There were no parking maids directing traffic, no tour bus and auspiciously no line out the front steps of St. Andrew’s Hall on this chilly Friday evening after Thanksgiving, as I scurried across Congress Street under the looming glow of the GM Renaissance towers. Upon closer inspection, my fears for arriving too early were calmed by the sight of a black Dodge van towing a U-Haul trailer and the muffled hum of bass guitar emanating from within St. Andrew’s doors. This was a punk rock gig in its simplest form.
Safely inside, the scene was, well, cozy – perfect for interviewing Chicago-based Allister, on tour promoting their new record Last Stop Suburbia, released this October on the Drive-Thru label. With influences from the Queers, Screeching Weasels and Green Day, as well as Nirvana, Allister follows a simple edict of high velocity rhythms and comprehensible, not-so-poetic lyrics. They’ve been embraced by the new punk-rock industry, with quiet followings spotting the two coasts.
Sitting in a row in St. Andrew’s upstairs lounge, the quartet nursed cold beers to their sweaty foreheads and shared what they did for Thanksgiving on the road. “We ate at the Golden Corral in Cincinnati after our gig there,” Murphy the bassist replied. “We had a $9 buffet, it was so good,” adds Chris Rogner, on guitars with his older brother Tim, who confesses that they also got drunk and went bowling. “Then we rolled some dice and gambled some money,” quipped Dave Rossi, the drummer.
Allister credits its success to a lot of luck, but it’s evident that its good fortune are partly a result of the positive energy they produce on stage for the impressionable youths below. Like this show in Detroit, most tour stops have been intimate garage venues and basement clubs, with the exception of this summer’s Vans Warped Tour. Allister is psyched about playing larger crowds though, for their next stop will be at Chicago’s House of Blues, where as Rossi explains, “it’s the first time we get into such a big venue. It’s rippin’!” The band is definitely on an upswing as just this summer, they faced breakup after co-founder John Hamada left Allister to go back to school.
“He fights crime as a ninja now,” jokes Tim Rogner. The group was saved, however, when Tim’s younger brother Chris Rogner picked up the vacancy. “I joined in June of 2002, right before Warped Tour started,” explains Chris. “We were desperate,” says Murphy. “I pretty much just got a call from these guys one day begging me to join,” Chris adds, “I’ve known them since they started.” It didn’t take too much begging five years ago however, when Allister wooed, the then also young, Californian indie-punk label Drive-Thru to sign one of its first bands, with a debut album that cost only $700 to record, and with which Allister garnered its following. “Drive-Thru helped us out tremendously,” recalls Tim Rogner, “We had recorded the shittiest quality 4-track demo tape that you could ever imagine and we sent it out to a bunch of labels and they were one of the only ones that responded. They were like ‘this is a real shitty recording but your songs are really good.’ The nicest thing (now) is we don’t have to work real jobs. This is our nine to five.”
One of the unique aspects of Allister that sets it apart from the rest of punk rock is their hometown of Chicago. The band pays homage to a local hangout called the Fireside Bowl in its song “Somewhere on Fullerton,” which has a special place in the hearts of many Midwest punk fans as an outpost for good live gigs, a rarity in the region. When asked whether Allister feels like a significant contributor to the often non-existent scene, Tim Rogner asserts, “I think we’ve carved a little bit of a niche for ourselves within the scene.” Yes, but what about that scene? It is truly paltry in comparison to those in Southern California or on the Jersey shores. “Kids take a while to warm up here,” notes Scott Murphy when asked what he disliked about Detroit. “I think kids in the Midwest are kind of hesitant to start pits and kind of go crazy, like say on the East or West coast,” Murphy adds, “But I think generally they’re still having a good time.”
A telling stimulus for whatever punk scene may exist in the Midwest lies with the suburban kids whom mysteriously flock the genre. Allister encapsulates this notion in their new album, which, as Tim Rogner explains, “has to do with the fact that a lot times there’s a negative connotation to the word ‘suburbia,’ where people think of rich kids and white picket fences, shit like that.” When asked if they’ve found an older fan-base Rogner laughs “I think it gets younger!” Teenage fans, surreal sheltered neighborhoods and a ramped lust for rebellion, independence, and sin are the fuel feeding this ever-popular chic with punk rock, pushed into mainstream by suburban kids and a media hungry for their fat allowances.
Unfortunately, the money and fame won’t last forever, even for Allister. But with their former band-mate John Hamada quitting the business for a more stable future, Allister’s current line-up still denounces formal education. “Fuck school man, get out of school!” toted Tim Rogner, who is himself ironically the only band member with a college degree. Scott Murphy, on the other hand isn’t shy about dropping out. “I think taking some time off was the best thing I ever did, because I was going to school just going through the motions, like I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and felt like that wasn’t where I wanted to be,” reasons Murphy. “Now when I do go back to school, I want to be there, so I’ll try harder. For some kids I definitely think it is a good idea.”