Having been present on the music scene since 2013, ’68 is a duo of rock and noise-punk that founder Josh Scogin and drummer Nikko Yamada have taken all over the world, with a sound that promises to be an exciting mix of rock, blues, and hardcore. Originating from the city of ‘creative minds and nonstop fun’ – Atlanta, Georgia – ’68 delivers wild, high-energy tracks that ooze rock n’ roll spirit. Over the past year, the pair have recorded a whole new album which is set to release in March 2021, surely to be another kicker that will leave fans ecstatic and eagerly looking forward to when live shows resume – and of course, Scogin and Yamada themselves. India caught up with Scogin bright and early over Zoom to chat about the new release, how he’s been doing lately, and the importance of real-life connection in a world of digital communication.
‘It’s funny because the ‘how are you doing’ question didn’t used to mean anything, and now there’s like, weight to it!’ Scogin shares with a laugh. ‘Especially musicians, who are used to touring; I mean, for me, I’m on the road almost as much as – and if not more than – at home. And for a year and a half now, I’ve not even played one show, which is bonkers. But to answer your question, I’m doing fine. I put a lot of my time and mental space into art, aka, making videos, so that’s kept me sane and balanced I guess. I find that as long as I’m not twiddling my thumbs, I’m sort of mentally okay!’
In normal circumstances, ’68 spend a lot of their time touring, and with each passing year the pair becoming more travelled than before (2020 aside, of course). And when asked about whether he prefers studio or live performances, Scogin was quick to answer: ‘Live! I like recording – I have fun doing it, I like inventing something out of nothing. As an artist, that’s satisfying, but I only record music so we can keep playing live shows. That’s where rock n’ roll is meant to be, in my humble opinion. We take what we do live, and we try our best to capture that in a record.’
Scogin, formerly of metalcore outfit The Chariot that featured four members, also shared what it’s like to be part of a two-person band; the pros and cons of having only one another to rely on. Interestingly, ’68 adopt a ‘wing it as we go’ attitude when playing live, a creative decision that really shows the band’s adaptability and drive to put on a fantastic show to suit their audience’s needs, wherever they may be: ‘Onstage, we don’t have a setlist or anything. And surely that’s easier for only two people to have to be on the same wavelength than when there’s five people. Me and Nikko are definitely cut from the same cloth, but that doesn’t mean that we’re exactly riding the same wavelength, but if there were five people it would be more complex, I’m sure… Some of the cons are like, if any problem arises, there’s only two people to sort it out. On a lot of tours, we try to keep crew to a minimum, or sometimes not even any at all. So, if we’re on stage and something messes up, that’s it! The show stops and I have to sort it out, or he has to. With our show, it’s kind of free-floating anyway so we can usually work it into something; he’ll free-jam something or I will, and we can usually sort it out. With five people, I’m sure it’s easier to have someone sorting it out whilst everyone else is making the crowd think that nothing’s wrong!’
Scogin asserted the importance of not having a setlist to him: ‘It’s something I believe in wholeheartedly. For me and for us, every single night is different. Everything. It’s a weekend, it’s a weekday, a holiday, it’s cold, it’s hot, different crowd, stage, lights, attitudes, countries… Every single thing is different. For us, it would be strange. With us, it’s free-floating, and so if the crowd is super rowdy we can just play that stuff. Or if it’s feeling a little more vibey, we can go into that world. There’s parts that we make longer or shorter. Sometimes the crowd is just chaotic and it’s fun, and you just want to milk every single part because you’re just feeding off all that. But when your set is so concrete – a lot of bands have their sets mapped out on a computer in this day and age – if the crowd’s going bonkers and you’re like ah, we have to go, this is pre-planned… It’s fine, but it’s not for us. To have complete freedom to do whatever, whenever we want, keeps every show fresh for us. Audiences are smart and they can sense when someone’s just phoning it in. It’s fun for us, it’s fun for the audience, it just works all round for what we’re doing.’
And as we ease into the year of 2021 with the tentative hope that live shows can go ahead later this year, Scogin looked back on good times with friends in other bands: ‘One of them is Bring Me the Horizon. We did two tours with them; one in Australia and one in the States. I’ve been friends with them for a long, long time, so obviously that’s a treat, and then we hit it off really well with their crew – the whole tour was such a joy. We did the US first and then we went to Australia – and when we went to Australia, it was a vacation for us! The tour manager was such a bro, and he essentially tour managed us even though he didn’t have to. We just chilled in these nice hotels and so, even though that’s definitely not the norm, it’s a tour that stands out, both because of how cool those dudes are and because we’re all friends, and also just because that Australia tour was hilarious… there’s plenty of tours but that Australia trip was one of my favourite.
Touring is an aspect that Scogin misses about his work; an aspect that all musicians at the moment can relate to. In relation to the importance of connecting with ‘68’s fanbase, Scogin believes that the physical connection with fans is unparalleled.
‘It’s really important. I would class myself as mostly introverted; I’m really okay with being alone, but here we are now in a spot where it’s obvious that humans need each other and we need some sort of communication, some sort of physical connection. Even with the Zoom stuff, it does serve a purpose but it doesn’t beat 500 people in a club screaming the same lyric; it gives you hope for humanity even though you know that outside there’s still racism and discrimination and problems, but inside you’re just looking at all these beautiful people, and there’s a beauty in that and the closest thing to hope that we’re going to be okay that I think exists. Any time we meet people and hang out with them, that’s huge – because again it’s humans connecting. I thought it was important before Covid, it’s deeply ingrained in our DNA. But when it comes to online stuff, for some reason, there’s a switch that flips and for me it’s harder… Online stuff can sometimes feel way more like, patting yourself on the back a bit, like ‘look at all these people listening to what I have to say’ rather than a group of like, five people just chit-chatting and sharing stories and getting all campfire-y. That stuff’s way cool. It’s what humanity’s all about, but sometimes this digital age we’re living in can be a façade of ‘real.’ It can be people stroking their ego sometimes! Which is fine, but it’s not really what I’m here to do.’
And when chatting about lyrics from songs Scogin admires, big names from other genres came to mind: ‘Billie Eilish has a lyric: ‘Call me friend, but keep me closer’ [‘when the party’s over’]. The first time I heard that, I was like, oh I wish I’d written that, that’s awesome! I’m real picky on lyrics, and about who I would vouch for or care about, but she has some great ones and I remember hearing that line and thinking ‘wow, that’s a strong line.’ It’s a really chill one.’
Scogin went on to make a connection between Eilish and rap legend Snoop Dogg in an intriguing comparison: ‘When gangster rap was gigantic, like true gangsters shooting each other in the States, it was bonkers – in the 90s or whenever it was – every rapper that was coming out of that time was a ‘gangsta’ and loud and in your face. Snoop Dogg was always so chill, he never raises his voice very loudly. I’ve seen Snoop live like, 3 times now, I think? And I’ll always think about how it’s easier to try to be hard when you’re loud and in your face – and we’re guilty of it! ’68 is loud and in your face, you know – but when someone like Snoop Dogg comes out and you just know he’s hard! And with Billie Eilish, she never really raises her voice, and yet the power – that’s a magical thing that’s way more difficult than the on-the-nose, obvious, ‘listen to how loud everything is.’ It’s very respectable, I love that dichotomy of you’re not in everybody’s face about it, but it’s more powerful sometimes. I don’t know where that connection came from, it just popped up in my head!’
Interestingly, Scogin shared how he doesn’t have artists he ‘looks up to’ – rather just people he is a genuine fan of – and named Deftones as one of his favourites: ‘I don’t know if they’ve ever released a bad record. Any time they put out a single or anything, I’m like oh, I’m gonna go check that out.’ There’s plenty of bands that I genuinely like, and liked for a long time, and they’re one of them. It doesn’t feel like they’re just releasing stuff to just do it, they actually are genuinely trying to do something new and fresh and it rules every time they put something out. Another band is Every Time I Die. They’re good friends of mine and every time they put something out I listen to it a lot. I love Keith [Buckley] as a lyricist and musically again, it’s always great stuff.’
So, where would Scogin most like to play? A disbeliever of the bucket list – ‘I don’t think you should make bucket lists ‘cause you just never really do them!’ – Scogin confessed that whilst he doesn’t worry too much about such questions, there is one place that is special to him in a way.
‘In Atlanta, we have a venue called the Fox Theatre, and I went and saw my very first show there ages ago – Toadies, Hum and Bush – and I’ve played, I think, every single venue in Atlanta, even the big arena – but I haven’t played there. I’d definitely have that for something that would be like, ‘man that’d be kind of nice,’ but that’s out of my control because it’s a big venue. But more importantly, it’s very nice. It’s old and very antique. There’s not a lot of places I’ve thought of to care about, but that place is definitely an itch I’d like to scratch at some point in life.’
Words: India Fishburn