Never really thought of myself as a “punchkid” but…

Punchline - PJ, Paul, Steve and Chris (One of the earlier lineups)

A few weeks ago, I was at a Sheetz in Cranberry Twp, Pennsylvania filling up my car when I walked past Steve Soboslai, the lead singer and guitarist from the band Punchline.  Without really thinking, I blurted out, “What’s up, Steve?”  I quickly realized that he had no idea who the hell I was.  I made some attempt to explain how I knew him from back in my days as the bass player from the local band, Category Five.  It’s been at least 6 years since that band existed, but Steve played along and graciously asked how I was.

A couple weeks later on a road trip from New York to Penn State, I packed a couple CDs for the ride.  I threw Punchline’s 37 Everywhere, Just Say Yes and The Rewind EP in my car.  I was just in the mood for Punchline.  Driving down a very long stretch of I-80, I probably played the song “Castaway” 15 times in a row.  Sometimes I get in melancholy moods where all I can do is put a sad song on repeat and just let it run its course.  I’ve been like that ever since freshman year in college where the song “Megan 2K2 (Even Though it’s 2K3 Now)” by Reggie and the Full Effect basically ruined my life.  Regardless, I got to thinking a little bit about Punchline as a band – and how they’ve been a part of my life for such a long time.

When I was 16, one of my first bands – Fire Crotch Johnson – was asked to play at my friend Jon Patrick’s barn party.  He asked a bunch of local bands to play, including budding local  favorites, Punchline, as the headliners.  I think my band mates and I spent the afternoon trying to convince our fill-in drummer to skip the high school presentation of The Lion King.  We ended up having to cancel our performance, but I did stick around to watch the other bands.  Punchline was the tightest local band I had ever seen – even as a three-piece.  I was so impressed (and jealous) of Chris Fafalios’ ability to jump mid-song with his bass during the well-placed pauses in their songs.  The music just sounded better than any other bands on the bill.  My band mate Alex bought their self-titled album and the hateration began.

Listening to Punchline, I ignored the fact that their music was so akin to everything I had written in my previous bands (but better) and honed in on a guitar hook in the song “Bingo”.  “This sounds exactly like ‘Dammit’ by Blink-182,” I thought to myself.  For some reason, this was unforgivable.  It was the one excuse my wise and intuitive 16-year-old mind needed to dismiss the band as a bunch of hacks, no matter how much they rocked my socks off when I saw them live.

Major Motion Picture

I joined a new band (Category Five) not long after that barn show.  During our long run of about 5 years, there was a perceived rivalry between us and almost every other band in the local scene, including Punchline (although I’m sure they were barely aware of us).  We recorded our first full length at the same studio they recorded Major Motion Picture – their first recording with Paul Menotiades (who really seemed to change the entire sound of the band at that time) and we were able to hear bits and pieces of the album before it was pressed.  Major Motion Picture, despite having questionable lyrics at times (“You know I don’t like sports, so why you playing these games with my heart?” for example), sounded great.  The crisp sound of the drums, the depth at guitar, the dueling harmonies, etc.  Hearing their growth on that album really set the bar for what I thought a good band needed to sound like.  In comparison, our debut album sounded kind of flat and overproduced.  Jealousy abounded.

Here’s a little side-by-side to break the monotony of reading:

Punchline – “Express”

Category Five – “Crash Test”

So the years passed by.  Category Five played some good shows around Pittsburgh.  Punchline got signed to Fueled By Ramen.  I ended up going to Penn State and my band fizzled a little bit.  We actually played a couple shows in the Pollock Commons recreation room at Penn State, opening for Punchline during the later half of my freshman year.  Watching them play live has always been a treat.  They’re so passionate on stage.  I think this is where I really started to open my mind to Punchline again.  I remember downloading the song “Play” from the Rewind EP , figuring out the intro lead riff on my guitar and feeling very satisfied with myself because it was somewhat technical.

Action

The second half of my sophomore year, the start of 2004 was an amazing time for music.  Looking back – that was the semester that gave me Audio Karate’s Lady Melody, Name Taken’s Hold On, Northstar’s Pollyanna and Punchline’s Action.  I didn’t expect to dig into Action like I did, but the album has become one of my all-time favorites.  From the opening 10 seconds of “Open Up”, I was hooked.  Punchline created something that undeniably changed them from a local band I grew up with to a legitimate pop punk staple.  The songwriting on the album really stood out to me too – I dare you to find a song on Action that sticks to the old “verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus” formula.  Every song shifts direction and takes you somewhere new, but they did it with purpose.  It was one of those albums that I just studied.  I remember blasting the album in my car, trying to hit the really dramatic vocal line at about 2:40 into “Battlescars” like it was some sort of catharsis for me.  I had “A Beautiful Green” on my bedtime mix.  I played the intro of “Time in a Picture” over and over until I figured the verse riff on my guitar.  Hell, I even talked to Steve’s ex-girlfriend Angela about what “Getting There is Getting By” was about while she helped book my band’s final show.

I got into Action in a big way.

Sometime before they released their next album, Paul left the band.  For those of you following along, I’ve already admitted that I had been actively following Punchline for at least 5 years at this point.  This was like a huge plot turn in a daytime soap opera.  Paul was a sick guitar player (and at least a year younger than me) and I respected the hell out of him.  Even though I had heard the rumors, in my mind, there was no way could they replace him…

…Then I heard “Flashlight” and I promptly ate my words.  When the band added the track from their forthcoming album 37 Everywhere to their Purevolume player, my jaw hit the floor.  It was tougher and more heartfelt than anything I had ever heard from them before.  The rest of the album took a while to grow on me and I didn’t take the time to really savor it like I did with Action.  Still, songs like “The Fake, the Snake and the Birthday Cake” and “Green Light” didn’t disappoint.

The band left Fueled By Ramen, which seemed like it might be a killer blow.  So many other groups have disbanded after losing label support.  Punchline might be the one exception.  Instead of folding, they started their own media company, Modern Short Stories, and put out their next album Just Say Yes themselves last year.

Just Say Yes

Looking at the cover art, I didn’t know what to make of Just Say Yes.  It’s eerily reminiscent of The Cab’s album Whisper War or The Junior Varsity’s self-titled record, both of which I dislike.  I assumed Punchline had sunk knee-deep into neon and this was where we would part ways forever.  Instead, the album shook loose all my preconceived notions with the opener, “Ghostie”.  It’s proof that Punchline is never going to forget that punk rock scene in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania that they helped to foster.  Not many bands are making music like that these days.  Also, Steve and Chris continue to grow and sharpen their songwriting skills – and that’s evident through tracks like “Castaway” and “The Other Piano Man”- and as I get older, I can appreciate that they don’t need to pander to a younger audience to stay relevent.

Night Lights

I’ve been living in New York City for the past 3 years, and my affinity for my hometown grows stronger as time passes.  I’m a huge Steelers and Penguins fan.  I even started listening to the Clarks.  I’m also a huge Punchline fan.  But the love for that band comes from a deeper place than just a shared hometown.  There’s a sense that I’ve grown up with them.  After watching all they’ve accomplished so far, there’s a sense of pride.

Today, Punchline released an album of B-sides and rarities called Night Light.  The sales of this album go to cover the recording costs of a new album the band hopes to record sometime next year (They’ve lost their longtime drummer PJ Caruso, but it appears that Paul is back in the band again!  Awesome!).  This morning, without flinching, I went to the band’s website and paid the full donation to download the album.  It’s full of old songs and alternate versions of classics and its the reason I felt like reminiscing about the band’s entire career today.  I know I started out a skeptic, but I’ll be the first one to tell you that I can’t wait to see what Punchline comes up with next.

In the spirit of the season, I thought I’d throw up one of my favorite Punchline b-sides that’s actually available on Night Light:

Punchline – “Icicles”

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6 Responses to “Never really thought of myself as a “punchkid” but…”

  1. you are gushing quite the nut here

  2. Let me offer a helping hand to a man who has clearly loved, and lost:

    Whenever someone, or a group of people, that you have loved leave your life and take a Category Five shit on your heart, it’s sometimes good to reach back out to them later in life and let them know that you’re still thinking about them. For instance, I’ve recently sent all of my high school teachers graphic photos of facials at the end of intense bondage pornography scenes. It really conveys the sense of anguish you feel about their absence, but remembers the joy you felt when together.

    Think about it. If you need some websites to visit to get these photos, or need help making your own, please feel free to give me a call.

    Regards,

    Mike

  3. janiceelaine Says:

    You think Bingo sounds like Dammit? I don’t hear that.

  4. Chelsea Lawler Says:

    I really enjoyed reading this! I have been a fan of Punchline since I have in 8th grade & now, I am about to head to graduate school. Kind of scary! Thanks for sharing your thoughts; It took me quite some time to get into 37 Everywhere, but it has definitely grown on me. I can’t wait for their new album & a lot of pretentious music snobs give me a lot of grief for listening to Punchline…but do you know what I say to them? Fuck you! It’s nice to read someone else’s thoughts & feelings on the progress of this band. Thanks for sharing again 🙂

  5. Chelsea Lawler Says:

    I just realized I left out several words in my post. Whoops! And I’m going to graduate school?!

  6. […] maybe a few of you have read my extensive article about Punchline a few months ago.  I’d probably still maintain that Action was the […]

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