Peace, love and punk
The Swingin’ Utters return to Sac with a brand new record and new-ish lineup
I was a junior in high school when I felt let in on a punk rock secret.
The song was “Smoke Like A Girl,” about people who “measure the width of the world before jumping into it.” In a show of true teenage friendship, the coolest girl I knew—who would ditch school in her van held together with shoelaces and luck—included the song on a mix tape. She had hand-scribbled titles onto a DIY J-card from bands I’d never heard: “Don’t Eat Stuff Off the Sidewalk” by The Cramps, Descendents’ “Clean Sheets.” A couple songs into side A was the Swingin’ Utters.
Formed in the late 1980s, the Santa Cruz-born, San Francisco-raised band helped redefine punk when some had pronounced the genre dead. Their albums alternate from hard-and-fast punk tracks, to acoustic ballads to Oi!-style chant-alongs. The vocals of its two founding members—Johnny “Peebucks” Bonnel’s in-your-face yell and Darius Koski’s often gentler, sometimes raspy voice—are an enduring staple.
“As long as we can make cohesive records and songs and it all kind of blends together, then we’re good,” said vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Koski.
The band’s newest album, Peace and Love, comes out August 31. In three decades of playing together and in side projects, of taking a break and a few lineup changes, Koski said they’ve never felt pressure to find or maintain a certain sound.
Koski was 19 when the Utters formed. A classically trained musician, he picked up a guitar around 15 with an appreciation for all kinds of music.
“Every genre’s got something that’s worth listening to,” he said. The original members approached music similarly. “We all listened to such a crazy array of music that we all just kind of bonded on it.”
Punk anchored their sound.
In 1995, The Streets of San Francisco earned the band “Best Debut Album” from the Bay Area Music Awards and landed them a spot on the inaugural Vans Warped Tour. They were touring a ton, and Koski said that’s when they drew their largest crowds.
“Those are some of my best memories of us touring as the band,” Koski said. “We’d drive all night, sleep in whatever parking lot the show was in basically. … I don’t think we’d be able to do something like that now, but when you’re in your 20s, it’s just super fun.”
A wannabe novelist in a past life, Koski said he’s found the less effort he puts into writing, the better.
“Usually stuff that comes really quickly to me are the better lyrics,” he said. “When I start working on them, for me, they get shitty.”
The peppering in of their heartfelt stuff—slower acoustic songs, with violin and accordion sometimes layered in—sets the Utters apart in the punk genre. Koski writes many of the band’s songs (Bonnel and guitarist Jack Dalrymple also write) and for years the band was his outlet for more sentimental songs like “My Glass House.”
“I know there are people who skip over that stuff,” he said. “We’re not just a bunch of macho punk dudes. … At this point, I hope that’s something people like about our band.”
Koski released his first solo album in 2015, and he and Bonnel started the side project, Filthy Thieving Bastards, in 2000. Peace and Love is the first album with the Utters’ newest members, drummer Luke Ray and bassist Tony Teixeira. Koski said the styles and talents of the newest members will continue to reshape the band’s sound.
“We’ve been lucky, as far as personalities and musicianship goes,” he said. “We’ve had to adapt but it’s been fun. … I just want every record to sound different.”