The phrase "punk" gets thrown around a lot these days but for over a decade Off With Their Heads has eschewed trends and embodied that ethic with every ounce of their being. Having put out numerous releases and toured the country dozens of times the band are about to release Home, their best-sounding album to date which takes the group's sound to the next level without sacrificing the palpable passion that's made them underground favorites.
Off With Their Heads is the project of Minneapolis native Ryan Young and on Home he's joined by drummer Justin Francis and bassist Robbie Swartwood, the latter of whom has been playing with the group for nearly five years. "It's hard to bring people into a full-time touring punk band because you have to be a musician not someone who is doing this for a hobby," Young admits. "An actual musician is the type of person who does this because it's what they do. Money is always nice but you have to expect nothing and still play like you care."
For their second release on Epitaph the band teamed up with one of Young's heroes, Descendents' drummer Bill Stevenson who produced the album at the Blasting Room in Fort Collins, Colorado—and the result is an album that captures the raw passion of Off With Their Heads' live shows without obscuring any of the instrumentation with a slick, studio sheen. "It was really important that this record didn't sound too polished so once we agreed on a general sound of the record it was great," Young explains. "It's definitely the best-sounding record that we've done."
Home is also the strongest collection of Off With Their Heads' songs to date and certainly the most diverse. From the instantly catchy sing-alongs of "Shirts" to straight-ahead, Ramones-influenced ragers like "Seek Advise Elsewhere" and stripped-down ballads like "Don't' Make Me Go," Home shows how much the band have grown sonically since their last release, a development that is no doubt due to the fact that the band have spent so much time on the road touring with everyone from Municipal Waste to Kind Of Like Spitting in everything from massive theaters to basements.
If there's a lyrical theme on Home, it's personal experiences whether that ranges from struggles with identity ("I don't feel like me, whatever that's supposed to be" from "Shirts") to tales from the road. However as you might expect it all comes back to the fact that for a full-time touring punk rocker the word "home" has a very unique connotation. "I think I used to take for granted the simple notion of having an apartment in Minneapolis," Young explains. "The album is about the bad feelings associated with being at home, why people leave home, and how important it is to have a good one."
Over the course of these twelve songs Young expresses that sentiment in different ways and the content on the disc explores everything from being oppressed because of one's sexuality ("Focus on Your Own Family") in addition to more personal writing that exposes Young's own misgivings about the Catholic church and the impact it's had on his family life ("Altar Boy"). Then there's a song like "Don't Make Me Go" which guest vocalist Tony Kovacs from Shot Baker summarized telling the band, "OWTH has a story and this explains a lot." Listening to the impassioned track, it's evident why this is true.
Having toured with everyone from Bad Religion to the Dropkick Murphys, Young has learned that in order for him to maintain his ethics he tells his bandmates that "playing a show in front of 6,000 people is no different than playing a house show" and you can tell by the group's countless live performances that this isn't just lip service. "I'm proud that I have pretty much maintained my core beliefs over the years," he explains. "Opening for my heroes is cool but that's their crowd and I have always been about carving my own part through all of this."
Despite the fact that Off With Their Heads have performed everywhere from Jacksonville to Japan over the past decade, it's clear that even if OWTH never left Minneapolis they would be doing the exact same thing just as passionately. "Everything involved with this band has become larger and more successful than I could have hoped for," Young admits, citing signing to Epitaph as one of these milestones. "The only goals I have for myself and OWTH is to continue to make music that I care about, try to push myself physically and musically and continue to be able to do what I love for a living."