I met Tommy Cooper almost 12 years ago when his old band, Running From Dharma, played Baltimore’s Ottobar. Over the next two years, I followed the band around with my video camera documenting their shows, practices, and studio sessions. It was a fun time and also helped me reconnect with the local music scene. Eventually, Tommy left the band, and I was not driving in for shows as much anymore. I kept tabs on his bands since the Dharma days. In early 2011, he posted a couple tracks he wrote for Kid PA that would later appear on their EP. I really liked what I was hearing. I can only describe it as they did – “fast, melodic, and fun as hell to play” or, in my case, fun as hell to listen to. Tommy has always been a solid bass player playing other musicians’ songs. Now, he is writing the songs and playing what’s in his heart – punk rock!
I’ve stayed in touch with Tommy through social media, and after so many years finally saw him again in person last September. In the midst of recording the new Social Class Dropout (formerly Kid PA) album, he went on the road for six weeks playing rhythm guitar for War Generation, featuring Jon Bunch (Reason to Believe, Sense Field) and Brad Lehmann (Maylene and The Sons Of Disaster). I was in Lancaster visiting family the weekend of the show so I was able to attend it. While not the front man, Tommy certainly had a presence in the band’s live performance and bantered well with Jon and the crowd. Perhaps he felt at home, both in Lancaster and at the ABAG where Social Class Dropout plays often, or maybe he’s just done playing off to the side of the stage. And while I missed out on seeing Kid PA and have yet to see them as Social Class Dropout, it is great to see and hear how much Tommy has grown into a musician and songwriter over the years.
Thanks to Tommy Cooper (bass, vocals), Steve Ewell (drums, vocals), Skot Shaub (guitar), Bruce Ewell (guitar), Don Egan (guitar, vocals), and Jesseah Stehman (recording engineer) for sharing the history of Kid PA and Social Class Dropout up to now. A special thank you to the band for allowing SoCenPA Archives to premiere a new song off their first full-length album, Dharma Punk. Check it out below!
TOMMY: Kid PA started in August of 2009. Steve and I were playing in SuperBuick together and always talked about the kind of music we loved, which was fast punk rock. SuperBuick was breaking up after we got done with a tour with our boys Killing California out on the west coast.
STEVE: We both knew it was coming to an end and we both knew we wanted to keep playing together. Tommy already had like 5 songs written with a faster, more melodic, punk rock style than SuperBuick. It got me interested because it was a different feel from what I had previously done. More than anything we wanted to be tight and sing. We wanted to have harmonies and challenge ourselves musically and have no boundaries of what we would play.
TOMMY: At the time, Steve wanted to be the guitar player for the band. So, when we got home I asked Steve if he still wanted to do the band, and he said yes. I told him “Good, because I just booked our first show, and it’s in 12 days. Call every drummer you know.” The first practice was at my house. It was just Steve and me. We would just practice these songs that I had. Sometimes I would play bass at practice, and sometimes guitar. So the challenge in the beginning was first teaching Steve the songs on guitar and how to play the solos and all that stuff.
STEVE: I loved my new position. It was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done musically and I was glad to be up front and not stuck behind a drum set.
TOMMY: We almost had a set we could play out. It didn’t matter that the set was all of 15 minutes! We still felt like we were accomplishing a lot and we were having a lot of fun. I got a guy named Brad Stackpole to play with us for that first show.
STEVE: It was in the Spy Club and it was one of those 900 band events Rick Gadd sets up.
TOMMY: This show was for a multi-band bill called the 4&3 Fest. You had 4 bands playing on 3 different floors of this club. The basement level was the Spyclub. Punk bands and heavier bands would usually play there. That show was also SuperBuick’s last show. So Steve and I played with SuperBuick on the third floor of the venue that is now Fed Live. Then went to the basement and played the first Kid PA show. Both shows were fun, and we had a really great night. Then the challenge became, “How do I convince Steve to play drums?” He’s a decent guitar player, but he just kills it on the drums
BRUCE: He definitely wanted to play guitar in a band. Steve started playing guitar around 14 or 15. He always considered himself a guitar player.
STEVE: My first band was a grind core band called Rue The Day that I played guitar in, and after that I started SuperBuick. We couldn’t find a drummer so I bought a drum set and taught myself to play.
BRUCE: SuperBuick started as a Foo Fighters-style band with him playing drums just because it was a little slower and easier but toward that influence. And then Steve just started getting better and better with drumming. It came to a point where he was like, “Goddammit! I’m not a guitar player that plays the drums. I’m a drummer who plays guitar.” He realized that in Kid PA because he thought he could go from playing drums in SuperBuick to going back to playing guitar. They couldn’t find a drummer so to keep their practice interesting he would play drums and Tommy would play bass so they could get the structures together. They couldn’t find a drummer to play the stuff so Steve slid back into a drummer position.
TOMMY: I wanted a drummer that could play fast beats like NOFX, but be able to play it using a single bass drum pedal. After a couple of months of pestering him, he finally saw that it was the best thing and agreed to play drums. This was after we tried a couple of guys out that just couldn’t really play fast enough. He didn’t want to play drums for this at all. But in the end he needed to because nobody else could. We recorded the “OK You Can Leave Now” demo in the summer of 2010. I played all the guitar and bass on the recording as well as all the singing. It was just Steve and me at that point, so we didn’t really have a choice. Our friend Jesseah Stehman recorded it.
JESSE: I knew Steve before we recorded the Kid PA EP. We had played in two hardcore bands together, Rue the Day and Aggressor ID (both band names Steve came up with mind you). The first time meeting Tommy was when I showed up at his house to record the EP, although I knew who he was from his previous band Running From Dharma. They didn’t have the budget to rent a real studio so when Steve approached me about recording I said lets record it wherever you practice. We recorded the entire EP in two days, first in Tommy’s kitchen. Then after listening to it we were not happy with the drums so we decided to try again in the living room. So we actually recorded the whole thing twice in 2 days which would be consider very fast. Six songs in total but we dropped one song at the end so it was five songs on the actual EP. It was a bit of a challenge getting the sounds we wanted because of the location and all we had for monitoring was headphones. I used a laptop running Sonar X1, then mixed it later at my home studio using Pro Tools. Recording it in his living room was a bit of a challenge at that time. I was mostly working in high end studios in the area so it was a flash back to my earlier days making records in a basement!
Kid PA, “Cool Kids Club”, OK You Can Leave Now EP (2010)
TOMMY: I thought it was a great representation of our sound. We burned CDs ourselves and usually just gave them away. We also had them on the internet. Then it was on to find a guitar player.
STEVE: We tried out a few guitar players until bringing in Skot Shaub (SuperBuick). We chose the guitarist by how they played and sang.
SKOT: I joined Kid PA sometime in 2010, I’m not sure on the exact date. I knew Tommy and Steve from playing in the band SuperBuick. Steve and I were friends for a while and when SuperBuick was looking for a guitar player I was recruited. I didn’t get to meet Tommy until a few months later when SuperBuick’s original bass player left the group. Tommy joined the band right before we were scheduled to do a bunch of mini tours for the spring and summer. I got along with those guys really well. Tommy was a really nice guy and he had a great sense of humor. Shortly after a small tour in California, due to financial reasons and tension among band members, SuperBuick broke up. Steve and Tommy started a side project and were looking for a guitarist. At the time I was also playing with my current band Testosteroso but our bass player had left the group so we were on a brief hiatus. I decided to join Kid PA for a while, and we started playing a couple shows.
TOMMY: We played our first show together opening up for D.I. at Kung Fu Necktie in Philly. The show went great, and the three of us played really well together.
STEVE: It was the first punk show my girlfriend at the time had ever been to and there was a huge fight right in front of her. I thought she was done after that but now we’re married with two kids.
SKOT: I remember being a bit nervous because some of the guitar parts Tommy had written for the songs were a little out of my abilities at the time. I also remember looking down next to my pedals and seeing a shot of whiskey. A friend of mine kept feeding me shots and by the time we were at the end of our set, I was pretty out of it. I played a handful of shows within the span of a year or less with Kid PA.
SKOT: The shows that I was able to play with those guys were pretty fun but I wanted to put more of my focus back into Testosteroso. At that point, I decided to leave the group. Recently, my band was able to play a show with those guys and it was great getting to see them from a different perspective. They are a high energy band with catchy songs and they are all really down to earth guys. I hope to be able to play some more shows down the road with those guys.
TOMMY: So then he left and we asked Steve’s brother Bruce, another Superbuick alum, to play with us and he agreed.
BRUCE: SuperBuick was more of a rock punk band. It was aggressive and had attitude. It had melody and song hooks. To me, that’s what I wanted to do. Kid PA was a very precise, very tight band. Tommy and my brother play very, very tight. That’s probably the tightest I ever played. Tommy is probably one of the best musicians I’ve ever played with. He helped make me a better musician. I really do thank him for that because those songs are not easy to play at all.
TOMMY: I’ve been lucky as a player in that I’ve been influenced by all the bands that I’ve been a part of. I’ve gotten to play with some really great players and songwriters. Now that I sing for my band I’m always thinking about the song as a whole rather than just my bass parts. And I think Carl from Running From Dharma, and Chris Moody from Dead 50s are two great songwriters. So, they are certainly an influence to me. Seeing great bands who can write really well pushes me to want to be a better writer. It’s something I’m constantly thinking about almost to the point of obsession.
BRUCE: I was definitely stepping outside my box learning those songs. I struggled with them. It wasn’t regular bar chord punk rock I was used to playing. It was fast. SuperBuick or the Fisticuffs stuff or the Race To Die stuff that I did is all fast but this was a different kind of fast and different chord structures on the guitar.
STEVE: My brother is my favorite person to play with. We know at all times what the other is going to do and we have always been into the same influences so our styles work well together.
BRUCE: My first show with Kid PA was called an “Undercover Show”. It was at the Spy Club in Harrisburg. It was bands and you had to choose four cover songs to play. You had to pick from a list three different covers from outside your box and you picked one cover on your own. So my first show was playing four songs not even Kid PA songs. It was actually a really fun show to see everyone step outside their box and it really shows a lot of the musicianship in people and what they can do. Some people took the songs and butchered them up and tried to make them their own. Some people played them true to how they were written. Other people played them their style. That’s what we did with the GnR song, “It’s So Easy” (video). We learned how to play it just like them and we did our best. Then we took “Hey Ya” (video) from Outkast and we turned it into a Kid PA song. It went over really, really well. So well that we would play that song at other shows later on down the road.
TOMMY: We started the full length in June of 2012. We recorded all the drums in Bruce’s basement.
JESSE: When they approached me about the new record it was in September of 2012, I think. I was in the middle of recording Bruce’s new band, Aline. We were recording at Bruce’s house. He had a practice room that was acoustically treated and was a perfect place to track. At the time Bruce was playing guitar for Kid PA and Steve was playing drums for Aline but only temporarily, so we decided to kill two birds with one stone and track both bands back to back. This is where we ran into the first of many mishaps on the record. The plan was to record everything at Bruce’s but after we finished tracking drums Bruce quit the band and we had to find a new place to finish the record.
BRUCE: I was frustrated with the recording process. The way I always like to do it is we got our songs, we practice them as much as we can two weeks before we go into the studio. Go in the studio and bang it out. However it comes out, that’s how it comes out tried-and-true. If there are mistakes on the record, there are mistakes and that’s all part of it. That’s how I like to record. I like to record live and have that natural attitude that’s in a record. Tommy and my brother did not want to do it that way which is completely fine. This was a completely different sound they were going for. They wanted something clean and crisp. My brother practiced to a click track. They wanted this album tight, no mess ups, no flaws at all. I listen to old Black Flag, Minor Threat, Discharge, Reagan Youth. There are some amazing records out there and there are mistakes from the time you press play to time the record ends. And I love every single one of them. FOD is one of my favorite bands. Their recordings are fucking terrible. They’re terrible! They’re some of my favorite songs I’ll ever listen to. So I couldn’t invest my heart and really believe in going through all of this and wasting all this time and putting it into this record and missing out on these opportunities to play shows and not being able to get your music out there just because you want it pin tight perfect. I just didn’t agree with that. I think we missed a lot of opportunities. So I quit the band and they recorded the rest of the album somewhere else. I’m not on the recordings at all.
STEVE: I think Bruce left simply because he wasn’t into it. He was replaced by Don who has done nothing but impact the band in a good way.
JESSE: Luckily, we found a nice place out in the country which is where we finished tracking guitars and vocals. This is when I was first introduced to Don Egan, the new guitar player.
TOMMY: We had tried Don out a few months before when we were thinking of adding a second guitar player to the band.
BRUCE: Tommy always wanted a second guitar player. He heard about Don and wanted to try him out as a second guitar player. That was fine with me. My brother didn’t want another person in the band because he didn’t want someone’s schedule to conflict. He thought we sounded good enough just as a three piece. He gave in and we tried Don out. Don came down and he learned two or three songs. He came down and practiced with us. Don Egan is a better guitar player than me eight days a week. Hands down. At the end of that practice, we talked. We don’t know if it was just because it was different but we all agreed it felt weird. We told him, “Thanks a lot. We really appreciate it but we’re just going to stay a three piece.”
TOMMY: We didn’t decide to add him then, but we liked how he played and sang. So I always thought he was good.
DON: The biggest challenge was when I was given the job, they told me I had 10 days to learn their set before my first show with them. After that it was just trying to fit our personalities together.
TOMMY: He made the band better for sure. He’s a total shredder on the guitar and he can sing. Personally, it took a bit to get on the same page. We affectionately refer to Don as the “King of the Awkward Moment”.
TOMMY: We were all just really excited, and Don just killed it that night on very little practice with us. This was the first show we played under our new name, Social Class Dropout. I wanted to change the name of the band because I hated that it had the word “Kid” in it. It just sounded dumb to me.
STEVE: I don’t think any of us liked the name. I decided on it way before anyone else. It took me like three months to convince everyone else.
TOMMY: We started thinking of names. We started talking a lot about the kind of band that we wanted to be and what we wanted people to know about this little musical world that we created. There’s not a lot of bands playing fast punk rock anymore. So a lot of times we would really stand out at shows because of that. We love this kind of music, and our only goal ever with this band has been to have fun. So one day Steve called me and asked what I thought about the name Social Class Dropout. As soon as I heard it I loved it. To me, the name is perfect for us. We do what we love regardless of what is trendy right now. The name just felt right, so we went with it.
DON: We recorded 11 songs for the album. They already had the drum tracks done when I joined, but I started my part of the recording in the Winter of 2012/2013. It was recorded at our practice space in Columbia, PA. For the part I was involved with, it took several months, mainly due to scheduling conflicts. The biggest challenge for me during recording was restraining myself as far as vocal volume and in guitar solos. I am a very loud singer and after playing in metal bands for years, my soloing tends to be a bit too shreddy for the style of music we play. But they let me off the leash every once in a while.
JESSE: I was amazed that in just a few days he learned all their songs and played every one perfect! He did every song in one take! It took about a year to finish the recording because I was on the road working for Clair bros. I was in Texas for the first half of the year installing a recording studio in Houston then I was sent to Wisconsin to work at another studio there. So was flying back and forth a lot that year and working on the mixing whenever I had time. I did most of the mixing in a hotel room outside of Madison with nothing but a laptop and a pair of headphones, no fancy speakers or outboard gear. The irony of this is that as soon as I finished their mix I had just finished building my new studio, The Safe House, in Lancaster. If I would have been able to work there we could have done this record in a few weeks. I remember thinking if only I had this place last year it would have been so much easier. And when comparing the two albums I can tell one was mixed in a real studio with real speakers and the other mixed in a hotel room with headphones. Although I did snag a pair of speakers from the studio I was working on and took them back to the hotel room to double check my mix. You can tell when listening to both records the one was recorded and mixed at the same time and the other was recorded and mixed in many different places although I think in the end they both sound great. I also think the songs themselves are very similar stylistically, but they have grown as song writers and you will really hear this on their next record.
TOMMY: We’ve changed a bunch in terms of getting better at playing together. We’re tighter now. I’m happy with the record and how it turned out. It sounds great, and it sounds like a real band. I would never want to record that way again though if I have a choice. The record is pressed now. It will be available on CD as well as online at iTunes and CD Baby. The album’s title, Dharma Punk, comes from a book by Noah Levine called Dharma Punx. It’s about a punk rocker who becomes Buddhist, and later a Buddhist teacher. Minus the stories of prison and heroin abuse, this is a story much like my own life. I’m Buddhist and I was a Buddhist priest for about five years. And I also love punk rock. Since this is the first time that I’ve gotten to record a bunch of songs that I wrote, it just seemed fitting to call it that.
DON: I’m sure we will do a record release show sometime soon. Just a matter of getting the right venue and the right bands together to make the show fun for everybody. I hope we will tour or at least do a lot of out of town weekend gigs. I’m dying to get down to Baltimore to check out their scene. A lot of cool underground stuff is happening down there.
TOMMY: We will definitely have a record release show for the record. We would love to tour but just can’t do it right now. It becomes much harder to do those things the older you get. We have families and responsibilities. I’m most proud of the fact that we never gave up on it. It took a lot to make this record for us. Lesser men would have been destroyed.
Social Class Dropout, “Virtual Life”, Dharma Punk (2014)
Thanks again to Tommy, Steve, Skot, Bruce, Don, and Jesse for sharing the history of Kid PA and Social Class Dropout.
Jesse is currently working with Symptoms on their first full length album and the guitarist from Sumerian on a new death metal record. Contact Jesse at The Safe House for more information. Skot is active with his band, Testosteroso. Bruce is playing guitar in No One’s Hero, who are reuniting for a show and recording session in May.
Social Class Dropout’s new album, Dharma Punk is available NOW! Purchase the CD or download the MP3s at cdbaby.com. Be sure to follow Social Class Dropout on Facebook for upcoming news and record release show dates.
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