Versus the World – ‘These songs are the inner monologue’

Words: Miljan Milekić

Versus the World are cult heroes of the California punk rock scene. With a sound that combines punk rock, post-hardcore, pop punk, and skate punk, they forged their own sound, along with direct and emotional lyrics, they are loved by many in the scene, fans and other bands alike. This May, the band released a brand new album ‘The Bastards Live Forever,’ their first in eight years, so it was a perfect moment to catch up with the band’s singer and main songwriter Donald Spence, just before they hit the road for their upcoming European tour.

Hi Donald! How are you? What you’ve been up to these days?
Donald: I’m doing good! We’re one week away from the tour, so we’re just really busy doing rehearsals and getting ready. We’re almost ready for our first stop and Berlin. We did a bunch of warmup shows, so I think we’re set.

You already had a few shows since the release of your new album. Did you get to road-test some of the new songs? Are there any fan-favorites so far?
Donald: ‘Roadsick/Roadsick’ is the one everyone is really stoked on. And ‘Your Wedding and a Funeral,’ which is the one that I didn’t expect would get so much love. But yeah, people are into it. I’m pumped.

So, we are already closing down on two months since the release of ‘The Bastards Live Forever.’ How happy are you with the reception of the record in general?
Donald: I love the record, and people are being super kind. I think that they like it too. It’s my favorite thing that we’ve put out. So, as happy as I’m with it, I almost don’t care if anyone likes it since we like it so much. (laughs) But everyone likes it. So it’s been a really good response.

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The record comes almost eight years after ‘Homesick/Roadsick.’ Why such a long break and what did the process of putting this one together look like?
It wasn’t supposed to be that long. It just took longer ’cause the pandemic took forever. And then, there was another year when we couldn’t get vinyl. This album’s been done for almost two and a half years. That’s how long it took for it to be finished and then recorded and then put out.

But also, me and Tony [Caraffa] started writing a while ago, right after the ‘Homesick/Roadsick’ tour, but we didn’t really care about the songs we were writing at the time. We just weren’t very inspired. So, we just hung it up and waited until we had songs that we liked. But I can’t believe that it’s been that long. I’m sorry. It didn’t feel like it was that long, but yeah. I’ll try not to take that long again.

To my understanding, Versus the World isn’t really a full-time band. The other guys are involved in some other bands, and you have some other things you do in life. How does this dynamics work for you?
Donald: I think it works because, whether we’re working on a project together or not, we’re all really good friends. Me and those guys, we’re best buddies, so when we’re playing music together, it’s like we’re on vacation together. Chris’s [Flippin] job is Lagwagon. But when he is not with Lagwagon, he and I, we hang out. It makes it feel like a really fun thing. Tony and I write pretty much exclusively for this band. So all of the thoughts that come from our heads to paper, usually end up being Versus the World songs. So all of our writing efforts go to Versus the World.

I think the hardest part is to get everyone’s tour schedule on. Like, we’re not touring with Sean [Sellers] right now ’cause he’s with Good Riddance. So we’re touring with Josh [Lewis] from The Bombpops. So it’s not hard for us to get away because, you know, I own a bar. I can bartend if I want, or I can have staff bartend. I like to bartend there, but I can still travel. The hardest thing is to get like a fill-in guy when Sean’s gone. So Sean can’t do this tour, and we have Josh. A couple of times we haven’t had Flip, but I don’t like to do that. I try not to. Our scheduling right now is gonna be as many of the dudes as we can, but for the foreseeable future, Josh will be drumming for us.

Once again, on the new record, especially in songs like ‘Roadsick/Roadsick,’ you weren’t shying away from exploring some deeply personal topics in your lyrics. Do you feel like music can be a vessel for you to deal with some of those things from a different perspective?
I don’t think it gives me a different perspective. I think that it gives me a little bit of therapy. Also, it’s easier for me to write directly instead of trying to write in metaphors. I think it’s the best way for me to write. That way, I don’t have to try to sound clever. I don’t have to try to make it more relatable. I’m just singing what I’m thinking, and it makes it easier to get things outta my head. This is my inner monologue.

The record is out through SBÄM Records, who are taking the punk rock world by storm in the recent two or three years. How did it all come together, and what are the main differences now that you are on a European-based label, compared to your previous releases?
Donald: All the things that felt different are positive things. We were looking for labels and people that were interested, and I think that SBÄM were the most enthusiastic. They loved the album, liked the songs, and their enthusiasm got me hyped up. Them being in Europe is not hindering anything. It’s helping us get some festivals over there, which is nice. But I think, just how excited they were about the record, it was the only place that we could put it out. They’re fans of the music, and I feel like that made me want to go to their label. I knew that it’d be a good place for us. And they are a good home for us. It’s cool to have a label that you can rely on.

Your music has been well received among the skateboarding community, and I know there is some love for skateboarding from you guys as well. Do you skate?
Donald: No, I don’t. (laughs) I tried when I was a kid – I had a skateboard and grew up wanting to skateboard. I worked really hard at trying to skate and could never ollie more than an inch. I have a bad balance. I’m not good at snowboarding, I’m not good at water skiing, I’m not good at that type of shit. And I don’t wanna break my wrist. I mean, I know a lot of skateboarders, we’re part of that scene, but I golf, and I bowl. (laughs) We call them leisure sports. You’re not gonna get hurt, you’re gonna have a good time, and you might have a couple of drinks. That is the type of thing that I can really pull off. (laughs) That’s my deal.

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To end things the way we started them – what’s next for Versus the World?
Donald: Well, we’re gonna come home from Europe, and we’re gonna do some West Coast stuff. I hope we’re gonna get some America outta the way. I desperately want to do Japan, and I know we’re gonna do Europe again to do a club tour. Other than that, I mean, I wanna come home and write another record. I like this one so much that I want to write more.

Are there any chances we will see you guys in Central and Western Canada anytime soon?
Donald: Canada is tough because sometimes I get let in, and sometimes I don’t. (laughs) Out of all the countries I’ve ever been to, Canada’s the biggest pain in the ass. It’s really hard for some bands to get in there. When we are booking Canada, it got to be with buddies. It has to be a thing where, if it goes south, it’s not a detriment. So we can pretty much only tour with other bands that have that trouble, or else it’s hard for a band to understand. Why would they want to take us out if we’re a liability, you know what I mean? It sucks because Canada is awesome, and the fans love punk. Canadians are very nice, but all the asshole Canadians, they’ve put them working at the border. (laughs) But I would love to get back to Canada. I wish we could play Pouzza Fest and do these things regularly. And I think Western Canada is one of the most beautiful places in the world.

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