A Q&A With The Coffin Campers


Ethan Jones, News Editorial Assistant

When State High senior Xavier Hons called up his friends Zac Mckee and Oli Patchell on a whim, he simply wanted to have a punk band to “churn as many songs out as possible.” Now with their first EP out, two songs scheduled for Halloween, and a full punk album on the way soon after, I sat down in a Google Meet with the Coffin Campers to talk about their influences, stories behind songs, how they got started, and more.


Q: Can you guys each go around and kind of introduce yourself?

Zac: Hey I’m Zac, I’m a senior, I was in rock ensemble my freshman year, I didn’t do it my sophomore year, and then in my junior and senior year I did it. I play guitar, but my main instrument is fiddle.

Xavier: I play drums, guitar, bass, and vocals, also senior.

Oli: I’m Oli, I’m a junior, I play bass mainly, but also guitar, ukulele–I hate ukulele–vocals, piano, clarinet, viola, cello, and, poorly, drums.


Q: How long have you guys all known each other; how did the band get started? 

Xavier: Zac and I knew each other briefly in middle school, and then reconnected through Oli, and then in June I was really bored, and I was like “I should start a band,” and that’s when I started playing guitar. I was like “I gotta use this,” and I’m not really playing with any other groups, other than my brother, so I was like “I know people who play instruments,” and I asked, and they were like “okay, yeah” and that’s how it happened.


Q: How long have you guys been into music?

Zac: Well, my dad is a music theory professor at Penn State, and my mom teaches violin, so I was exposed to music throughout my whole life, and I did not like orchestra at all, I still don’t like orchestra at all. I really hate it, I hate having to do exactly what someone tells you to do. I really like being free with what I’m given, so that’s why I picked up Scottish fiddling, and I did a bunch of competitions, and got to meet a lot of cool people, and my dad started teaching me more instruments and it’s just a lot of fun, it’s what I have the most passion for.

Xavier: I started on violin in fourth grade, played that til 8th grade, and I was really bad at it, and I thought “I should play something else, something easy,” and I thought “oh, drums are pretty easy,” so I started that. I got pretty good and started playing in school jazz bands and such, and other personal bands, so fourth grade was my introduction.

Oli: I started playing instruments when I was three, my grandmother just kind of sat me up on the piano when I was able to sit, and in fourth grade, I started playing cello, which led me to viola, and I started listening to more music, and experiencing more and more genres, and I got really interested in playing music, and experimenting with other instruments, and then I took rock ensemble at Delta middle, and through that high school rock ensemble, and that’s where I met Xavier, and I’ve known Zac since elementary school. 


Q: So, From the Grave is out now on Bandcamp, correct?

Xavier: Bandcamp, Soundcloud, and now Spotify.


Q: What’s it like putting out music in a pandemic?

Xavier: It’s funny. My brother and I have been putting out music for our band, since like late 2019, and it’s kind of exactly the same, where I just record stuff in my basement where we got DistroKid, which distributes your music on to a bunch of platforms and makes it really easy and all you have to do is upload it and it just posts it on everything, and it’s almost exactly the same except obviously, unfortunately, we can’t play live. So it’s harder to spread the music when you can’t show up and say “okay these are our songs, if you like them you can listen to them online.” So it’s about shoving it down people’s throats even more, because you really have a localized audience, and it’s the same people that your preaching too, which can be irritating so you gotta find new ways to spread the music like posting on Reddit, or Tumblr, or Twitter.

Oli: I think we kind of have different social medias, so from the few that I work from I can say “oh, there’s this new coffin campers EP,” and hashtag it with a bunch of different stuff and put the link to the SoundCloud or something, and then I kind of throw it out there, and get maybe three or five likes, or maybe our Soundcloud or Bandcamp goes up by like two listens.


Q: So do you think you guys promote more widely in that way? Like with the lack of shows?

Oli: Do we promote?

Xavier: I don’t think we even promote, I don’t even tell anybody.

Oli: On occasion, I’ll be like “hey uh, my band dropped a new song, you should maybe listen to it sometime,” or “hey, can I put on a playlist?” and I’ll have it mixed in with a few other songs.

Xavier: I think this band is more like a passion project, it’s more to not take seriously, but if people like the songs we do, I guess that’s good, and we’ll try to promote it as much as possible, to at least those people, because all you really need is someone who really likes the music, and maybe that one person turns into 2 people. And we did get one Australian listener on Spotify.


Q: So it’s more for fun than anything?

Oli: Definitely.


Q: So what was it like making the EP, what’s recording like for you guys on the average day?

Xavier: Like I said, I was really bored, so I just wanted to have a punk band because that’s easy and I wanted to churn out as many songs as possible. So I was in my basement, and usually it just starts with a drumbeat where I’m like “oh, this sounds cool,” and I record it on my phone, and then I send it to the people, and they’re like “okay, that’s cool,” and we meet at my house, and write a guitar riff or chords or whatever, and I record my drums first to a click track, and then we get guitars, bass, and then vocals and whatever else we want to add to it, and I guess that’s the basic formula for the song recording process. 

Oli: It’s kinda funny, it’s like very casual, it’s essentially like, 

“Hey, do you wanna come over Thursday?” 

“Yeah, okay.” 

And then you spend two hours on it and it’s like “yay, you’re done,” and then Xavi usually mixes it, and then two weeks later or a week later we have a song.

Xavier: And then sometimes there [are] songs that I write entirely by myself, and I’ll show them it, and obviously if we can play live shows eventually I want to have the full band play the songs, but I’ll just like go to the basement at 6 p.m., and then I’ll come out between 11 and 12, and then I’ll have finished a whole song with guitar, bass, and auxiliary percussion, and then I’ll add whatever else I want. In our next release, or maybe in a couple releases, I have a song that’s 6 minutes long that I went insane on, starting with the chords and then I added a bunch of guitar stuff and it currently has about 40 tracks on it. I think I went overboard but that’s alright, as long as it sounds good. 


Q. If you’re writing a song, do you usually have it in your head before you write chords and stuff?

Zac: Well for the majority of the songs, after the drum track is down I try to come up with some chords to come with it, and then the lyrics usually come from Xavi.

Xavier: And then I guess for me, I just have an idea in my head and then, because I don’t really know what I’m doing on guitar because I’ve never been professionally taught in music theory, I’ll just noodle until I find what I had in my head and then I’ll do that 100 times, and then record on my phone and find some other thing that’ll intertwine with it and be like ok that sounds good too, put the pieces together and be like “yeah, that’s a song.”

Oli: So these [From the Grave songs] are the first songs I’ve worked on, I’ve actually never completed a full song. I’ve written a lot of songs but I’ve never recorded recorded one myself, but if something interests me, or something sounds cool, I’ll just record it on my phone and keep it to myself. 

Zac: I like writing songs when I’m upset, so there’s some I don’t let anyone but myself see that I’ve done as an outlet, but there was one that I brought to the band that I’m pretty excited for that was pretty much just an experience I had, and the music sort of set the tone for the lyrics.

Oli: I feel like a lot of our songs started as just a stupid joke or something dumb one of us said, and then Xavi will say “hey, that’d be funny as a song.”


Q: Is that how the Mac Demarco song came about?

Xavier: It’s based on a toxicity I’ve noticed- not necessarily in State High, and it’s not just an attack on people who listen to Mac DeMarco, but it’s about people who–I’m sure you’ve seen them–who idolize Mac DeMarco and dress exactly like him and only listen to him.

Oli: And they use him to impress people, and try to impress girls, with the “yeah, you should come over and listen to Mac DeMarco some time, he’s super underground and you probably haven’t heard of him.” But it’s basically the joke of “once your girlfriend stops thinking that Mac DeMarco is cool, you’re kinda screwed.”

Xavier: It’s almost kind of a warning. In my last lyric, I say, “let this be a warning too–that the indie boy is out for you.” Because we’ve seen it happen, at shows and at rock ensembles, so I’m really excited to do that one live, because I hope it hurts people’s feelings. I hope it calls out people in the crowd and makes them go “dang, that song is about me bro, you didn’t have to do that.”

Oli: To me, it was kind of sparked by someone that I was annoyed with for several months, and it’s also generally like, relying on a specific artist to get you chicks is bad and makes you look pretentious, but it was also kind of a story about someone that did all of that who I dislike very much, so it was kind of a knock on them. 


Q: Do you guys have favorites out of the three on ‘From The Grave?’ Or it could be an unreleased one?

Oli (to Zac): Have you listened to any of the new ones yet?

Zac: Yeah. My dad thinks they’re weird. I think my favorite is the one that I had no part in, “Teenage Boy With a Middle Part Hairdo.”’ 

Xavier: That was one of the songs I wrote entirely by myself, in a fit of psychosis. It was gonna be another play on other people that roam the hallways, but I was like “nah, it should sound better than that,” and then it formed into whatever the hell it is now. Personally, I don’t like any of them now, but that’s’ because I had to mix and master them so I’m happy that other people like them, but I personally can’t really listen to them anymore. 

Oli: I really like “Teenage Boy With a Middle Part Hairdo.” I don’t know the whole story with it, but I did see a lot of the process making it and I think it’s a really good song. I also didn’t spend hours mixing and recording it, but I definitely think it’s an interesting song. Or the new one–we have this new one that kind of sounds like another band.

Xavier: Do you know what Midwest Emo is?


Q: Like American Football?

Xavier: Yeah, good. So there’s a song kind of inspired by American Football, called “Art Hoes and Beanie Bros.” I was listening to a lot of midwest emo and I was like “okay, I want to teach myself how to play like this,” and I wrote a bunch of twinkly riffs, and I was like “oh, that sounds cool,” and then I put it together, and I’m excited for that song the most. It’s gonna be a real song, not just a minute and 30 seconds of screaming, so that’ll be hopefully out by the end of the year, if we work on it.


Q: What other artists or sounds inspire you guys?

Oli: Mom Jeans, Prince Daddy & the Hyena, The Chats. This’ll sound really emo but I used to–and still to this day–listen to a lot of My Chemical Romance, and I enjoy making fun of myself for it, but it’s a band that kinda propelled me into everything, and propelled me into more modern artists. Hobo Johnson, too.

Zac: A lot of my inspiration for when I find cool things to play comes from mostly three artists: Car Seat Headrest, Coma Cinema, and Les Claypool. He’s funky.

Oli: My mom was really into music when I was really little, because we lived in Germany so a lot of the music taste was really mixed around. There was a lot of rock, which kinda turned into emo, and that’s where I’m from, which people enjoy making fun of me for, which is okay.

Xavier: I don’t listen to this anymore, but I used to be into a lot of jazz, because I really loved jazz for a really long time and I got really good at playing it, playing in jazz bands in school and outside of school, and then school made me hate jazz, but at the same time, I think the influence is still there, so on songs probably in the future it’ll be sounding like a punk song and then I’ll throw in some jazz riff that I learned on drums and it’ll hopefully add to it. 


Q: So two of you guys are seniors-how far do you guys see the band going?

Xavier: We’ll follow it as long as we want to, as long as it stays fun. In all of my past bands, when it gets too serious, it gets really angry and mean and not fun, and it’s not even worth playing music anymore. But as long as it’s fresh and fun and lets us screw around.

Oli: I just wanna play shows. I think that’s the future, hopefully playing safe shows. 

Xavier: My grandfather is a music-biz pro–well, he calls himself a pro–but he’s been working with labels and studios since the 70s and he knows tons of people in LA, so he’s been showing our songs off to a bunch of friends and radio stations and stuff, and they all like it, which I was really surprised at. Henry Rollins, who was the lead vocalist of Black Flag, has a radio station, and the current mission for my grandfather is to get our songs played on that station, so that’ll be interesting to have our songs being listened to on a station like that.


Q: Have you guys ever thought about shows through a screen?

Xavier: It would definitely be smart. We’d probably need more than 3 songs. 

Oli: The biggest thing for me is I just want the audience to be there and be present, because the biggest low blow is when you’re playing live and the audience isn’t into it. 

Zac: We could also do what every other band does and do covers to fill up time.


Q: Did you guys go to a lot of shows before COVID?

Zac: Only piano recitals for me. I was gonna go see Cage the Elephant right before COVID got bad, but obviously, that was canceled. 

Oli: In recent years I’ve seen a couple local bands, I’ve seen Mom Jeans and Hobo Johnson twice with my friend Anna, and a couple rock ensemble shows.

Xavier: I’ve been to a bunch of shows in Pittsburgh, and I’ve played shows with my other bands before COVID. Literally the day that everything got shut down I was supposed to play a house show with some very cool bands, and it was really lame but we couldn’t play it. It was gonna be awesome. There’s also always drive-in shows, which is a venture that I definitely want to consider, because all you have to do is talk to someone with a field and ask if we can use it for a couple of hours, and then have a big show. 


Q: Are you guys planning on releasing anything soon?

Xavier: We’re putting two songs out on Halloween, and then we’re gonna take a month to write a purely punk EP or album with a bunch of songs, and then we’ll work on a bunch of songs that actually sound good with some emo and whatever other influences we have on it, just so if our music gets pigeonholed by a radio station or anything like that, we can have a repertoire of punk songs that can go to those people, and then we can have other songs that are more popularly accessible with more catchiness and not just yelling.


Q: How did you end up with the name Coffin Campers?

Xavier: I was drawing a lot of art for my brother and I’s band, and I drew a Dracula piece and thought “I like coffins,” and I was waiting on a release from that band so I was really bored and drawing stuff and I wanted to draw something to do with coffins, and I drew the art first before the band even existed, and I asked Oli if we should [call ourselves] Casket Campers or Coffin Campers and we went with “coffin.”


Q: I wasn’t sure if it[the name] was maybe seasonal because of Halloween.

Xavier: Also, Halloween is my favorite holiday because I was born in October and it kind of just fit my vibe. Should we plug ourselves? 

If you’re not lame, you’ll like our band. If you are lame, you’re probably not gonna like it. If you’re an art hoe, you probably won’t like it either. Spotify, Soundcloud, iTunes, Bandcamp–if you wanna pay for music, you can on the Bandcamp. Soon we’ll probably have some midwest punk t-shirts, that’ll be dope, and follow the Instagram @thecoffincampers because we want more clout and dedicated listeners.