Interview: A Conversation With Survay Says!
Written by Scott Fugger
Survay Says! is a ska/pop punk band hailing from New Jersey. The band is one of the hardest working in scene, ending this year with well over 200 shows played for the third year running. I recently had the chance to chat with lead vocalist and guitarist Henry Menzel to reflect on the 2015, discuss some of the challenges the band has overcome, and look ahead to the future.
When I asked Henry to start with a rundown of 2015, he put it simply, “It was busy for sure.” Survay Says! hit the ground running continuing their support of 2014’s Observations of the Human Condition. The highlight of the year was their very first UK tour, supporting Goldfinger. “It was an amazing tour and culture shock all rolled into one.” The bands really clicked and Survay Says! was able to get exposed to Goldfinger’s already strong fan base. Menzel expressed his gratitude for being able to be so far from home, but still have people care about what the band is doing. “The only shame about it is it’s really hard to go back… it’s expensive.”
Following the trail from Goldfinger, we then discussed what it’s like to be an up-and-coming band in a genre that is so dominated by legacy acts. “It’s great and it’s challenging,” said Henry, putting a positive spin on things. “You can’t get better mentors in terms of playing this kind of music than from the bands that have been most successful doing it.” At the same time, he does admit that it is hard for a band that’s fresh on the scene to bring something new to the table. “But that’s the challenge – do something that nobody has done for a while or try to put a blend on it that makes it accessible to people.” This has lit a fire under the band, though, which has allowed them to develop relationships and share the stage with the more established acts. These relationships definitely came about organically, simply by Survay Says! making sure they were able to open for their peers whenever the opportunity arose. Speaking of Big D and the Kids Table, “we just opened for them a shitload of times and each time it went well.” The bands got to know each other better each time, which eventually lead to a tour.
This is the same mindset that has led the band to a life of being almost constantly on the road. “Sometimes it’s not enough to be a really good band – you need to bring something else to the table to get people’s attention. That’s why we try to be everywhere all the time.” Unlike bands with personal connections or those who grow themselves through the Internet, Survay Says! has always put the majority of their focus on real experiences out in the field. “As people we’re just normal guys, we like to talk to people who support our band. And we also love performing.” What makes the band’s live show stand out can be summarized in one word. Energy. “It’s not a humongous spectacle of some kind. It’s just us having a great time and passing that energy onto the crowd in an attempt to … make that half hour one of the best half hours of their day. Because it’s the best half hour of ours.”
Even so, Survay Says! has faced their fair share of challenges along the way. “The obvious challenge we face all the time is money, but I think the biggest challenge is keeping everybody together and on a mission and keeping morale high. Which we do pretty well actually, given all the stuff we put ourselves through.” The thing that keeps them going is the fact that they’re more than just band mates: they’re great friends. Like any band, especially those who play ska, Survay Says! has gone through member changes. That’s one part of what I’ve had to handle that has taken a lot out of me … Like even right now, we haven’t had a steady bass player for two years.” Instead, the band brings them on a tour-by-tour basis, which definitely makes it hard to keep people up to speed. For a band that is on the road so much, it is hard to find someone to make the full commitment and it just ends up being easier to have someone do one and be done. It has put a strain on some relationships, but the band does their best to work through it.
Despite the challenges, there aren’t any regrets. “The things I would take back aren’t necessarily band decisions,” said Menzel. “I’ve also matured into a semi-functioning adult while being in this band and you always wish you were able to handle situations better when you were younger.” He believes that who you are is the sum of your mistakes and your accomplishments so “as long as we’re on the positive end of things, I think we’re doing okay.”
Wrapping things up and looking forward to 2016, Survay Says! plans to have music as soon as possible starting with a 7” EP early in the year and followed by a full-length later on. The will be taking the winter off to get the music ready and finally have a chance to relax before coming back full force in the spring.