Shrug Dealer and ‘Infested’: A Premiere | An Interview | A Track By Track | And Some Tempo

Shrug Dealer – New York City, New York, USA

Shrug Dealer and 'Infested': A Premiere | An Interview | A Track By Track | And SomeTempo

“Shrug Dealer and Infested: A Premiere | An Interview | A Track By Track | And Some Tempo”. It’s a rather long title, I’ll admit but it pertains to quite a bit. For, it’s not only factually accurate but intrinsically suits the NYC Punk-Rock band, one whose witty acuity equates to the sharp, layered and technical Skate Punk they emanate innately. You can find a rundown of the band, their first EP and its subsequent remaster HERE but now, on this very day, they have unleashed their latest opus (early), building on the writhing foundational tempo of the above. But what do I know, eh?

Nothing. So, to remedy that, I spoke to both Rob and Russ from Shrug Dealer about the band, its origins, their personal favourite bands and naturally, what you can eventually hear below when you’re done. This following conversation is of course comprised of a substantial amount of silliness but, despite that, I even got the pair to belt-out a track-by-track for the EP.

What a time to be alive?! Infested officially releases tomorrow on both Hidden Home Records and Bypolar Records.

What the hell is a Shrug Dealer? Tell me in the fashion of Morbo The Annilatior from the popular news show, ‘Entertainment and Earth Invasion Tonite’ from the Futurama universe.

Russ: *shrugs* – At the time of the naming of this absurd coalition of miscreants, we humanoids were looking for a fresh play on words or pun to work with. I liked the sound of a band called Drug Dealers, but it wasn’t unique enough. Our then bassist and good friend Sol blurted out Shrug Dealer and that was that.

Rob: *shrugs*

Do you have any ‘pests of the week’ to air?

Rob: There are always weekly “pests” to air, and most of them revolve around my son, Jack. I just hate the kid. Just kidding actually, I don’t have a son. Cockroaches and flies are pretty bad around this time of year though. Flying cockroaches and flies are already in the air, so no need to double down on that.

Russ: Let’s add mosquitoes to that list. I’m going to double down on the kids thing. Rob may not have a son at this point, but if he ever does, I’m going to hate that little dude.

Shrug Dealer
Close encouters with the blurred kind.

Silliness aside. (For now) How are you both? How have you faired in 2020 and its sequential updates, 2020.1 and 2020.2?

Rob: Silliness aside, for me, 2020 and its subsequent update years have been a very deep exploration into my mental health and a lot of growing. Sometimes it sucks but I’m happy to identify and address things that have affected me for years.

Russ: I like the versioning perspective you used here. It makes 2020 – 2020.9 feel like the pandemic edition of the world. Like it’s Windows Vista or something. Every update makes it a little more palatable until the devs give up on it and move on to build 2030.0. Oh sorry, you asked how I’m doing. I would say I’m fairly “Windows Vista” lately.

Lots to think about there! But I’ll probably, SHRUG it off. 

Rob: 🤷

Rob, I know we talked before about the more technical side of Skate Punk not being as present in the USA as it is in other countries and scenes, so, to both of you then, of the more current complicated flock, who stands out for you? The No Triggers and A Wilhelm Screams of the scene, notwithstanding.

Russ: To me, Cigar is one of those bands that stands out. They’re catchy, fast, and I love when the rhythm section of a band is comprised of virtuosos. Also, Jon Sortland is one of the best drummers on earth. If I’m sticking with Skate Punk, I’ll add Satanic Surfers.

Rob: This is a good question. I feel like a lot of the more technically innovative bands may ride the “Skate Punk” line, but whether or not we should call them such is up for debate (i.e. PEARS, Such Gold, Oh The Humanity!). If we’re talking “Skate Punk”-proper, I think Slick Shoes had an amazing comeback with their 2020 record ‘Rotation & Frequency’. And Head Honcho from Washington, as they are really underrated.

I do want to point out that Satanic Surfers are from Sweden, not the US – but they still rule and not enough people over here talk about them. Honestly, I feel like whenever I find a newer “Skate Punk” proper band that I really like, they’re not American.

Russ: Somehow between reading the question and posing an answer, I forgot it was US only. Okay, I’ll definitely echo Rob’s sentiments on Head Honcho. I’ve gotten to play with those dudes a couple of times with my dudes in Upinatem (another talented Skate Punk band) and they are rad as hell.

Shrug Dealer

Now, now, let’s, SHRUG off any animosity now! Maybe even, fast.

Since the remaster of the first EP and now that ‘Infested’ is nearing its unveiling, how are you both feeling about it?

Russ: I’m proud of the product and excited to show everyone what we’ve cooked up since our first release. We’ve been sitting on this one for quite a while, so I’m also relieved to finally put it out and ready to get started on the next one.

Rob: This band is my favourite musical project I’m a part of and with the pandemic and a couple of major lineup changes, it was frustrating to have the release/the band be in limbo for so long. I still love playing these songs and am so stoked to be getting them out into the world. I don’t think I’ve made or released a piece of music that I’m as proud of as ‘Infested’.

Shrug Dealer and Infested – A Track By Track

Participation Trophies

Rob: Well, first up is ‘Participation Trophies’.

Russ: I’ve been toying with a “you get what you put in” type of message for years. It took me a long while to find a voice that didn’t feel stale or worn out. This was finally a version that represents my take on the “effort vs outcome” argument. I tried the optimistic, cheerleader vibe, but I couldn’t match that kind of energy, so I went the other way. I’ve also long been in love with misdirection in music, and I enjoyed putting a dark, condescending, sarcastic message in a major chord Pop-Punk track. That’s definitely a trope of mine that I don’t intend to drop anytime soon.

Rob: I will say, I love putting pretty, weird, old Hot Water Music style guitars over skatier tracks. Also, this is the only of our songs on this record to feature a cowbell or blast beat.

Tilt Mode

Rob: When Shrug Dealer started, our original drummer Ramon told us he wanted to play 1) fast, and 2) in odd time signatures. So I wrote this with that in mind. It’s probably in my top five songs I’ve ever written. Lyrically, it’s also one of the most personal songs I’ve ever written, and one of the only times as an adult that I have used music to process something in almost real-time.

It’s about a day when I drank too much and ruined an opportunity for myself. I had never done that before and really struggled with it in the following days – am I an alcoholic? Do I stop drinking altogether? How could I do this to myself? Whilst writing, I was watching Marc Johnson’s interview on The Nine Club, where he talked about his alcoholism being an allergy. ‘Tilt Mode – Man Down’ is one of my favourite skate videos, and Marc Johnson was heavily involved in the Tilt Mode Army and founded Enjoi. “Tilt Mode” was a term they used to describe when someone has partied too hard, lost their balance, and is falling over. Tipsy+, so to speak. Russ was there that night and could barely wake me up to get to my event on time.

Russ: I love that we have more than one song inspired by skateboarding, and I can attest that when Rob starts drinking, it’s quite a show.

Summer Camp

Russ: I was watching the crisis at the southern border in disbelief at how inhumanely the people were treated. The separation of families was just an astonishing example of how little we actually care about “outsiders,” as if some arbitrary line dictates how someone should be treated and respected. I worked with our dear friend (and drummer at the time) Ramon and my old roommate Andy, both of them fluent in Spanish, albeit in separate dialects, to write a chunk in Spanish as well. It was another track that felt didn’t need to be long. Another trope of mine. Shred a bit, get the message out, and end the song. I don’t have the chops or attention span required to write real music.

Rob: I also want to give a shoutout to the band Upinatem for their inspiration on this song. Their frontman, Sean Capps, is a genius. In their song ‘La Hipocresía’, Sean sings – entirely in Spanish – about undocumented Mexican immigrants that are underpaid and mistreated by white Americans who rely on them for cheap labour. These people hiring said immigrants under the table (read: Illegal, Undocumented Pay) and would still vote to have them removed from our country. La Hipocresía, indeed.

Please Turn Off The Gramophone

Rob: I was listening to a lot of ALL when I wrote this song, and the working title was ‘Emo ALL’. Lyrically, it’s actually about a side plot in Watchmen (the graphic novel). Each chapter has these in-between inserts that are tangentially related to the story but don’t really sit in the narrative timeline. This one – the tale of Moe Vernon – is so poetically sad, and yet at the time of writing this, I felt that it was an overlooked side story that deserved more attention. So I wrote a song about it.

Russ: So glad we kept this song. We had to do a little convincing to get Rob to hang [onto] it and let us put our personalities into it. This one is one of my favourites to play for sure.

Rob: Oh that’s true, I was ready to scratch it. I can overthink this stuff. Russ liked the demo and fought for it, and once the band collectively put their touch on it, I became excited about it again. The drums really make this song for me.

Get to the Point

Rob: The government is lying to you.

Russ: This is one of those tricky ones where if you play it backwards at half-speed, it sounds like shit.

The Call Of The Epigon

Russ: Rob and I wrote the music to this almost entirely together, if I remember correctly. As we were riffing around and writing it, I remembered thinking how unique this track was, and how the hard work it took to get a creative flow going really paid off. The lyrics I wrote were largely a knock-on bands getting complacent and not trying new things. We also reached out to Propagandhi and asked if we could reference/steal some Anti-Manifesto, which they were kind enough to give us the green light on.

Rob: Kinda wild to think this is our slowest song.

Desperate Housewives of Ada County

Rob: If there’s anything you should know about Shrug Dealer, it’s that 50% of our songs are about adultery. Ada County is where I grew up and where I met Russ – it’s all the way over in Boise, Idaho (which, for non-Americans, is near Seattle). When you’re young, you make a lot of promises to yourself that you’ll stick to your principles and not make the mistakes you see adults making. I think part of growing up is realizing that we are susceptible to the same mistakes. This song came about after learning that multiple friends back home had cheated on their spouses and recognising that’ll probably be something I hear about for the rest of my life. This is also the first time I’ve said “fuck” in one of my songs, and I say it like forty times.

Russ: I love sneaking complicated stuff into simple songs, but what Rob did here was the inverse. When I first heard it, I was so jacked on all the riffage that I didn’t even realize this one probably has the most traditional formula of all the songs we’ve done. It taught me a good lesson in clever songwriting here.

Skate & Decoy

Rob: Every year I promise myself I’ll learn to kickflip. And every year I don’t do that.

Russ: I wouldn’t say I’m a very nostalgic person, but recalling the stuff that got me into skating flipped that switch for me. I also Loved sneaking in homage riffs and getting to do my terrible Nikola Sarcevic impression. I’ve always been a big Millencolin fan.

And now! Back to it!

How have the influences differed this time around, is there anything notable you’d (both) like to mention?  

Rob: At the time we were putting these songs together, I noted that these were more Pop-Punk-y than the songs on our first EP. I seem to remember playing a lot of Just Friends around the house when Russ and I were roommates, and then it felt like all of a sudden he had the funk riff from ‘The Call Of The Epigon’ so maybe that inadvertently influenced him. The bridge of ‘Desperate Housewives…’ is very much meant to be played like a Hot Water Music song, who have been one of our influences from the get-go. I already mentioned ALL. There’s also a riff on the record that was inspired by the intro of ‘Don’t Call Me White’, which is an underrated El Hefe riff in my opinion.

Russ: I was learning Propagandhi, (The) Flatliners and A Wilhelm Scream songs during this time, so they definitely snuck in. I was also listening to Chicago and playing in a Russian Ska-Punk group. All of those made their way into my writing then. I don’t really think any of the songs through. I just feel it out and stop before it starts to get stale. I’m pretty much incapable of writing a good three-minute song.

With all that in mind, have you dug anything out of the SD vault for this release, or are the EP’s tracks innate to this era of the band?

Rob: Truthfully, I think these were all written within our first year of being a band. We played ‘Participation Trophies’ and ‘Desperate Housewives…’ at our first show. Russ and I had a lot of demos from around this time. These songs, for the most part, are just the ones that made it to the band that they then gave their input on and helped mould into actual “Shrug Dealer songs”.

Russ: Mostly innate to the era, if I can recall.

Right here is a serious-ish question, before we go off the deep end with silliness. If you had to make a three-track sampler to illustrate the band and its MO, what three tracks would you choose?


  1. Writer’s Block
  2. The Lanes
  3. Who Is Molly?

With The Call of the Epigon as a hidden track.

Russ: I would probably agree with Rob, but I’ll switch it up a bit to make it interesting

  1. The Lanes
  2. Please Turn Off the Gramophone
  3. The Call of The Epigon

With ‘Get To The Point’ as the secret track.

Rob: Actually, the list should be

  1. Get To The Point
  2. Get To The Point
  3. Get To The Point

I think it’s safe to assume that we like fast things in this interview, so I have some bizarre questions for you. 

Would you rather sit on a cactus every hour on the hour for 10 hours? But fast or listen to a compilation of Donald Trump’s finest one-liners on repeat for five hours? But fast.

Rob: Wait I’m confused – how are those two things different?

Russ: I would take listening to Trump, as it would likely inspire some odd songwriting. I don’t know if I could write a good song about sitting on a cactus for 10 hrs… Though now, I’m certainly going to try.

He wasn’t very fast but a great creature once said, ‘Do. Or Do Not. There is no try’.

Russ: Though it does seem odd that as soon as a lightsaber touched his hands, he was fast as hell. 

Rob: Shoutout to everyone that’s green.

You’re both in a band entirely comprised of characters from Futurama, who is playing what? Rob, you get to name the first album and Russ, the second.

Russ: So if I’m a band of Futurama characters, I’m playing the triangle. Sorry, Rob, I called it already. I’ll pick the singer, drummer, and holophonorist. I’ll leave the bassist and guitars to Rob.

Singer: Robot Devil. That Robot Hell song is rad.

Rob: Zoidberg on guitar just because he can’t really play it and I think we could potentially get some Tom Morello/Omar Rodriguez Lopez-type stuff going on.

Bass: Hypnotoad (All glory to thee)

Russ: On drums: Bender. Not entirely sure why, it just seems right to me.

Holophonor: Fry

Clamps feels like the right merch guy. He’ll make sure people pay up.

Rob: Album 1: ‘Good News Everyone!’

Russ: Album 2: ‘Live From Panucci’s Pizza’

Rob: Album 3: ‘So Long World! Thanks for Nothing’

Sorry, had to get another Farnsworth quote in there. I also agree with Russ that Clamps would be a great merch guy. Shoutout to my friend IRL, Clamps.

Well, that was successful. The dialogue made that!

Ok so, because Futurama, you’re partying with Slurms Mckenzie for the last time, what’s playing?

Rob: More like WHO’s playing, amirite? Forever Unclean seems to be the right answer.

I will own my mistake there.

Rob: I just feel like they’re the ultimate party band. And if Slurm’s goin’ out, I want live bands. Ingrown would also be cool.

Russ: Man, I miss those guys (Forever Unclean). They crashed with me and Rob for a few days in 2019, and that was a highlight of my life in NYC. Anyway, I’ll add Wicked Bears and Vulfpeck. Two other bands that always get me moving.

How is the scene where you are and who are your favourite local bands?

Russ: The scene here is strange. It could be worse, so I’m grateful for what we have, but there are almost no “all-ages” venues in the city, and there’s so much to do every night that getting people to come to a Punk show can be difficult sometimes. The thing I do absolutely love about this area is it’s so close to so many other scenes that are just a few hours away, as opposed to out west, where it takes a seven-hour drive to find the next city. 

As far as favourite local bands, I would say A Very Special Episode, Neckscars, Tired Radio, Original Sharks, and Chilton are up there for me. I also saw The Royal They recently and they blew my mind. 

Rob: We’re pretty lucky to have been active in multiple corners of the New York DIY scene, not just “capital P” Punk Rock. Honestly, we should just make you a playlist of local bands we love. – And they did! – Here.

Russ said pretty much all of my FAVOURITE favourite locals – AVSE, Chilton, Tired Radio, Neckscars, The Royal They. His other band Something Bitter is fun (as all his bands are), and I recently started playing bass with a band called Onesie that I like a lot. Some others that I’m really excited about are Career Day, Necrotic Society, But, Pyrite, Skapossitory, Groupie, My Son The Doctor, The Loneliers, and Warn The Duke. And my friends in Kissed By An Animal always bring it. 

Well, we’ve loved (maybe), shrugged, laughed, partied and learned here, thanks to both of you for doing this with me.

The EP is out properly tomorrow, do you have any closing words?

Rob: Dude, I love what you do and am just glad you liked us enough to actually do a feature with us. Couldn’t think of a better person to premiere this thing. Thanks to anyone who checks it out. Book us in your town, please!!

Russ: Thank you so much for taking the time to give us some love! I’ve always wanted to make music that “skate punkers” can get stoked on, so getting support from you shows me we’re doing something right. To echo Rob’s sentiment, we want to come play all of your towns! Hit us up!

And now, stream the whole release, A WHOLE DAY EARLY below!

And so passes the incredibly long, SEO-contorting title,  “Shrug Dealer and Infested: A Premiere | An Interview | A Track By Track | And Some Tempo”.

It’s been a fun old time. Shrug Dealer are, in my opinion, a crucial band in the current, more underground wave of North American Skate Punk. Infested is an EP that boasts a refined skill without any hubris and is intrinsically imbued with a few well-meaning, tempo-adjacent, shrug-like convulsions just because. But fast.

Find Shrug Dealer and both their labels below.


Founder of Ear Nutrition, Matt is sadly over 30 and first cut his words writing for the now defunct site, Musically Fresh. He enjoys a variety of guitar-driven music but can usually be found navigating a web of Skate Punk, Hardcore and everything in between.