Working-class Heroes

San Francisco Bay Area quintet Swingin’ Utters put blue-collar durability in punk’s long, strange trip


Punk rock was never meant to last this long. Or at least that’s what an objective observer might have assumed back in the 1980s, when antiauthoritarian, anarchic tendencies ran wild from the streets of San Francisco to Los Angeles, New York City, London and beyond. But here we are in 2013 with nearly every early pioneering punk band still kicking out two-minute, three-chord jams in one incarnation or another. What other rebellious musical genre can claim such longevity and consistency?

San Francisco’s Swingin’ Utters might not enjoy the high profile of bands like Bad Religion, Black Flag, NOFX or Pennywise. Among salt-of-the-earth punk fans, OG Utters Johnny Bonnel (lead vocals), Darius Koski (guitars and vocals), Greg McEntee (drums) and relatively new members Miles Peck (bass) and Jack Dalrymple (guitars and vocals) still wave the working-class, folk- and Celtic-inspired street-punk flag with pride. After a seven-year hiatus in the mid-2000s to concentrate on family responsibilities, Swingin’ Utters have turned out two excellent albums in the last three years — and head out on one of their first real nationwide headlining tours in 25 years.

Folio Weekly: For years, Swingin’ Utters have been perennial support acts for bigger punk headliners bands. How stoked are you to finally be heading up your own tour?

Johnny Bonnel: It’s actually kind of tough to be the headliner because there’s more responsibility to make the show a good draw. That’s why we love finding bands like The Blacklist Royals to help us out. It’s a lot easier to get more people into the club when there are two bands that are worthy headliners.

F.W.: Will you be playing songs from all eras of Swingin’ Utters or concentrating on the most recent album, “Poorly Formed”?

J.B.: We’ve actually been practicing to get some songs we’ve never played live before into the set. We have about 13 that we’re going to rotate in, because we want to play a different set every night of the tour.

F.W.: “Poorly Formed” featured major songwriting contributions from Jack Dalrymple, who joined Swingin’ Utters when the band reformed in 2010. Was it hard for you, Darius and Greg to let go of the reins and allow him to handle such responsibility?

J.B.: No, we’ve wanted him to write songs for a long time. I still did most of the melodies and lyrics, but it was necessary for him to contribute so much to become a bigger part of the band. Hopefully, we can get [bass player] Miles Peck in the mix next time because he’s a good songwriter, too.

F.W.: Has the motivation behind Swingin’ Utters' lyrical content changed a lot as you all get older?

J.B.: Oh, yeah. We’re writing about wives, kids, family shit and everything that’s wrong with the world now that wasn’t wrong with the world back when we were just writing about drinking, good times and problems with parents and authority. I write more like the 46-year-old dude that I am, and you can tell that with Darius’ lyrics, too: They’re more reflective and more mature.

F.W.: Yet you've always maintained a solidly blue-collar, working-class perspective.

J.B.: That’s just a continuation of what’s happening in our lives. We’re still all working when we’re not touring — barely scraping by just like we were when we first started. Now with kids, we just have different financial problems. [Laughs.] But you can’t be a phony. There’s no time for that shit these days. I think honesty’s the best policy with everything. We’re not rich rock stars, so we’re not gonna write about making a lot of money or owning a lot of stupid material shit. 

F.W.: Punk rock has changed so much since 1987 when you started out. Does the scene feel different to you today?

J.B.: I think it’s one big community that’s not separated by any labels. Everyone’s supportive of keeping touring alive. And obviously it’s a lot easier to tour and keep in contact nowadays. Of course, that also means there are a lot of bands clogging up the clubs and making it harder to book tours. But punk rock is still a very tight-knit group that’s only gotten stronger over the years.

F.W.: Countless side projects are associated with your band: Filthy Thievin’ Bastards, Druglords of the Avenues, One Man Army … how do you find time for so much activity?

J.B.: It’s just to keep playing — to display your art in a way. And it’s too much fun not to do. We realize how lucky we are to get to travel and see the world. That alone makes it all worth it, even if we’re not making a full living off of music. None of us are paying the bills with punk rock … at least not all the way. 

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