CAVE Interview Series: Man Overboard’s Justin Collier

To some, defending pop-punk would be considered treason. But to Williamstown, New Jersey’s Man Overboard, it’s a way of life.

Combining slick hooks, sing-along choruses and a do-it-yourself attitude, the band proudly stands on the genre’s front lines, guitars in hand. Formed in 2008, their relentless touring schedule and addictive melodies have endeared the quartet to pop-punk enthusiasts worldwide.  

The band’s 2010 release, Real Talk, drew considerable praise as the pop-punk album of the year. Their 2011 effort, Man Overboard, bolstered the band’s status and paved the way for high-profile tours alongside genre heavyweights New Found Glory and The Early November.

This past summer, the band joined forces with the illustrious Vans Warped Tour, playing all 41 of the festival’s North American dates. Come September, they’ll return to Williamstown, NJ to write and record their next album (tentatively planned for a mid-2013 release).

I sat down with guitarist Justin Collier to discuss the band’s humble beginnings, influences and steadfast defence of the pop-punk genre. Our discussion is presented below.

1. In August 2010, I saw you play to 40 kids in West Seattle. In August 2012, you were a featured act on the Vans Warped Tour. Walk me through the last two years.

When that tour ended, I went back to school for music business at Drexel in Philadelphia. At the end of that semester, we flew to Japan, and then I flew back for a final exam. We played three shows with H20, and then I took a few more exams. The day after my last exam, we flew to Europe for a tour with Transit. Basically everything from Japan onwards feels like a complete blur.

2. I saw a Blink-182 interview from 1999 where the term “pop-punk” was essentially considered an insult. That’s not the case today. What are your thoughts on the genre in 2012, and do you see yourselves as one of its flag bearers?

Look, there’s always some drunken guy with a mohawk that comes up and yells “you guys aren’t pop-punk, Screeching Weasel is pop-punk!”. We get that. We understand they’re a pop-punk band. But at the same time, there were plenty of bands on the Warped Tour that claimed to be hardcore that I wouldn’t consider hardcore. I know our fans consider us to be a pop-punk band and the same goes for a lot of the bands we tour with. We’re not trying to represent anybody else. The whole “defend pop-punk” thing started with a joke and a t-shirt design. I wouldn’t say we’re the flag bearers of the genre, but I’d like to think we’re doing something positive to promote the genre, support our peers, and spread the word.

3. If Blink-182 walked into your living room to play one song, what do you want to hear?

I’d probably pick something off Buddha. I was into Blink for a year or two before I saw them on the Pop Disaster Tour in 2002. I was super stoked to see them, and was listening to Buddha a lot. I think I actually wanted to hear “Strings”, which is probably one of the worst Blink songs ever. Of course, they didn’t play it. So, just for nostalgia, I’d probably have them play that.

4. What did you think of Neighborhoods?

I think a lot of people wanted to hear another Dude Ranch, but you can’t expect that. Losing Jerry Finn as a producer was a huge detriment to their sound. He understood them. At the same time, they self-produced it, which is cool. I’d say I like the record, but it doesn’t hold the same place in my heart as Buddha or Dude Ranch.

5. What was it like having Steve Klein produce Man Overboard? In a lot of ways, he flies under the radar in New Found Glory.

Growing up, I felt like everybody knew Jordan and Chad. Even if you didn’t know Ian, you knew they had a bass player that never wore a shirt and went crazy. As a drummer, Cyrus was well known, too.

To be honest, it’s weird having a personal relationship with the band and a producing relationship with Steve. Whenever we see them play, we’re always saying “isn’t it weird that Steve’s in New Found Glory?”. After all, he was the guy sitting on the floor with us, playing our songs on acoustic guitar, and telling us to re-write different parts.

6. Did he wear a baseball hat every day?

I’ve only seen him twice, ever, without a baseball hat. It’s funny, whenever I see him without a hat, I always say “man, that doesn’t even look like you”.

7. Throughout the recording process, were you constantly thinking “wow, this guy created New Found Glory and Sticks and Stones”?

Not really, but there were times he’d say “okay, play it like this” and we wouldn’t understand. Then, he’d say “it’s like Understatement”, and we’d immediately get it. Or, he’d say “you guys need a part like this”, and he’d play something and we’d say “Steve, that’s Head on Collision”. He’d look at us and say “oh yeah, it is, let’s start over”. There was definitely stuff like that.

8. When I go through the Man Overboard catalogue, “Sidekick” stands out for me. What song means the most to you?

I think “Montrose” is a really cool song. When we released it, it felt like people started caring about our band. The positive feedback was a strange feeling. It’s like people were waiting for that song.

There are also songs on Man Overboard that I like because they weren’t supposed to make the cut. “Atlas” is a good example. When you listen now, it blends into the record, but the original version didn’t sound like that. I was really proud of how it turned out.

9. When you’re not writing or touring, how do you guys spend your time in New Jersey?

First of all, I think New Jersey should be cut in half and the top part sold to New York state. We’re from South Jersey, and I’m not a sports fan, but the other guys love the Philadelphia Eagles, Flyers and Phillies. Guys have girlfriends all over the place, so Zac is always in Michigan, Wayne is always in LA, and I live in Philly. We all do different things in our spare time, but come September, we’ll all be in Williamstown working on a new record, hanging out, and going to Wawa.

10. What level of success do you guys see as attainable? Is there a band you look at and say “yeah…we want to get there…and we can get there”?

I look at bands like New Found Glory, Taking Back Sunday and Senses Fail. They don’t focus on being number one, but they focus on staying a band and establishing longevity. They don’t necessarily want to be the biggest band, but they strive to be a larger relevant band. That’s a great goal. It’s kind of like “hey, we’re not always going to be number one, but as long as we’re up there, it’s fine”. Last year, after their headlining tour, New Found Glory played the Honda Civic Tour with Paramore. They were playing 30 minute sets, but they were playing to a ton of new fans every night. When they went out in the fall, you saw the results of that. The crowds were amazing. I think doing stuff like that and being smart is important if you want to be in a band for a long time.

jay@cavemag.com

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