I first saw Ruth’s Hat sometime around 1997/1998 when they opened for Diesel Boy at the Shelter in Detroit, MI. I was really impressed by their poppy punk style and amazing harmonizing. The band had a feel of a 50s band, only run through a punk rock filter. I picked up one of their cassette tapes and wore it out I listened to it so much.
Once I got the punk zine up and running, I went to see the band every chance I had and eventually connected with them for an interview. We decided to meet at a halfway point in Taylor, MI. For some reason, I chose the location and for my lack of knowledge of the area, I chose the restaurant Hooters, which for those that aren’t aware, is a chicken wing restaurant with scantly clad wait staff.
We sat in a booth and starting talking. I remember PJ being extremely uncomfortable and despite being there to talk about the band, he kept commenting how gross the place was and how demeaning and sexist the environment was. It totally derailed the conversation, enough that I suggested we move locations. We drive down Eureka Rd to the next sports bar we could find, called “The Tap Room.” The waitresses were also dressed revealing (what is it with bars in Taylor, MI?), but the environment was much more chill. The interview that follows was able to get started.
After publishing the interview, I kept in touch with the band for a long time. I went to see them every chance I got. I remember one of the guys in the band who was from Canada smoked weed at the time. I would always roll him a couple of joints and bring them to shows for him since he didn’t want to try carrying it across the border. I even had PJ and Mike play an acoustic set at a Halloween party in my tiny 1 car garage bar. There must have been 30-40 people packed in this tiny garage, a keg of beer in the middle of the floor. They played fantastic and stuck around most of the night hanging out and partying with me and my friends.
Lost touch with the band over the years but I hope they are doing well. They are truly amazing musicians and some of the coolest dudes you could ever meet.
Tell me how the band formed?
Mike: We go up to hang out in Grand Bend Ontario. It’s kind of just a cool place to party, and, I met a guy there that became my best friend and we surfed together a lot. Yes, you can actually surf in the Great Lakes. There’s an Indian reservation called Kennel Point that actually has a shale reef. Anyway, I started hanging out with him a lot and one summer I started writing songs. I play guitar and PJ was doing the same thing. We met these guys through my buddy, jammed together once and we said “hey, this kind of works!”
When was your first gig and how did it go?
PJ: Our first show was actually at Jacoby’s (Detroit). Jacoby’s is a German bar right next to St. Andrews Hall. There were like a hundred people there. We did a really good job back then (January 1997) of busting our asses at making a presence in Detroit and London Canada.
What’s the punk scene like in London, Canada?
PJ: There is a lot of hardcore, which isn’t necissarily a bad thing. The good thing about being in a pop punk band is that no other band sounds like us. We’re the only one, so we stand out that much more. We have this harmonizing, 50s sound to us. In that way, we come off as pussies at some of our shows and the people who do like it, like it a lot. I’d rather have five die hard fans than 10 people who thought we were OK.
Mike: I think PJ is underestimating what we have accomplished. In London, at our last show, we had 180 people there. The cool thing about London is that it’s a small town and three of the guys in the band live there so we’ve got connections and a local scene there. In Detroit, if we plug ourselves into enough shows, the same thing is going to happen. We kind of have two different scenes which gives us an edge over other bands.
Where do you say the band is from; Detroit or Canada?
PJ: When we play in Detroit we say we’re from London Canada and when in London, we say Detroit, Michigan. It just sounds impressive when you say you’re from out of town.
I saw you guys play once and an older lady was there jamming out in the crowd with us.
Mike: Yeah, that was my friend’s mom. She had a few cocktails that night.
PJ: That’s the weird thing. Even old people like us. It’s so weird. It’s kind of a good thing and a bad thing. It’s hard for your kids to rebel when their parents are rocking out to the same shit as them. Butu really, we’re not going for that “pissing you off, rebel against society” sound. We’re more “loosen up and have fun.”
Tell me how you came up with the name Ruth’s Hat?
PJ: For the record, I think the name kind of blows!
Mike: Now if Ben Weasel is reading this interview and he goes off about how bad our name is, we just want to let him know that we know that!
Our guitar player was in a (religious) play called “Ruth.” Now, before we go any further, we are not christian rock, nor do we endorse it in any way, shape or form. He played drums in the play and got a t-shirt when it was over that said “Ruth” on it. It was a really stupid shirt.
So we had this all-weekend party at my friend’s cottage and he wore this shirt all weekend long. We we’re out on this boat wakeboarding and his hat blew off, I tried to catch it but missed. All weekend long we were all saying “Ruth’s hat, Ruth lost his hat!” A year later, this is the name of our band. Nobody forgets it though.
Who writes all of the music and lyrics?
PJ: We (Mike and I) write the majority of it. Our bass player Jack writes some, Mike and I wrote more than anyone else.
Mike: We write most of the poppy stuff. Jack writes some of the harder stuff. It gives us a little more depth as a band. We have this 50s kind of doo-wop sound turned into punk music and we don’t want to lose that but thanks to Jack, we can crank it up every once in a while. The song “Compilation Prize,” is probably Jack’s best work yet. It will be on our next 7-inch.
What are the band’s influences?
PJ: Most notably, we’d have to say the Ramones. Although we don’t really even sound like the Ramones.
Mike: Yeah I’d have to say our big influence comes from the 50s or 60s rock and pop music. There are a lot of bands out there trying to resemble another band. Some sound just like the Ramones. The world doesn’t need another imitator.
I saw you guys open for Diesel Boy and picked up a tape. I jammed that thing over and over again. Your band definitely has a different, catchy sound.
PJ: Our main roots come from Buddy Holly.
Mike: Jack was a huge metalhead early on. Tony’s into rap, but we all like punk.
Has everyone been in different bands before?
PJ: This is really Mike and I’s first band. We were in a band before called “Special Olympics,” but never really played out much.
How did you guys get your harmonizing down?
PJ: Our dad has really helped us out with that. He taught us to do that for the most part. He’s really helped us out a lot. We used to do open mic nights playing anti-grateful dead tunes.
Mike: It’s not like we’re just a punk band, we’re a poppy punk band that actually sings. We like to feature vocals. If you listen to 50s music, that’s all you could hear were the vocals. My dad fine tuned us and we’ve found people in the punk scene really like us. And chicks, they dig us! It’s like the Beatles man. You see at a show most of the guys are hanging back and all of the chicks are bopping around. That’s the whole reason we’re in this (laughter)!
Do you ever think you’ll change your style?
Mike: We think about it and toy with it. I mean, we’re not going to wake up and become an emo band. I would say no, we won’t change though. The thing is, we’re making something out of three chords and harmonizing. We would be going so out of our way to change our style when it’s working for us. We love it, and people love to hear it. When you try to be different or sound different it usually comes out shit.
Who are some bands that Ruth’s Hat has played with?
Chixdiggit, HiFives, Pansy Division, Mustard Plug, Hoppin’ Mad, Diesel Boy. We will be playing with The Nobody’s, Teen Idols and Mad Caddies coming up soon. A lot of local bands. Hoppin’ Mad is a really great punk band from Storm Records. Norm from Storm is a really great guy. We kind of drag Hoppin’ Mad around as they drag us to play each other’s shows.
Where have you recorded?
RH: Soundworks Studio in London, Ontario. They do a good job but they are not a “punk” studio. The production is pretty good. That’s the only place that we recorded but we did a battle of the bands once with a bunch of metal bands and somehow the punk band wins. By winning that, we got a bunch of recording time in a different studio. We ultimately would like to record at Sonic Iguana and eventually be on a label like Panic Button and have a great guy like Ben Weasel shaking our hands. The thing about Sonic is you don’t have to worry about what it’s going to sound like. They are a “punk” studio. You know what you’re going to get. I think a lot of times when stuff goes to vinyl it gets kind of jacked up. Like the Mutant Pop split we did, the three songs we did on that, it sounds like we’re going for a heavy metal sound. I think it costs a lot to really get what you want. Although “Too Much Box” sounds really good, it has a lot of clarity. We did everything and mixed everything for that album in 9 or 10 hours.
(Mike pulls out a tape) – This is a tape with some recordings of our newer stuff. We have two more splits coming out and we have one coming out of Italy. A label there called “Gonna Puke Records” somehow got a hold of our stuff. The split will be with a band called “The Retards.” We also have another five song EP on “They Still Make Records” out of Chicago. They work with Boris The Sprinkler and Moral Crux. Which is cool because Moral Crux is on Panic Button so now we’ve done something on a label that has done stuff with Moral Crux. We’re only like two degrees from Panic Button.
Do you plan to do a full length eventually?
RH: We will probably re-record some of our older stuff. New recordings and new stuff. Some that are on complications we won’t redo. The song “Cooler than You”, everyone knows and waits for us to play it, so we kind of have to put that on there.
The next question, we already sort of covered. What label do you want to be on?
RH: Panic Button. But if Ben (Weasel) thinks I”m giving him oral sex, it’s out of the question!
What about Fat Wreck Chords, are they “too big” of a record label?
PJ: For the record, I don’t find anything “too big.” We don’t want people that don’t want to put my band out because it’s the next big thing or it’s going to be cool or be a big thing for the label.
If you wanted to pick a label, Mutant Pop’s my favorite.
Mike: I’ve heard the best things about Hopeless Records. When we play with Hopeless bands the guys are really cool. Panic Button though, if we were to go to a large scale record label. Mutant Pop would be cool too.