Guardrail, made up of Kevin Andrew (vocals), Ken Ugel (guitar), Alyssa Laessig (bass, vocals), Doug Brand (drums), and Xack Brame (guitar), may be inspired by punk, but they identify more closely as "diet punk." We recently had the chance to chat with guitarist Ken Ugel about his background, creative process, and, of course, the Diet Punk Revolution!
MSM: Tell me a little bit about your background. Where did your interest in music come from? Was it something that you always knew you wanted to pursue?
KEN: My interest in music began in grade school, probably around 5th grade when the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC were all the rage. I also loved Weird Al's music as a goofy little kid. This is around when I met Kevin in school and we immediately became friends over our love of Weird Al and Spongebob. As the years went on, I gained interest in the music my parents were listening to: Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Talking Heads, etc. Then after going to my first big concert of Aerosmith & Kiss, I was hooked on wanting to learn guitar. The theatrics and performance of the show also stuck with me. In high school, I discovered more punk and metal bands: Sum 41 & Avenged Sevenfold were big ones then. Many of the heavier moments in Guardrail songs usually come from me or Xack.
MSM: How would you best explain “diet punk”? What other artists do you feel might fit this description?
KEN: Diet Punk began as a little joke of ours a few years back. "Low-calorie punk music" was also something we said about ourselves. Our music isn't totally punk like old school bands such as The Sex Pistols, Black Flag, Misfits, and Social Distortion; and we're not as poppy as the new wave pop-punk bands like Real Friends, The Wonder Years, Knucklepuck; we sit right in the middle of these vibes. Many people tell us we give off late 90s/early 00s nostalgic vibes, and they are spot on since that's what we grew up listening to. We are a pop-punk band, but less intense than those real full-calorie punk bands. We can get heavy at times and soft & mushy at times too. Since we kind of adopted 'diet punk' as our goofy slogan or tag, it's tough to pick other bands, but some artists we love that have similar vibes as we are: Bad Planning, Four Stars, Glory Days, Action/Adventure, and House & Home.
MSM: Who are your biggest musical influences, and how have they helped shape your sound?
KEN: Our band has a lot of different influences since all 5 of us listen to different styles of music, especially bands under the big punk umbrella. Personally, bands like Sum 41, The Offspring, Story of the Year, Bayside, and Rise Against are the ones who shaped my writing for Guardrail. The rest of the band have favorites like Blink-182, Wilhelm Scream, Hot Mulligan, and The Mountain Goats.
MSM: Can you talk about the creative process behind your upcoming album, Content, and any themes or messages you may be trying to convey?
KEN: We began writing the music for many of the songs back in 2020 when we were all locked up for COVID. A handful of songs were started with one of us, then slowly tweaking once we could all get into a room together. Once we had a bunch of songs in a decent place, we went to Nick Diener of The Swellers to do pre-production once again. Our experience recording Yikes with him was a blast, and he knows how to enhance our songs to the next level, and it feels like he's always been a close friend to us, which makes the process much more fun. We then recorded all the guitars and synths ourselves before working with Joe Scaletta of Word of Mouth Recordings to record drums, then finally going back to Nick to record vocals. It was a long process over a few years, but we are so glad to finally have the album out for everyone to enjoy.
MSM: Do you have a favorite song or lyric from the forthcoming album?
KEN: This is a tricky question and I'm sure the rest of the band would give a similar answer: My favorite changes weekly haha, but I'm biased to the heavier songs. Different Universe always gets me psyched up, Seriously? is a great upbeat opener, Hail Jupiter has solos from me, Xack, and Alyssa, but I think my favorite is Joke's On Me. That song is a slight departure from what we've done in the past, plus Alyssa throws down a trumpet solo!
MSM: What is your creative process like when starting to create a new song?
KEN: One of us usually starts with the music, whether just a riff or the whole skeleton of a song. We then jam on it together to sharpen it up while Kevin or Alyssa use their noggins to whip up vocals and lyrics.
MSM: What else are you passionate about besides music?
KEN: I loved playing sports when I was a young sprout so that passion has stayed with me, especially when I want to be active. I also love web design and video editing, which I'm lucky to use in my 9-5.
MSM: What’s your motto or some good advice you try to live by?
KEN: Try your best to treat others how you want to be treated: the tried and true golden rule. As I've gotten older, I've realized time is valuable, and if someone is not respecting your time the way you're respecting theirs, they are not worth your time anymore. It needs to be a two-way street!
MSM: Do you have any closing messages for your fans?
KEN: To all the Diet Punks out there, we love you and appreciate your support so far and onward! We hope you all love CONTENT as much as we do. We made the album we wanted, and I'm sure there's something on it for everyone. We are hoping to play more shows around the US and some festivals over the next year or so. The Diet Punk revolution is just getting started!