When you think of punk rock in the United States, the first cities that come to mind are usually San Francisco, New York, or Los Angeles. What about Las Vegas?
“You never think Vegas, not at all,” laughs Andy Harrison, guitarist for Surrounded By Thieves, a rising punk band in, you guessed it, Sin City. And as far as Harrison and his bandmates are concerned, it’s just a matter of time until Vegas takes its place with the aforementioned cities in the punk pantheon.
“There’s a great scene here,” he said. “I was in a band in the Bay Area, in San Francisco, and there were too many bands. I felt like there wasn’t much of a scene there because you’re a nobody, so who cares? But here, I think with less people and less bands, you know the bands more and there are shows all the time. At the Double Down Saloon, there’s shows on Friday and Saturday nights, and there are tons of other venues, so the scene is great and the bands are awesome. We all get along, hang out, and share gear, and we all try to set up our own shows.”
With one full-length album, 2011’s Prophecies of Greed, and a 2012 EP, Punk Rock Fight Songs, SBT has garnered rave reviews thus far for their high energy brand of music, drawing comparisons to Bad Religion and Pennywise.
“It’s been great,” Harrison said of the positive reaction to the band’s recorded output. “Everybody likes praise. But when I send that out to people to review, I say ‘tell us what you really think.’ We want to get better, so if it sucks, tell us why it sucks. Tell me how to make it better and we’ll make it better. But it feels great. And even better than that is playing a show and having people come up to us afterward and telling us that we were awesome.”
Playing live is the lifeblood of any band, and it separates the men from the boys in a music business where anyone with an internet connection can upload a song or an album. So while having online access to things bands years ago never had, it’s not the be all, end all of this band’s existence.
“It helps because we can record a song tomorrow and put it up on the internet and people could buy it,” said Harrison. “It’s super easy, and it’s super easy to get a hold of clubs out of town and set up shows. But it’s also super hard because now everybody’s doing it, and how do you stand out from somebody else doing the same exact same thing you are online? It’s so much easier to get yourself out there, but that just means there’s way more bands doing it. So I think the old school ‘tour, tour, tour’ is really the only way that you’re gonna get your name out there.”
But here’s the rub: with much of SBT (which includes Harrison, lead vocalist and guitarist Brandon Buck, bassist Cody Leavitt, and drummer Rich Castro) having families and full-time jobs, it becomes a little more difficult to tour without serious backing from a record label.
“We made a decision as a band to try to play out of state at least once a month or once every other month,” he said. “That’s LA, San Diego, maybe Albuquerque and Phoenix, because we can do that in one night. Eventually, we would love to play Chicago and New York and Texas, but not with a full-time job, not with a family, and not with any tour support whatsoever. We talked about flying to New York, setting up a show and borrowing gear and then flying home, and we’ll probably do that eventually, but I just think that with our age and the timing, it’s not great unless someone gives us a ton of cash to go on tour.”
The current club structure in Vegas doesn’t help either.
“We don’t have any all-ages venues here, so most of the time it’s friends and people that want to drink (showing up to gigs),” he continues. “There are people that go out to see music, but all-ages is the killer here, and I think that’s where you make most of your fans. When I was growing up, that’s where I learned about my bands.”
But all is not lost for the SBT boys. In the growing scene, there’s a camaraderie among the bands, and when you take away the out of towners whose sole intention in Vegas is to party, not to listen to music, you’ve got a dedicated group of fans that’s growing with each show.
“We have a few guys that come out to every single show, and they’re part of the band pretty much,” said Harrison. “We’re also trying to start to play with different bands because they bring a lot of different people. But it’s cool because it’s a community. I didn’t feel this anywhere else, and it’s cool being part of this punk rock community where it’s like ‘hey, we’re gonna set this show up, you guys want to play?’ And we’re starting to try to do that out of town, taking bands that we’re friends with and try to do a Las Vegas show in San Diego. We’re trying to let people know, hey, Vegas has a pretty cool scene. Nobody’s gonna hear about it because Vegas has this image though. I’m sure it’s like this in a lot of towns where there’s great bands, but it’s hard to get out there nowadays.”
Harrison and company are not about to stop fighting the good fight though, and if you want to know where they’re coming from, just listen to the track “Strength” from Punk Rock Fight Songs, which quotes Al Pacino’s line from Glengarry Glen Ross: “We are members of a dying breed.”
“That’s what that song is about,” said the guitarist. “Punk bands sticking together, and if we stick together and do enough, people are gonna hear us. There’s strength in numbers.”
Who said punk is dead? It’s certainly not in Las Vegas.