Today, the split 10-inch record featuring punk bands The Frantic Heart of It and Playoff Beard is a real, concrete thing — to be released officially on Sat., Feb. 2. But when the idea first came up, it was far from sure; for one thing, The Frantic Heart of It's songwriter and singer, Doug Weaver, was in the hospital.
"Do you remember how we started talking about this project?" asks Mike Seamans, owner of Dear Skull Records, which is releasing the record. He's addressing Weaver.
"It was right before you went in to get your [bone-marrow] transplant, and you were reading that thing about, ‘Get your ashes pressed into a record.' And you and I were sitting at a table and you were like, ‘If this goes wrong' — it was some serious, sad-sack shit. ‘Get my ashes pressed into a Hank Williams record so my kids can listen to it and cry every day.'"
Weaver laughs, and Seamans continues: "And I was like, ‘Dude, I'm not gonna do that! That's a terrible idea.' So instead, I was like, ‘Why don't we put out a record, so you have something to work on?'"
That part of the story had escaped Weaver. It's understandable; there was a lot going on at that point in his life. The longtime punk-scene personality — he played in the late-'90s hardcore band Gunspiking, and in an acoustic duo called City Hands, with Zack Furness — had landed a job as a city firefighter in 2007, but not long after, he was diagnosed with leukemia. He spent three years in and out of the hospital, and was working on songs for The Frantic Heart of It at the same time. This band, more than others, really cuts to the heart of what Weaver favors in his punk rock.
"Basically, I grew up listening to poppier punk music — Lookout! Records kind of stuff. And when I moved to Pittsburgh [from eastern Pennsylvania], the punk scene here has been more into crust and metal stuff. I was always looking for people to do things with me, for years." He found kindred spirits in bassist Cary Miller (who generally goes by "Stewie"), and eventually drummer Kevin Churchel.
Playoff Beard's Thomas Guentner was in a similar spot. Formerly of the street-punk outfit Tommy Gutless, Guentner also found himself playing acoustic music after that band broke up. "I started playing these songs that had sort of a folk-y twist to them, but really they were just pop-punk songs." That led to the formation of Playoff Beard, with guitarist Patrick McGhen, bassist Doug Hite, and drummer Dom Sorace.
Despite the name, it's not a hockeycore band. "The name was inspired by — when we were the ‘city of champions' [in 2009] — we talked about how, hypothetically, everyone grows this playoff beard for the sports teams, and you live or die by the sports teams around here," Guentner says. "I'm a part of that; almost everyone is. You see unity amongst a city because of that one, fleeting, silly game. Why can't we have playoff beards for our friends' ideas, and what our friends want to do with their lives, and where we're taking a music scene — just camaraderie."
Both bands are fun, but in a serious sort of way; they hearken back to the emotional punk of the late '90s, in a way. The Frantic Heart of It, on its side of the split, addresses themes like the "mid-punk crisis," evolving views (in a tune called "Primitivism Reconsidered"), and being reminded of what one stands for. The song "I Think I Love You, Lauren Wasson," which Weaver wrote in the hospital, recalls the news coverage of the aforementioned young woman hitting a police officer with her bicycle during the G-20 protests. Weaver says he cleared that song with Wasson, whom he hadn't met prior to writing the tune — "She said it was cool, but I owe her a record," he notes.
On the Playoff Beard side of the split, things are a bit more general. One song, "Apology," begins with the plea, "This song is embarrassing ... so goddamn personal / I just met you tonight. Why would I share this with you?"
It's clear that neither band is afraid of expressing the personal or the political in their music — something that hasn't necessarily been "cool" in punk over the past decade.
"I think maybe the whole political movement within punk music went dormant for a while," says Guentner, "while people figured out a better way to express themselves, with more intense feelings, and not just, ‘Here's the subject matter, verse-chorus-repeat.' It's more, ‘This is how this affects people, and at the end of the day it bums me out, or it brings me hope.' I think it became a lot more genuine for a lot of the people who I draw inspiration from, and the people I surround myself with."
The two bands have found in each other a certain degree of community, even if they admit that their music isn't necessarily what's most popular around town.
"We find that when we leave the city, kids are way more into what we're doing," says Weaver. "There's definitely a core group of folks in Pittsburgh who support us and are super awesome, but as far as the popularity of poppy punk stuff — I'm not seeing it. But I'm also old and don't get out much."
The two bands hope, though, to reach a new generation of fans — people closer in age to Weaver's 17-year-old daughter, Reyghan, who created the artwork for the album.
"We'd gotten into the habit of playing at bars, because that's where we hang out, I guess," Weaver says. "But the last couple of shows we played were at [the all-ages Mr. Roboto Project], and they were really well attended. Those kids were actually really into what we're doing."
The Mr. Roboto Project is where the release show for the split takes place on Sat., Feb. 2 — and a longtime dream of Weaver's comes to fruition.
"Putting out a 10-inch on clear vinyl has been a dream of mine since I was a kid — it was a very specific dream," he says with a laugh.
You might say that's not the only dream coming true in his camp. Weaver, now two years in remission, recently returned to his job as a firefighter — no small feat for someone who went through chemo and a marrow transplant. He's taking this as an opportunity to remind people of what they've got.
"Our opening track on the record," he says, "is something I wrote in the hospital — just about appreciating life, and how it shouldn't have to take some kind of tragedy for you to realize that you have a finite amount of time on this place, and just, make the best of it and have a good time."