"Anyone playing fucking loud, fast, shitty music, it's a joke by now. Anyone playing music is a joke. My laptop plays music better than most people do," says Christian Sturgis, guitarist and vocalist in the punk band Advlts. The band members are sitting around Sturgis Antiques, which Sturgis owns, mercilessly mocking their own musical pursuits with equal parts sincerity and sarcasm.
The banter comes quick and fast, generally instigated by Sturgis, maintained and fleshed out by drummer Lee Ashlin, and put up with by guitarist and lead vocalist Greg Preston. When Lee asks for a chair, Sturgis quips, "This drummer sits all the time and now he needs to lean!"
"This is pretty much how we talk to each other all the time," Ashlin says. Adds Sturgis, "There's no other reason to be in a band."
But the bandmates' respect for each other is clear. When talking about bassist Pete Ross, who is absent, the rest of the band praises his work as a luthier. "The stuff he makes is fucking incredible," Ashlin says of Ross' historically modeled gourd banjos. "We respect each other a lot," Ashlin adds later. "It may not seem like it, but we do."
Sturgis praises Preston's vocals, "I can't think of anyone else better who could do that, make a joke, be serious, be miserable, and be happy." It's even more remarkable because Preston had never played in a punk band before Advlts. "I just had an apprehension toward punk rock in the '90s because there were so many bad, macho hard-rock bands," he says.
As you may have guessed, the members of Advlts are a little older than your typical punk-rock band, with an average age of just above 40 years. The members are all veterans of the Baltimore music scene. You might recognize them from bands like the Fuses, Lo Moda, Fascist Fascist, Slow Jets, Roads to Space Travel, or Mean Spirits, to name only about half of the outfits these fellows have been in. "The Ottobar in 1999 was one of our bands probably playing every week with each others' bands," Ashlin says.
Still, the band practices regularly, at least once a week. "The nighttime is harder for Lee because he has a child," Sturgis says. Ashlin adds, "[But] we do actually have the regiment of an actual band."
With age comes expertise. The group shows their encyclopedic knowledge of punk rock.
"I sent an email to several bandmates asking about their favorite records," Preston recalls. "Lee doesn't remember this, but he sent me an email-I asked for friends' top ten records-he sent me a list of like 50 records by continent, his favorite punk records."
"Punk rock during its prime first decade, '75 to '85, is central listening material for all of us, but we've made no effort to create facsimile of a band from that era," Ross says via email. "That period of music produced some pretty diverse stuff, and each of us favors different areas of it, so something unique to the combination of the guys in the Advlts comes out. We like loud, acerbic guitars, noisy bass and big fast drums basically."
Previous to forming, the band members had all independently been talking about playing music together, but it took necessity to bring them together.
"Mike Hall from the Sick Sick Birds had a show booked and he knew that Greg and I had been talking a little about maybe trying to do a band and he needed a band to play the show," Ashlin says. The two friends had yet to write any music, so they decided, with the help of Ross, to do covers.
"[Lee] sent me an email or something, 'Do you want to cover that Kids album to open for the Sick Sick Birds?,' and I said yes," Preston says. That show was back in 2011 at the Windup Space, and they performed as the Adults, named by Ashlin's wife. After Sturgis expressed interest, he was added to the lineup, and they soon began to write original material. The name is now spelled with a v in various states of capitalization. "The band sort of started as a lark," Ashlin says.
But the band is quick to defend the integrity of their music. "We take songwriting seriously, we take the way we present ourselves onstage seriously," Ashlin says.
"People want to see us play for some reason," Sturgis says. "It's fast. It's over," Ashlin quickly adds.
"We just finished mixing a record and the record, total, I think is 17 minutes, 12 songs in 17 minutes," Ashlin says.
Adds Sturgis, "It's not worth doing if you can't do it quickly."