GAINESVILLE – In high school, Joel Tannenbaum said, he first started to develop a passion for punk rock music, easily replacing his earlier love for hip hop and heavy metal.
“I was taking guitar lessons from the time I was 8 years old, and then in high school I began playing in bands,” he said. “We discovered punk kind of late, in high school, and really embraced it.”
That was the early 1990s, when Tannenbaum would go on to become the bassist for Plow United, a punk band based in the Philadelphia suburbs where he grew up.
“I was a very angry teenager, as teenagers tend to be,” he said in an interview with Freeline Media. “Plow United started toward the end of high school. For four years, that’s all we did is toured around the country, working bad retail jobs to get money to pay rent, and lived and breathed this band.”
It was also, he recalled, a great time for punk – and an era when punk also began to go mainstream, as bands like Green Day proved to have crossover appeal to a larger audience.
“I’m a creature of the 1990s,” Tannenbaum said. “The 1970s and 1980s were history to me. Bands like Black Flag, on one hand, were like museum pieces — and they were so cool I felt like I could never even touch them. It’s so strange to see people younger than me who look back at punk in the 1990s and view it the same way.”
The success of bands like Green Day, he said, showed that punk had a wider appeal than initially thought.
“People were okay with that,” he said. “What we sort of didn’t understand at the time was that a lot of punk bands in the 1990s had blatant commercial ambitions.”
Tannenbaum is now 36, and Plow United’s members went their separate ways years ago. He returned to college, spent time in England and then Hawaii before returning to the Philadelphia area – but not, at first, to music.
Until, that is, about a year ago, when Plow United got an invitation to reunite at a local punk festival. That turned out to be the inspiration that Tannenbaum needed to get back into the punk world – with some Ex-Friends.
Ex Friends is the name of the punk band that Tannenbaum now fronts. On Sept. 18, the band will be releasing its first four-song 7 inch EP, “No Wonder We Prefer the Dark,” on Paper + Plastick Records, an indie label based in Gainesville. The LP will include the songs “The Legend of the Holy Drinker,” “So Many Kisses,” “Waimanalo Confidential,” “Archaeologists of the Future,” and a song named after the band itself.
“There’s a song called ‘Ex Friends,’ ” he said. “It’s not to be taken too seriously, but it’s a song about how friendship ends. I like to think it’s pretty funny.”
Ex Friends features Tannenbaum on lead vocals and guitar, punk designer/illustrator JP Flexner on drums, bassist and vocalist Audrey Crash, and guitarist Jayme Guokas.
The group was literally formed a year ago, Tannenbaum said, when Plow United played Philadelphia’s Riot Fest. It was there that Tannenbaum approached Flexner about forming a new band with two other well respected local punkers, Crash and Guokas.
“At the same time, Paper + Plastick, a Florida-based label, was putting out a retrospective on us,” Tannenbaum said. “The day of Riot Fest, it was just crazy. We had never played a crowd of that size before.”
Although Plow United agreed to get back together for this concert, it wasn’t intended to be a permanent reunion. But the concert did whet Tannenbaum’s appetite to get back into the world of punk.
“I had all these songs, and I knew I wanted to start another band for people in the area, and I knew from that moment it was going to be a success,” he said. He approached Flexner, who liked the idea.
“He’is a great guy and a really great drummer,” Tannenbaum said. “They’re in short supply. So the start date for us was backstage at Riot Fest. JP and I sealed the deal, and for me personally it was like, ‘I can’t believe this.’ Music just kind of crept back into the picture for me.”
Vinnie Fiorello of Paper + Plastick Records agreed to release the EP, which was recorded in North Philadelphia last December, and will be made available on Sept. 18 in digital and vinyl formats.
Although the decades have changed, in a lot of ways punk today remains true to the spirit of the earliest bands in the 1970s, Tannenbaum said.
“On one hand, punk tends to stick to an aesthetic playbook,” he said. “There are musical innovations, but they happen very incrementally. What is different is punk is always lyrically reacting to what’s going on in the world.”
That’s true for Ex Friends as well, he said.
“There are things I feel strongly about, and some have to do with larger issues,” he said. “The great thing about punk audiences is they have a very low tolerance for bulls**t. If you want to sort of test the veracity of a band or sincerity of a band, put them in front of a punk audience and the audience will figure it out right away.”
So far, no tour dates have been scheduled for Ex Friends, but Tannenbaum hopes that changes once the EP gets released.
“We’re hoping that a band that’s more established will come ask us to perform with them,” he said, adding that he also hopes it includes stops in Florida, a state that Plow United frequently visited.
“We played an amazing show in Gainesvilles back in 1996, and an almost-amazing show in Tampa,” he said. “We love Florida, and we always have great experiences there.”
Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.