“My girlfriend said the only way I could come is if I promised to drink lots of water or else my head will cave in, and nobody wants that.”
Just months after recovering from surgery, Davey vonBohlen and his Milwaukee-based emo band, The Promise Ring, traveled to Pomona’s Glasshouse to headline for Deathcab for Cutie and The Jealous Sound. Artsweek endured loud trains, cold weather and punk rockers scrounging for change to get inside this lead singer’s head.
Artsweek: So what’s the story behind the name The Promise Ring?
vonBohlen: I’m sick of talking about it; it’s old. I think its one of those things where if you say your name enough you’re like “God, my name sounds weird.” And Promise Ring, that’s just a bad rock band name. It’s not at all intimidating or cool.
If you were a boy band, what would your name be?
First of all, who’s to say we aren’t a boy band? We actually played a show under a different name recently, “In Pink,” for our record Electric Pink. So I guess we have played under a boy band name.
What are your boy band personas?
God, none of us fit into any of this. We’re more of the “Real World.” Scott [Schoenbeck] is the dad/party guy, I’m the jock, Dan [Didier] would be the sensitive yet totally quirky anal guy and Jason [Gnewikow] is the gay guy.
As singer/songwriter, where do you get inspiration for songs?
It’s not like a thing where I used to sit down and write all day. Now its like “oh god, we got a song, I need a lyric.” I’m not even that busy. I’m just very prone to watching sports and playing video games, and when I was healthy I was playing sports.
When you were healthy? Can you explain a little bit?
I had really bad headaches in ’98 and all of ’99, and then my body stopped working in April of 2000. I found out I had a brain tumor. I had it removed the first weekend in May, recovered, found out that I had a bone infection from the surgery. I had surgery to remove the bone in November of last year, and I’m healing from that. November 2001 I’ll have a plate put in my head, and hopefully that’ll be the end of it.
It was just out of nowhere?
I went through a windshield in February of ’98 and cut my head really bad. It could be trauma, but they can’t say because it’s a slow-growing tumor.
Was that a car accident with the band?
Yeah, another great lore. “The Promise Ring: Disasters and Other Great Tales.” That was Feb. 3, 1998. We had a big accident, and I was fine. But then two years later, and I have this. It could conceivably grow in two years – it could grow that same size in 20 years. It’s a waiting game. I can’t really do anything active. Cracking your skull is one thing, but not having a skull you could break your brain, and you’re not supposed to break your brain – that’s what I hear.
Yeah, probably not a good thing. Are you planning any tours in the future?
No, actually. Just maybe a week here, two weeks there. It’s hard to plan things four months in advance because who knows if I won’t be back in the hospital.
People were surprised you went on tour with Bad Religion. What was that all about?
We’d never really been asked to do a tour before. But they asked and were pretty adamant about having us play with them. It probably wasn’t the best thing for us to do. But apparently, across the board, you open for Bad Religion, it’s just bad. But I dunno, it’s fun – we were the bad guys. When does Promise Ring ever get to be the bad guys?
Of Promise Ring’s albums, which is your favorite?
Very Emergency. It’s the best one; I mean whether people like it the best, I don’t know. From what I’ve heard, people have said it’s not as good as the one before and that Nothing Feels Good would be the best one. But I don’t think that’s true.
Let’s talk lyrics. For example, “There will be ice cream for naked boys swimming in kettles.” Does that mean something?
That was more like an impression, just kind of a Norman Rockwell thing. I think songs, lyrics, you have to put a little bit of a dreamy bend on everything cuz real life is just not that interesting. People are like “What did you mean?” And it’s like “No, you tell me what it means.” I don’t feel I have to share pieces of my life. Lord knows it’s not that good. I think the lyrics on this next one are gonna be a lot better.
Is the next album due out soon?
No. We’re just writing and recording our new songs. We have at least an album’s worth of new songs.
Where do you see The Promise Ring 10 years from now?
If we were to be together for the next 10 years we’d have to drastically change to the point where the people who like us now would be embarrassed to like us then. It takes a serious toll on the body, on the mind. It’s a tough schedule; you can’t really maintain the normal life. I would much rather be on my couch with my pets, my girlfriend, living the slow life. So my future in music – the days are numbered. But I mean I can’t say that for the rest of the band. But I think they would say that this ain’t gonna be our lives in 10 years.