Punk-rock act resets as a three-piece for poppy new EP, 'Pull the Plug'

It seemed like a great idea in the beginning. Jimmy Cassell, Darby Antle and Bethany Myers all fronted their own bands, and in 2013 they decided to combine their songwriting talents in one band, the Scratches. That way, the songwriters could combine their influences to create their own brand of '90s-inspired pop-punk.

At first it was easy. But then the other bands faded away, and the Scratches became the sole outlet for three opinionated songwriters. With raised stakes, the creative clashes began. About a year after the Scratches' 2014 debut, Bite Me, Myers left the band. While writing and recording the follow-up, 2016's Sold Out, guitarist Cassell and bassist Antle brought in another guitarist, Chase Duncan. But soon after the release of Sold Out, the Scratches lost not only Duncan but also the band's original drummer, Matt Jensen.

“We were thinking maybe the band is done for,” Antle said, seated next to Cassell on a recent morning at a Clintonville coffee shop.

The stress of making Sold Out, which was crowdfunded and perpetually delayed due to recording issues, took its toll on the band. “We never said, ‘Let's quit,' but that was definitely the next step if we couldn't find a drummer,” Cassell said.

Enter Big Nick Carter. “He might be the best drummer I've ever played with,” Antle said. “And he can sing. We like doing harmonies, and he can do a lot of the harmonies that are missing.”

“Nick saved the band,” Cassell said. “For the first time in a long time, there are songs where we're at practice and someone plays something, and 10 minutes later we wrote a song around it. At the same time, ‘Pull the Plug' is a song Darby wrote beginning to end and brought to practice, and there's no ego or anything that says, ‘Oh, you can't bring a finished song.' … There are times in the past when neither of those things would have been possible.”

“Pull the Plug” eventually became the title track of the trio's new EP, which the Scratches will release on Friday, Aug. 3, coinciding with a release show at Big Room Bar. Ironically, Antle wrote the song about quitting music.

“For a while we hadn't been playing, and things seemed down,” Antle said, noting that he's in a different headspace now, but that the idea of giving up is universal. “I think it's something people can relate to. Everyone has that day in the week where you're like, ‘Screw it all.'”

The catchy, upbeat “Pull the Plug” doesn't sound dour, though, even if the subject matter is bleak. Cassell took a similar approach with “It's All Right,” which he wrote in the midst of a burnout.

“If you listen casually you're like, ‘Oh, this is a happy song.' But if you read the rest of the lyrics it's like, ‘Oh, he's bummed out.' I like that contrast. I love when a song is a very poppy, happy-sounding song, but the lyrics aren't necessarily happy,” Cassell said. “It's about how you can be miserable every day but you don't show it. You pretend like everything is OK and act like it's OK. It's very similar to ‘Pull the Plug,' just about getting burned out on things but trying to put on a brave face.”

“It's like ‘Pull the Plug' with a little hope,” Antle said.