Drug Church Singer on Writing Comics, Combative Music, Embracing Creative Frustration

Text: John Hill

Patrick Kindlon (second from left) and Drug Church

Patrick Kindlon is no stranger to pissing people off.

Having fronted art-punk band Self Defense Family for over fifteen years, he’s become a figure of trollish infamy in underground circles thanks to his unflinching Twitter account and uncompromising dedication to his art. Much of his musical work with Self Defense Family seems intentionally uncommercial — more akin to an emotional exorcism to expel his rabid creative impulses than something you’d throw on at a party. Which makes his work in his other band Drug Church that much more surprising.

Since Drug Church’s 2013 debut, Paul Walker, Kindlon has been wrapping his biting commentary in a more accessible — borderline catchy — sound that’s gaining a significant following. The band’s latest album, 2018’s Cheer, is their most exciting exercise in decadent feel-bad catchiness. yet. Throughout the record, listeners can find sonic references to a slew of different genres from the 90s and 2000s, ranging from grunge to emo. These different sounds coalesce in a boom of fun and energy. Take album starter “Grubby” for example, which sounds like a precocious version of the Pixies playing to the Warped Tour crowd. Kindlon’s razor-sharp commentary still cuts deep as he skewers male immaturity with a funny tale of an overcompensating loser trying to connect with adults despite the fact that he’s still sleeping “on turtle bedspreads.”

His edge and perspective also work their way into his side hustle of comic book writing. In the past several years, he’s racked up books like Patience! Conviction! Revenge! that mix attitude, cyberpunk and dystopia, and feature compelling, twisted, characters as they navigate through insane worlds.

We spoke to Kindlon about navigating the comic and music industries, and how reality can be even more fucked up than the fictitious hellscapes he weaves in comics.

HOW DID YOU FALL INTO THE COMIC BOOK THING? WERE YOU JUST WRITING THIS WHOLE TIME? OR DID YOU COME UPON AN OPPORTUNITY?
PATRICK KINDLON So Matt Rosenberg, who used to run Red Leader Records with his longtime girlfriend Claire, and I started talking about putting out a Self Defense record. And we would talk fairly often and we both talked about our love of comic books. And about who was doing good work, who was doing bad work. Believing we could do better, you know?

And one day he just called me up and he said, “Look, I want to make a run at making this my career. And I know you want to do the same thing. If we join forces, we could cover twice as much ground and have our name on twice as many things.” And hopefully, cut five years off of the 10-year trajectory that everybody tells new writers to expect. And I said, “Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.” And then they started to do that. He’s much more successful than I am at the moment. He’s an exclusive at Marvel right now.

But we did do a number of books together. And it was a great way to keep each other motivated because in the beginning, that’s a very discouraging craft to pick up. I wouldn’t even say the craft is discouraging, maybe it’s a very discouraging world to enter. But we kept each other motivated and produced some really good work and helped each other build a name.

I CAN KIND OF UNDERSTAND HOW AN ARTIST CAN FIND THEIR WAY INTO THE COMIC BOOK WORLD. BUT IF YOU’RE JUST A PERSON WHO WRITES, IT SEEMS HARD AS FUCK TO WIGGLE YOUR WAY IN.
It’s a long-time grind because it’s … You’ve got to be naive and stupid to do it. But that made sense to Matt and I because we would both have the background in punk music where the idea is, “I can do this.” Why wouldn’t I be able to do this? Of course I can do this. Not understanding … Like for example, if I had known what a craft singing is and how much of it is based on your nature-provided attributes, and then how much more of it was contingent on years of hard work; would I have ever started? I don’t know. I don’t know.

Maybe I would’ve been discouraged, maybe it would’ve seemed too big or too menacing. But the artists that I listened to growing up, none of them were particularly brilliant. At that time, I think I was really into the Pogues and [thought] Shane MacGowan [was] a gifted vocalist. So I thought that I could just wing it. And as a result — [thanks to] whatever impressionistic version of vocals I do — I’ve had some sort of career. And with comic books, it’s similar. If people understood the craft that it requires to be actually good, they might be discouraged.

But every reader believes that they could write a comic. Every single one. And that naivete is frustrating for comic book professionals, but it’s very motivating for a young person that might want to try their hand at a medium that can be … You know, if you knew the truth you’d run like hell. So it’s good that you don’t know the truth, it’s good to be naive and it’s good to presume that you could do a thing that there’s no real reason to believe you can do.

IN THE INTERVIEWS I’VE READ WITH YOU, YOU TALK A LOT ABOUT WRITING LYRICS ON THE FLY IN THE STUDIO AND WHATEVER. BUT WHEN IT COMES TO COMIC WRITING, DID YOU HAVE TO PUSH YOURSELF INTO A RHYTHM OF GETTING SHIT DONE? OR WERE YOU STILL ABLE TO KIND OF WING IT?
Well, you do got to … Because deadlines exist, you definitely have to pace yourself accordingly. And that’s a life skill that you’re just gonna have to develop or fail. But I still do … I believe in the Ray Bradbury quote: writing is jumping out the window and building a parachute on the way down. Because everything I’ve written, I know the beginning and I know the end … I don’t think it’s an aspirational goal to let your characters send you in directions. I think that’s just natural.

I think you write characters and then you … By virtue of what they would do naturally, you find that the story takes a different turn. And I think that that’s the way it’s supposed to be. I’ve worked with writers that are very structured and certainly have observed many who are super structured. And that definitely benefits some people. But as my girlfriend would tell you, I’m a Pisces. Apparently I’m supposed to be intuitive. But what’s interesting … Or at least to me interesting, is I can look at other people’s work highly analytically. And be a pure formalist, structuralist.

Like when I watch a movie, I’m watching every decision that they’re making. And I know why they’re making it and the curtains peel back a little bit. But in my own writing, I don’t see any of that until I’m done. Is that a benefit or a hindrance? I don’t know. My work is pretty good so I’m not mad. However it’s coming out. Maybe if I hit a creative wall and realize that I should’ve been much more rigid about structure up to that point, I’ll learn my lesson. But until then, I think it’s much more exciting to start a thing and feel it out.

YEAH, FOR SURE. I’VE BEEN READING INTERVIEWS WITH DIFFERENT WRITERS. I FEEL LIKE THERE’S ALWAYS A SELF-MYTHOLOGIZING THAT GOES ON WHERE WRITERS TRY AND PLAY UP WHAT THEIR PROCESS IS. WHEN REALLY, I THINK I AGREE WITH WHAT YOU SAID IN THE SENSE THAT I THINK MOST WRITING IS JUST IMPROVISATION AND FIGURING THINGS OUT.
I think that people forget that that’s the joy of it. People hear things like “problem solving” and they think that that’s the math part of your brain. Maybe it is, but I think that it’s really the fun of writing is the frustration. I’ve said this about music, same thing. Being not good at music means that I have to have work arounds for every goddamn problem that comes up. And that’s how I feel about writing. To me, it’s fun to find myself in a corner and realize that I have to be smart and find a way out of this and make it interesting for the reader and fulfilling for myself.

If everything went swimmingly all the time, people would probably get bored. So for me, I’m not bored ’cause I’m always making things hard on myself. Yeah. And writers mythologizing is super weird. I get it, musicians do it too. We want people to treat us like we’re actually working for a living, but at the same time we want to put some obscuring mythos on it that makes it look like we’re going to the woods and talking to elder spirits or some shit. And really, can anyone sing? Yes, anyone can sing. Not everybody’s gonna be great at it, some people are gonna be more creative than others.

Can anybody write? Yeah. And some people are gonna be frankly bad, and other people are gonna be much better. … I think it’s crazy to mythologize things that literally anybody could do. You know what I mean? Not well, not everyone can do it well. … It’s not like being an astronaut. Being an astronaut is unknowable to me because I don’t understand four-fifths of the science involved, right? So an astronaut can mythologize his career a little bit. He creates some sort of persona or something. But everybody, even if you can’t sing worth a damn; you understand how it works. There’s nothing to mythologize. Same thing about writing. Somebody could be impressed at somebody that does it well, but that doesn’t mean they don’t understand the basics, the fundamentals.

FOR SURE. WITH DRUG CHURCH, IT’S BEEN INTERESTING SEEING YOU INTERACT WITH CROWDS YOU NORMALLY WOULDN’T IN A DIFFERENT CIRCUMSTANCE IN YOUR OTHER BAND, SELF DEFENSE FAMILY. IS IT EXCITING TO GO UP AGAINST DIFFERENT SCENES LIKE THAT?
Well, so it’s an interesting, right? The biggest challenge to Self Defense as a band has always been who do we play with? You know? And we don’t sit with very much. And I don’t mean that to say that we’re terribly original or anything, but there’s just a very specific vibe to the band. And musically, maybe it’s not even that far afield from some of the things that people really like right now. But vibe wise, it’s a hard fit. And Drug Church is a utility band in that respect. That you can put the band with anybody.

The band I most want to play with … I want to play with bands like Deez Nuts. And our agent looks at us and goes, “Are you crazy?” But to me, that fits as much as going out with softer stuff. But what’s crazy is that booking agents hit you and say, “Hey, our band likes your band. What’s your availability for this tour or that tour?” Or whatever. And the one that we’ve been getting lately are straight up … Kind of like whatever kind of music plays in Urban Outfitters. Like you know, it’s anthemic pop music with clapping.

But when you play the more C markets or whatever, it’s like a lot of really young people. And I don’t relate … I don’t have anything in common necessarily with a 15 year old. You know? So that can be a very hard bridge. I can usually find something. Like I said, these are people I wouldn’t traditionally have anything in common with or on the surface wouldn’t have anything in common with; but I can still find something in common with them. But under a certain age is really hard.

And I don’t even know if we should be trying to relate to each other, you know? I don’t know if that’s healthy for your party. So that’s the only time that going out with bands that have a more likable approach or pop sensibility or whatever you want to call it, that’s the only time that it kind of becomes tricky for me. Is when people are really young, because I just don’t know what to do with that.

RIGHT. ‘CAUSE I FEEL LIKE WHEN YOU’RE 15, MUSIC IS SUCH A PRECIOUS THING. SO WHEN YOU GUYS GO UP AND YOU’RE DOING YOU, IT’S SUCH A WEIRD FUCKING THING TO SEE, “WHY IS THIS GUY GIVING A SHIT BUT ALSO NOT GIVING A SHIT.”
That’s a good point. I haven’t thought about it like that, but that’s a good point. It’s that if I had seen myself at 15, I would say, “This guy doesn’t take this seriously enough.” And what’s funny is that as a grown man, I take what I do way too seriously. If people knew how seriously I took my bullshit, they wouldn’t like me. I take my shit real seriously. But if I saw myself onstage, if I was 15, looking at myself on stage as I am now; I would say, “This is not honest enough for me.” And so I can see why they wouldn’t like me.