Terry Malts is a punk rock trio based in San Francisco, CA. The band began as a side project of San Francisco indie pop band Magic Bullets, but soon became the main musical endeavor of vocalist/bassist Phil Benson, guitarist Corey Cunningham and drummer Nathan Sweatt. Breaking from the sweet, jangly 80s inspired sounds of Magic Bullets, Terry Malts makes aggressive, heavily distorted punk lightened by catchy pop melodies. After an EP release and two 7” singles, the band released their debut album Killing Time on Oakland indie label Slumberland, an iconic label who’s past roster has heavily inspired Terry Malts. Terry Malts is known for their high energy live show and will undertake a fall American tour.
San Francisco trio Terry Malts are all about loud and fun. First formed as an offshoot of indie pop group Magic Bullets by vocalist Phil Benson, drummer Nathan Sweatt and guitarist Corey Cunningham when the musicians wanted to hang out in their practice space, drink beer and mess around, Terry Malts soon emerged as the musicians’ primary project. Though it’s become a serious project for the trio, Terry Malts still maintains that beer swigging, let’s have a great time mentality with their mix of punk fervor and pop melodies that follows in the footsteps of greats like the Ramones. Appropriately enough, we sat down with Phil Benson over lunch beers to talk about songwriting and what the band would like to “Maltify.”
Band of the Day: Question: When you were starting Terry Malts did you talk out the sound you wanted to make or did it just kind of happen organically?
Phil: The whole thing originally happened because Magic Bullets didn't have a drummer. We were in between drummers and wanted to use our practice space. So Corey and Nathan and I would go there and bring a bunch of beer and drink and mess around. We tried to make some songs that were more, we were trying to make more Mission to Burma type stuff, post-punk-y, but I'm not that great of a musician, it's harder for me to sing and play more rhythmic stuff, so it's like, well let's try making really simple pop songs and then yeah, it came out of that.
Band of the Day: So it wasn't like, I wanted to have this sound.
Phil: Not initially, but then eventually once we, I don't know, the whole idea was to be simple and loud.
Band of the Day: What is about the combination of pop melodies and aggressive music that appeals to you? Is that something you like a lot in other bands?
Phil: Oh yeah totally. We were huge fans of Slubmerland records bands since we were teenagers. Henry's Dress is a huge influence, stuff like that. Black Tambourine. The whole idea of playing loud in Terry Malts just stems from Magic Bullets which never used any pedals, it was mainly reverb in amps. It was more just to make noise I guess, it suited our drunken minds. Magic Bullets was all really clean and intricate guitar lines.
Band of the Day: Is songwriting pretty communal in Terry Malts?
Phil: We found the best thing is to go into the practice space and just start playing whatever and then it builds itself.
Band of the Day: So you write lyrics after the music is finished?
Phil: Most of the time. Sometimes I'll jot stuff down but never full songs. I try to keep that, I don't want to sound like I think my lyrics are stupid, but I try to keep them … if it doesn't happen the first time I scrap it. I don't like thinking into it too much, thinking and rethinking. I usually stick with stuff that comes easy, you can feel it in your gut.
Band of the Day: Is it mostly pretty autobiographical? Would it mean as much to you if it wasn't? Could you write fictitious stuff?
Phil: Not necessarily fictitious, but more broad general topic stuff instead of making it specific stuff about myself. In Terry Malts I don't mind not having to feel it per se, on an intimate level. I'm also focusing on playing bass too, I don't want to get lost in the moment. I hope that doesn't make it sound like robot music!
Band of the Day: Do you revisit the emotions you felt when you first started playing it?
Phil: For a while, but when I play the song over and over again it's like, alright, I get it. People make up what they think it is for themselves, which I think is cool. And it becomes someone else's at some point.
Band of the Day: You describe yourselves as chainsaw pop. What song would you like to turn into chainsaw pop?
Phil: I'd like to do … we've been thinking about this recently 'cause we're trying to figure out what cover to put on the next record. Neil Young was brought up, though I wouldn't want to do a song that was already electric to begin with. We're always talking about, “We should malt that one up,” that's the term we use for it. That'd sound good maltified! I'm trying to remember what we were recently deciding on … are you familiar with the Softies? I wanted to do a Softies song. That's just two ladies on guitars, super quiet. You put it on when it's raining outside. But I was picturing a really fuzzed out, well not fuzzed out, loud, we don't use fuzz pedals.
Band of the Day: Talks about playing on the road and how people don't react.
Phil: I saw you guys play at the Knockout, a really fun dive-y bar and it seemed like a pretty perfect venue to see you. What is your favorite type of place to play?
Band of the Day: I prefer to play places that are an intimate size like that, or say Bottom of the Hill, which his a little bigger but I still like that you can have not a lot of people there and still feel good about the crowd. I also don't like places with big stages. The Knockout is good, you can just step up onto it. I don't like playing at the Independent, you're way off the ground, it's weird. I'm already tall as it is looking down at people. I also prefer not to play on the floor. I'd say smaller venues.
Band of the Day: If you could be a band in any time and place, where/when would it be?
Phil: I would love to have played Gilman when I was going to Gilman as a teenager.
Band of the Day: What's that?
Phil: 924 Gilman st. It's a volunteer run, d.i.y. Punk venue in Berkely.
Band of the Day: Oh right, that's the one that Green Day came up in.
Phil: Yeah and Operation Ivy. I used to go there a lot as a teenager. I remember those shows being super inspiring to me. It didn't really matter who at the time I was seeing, it was like “wow, look at all these bands, they're doing it!”
Band of the Day: The new album is called Killing Time, what's your favorite way to kill time?
Phil: I like listening to my records. I've told that to people where I'm like oh yeah, I just put on a record and I'll just sit there on my bed and not do anything at all. I do that a lot. People are like, wait, you don't read, or do other things? No, I just sit there and absorb the music. Think about what's happening here.
Band of the Day: One topic you sing about in a few songs is the dangers of judging other people. If there's anyone that you do judge, fairly or unfairly, who would that be?
Phil: Probably people that judge. I do my fair share of judging, I actually deleted my Twitter account because I felt like I was being too negative about certain things. I guess obviously people who choose to be ignorantly prejudiced. That seems like an obvious thing, who likes ignorant prejudiced people? But people are ok with that all over the place?
Band of the Day: How do you feel about being in a band in San Francisco? Do you feel like there is a scene, and if so that Terry Malts is part of it?
Phil: I mean there's a scene but it's not really … specific. There's a bunch of bands doing different things. I don't think we necessarily sound like bands we tend to play with, but close enough, genre-wise, I don't know. I think San Francisco gets pinned as a garage rock place a lot and sure there is a lot, but there's a lot of non-garage bands that get looked over because of the stipulation.