HomeInterviewsHappy Mondays Interview Series: Tug of War Machine

Happy Mondays Interview Series: Tug of War Machine

Photo Courtesy of Tug of War Machine

When we think of the musical scene of Asbury Park our minds likely the horn section fueled rock ‘n’ roll of Bruce and Southside, or if you’re way younger you think of the current wave of synth and surf indie rock that reverbs off the walls of local venues.

Yet, for decades it’s been the power of punk rock that has fueled the engine of Asbury’s music scene. From the famed photos of The Clash walking down the boardwalk, the Asbury anthems created by The Bouncing Souls, to the memories for us old heads of the Warped Tour taking over the city — punk has been vital to this scene.

Tonight, Tug of War Machine performs at Happy Mondays at The Wonder Bar along with Scotland’s Billy Liar, Milk St. and Doug Zambon from The Vansaders. Punk will be alive and well in Wonder Bar, for sure. We sat down with Josh Barnhard of Tug of War Machine to reminisce about the bygone days of Drive Thru Records, playing at a Devil’s game, opening for Marky Ramone and more.

The Tug War of Machine are (Band Members & Instruments They Play): Steve Ambro: drums, Josh Barnhard: Guitar/vox, Mike Christie JR: Bass/Backup vox, Chris Moreno: Lead Guitar/backup vox

Year We Formed: 2017

We’re Based Out of: Central NJ Shore

The Story Behind Our Band Name: After Josh’s former band “Carpet Ride” went on indefinite hiatus, the project that would continue releasing a laundry list of songs written for that former band would then be released under the new moniker “tug of war machine.” TOWM has always meant the tug of war complex between recreation and adhering to life demands or having to make choices between one thing or another that will ultimately impact your future. When we play music we are having fun, and many would say life isn’t all about having fun. But tug of war machine is. We also love dogs. My dog is the self-proclaimed “tug of war machine” but I’m sure there are many out there that fit the criteria.

Our Sound Has Been Likened To: Millencolin, Blink 182, Say Anything, Reggie & the Full Effect, Sum-41, Citizen, The Front Bottoms, The Bloodhound Gang, New Found Glory, Finch, Homegrown and anything from the early ’00s Drive Thru Records era.

You’ve Seen Us in Other Bands Such As: Carpet Ride, Brass, Zealous, The Healthy Snacks, Roderik, Divide & Conquer, Dread.

Famous/Awesome Bands We’ve Shared the Stage With: Sum-41, Metro Station, Simple Plan, Rise Against, Living with Lions/Assuming We Survive, The Queers, Dwarves, Marky Ramone, Killswitch Engage and AFI.

In January you performed at the Prudential Center concourse during intermission during a New Jersey Devils game. How did this come together, and can you talk about the experience of playing this show?

We are all pretty big hockey fans and got in touch with a New Jersey Devils rep to perform during the 1st intermission of the Devils vs. the Las Vegas Golden Knights hame. It was very different than other gigs we have played but the experience was extraordinary. Being on the entertainment side of The Prudential Center was a rad experience because we’re not only able to connect our music with an audience that would otherwise never hear about us, but also, spectating the game was super intense. It went into overtime and eventually resulted in a Devil’s victory. We partied accordingly throughout the entire night with fans, family and friends and we take full responsibility for that victory (laughs).

In December you were part of the Marky Ramone Christmas show. Naturally a bunch of questions. First, what’s your definitive favorite Christmas song? Which Christmas song is your favorite to cover? And having a major punk influence, how did it feel playing on a show thrown by a Ramone.

We have always been a fan of Christmas music and the vibe of that particular season. More specifically I love “The Little Drummer Boy.” We have never covered a Christmas song but we have discussed it & wont rule it out for the future, however, during the holiday season we actively perform our own Christmas single “Emo Christmas”. Every year we put together a Christmas show with our favorite local artists and a special guest headliner. We had Reggie & the Full Effect booked for the holiday show right before the pandemic. Since then we have headlined it ourselves and we always have a blast!

In 2023 we got the opportunity to be direct support for Marky Ramones’ Punk Rock holiday Blitzkrieg (we were chosen as the only opening act)s o we ditched the Emo Christmas idea for the year and instead went full force on promoting this once in a lifetime event. Our stage presence is interactive and electrifying but our banter can be pretty immature in accordance to having an appeal to a younger audience. This was the first show that was nerve-racking when you look out and have to navigate/entertain people age 7-70. Literally there was a mix of kids, super young – college -middle aged, all the way up to seasoned vets of punk rock. We did our thing and the feedback was amazing.

We felt like celebrities taking photos with fans + signing autographs after the set. We had a crowd around our merch table the entire night. For TUG, this was historically one of the best nights of our lives being able to share the stage with an absolute icon/legend who pioneered a style of music that ultimately created bands that inspired us through our lives & likely led to our bands very existence. We also gained a confidence by proving to ourselves that we can appeal to a wide age range of audience. All around fulfilling! We’re forever indebted to Marky and his team for allowing us to provide the party-starting entertainment at his holiday blitzkrieg and would do it over again in a heartbeat.

Is there any new music on the horizon in 2024?

We have been soaking up the fruits of our extensive discography and just released a Taylor Swift cover(The One) as well as a 3 song EP titled iOUtopia this year. We are in no hurry to hit the studio as of right now since we have been actively writing and bouncing ideas of what will be our next set of anthems. Definitely looking to have new tunes set for 2025!

How important is it for a show like Happy Mondays to exist in Asbury Park, especially when so many original venues are dwindling in the scene?

We work hard but we consider ourselves very lucky. Being a completely DIY band with no label or management backing us or force-feeding our art to the masses it hasn’t always been easy to get gigs. We give off a very joke-ish funloving aura almost that of a circus side show yet we take it very serious behind the scenes. Many venues are owned or run by big companies we have no affiliation with. We have been granted with so many opportunities despite the adversities that go along with getting a band off the ground. We are always appreciative of the opportunity to perform our music no matter where it may be and the Wonder Bar is known to showcase artists just like us who have something epic to offer but might not have the connections. It’s one thing to play Happy Monday but being able to line up a Happy Monday gig with Billy Liar, a touring hybrid band from Scotland we have fortunately become familiar with thanks to our friends merch company (Stupid Rad) is just another example of how lucky we are.

For those who’ve never seen Tug of War Machine before — what can they expect from your live show?

It’s a good time! Borderline obnoxious? Maybe. We are all individuals in this band and each one of us has an interesting presence on stage. You might hear a terrible off the cuff joke as well! Other than that we really like to make loud noises that sound like songs and engage with as many people as possible!

Outside of Happy Mondays — any other shows on the horizon?

We are always seeking or on the lookout for compatible opportunities for this band. We don’t play out often but when we do we make it a priority! As of right now, we are in talks about a few different possible summer events that we would love to be a part of but primarily we will be back to work writing new music & creating content around the music we already have.

What do you love about being in Tug of War Machine?

It’s a no stress environment. We are all friends first and bandmates second. We aren’t like other bands who strictly play music, we do other things together such as go to AC, try new restaurants, go to concerts, go fishing, hit up expos, meet up for beers, hit the beach or the pool and bbq while soaking up cosmic rays. We get together as much as we can when we can to play music and capitalize on rocking out when the situation calls for it. We all have different opinions, different political views, different lifestyles, and tastes in music which transpires through, creating the heavy and angsty yet sarcastic sounds of Tug of War Machine. We are all about Individuality. Thats what makes us great. That’s what makes everything great. For us, we just like to keep it about having fun until it’s about having astronomical amounts of fun. Thats where we have an unbreakable common ground. Thats what makes this unit superior.

Finally, what’s on the horizon for the band that you’re most excited about?

Currently building a rehearsal/studio space that will be home for future content creating + writing. It’s sure to be grounds for much laughter, fun times memories, and hit songs. Other than that, consistently sharing our art with the world is always exciting. Not many “plans” otherwise per se. We embrace the spontaneity of the opportunities that exist here. It’s like a lottery in most cases. TUG isn’t going anywhere. When you want to do something forever, you don’t make a timeline. You just keep doing it!

Tug of War Machine performs at Happy Mondays at The Wonder Bar with Billy Liar, Milk St. and Doug Zambon of The Vansaders. There is no cover for this event.

Bill Bodkin
Bill Bodkinhttps://thepopbreak.com
Bill Bodkin is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break, and most importantly a husband, and father. Ol' Graybeard writes way too much about wrestling, jam bands, Asbury Park music, HBO shows, and can often be seen under his season DJ alias, DJ Father Christmas. He is the co-host of the Socially Distanced Podcast (w/Al Mannarino) which drops weekly on Apple, Google, Anchor & Spotify. He is the co-host of the monthly podcasts -- Anchored in Asbury, TV Break and Bill vs. The MCU.
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