Down the line

Metro Times: How and why did Telegraph start? The Skolars were the first incarnation of the band, right?

Petryczkowycz: Yeah, well, one of many. It's always been a revolving door.

Penxa: We should have brought the family tree. It would have made it easier to explain

MT: You actually made a family tree?

Petryczkowycz: Yeah, I made one up recently — it's rather amusing. In 1998 we had four different bassists playing four different shows.

Actually the beginning of the band and this Christmas show tie in very closely. The very first show was the 27th with the Exceptions and Mustard Plug. It was a big show for us and we were brand new. There was a lot of kids there and it just did wonders for us.

The next year we did a show at the Magic Bag with the Suicide Machines and that was another show that helped a lot. So the following year we thought, "wow, we can actually generate a crowd on our own — let's try to do the same thing for some younger bands in town like we had done for us. We got the idea to do our first CD release party on the 26th, so we the day-after-Christmas party. This is the fourth annual one and our sixth anniversary.

MT: Do former members of the band come out and show up?


Grant: One.

Petryczkowycz: The Christmas show's always a surprise who shows up. It's more of a party than a show. And it always boggles our minds when we see the people who show up and the kids coming in. Even people who I don't think really like us come because they know it's a good time. (Cross my fingers, knock on wood).

MT: You draw a good number of kids to your shows. It seems like you have a real loyal grassroots following. Do you work a lot on that?

Petryczkowycz: We've just been lucky. Our fan base, our 'friends" I like to refer to them as because they actually show up at shows, are always there. There's always new faces and people who haven't seen us in two years show up and say "I haven't seen you guys in soo long." I don't know what it's like for other bands, but with us, since everyone has fun when they come out no matter what. We always try to emphasize at our shows — have a good time, take a look around at the person next to you, make a friend today. I think that might have happened.

MT: Have you guys been playing a lot?

Petryczkowycz: We've been laying low a bit lately. We've been writing new material, trying to get new songs together. We haven't played in Detroit very much lately. I'd like to see that change next year. Not making a big deal of everything and playing wherever we can. Your basement? Okay.

MT: Back to basics — wherever, whenever …

Petryczkowycz: I hate the fact that the "ska explosion," or whatever you wanna call that trend, made us, as well as other bands, lose track of what exactly is fun. And that's playing.

MT: You guys aren't exactly a ska band at all anymore. You have touchstones associated with new ska but …

Petryczkowycz: We're not writing ska. It's more fun to try and do something different. I think we're really a pop band that played ska. So I think maybe we don't fit in "correctly."

MT: What other bands have you been in?

Grant: Suicide Machines, Thoughts of Ionesco …

Penxa: This is it. This is my first band.

Petryczkowycz: About half the band is like that. But I think these days you (referring to Mark) have never been in another band.

Penxa: Yeah. I'm the glue. I'm the captain; I'm going down with the ship.

Petryczkowycz: I've only been in one other band that anyone would have heard of thanks to Jam Rag — god bless Tom Ness — the Scruffy Tearaways. Plus countless metal bands and punk bands …

MT: Why did you start the band and why do you continue doing it?

Grant: When the band started, I was singing alongside of Jeff. Through a turn of events we parted ways and, years later, here I am.

Petryczkowycz: After I threw up in a Toys 'r' Us bathroom — what was that, in Tennessee? — our drummer quit on us mid-tour. I gave Derek a call …

MT: There was a direct correlation between you throwing up and the drummer quitting on you?

Petryczkowycz: No, no, he quit and I threw up.

Penxa: You could say chicks, but that isn't really true and that's never really happened anyways. Who knows? Who doesn't start a band at some point, you know? You're 15; you want to play for beer and chicks and you learn a couple stupid songs and you write 10 more stupid songs. But it is fun.

Petryczkowycz: This is gonna sound total BS and total butt-kissing, but, really, the kids. Nothing feels better than having seen that many people happy and getting their approval of something you really put your heart and soul into. Other people want to get their peers' attention or the critics' attention. I don't care, if there's still kids at the show. When I was 16, all I wanted to do was get in a band and play in Detroit, play St. Andrew's. And now that's happened. I reached my goals and now I have dreams. Not to mention that I skipped college for this and I have nothing else to do with my life.

MT: Why the name change?

Petryczkowycz: The first album came out under the name of Skolars. There was a brief period where I left the band for the sake of keeping my sanity. In that time period a lot of thought was given to what we were doing and what we had accomplished versus what we thought was more important. When we all got back together again, we decided to create more of our own identity. We were trying to be this big band that was the skolars or something weird like that, instead of just trying to be ourselves and the name change sounded great. The first name was just too … ska.

MT: Have you recorded as this incarnation of the band?

Penxa: I think now we're writing Telegraph stuff, finally. At least in my eyes. It's finally starting to get to the point where we're writing songs that I originally thought the band would sound like. It just wasn't possible before. The people that were in the band. The musicianship has improved. It just took (six years).

MT: You guys have toured. How do people respond in other cities?

Petryczkowycz: We've had successful tours thanks to the fact that we got cool opening slots and we've had tours that were totally bunk, but … character-building.

MT: You seem to have a real sense for working the crowd, that everyone should just have a good time. Almost like a bar band, but …

Penxa: We're just a party band, Chris. But I don't think we're able to do what (some touring ska party bands) can do. Throw us in a bar and say, "Okay, entertain these people" — forget about it. We're screaming at people and calling them names. We'll never be a good college band.

MT: You never know — people love the abuse.

Penxa: Oh, I'll try it. We can only hold it together for so long. We can't do two-hour sets. We got 40 minutes.

Petryczkowycz: The best sets are when you get 20 minutes and you get the energy level up and keep it up and just pound away and then get the hell out. I could never be in one of those bands (that say) "okay, we're taking a little break now. Tip your waiters."

Grant: I think playing the Tap Room [watering hole in Grosse Pointe] was probably a testament to the fact that we don't know how to work that kind of crowd.

Petryczkowycz: Not to mention that I'm the man with the mic and I don't even drink, so I don't know how to talk to a bunch of drunks.

MT: So you obviously go over very differently, then, to a group of 30-something Grosse Pointe social drinkers?

Grant: Although I think musically we might appeal now more to them.

Petryczkowycz: If I could just keep my mouth shut between songs!

Grant: I think a lot of the younger crowd is still subject to what's being played on the radio at a specific time, which is usually pretty aggressive fast-type music. A lot of our stuff now is real mid-tempo, slowed down, owes a lot more to British pop. Late-'70s, early-'80s, even New Wave in some ways. I think the older crowd can relate to it. But they don't like the fart jokes.

MT: Do you like being the frontman?

Petryczkowycz: I've never been an extremely good singer. The only thing that's kept me in bands for the last 13years is the fact that I like being a frontman. I'm a ham …

Penxa: Bad sense of humor.

Petryczkowycz: People really think that I am at times this smart-cracking jerk, when they don't realize that I'm ripping on myself as much as anyone else and I'm trying to get people to have a good time. I'm trying to calm that down a bit, cuz it got us in some hot water.

MT: Really?

Penxa: There was a good chunk of time when people took it the wrong way.

Petryczkowycz: They … hated … me. It was me having fun and being silly and a lot of people got it. There was a time when you could go to a Telegraph or a Skolars show and it was customary for people to yell stuff at me and put me off because you liked what was going on. But people just didn't get it. But it reflected poorly on the rest of the guys. So that's gone out the window.

MT: What is success in your terms?

Petryczkowycz: I think everyone in the band's attitude is to do what it lets us do. We've accomplished a lot more than we ever expected. As long as we keep our head above water. It's not about becoming rock stars — it's about having fun. But if we become rock stars …

Penxa: I don't know if I'm ready …

Petryczkowycz: I'll do it for you.

MT: Take one for the team! Who are your musical heroes?

Petryczkowycz: This is going to sound corny, but the guys in this band.

Penxa: I have the usual laundry list of influences, but all my heroes are hockey players. So, if you want to say Darren McCarty …

Petryczkowycz: The Exceptions.

MT: The Exceptions?

Petryczkowycz: If it wasn't for a few important situations like the Exceptions and the label Jump Up in Chicago and the Suicide Machines … There's some definite correlation between, especially, the Exceptions and making these guys get going, seeing a local band making it.

MT: Is telegraph as a name associated with the street?

Petryczkowycz & Penxa: No!

Petryczkowycz: That's why we've recently used the prefix "the" telegraph. When the name first came up, we were like "Yeah! The communication device!"

MT: So it's safe to say that you won't be taking pictures under the street sign?

Petryczkowycz: I think we made a rule soon after we started the band that we'd never do that.

MT: Anything else to say? Mark, you seem like you're wincing.

Penxa: You're boring the shit out of me.

Petryczkowycz: There's Mark's sense of humor. Like that movie said, "I'm the asshole, but he's the prick." One thing I want to mention — if anyone reading this has been to a Christmas show, I want to say thank you.

Chris Handyside is a freelance writer for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
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