Problem Daughter are a peculiar creature. They embody the upbeat pop punk energy of early-2000s Fat Wreck and Asian Man bands, but at their core, they contain a ferocious desperation, spat out in scratchy harmonies and gravelly screams like mid-career Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! They are working-class punk martyrs, but they’re not a bunch of sad sacks—they give everything they have to the band, for good or ill.
In South Salt Lake, amid warehouses, a witchcraft supply store and a couple bowling alleys, sits the Problem Daughter house. The front door is wide open. I walk in, and I’m greeted by Trey Bird, Problem Daughter’s drummer. He’s a gracious host—he offers me a glass of water. Bird leads me into the basement practice space where the rest of the band is waiting on big couches—guitarists Tyler Sisson and Shane Augustus and bassist Regan Ashton. Everyone is drinking water except for Ashton, who has a very large glass of brown liquid in front of him (a teaspoon in it, no ice). I don’t ask what it is.
Problem Daughter have been a band since early 2008. They began as a three-piece with Bird, Ashton and Augustus. Within two years, Problem Daughter released two Andy Patterson–recorded albums: American Heroine and With Open Hearts And Empty Hands. Sometime during all this, the three of them moved into a house together. This, and inviting Sisson into the band (and the house) as second guitarist in 2011, were the biggest steps forward for them. “Everything changed when Tyler joined the band,” says Bird. Their constant proximity, their experience in various bands—The 12th Street Staggers, The Hung-Ups, Vanzetti Crime, Never Say Never—and their eclectic music taste formed into a collective punk brain and catalyzed their creative output. Next came Cordelia Sessions, a self-recorded EP, and 2012’s self-titled full-length, recorded by Rigby Road Studios’ Joel Pack.
Ashton downs half of his tepid brown liquid and excuses himself. He looks like a 1980s coke dealer—hair slicked back, plaid bell-bottom pants, black-leather pointy shoes and a wily demeanor. While he’s upstairs in the bathroom—“elbow[ing] an Adderall into powder,” as he later explains—I ask Ashton’s bandmates about the brown liquid. They allude to grain alcohol. Ashton returns, and we discuss the progression or stagnation of various veteran punk bands. “Like Gaslight Anthem—when their first [album] came out, you were like, ‘This is so good!’ and then you realized that they’re not going anywhere … Like, come on! Do something!” Ashton says. He shares most vocal and songwriting duties with Augustus and rants passionately about pushing themselves as a band by writing songs that are too hard for them to play. He also refuses to be one of those lyricists who write cryptic, meaningless songs, instead favoring a roundabout way of complaining about everything. “It’s mostly bitching in a poetic way,” Ashton says. He inexplicably changes the subject to fashion. He likes my style, implying that my layers of faded black denim covered in white cat hair is a style. “I don’t have a style,” Ashton says. “I have these disguises.”
Problem Daughter have a history of donning disguises as part of their live show once a year. As part of Salt Lake’s annual Punk Rock Halloween, they have impersonated a handful of seminal punk bands. The most infamous show was in 2011 when they played as the Germs. It wasn’t just a cover set or a tribute—the band became possessed by the Germs and mimicked them down to every last detail. The performance climaxed during “We Must Bleed” as Ashton sliced up his chest with a razorblade and writhed around screaming and bleeding on the asphalt, just like the late Darby Crash. This year, with Ashton dressed as Dr. Gonzo, Problem Daughter wandered drunkenly through Las Vegas and hit the stage as part of Punk Rock Bowling, sharing a bill with the likes of Devo, Flag, Bad Religion and D.R.I. They’re the first band from Utah to play the event in many years, but Problem Daughter have also opened for acts like The Queers, Teenage Bottlerocket, Shai Hulud and Kevin Seconds, to name a few.
As the brown liquid (and whatever happened in the bathroom upstairs) kicks in, the conversation switches from the band’s national recognition by the likes of Mark Stern from Youth Brigade and BYO Records back to the subject of fashion. “That suit looks like you turned Tony Montana on us,” Bird says to Ashton. Ashton counters Bird to say, “You should see my fuckin’ Hawaiian shirt collection!” I accompany the guys to the backyard, littered with cigarette butts. We smoke and talk about Punk Rock Halloween some more, and Ashton tells me for the third time that he just wants to wear a dress while he plays. “I look good in a dress,” he says. Aside from their Halloween dress-up antics, Problem Daughter are a serious band—serious about progression, serious about playing their hearts out and serious about screaming until they’re coughing up blood. Though they still get recognized for it on the street, as Augustus says, “We’re not just the Germs band.”
You can check out Problem Daughter at problemdaughter.bandcamp.com.