No Guts: New sound, new set of clothes

by Charlie Walentiny

photo by Tommy Calderon

What can be said about No Guts that hasn’t already been said about their former band, Girl Guts? Hailing from the Midwest initially, the trio-turned-quartet has been a bastion for Bellingham’s beer-swilling, chorus-chanting and fist-pumping rock scene for six years now, but the last couple months they’ve been uncharacteristically quiet, playing the occasional show here and there. What’s changed, besides the name? According to guitarist Andy Beer, a lot and a little, all at the same time.

“All the new songs are in 6/8, and we will not waver from this path to glory,” guitarist Andrew Wild interjects jokingly.

What initially started as an excuse to play fast, loud, earnestly and honestly, the band found became a box that was almost inescapable. “I mean we’ve played the same setlist for the last three or four years! It kinda fell into ‘playing the hits,’” Wild said. “I think the word some writer used to describe us initially was ‘barnstormers,’ which seemed to fit what we were about at the time but wasn’t built to last.”

“We rode that wave of momentum for a bit, but we struggled to write as a group. Basically, Andrew would have some of his songs and he’d bring them in and we’d do our best to play around them,” Beer said, “we never really got comfortable playing and exploring emotions with each other, so we kind of wrote ourselves into a corner of emotions we might have had at one point, but weren’t true to who we were becoming.”

If there’s anything about the music they made as Girl Guts, it’s that it’s simple, relatable and impassioned. At a Guts show, the motto tends to be “be nice, party hard”, and this extends to the moshpits, mostly due to their extremely dedicated fans who see the band again and again.

“94% of our shows were at the [old house show venue] Lil Wisconsin because that’s what home felt like. People drove all the hell way out to the airport to see us in our shitty little house,” Wild said. At the time the music found an audience around Bellingham’s then burgeoning punk scene – something that ended up being comfortable as a shield because it helped guarantee shows, but according to Beer didn’t really fit with how they wanted to be booked and perceived going forward.

“I mean I did most of the booking initially,” Beer said, “but when you get roped in with all these punk bands you start to feel like you have to be only writing punk style songs. We love punk, and we take a lot of influence from it, but we never really fit with a lot of the more macho stuff that goes on in there.”

Drummer Ryan Baily, the quietest member of the band despite the carnal nature of his instrument put it bluntly: “It’s fun to play songs about relationships, drinking and partying but just like that stuff in your life fades over time, you start to need something more out of music.”

The songs became longer, more explorative and more intricate without losing the gooey pop center at the heart of so many of their songs. “I joke about it, but we’ve won like three punk rock awards in this town for basically country songs that we just happen to play fast,” Wild said.

With this focus shifting away from just “getting songs played” and onto “who are we writing for in the first place?,” the writing process changed to fit. Beer’s emphasis on whole-picture musical discovery and Wild’s drive to build a song from the core out are less at odds now with the entry of bassist Justin Taylor.

“Adding Justin feels like it actually completed the band,” said Wild, “Andy and I both write on guitar, so having a rhythm section that can act as a sort of eye of the storm with a dedicated bass player lets us actually write things without having to consider that one of us is gonna have to play bass.”

The lyrics shifted too; no longer were songs needing to be hidden behind stories or characters without names – they started to write about experiences more directly and earnestly. Wild wanted to explore growing up with religion, something that the previous sound and style couldn’t cater to effectively because of all the studded leather baggage that goes with punk.

“We’re way more collaborative and experimental in songwriting — we just try stuff on the spot whereas we used to kind of agonize over whether or not a bit fit someone’s part,” Taylor said.

With the sound change comes a name change, but to get there we must start at the first name – Girl Guts. “We seriously never actually planned on keeping it. We liked the alliteration, and to us it fit with what we were about as a band. We wanted to write more universal music because so much of punk and rock is just directed at dudes and dude feelings, but we really wanted to be more unifying,” said Beer. “We donate all our profits from our records to DVSAS and always have, so the name seemed like it fit but I think over time we got how it actually might not be saying what we thought it was.”

Wild added, “We were never attached to it though, just kinda stuck because it was catchy but we suspected it might be an issue at some point. I was just going to use it for my acoustic grindcore project!”

And while it never blew up into a major issue, the band did receive a message about the band name not coming off as they intended, and in addition to the sound change they said it was the right time to update the name to reflect the more open and real Guts experience. A more honest, self-effacing take with the same ring – No Guts.

“It’s like getting a new set of clothes, ya know?” Beer said. “You’re still you, but it lets you maybe be a little more honest with yourself and in front of other people.”

No Guts is playing next with Canadian pop-punk rockers PUP on Sept. 14 at the Wild Buffalo. For band updates and information, follow their Facebook page.