"I HAD THIS DREAM last night that Kurt Cobain was alive," Walter Schreifels tells me from a Days Inn in Vanderbilt. "He was kinda fat, but he had a new record and it was awesome and I was really just psyched to hear his voice and see him. He wasn't fat-fat—he was just a little bloated-fat—but it didn't matter. It was beautiful. Dude, it was so cool; he's this bloated guy, but he's still got this voice and this wonderful quality . . . ."
Schreifels' soft Brooklyn accent trails off, but quickly reemerges to scrutinize U2's aesthetic progression. This all relates to a previous tangent about '90s rock fans not being able to grow with beloved smaller bands because they keep fucking breaking up, which is great food for thought, but I'm lost in a revelation. The wiry Quicksand architect who used to bark kiss-offs like "You motherfucked yourself again" and "You want to tell me so bad who is on your guest list, but I don't care" no longer exists.
Further proof: Five minutes before detailing his "first Cobain dream," Schreifels listed the recent denizens of his boombox. Sigur Ros, White Stripes, Nick Drake, Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart, Traffic, and David Bowie are hardly the influences one might imagine infiltrating the Thor's hammer onslaught of a Quicksand album, but Rival Schools? Hell, why not? As Dylan himself recently noted, "things have changed."
Rival Schools' debut LP United By Fate is a catalog of acute, driven rock that isn't afraid to meander and isn't boring when doing so. Only the punishing "Holding Sand" and staccato leadoff single "Used for Glue" recall the force Schreifels devoted to not only Quicksand but seminal New York City hardcore terrorists Gorilla Biscuits and Youth of Today.
"Undercover's On," however, is one of many telling segues into a more personal, relaxed approach. The hypnotic acoustic strumming slowly builds into a continent of noise. Schreifels confronts an object of desire, claiming, "Those people that you don't know, well they don't care about you, can live easily without you," before the confused concession, "I'm calling out your name because I want to meet you again . . . don't know why!" The presence of a love song is a shock, but dissecting observations have long been mainstays of Schreifels' songs.
"The last Quicksand record was very much seeing through to the truth of people, and a lot of times the truth wasn't pretty," he recalls. "There was a hopefulness to it but a certain cynicism too. And I think that's why people connected to it."
This time around, Schreifels uses second person as an instrument to find common ground, not as a punching bag to absorb negativity.
"The icon that we use for our [Rival Schools'] T-shirts and shit is kind of this image of hope," he says, referring to two silhouettes holding hands and running. "I wanted to put out something really positive, especially in contrast to what's been going on the past four or five years—in reaction to all these horrible, dark images to come out of the new metal scene. Which is cool and great and important, but I kinda wanted to put something out that was more uplifting.
"There's some great Korn songs, some great Limp Bizkit songs; there's great shit in all of it, but it's not my aesthetic."
I say those are awfully magnanimous words. Schreifels doesn't miss a beat.
"I could also say it all fucking sucks and it's bullshit, but I wouldn't want someone to dismiss my vibe."
It's OK, Walter. I'll handle that end. Gladly.