Punk rock road trip

By Alex Fiore

Danny Collins just crawled out of a van at 6:30 a.m., drunk and a little delirious.

Collins braces himself slowly and takes a deep breath of morning air before looking back at his bandmates. The other members of the punk foursome the Stockyards are still in the van, their journey home not yet complete.

“It was an adventure,” says Stockyards bassist Cody Daniels.

From DeKalb to Kalamazoo and back in one day, all in the name of punk rock.


Eighteen hours earlier, Collins is sitting on the hood of his silver Mercury, waiting to take me to Michigan.

Collins is the lead vocalist for DeKalb grunge/punk group the Stockyards, and the band has been invited to play a 20-minute set at a house party four hours away. Naturally, the band jumps at the chance.

“It’s all about the experience,” Collins says.

After stopping at Road Ranger for road trip essentials (Marlboro Lights, soda, white grape-flavored White Owl cigarillos), we wait for the rest of the band.

After a couple minutes of waiting, a low rumbling can be heard in the distance, and an immense black Chevrolet Gulf Stream conversion van comes peeling around the corner.

Cracked windshield and broken speedometer aside, this is our ride for the weekend.

The rest of the band piles out of the Gulf Stream and onto the neatly trimmed suburban lawn in the Knolls, ready to hit the road.

Daniels, Kevin Sawa (drums) and Alex Baldyga (guitar) introduce themselves, and we pack into the van between amps and guitar cases like a game of Tetris.

The five of us, along with special guests Josh Phebus and Dave Gong, get as comfortable as we can, and soon we’re heading east on I-88.

The group dynamic within the Stockyards is interesting. Baldyga, 28, and Sawa, 27, are the oldest and original members of the group. Collins and Daniels, both 22, joined the band in 2010, a year after it was formed.

Even with the age discrepancy, the group has a close-knit, joking air about them. Sawa especially has a deprecating sense of self-awareness about the group.

“We’re not as much as a band as a collection of really s****y friends,” he says. “It’s barely organized chaos.”

The group enjoys doing three things: playing music, drinking and telling stories.

It’s not often that more than a minute or two goes by before someone starts telling a story at one of the band member’s expense. There was the time Collins got left at a gas station in Byron. Or the time Collins got left at a crack house in Bolingbrook. Or the time Sawa met Collins to practice for the first time wearing a pair of bright purple hairstyling gloves.

“I thought they were his drumming gloves,” Collins remembers.

The group continues through Indiana into Michigan, listening to Tom Waits, the Hives, and Iggy Pop and the Stooges’ “Search and Destroy”

“You ever have sex listening to this song?” Collins asks Sawa.

We arrive in Kalamazoo around 4:30 p.m. and immediately search for a bar. The group ends up at Bell’s Café and Inspired Brewing. It’s on the brick patio behind the pub where we sip craft beer and get into the brief history of the Stockyards.

Formed in 2009 by Sawa and Baldyga, the group plays an interesting blend of grunge, punk and noise.

Sawa says he’d like the group to shake its “high-energy” reputation and turn it into something more substantial.

“We hear, ‘You guys don’t sound good, but you have this high energy,'” he says. “We don’t have looks but we have personality.”

Collins says he stuck with the group because of the good reactions the band was getting and hopes the music is making some sort of impact.

“We kept getting positive feedback,” Collins says. “It’s not a positive influence, but it’s an influence.”

Daniels says Collins developed into a leader when the band started performing.

“You could tell he was uncomfortable the first couple shows, but he’s improved so much,” Daniels says. “He’s a great front man.”

The group plans to release Sunshine Smiley Face, its first six-track 7-inch vinyl release, by the end of the year.

The Stockyards recorded seven songs in Sycamore earlier this year and plan on an initial release of 300 copies.

After finishing their beers and a debate over the ugliest humans in history (they decided on Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt), the Stockyards decide it’s time to get a bite to eat.

After dinner in a loft diner perhaps too upscale for a punk band (“This place is too nice to fight in,” Daniels says), the group decides to find somewhere a little dirtier.

The Stockyards take the punk rock image seriously.

“Any time the Stockyards do anything, there’s a chance someone could die,” Daniels says. “I’ve played in bands before, but never anything like this. It’s crazy.”

The group wanders the streets of Kalamazoo for 30 minutes, searching for an appropriately crappy bar. After almost giving up, the group happens upon the Green Top Tavern, a dive bar situated on Michigan Avenue.

After downing Miller High Lifes, Pabst Blue Ribbons and shots of whiskey, the group is ready to go to the show.

Daniels insists even though drinking is part of the Stockyards’ lifestyle, the music is just as important.

“There’s more to us than being alcoholic s***heads,” Daniels says. “We do try to write lyrics that mean something important to us.”

That said, the group leaves the bar, picks up a case of PBR and arrives at the two-story house on Village Street where the Stockyards are set to perform tonight around 8:30 p.m.

Earlier in the day, Sawa told me, “Everywhere we play, it’s always the worst part of town.”

This time is no exception. Inside the house, the floor is sticky, and everything seems generally abused. The dank, smoke-filled basement where the band will play is all concrete and exposed pipes with a low ceiling; the Stockyards wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s cool – we’ve played in much worse places,” Daniels says.

The band carries its equipment down a set of rickety stairs into the basement and stores it in the crawlspace behind the makeshift stage.

We’re greeted by Ian Howell, 18, who is hosting the party. Howell, whose band Inflatable Best Friends is also performing tonight, said he became familiar with the Stockyards’ music after hearing them online. Inflatable Best Friends came to DeKalb to perform at the Stockyards’ request, and now the group is returning the favor.

“I heard them online and was hooked for life,” Howell says. “They’re just really nice guys.”

The group cracks into the case of PBR as they await their performance. Everyone sits around a glass kitchen table, cracking jokes and sipping beer. Still, the mood is somewhat tense. Everyone seems to have a different set of preshow emotions. Daniels is quietly confident and Collins just wants to start already.

“I’m ready to lash out and go crazy,” Collins says.

The most soft-spoken member of the stockyards is Baldyga, who is sitting next to me chain-smoking Winstons.

When I ask him about his pre-show emotions, he gives me a to-the-point, honest response.

Alex Fiore: What do you feel before you play a show?

Alex Baldyga: Feel?

AF: Like, do you get nervous?

AB: I get very nervous, that’s why I smoke so many cigarettes.

AF: How do you combat it besides nicotine?

AB: Jameson.

Just then, it was time for the Stockyards to perform.

We make our way into the basement and the band begins to set up its equipment. Collins unscrews a couple light bulbs to create the right atmosphere, and the band is soon ready to perform its short set.

Before the show, Collins lets the crowd of about 12 people know how far the band came to perform for them.

“We drove four hours for 20 minutes for this. So I hope you feel something tonight.”

Just like that, the Stockyards rip into its first song, “What I Could’ve Been,” a loud rocker that fills the dark basement with screeches and screams.

The Stockyards’ music reminds me of blackened sludge slowly dripping down a drainpipe. The sound is thick, viscous and dirty.

Collins is in continuous motion, entering the somewhat disinterested crowd and returning to the stage with guttural screams. Baldyga keeps his head low and cigarette lit in mouth while hammering on his guitar, and Daniels plucks away at his bass. Sawa backs it all up with drum fills and heavy double bass.

The band rips through songs like “Punx is Dead,” “Hybrid Moments” and “No Coast” before taking a short break to inform the crowd of its hometown.

“We’re from DeKalb, Illinois,” Collins says. “You should come there sometime. It’s horrible. But there’s cheap beer and young women.”

The Stockyards immediately begin playing “Wasted in DeKalb,” a song penned by Collins after a particulary wild night around Seventh Street.

The Stockyards only have time for eight songs before its timeslot is over, and then the group packs up the gear.

After the show, the members of the Stockyards have mixed feelings about how the show went.

“We’ve had better, and we’ve had worse,” Daniels says. “It would have been nice to have more people there.”

The small crowd did appear somewhat apathetic, but Daniels says he had a good time.

“It was fun,” he says. “We just love playing, and we wish we could get our music out to more people.”

After the show, Daniels has some thoughts on the future of the band.

“This band has accomplished so much more in the year I’ve been playing with them than in years prior with other bands,” he says. “We don’t want to be rock stars, but we want to play shows regularly and develop a following.”

Daniels says he appreciates the band’s fans and the opportunity to perform for the first time outside of Illinois.

“The first time people sang our lyrics, the feeling was indescribable,” he says. “I feel like we have something to say…I feel like we can reach people.”

With the second case of PBR already open, it’s time for the after party.

About 75 to 100 people mill around the house, each exhibiting a varying level of drunkenness.

The party is going strong until around 3 a.m., when a pipe bursts and the basement begins flooding. The Stockyards decide it’s time to return to DeKalb, and everyone piles into the van once again.

For the duration of the ride, we sit and contemplate the trip.

“We’re not as much as a band as a collection of really s****y friends,” Sawa told me earlier in the day.

He’s only half-right.

The Stockyards are certainly not the greatest band in the world, and I think even its members would agree with me on that. But the members of the Stockyards are great friends, and playing music with friends is what makes being in the car for eight hours to play for 20 minutes worth it.

No one says much as we pull into DeKalb around 6:30 a.m. Bob Dylan is softly crooning “Desolation Row” in the background and moon is almost hidden and the stars are beginning to hide.

That’s punk rock.