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Big Laugh: Meet the Milwaukee Band Behind One of the Year’s Best Hardcore Records

Photo: Jesse Bryant

I didn’t know a damn thing about Big Laugh until I got in some copies of the 7” to sell at work.

I first noticed the Kevin Crowley/Abused-styled cover art for something on an otherwise very punk label. OK I’ll listen to it. The first track is a microcosm of the whole sound. Fast shit like blazing Japanese hardcore, mosh parts, ‘80s NYHC, and some Van Vlackian guitar parts. This shit is diverse. And I am very into it. You should be too

When I first talked to Patrick at your label, 11PM Records, about interviewing y’all, he said he met you when some of you were in high school. How old is everyone and when did the band start?

Zach: Drew this you.

Leo: I turned 21 in May. I think we started jamming July last year, played a few shows and had the demo out by August. 

Drew: I’m 20 right now, and no way, we played our first show in March of last year. I don’t think it became really serious until July though. 

Zach: I’m 29 and what Leo said sounds about right. There was a version of Big Laugh prior to me joining that was still in its early stages for roughly 8 months prior? I actually remember it being like February, chillin’ at a diner when I asked to jam with them.

Leo: Oh yeah whoops we played our first show in April I believe. April of 2019 to clarify. But finally released the demo in 2019.

I do have a bone to pick. All of the descriptions say Heresy(note: this one makes sense), SSD, DYS, and Infest but I hear a lot more Wrecking Crew, Outburst, Burn, and maybe Japanese hardcore in the drumming. Is there a style or vibe that was your goal?

Zach: We definitely like all those bands, but we all have such diverse tastes in music, particularly in punk music, that we would be shortsighted to not take a bit of everything when its applicable.  

Leo: I’d say my drumming for Big Laugh is definitely influenced by UK hardcore like Ripcord and Heresy, but also heavier stuff like Judge and Sepultura. So it’s all kind of a blend of that.

Zach: I think we try to sound like a mesh of all those bands for sure. Personally, I love bands like Swiz and the mid to late-'80s DC stuff and try to get away with it when I can.  

Drew: I think our main goal was just to write a straight up hardcore demo and play some shows, possibly do some touring. That was really it.

After the demo came out, Pat from 11PM [Records] asked if we’d be down to do a 7” and that kinda shifted our mindset and opened our minds to some more possibilities that we didn’t really think about. Sound wise, I think the main goal was to sound like a NYHC band, combined with early Rev Summer shit and early '80s Midwest hardcore stuff like Necros, Final Conflict (Minnesota band from 1983), Die Kreuzen, etc.

Zach: I know when I joined, they were on more of a youth crew/fast hardcore kick. Once I came into the fold, I started implementing a tad more metallic influences, but still tasteful and appropriate to what we were already doing.  I think we can all agree that we just wanted to be in a semi serious band that released records and went on tour. Couldn’t have picked a better group of buds to accomplish this with!

Leo: Originally we wanted a steady blend of Youth Crew and hardcore punk, not leaning too much in either direction, and as Zach mentioned once he joined I think we progressed towards a heavier sound. But obviously, the Youth Crew and punk influences are still there. 

Do you think you’ll add a second guitar player?

Zach: We had discussed it before, and if the person can match out chaotic energy and keep up with my very unorthodox (read as faking it until you make it) style, then I think it would be great!

Drew: Yeah, if it feels right I wouldn’t be opposed to adding another member [laughs].

Photo: Angela Tulaman

What would you say sets Big Laugh apart from other bands?

Leo: I think we are able to blend styles together really well. We’re not too hardcore and we’re not too punk. We know what we want to sound like and we do a good job of achieving that.

Most Youth Crew or capital H hardcore bands sound the same, whether it be the production on the tapes/records or the song writing itself. I can’t tell any of the bands apart from each other.

I made it a point to record the demo to tape because I don’t see many (if any) current “harder” bands doing that, and I wanted to set ourselves apart in that aspect. We’re all just punks that love Judge and I think our music reflects that. 

Photo: Angela Tulaman

“Punks that love Judge” should be a hype sticker on the front of the record

Leo: Damn, that’s a good idea [laughs].  

Zach: Big Laugh is willin’ to explore and reach further than punk to get a cool riff or something, is what I think helps set us slightly apart. At least in my opinion.

I feel like in the first song there are chords that aren’t the one straightforward punk standard.

Drew: Yeah, definitely, that is all Zach for sure. He throws some weird shit into every song and we all really appreciate that. I feel like Zach’s guitar playing is one of the distinct aspects of our music that sets us aside from other bands at the moment.

Leo: The boy got all the riffs.

Zach: Yeah, the first track “Imposter” is honestly my love letter to Gavin Van Vlack and his bands Absolution and Burn. Him and Vic DiCara are just truly masters of their craft and a massive influence. It was actually the first track I wrote and brought to the band that was a little different and when I noticed they didn’t bat an eye. I honestly felt very validated to be able to kinda explore and flex my big dumb brain with the oddball influence here and there. Think it helps keep us distinct and I’m excited to be back at it.  

Do you think there’s an LP somewhere in that big dumb brain?

Drew: Absolutely. Zach’s cooking it up. Hopefully that’s the next step!

Zach: There’s something in there! Need a few more knocks [laughs].

Photo: Will Mecca

Milwaukee. Besides the knowledge Alice Cooper dropped on us in Wayne’s World 2, what are important things you guys want us to know about it.

Drew: Honestly, Milwaukee is pretty small and there isn’t a whole lot to do here, but we feel like we have a super unique and diverse music scene.

Before COVID-19, we were booking and playing a lot of shows and the majority of the crowd was super young and I really love that about Milwaukee. It seems like there are always young kids going to shows and it’s keeping everything fresh and alive. People also mosh hard and that rules.

Leo: The shows are always sick, lots of people show up and dance hard. But the punk scene is pretty small. Not a lotta people have been starting their own bands, but I have hope that’ll change in the near future. 

Zach: Hardcore punk scene aside, Milwaukee, that have to do with actual wonderful Milwaukee people, is pretty incredible. Everyone goes to all sorts of DIY events together, and just incredibly hard-working ethics remain strong here. Always room for improvement, but no matter how many times I move away, I’m always drawn back in by a year’s end. A small but close knit plethora of communities.

Photo: Angela Tulaman

How does the proximity of Chicago affect things? Do tours skip Milwaukee to only hit Chicago?

Zach: Honestly, only slightly. For a minute, Drew and Leo were booking tons of bands to play Milwaukee, and both cities caravan out to each others’ shows a bunch. It’s only almost two hours away, so it’s not a huge sweat gettin’ down there.  

Drew: It would definitely be awesome if more bands, especially larger bands, decided to play Milwaukee though. It’s for sure worth the time. 

OK, not hardcore or punk-related... talk about living/growing up there.  

Zach: I think the only person who actually grew up in Milwaukee is our bass player is our bassist, Mata. I grew up in rural Wisconsin, about an hour south of here. It was isolating and draining, having to constantly travel so far just to buy records or go to shows. I moved to the city as soon as I could, at 21. 

Drew: I bounced around a lot when I was younger, mostly between the suburbs an the city. Milwaukee is a very strange place to grow up, at least it was for me. I didn’t have too many friends or a super large family so I spent a lot of time alone, usually just playing guitar or drawing or something like that.

It was especially weird for me because Milwaukee is known for drinking beer and shit like that, and that was something that was never of interest to me, which was even more alienating.  

The city is really small, so I was always familiar with everything there it seemed like. It’s a pretty basic, industrial, Midwest town.  

Leo: I moved to Milwaukee right when I turned 18. I’ve been living in a punk house called Ground Zero since then, which is where the majority of DIY punk shows have been happening for that past 15+ years. It’s been really nice living in a space where you can practice and record constantly. My roommate there decided they want to live alone, so I’ll be moving out soon, but Ground Zero is a very important space to Milwaukee since all ages spaces are so few and far between.

I only hope they continue to let shows happen here, and as Drew mentioned, the city revolves around bar culture. I’m not straight edge but I have no interest in hanging out in bars regardless, which is what most peoples’ social lives here revolve around. None of us in Big Laugh wanna be a part of that shit which I appreciate.  

Zack: I agree. The general age of folk going to shows were in the early 20s and I know we would love nothing more than to help facilitate more all ages shows and venues. 

Photo: Angela Tulaman

So, I assume the touring plans for a tad derailed now?

Drew: Oh yeah, big time [laughs]. I feel like we had a shit ton of stuff planned for this year, and sadly all that shit isn’t gonna happen. I think the main plan is to try and write a record.  

Zach: Yeah, we had like 3 or 4 half planned tours drop immediately. 

How much touring have you done? 

Drew: We’ve done one five day Canadian tour, one two week long southern tour and a weekender or two.

How are you all faring with the pandemic otherwise?

Drew: My partner and I ended up getting COVID [laughs]. Otherwise, it’s been super chill. I beat Red Dead 2 in like 4 days. I started painting a lot, all that good shit. Leo’s been in Toronto for the last like 4 months, so we haven’t been able to practice or anything, but he should be getting back within the next few days so we can start hitting it hard again.  

Zach: I took the little extra time to start getting a bit more exercising and just being outside in the woods more. Working on other visual and audial art as well. Excited to practice again.  

As a new-ish band that a lot of people probably haven’t heard yet, what are important topics for you? What is important to the band?  

Zach: I think as a band, our politics are much more personal. Like, I think lyrically, it’s more of a personal experience for Drew in his day to day life. But as a band definitely push for all ages shows, try to motivate and encourage inclusivity in DIY music in general, and have no problems confronting problematic people/behavior head on. This goes both ways as none of us are perfect.

To add, we have gotten more into the idea specifically to highlight charitable causes we believe in and give proceeds to, which I’m excited about. 

Leo: I also hope we encourage younger kids to start their own bands. If we can do it so can you!

Are there any charities you’d like to shout out?

Zach: Not ours but Mass Arrest did that shirt benefit and it was so incredibly successful! So stoked for them, honestly, and all the work they do. We also donated our band fund to Brave Space based out of Chicago and then the OKC Bail Fund that popped up about a month ago. Honestly, try to do ones that are more immediate, and believe me there are many.

And what do you think are some dos and don’t of making hardcore and punk a place for the generation to want to be?

Drew: I think the main thing is just being accepting of younger kids that are coming to shows. If you act like some sort of elitist asshole, chances are they aren’t ever gonna wanna come back. But yeah I think the main thing is just being cool with the younger crowd and making sure they feel welcome and that they have a platform in the scene.  

Zach: Drew nailed it, and honestly Big Laugh is a solid example of what he stated, given I’m roughly a decade older than everyone else in the band [laughs]. When I saw these dudes start booking their own shows and just showing up to other ones, I only got incredibly excited and immediately tried to befriend them.  

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Ngl, Big Laugh fucks and you’re fucking up if you haven’t checked them out yet ��

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Shout out other bands from your area that people may not know about. 

Zach: Again, shit is on hold these days, but Splatter Pattern is an older punk band that was rehashed that put out a killer demo fairly recently. Divine Crush and Peroxide rule, and then Chicago heads like Subliminal Excess, Side Action, Movement, Snuffed, Splitting Heads! Midwest all day! Hoping some new bands pop up sooner than later around here to check my ass at the door and floor me!

Drew: Honestly, I could go on and on about Midwest bands, but I’m gonna try to keep it short and sweet. Shout out End on End from Oklahoma City since they’ve put out one of my favorite demos in recent years and they are the nicest people and rule live. Devil's Den from Kansas City, they just put out an absolutely amazing LP. Shout out all the Chicago bands, Splitting Heads, Side Action, Subliminal Excess... they are all worth your time.  

Leo: They pretty much for am all covered. Shoutout LSG shoutout Molcajete shoutout Curbsitter. 

I gotta do the obligatory “what bands were you in before this one” question.

Drew: I used to play in this band called Forced Impact. We broke up like a year and a half ago. Aside from that, Leo Mata and I all play in another band called Mister.  

So, this is everyone’s foray into being on a more nationally known label?

Drew: Yeah, definitely. This is all our first piece of music that’s ever been released on vinyl, which is super crazy to think about.  

Zach: Kinda sorta. I did some stuff beforehand about a decade ago. Maybe longer. But this band has definitely done more itself in one short year of existence than any of my other projects.  

Leo: First band I ever played in was called Pay Up. We never toured just played locally. After that, I was in this band Beggar, then I also joined Forced Impact with Drew. Currently I play in Mister, Masquerade (with Mata and Zach and our friend/my partner Bee) and Ritalin OD. The Mister 7” was actually in the works before the Big Laugh record but COVID really pushed that one back. Not Normal Tapes is doing it and hopefully it’ll be out sooner rather than later.

But officially, Big Laugh is the first vinyl record I’ve ever had out. It’s a sick feeling actually getting to hold the record itself.  

Photo: Angela Tulaman

If/when this COVID thing goes away, what are the plans?

Zach: I feel that time is still a long ways away, but hopefully touring some more, particularly internationally. Still writing for a longer release as well, but who knows.

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Big Laugh's Manic Revision EP is available on 7 inch vinyl via 11PM Records. You can also grab it digitally on Bandcamp.

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