Story by Chris Lackner, photos by Mike Carroccetto
Veteran Ottawa punk band The Riptides – with five young children between them – reflect on how they balance daddy duty, their day jobs, and an unyielding dedication to their ‘raw, unadulterated’ music.
“Punk’s not dead. Punk just grew up and took out a mortgage. Punk is dad.”
That’s the revolutionary philosophy of Andrew Mills (aka Andy Vandal), lead singer of the veteran Ottawa punk band The Riptides. The quartet of 30-somethings have five young children between them, ages one through six.
“It’s always family first, that’s our rule, that’s our motto,” he explains.
“People say, ‘How can you be against the system, and rage against this and that, if you’re tucking in a little two-year-old and giving her a teddy bear and a bottle?’ But to balance those two is probably more punk rock than anything else.”
But parenting is more difficult and rewarding, he says: “I challenge any punk who has been on the road, living the life. Put that up against the diaper changes and bottle-feeds every few hours for three months straight, and the sleep deprivation.”
The band’s oldest members, brothers Andrew and Rob and their friend Doug Stewart, started the band in high school. Over 17 years, they’ve put out records, ran their own label, toured with bands they “grew up worshipping” like The Dwarves and The Queers, jumped off stages, and partied until the sun came up. But these days, sunup is when their little sunshines wake up.
Sometimes, being a punk and a papa isn’t easy. When The Riptides frontman returned from a six-week tour in 2010, his then-18-month-old daughter, Abby, didn’t know who he was. “It was one of those moments where your heart gets pulled out of your chest and stomped on,” he says.
Matters of the heart led to a self-imposed hiatus for the last four years. With infants in all of their homes, music took a backseat; fatherhood found the band marching to a different beat.
For Rob Mills, the punk rock ethos of questioning “established viewpoints” and challenging “the status quo” translate into parenting.
“As a father, I find this a good approach for teaching my son: always keep questioning, keep learning, and if something doesn’t seem right, try to improve it and help make the world a better place to live in. The real takeaway is: be kind and respectful to one another – don’t be a (jerk).”
Fatherhood isn’t The Riptides’ only seeming contradiction. Three band members are also public servants.
“We don’t go out advertising it in our workplace,” Andrew explains. “We treat it just like every other ‘hobby’ other people in the workplace have.
“It’s like the guy in the cubicle down the hall likes to go ice fishing, or the manager who loves their tennis camps, or the co-worker who has their cupcake business on the side.”
But those in the know “find it really appealing that … we still have this raw, unadulterated, energetic outlet where there’s a different side to our personas that just go wild.”
A minority of their fellow punks view children as “a hindrance” to artistic growth, Andrew says. For some, the “punk rock ethos code” of “not ‘conforming’ to the 9-5 world” means no roots and no family.
“(But) thinking you have to live a certain way to appease ‘What It Means to Be a Punk 101’ is actually the opposite of what punk rock is. To be punk is to do what you think is right and/or fun, challenging the status quo, and never conforming to what others may want to impose.”
“Punk rock can coexist with … hugging your girls, and watching The Wiggles on a Saturday afternoon. We are as committed as anyone else is, we just do it at our own pace.”
Other dads in the scene get it, Rob says. “Some people think if you’re not out on the road week after week, slinging your records, then you’re not a real punk anymore. Those people are morons. That life is easy.
“Trying to balance a family, pay a mortgage, work a full-time job and then find time to write songs, rehearse, record records and then hit the road with your band? That’s not easy.”
While The Riptides are preparing to make waves again, they’ll never journey too long – or too far – from their most important port of call. They plan to pace themselves, record new material this summer, release an album and then hit the road for bite-sized tours of one or two weeks.
“Touring is tough,” Rob admits. “We have to depend on additional help from babysitters, grandparents and friends in order to minimize the stress on everyone involved … Band members will also be loading up on smartphone packages as well so we can have a lot of FaceTime (and) Skype sessions while on the road!”
One thing fatherhood hasn’t impacted is their penchant for “raw” and “intense” – and even “juvenile” music. “We will never ‘censor’ our songwriting just because we think, ‘Oh no, what will our kids think of these lyrics?’” Andrew says. “In fact, my kids have listened to many of the songs we wrote over the years and they have them playing when they’re bouncing on their indoor trampoline …
“We think, if anything, our kids will grow up being proud of their dads to have written songs (and) albums that were always true to what they loved to do, and never compromised.”
In the end, punk and children’s music are surprisingly similar, Rob maintains. “Both generally use three chords, and lyrics a three-year-old can understand. I often make up silly songs to play for my son and the process actually hones your songwriting skills – you have to keep the tunes short and catchy, with no filler, or you’ll lose them. (It’s) great for writing pop-punk.
“Ramones are a perfect example of always writing catchy two-minute punk tunes. Put on any Ramones record and whether you’re two or 72, everyone is singing along by the second song in.”
At a recent Ottawa show, the band dedicated a punk version of You Are My Sunshine to their little ones. “There were girls coming up to us after the set and saying, ‘Oh my God, our eyes filled up with tears when you did that, it was so touching,” Andrew recalls.
“You don’t get more punk rock than standing up for what you believe in.”
The Johnny Rotten apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Rob’s son Jack has smaller guitars, drums and tambourines, but his favourite instrument is a large keyboard. “I think he’ll be looking to start his own band soon and take it on the road,” The Riptides’ bassist jokes. “Though I think he’ll have to wait until he’s at least five.”
Jack’s cousin, Abby, says she’d play piano if in a band. But how does she feel about her uncle and daddy’s genre of choice?
“I think punk rock means loud music.”
Not only is punk dad, it’s breeding a new generation. Hmmmmm. Bring on The Ripples.