Beginning in the early '90s, Travis Guichard has played in both Mean Season and Outspoken, two bands that have left a mark in the Southern Californian hardcore scene and beyond.
Throughout that time, the guitarist has released music on such labels as New Age Records, Indecision Records, and Revelation Records. The latter label issued two studio albums from Whirlpool, a melodic indie rock band that found Travis collaborating with members of Sense Field and Final Conflict.
I recently spoke with Travis about his journey in the hardcore scene and his more recent music-related projects, including Mean Season's upcoming performance at the Indecision Records 30 festival in Orange County, California.
Where were you born and raised, and what kind of home life did you have as a little kid?
I was born in Bakersfield, California to a junior high science teacher and a housewife. Typical middle class upbringing, younger brother Ben. I was heavily into BMX racing, skateboarding and heavy metal. One of my friends in elementary school’s dad played piano for Merle Haggard and I remember all the gold records on the wall in that house. That was one of the things that made me want to start a band.
We moved to Wrightwood, California (about an hour from LA) in the summer of 1986, right after I finished junior high and was about to start high school.
So you were a metalhead before you discovered hardcore/punk? It's such a common trajectory for people that grew up in the early ‘80s.
Yes, indeed, I was a big-time metalhead. Black Sabbath, Mötley Crüe, Quiet Riot, Ozzy Osbourne, etc. I discovered hardcore/punk music through skateboarding in maybe 1985 or something.
I ordered a few of those Skate Rock! compilation cassettes from Thrasher magazine and was hooked. My buddy Matt also made me a tape that had Minor Threat “Betray” on it and some Agent Orange.
What were some of the hardcore/punk shows you got to see during your formative years? How would you describe what the feeling was like at those gigs?
My first hardcore show was in 1988, I believe. My buddy Clint from high school put on a local show. No For An Answer, Hard Stance, Freewill, Visual Discrimination, and a few other bands that I can’t recall.
I remember the extreme intensity of both the bands and the crowd and the way they interacted. It was something that didn’t exist at the metal shows I had previously been to. Just such a crazy and fun vibe. I remember this local skater kid jumped off of the garage (that was behind the stage) over the stage and onto the crowd, that pretty much did it for me.
Did you play in any bands before Mean Season?
Yes, some high school buddies and I had a band called Untied. I guess you could say it was some kind of mix of hardcore and punk. Our first show was at the Wrightwood Community center with Down By Law. This was Down By Law’s first show.
Ed Ulrich’s (Chemical People/Down By Law) mom lived in Wrightwood and he was cool with us, so they agreed to play. I remember we had a BBQ before the show and I was so stoked to meet Dave Smalley. I was pretty heavily into Dag Nasty at that time.
How did Mean Season come to be?
Some of my friends went to an Insted show at Spanky’s Cafe where some guys were handing out flyers looking for a guitar player, I called them up and they turned out to be the guys that I would soon start Have No Part with which about a year and a half later would become Mean Season.
Did you guys have a clear idea of what you wanted to sound like during the early stages of that band?
We were pretty into bands like Hard Stance, Youth of Today, Judge, etc. and pretty much emulated the sounds of those bands in the early days.
The first record I know of that Mean Season appeared on was the It’s for Life compilation that Tony Rettman released on his Consequence Records label back in 1992. Other bands that appeared on that included Strife and Lifetime.
I believe that song was called “Stationary," it was the first song we wrote as Mean Season and I don’t think we have played it since maybe 1993 or so. We loved it at the time but it soon became a back burner song for us.
We were just so stoked to actually have a song on vinyl. I think that Tony Rettman heard about us from a friend of his and contacted us about appearing on the comp. I honestly can’t recall exactly how it happened.
Please forgive me if I have the timeline screwed up, but at the same time Mean Season was going, you also played in Outspoken. How did you become a member of that band?
You have the timeline correct. Outspoken had recently recruited Jai Hansel (also of Mean Season) on bass and were looking for a second guitar player and since they had already poached Jai from Mean Season I suppose they figured that they might as well grab me as well.
One of my favorite Outspoken songs is “Spark,” which appeared on both the Anti-Matter compilation and The Current album.
"Spark" was the last song that Outspoken wrote, from what I remember, [guitarist] Mike [Hartsfield] wrote the intro riff and Jai, [drummer] Dennis [Remsing] and I subsequently added to it over the period of a few practices. [Vocalist] John [Coyle] wrote the lyrics.
The song is about the tragic uselessness of suicide and the fragility of life. At the time, John lived in San Francisco and worked as a maintenance guy at a large hotel. The song reflects John’s feelings about an event he had dealt with at work. A guy apparently jumped off one of the highest floors of the hotel and John was one of the ones who had to clean up the “mess” on the sidewalk. I remember he described the guys brain matter as resembling pink bananas. That had a big impact on John.
When I interviewed Mike Hartsfield, your bandmate in Outspoken, he said that The Current was the best thing the band ever did, and he also said that the reason for the break up was that certain people didn’t want to tour.
I’m not sure The Current was the best thing that the band ever did, but it’s definitely my favorite, although I was a big fan of the Survival 7-inch and the Look Beyond demo, especially before I was in the band.
As far as the breakup of the band, there were several reasons, but John living in San Francisco and having recently started a family was probably the main one, which is quite understandable.
Tell me a bit about Mean Season’s Grace album from 1994.
We had recently finished our first European tour (1994) with No For An Answer and had been playing those songs for close to a year at that point. We recorded Grace at For the Record in Orange, California, where Outspoken previously recorded The Current and other bands like Farside were recording at that time. It was sort of “the place” to record in SoCal in those days.
We had a lot of fun recording 'Grace' and were really getting into experimentation at that time. We basically wanted it to be weird and unlike any other hardcore record that had come out before it. The response from the public was pretty split at the time, they either loved it or hated it. I think that a certain percentage of people who were into traditional hardcore at the time just couldn’t wrap their heads around the weirdness of it. I’m proud of that one for sure.
Why did Mean Season break up?
I suppose there were a few contributing factors. We had just finished our second European tour and were individually going in slightly different directions, [Vocalist] Aaron [Kelly] had just recently had his first child as well.
We were just kinda burned out and needed to take a step back and I’m glad we did.
How did your next band, Whirlpool, get started? Had you been friends with guitarist Rodney Sellars him being in Sense Field?
Yeah, Rodney and I met while working at Revelation Records. He told me that he had a bunch of songs written that he wanted to use outside of Sense Field, so I suggested we start up a project or band or whatever and see where it goes. Initially it was just the two of us jamming at my house a couple times a week.
We got the first album of songs somewhat worked out and then recruited The Laws brothers (Travis and Brandon) on bass and drums, respectively. Travis was one of Rodney’s roommates so that was an easy fix, not to mention Travis had been playing in Final Conflict for a while and is a very accomplished bass player. Same goes for Brandon on drums.
Rodney was very into the Pixies at that point and wanted to do a kind of male/female vocal combination, so we Got Rachel Stolte on vocals. She had been in the band Cold Water Crane with Ray Barbee and a few friends of ours and just fit right in. In fact we had already recorded the first album at that point and had to add her vocals afterwards.
Whirlpool made two albums for Revelation Records in the mid-‘90s. How would you describe the band’s relationship with the label?
We had a great relationship with [label owner] Jordan Cooper and Revelation. Rodney and I were still working there so it just seemed natural. It was known between us and the label that we were more of a side project since Sense Field was getting somewhat noticed by major labels at the time and Rodney was pretty busy with that, as was Scott McPherson, who now played drums and was in Sense Field as well, so we just did what we could.
As far as promotion, Revelation did a great job and had our backs all the way. At the time we recorded the Liquid Glass record, I believe it was the most money Revelation had ever spent on studio time for an LP.
When Whirpool went out on tour, were you getting a lot of people coming to the shows who knew you guys from your hardcore backgrounds?
Whirlpool only did the one US tour in summer ’95 as well as a trip in September ’95 to NYC to play the CMJ festival at CBGB’s.
As far as crowd turnout on the tour, it was pretty decent. It also didn’t hurt that we were playing shows with a lot of somewhat established bands (Iceburn, Engine Kid, Deadguy, Shades Apart, Braid, Texas Is the Reason) who were the main reason for crowds showing up. And yeah, I think a fair amount of people showed up because of the other bands we were in at the time.
Why did Whirlpool end, and were you at peace with the decision?
We were always a bit of a side project and with Scott and Rodney being so busy with Sense Field—who had just signed with Warner Bros Records—it just couldn’t continue. I was totally at peace with the mutual decision.
We had a really great time doing the band and are all still friends of course. In fact, when I moved back to the US from Europe in 2014, I lived at Rodney’s house for several months. In that time we spent a majority of the time in the garage jamming and writing and recording songs. Travis Laws was there for a lot of it as well. Just a bunch of weird fun material. Never released any of it [laughs].
Damaged Ones was a project you were in that released an album called The First Kiss in 2016 on New Age Records. There’s an interesting story behind that band, right?
I was living in Prague in the Czech Republic in 2012 and a version of Outspoken did a European tour in that time. The opening band that toured with us was Suffer Survive, a German hardcore band from Dresden, Germany, which is only about a 90-minute drive from Prague.
I immediately got along great with those guys and we stayed in touch after the tour. I played guitar maybe a dozen shows with them and we decided to do a different band and give it a more punk vibe than what they had done in Suffer Survive, which was very metal. So we started Damaged Ones and I’d ride a carshare up to Dresden on the weekends to rehearse and record, play shows, etc.
We recorded an album of material (The First Kiss) and released it on New Age maybe a year later. It’s a really good record, I’m honored to have had the chance to play on it and hang out with those guys so much. Dresden is a beautiful city and is quite fun.
The big news as of late was the announcement that Mean Season will be reuniting to play the Indecision Records 30th Anniversary festival this week. How long was that in the works, and are you anxious about playing together again in front of such a big crowd?
Well, I wouldn’t necessarily call it reuniting since we have been playing shows every few years lately and recently recorded the new record, so we’re not horribly out of practice, I suppose. I like to think of it as “intermittently on hiatus."
I'm not terribly anxious about the Indecision 30 show, we’ve still got the chops [laughs]. It's going to be a fun one! Aaron, Colin [Buis] and I hung out and practiced a bit last night. We’ve had a few practices for the show with Brian [Manry] and Matt [Horwitz] as well and intend to have one more beforehand.
Mean Season released the Got to Hell 12-inch earlier this year.
Yes, Go to Hell is a mix of some new songs, some cover songs, and a couple of old originals of ours. It was a lot of fun to get back into the studio with those guys and just have a good time hanging out, those dudes are my brothers.
Of all the songs you’ve played on during the years, which one would you say is your favorite and why?
Tough question. I think maybe the Mean Season song “Abattoir (Feast Upon” might be my favorite. I’ve just always loved that song, no particular reason, I guess [laughs]. I’ve got a lot of favorites! I like “The Current” from the Outspoken 7-inch a lot too. And a ton of the songs on the Whirlpool Liquid Glass record.
Gun to head, what’s your favorite SoCal hardcore record (album, EP, single) of all time?
Well, that’s an awfully difficult question to answer as well, to whittle it down to one single release from one single band. I’m gonna say that to me, the Inside Out No Spiritual Surrender 7-inch is the one that stands out as sorta timeless. I mean, that thing is just super heavy, eerie, and awesome. Just listen to it, go on, you have to listen to it now [laughs].