are older punks have also kinda been the second part. The foundations were the values I was raised with. I probably chose my career because of punk rock. And so I guess music always came first in that.

‘Little Fists’ – it’s about your daughter right?
Yeah it always makes me cry when I listen to it. I wrote it when I used to go and watch her sleep. I’d watch her little fists curled up and I’d think of all the battles that she’d have to fight in her life… Oh man I’m tearing up just thinking about it. I’m not one of those guys who likes to avoid feeling things.

You can keep up with Paint It Black happenings on their Facebook page.