The members of Destroy This Place — guitarist and vocalist Ryan Allen, bassist Monday Busque, guitarist and vocalist John Nelson, and drummer Sean Sommer — are pissed at me. They're valiantly attempting to disguise it as humor, but they're irked.
When we reviewed their debut album Resurrect the Mammoth, released on Bellyache Records in June last year, we referred to the band as "Ryan Allen's Destroy This Place." The band, Allen included, took exception. We were using Allen as a point of reference because he had some local (and a bit of national) success with Thunderbirds Are Now! and the Friendly Foes.
So let it be said DTP is very much a sum of its four equal parts. This band's a collaboration, a collection of skilled musicians and it includes two songwriters in Allen and Nelson.
One thing the band can't be upset about is the praise we heaped upon the record. In fact, it's an album that, to these ears, has gotten better in the seven months since its release. Destroy This Place obviously digs Fugazi, and says as much, but the overt melodies combined with the attitude and aggression actually bring to mind Irish rockers Therapy? The band says that the agro-pop-rock that they produce is simply the sound that they make when they're all in a room together, au natural.
Some backstory: Allen and Sommer were playing together in the Friendly Foes while Nelson and Busque were indie rockers in New Grenada when the quartet met and immediately dug each other's tunes. It took a few years but, when those two bands began to wind down, and with friendships solid, a new project bloomed.
"When New Grenada and Cloud Car [the indie band Nelson formed when he was 19] were happening, and Thunderbirds too, the whole Detroit garage scene was happening," Nelson says. "We didn't fit in. Monday was in a band called the Trembling, and they didn't fit in. We were our own little scene."
"Thunderbirds opened for Von Bondies," adds Allen. "I just feel that, friendship-wise, that's where the divisions started. Nothing against those dudes, but they just weren't the type of people I wanted to be friends with. They wouldn't care about me anyway."
Allen says, though, that a connection with Nelson was instantaneous. "When I met John, I felt that here was a dude I wanted to pay attention to," he says. "When I met Monday, it was the same thing. This guy is super fun to watch play live, and the Trembling was a super fun band. Then I met Sean and it was the same. This motherfucker is an amazing drummer. I think the fact that we all like each other as people so much really helped the cause. I can't think of anything about these dudes that I don't like."
The dynamic of these four makes for a fascinating spectator sport as we sit in a Ferndale bar. Allen and Sommer are the talkers, and at one point, Allen's band mates have to stop him midway through an extended rant in which he was comparing his band to quality food items. Every time he thought of one ("Boar's Head meat"), he'd think of one that he considered to be more apt ("Havarti with dill"). In contrast, Nelson and Busque are a bit reserved, interjecting only when they've something to add. But that shouldn't be mistaken for apathy; both have a fire: It's in their eyes on stage and it comes out with the music.
"There's a chip on our shoulders, and there always has been," Nelson says. "That comes from people not taking us seriously or not understanding where we're coming from. I've always felt this underdog mentality. When we play shows, I want to be good every time. I don't want to phone it in, whether there are four people and the sound guy there, or a couple of hundred, nobody can deny that we put on a high-energy show."
"The one thing we came to an agreement on early is that we wanted it to be aggressive, in-your-face and we wanted it to be a band that you wouldn't want to play after," Allen adds. "Every time we play, that's the goal. If you're gonna play after us, you'd better fucking bring it because we definitely will. We're four proud guys, and sometimes that's mistaken for cockiness."
Sommer thinks that the band's name can sometimes be misleading. "People have described us as, rather than 'Destroy This Place,' 'Go into your living room and rearrange your furniture,'" he says. "That is just based on preconceptions of the band because of the name. If you see us though, we play louder and harder than everybody else."
Busque says that, out of all of that aggression, attitude, and desire to be great, came a great album. "It's a beautiful collaboration," the bassist says. "When we first got together, John and Ryan both had a collection of songs already written, then we had three or four songs that we wrote together. The new record will be more collaborative. We sound aggressive but there's a purpose to the aggression, and you can see that on the new record more. It was recorded in four days in Indiana. It was nice to remove ourselves from Detroit and focus solely on the record. It probably helped us move quickly through everything."
Despite that good album, and the chip on the shoulder, Sommer believes his band is anything but cool, hip or part of any scene. "We're not somebody that anyone will come and see in order to be seen," he says. "We feel there's a consensus out there that this project doesn't matter, but I've never played with more competent musicians who are at the top of their game. I don't think it's considered cool to be good and make good music anymore. It just doesn't matter."
"I feel like having you want to sit down and talk to us is validating though, because we put so much fucking energy into this," Allen adds. "We know that we're not as fashionable or sexy as other bands. We're in our early-to-mid 30s, so we're not as able to be part of a scene like we could've been years back. So it's nice to have somebody want to hear what we have to say about our project because we're passionate about it, we care about it, and we take it fucking seriously."
That's Destroy This Place in a nutshell. The self-proclaimed "least cool band in Detroit" that is one of the most cool as a result. They play kick ass pop-rock with a punk rock edge, and they give a shit what it sounds like.
Sommer, though, has loftier ambitions.
"I have never, ever got a girl because I'm in a band," he says. "Never. Maybe it's something I'm doing wrong. Maybe they see the faces I'm making on stage and don't want to see them later."
Destroy This Place plays the Blowout on Friday, March 2, at the Atlas Bar in Hamtramck with Outrageous Cherry, Seedsmen to the world and Big Mess.