Despite the fact that Mexican Knives' frontwoman Ruth Synowiec hasn't yet arrived at our meeting place at Great Lakes Coffee, we go ahead and start our interview anyway. After all, it's not like Zach Weedon is just the band's guitar player. Amid many personnel changes, Weedon remains the band's only consistent member — "a very Van Halen-esque thing to do," he admits.
So if people treat Mexican Knives like Weedon's band, it's not without reason. After years of playing bass in loud bands like the Dirtbombs and the even louder Lee Marvin Computer Arm, Mexican Knives is Weedon's first band as a songwriter. His new band is decidedly less loud — at times sparse, but no less rocking, combining punk, surf, and goth influences in a way that calls to mind the Pixies.
"I'm always trying to be nice about that whole situation," he says of the first incarnation of Mexican Knives, in which one Loretta Lucas wrote the lyrics, and Weedon wrote the songs. But Weedon found himself in a dilemma after everyone in that version eventually quit.
"I feel like there was a lot of ideas about whether I should start a new band, but it was kind of the band that I started," he says. "There's probably some people who are like, 'Why didn't you change the name?' We didn't do enough to make it to where I had to change it. Now we've gone to New York a bunch, we've toured a ton, we have a new record coming out. This is Mexican Knives."
For now, the group has crystallized around Weedon, Synowiec, and drummer Blair Wills, with recent additions Josh Budiongan and Tyler Grates rounding out the group on guitar and bass respectively. Mexican Knives, Weedon assures us, is not his band.
Finally, Synowiec arrives, apologizing for her tardiness. "One of our machines was down," she says. (She tells us she's just getting off from a shift at Wayne State University, where she does "just like, DNA stuff. Some sequencing. A little cell-line authentication.")
Synowiec explains she wasn't in any other bands before she joined Mexican Knives three years ago. She says before that, and before switching into biology as a main gig, she was "a failing artist" — a CCS alum doing the less glamorous and creative duties of a photo studio.
"I did karaoke all the time — I did it next to the place where Zach and Blair worked," she says. At the time, Weedon and Wills were working together at Slows Bar-B-Q, and started playing together after Wills revealed that he dabbled with drumming in a joke band called Heavy Cowboy.
"They were like, why don't you come over and sing? Then they were like, 'Cool, we have a show in two weeks.'" Synowiec says. "We played like five songs. It was terrifying, but I was like, I've sang here a hundred times. I can do this."
Weedon says he was initially drawn to Synowiec's raspy yet charming voice. "I just liked the way she talked," he says. Onstage, Synowiec delivers lyrics like "I got a killer snake at the Texas line" with just enough of a drawl to make it sound believable.
"There's a rawness, but she's got a beautiful voice. She's got both," Weedon says. "She can get dirty when she wants to get dirty. She can clean up when she wants to clean up. That's a rarity."
Synowiec shrugs. "I don't know what I'm doing," she says. "I'm learning how to control (that) I don't know what I'm doing."
That attitude neatly summarizes Mexican Knives' current modus operandi. "This whole band is kind of raw," Weedon says. "I grew up as a bass player. So all of my guitar riffs are kind of driving, heavier riffs. We're all learning, and I think that's what makes it exciting," Weedon says.
Of the band's current songwriting process, Weedon says it's a back-and-forth between him and Synowiec. "I come up with an idea, and she elaborates on it, then I try to elaborate on that and then she gets mad about it," he says. "Then she ends up kind of being right and she's like, 'I told you so.'"
"I don't mean to rub your face in it," Synowiec says. "Well, just a little."
"We write differently. Sometimes I'm writing about like, a new Mexican Revolution, and she's like, writing about sunburned goth kids," Weedon adds. "And I think that works really well. I've got this Fugazi mentality and she's got this Ozzy mentality."
"It's like, FugOzzy," Synowiec wryly observes.
"She's like, always grounding me," Weedon says. "I'm like, 'revolution!' And she's like, 'Fuckin' chill, dude.'"
Speaking of Mexican Revolutions, where'd the name come from? Weedon explains that he's Mexican on his mother's side. "One time I went to go visit my mom, and I was emptying out all my pockets, and since I live in southwest [Detroit] I just carry a switchblade with me," he says. "My mom was like, 'You carry a knife? Well, I guess you are Mexican.'" Like the band's music, the name is kind of dark, but also kind of funny.
Synowiec says they've gotten some shit for the name from people who take it the wrong way — but never from Mexicans, the group observes. The conversation then shifts to the heightened state of political correctness of late as Weedon launches in a bit of a tirade.
"It's fucking terrible. It's like the hardcore scene in the '90s just went mainstream," he says. "That's the narrative — they want you to care about whether someone says something that's offensive on Huffington Post or Twitter to take away from the fact that like, in Highland Park they said it's not the state's responsibility to give an education to black kids."
The volume of the entirely hipster clientele at Great Lakes Coffee gets palpably lower. "It's totally fucked up, and nobody's doing anything about that," Weedon continues. "They're fighting about someone saying something bad about Nicki Minaj's butt or something. It's like, what the fuck are you talking about? It's totally a distraction. It's a distraction from the real issues, and it's a narrative that people want to have because it's easy, and it takes away from something that can really attack the structure."
Weedon knows plenty about the hardcore scene. He's straight edge — no drugs, no alcohol — a fact that he's very vocal about, despite the fact that he's a bartender. "I love being straight edge," he says. "I won't lie."
He says he made the decision when he was 17. "I was miserable, hanging out with a bunch of kids and getting stoned, listening to, like, Pantera and shit," he says. "I hated it. But then I met a bunch of kids who were straight edge and all they would do is like skateboard and watch movies and have the most fun. They were way more fun."
Weedon adds that his dad's alcoholism also played a factor. "My mom was like, 'Look at your brothers. Look what kind of example you're giving them,'" he says. "I was like, 'Oh shit, she's right.' I think I was already looking for a change. I just haven't seen any excuse since to smoke or drink."
The rest of the band, though, is decidedly not straight edge. "I will say it's awesome having a straight edge dude in the band," Wills chimes in. "You always have a fucking safe ride home after the show. If it wasn't for Zach, we'd all be dead."
Weedon says at the moment, though, Mexican Knives are laying low. After opening for Frontier Ruckus for their recent album release party, the band is prepping its own record, which they dropped off before our interview to get pressed, due for release after the new year.
"We're taking a break. We kind of went hard for a really long time," Weedon says. "We played a lot of shows and toured a bunch." Plus, he says they're already thinking about their next album.
"We've been playing the songs on the album that's coming out, some of them for three years," Synowiec says. "We've got almost a whole album's worth of new songs. If we could get two in one year, that would be cool."
Weedon says the Mexican Knives debut will be released as a joint effort by local label Bellyache Records and his own Fever Dreams, which he says will also be the home of the long-awaited, ten-years-in-the-making Steve Albini-produced Lee Marvin Computer Arm full-length. We have to ask — why'd the Lee Marvin record take so long? "I'll just leave it at these two sentences: We've known each other since we were 15 years old," Weedon says. "When we get into a group, we automatically regress to 15."
But Weedon hopes to harness a bit of that energy with his latest band. "Lee Marvin was a gang to me. And I loved it," he says. "As much as we were dysfunctional and we didn't get shit done, I loved the idea of that." He recalls a blog post that scenester Ben Blackwell once wrote about that band. "He said, basically, when you see these guys enter, it's like they're in a fucking gang.
"That's what I want to keep with every band," he says. "You're going in together. We're all in it together."
Check out more Mexican Knives at mexicanknives.bandcamp.com.