To a fan trying to wade through the hundreds of bands and fests and labels, hardcore in 2015 can be as exhausting as it is exciting. Dozens of bands working with the same no-longer-obscure influences and an acute awareness of what everyone else is doing can lead to stagnation, so it’s up to us to celebrate bands like Impalers while they’re still among us. This Austin-based five-piece unit takes from hardcore’s various pasts (’83 Finland, ’81 New York, ’82 Japan, ’81 Detroit, ’84 UK are all represented) and mashes it up into something so smooth and powerful, you’ll wonder why no one else has melded Motörhead’s riffs and Gauze’s execution in such a flawless way. All of their records are great, but their latest 12″ EP Psychedelic Snutskallar pushes the band into uncharted territory, performing the near-impossible feat of “growing” beyond hardcore while firmly planted within the music’s timeless tradition (this isn’t another case of a hardcore band maturing by no longer playing hardcore). I spoke with singer Chris Ulsh, and while there was more I wanted to ask, I’ll gladly take what I can get.

What was the time and process like from Impalers’ inception as a band to your first vinyl release? Was it short or did it take a while?
The idea behind Impalers started when Mike, our drummer, and I were on tour with another band we played in. I think we were avoiding a particularly grim house party and listening to music in the van instead. We decided that when that band got home from tour we would work on some ideas while everyone else was on their way to rehearse. Once the songs began to take form we started scheduling our own practices every couple of days and then it took off from there. We had no plans past recording the first batch of songs, and actually almost scrapped the project entirely after we tracked the demo for the first time. The guy did such a piss-poor job recording us that we were convinced our band sucked, but the second time around it sounded much better and that’s what ended up being the demo.
As for the timeline, the earliest rehearsal recording I have was from 2009 and Beach Impediment / No Way didn’t get around to releasing the demo on vinyl until 2011, so the process was pretty slow at the beginning. Todo Destruido and W-Tapes split the first cassette pressing somewhere in the middle of all that and that’s when we decided to add three more people so we could play live. It was my first time playing a show only doing vocals without an instrument to hide behind and I was miserable.

Why were you miserable just singing, without an instrument? How different is it for you?
Until our first show I had only played drums or guitar in bands, so during the first instrumental part of the set it just hit me, a “what am I supposed to do right now?” kind of thing. I had never thought about it before. I imagine our first couple of shows were probably sort of awkward but it’s fine because no one was there.

You’re a five-piece hardcore band, which is kind of rare for the sort of no-frills, to-the-point style you play. Are there any five-piece hardcore bands that inspired you or your sound?
Initially when we were writing the demo as a two-piece there were a couple parts that didn’t really sound right with just one guitar and drums, so we had a few “just trust me” moments. After the songs were done it was obvious that in a live setting we would need to have two guitars, and I was bent on only singing to be more aesthetically appealing but also to try something new. Then the lineup filled out around that. But now that I think about it, most of the bands that inspired Impalers were all four-pieces. We wanted to do a tripped out later-era Anti Cimex sort of thing but with more focus on the vibe we could create by doing certain key changes and using some effects, rather than the more metallic Discharge sound those records have – if that makes any sense. The song “Mower” from the most recent record is where I feel like we finally nailed it on the head.

Do you think it helped for Impalers to have that incubation period as a ‘studio’ project, and a few years to figure out what you wanted to do? Would it be the same if you started off as a fully-functioning live band?
I think it would be completely different but I’m not sure how. Every band I was in before that was always rushed. We had to have this out by tour, this had to be ready for this show, etc… Having no real plans was perfect to make sure we got what we wanted out of the recording. Also being able to just scrap it and just walk away like we wanted to for a couple weeks with no pressure from anywhere – I think that provided a good environment initially for the creative process.

Does the standard hardcore-punk model still feel exciting in 2015? Write songs, put out a record, go on a tour? Do you think more bands should think more critically about what they are doing to promote and market themselves (or un-promote and un-market themselves, as the case may be)?
I don’t really feel like there is a lot of room for marketing but I completely understand un-promoting and un-marketing. It all depends on the goals you set when you start a band and that dictates what you say no or yes to, I guess. I am a fan of the hardcore-punk model because it gives you exactly what you put into it. Let’s say you are an active participant and you’ve been spending a lot of time with your records at home and you decide to put some effort into writing songs, then put out your own record or give it to someone you trust, then the tours come easy. But if you don’t contribute anything and put some derivative band together, why would you expect any return from it? You get what you put in. We all know this. If you are excited, punk is exciting. For example, we go to the pyramids in Mexico City before we’re about to go play, and that experience is the manifestation of our band’s work. I am literally living inside it, it’s very real to me and I like that about it. The bullshit will always be there and I might be romanticizing a little bit but I do appreciate the functionality of “write-record-tour”.

Do you think that’s generally the case, that great hardcore bands get noticed no matter how much effort they put into self-promotion? Do you think the internet has sort of leveled the playing field, in that regard?
I think there’s a few different factors at play but the internet’s effect on underground music is undeniable to me. You hear people say things like “There are no good ____ bands anymore”, but really all that says to me is “I am too lazy to try to find current music on the internet”, because it’s so easy, it just takes a little time and effort. Think about the hours we’ve all logged on Discogs over the years, or even Metal Archives – the amount of available resources is so much bigger than when I first started seeking out punk bands. And then because of these resources, the spreading of information almost effortless. So in that sense I don’t think it requires much effort, social media will do that for you. If your band decides not to play live often then the word-of-mouth factor is not in your favor. But in 2015 bands that don’t tour because they have office jobs can fly across the country for a weekend and have a crazy reaction, so god bless the internet I guess.

I have to ask: what is your practice schedule like? Both your records and the live footage I’ve seen display a tightness that most hardcore bands seem to lack.
This may sound corny but all of us are pretty close and spend a lot of time together regardless if we are practicing or not, so the chemistry is already there before we pick up any instruments, and I think that has a lot to do with it. If practice is enjoyable and the drive is there, then that sort of tightness live is the most obvious result in my experience. We also played in some other bands together previously and they are all great musicians so that doesn’t hurt either. I think we like being creative within the company of our band and it makes the level of stress very low, at least on that front. We can be really neurotic about practice so maybe sometimes we will rehearse up to three times a week, but the frequency of practice really depends on what’s on our plate. I specifically remember practicing every day for a week before we went on our first tour, but if we don’t have much coming up we won’t force anything.

Does the band feel like a democratic five-piece at this point, or is it still you and Mike writing the songs, and just telling the other guys what to play?
It was up until the very last song we wrote. We did a track for the Hardcore: Gimme Some More compilation on Beach Impediment that started with Mike and I doing our usual thing, but everyone else was there and added their own flavor. Juan helped me out with the lyrics and played the bass on the recording. That song ended up being one of everyone’s favorites so we will probably start writing more democratically from now on since we know it works well. Mike and I wrote that way for so long that I think we really needed that extra push from somewhere outside.

I get the impression that Impalers had time early on for live awkwardness and generally figuring things out, without being in the hyped spotlight or whatever. Is that the case? Are you glad that Impalers took its time to blossom, so to speak?
It was sort of a combination of things. This was before the sort of resurgence that Austin just had, even Texas on a bigger level. There weren’t as many out of town bands coming through, or bands starting up here, or shows to play as there are now. Plus we were all younger, had other bands, school, jobs… It just didn’t make sense to try to do more than what was really possible at the time. Impalers was kind of an experiment in the sense that everyone’s spot in the band wasn’t their first nature, so it was pretty convenient being able to work out the kinks before a lot of heads started filling the room.

How do you feel about Austin becoming such a hardcore hub in the past couple years? Are there any downsides to it?
It has always been a hub but now is a particularly exciting time to be there. Timmy consistently spoiled our city with Chaos fest and bands I never thought I’d see but the main difference now is that a lot of other people are stepping up too. The younger group of kids down here really breathed new life into the scene and I think we needed that. Starting bands and booking shows, mainly at all-ages spots which made it easy to pack heads in. Since the age range is a pretty big spread, that is also the downside – trying to keep a consistent all-ages venue that won’t get shut down. We’ve gotten pretty good at sneaking kids in when we need to but the attendance at those shows isn’t the same.

Was there a specific concept behind the Psychedelic Snutskallar record, or did it just kinda randomly happen? Did you try to write a track to fit the title, or did the title come about afterward?
Mike and I had a short lived project called Sick Plot that recorded two songs during the same session as the Impalers 7″. The Sick Plot songs were more drawn out, each string was layered as its own track with tons of effects. The idea was similar to Impalers but more dense and jarring. I sent Todo Destruido all of the songs together after the 7″ was done and then Eddie coined the phrase “Psychedelic Snutskallar”. I guess it floated around in our heads for a couple years, then fast forward to right before New York’s Alright 2014. We wanted to throw something together on the fly to have a new tape for sale at the fest, so we decided to rework those two Sick Plot songs as Impalers songs and maybe come up with a couple new ones. I’m not sure which we decided on first, calling it Psychedelic Snutskallar or writing an eleven-minute-long d-beat song. We tried to make it as literal as possible lyrically and aesthetically, so the record is essentially about dosing a cop.

Is Impalers the best band you’ve ever been in?

It’s the best band anyone has ever been in.