Wednesday, January 12, 2011

An Interview with Larry Livermore

Having uploaded a bunch of old stuff, I thought I'd kick the new material off with this interview with Lookout! Records founder Larry Livermore. A big thanks to Larry, you can check out his blog at

D: You grew up in the Detroit area and were around the same age as other locals like the people who would form The Stooges and MC5, and Klaus Flouride, who would go on to be in the Dead Kennedys. Did you know of or were you aware of any of them?

L: I never met Klaus Flouride, not even in the Dead Kennedys days, and to be honest, was only vaguely aware that he was from Detroit. However, I grew up about a mile away from the MC5 (most of them, anyway), and first saw them in 1965, when they were still a mod/garage type band and hadn’t yet joined up with the hippies and the revolution. The Stooges were from Ann Arbor, which was about 40 miles away, and didn’t form till 1968, which was when I first saw them.

I also saw a fair bit of the MC5 during the later 60s, since both they and I eventually moved to Ann Arbor. However, I didn’t socialize with most of them; I met Iggy only in passing, and while I later spent some time hanging out with Ron Asheton of The Stooges and Michael Davis of the MC5, it was in the late 70s/early 80s when they were playing in Destroy All Monsters.

D: What was your adolescence like? I read that the Screeching Weasel song “High School Psychopath” was written about a young you.

L: I don’t think I’ve ever heard that rumor before. In fact, I’m not even sure I’m familiar with that song (I know The Queers version, because I worked on it with them when they were recording Move Back Home). Anyway, whether or not Screeching Weasel were singing about me, “psychopath” might not be too harsh a description, though “sociopath” might be more accurate. I spent most of my teenage years hanging out with gangs that grew increasingly vicious and more criminally oriented as I got older. One of my last gangs got broken up when pretty much everyone except me was sent to prison. I drank a lot, got in a fair bit of trouble, and would have gotten in a lot more if I’d been caught for some of the stuff I did, like carrying a gun to school with me almost every day when I was 16 and 17. I guess you could look at me in two ways: as a nasty piece of work, or a poor, misguided kid who needed some serious help. Both would probably be true.

D: When and why did you leave Michigan?

L: My story was much like that of Lily Tomlin, who, asked when she left Detroit, responded, “As soon as I realized where I was.” More specifically, I left in early 1968 because the police were after me.

D: Was there a specific moment when you first felt aligned with the punk scene?

L: Depends which punk scene you mean. If you’re talking about the proto-punk scene of the MC5 and The Stooges, early 70s. If you mean ’77 punk, it would be the time I was bopping down Polk Street in San Francisco with a big boom box playing the Ramones and some girl with a fake English accent called me a poser. Two years later that same girl tried to steal my leather jacket at a party, and called me a poser again when I stopped her. No English accent this time, though; it had gone out of style by then.

D: What were some of the shows you saw during the first wave of punk? Were you at the Sex Pistols Winterland show?

L: Yes, I was at the last Sex Pistols show at Winterland in January of 1978. First two shows I remember seeing [in San Francisco] were the Ramones/Dictators at Winterland and the Nuns/Avengers at the Mabuhay, in August and/or September of 1977.

D: I have read a lot of accounts from the 1980s of police violence against the LA punk scene (or the Los Angeles public in general, for that matter). Was this the case in San Francisco or other cities in the Bay Area?

L: Yeah, I didn’t spend a lot of time in LA, and when I was there I never ran into any trouble with the police, but the cops at that time did have a reputation for being very harsh with people in general, not just punks. To be fair, I think the prevailing ethos of the LA punk scene was more obnoxious and confrontational, so they may have brought some of it on themselves, but once again, I wasn’t there enough to have an informed opinion on the matter.

San Francisco and the Bay Area were very different. Hell, the sheriff of San Francisco County used to come to shows at the Mabuhay. As a fan, not as a cop. Most of the time when there was violence, it was an outgrowth of some sort of political demonstration, like when the punks were protesting at the 1984 Democratic Convention and a whole lot of them got arrested and some got roughed up. The SF cops did beat up a roommate of mine pretty badly when they caught him spray painting, but I think that was mainly because they were mad at him for running away and making them chase him. I just heard from him recently, by the way: he’s a very successful psychotherapist now.

D: I think you have a point, just generalizing as an outsider, people in the San Francisco area seem to be presented as more conscious, mellow, and intellectual than those in the LA area. After that recent B.A.R.T. Cop verdict I thought for sure their would be violence and riots, and there wasn't, meanwhile I read there was a riot at a TSOL show in L.A. the other day.

Switching gears, which came first, The Lookouts, Lookout Records, or the Lookout fanzine?

L: Well, it’s a bit of a gray area. My usual answer is Lookout magazine, but if you want to get really technical about it, the first few issues of Lookout (which started in October 1984) had different names, first the Iron Peak Lookout (named after the nearby fire lookout tower atop the nearest mountain) and then Mendocino Mountain Lookout. It didn’t become simply the Lookout (and primarily a punk zine) until summer of 1985, by which time The Lookouts were already in existence, too (I think our first practice was in February of that year). Lookout Records didn’t really get started until 1987.

D: Speaking of zines, do you ever re-read your old MRR columns?

L: Not too often. I don’t even have a lot of them. Occasionally I dig some of them up and contemplate posting them on my blog, but usually end up deciding they’re too retarded or would need too much rewriting or both.

D: In the internet age, do you think the current incarnation of MRR is relevant?

L: As long as there are people who are interested in publishing it and reading it, I’m sure it is. Obviously it doesn’t play the central and crucial role it once did, when it was the single most important media outlet on the punk rock scene, but at the same time, I wonder why you refer to it as “the current incarnation,” since as far as I know it’s been publishing without interruption since 1982 and therefore would seem to have had only one incarnation. I should say that I’m very impressed that it’s managed to keep going as reliably as ever for all these years since Tim Yohannan died, because I honestly didn’t expect it to survive without him. I think it’s a real tribute to his memory and to his organizational skills that people were able to step in and carry on the tradition while barely missing a beat.

D: I guess I'm referring to it as "it's current incarnation" because it's role seems so detached from what it once was, and what it's history has made it out to be. I hadn't read an issue (other than .pdf files of ones from the late 80s/early 90s) until this summer when one of my roommates brought home a bunch of them that they were gonna throw out at the record store he worked at. I found the newer issues to be good reads, but having grown up with the internet and sites like or message boards, I didn't see the need to subscribe.

Were you in bands prior to The Lookouts?

L: Not really. It took a couple years and several different members before The Lookouts finally got off the ground, but they were my first real band.

D: Before I ask about some of the more popular bands, when people reflect on the label’s legacy, what bands do you feel get overshadowed?

L: Oh, lots, but a couple of my favorites were Brent’s TV and Nuisance. Brent’s TV were different enough (semi-acoustic, a bit folky) that you might not expect them to have great success with the punk or alternative crowd, but to me Nuisance were in the same league as Nirvana, albeit more original, so I genuinely did expect them to be more successful than they were. On the other hand, Nirvana might not have done that well on Lookout, either, because they appealed to a somewhat different audience. I mean, there was some overlap, but they weren’t really a part of our scene. Maybe Nuisance should have been on Sub Pop instead.

Also, this might sound self-serving, but I kind of feel like The Lookouts got lost in the shuffle, partly because we put out such an awful first record that many people never bothered checking us out again after we got better, and partly because we broke up just before the CD era, so our releases were only on vinyl and cassette and were long out of print by the time Lookout started getting so much attention in the wake of Green Day and Op Ivy’s success.

D: To me the three bands that best represent your time with Lookout are Operation Ivy during the early years, Green Day with the two albums they released, and finally Screeching Weasel, when they released all those classic albums in the early to mid-90s. Could you talk about each of those bands and your relationships with them, from first hearing them, to being their label boss, to them leaving or disbanding?

L: I might put The Queers in there, too, but as for the three you mention: Operation Ivy were the first, with their 7” coming out as one of Lookout’s earliest releases. I already knew Tim/Lint before Op Ivy formed, and the first time I saw them at Gilman, which was late August or early September 1987, I immediately said, “Let’s make a record.” It might have been slightly premature – they’d only been a band for three or four months – but by the time they recorded in November, they were more than ready, and it was nothing but onward and upward from there.

It was a little more than year later when I first saw Green Day, sometime in the fall of 1988, and they were an even newer band than Op Ivy had been, but the same thing happened: I instantly asked them to make a record. This “show” was meant to be a high school party that Tre (who was still in The Lookouts at that time) had set up, but because of bad weather only five kids showed up, yet Green Day (I should say Sweet Children; they didn’t change their name until March of 1989) put one of the best shows I’d ever seen. Their first 7” came out in April of 1989, and while it didn’t catch on quite as fast as Operation Ivy, probably because they were too “poppy” for some of the “punks,” again it was nothing but onward and upward from then on.

Larry backed by Tre Cool, while in The Lookouts
Screeching Weasel, I first saw when they came out to California in 1988 to play at Gilman with Operation Ivy. They were staying with Matt and Lint, which was where I first met Ben Weasel, though his reputation had preceded him thanks to his controversial (and hilarious) scene reports in MRR. Even then he had already made a lot of enemies, but most of us at MRR (I was working on the magazine and, I think, living at the MRR house at the time) were fans. I offered to put out his record, too, but he already had set up a deal with a new Chicago label that he was involved with. I guess that didn’t work out too well, and the band broke up. Then for the next year or two, Ben and I talked a lot on the phone. He wanted to start a new band and wanted me to put out the record, but I insisted that he put Screeching Weasel back together and that then I would put out the record. He finally agreed, the new version of Screeching Weasel came out to San Francisco to record My Brain Hurts, and the rest is history.

It’s funny that you refer to me as “their label boss,” because I didn’t do much bossing with any of those bands. All three of them were remarkably self-contained and pretty much did things exactly as they wanted to. That was especially true of Operation Ivy and Green Day; for example, I only dropped in very briefly during the Op Ivy recording sessions, and never even set foot in the studio when Green Day were recording. I had a bit more input with Screeching Weasel, mostly because they, especially Ben, asked for it, but when it came to deciding on songs, arrangements, artwork, all that sort of thing, it was all decided long by them long before they got near the studio. I was there for the entire recording of My Brain Hurts, and was ostensibly the “producer,” but apart from offering a few suggestions, the main one of which, to take a little longer recording, was rejected as being “too expensive,” I was mainly a cheerleader. It was very impressive watching the band work. They had every song totally figured out in advance, and just whipped through the 14 songs on the album and another three they were doing for a compilation in no time flat.

Operation Ivy broke up just as their one and only album was coming out, and who knows what might have happened with them if they’d stuck together; the album still managed to sell in the neighborhood of a million copies even though the band no longer existed. Green Day, well, everybody knows what happened to them: they got bigger and bigger and then they signed to Warner/Reprise and got super-mega-colossal, which for a while had a similar effect on Lookout.

The story of Screeching Weasel didn’t turn out so happily; while they never reached the levels of Op Ivy or Green Day in terms of fame and sales, they were doing very, very well, but the better they did, the more convinced Ben became that they should be doing even better and that somehow Lookout was standing in the way of that success. Things got worse, much worse, when he became convinced that not only were we doing a poor job of marketing his band, but also that we were somehow cheating him out of part of his money. That in turn degenerated into name-calling, accusations, and a lawsuit, and the band left the label on less than the best of terms, a process that has now been repeated with several other labels. It’s always been my contention that if Ben had devoted even half the energy to writing and performing that he did to fighting and stressing over money, he would have been far more successful, but at least it seems in recent years that he’s finally found a formula for playing shows and making money on his own terms, so perhaps all’s well that ends well?

D: In the years following Operation Ivy, Rancid put out their first EP on Lookout. Was releasing their full lengths ever discussed?

L: It was not discussed per se, which was probably my fault; in those days, it was generally assumed that if you put out a 7” on Lookout and it did reasonably well, you could expect to put out your albums there as well. We rarely dropped bands, and if we did, it was usually for obnoxious or dishonest behavior, not for blatantly commercial reasons.

However, what I wasn’t aware of was that Rancid wanted to be courted and wooed, which Brett Gurewitz had been doing, and which I hadn’t. To be fair, Brett and Tim had also struck up a friendship that wasn’t purely related to the record business, and also to be fair, I wasn’t originally as big a fan of Rancid as I would become later, so it’s understandable that going with Epitaph seemed like a logical progression to them. I was a bit upset at the time, which I didn’t have a right to be, since, as I said, I hadn’t actively pursued keeping them on the label. But again, all’s well that ends well! And I should add that Rancid have had a very long, productive and happy relationship with Epitaph.

D: You produced some of The Queers and Screeching Weasel releases that Lookout did. How would you rate yourself as a producer, and is that role something you’d ever consider doing again?

L: As I already mentioned, my role as Screeching Weasel’s “producer” was minimal, especially on My Brain Hurts. I actually had more input into Anthem For A New Tomorrow when Ben and I went into Art of Ears to remix it (I wasn’t there for the original recording sessions). And it’s also worth noting that I don’t know how to run a board (i.e., engineer); all my production work has been in the theoretical realm, where I give suggestions on how to get the best sound or what harmonies might work well on the choruses, or in some cases, restructuring the song in one way or another. In any case, I would still be dependent on having a good engineer capable of translating my ideas into tangible recordings. Luckily, I had the opportunity to work with some great ones like Kevin Army, Andy Ernst and Mass Giorgini.

I think the production job I’m proudest of would be The Queers Surf Goddess EP, which I worked on collaboratively with The Queers themselves and Mass Giorgini at Sonic Iguana. I also did the first EP by the Invalids, which was hastily done and sounds a lot like My Brain Hurts in terms of both its faults and virtues, but was what I’m pretty sure the band wanted, and an album by the band Scherzo, the latter being slightly more emo (early 90s version, not the modern one) than I was used to working with. It didn’t get heard by a lot of people, but I thought it turned out pretty well. In answer to your question about how I would rate myself as a producer, I’d say that I had and still have a lot to learn, but that I seemed to have a certain natural ability at it. Would I try it again? Yes, I think so, but only with bands that I was especially fond of and only with certain engineers. And by certain, I probably mean Mass Giorgini.

D: Were you aware of Howard Stern talking about seeing and meeting Pansy Division on his radio show? It was from when they did that first big tour with Green Day, and Stern mentioned that he wanted to have Pansy Division come on the show. Was there any attempt at the label to get them on as guests?

L: That story sounds vaguely familiar, but I was never a Stern fan or listener, so no, I wasn’t really aware of it, and I definitely didn’t make any effort to get Pansy Division onto his show. If anything like that did happen, it would have been after I left the label. Some people might say that one of my weaknesses as a label head was that I lacked the initiative or ability to help bands break through into mainstream channels of this sort, and those people might have a point. On the other hand, I always felt that one of the distinguishing characteristics of Lookout was that we were able to get bands heard and sell a lot of records without having to play the promotional games that most labels do.

D: Something that I noticed about Green Day is that they would originally have independent label punk bands go on tour with them, like Pansy Division, the Riverdales, and the Smoking Popes. Now, when it seems like they could have even more sway over who they want opening for them, it’s usually another major label rock band. Is that a reflection of their own changing tastes, something the label orchestrates, or what?

L: I actually asked one of their managers about this not too long ago, because I was curious myself, since I know that the guys in the band still like many of the same small, independent bands that I do. And the explanation I was given makes sense, though it’s not what I would have expected: it seems that in order to tour at the level that Green Day does, even as an opening act, a band has to have either the kind of label support or money of their own that most small, indie bands just don’t have. The reason is that it’s actually quite expensive to tour at that level, and even though the opening acts are paid what would seem like a lot of money to most of us, it’s still not always enough to cover all the costs, especially when the tour is moving rapidly over a great deal of ground. Or, for example, when you need to keep enough merch in stock to sell at places like Madison Square Garden night after night.

Nobody said anything to me about this, but I also couldn’t help wondering if it had something to do with the way that some indie bands just can’t handle the rigors of a big tour, like, for example, when the Riverdales suddenly dropped off the Green Day European tour and left them scrambling for another opener. Of course there was a reason the Riverdales had to do that – Ben was suffering some serious health-related issues that he’s talked about elsewhere – but that doesn’t help Green Day or their management when they need to make sure there will be an opening band for the next show. The bands that open for Green Day nowadays tend to be well-established enough that you know what you’re getting, even if it’s not always exactly what you want. And – though this is also pure speculation on my part – I imagine there’s a bit of politics involved, too, where opening acts might be represented by the same label or management team. At the same time, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if on some future tour, Green Day changes things up by bringing along some totally unknown new indie band. But I’m not part of the team that makes those decisions, so again, I’m just guessing.
From l-r: Ben Weasel, Jody Sarcastic, Larry Livermore
D: I remember reading something about how bands that are huge now, like The Offspring and AFI, were trying to get on Lookout in their early years. Is this true, and do you still have any of the demo tapes that bands sent you from back in the day?

L: I don’t remember The Offspring trying to get on Lookout, though there was some talk about it around the time Can Of Pork compilation was being put together. I think Chris Appelgren was talking to one of The Offspring guys about getting a track for that comp, and he (Chris) asked me if I thought maybe we should put out the next Offspring album. I said I’d be willing to do it if that’s what the band wanted, and there might have been a little more talk about it, but nothing came of it.

AFI, on the other hand definitely wanted to be on Lookout. Andy Ernst, who had recorded the tape that would become their first album, gave me a copy, told me he thought it was really good, and asked me to give AFI a chance. I listened to it and decided I’d be willing to put the record out, but when I talked to the other people at Lookout, nobody else wanted to do it. Being the boss and main owner, I could have insisted that we do it anyway, and I probably should have, but this was getting toward the time where I was beginning to lose interest in the way the label was going, and I just didn’t push hard enough for it. No, I didn’t save anything in the way of demo tapes. I’m not much of a collector.

D: Why did you sell your share in Lookout, and why then move to London?

L: First, and I always have to explain this, and most people don’t seem to get it anyway, I didn’t “sell” my share of Lookout. The only money that I took when I left Lookout was my share of the profits that the label had made up until that time. In other words, money that I had already earned, but which I left in the Lookout bank account so that the label would have operating capital. When you sell a business, what you’re selling is basically a) the rights to whatever property it owns, including intellectual property like, for instance, master recordings; and b) what’s called “good will” and/or future prospects, i.e., the reputation that the company has built up and the likelihood that it will continue to make money in the future. I didn’t get any money for either of those things, just, as I said, withdrew my share of the earnings that the label had already accumulated.

If I had actually “sold” the label, I would have walked away with 10 or 20 million dollars, but that would have meant selling it to a major label the way that Sup Pop was. Maybe I’d been reading MRR too long, but I actually believed Lookout was a community resource that needed to continue to belong to the community, and so I was willing to turn it over to people who I thought would continue to run it the same way I had been running it. This turned out to be a big mistake, not so much because I didn’t get the kind of money I could have (though that would have nice), but because the people who took over Lookout ran it into the ground. As I noted earlier, MRR successfully made the transition from its first owner into a community-run magazine, but maybe the difference between MRR and Lookout was that there weren’t millions of dollars involved.

As for why I left, well, I had been feeling burnt out for a couple years already, and I began to lose – or, more accurately – give up control of too much of the label to other people that worked there. The understandable result was that they started running things the way they thought they should be run, which turned out to be quite different from how I thought they should be. But instead of staying there and fighting to reassert my own sense of direction, I started plotting my escape. The final straw came when the whole lawsuit thing blew up with Screeching Weasel and it turned out that one of my partners wanted to take the Weasel side instead of sticking to our guns. At that point, Lookout as it then existed was coming apart no matter what; it was merely a question of which partners would be going and which would be staying. I turned out to be one of those that went.

D: What was the punk scene like in the UK during the late 90s/early 2000s?

L: There were still the faded remnants of old bands from the 70s and 80s playing revival shows and whatnot, but as far as the bands I knew and hung out with, it was very tiny and obscure. There’d be a show once every month or two, and most of the time we’d be excited if more than 20 or 30 people turned up. Not that much different from what was going on with the New York pop-punk bands that were just starting up around that time.

D: When you moved to New York, were you aware of what was going on there in terms of bands like The Ergs! or The Steinways? Were they even around when you first moved there?

L: Yes, I was very aware of what was going on there, and I think it even played a part in my decision to move to New York. I first started seeing The Steinways and The Unlovables and Dirt Bike Annie, and also a few of the out-of-town bands, like The Copyrights, before I moved there. I was very excited about the energy that was kicking up around them.

D: How would you compare the scene you’re involved with now to the one you were involved with at Lookout?

L: Well, it seems to have lost a little of its steam. When I first got to New York (I’d been visiting regularly for several years already), it looked as though everything was about to kick off, and in many ways it reminded me of the early days at Gilman, say around 1987 or so. The only difference was that we didn’t have a Gilman, but to a certain extent I felt that lack was made up for by something that the East Bay scene didn’t have: instant connectivity with like-minded people all over the world via institutions like the Pop Punk Message Board. Just as bands had been formed, shows had been set up, relationships entered into and broken up inside and on the sidewalks in front of Gilman, similar things were happening on the PPMB, culminating in the first couple of Insubordination Fests in Baltimore, which were as much like the old Gilman Street days as anything I had experienced since.

However, in the last couple years, bands have been breaking up faster than they’ve been forming, many people have grown disillusioned and/or succumbed to early-onset middle age (i.e., reached their 30s), and a whole bunch of other, more commercially-oriented fests have sprung up that, while they feature many of the same bands that play at Insub, lack much of the spirit. So I’m feeling slightly discouraged, but only slightly, because heaven knows I’ve been around long enough to be aware that things come and go, and that if we’re in a lull now, there’ll be another time when the excitement will come rushing back. And also, to be fair, even now there are probably other places in America or not even in America at all where great stuff is happening and I just haven’t found about it yet. That’s the way it’s always been, and I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t continue to be.

D: I feel like here in New England a nice little niche has been made of all these kids in their teens and 20s who live in cities outside of Boston, and are in bands, punkhouses, labels, zines, etc. putting out shows and albums of quality that didn't really exist a few years ago. I was also under the impression that a similar thing was sort of in swing out in the Midwest around Illinois/Indiana/Ohio.

If you had continued running a label, what bands would you have signed between moving back to America and now?

L: Let’s amend that to “What bands would I have tried to sign?” Even in Lookout’s heyday, not every band wanted to be on our label. For example, it took me years and several albums before I was finally able to land The Mr. T Experience. But assuming they’d want to work with me, here are some of the bands that would have been on Livermore Records: The Steinways, The Unlovables, The Ergs!, The Max Levine Ensemble, Delay, The Copyrights, Dear Landlord, The Leftovers, The Dopamines, Be My Doppelganger. I’m sure I’m leaving a bunch of great bands out, but those are the first that come to mind.

D: Would you ever start up a new record label?

L: Probably not. I might be willing to work A&R with an existing label.

D: What current labels are you a fan of?

L: Probably a lot of the ones currently working with the bands I named above. Obviously labels are not quite as crucial as they once were, at least not to me, because pretty much all my music now comes in digital download form. But I have to pay my respect to, for example, Whoa Oh Records, who kept things alive back earlier in the 2000s when it seemed like almost nobody cared, and It’s Alive Records out in California seems to be doing great stuff. Also, a shout-out is in order to my friend Joe Steinhardt’s Don Giovanni Records, which seems like one of the best-run labels around these days, even though, to be perfectly honest, I’m not a huge fan of all the bands they feature.

D: Do you know anything about Lookout’s current state? Will they ever release another album or are they strictly a back catalog?

L: I know they owe a lot of money to a lot of people and don’t seem to be making any progress – or maybe even any attempt – to pay it back. Until they do, it’s hard to imagine them starting to release new records again. It seems like if they did, all their creditors would immediately go after them for a share of the proceeds.

D: You recently did some shows with your old band, the Potatomen. Do you still write songs, and would you record new material with them or other projects?

L: Just the one show so far, though I’d like to do a few more. I really enjoyed it, and it seemed like the crowd did, too. As for writing new songs, well, believe it or not, I’ve been working on the same handful of songs that are almost but not quite finished since the Potatomen stopped playing regularly at the end of the 90s. Seriously; some of them are only missing a few lines out of the lyrics, and I’ve been kicking them around in my head for 10 years or more. However, on the plus side, I’ve lately been playing a lot more guitar and I’ve filled in a few of the blanks. I actually think most of the incomplete songs will be finished this spring and I can finally start on some new ones. Also, we played one song (“Toytown”) at our New York show that had never been released before, and we’ve got a couple others that have not only never been released but have never been played live, though we did demos of them. As soon as someone offers us a show, preferably on the West Coast, especially at Gilman, we’ll be there.

D: As one of the seemingly few people in the their 60s still going to shows, how many people within the punk scene who are now in their teens, 20s, or 30s do you think will stay involved as they reach middle age and beyond?

L: That does seem a little weird when you put it that way, “in their 60s,” but yeah, it’s true. You know, I don’t think it’s fair to measure people’s involvement by a single standard. For example, one reason I’m free to go to a lot of shows, even when it involves traveling some distance, is that I never married or had a family. Obviously things would be different if I had a wife and/or kids waiting at home for me, or if I had some sort of job where I had to be there every day for 50 weeks out of the year. The fact that for the majority of people, that’s what reality looks like doesn’t mean they’ve necessarily lost interest in punk rock music or the punk rock scene, it just means that new priorities have developed in their lives. I don’t think anyone would seriously suggest that a man or woman of any age should neglect their family responsibilities or their personal lives in order to maintain a presence on some nebulous sort of “scene.”

At the same time, I definitely miss seeing many of the people who are no longer able to come out to shows on weeknights or have to visit the in-laws or take the kids to their school play on weekends, but hey, life goes on. Maybe they’ll be back when the kids are grown up, maybe I won’t be around anymore by the time they do. Being part of “the scene” is not like joining the army or a religious cult; it’s something you do because it brings satisfaction and excitement into your life. Most people, given the normal course of events, will eventually find other, non-music-related things that will bring similar or even greater satisfaction and excitement into their lives. But if and when the music is outstanding enough, I expect they’ll still be around. It’s important to remember that they don’t owe their lives to music or “the scene” any more than music or the scene owes any responsibility to them.

D: Something that I’ve noticed about you is that you champion having a sober lifestyle. In some of your writings you describe your earlier lifestyle as seemingly one of heavy psychedelic use, like the piece about going to the original Woodstock Festival. And in Ben Weasel's book, to me he made you out to be a pothead. If it’s not too personal, I was wondering if you could talk about your sobriety and what brought it on.

L: A couple of corrections: first off, I don’t “champion” any sort of lifestyle. Second, I’d like to think of myself as having a life, not a style.

It’s true that I do talk about my experiences with drugs and alcohol, and about the fact that I no longer use either, but not because I’m promoting some kind of program of abstinence for others. My only reasons for talking about this are a) people often ask me questions about my life and seem genuinely curious about it; and b) there’s always the possibility that some of my experiences will be useful to someone who is going through some of the same problems I did.

That being said, I did use a lot of drugs when I was younger, and not just psychedelics or pot, either. It’s worth noting, though, that by the time Ben Weasel met me, I had long since given up psychedelics and all but given up pot. If indeed he was making me out to be a pothead in his book, I’d have to guess it was because he didn’t have that much firsthand experience with real potheads and just assumed that marijuana was the explanation for my seeming a little unusual to him (trust me, there are a lot of reasons why that would be, and one of them was simply that even normal Californians seemed a little weird to people who grew up in the Midwest, and I was definitely not a normal Californian).

In my own case – and this is just speaking for me, not for anyone else – the drugs kind of wore out their welcome on their own, and eventually they were messing up my life more than they were enhancing it, so I gradually quit them – though not without doing a lot of damage first. But with booze it was different: I started out drinking heavily when I was a teenager, tapered off a bit when I discovered drugs, then returned to drinking, and even though by the time I was in my 20s I realized there was nothing particularly cool or desirable about alcohol, I kept on drinking, long after I could see that it was doing serious damage to me.

So I didn’t quit drinking because of some moral crusade or because I thought it was what people “should” do, but because I had to. It was literally killing me. I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t be alive today if I hadn’t stopped drinking when I did (2001). Now the thing is that among my friends, there are almost certainly people who are having the kinds of problems with alcohol that I was having. But at the same time, there are many people who drink, maybe even get drunk once in a while, but don’t have those problems. Drinking is just something they do now and then, that they can take or leave whenever they want.

The trouble is that I have no way of knowing for sure which is which, which friend desperately needs to stop drinking or else will die, and which friend can go on drinking the rest of his or her life without anything especially bad ever happening.

So I’m in no position to preach or to tell people what they should do. If they want my advice, they can ask for it. Otherwise, I’m just talking about my own experience, strength and hope, and they’re welcome to take from it anything they find useful and to ignore the rest. As I’ve said elsewhere, my life is great now and I’m happy to be a non-drinking, non-drugging writer, musician and occasional punk rocker. I don’t advocate any of that as a life or a lifestyle for anyone else, but it works for me.

Dead Tree Reader

So I've just put together my first zine, consisting of six articles/interviews that I wrote last year. It's 88 pages long and the content has been slightly modified from what appears on here to make for better quality. If you would like a copy leave your email address in the comment section and I'll get in contact with you, it'll probably cost around a dollar or so due to shipping and printing costs.

The Last of The Methadones: An Interview with Dan Vapid

(originally from June 5, 2010)

Recently I had the chance to interview the legendary Dan Vapid for this year’s Insubordination Fest Zine. While he has had a lengthy career with numerous bands, I decided to focus the questions on his band The Methadones as he broke the news to me that Insub Fest would be one of The Methadones final shows before breaking up. Look for a print version of this to appear in a few weeks in the Insub Fest Zine, and a big thanks to Dan for participating in this.

Dave: So The Methadones have decided to break up, what lead you guys to this decision?

Dan: Lots of reasons but mostly I think the band has run it's course. The Methadones have played consistently for 10 years, which is more than any band/project I've been a part of. We had our share of problems but were always intent on working past them. For the last 5 years every member has gone through a period of giving a shit and not giving a shit, all at different times. It got to the point where I felt like we were just going through the motions and forcing it.

Dave: Will Insub Fest be your last show?

Dan: Our last show will be in Chicago sometime at the end of the year.

Dave: Can we talk about the very start of the band? Most people don't know that you initially formed in the early 90s and quickly disbanded. What happened in that brief time period of formation and initial break up?

Dan: The Methadones formed in 1993 as a side band. I was playing in Screeching Weasel and was writing songs that I felt didn't fit Screeching Weasel and wanted an outlet for them. Due to previous commitments and not being able to solidify a line-up The Methadones broke up.

Dave: Was the first line up the same that would later play on the first album, you, B-Face, and Dan Lumley?

Dan: No, the first line-up had Pete Mittler (our current bass player) on guitar, Pat Buckley (ex-Vindictives) on drums, and a bunch of unknowns that came and went. Dan Panic played with us for a brief period as well.

Dave: When you resurrected The Methadones in 1999 did you pick up where you left off in terms of whatever material you had, or did you start from scratch?

Dan: Started from scratch. All the songs that were originally Methadones songs became Riverdales and Mopes songs. Except for a track called "Revitalized" which is on Career Objective.

Dave: Which Riverdales and Mopes songs originated as Methadones songs?

Dan: "Back To You", "Outta Site", "Make Way", "My Heart Won't Bleed For You", and "The World Don't Revolve Around You".

Dave: Why did the rest of the band leave after the first album?

Dan: I was living in Alexandria, Virginia at the time and was trying to get something together. I was writing songs and wanted an outlet for them. I didn't know anybody in the DC area so I asked Dan Lumley and B-face if they would be interested. They had just done The Mopes with me. The material I was writing didn't fit The Mopes, it was darker and I wanted to go in a different direction. I asked if they wanted to make a record with me under the name The Methadones, and they agreed. Since Lumley lived in Indiana and B-face in Boston it made them becoming full time members impossible. Not long after that recording I moved back to Chicago determined to make The Methadones work.

Dave: That album was released on A-F Records, which seems like an odd pairing considering most of the bands on their roster are more political and hardcore based. How did this come about and why did you only put out that first album for them?

Dan: It was an odd pairing but it worked out. I was shopping the record around at the time and nobody was biting. Mass Giorgini from Sonic Iguana Studios had played the recording for Anti-Flag and they liked it and wanted to release it.

Dave: Speaking of labels what happened with Thick Records? Did you ever end up getting paid by them for the releases you did?

Dan: Nope. No statements, no royalties, nothing. Zak Einstein moved to Los Angeles and nobody can get a hold of him. Mike Soucy and I have sent him approximately 20 emails about payment/statements and we have never got a reply back. We used to number each email and eventually lost track. When he lived in Chicago the typical story was The Methadones were on the verge of breaking even. There was always some math that magically ended up in his favor. Complete bullshit. This was about 5 years ago, and we're still waiting. We'll never see a dime. We got screwed. I know in my heart and soul that Zak Einstein is a liar and a crook.

Dave: You've said that The Methadones 2004 album Not Economically Viable was largely based off of the movie Falling Down, are there any other songs you've written based off of movies or literature that wouldn't be apparent to most listeners?

Dan: No, but movies and literature have a strong influence. I love the way Charles Bukowski and John Fante write. I love the simplicity and depth of their writing, I love how they speak volumes by saying little, I think that's amazing. Recently, I've been watching re-runs of the show "Six feet under" and it inspired the lyrics for a new song called "Radiate".

Dave: A few years ago at Insubordination Fest, The Methadones were playing as a five-piece band. Did you dislike/prefer/were indifferent to not having to sing and play guitar at the same time?

Dan: We kinda sucked as a five piece.

Dave: Why did you decide to play 21st Century Power Pop Riot in it's entirety for this years fest?

Dan: Mark Enoch (Insub Fest organizer) asked if we wanted to play that record for a set list. It sounded like a fun idea.

Dave: Do you feel any guilt that sales of the album pay royalties to Gary Glitter?

Dan: We don't sell enough units for him to make anything. Funny you ask, when's the last time you heard "Rock and Roll Part 2" at a sporting event? It's been a while.

Dave: I remember a lot of football stadiums made a conscious effort to stop playing it after his latest exploits a few years back. I know the Patriots now play a U2 song every time they score a touchdown, for better or for worse.

Dan: I think I heard something about that, too. The Chicago Bulls used to constantly play that song but not anymore.

Dave: Will there be any additional dates between this and your last Chicago show?

Dan: I don't think so. That should be it.

Dave: Now that the band is about to end are there any particular moments that stick out as high and low points? Do you have a favorite/least favorite show that you did, or album or song that you recorded?

Dan: I really liked The Methadones from about 2003-2005. I think we were getting to be a pretty good live band and then it just seemed to fizzle. We tried to recapture that but could never get back to that place.

Dave: So is it too early to ask if you could see a Methadones reformation happening some time years down the line? Will this show be the definitive final show?

Dan: My goal is to play a last show and move on. I hope to have a great band experience for these last two shows. I think the other guys would agree. I'll continue playing with Screeching Weasel, Riverdales, and Noise By Numbers.

Dave: I have one quick Screeching Weasel question: in Jughead's semi-true/semi-fictitious book about the band he alludes that Bark Like A Dog was supposed to be released for Epitaph but Rancid got it nixed because of a beef they had with Ben. Do you know if this is semi-true, semi-fictitious, or is it something that will be addressed in the upcoming Screeching Weasel documentary?

Dan: Even if there wasn't a documentary coming out I wouldn't want to speak for Ben or John. You should ask them.

Dave: Do you have any last words up your sleeve for the end of The Methadones, like an "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?"

Dan: Nah, but we will be putting out a last recording with outtakes, b-sides, and 5 new songs. Look for that before the end of the year.

2009 Album Of The Year

(Originally from January 7, 2010)

If you were to name the most influential punk band formed in the last 25 years, Operation Ivy would be a good candidate. While never achieving the mammoth success of their peers in Green Day, it could be argued that the latter band would have never been as popular without the former. In the two years that Op Ivy existed they became the most popular band among those at the newly formed Gilman Street, and as one of the first bands to sign to the newly formed Lookout! Records, they helped bring attention to what would both become punk rock institutions, and drew together that Bay Area scene. This all helped pave the way for the bands who made punk rock popular in the mainstream in 1994, as well as pioneering the sub-genre "Ska punk".

Before breaking up they put out "Energy" the best one-off punk album since the Sex
Pistols "Never Mind The Bullocks", but in the 20 years since Energy was released the sound was often copied among Ska punk bands, but often distilled of any sort of message or the energy that gave the album it's name.

Fast-forward to some months ago when I heard a song called "SBC" by a Ska punk band called the Have Nots.

"2008 another bummer
Not a sound from the encumbered numbers
No not a peep 'cause the scars run deep
So awash in grief we escape to slumber
Who can sleep in these beds they made?
Good fucking joke short sheet a shallow grave
Alarm clock ringing bring the dead."

These lyrics brought back thoughts to the Operation Ivy song "Freeze Up":
"It's 1989 stand up and take a look around
Weather's bitter tension it seems is sinking down
Drunk with power and fighting one another every hour
Shows the winter getting harder
There's a freeze up coming
One nation stands the tallest radiating blinding light,
Plastic and fluorescent energy robbing us of sight-
Set in our way, content with our decay,
We wave the flag of freedom as we conquer and invade"

It was as if all the energy, power, and excitement that Operation Ivy had brought was being brought back by a new band. I don't want to give the impression that the Have Nots are simply a copy of the former band, which is far from the truth. But I make
he comparison because both are Ska punk bands that use the same instruments as traditional punk music (or traditional Rock N Roll music for that matter) keeping a raw sound without relying on horns or keyboards.

After hearing a few other Have Nots songs I bought their album "Serf City USA", and was amazed at how consistently good the songs were. Not only was the sound a great combination of raw ska chords and punk, but the lyrics to the songs were so scathing and poignant, pointing fingers at all the wrongs in society. Take the song "One in Four" a track about returning veterans trying to survive with PTSD in the recession economy:

"Johnny got fucked by the GI bill, choking on that bitter pill,
took what seemed the safest bet
and now he's home drowning in debt.
He hates his wife his life's a mess,
house and car got repossessed,
said it ain't right man I'm a vet
and set out for the statehouse with a gun"
It's not all politics either. The albums closing track "My Way" scathes about a deceased friend:

"Try to picture where you'd be today can't see you in the present tense
I think about that place you disappeared to man and why I never went
They say the darkest part of night is always right before the dawn
Wish you'd be able to see through, wish you'd be able to hold on"

Ending before the final chorus with the singer angrily screaming:

"I wish that stupid shit had meant to you just what it meant to me
I hope you finally found what you are looking for I guess I'll wait and see"

There's nothing sappy or sentimental about it, just raw emotion, and that sums up the entire album. By opening their eyes and taking a look at America circa 2009, the Have Nots have crafted an album fueled by sites of injustice, corruption, poverty, drug abuse, death, and all the things most people want to turn a blind eye to. Years from now if someone wanted a time capsule of the trials and unease of the recession years "Serf City USA" could paint that picture... and it would also make for a pretty great listen.

Honorable Mentions-
I don't like to do these year-end lists because no matter how many albums you listen to there will always be great ones released that you missed only to discover years later. However I feel that Serf City USA as well as these following albums were too good not to be acknowledged:

*Rich White Males- We've Come Here To Ass And Play Bubblegum

San Diego's Rich White Males spew tongue in cheek nihilistic songs with titles like "Little Morphine Annie", "In Love With A Nazi Girl" and "I'm On Drugs" all played at a speed and sound that begs comparison to popular 70s punk bands like The Heartbreakers, Sex Pistols, and Ramones. There's nothing deep or political about it, but it makes for a great 20 minutes of buzzsaw riffs and nihilism, and does a better job at capturing the spirit of the first Ramones album than any of the so-called "Ramonescore" bands.

*Cobra Skulls- American Rubicon

After releasing one of my favorite albums of 2007 with "Sitting Army", the Cobra Skulls have topped that effort with this sophomore release. The songs on American Rubicon are more diverse with instrumentals, straight up ska, and tracks that can't really fit into any specific genre. If someone had given me this description before hearing the album I would be weary, but it all works out great with nothing straying too far from the bands punk roots. Also like their previous album, this one is again fueled by a Dead Kennedys-esque combination of pointing a finger (a humorous one at times) at today’s political issues and the punk scene itself throughout the lyrics.

*The Mighty Mighty Bosstones- Pin Points And Gin Joints

After breaking up in 2003, the guys who coined the term "Skacore" were silent until late 2007 when they reunited for a set of Hometown Throwdown shows and did a few new songs for a compilation. Now for the first time in 7 years they have a brand new album out, and one listen to Pin Points And Gin Joints will dispel any doubts that the Bosstones had lost a step in their time off. The album is layered with the bands great combination of Ska and punk, and unlike many of their third wave contemporaries the band continues to steer clear from cheesy goofball themes and lyrics, dealing with subjects as diverse as Dicky Barret's strained relationship with his father, to the economic collapse, to the war.

*Jello Biafra and The Guantanamo School of Medicine- The Audacity of Hype

After a pair of stellar albums backed by The Melvins, Jello Biafra is back and promising The Guantanamo School of Medicine to be his first fully concentrated touring and recording group since his days with the Dead Kennedys. Despite the title, The Audacity of Hype is primarily a collection of songs that paint a time capsule of the Bush administration and the past decade of Republican dominated politics starting with the opening lyrics, "Lost the vote, but god elected me, I'm never wrong cause he speaks through me". Any fan of the Dead Kennedys catalogue or any Jello stuff has no excuse for not enjoying this. Here's hoping this band will stick together and continue to tour and record.

An Interview with Phillip Hill (Teen Idols)

(Originally from August 30, 2009)

You know him as the guitarist and founder of Teen Idols, as well as an ex-member of Screeching Weasel, Even In Blackouts, The Queers, Common Rider, and for a brief period (as I would find out) Rise Against's touring band. Phillip Hill was kind enough to do an interview with me where we discussed his past, present, and future in punk rock. Enjoy!

David: First off I'm wondering about your years growing up in Tennessee. In documentaries from the ‘80s like Another State Of Mind or Decline Of Western Civilization the Los Angeles punks always complain about getting hassled by people and discriminated against by police. If that was going on in L.A., what was the experience like in a more conservative city with significantly less of a scene?
Phil: I don't know first-hand what the L.A. scene was like because I wasn't there, but in the South in the ‘80s it was pretty tough to be a punk. I had guns pulled on me by rednecks several times (only got shot once!), was constantly asked if I was a "devil worshiper", was sent to detention for having a mohawk, etc. It was definitely a lot tougher back then. Common people had usually never seen a "punk" before, so they were very judgmental and suspicious. Ironically, the most judgmental were the Baptist Church members. So much for "judge not, lest you be judged"!

David: You got shot at?

Phil: I got shot through the thigh with a .25 caliber pistol when I was 18. The guy that shot me was a suburban white kid that was driving a lowrider pickup truck. Pretty typical "wigger" kid from the early ‘90s. People think I'm joking around when I say that it was dangerous to be a punk back then, but it was no joke! You actually had to fight for it and it meant something back then!

David: Yeah you hear stories about getting beat up by cops or other people but never about getting shot at. What happened to the pickup truck guy?

Phil: I got a letter from the police department saying they couldn't continue the investigation due to lack of evidence. They had a description of the vehicle (which I busted the back window out of with a brick as it was driving), a description of the guy that pulled the trigger, the bullet that they surgically removed from my body, and the location of the incident. What more did they need? When they first brought me in to the emergency room, the cop made a report and called it in over his walkie-talkie. He said, "Yep, it looks like we've got a biker here that got shot. Probably drug or gang related." I said, "Hey! I'm not a biker, a gang member, or on drugs! What the Hell?!" He just looked at me in disgust and walked away.

David: Were there many punk bands playing in Nashville?

Phil: The scene back then was really diverse because it was so small. A common "punk" show would usually have a punk band, a hardcore band, a thrash band, and an "alternative" or "college rock" band all on the same bill. There were probably a total of 100 "punks" in the entire city back in '86 when I first started going to shows. Some of the bigger bands were thrash bands like F.U.C.T. and Caustic Solutions, punk bands like Rednecks In Pain and Stupid Americanz, and college rock acts like Web Wilder and Jason and the Scorchers.

David: What about out of town bands? How often did bands come through there, and what were some of the more memorable shows you saw?

Phil: Nashville would get a few national punk bands from time to time; Black Flag, The Exploited, Cro-Mags, Ramones, Circle Jerks, Fugazi, 7 Seconds, D.R.I., Corrosion of Conformity, Dag Nasty, etc. Most of the time bigger punk bands would skip Nashville and play either Atlanta or Cincinnati, though.

David: Was Teen Idols your first band?

Phil: Ha, no. My first band was a heavy metal band called Arson. I started that in 8th grade. We really sucked. I was in a ton of speed metal and thrash bands in the 80s. I've been playing "professionally" (at real clubs) since I was 16 (Summer of '88). An already established thrash band called Caustic Solutions asked me to join as their 2nd guitarist after I invited them to watch my band's rehearsal in hopes of an opening slot on one of their upcoming shows. I was 16 and two of the other guys in Caustic were 29. They used to pick me up from high school on Friday afternoon and we'd hit the road and tour the Southeast all weekend to places like Atlanta, Knoxville, Sometimes Birmingham, and Huntsville. Sometimes they would drop me back off at school on Monday morning after an all-night drive on the Sunday night before. It was a great learning experience! I felt like an old pro by the time I started Teen Idols at the age of 19.

David: What was going on in your life at that point? Were you someone who was going to college and playing music as a side thing, or did you start the band because you had nothing going on and/or didn't want to pursue a conventional life?

Phil: I had already made up my mind that this is what I wanted to do for a living when I started Teen Idols. I was 19, but I was still a senior in high school because I had dropped out during my first senior year to devote all of my attention on music. College wasn't really an option. I was a pretty rebellious teenager and my grades in school were definitely sub-par. Not because I was stupid, but because I would skip class constantly and refused to do homework. I would usually sleep in class or write lyrics to songs in my notebook when I was supposed to be working. I viewed school as a daycare center for teenagers and was very disillusioned with the whole thing. I didn't grow up with a conventional life, so I never wanted to follow the "normal" path that is expected of most people.

David: I'd like to ask about the band name. Obviously there had been another band called Teen Idles, which I'm sure you were aware off. Was it the case that when your band was formed Teen Idles had just sort of been forgotten about, and like Minor Threat, became more and more popular in the years after they had broken up? Do people ever show up to your shows expecting to see Ian MacKaye's band?

Phil: I had never actually heard of The Teen Idles when I decided on the name Teen Idols. They broke up in '81 and never toured that I know of, so I had no idea that they had ever existed. Every once in awhile we would have someone show up at a show thinking that we were the old D.C. band, but that hasn't really happened since we started putting out full-length albums. I think most people these days know the difference between the bands. Someone told me that Ian Mackaye was asked if he was bothered by our band name at a Fugazi show once and he said, "It's not spelled the same. Plus, I've heard that they're a great band."

David: The band went through a lot of lineup changes in the early years, what do you attribute to all these members coming and going?

Phil: You have to keep in mind that I was the oldest in the band at 19 when we started. Our first singer was 16. That is a very turbulent time in people's lives people "outgrow" punk, or move on to different things. Most of the time the guys in the band just couldn't handle being in a professional band. They were just used to playing in the garage and playing the occasional party. I had bigger aspirations than that.
I wanted to put out albums and travel the globe on tour. That takes a lot of dedication and sacrifice. Most people figure out too late that it's a "job" to be in a professional touring band and can't take the pressure, so they bail out.

David: Have you ever considered releasing something like Black Flag's Everything Went Black that compiles the bands recordings from before Keith Witt became the singer?

Phil: I have thought about re-releasing all of the 7"s and compilation tracks on a CD with an accompanying DVD of old live footage and interviews. I own all of the master tapes, so it wouldn't be that hard to do. Maybe it will get released eventually.

David: How did you meet Keith? It seems like the band became grounded once he became the singer.

Phil: That's actually really funny! Keith was a fan of the band that used to hang around our practice room and press record on our shitty tape recorder whenever we were working on new songs. He kind of joined the band by default. We had accepted a tour offer from the Queers in October of '95. It was going to be our first tour outside of the South and was a really big deal to me. 3 weeks before the tour was to begin, our singer and bassist decided to quit! That put me in a real bind. Keith immediately offered to be the new singer, but I was very skeptical. He had only been the singer in one other band, "Brutus Fly", and they were pretty horrible. I made him swear to me that he would practice everyday and sing double sets at every rehearsal. I have videos from that tour and we were horrible! I still can't believe we got fan mail from that tour.

David: Around this time there were all these bands like Green Day, Bad Religion, The Offspring, Rancid, etc. who had become popular in the mainstream. Did you notice any sort of trickle down effect in the underground like larger crowds for the sort of shows you'd go to or play?

Phil: I started the band in '92 and I had never heard of Green Day, Rancid, or Screeching Weasel. I was just trying to combine my favorite elements of the music I liked from bands like Misfits, Bad Religion, Descendents, Ramones, and 50s rock-n- roll. When we first started playing Teen Idols shows, people called us "sissy music" because it wasn't thrash, which usually got me into a lot of fights. Then when Green Day got popular, people called us "Green Day clones" which I think is ridiculous since most of our songs had been written before I had ever heard of Green Day and I don't think we sound anything alike. But yeah, once those bands hit MTV, the scene definitely got a large influx of new kids. It was pretty annoying at the time because most of them were totally clueless about the history of punk rock and only knew what they saw on MTV.

David: The first Teen Idols album was released in 1997, which had been proceeded by a slew of EPs. Why did you wait so long to record a full length?

Phil: There are several reasons. We were really poor and I couldn't afford to press a full-length myself on my wages I made by working at Burger King. The only punk label in our scene was House O'Pain Records and they only did 7"s. We sent our 7"s to labels like Lookout! Records, but they weren't interested. It seemed like we were getting turned down a lot because we were from the South, which made me even more pissed off. I had already been shot, beaten, and discriminated against for years by rednecks for defending the "punk" way of life, and now the "real punks" didn't deem my band worthy because we weren't from New York or California. It really felt like an uphill struggle the entire time.

Luckily, I put our 3rd 7" (which almost felt like albums to me because they were so hard to get recorded and pressed) in the hands of Ben Weasel. He sent it to Fat Mike at Fat Wreck Chords in hopes that he would release a single 7" by us on Fat. Mike liked it so much that he sent us to Sonic Iguana to record some more songs. He liked that batch of songs even more and decided to sign us to a two-album deal on his new subsidiary of Fat, Honest Don's. We ended up putting out 3 full-lengths on that label.

David: Can you talk about your time in Screeching Weasel? What led to you becoming a member and what was it like being a part of those House of Blues shows after years of the band refusing to play live?

Phil: I had a blast playing in Screeching Weasel. When Ben was writing the songs for the album "Teen Punks In Heat", he decided that he would rather just concentrate on singing instead of playing guitar as well. He asked Mass Giorgini if he knew of anyone that might be up for the job and Mass suggested me. My first time seeing Screeching Weasel live was in Jughead's basement at my first rehearsal as the new 2nd guitarist! The House of Blues shows were huge. I felt guilty being up there because I felt like it was Dan Vapid's rightful place. He and Ben were at odds during that time, so it was awkward since Dan is also my friend as well. By the time we played the final Weasel show, Ben and Dan were friends again, so I invited Dan onstage to sing during "Joanie Loves Johnie". I think I was more excited than he was! Ha, ha!

David: I've seen professionally shot clips of these shows on youtube, will an official DVD ever be released?

Phil: That's totally up to Ben at this point. I hope it sees the light of day eventually. It was supposed to be part of a Screeching Weasel documentary, we did a bunch of interviews for it and everything. It seems like a real waste to scrap the project.

David: Screeching Weasel broke up shortly after this and you would go on to play with John Jughead in his next band Even In Blackouts. Given you're relationship.
with John, if Ben Weasel had asked you to be in this latest Jughead-less version of Screeching Weasel would you have?

Phil: That's a tough question. I really feel like I would need to have John's blessing to do something like that. If John were against it, I would probably say "no". I wasn't asked in the first place, so I guess it was never an option.

David: While on this sort of subject do you feel any sort of regret replacing Keith
and recording that one full-length album without him? Why did he leave Teen Idols?

Phil: I don't regret releasing "Nothing to Prove" at all! I think it's a great album. Keith was fired from Teen Idols for a bunch of personal reasons. Kevin was a great replacement and is an awesome guy. He had some pretty big shoes to fill when he joined the band. His first time on stage with us was at a sold out show at the Masquerade in Atlanta opening for Less Than Jake, Anti-Flag, and New Found Glory. He handled himself like a pro.

David: After that album the band broke up, why did you decide to call it quits?

Phil: The band broke up because I decided to call it quits. By that point, I was the only original member left in the band. We had a huge drunken argument on tour and my guitar ended up getting smashed. It had been leading up to that point for a few years. After the initial fight, I tried to contact the other members and pull it back together, but the wounds were too fresh. Nobody wanted to even think about playing together as a band anymore at that moment.

David: In this past year you and Keith decided to reform Teen Idols. Had you stayed in contact with each other or was it just the sort of thing where one of you got in
touch with the other one out of the blue?

Phil: I hadn't talked to Keith in about 8 years. He was fired from the band on very bad terms and was our bitter enemy for a long time. After having several years to reflect, he realized that he was being hardheaded and was in the wrong originally. He called me out of the blue one day because he had heard that I was living in Chicago. He had just moved there with his girlfriend and was working as the front of house lighting guy at the House of Blues. He thanked me for giving him the benefit of the doubt all of those years ago when I let him join the band. He told me that he was thankful for all of the opportunities to travel the world playing music and recording albums that I had given him. I thought that was a very humble and adult thing to do coming from the Keith I used to know. It turned out that he had to realize what he had lost before he could appreciate it. Not long after we re-connected, he asked me to be the Best Man at his wedding.

David: Did you guys try to get Heather and Matt on board as well?

Phil: Yeah. Matt was interested at first, but his schedule as Less Than Jake's drum
tech was too demanding for him to commit to playing with us full-time. He ‘s still open to the idea of playing with us from time to time. Heather still holds a grudge about the fight in 2003. She refuses to talk to any of us, or about the band at all.

David: I was re-reading the Insubordination Fest Zine in which the interviewer asked you to talk about your new bassist. Since that was written she has been replaced so can you talk about the new new bassist?

Phil: Ha, yeah! Her name is Yvonne. The way I met Yvonne was almost like fate or destiny. Her band, the Scissors were playing a show with The Leftovers in Chicago. I had never heard of the Scissors and knew nothing about them. I was there to see The Leftovers. Yvonne definitely left an impression on me as being a good singer/guitarist, but I had already selected the new bassist for Teen Idols. In a weird turn of events, the girl I had been working with ended up not being able to do it and I was in a bind because we had already been confirmed to play at the Insubordination Fest and now we didn't have a bassist! I wrote to the Scissors' Myspace page and asked if there was any way that their guitarist would be willing to play with us on a
short tour. Yvonne wrote me right back and said, "I only have one question; when do I get my Teen Idols leather jacket?!" It turns out that she was already a fan of the band! After hanging out with her and playing with her on the 7-show tour out to Insubordination Fest and back, we asked her to be a full-time member and she accepted.

David: It seems when a band has one female member playing an instrument it's disproportionately a bassist. I remember Beavis and Butthead talked about this during a Sonic Youth video, why do you think this is the case?

Phil: It's kind of funny because Yvonne is first and foremost a guitarist. I was originally supposed to be the bassist for Teen Idols, but I couldn't find a guitarist I was happy with. Our first bassist, Janell, was the lead singer and upright bassist in a bluegrass band that was part of a school program at her high school. Part of their
school program involved the bluegrass band experiencing a recording studio environment. The high school I went to had a 24-track recording studio program that I was in. I ended up being the main engineer on the project. One day in class, Janell slipped me a note that said, "I heard that you're looking for band members. Can I audition?” I was initially against the idea of having a girl in the band. I was also looking for a guitarist, not a bassist. But she was such an awesome musician and singer that I thought I'd giver her a shot. I switched over to guitar and she ended up forming such an integral part of the band's sound that we need to have a female bassist now or it just wouldn't be Teen Idols.

David: Teen Idols are preparing to record their first new album since 2003. I know you got in to some trouble talking about the label, but is there anything you can say about the album musically?

Phil: I won't really know until I write the songs! I usually find that if I try to force myself to write in a certain way, it sounds just like that; forced. I just have to let whatever happens happen. That sounds sort of like a hippy thing to say, but that's the only way I know how to describe it. I know that I want it to be aggressive like the self-titled album, but more advanced in the songwriting area. I guess we'll just have to wait and see!

David: Being around for so long is it the case that you find younger bands who influence your new music?

Phil: I don't really listen to enough of the newer bands to be influenced by any of them. I guess I'm an old man that's stuck in his ways about that sort of thing.

I'm usually influenced by whatever mood I happen to be in at the time I'm writing. I
mainly still listen to the bands that I liked back when the band first started.

David: Final question, with all the stuff you've done between Teen Idols, Screeching Weasel, Even In Blackouts, The Queers, and any other project you've been a part of is there any recording that stands out as your favorite, and any that you can say is your least favorite?

Phil: I've been lucky to have been involved with some really cool bands and recording projects. To me, they're all unique experiences, so it's hard to say which is
my most or least favorite. I guess my most favorite would be all of the stuff I've done with Teen Idols, since that's my own material. Every other band has had it's own unique thing that makes it fun or cool. I was never really a ska fan, but I enjoyed my time playing guitar for Common Rider and bass for the Independents. I'm not too into the hardcore scene, but I had a blast touring as Rise Against's guitarist on the tour for the album "The Unraveling". Of course, my time in Screeching Weasel and The Queers were great because I'm a fan. Playing bass for Even In Blackouts made me stretch my legs as a musician and took me into musical areas that I probably wouldn't have gone to otherwise. I'm just thankful to have had a pretty awesome and well-rounded musical career at this point!

David: I had no idea you played with Rise Against on that tour. How did you hook up with them? Did they ever ask you to be a full time member?

Phil: I've known Joe and Dan since they were in 88 Fingers Louie. I was the engineer on the recording session for "The Unraveling" album at Sonic Iguana Studios. When Dan left the band, they asked me to fill in for the U.S. tour. We went out to California and back through Texas. I was in the band for 6 weeks. It was always understood that it was just a fill-in position because I was still in Teen Idols, The Queers, and Common Rider at that point. I worked with them again in the studio as an engineer on one of their EPs and ended up writing a guitar solo for one of the songs. After that session they asked me to join the band full-time, but I turned them down because I wanted to commit to Common Rider instead. Rise Against was still pretty unknown at the time and Common Rider was the new project of Jesse Michales from Operation Ivy. I thought I was making a smart decision with that one...

The Jetty Boys

(originally from August 13, 2009)

While hardly unknown by the underground pop punk community, Sheboygan, Wisconsin's Jetty Boys are still pretty new with only one album under their belt, and relatively new to me. I believe I first heard the band a year or so on Ben Weasel's old ESPN Radio show and wasn't that impressed. Weasel played a song called "Telephone Operator" from their 2008 self-titled debut on Rally Records, and it just reminded me of a watered down version of the power pop sound that their label-mates The Leftovers were pursuing.

Now fast forward to 2009, as fate would have it would be The Leftovers who make me re-examine the band. It's the Tuesday after Insubordination Fest and after missing The Leftovers set during the festival I go to the Middle East Club to see the Teen Idols and Leftovers with opening act The Jetty Boys.

While The Leftovers set was pretty distilled of most of their early punkish stuff in favor of newer slicker power pop songs, The Jetty Boys gave the best performance of all the bands on the bill with songs tenfold better than what I had previously heard. They also gave away free promo CD with songs from their upcoming album "Sheboygan".

The sampler includes three songs, the first two "Reflectors" and "I'll Be Fine" are fast paced pop punk songs that bring to mind 90's Lookout! bands like The Riverdales, Green Day, Screeching Weasel, and The Queers, while the third song "St. Patrick's Day" is a slower ballad-esque song in the same manner. However unlike most modern bands who draw these comparisons the Jetty Boys songs wouldn't stick out as a poor man's sound alike that could be a b-side or filler on aforementioned bands album. A song like I'll Be Fine is just as good as "2,000 Light Years Away" or "Making You Cry", and better than a lot of The Riverdales (who the Jetty Boys recently opened for) catalogue.

With The Guts and Leftovers leaving Rally Records for larger labels, The Jetty Boys have now stepped in as the labels premier band, and if this sampler is any indication of how the full album is they could easily eclipse both of them.

Rich White Males

(originally from August 4, 2009)

The Rich White Males come courtesy of Cheapskate Records, though unlike most bands on the label RWM hail from San Diego rather than the Northeast. If you're not familiar with the band, you're probably familiar with the band members, Dangerous Dave of The Queers/Bugs plays bass while Russel, also from The Bugs, plays guitar and sings.

Being that the band is comprised of 2/3 of The Bugs, the Ramones-esque riffs should come as no surprise, however Russel brings to the table a nasally singing style reminiscent of Johnny Rotten, a style mostly forgotten in bands these days that is much appreciated here. This voice fits perfectly with the bands nihilistic lyrics in songs like "Back On Smack", "Everybody Hates Me" and "I'm On Drugs" to name a few. In addition to the spews of hatred and junkydom, the band has two "love songs", both still played at standard Ramones speed and sound (you could hardly call them ballads). There's the tongue in cheek "In Love With A Nazi Girl" which opens with Hitler soundbites, and "Invisible Girl" a nihilism free song that shows the band at its most diverse (as limited as that may be), it wouldn't sound all that out of place on an early Green Day album.

Rich White Males are infinitely more interesting than their sister band The Bugs, or anything that The Queers have done in recent years. If you enjoy the fast paced anti-everything sound of the first two Screeching Weasel albums, or want '77 influenced punk that can actually laugh at itself this band is for you. You can get their debut album "We've Come To Kick Ass and Play Bubblegum" here.

Insubordination Fest 2009

(Originally from July 7, 2009)

"Michael King of Pop Dead". The headline reads from the leftover USA Today that sits in the back of the car from two days ago. In Los Angeles, California the streets are filled with hopeless fans, the TV news doesn't show anything but this. Meanwhile in Tehran, Iran the streets are filled with protestors disputing a rigged election, who are getting quieter and quieter by way of violence. Their TV news CAN'T show them, and back in America they simply won't. Is our country really so celebrity obsessed that we deem the death of a man who hasn't made decent music in almost two decades more important than something that's actually, well, important?

Outside of Michael Jackson's world of being forced into music as a child through labor rather than love, having professional songwriters help churn out his hits, taking jets from Arena to Arena, having a team of yes men that would make the staff at Graceland blush, and being so obsessed over his own self-image that not only does his face adorn all his album covers but he continues to mutilate it through plastic surgery all the way till the end, exists Insubordination Fest. Here the bands found a love for music on their own, the songwriters are the same people who perform the music, the bands travel in beat up vans from club to club, playing in front of 100 people for most of them would be a great night, and album covers are adorned by drawings done by them or their friends.

The journey to this year’s Fest started with waking up at an ungodly hour in the morning. By 6 AM I had showered, grabbed my backpack and sleeping back, and jumped into the car and left. About 13 hours, 6 caffeinated drinks, and a lot of rest stops later we arrived in Baltimore.

I walked into the venue as The Unlovables were playing; having no interest in them I checked out the merch tables and discovered there were three different stages all on the same level of the club. This was a nice change from the last time I went, two years ago, when you could only see one band at a time and if you didn't like them your options were to wander around the merch for twenty minutes, go watch people do drugs in the bathroom, or find something else that would occupy your time. I went off to the bigger of the two secondary stages and caught the Secretions set. At a place where a band t-shirt, jeans, and Converse All-Stars could be seen on practically everyone the Secretions looked kind of out of place at Insubordination Fest with the singers stylized spiked hair, their lock necklaces, and boots. The bands music was decent enough, a mix of fast paced angry songs and then some lesser goofball ones with titles like "Queen Of The Scene".

After their set I went over to the next room and discovered the even smaller third stage. With about thirty other people standing around I watched a 300 plus pound guy sans shirt sit behind a drum kit cracking jokes. I wasn't sure if he was part of a band, a one-man band, or just some guy providing some entertainment between sets until another 300 plus pound shirtless guitarist joined him and then an average sized bass player wearing a shirt. This was my introduction to The Sheckies, a name I recognized but until that point had no image to match it with. The band proceeded to give an entertaining set of songs with subjects ranging from Xanax to Star Wars. The
guitarist went into a rant about why we should by their merch because they were "starving artists" and proceeded to jiggle around his fat rolls for the whole audience, before finishing up their set with a cover of The Shirelles "Will You Still Love Me

After wandering around a bit I found myself back at the third stage which was now occupied by a band of seven or so people dressed in matching white shirts with red sweater vests and ties. In front of them were three guys acting like bouncers dressed in campy Village People-esque police uniforms. I would later find out this group was Lost Locker Combo, their songs consisted of singing about school but the music, which while limiting wasn't that bad, wasn't the main source of entertainment. Throughout their set the band engaged the audience by shooting silly string, and throwing out things from rulers and plastic swords to balls of paper. The set turned into a back and forth throwing match between audience and band, and was one of the coolest and most entertaining sets of the fest.

I went back to the main stage in the middle of Underground Railroad to Candyland's set. Various band members were dressed in bandanas covering half their face, red wigs of hair, and heads masked as birds. They did a cover of Pink Floyd's "When
The Tigers Broke Through" which I dug despite it being out of place at a punk festival and not many people seemed to recognize it.

I was excited to see Pansy Division who was coming up next on the main stage. They started their set by putting up rainbow gay pride flags that had "I Want A Divorce" written on them. During the first song of their set the bass drum broke and the band announced it would be replaced momentarily. The band left the stage but eventually the bassist came back out to dance around to "Anarchy In The U.K." which was playing on the P.A. Soon the rest of the band joined him. Jon Ginoli the bands singer went up to the mic and said "Sorry to interrupt Anarchy, but this song is called Dick Of Death", and with that their mix of sexual and political songs continued as planned. Halfway through the set the bassist left the stage and returned sporting a dress before jumping into their song "James Bondage" where he threw gay porn into the audience. The band finished their set in true punk fashion by ripping up a bible and throwing the pages at the audience.

I could have done without the next band Suicidie, who were a joke band made up of people on a message board (one of whom in Suicidie's case was Lookout! Records founder Larry Livermore). Their set, which was under ten minutes, was made up of mock- hardcore songs with a Lookouts cover thrown in. It seemed like most people just stood around with most of their songs being too short to get into. With these factors and their niche appeal the band would have better served the third stage.

The stage was now cleared for the final Steinways set, at least until their inevitable future reunion. I was never much of a big Steinways fan but they put on a good show and the audience really dug it. But the Steinways were blown away by Boris The Sprinkler who put on the best performance of the day with singer Rev. Norb entering in a pink leather suit covering his entire body up to his face. "Hold on" he said before
they started playing, and whipped out a matching mask. Putting it on he had now

effectively covered every ounce of his flesh with pink leather. One of the great characters in the history of punk, Norb ripped through the first few songs before
finally taking off his mask. He replaced it with his trademark "Geek" helmet complete with antlers. Even the audience dressed up for Boris's set, with one guy dressed in a full Superman costume complete with cape. Boris would even one up Lost Locker Combo, bringing out endless rolls of toilet paper and starting a TP fight with the audience. A strong-armed audience member landed a roll on one of Norb's antlers and it stayed there for the entire set.

With great music to match their stage show Boris The Sprinkler was a tough act to follow. And while that night’s headliner the Dead Milkmen couldn't upstage their show, their music was just as good. Armed with an arsenal of punk, ska, and new wave tinged songs they did a lengthy set of what seemed like 30 or so tunes. While they had no fancy costumes or paper to throw (sans what was thrown from Boris’s leftover toilet paper on the floor of the pit) the audience seemed into them just as much. Before finishing up their set Milkmen singer Rodney Anonymous went on a rant about Michael Jackson complete with a jazzy instrumental by the band to back him up (a la the Dead Kennedys "Night Of The Living Rednecks"). "I turn on MSNBC... what I saw was the worst case of Necrophilia, people lining up to suck Michael Jackson's dead dick." But the line I'll remember the most from it was "I was never a big Michael Jackson fan. The year that Thriller came out I spent my money on Mommy's Little Monster, and I stand by that decision."

This world is far removed from that of Michael Jackson, or just the mainstream in general. This is the world outside of all the celebrity, PR, and bullshit in music, and from Social Distortion in 1983 to The Sheckies in 2009, its been functioning for years, and will continue to function for years to come. Roll over Michael, you may be all over the TV news but to us you're irrelevant.

Epilogue: That's the gist of this year’s Insubordination Fest. There was a second day, but it wasn't as eventful, I missed a lot of it due to spending most of the day in Washington, DC. I caught five acts when I got back to Baltimore, but my legs could barely stand me due to 4 or 5 hours of walking around our nation's capital. Slam dancing was out the question, and towards the end of the show so was standing in place for a concentrated period of time. I ducked out after the Teen Idols played, missing what would be Dillinger Four’s infamous closing set in which Paddy performed nude. I would however like to mention the amazing set I saw Psyched To Die put on at the second stage that day. With their great hardcore songs and a cover of X's "We're Desperate" I'd put them above Boris The Sprinkler for best set at the fest. The other people in the audience seemed to like it too, with the barrier between band and crowd literally being broken by the audience, and some kid managing to dangle upside down from the ceiling before falling back into the crowd. There was also the event of hanging out back at the hotel with a drunken girl from the show who claimed to be a heroin dealer. Her loudness seemed to keep any of us who tried to go to bed from getting any quality sleep, and because my inability to sleep inspired me to start writing this in the early hours of Sunday morning I dedicate this article to her, in whatever alley selling dope she may be.