Uncomfortable, Not Unsafe: A Conversation with Critical Dad

by Morgan Davis

Photos by Ashley Bradley


Critical Dad

A little while ago we sat down with Critical Dad, one of the most interesting bands coming out of Austin’s swelling weirdo punk scene. The group is relatively new but has consistently appeared on excellent bills around town with the likes of Big Bill, Popper Burns and more, performing snotty, self-aware sets that recall a sloppier New York Dolls. You can catch them this Wednesday at Spider House as part of a bill Ovrld put together, joining new Resent spin off Vampyre as well as Bloody Knives and Pleasure Venom. But until then, enjoy this interview, where we discuss the band’s history, their view on identity in the punk scene and why Austin needs to build up its DIY scene.

Morgan Davis for Ovrld: So I guess I’ll start with the default question: What’s the origin of Critical Dad?

Val of Critical Dad: It started with me and Johnny playing guitar and bass in my room, over the period of a year.

Geoff: Do you want to start with me and Johnny? Or Johnny and I? Because this is going to be written down…

[band laughs]

Ovrld: I will put my best copy editors on it…

Val: On and off we practiced for a year until we met Milo. Then we actually started writing songs and playing them.

Ovrld: So Milo, you made it a professional band, basically?

Milo: Yeah, I definitely brought the professionalism to this band [band laughs]. Val and I met on Christmas Eve a few years ago. We were playing this drinking game called The Passion of the Christ.

Ovrld: As you do…

Milo: Yeah, we got pretty fucked up. I guess Val somehow learned that I played drums and then he bugged me enough that I was like “Fine, okay, I’ll play for your band.”

Ovrld: How did you enter the picture, Geoff?

Geoff: I don’t even fucking know. They just bothered me about playing guitar for these guys. I had been friends with Val for a long time. I hadn’t known Milo and Johnny until I joined but it was like a year ago since I joined…

Val: Your first show was July 25th.

Geoff: My first show was the one we played with Popper Burns and it was their first show as a four piece and our friend Tom Grrrl’s tour kick-off.

Ovrld: You recorded your EP with Ian Rundell, who does sound at Beerland and also did the Monofonus anthology. How did that come about?

Val: We played a Beerland show and we were actually talking to a friend of Geoff and Johnny’s who’s in Tom Grrrl about recording but we couldn’t set dates, or it kept falling through. And then I asked Ian at Beerland if he knew anyone that recorded and he was like “I do.”

[band laughs]

Val: So a lot like Milo, it just kind of worked out by coincidence.

Ovrld: Is that the theme of Critical Dad, in a way? Things accidentally happen?

Val: Yeah, it’s the same thing with the tape. Ian recorded it but at the same time as recording Attic Ted asked if we wanted to release something and we were like “Well, we’re actually recording, so this is perfect.”

Critical Dad

Ovrld: How was the experience of recording that versus the live shows you’ve done? I’ve noticed your live shows are almost a little glammier than what’s on the tape.

Val: I’ve recorded before and it’s definitely a different process. You care what you sound like more than when you’re playing live. Live tends to get a little sloppy because there’s a lot more going on than just playing music, when you’re performing to people.

Johnny: You have to work to keep the energy levels up a little more.

Milo: There is also the pressure to play the right thing when it’s recorded.

Johnny: Other than Geoff we all recorded together. So it wasn’t that difficult. It was probably harder for Geoff because he had to do guitar after…

Geoff: Not really. You guys went for a beer run and I recorded all of my parts before you were back!

[band laughs]

Johnny: Well, we did get lost on the way back…Milo and I were very lost. But it was great. Ian did a fantastic job. He was super easy to work with. He knew exactly what he was doing and none of us did. And it was great to describe something to him in such poor language and have him know immediately what to do.

Milo: He was like “Let me fix the frequencies. Is this exactly what you want?”

Val: I think the thing we said most was “Can you make it sound dirtier?”

Milo: “Can you throw it in the ground a little bit and stomp on it and make it sound like garbage?”

Val: And then he was like [makes robot sounds] “Here you go!”

Ovrld: You stand out from a lot of the other stuff Ian records because I feel like there is a lot of self-awareness and humor in what you do, and a lot of the other bands he records are more serious punk. Do you feel you’re in a different sphere than the other punk that is coming out of Austin?

Val: We do try to write songs that are fun and that we all enjoy. But at the same time…

Johnny: We’re still just a rock ‘n’ roll band. I don’t think we’re that different. I mean, I guess we don’t dress the right way or play the same, but I don’t think we’re that different, to be honest.

Val: We do like to write stuff and talk about stuff just critiquing the norm and keeping people aware of what they’re doing and the actions they do and how that affects people rather than go on stage and act like assholes, with no regrets.

Johnny: He writes stuff like that. The only song I’ve written so far was about…what’s that movie?

Geoff: Dr. Strangelove…

Johnny: Yeah, Dr. Strangelove. I think that’s part of why we sound unique to, because we all write our own stuff and write our own parts. We have similar tastes but everyone is into something a little bit different.

Milo: It all comes together pretty organically. We’ll play and it will sound like something we created, not a bunch of separate parts.

Val: I feel like we’ve quickly become part of the queer punk community in Austin. We don’t outwardly write songs about queer issues and stuff, we write about identity issues and being self-aware and trying to fight the typical masculine bullshit in society.

Milo: The typical misogyny of the Austin bro-punk scene.

Critical Dad

Val: Yeah. We’ve gotten to the point where we try to book our own shows, and when we do we try to book shows as inclusively as possible. I know we are four mostly cis white males sitting here but we try to book shows with not all cis white male bands. Not to say those bands are necessarily good or bad, but I think it’s important…

Milo: To have everyone included so people who wouldn’t have the social capital or wouldn’t have a voice are able to bring their projects up to the forefront. I think that’s really important, especially with the saturation of bands in Austin.

Val: It’s a thing we like to be vocal about, too. Because there are lots of marginalized groups out there that play great music and using our privilege to say something like “You are welcome to play here, we want to play with you, we can make this happen.” That isn’t necessarily catering to the queer community or people of color or trans people, it’s just making it feel safe for everybody to be included.

Ovrld: Part of that is the presentation you have on stage. It feels like every band in Austin tends to look the same way…

Milo: We’re not heteronormative.

Ovrld: Yeah.

Milo: Val presents the most non-heteronormatively and I think it’s important to have a front person who is not like the same guy in the same punk t-shirt with black cutoffs.

Val: Looking different to try to draw attention not necessarily to myself, because I already I am a white guy with a microphone people are already going to listen to me to a certain extent because that’s how the music scene works and shows work, it’s like “Here’s something different to look at and I hope these few dumb words get through to some people and make some people feel welcome.”

Milo: Or some people who wouldn’t think otherwise, like some bro might think “This thing might be an issue, why don’t I try to address that when I do a show? Why don’t I act more inclusively?” Hopefully that kind of message will get through to somebody else. It’s a message of inclusivity but also of being self-aware of what you do.

Ovrld: Have you run into any challenges on that front? Do you feel that the scene in Austin is generally inclusive? Or do you think sometimes masculinity goes into overdrive?

Johnny: It does sometimes. But it does everywhere. I don’t think it’s specific to Austin. It’s just part of any rock ‘n’ roll scene, unfortunately. In general I don’t think we’ve come across any specific issues.

Val: There was the…what was that festival at Hotel Vegas?

Milo: Good Vibrations.

Val: We played kind of early and we were singing and talking about the stuff that we sing and talk about and got some good reactions from people and then at the end of the night it was a super typical bro-y shit show.

Geoff: That was just the audience though. We loved most of the bands that were playing, it just brought a weird audience of people who were just there and didn’t give a shit about the bands or the music, they were there for the party.

Val: But that’s part of the show. Part of being a band is not just addressing how other bands should be, not that we’re trying to tell anybody what they should be, but we try to make everybody think a little bit about what they’re doing, not necessarily everybody that’s involved.

Critical Dad played The Bill Ball earlier this year, which was designed to be an especially safe space.

Critical Dad played The Bill Ball earlier this year, which was designed to be an especially safe space.

Johnny: Basically we just want to play places that are comfortable for everybody, us and the audience.

Val: Safety is the big word.

Johnny: Yeah, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a goal that we set out for. It’s just that that’s what we’re comfortable doing.

Milo: Well, I don’t think it should be a goal. It’s basic human rights to have safety. If you don’t agree that “I should be able to go out to a space and feel safe,” I think you have a lot of other issues to deal with. If you can’t feel safe at a show…like that Beerland example, that band Lower Berth had a member decide to assault one of the female audience members and be a total misogynist prick to the point where she didn’t feel safe and that she had to leave. The guy kept going for her and going for her, and that’s unacceptable. People who aren’t on board with that very basic level of human dignity and respect have no place playing music in the scene.

Val: I think the best thing I ever heard about this issue was from Victoria from the Downtown Boys, when we saw them in San Antonio. She was talking about how it’s good to go to a punk show and feel uncomfortable, because when you’re uncomfortable it’s a new idea or new issue or something to think about…

Milo: It does give you something to think about because she said there is a difference between feeling uncomfortable and unsafe.

Val: Yeah, and I think when she worded that that was something I had been looking for all my life, someone just so beautifully putting into words…

Milo: So simply and concisely too. “There is a difference between feeling uncomfortable and feeling unsafe.” Uncomfortable makes you think about something, unsafe is directly affecting you.

Val: That’s the thing about punk. People get worked up and start dancing and shoving and making people feel unsafe and then when complain about them…

Milo: They say “If you can’t deal with it, get out of punk!”

Val: That mentality is something that shouldn’t exist.

Milo: Isn’t inclusivity something that punk was founded on? Embracing the outsider? But instead it becomes the same old thing.

Ovrld: You do a lot of shows at Cheer Up Charlie’s and Beerland and this year that area of town has faced a lot of challenges. Do you feel the Austin scene is changing and running into more obstacles in that area?

Geoff: I don’t know that it’s changing. I mean, it would suck to lose that venue, I think Cheer Up’s is fine. We do Cheer Up’s and Beerland and Vegas occasionally and I think all those venues are fine…the idea of losing a venue sucks but more will pop up. That’s a broader cultural thing in Austin that I don’t think will affect the Austin music scene, not too much.

Val: It’s a thing I’ve been thinking about a lot. Austin is a funny town because there are so many venues and the majority of them are bars and 21+. I like a lot of these places. I fucking love Cheer Up Charlie’s, I love Beerland, Hotel Vegas is fun, I enjoy going to Mohawk for shows, but at a certain point I hope some of these places can survive if Red River goes away as the music district, and they can find other homes. But at the same time losing a few venues, I don’t think that will be an end-all of the music scene here. In a sense, I even hope it inspires people to branch out and maybe start more DIY spaces where weirder and more interesting music can be presented.

Milo: And more all-ages venues can pop up, that’s one of the bigger issues.

Geoff: That is a big issue. There’s Mohawk but that’s only bigger shows. The Owl is gone, they did a few all-ages shows, but they just did a few shows sporadically.

Val: Spider House does 18 and up, doesn’t it?

Geoff: Yeah.

Val: That’s why I was excited to play there. I didn’t know that they did that before. It’s just like the same thing as making people feel safe, kids should feel welcome too. I know a lot of the foundation of who I am today came from going to punk shows when I was like 13 or 14. Just thinking about what kids can do in Austin, you have Emo’s…

Milo: Yeah, go to Emo’s and see the same old shit.

Val: There was Trailer Space. I wish I had had that when I was a kid.

Ovrld: What’s on the horizon for Critical Dad?

Val: We’ve been working on new songs. We’re hopefully looking to record again with Ian, do an EP. Maybe try to get a piece of vinyl out there.

Ovrld: What are some things you wish would change in Austin? What are some disappointments you have?

Val: I guess just what I was saying about the DIY spaces. I would love there to be more house shows. More places that can set up regular house shows. I know it’s hard to put in that effort, but people who are willing to put in the effort of running a house venue…

Milo: It’s very rewarding to play a house show. It’s great to have your whole community packed into a small space. The energy is totally different than any show at a venue. You can really bond and you don’t have to necessarily participate in drinking culture to enjoy each other’s company and play a really good show with each other.

Johnny: In general I feel the bands have been great. New China is wonderful, Popper Burns, Big Bill is fantastic. There are just a lot of really great bands right now. Pleasure Venom is great. The garage rock thing is getting old and people are starting something, it’s exciting to be a part of that. But I’m more excited just to see bands doing something unique.

Milo: Bands that are outsiders. Bands like us are coming up, getting up on the main stage instead of in the same garage bands you’ve heard a million times. There’s a place for that too but I want something different.

Val: Like you were saying we are a different kind of band than some of the bands in this sea of music, but the fact is we’re not the only ones…

Johnny: Far from it.

Val: We just mentioned Pleasure Venom, Big Bill, I’d even say XETAS to a certain extent. Mom Jeans. Mean Girls. We’ve been playing for a while and sometimes I feel like we’re a band of outsiders in an outsider genre. It’s feeling less and less like that and more and more like home every day, like we actually have a place here in this community.

Johnny: We’re just a shitty rock band. We’re nothing special.

Critical Dad plays this Wednesday at Spider House with Vampyre, Pleasure Venom and Bloody Knives.

Morgan Davis sells bootleg queso on the streets of Austin in order to fund Loser City, the multimedia collective he co-runs. When he isn’t doing that, he gets complimented and/or threatened by Austin’s musical community for stuff he writes at Ovrld, which he is the Managing Editor of.