Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Last Temptation of Jughead: An interview with John Jughead Pierson

Recently I discovered a podcast titled "Jughead's Basement" hosted by none other than former Screeching Weasel guitarist John Jughead Pierson. When John agreed to an interview recorded over skype, I decided to use the full audio footage to release a podcast of my own, which will be made available in the coming days. In the meantime enjoy this print version of our conversation.

D: For anyone who is listening to or reading the transcript of this, I’m talking with John Jughead, the cofounder, alongside Ben Weasel, of legendary punk rock band Screeching Weasel. John, let me give the audience a brief background on you.

J: Ok.

D: From 1986-2001, give or take a couple yearlong breakups, you were Screeching Weasel’s guitarist. You’ve also played in the band Even in Blackouts, been an actor, writer, and now a podcaster. Is there anything I missed in that resume?

J: I was also in The Mopes.

D: That’s right, and The Lillingtons too!

J: I toured with The Lillingtons and The Manges [John pronounced this Man-gees], I wouldn’t really consider myself in those bands. But The Mopes was my band with Dan Vapid.

D: It’s pronounced the Man-gees?

J: There’s different ways of pronouncing it. They actually were referring to the mange of a dog. A lot of people thought it was pronounced “Mon-jahs” because they were Italian. The band thought it meant being rabid, like a dog, so they called themselves The Manges.

D: What’s funny is when you had Andrea, their singer, do one of your segments, he was saying he thought the Ramones were pronounced the “Ramone-es” with his Italian accent reading it. So I guess it works both ways.

J: I think The Manges realized they didn’t actually know the pronunciation so they just go from one to another (laughs).

D: And when did you play with them?

J: It was when I toured Europe right after Screeching Weasel’s House of Blues shows in Chicago.

D: So probably 2001ish?

J: Yeah! I went out and met them all in La Spezia, their hometown, and did three or four shows with them there. Then a couple of years later I did their first West Coast tour here in the States. I think that was three weeks.

D: Cool! I want to focus a lot of this interview on your podcast, and what you’ve covered on that, but before we go into that I have some questions about your earlier life.

J: Sure.

D: There’s an intriguing quote that you’ve made about your family, “I come from a family of black sheep. Friend’s told me that their parent’s said they should walk on the opposite side of the street while passing our house.” Can you elaborate on your early life?

J: We were all very different. My first three siblings were all born one year right after the other. Then there was a five-year break, and then me, and a five-year break, and then my sister. My father left when my sister wasn’t even a year old yet. 

The first three kids were a unit in themselves, and they were at the age where divorce wreaks havoc on lives. So they kind of went nuts, and were selling drugs and getting kicked out of schools. There was a lot of violence around the neighborhoods that they and a couple of other neighborhood kids would do. They used to blow up picture windows with M-80’s and things like that, throw mailboxes through windows, just crazy stuff.

I found out years later that a bunch of kids my age were told by their parent’s to walk on the other side of the street when they came to my house. I had no idea about this. I lived in the chaos, I didn’t know it was any different any were else.

I think the division of the five years between those three, and then me and my sister, sort of added to us having completely different experiences in our lives, and added to us being very different from one another, and from the people we grew up with.

D: How old were you when your dad left?

J: I must have been around five.

D: And did he stay in your life?

J: For a few years not so much, and then he did until his death, when I started college. The whole situation is strange and I’m eventually working on a book about it. Years later he came to live back at home because he was sick with cancer. My mother and him were no longer speaking really, but she became, because she’s a saint, his nurse and nursed him the last two years of his life. So I was much more in contact with him at the end.

D: What did each of your parents do for work?

J: My father was an aluminum siding salesman, and my mother didn’t have a career until he left. She was left with five kids, didn’t even know how to drive, so she kind of had to learn a lot of stuff immediately. She fell into cleaning houses and now she does senior care, even though she’s 80 and older than a lot of people she cares for.

D: So what point growing up did you meet Ben Weasel?

J: I first met him in Jr. High School, which must have been around the mid ‘70s. We met on the wrestling team there. I had an older sibling that was a wrestler so I was sort of expected to do it, not by my family, my mom didn’t care, but by the teachers in our Jr. High.

Ben was sort of a troublemaker already so his parents and the teachers made him do an after-school activity.

D: Given the way you said your brothers were, do you feel like you were able to see him in a different way than a lot of other people who would just write him off as some troublemaker?

J: You know I’ve never really thought about that but I think you’re probably correct. I never really was frightened of him or thought it was odd the way he was. Years later when I found out a lot of the things he did, like runaway and lived on his own, and had to be hunted down by his family, and sent to Maine to be restricted in a... I don’t know what to call it.

D: I know the place you’re talking about, it’s the place where the Kennedy who ended up killing someone went.

J: Yeah!

D: I’d describe it as not quite a reform school, a little more extreme than that. I know some people who have been sent to those, from what I’ve heard those places don’t sound very fun or productive.

J: Yeah, that to me was extreme. I never had that in my family, but also I think his family was more proactive in trying to solve problems, whereas my mom was too busy to really worry about it.

I became my mama’s boy because I was the only one that she had. Rebellion for me became very different from what it was for my brothers, or from what Ben experienced.

D: You guys formed the band in 1986, how old were you at that time?

J: I was born in 1967.

D: So you’d just gotten out of high school.

J: Yeah, I graduated in 1985, spent a year in limbo, and then got reacquainted with Ben. I had been working at a movie theater, Randhurst Cinemas, since about ’84, and he started working there the end of ’85, maybe beginning of ’86.

I hadn’t been in contact with him since he got kicked out of high school; actually I had never seen him in high school, so I hadn’t seen him since Jr. High. Then he was working with me and that’s when we started the band.

D: Is it true you guys started it after seeing a Ramones concert in Chicago?

J: I never saw the Ramones.

D: Oh so that is a myth?

J: Ben had seen the Ramones. My punk influence in high school was seeing Repo Man, which I did a podcast about.

D: That’s interesting I’d seen that written on a lot of sites. I guess don’t believe everything you’ve read.

J: Yeah that was Ben’s influence. Our first show we went to together was the Circle Jerks in 1986.

D: So that must have been the same time the band formed, and then pretty early on you guys made that first album, like ‘87ish?

J: We went from being called All Nigh Garage Sale to Screeching Weasel pretty quickly, within a few months. My friend Matt Carlson actually had a shirt that said, “There’s A Screaming Otter In My Pants!” We said, “I really like that idea!” I think we were actually in the lobby in the movie theater, we all sort of contributed to changing it to Screeching Weasel, and I think within three or four months we had our first demo out, which was almost song for song the record that we recorded later.

Screeching Weasel's debut album
 D: Another thing I’m wondering if it’s true or not, did John Peel, the famous BBC DJ, play songs from that album on his radio show?

J: Yes he did! Ben worked at an all night gas station, and he called me over one night and said he had heard from some people in England that we had been played on the John Peel Show.

D: Do you know what song it was?

J: I think it was something ridiculous from the early songs like “BPD”. (Laughs) I know it was something very ridiculous, not one of the ones that people remembered.

D: That’s funny that that’s what he would have latched on to.

J: Yeah.

D: So that’s basically how you got started with the band and music. What about in theater, when did you first become involved with that?

J: I actually recently did a timeline that I’m probably gonna put online. I was trying to figure out when I started theater and when I started music. They were around the same time. Like I said, I sort of lived in limbo for a year working at the movie theater and a coffee house, and then I went to Columbia College, and we also started the band.

D: That’s the Columbia in Chicago not New York, right?

J: Yeah. I studied mostly literature but I started taking improv classes and that was my first college experience with it. I had done plays in high school, but these were my first out of high school productions.

D: Had you been following Second City Theatre at all? Around that time it would have been Chris Farley and a lot of those other people performing there.

J: Yeah I actually met Chris Farley in a bar, way back when Dan Akroyd had his first Blues Brothers Bar.

D: Was this when Chris Farley was just a guy who was part of the theater, or was this when he was on Saturday Night Live?

J: He wasn’t even on Saturday Night Live yet! This was one of my first experiences of meeting someone famous. I always had the feeling that you just sort of leave those people alone, and if they seem jovial, and they want to talk, you do, but otherwise you just leave them alone. So we were in Dan Akroyd’s bar and Dan Akroyd just shows up. It was while he was in “Driving Miss Daisy” and he was up for the Academy Award.

I was with my friends and I was like “Oh let’s just leave him alone”, and then Chris Farley, who I didn’t know who he was then, started being all over him, almost like humping Dan Akroyd! And then near the end of the night, the bartender came to me and my friends and said, “Dan Akroyd really appreciates you not bothering him…”

D: (Laughs)

J: “…he wants to buy you a drink”, and I actually turned it down because I didn’t drink. But then he came over to us and started talking about the weather and the Oscars.

D: So thanks to Chris Farley, you got to meet Dan Akroyd.

J: (Laughs) yes! Then I studied improvisation for about ten years, I taught a little bit at Second City and at Columbia. I traveled the country and performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with improvisation too.

D: Oh so you taught at Second City?

J: I called myself the Bull Durham of Second City because I was sort of being groomed to be a teacher, but I fell out of interest with Second City. I would substitute teach a lot, but I never actually strictly taught there, I did teach at Columbia for a couple semesters.

D: And you wrote some plays as well?

J: Actually I was record for play for most of the career of Screeching Weasel. I think I wrote about sixteen or seventeen plays, one for each recording, so I was producing and writing plays while I was on the road with the band, then I’d come back and direct them.

D: Did they all get produced?

J: Yeah. The head of Columbia College, Sheldon Patinkin, who was also one of the guys who started Second City, was grooming me for playwriting. He let me do the first couple for free at Columbia, but once Screeching Weasel started making money I would pour all that money into producing plays. From the beginning I was producing my own, I never had somebody else produce them.

D: All right, so let’s talk about the podcast now that we have some of your background. What got you interested in doing this? Are you a fan of any existing podcasts or did it just seem like an interesting new medium?

J: I actually became more aware of podcasts after I started doing my own. My girlfriend Paige and I were talking about my relationship with this other actor named Eric T. Roth. We had a fun rapport with each other, and Paige suggested that he and I start a podcast. It was pretty much that simple.

The first one, “The Whole In 30 Days”, was based on the Neo-Futurists, which is a theater company I’m a part of, where you pretty much write plays and document your life instead of fictional characters. I wanted to base it on that idea.

D: So this is the precursor to Jughead’s Basement, The Whole In 30 Days?

J: Yeah, Eric and I would carry around digital recorders, and just record our lives for 30 days, and then we would get other people to write short audio plays based on a theme. We’re still doing that but him and I both moved away from Chicago so we’re taking a break.

But since then I listen to a lot more podcasts. I love “The Partially Examined Life”, which is a philosophy podcast.

D: How did you come up with the idea to do a show about different people commenting on each track of an album?

J: I’ll give you the back-story on Jughead’s Basement. I got asked by AMP Magazine to host their facebook page for an evening. Supposively when I did it they had the most responses from people asking questions. I had a really great time and they thought it was pretty great. My current producer, Jeromy Corp, had been following it on facebook and asked if I wanted to start a show. He runs another podcast and had bought enough space that he wanted to offer it to anybody else who wanted to start a program. So I said yes to that, but then it was up to me to come up with the concept of it.

Like everything I do, I don’t like to do it easily. I could have just done a live show and interviewed people, but I wanted to do something strange, something that incorporated using a lot of the writers and performers I know. I’ve always loved the idea of explaining or exploring lyrics, which I don’t think is done enough, so I love the idea of getting a bunch of people who were influenced by specific records and getting them to write about their own lives in relation to that specific song on that record. So that’s basically how that specific structure took place.

D:  And why’d you choose Repo Man for the first episode?

J: It was gonna start with punk and then go in more diverse directions. I thought about where my punk influences came from and Repo Man was definitely the first thing that blew my mind. I knew some bands already; I knew the Ramones, Wire, and the Sex Pistols. But when I went to see that movie when it came out, it blew my mind. I’d never heard of the Circle Jerks or any of those Southern California hardcore bands.

D: One of the segments you had for that episode was Mike Watt of the Minutemen talking about the Fear song “Let’s Have A War”.

J: Yes.           

D: I’d never made this connection before but what Lee Ving did in Fear… you’ve seen Decline of Western Civilization?

J: Yes.

D: In the beginning where he’s making fun of the crowd and they’re all getting angry and trying to get up on stage and fight him, Mike referred to it as stand up comedy. What hit me is it’s sort of the same crowd-baiting type thing that Screeching Weasel would become known for.

J: Yeah, Ben was actually a very big fan of people like Lee Ving or Tesco Vee from The Meatmen. He was definitely influenced by those sorts of people; I always used to call Ben the Don Rickles of punk rock. We used to watch a lot of George Carlin standup and it just made sense that that was gonna be his persona on stage. It sort of helped him deal with his anxiety of being on stage, the more he talked and the more he lived in his anger, the less anxious he would feel.

D: Well one of the other things from that episode you were talking about was what you saw as punk music before seeing Repo Man, and you mentioned the Ramones and Oingo Boingo. Given your background, I was wondering if you ever tried to incorporate any of the theatrical stuff that Oingo Boingo was doing, but on a level that would fit Screeching Weasel? Or was what Ben was doing sort of a stage act in itself?

J: I don’t know how much we really thought about what we were gonna do on stage. I think it more just came out as a reaction to the scene. Larry Livermore talks about this in the “My Brain Hurts” podcast, the punk scene got very serious, hardcore music was very serious, very political, and it just dominated everything, there was no sense of humor anymore. So I think most of our stage performance came more out of trying to break that pattern. I liked to dress up goofy and Ben didn’t mind doing that either, so we just did that naturally, and like I said his anxiety drove him towards being a Don Rickles stage presence. We never really discussed it, it just sort of happened.

D: Speaking of Larry, one of the things that I like about the podcast is the diversity of your guest contributors, in that it’s not all musicians, but a range of various types of artists, or non-artists for that matter, just people with interesting takes on what they associate songs with. Was that a conscious effort by you, did you try to involve more of the people in your theater crowd as well as musicians? Or had you intended it to be one or the other?

J: I wanted it to be all of that. I used to really be into separating out my personalities, not in a psychotic way, but I had the Jughead personality, I had Ian Pierce the writer, and John Pierson the Neo-Futurist performer. Then I actually got fairly popular in all three of them, but no one knew who I was.

By my age now, I wanted to be more of a cohesive whole, so I thought of these podcasts as bringing all of my influences and the friends I had from these different scenes together, and records are the best way to do it because everyone is influenced by one record or another. It’s not just punk records, I’m gonna do episodes on Tom Waits and Weird Al. Al wasn’t really an influence for me but surprisingly was an influence for a lot of people I know. It’s gonna stretch out in many different directions, but I’ll always have a punk one every other show.

D: One of the people that I thought was a great guest was Kyle Kinane, the standup comedian. How long have you know him for?

J: I actually never knew him when he was living in Chicago. I didn’t meet him until he moved to California. My friend Pam works as an agent for CCA, one of the largest agencies in the world, and she helps out with Chicago’s Just For Laughs Festival. She was coming to town from California and I met Kyle through her. She said he’s a big Weasel fan, and we just got to talking and got along pretty well. I approached him about being on the My Brain Hurts podcast and he joyfully agreed.

D: Well that’s a good segue into the My Brain Hurts episode. One of the cool things about that was in addition to putting out the episode with each contributor’s thoughts on each song, you also put out extended interviews that you did with all of the core band members besides Ben, and with the albums co-producer Larry Livermore. Had you been in touch with all of those guys or did you re-connect with them for this?

Screeching Weasel from l-r: Dan Panic, Dan Vapid, John Jughead, Ben Weasel

J: That’s a good question. Larry I’ve been in contact with the most because he’s always on his email and facebook. Dan Panic and I sort of fell out, not emotionally fell out or had any arguments, just since I stopped doing the royalties for the band. That’s when I used to keep track of everybody, I’d send out all the royalties to anybody who had ever been in the band, so I knew where everyone was, but that had stopped a couple years ago so I lost track of him. I just emailed him and he was up for it. He hardly does interviews, he hates it, but he seems to do the things that I advise, so I was very happy that he did it.

D: Yeah that was great because I’d never seen him interviewed before for anything. It seemed like in the ‘90s and early 2000s he was drumming for about ten or so different bands, and then in the last decade just disappeared. So that was great to hear from him for the first time.

J: Him and I have always been fine, but it was good to talk to him. We hadn’t talked in quite a while. Vapid on the other hand, I had a sort of falling out with when the whole reforming of Weasel without me knowing happened. Him and I had a stupid argument, and we hadn’t talked. Then when he had a falling out with Ben, I felt bad for him because I knew it was going to happen.

I used the interview request as a way to apologize to him and hoped he would accept it. He did and we both started talking again. You know those weights that hang over your head? One of them went away when he agreed to do the interview.

D: That’s good to hear. Was it the Panic interview where he talked about going to Guitar Center and getting in a fight with the employee because he said he didn’t like the drummer from Rush?

J: Yeah Neil Peart (laughs)!

D: That’s a great story. Do you feel the same way about guitarists, like do you feel Johnny Ramone makes a better guitar player than someone who’s technically trained and can do all sorts of solos?

J: I do not. Even in that interview of Panic you do sort of get the idea that he respects someone like Neil Peart, it’s just sort of the punk instinct to rebel against that because it’s so complicated, there’s none of that beautiful simplicity that you get from someone like the Ramones.

I don’t really consider myself a guitarist, I’m sort of an uber-artist and guitar is just one of the things I do. I don’t claim to be really great at it, so I don’t have a lot of opinions about other guitarists, only ones that I see live and I think are amazing. That ranges from Brian May from Queen to Lint (Tim Armstrong) from Operation Ivy and Rancid. I really have to see a musician before I can comment on their playing.

D: Have you seen Tim play lately at all?

J: No but we were the first ones who brought Operation Ivy to Chicago. We did a basement show and I just thought he was incredible. Also he plays lefty, so it’s fascinating to watch him play. I actually learned a lot about how to loosen up more as a guitarist from watching him. But I have not talked to him since Ben and him had a big disagreement.

D: Yeah I had a question about that, but I’ll save it for when it fits in.

J: I think that kind of ruined any sort of relationship I could have had with him. I’m trying to get Matt Freeman or Tim to be on the Operation Ivy podcast, but I don’t know if they will. I talked to Jesse Luscious, who used to be in the band Blatz, and he still talks to them. Jesse emailed Matt for me, but I really don’t know how they feel about me.

D: Yeah. Anyways I was asking because Tim does minimal guitar playing these days. He’ll be up there and Rancid’s other guitarist, Lars Frederiksen, will be playing all the songs and Tim will be singing along and occasionally strumming. It’s sort of become a joke that you’ll go see Rancid, and you’ll see Tim occasionally play his guitar, even though he’s this great guitar player who did all the stuff for Operation Ivy.

J: Yeah that’s bizarre. I actually have never really followed Rancid, even though I like their music. I think when they came around I was at a point where I just started absorbing more theater and less music, so I never really learned much about them. But it’s a shame if he’s not playing guitar because I think he’s one of the best.

D: Yeah no doubt. I have another question regarding them but I’ll get back to it later.

J: Ok.

D: So back to the My Brain Hurts episode, you were saying Larry was the one who you stayed in touch with the most, which surprised me because when I interviewed him he was saying the thing that finally convinced him to leave Lookout! Records was a lawsuit over owed money between the label and Screeching Weasel. It just sounded like a huge point of stress for him, and he seemed to consider it without merit. I just wanted your take on the bands side of that.

J: It was a complicated issue, no court ever actually happened over that, but they pursued it. Lookout! originally split things 60/40, band gets 60% label gets 40%. Eventually they realized they couldn’t pay their bills, so they started taking money of off the top before splitting it 60/40, but not informing the bands. That’s where it got out of control and we wanted to leave. In Maximumrocknroll, Ben printed a fax that he got from Larry, that talks about them trying to sue us. It was ugly on both sides, but it eventually blew up in their faces.

D: Was this when Larry had already started to have less and less interest in the label and was leaving more things up to Chris Appelgren and the other people there?

J: When a lot of the bands rebelled against what he was doing there, I think that’s when he lost interest. I think they line up at about exactly the same moment.

D: So how did you guys become friendly again? There was never any bad blood like there is between him and Ben?

J: No, I’m not as aggressive as Ben. I even wrote in my book, “Weasel’s In A Box”, that Ben has a stronger attitude of right and wrong, whereas I more see things in gray. I tend not to get involved in those conflicts. Those two love it, they love hating each other, they love making up, and it’s all part of their shtick.

D: Yeah I’m shocked that for a while when Ben was doing his solo stuff, they were friendly again. This was after Ben had written that song “Hey Asshole” where he calls him all these horrible things like a pedophile, but I guess Larry’s got thick skin.

J: Yeah he’s also super intelligent so he’s not gonna make decisions based on just his emotional reaction to somebody, he’s gonna weigh the options of how it helps him or if it hurts him. He thinks on more complicated levels.

D: I’m curious about the album’s other producer, Andy Ernst. One of the things that Larry said about him was that before doing the first Green Day record, Andy was producing a lot of hip hop and classic rock albums, and he didn’t seem to think much of that whole ‘90s punk explosion, which seems weird to me because he’s now so synonymous with it. What was the band’s relationship with him like? Did he seem to get what you guys were doing, or just hit the record button and make sure everything was working right?

J: It was sort of like a whirlwind, we went in, we were very prepared, and we played all the songs. We joked with Andy, but I hardly even remember him being there. So it didn’t make much sense to include him on the podcast, I didn’t think I’d have good questions for him.

He was a good straight-laced engineer guy. I don’t think he really produced the album in anyway, most of the producing had always been me and Ben, I think he just sort of did the dials for us.

D: It’s funny too because throughout the ‘90s and 2000s, I don’t know if it was just because people would go to him after hearing all the stuff that he’d done, but AFI and all the other Bay Area punk bands that came in the wake of Green Day and had their own sort of success, he did a lot of those albums. So to think that he wasn’t really interested in it makes me laugh.

J: Yeah that’s sort of like George Martin, the engineer of The Beatles. That guy only did classical music before The Beatles. That’s where the riff between John Lennon and Paul McCartney started happening, because Paul was really into the George Martin classical music version of their recordings, and John just wanted to do raw songs. So my point is that idea’s been around for quite a while.

D: The other guy from My Brain Hurts that I’m curious about is Dave Naked. That would have been the only album of you guys that he played on, is that right?

J: That is correct.

D: And he was in the band for about a year, give or take?

J: Yeah he was a good guy, Dan Panic’s friend, but he never really jived with the band, he was just sort of there. After Ben and I stopped playing in Weasel, we started a band called Gore Gore Girls, and he was in that. When that broke up we had been in conversations about getting back together with Vapid, and we got Panic as a drummer. Eventually we wanted to go back to a four piece. Dave Naked was there for My Brain Hurts, but he seemed like a fifth wheel, it didn’t groove as well with him.

D: So do you feel if Vapid had done the bass parts on My Brian Hurts it wouldn’t have been any different? Did Dave bring anything that made that album standout for you?

J: You know I wish I could say something good for him and say yes, but I think he was just so new for us. I don’t think Dave added much of anything besides being a good personality.

D: During the Vapid interview, one of the things that you guys discuss is how the multiple tours that you did seem to blend together in your minds, into almost one big one, which is a big theme of your first book.

J: Yeah.

D: I don’t know if you could figure this out, but do you know how many tours the band did when you were in it?

J: I don’t know, surprisingly not as many as I would want.

D: All right. I think one of the ones you guys were trying to figure out which year it was, was when you went to Berkeley and you stayed with the aforementioned Matt Freeman and Tim Armstrong.

J: Yes.

D: That was when they were in Operation Ivy, before Rancid?

J: Yeah we had met them in Chicago, and then went out to Berkeley and stayed with them. Kamala had come over too and that’s where that song came.

D: Oh, “Kamala’s Too Nice”!

J: Yeah she was friends with them.

D: I see the name Kamala thanked in a lot of the liner notes for ‘90s era Lookout! and Epitaph bands.

J: Yeah she was pretty great.

D: I guess she left a big mark. Other than Ben did everyone get along between Screeching Weasel and Operation Ivy?

J: That rift wasn’t till later. As long as Operation Ivy was a band, we all got along really well. We used to sit around in their living room and just drink beer and play music.

Matt was the most outgoing; he was the extravert of all of them, him and Ben would be the hosts of all the parties. Dave Mello would always be there, hanging out with everybody, but I never really got to know him. Tim was always a little quiet, and always more to himself. Jesse was also a quiet person who would hide out a lot, but we got along.

D: I guess there was a point where Screeching Weasel wanted to sign to Epitaph Records, and then Rancid said they’d leave the label if this happened. Is this a true story?

J: Yeah it is. I got it second hand from Ben talking to Brett Gurewitz from Epitaph.

Things got weird when Tim did an interview talking about being on the streets, and Ben questioned his street punk creds, “Hey you’re just a suburban kid just like the rest of us, who do you think you are?” That’s where things flared up between them and it kind of got crazy.

D: From what I’ve read, Tim became pretty badly addicted to drugs and some of the songs he wrote, like “Salvation” or “Holiday Sunrise”, were about when he was living homeless at Salvation Army type places. So for whatever it’s worth, just because he came from the suburbs doesn’t mean he didn’t live that life at some point.

J: Yeah I don’t disagree with you. I don’t think I ever witnessed that period of time, to me he was just this skater kid that used to play a great guitar and used to be on a skateboard all the time. I really liked him.

D: Well let’s get back to the podcast. The Minutemen’s “Double Nickels On The Dime” the next episode?

J: Yeah that’ll be up very soon.

D: Do you have the lineup for it already; can you give some of the names of who we can hear on it?

J: This was actually a very personal one and most everyone who’s on it is a really close friend of mine. It’s an interesting take, we’re splitting the whole record between six of us, so we each have about six to seven different songs because there’s forty-two songs on the record. One of the guys, Bob Stockfish, came up with the idea “Why don’t we have all of the songs be econo-style?” which is a Minutemen word meaning short and thrifty. So we’re all doing one to one and a half minute pieces on six different topics. A couple of them have been on the podcast already, Steve Walker who’s one of my best friends, and directs all my plays, was on Repo Man.

D: Which piece did he do?

J: He did “Institutionalized”.

D: Oh right!  That was a great one.

J: Yeah he’s a pretty great writer.

D: Is Mike Watt gonna re-appear on the Minutemen episode as well?

J: Yeah, I did about an hour and a half interview with him, and my job this week is actually to cut that up. I asked him specifically about the songs he had wrote, so he’ll represent his own songs on the podcast.

D: Are you gonna release that whole interview like you did with the Screeching Weasel member interviews?

J: Yeah I’m pretty sure I will.

D: Oh that’ll be good.

J: Yeah it’s long. My one thing about Mike, which I’m actually writing a piece about, I couldn’t break it because I’m not a good enough interviewer yet, but since he’s been talking about his band for so many years, he falls into a pattern where he knows what he’s gonna say. So you think you might have gotten some new information, and then you go back and a read a book or some older articles and he almost word for word says what he’s said before.

D: I think there’s two different documentaries, one of them I know is “American Hardcore” and I can’t remember what the other one is, where he gives the interviewer the same tour around San Pedro, California in his van that he does to the interviewer for the other movie.

J: Yeah you’re right, I just saw that online.

D: Was Mike familiar with you and your work at all?

J: He didn’t show any signs of it. He did an interview with me because he’s really approachable, and he was trying to support the Repo Man cover record.

D: He covers Let’s Have A War by Fear.

J: Yeah. I snuck in when I was talking to him that I was gonna do Double Nickels On The Dime, and he said “Yeah I’d be up for that”.

D: That’s awesome.

J: Yeah, I’m trying to get George Hurley now, but he doesn’t like speaking.

D: (Laughs)

J: Mike even said he usually has to go by his house to actually talk to him. So I’m hunting him down, and Grant Hart from Huker Du said he would like to but then he had to go off to Europe.

D: All right, so we’re almost at the end, I have a couple questions that are unrelated to the podcast. I guess this’ll be the time to go over them.

J: Yeah, that’s good.

D: I think it was the first episode, you said you’re touring with a puppet show. How is that going?

J: (Laughs) It’s going fine. I’m trying to be more of a rounded theater person, so I think learning a new talent was kind of the goal. I haven’t performed in front of kids since my college days, so performing in front of 700 kids at a time is pretty nuts.

My girlfriend Paige and I had to move to Cincinnati, which we’re not too happy about. There isn’t much to do compared to Chicago. We’re trying to make money to survive here, so we don’t really have time to find the culture.

D: Were you familiar at all with the Cincinnati punk bands? I know Larry Livermore just did a compilation for Adeline records that had a number of bands from the area on it.

J: I don’t know any of them. I became friends with a guy named Chris Blair, who isn’t in a band, but is fairly connected with the scene, but I haven’t met any bands around here yet. Aren’t The Dopamines one of them?

D: Yeah. The Dopamines, Vacation, and Mixtapes.

J: Oh the Mixtapes! I keep forgetting that they’re from Cincinnati. I really like those guys. I tried to contact them to get them involved with the podcast and they showed interest, but I think they got busy. That’s one of the few bands I have heard. I’ve really enjoyed them.

D: Have you heard Larry’s compilation at all?

J: Not yet, but I will. I think what was missing from Lookout! when he left, was how he really knew how to choose a band.

D: Do you have any plans of playing music again?

Even in Blackouts from l-r: Liz Eldrege, Bice, Gub, Phil Hill, John Jughead

J: I got financially burned pretty badly with Even in Blackouts. Honestly, it was the best time I ever had with a band but I drove myself into financial trouble with paying for everything, so it kind of dampened my spirit. We’re going in to record something, but I’m calling us “EIB”. It’s half of Even In Blackouts and a couple of other friends doing a recording for a tribute to The Vindictives, so that might spark some more playing, but I haven’t gotten myself to write anything yet.

D: Which half of the band, you and the singer Liz Eldrege?
J: Me, and Liz, and Gub.

D: And are you still in touch with the other band members, Phil Hill and Bice?

J: Bice I still talk to. He runs a studio called New Alliance in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He had a child so he’s pretty busy.

Phil pretty much fell out of contact with everybody. I think he’s just sort of living his life right now and staying away from music.

D: A couple years ago I think he got jumped in a parking lot, and had to stay in the hospital for a stint.

J: Yeah it was a pretty horrible thing for him. He’s a Nashville boy and he’s very protective of woman. He saw a woman getting beat up by her man and he went to go stop it and got jumped by the guy’s friends and beat to a pulp. So not only the beating, but also I think the moral implications of what happened, made him think to hide out for a while.

D: Yeah, I’d talked to him a couple years before that happened. As a young punk kid walking around Nashville with a mohawk, he got shot by a bunch of rednecks passing by in a truck. It seems like trouble seems to find him, no matter his intentions.

J: Yeah he’s got a colorful life. Him and Mass Giorgini are the two punks that I want to write memoirs, both have fascinating lives.

D: On the subject of books, would you like to plug yours or anything else before we finish up?

J: I have my own site, I’ve been trying to blog a lot, trying to get all those memories out. I have “The Last Temptation of Clarence Oddbody" a novel based on “It’s A Wonderful Life”. It’s a very dark interpretation of the original movie. Also I’m writing stuff for AMP magazine, I’ll be doing an interview with Joey Vindictive about the resurgence of The Vindictives.

D: All right, thanks a lot for talking the time for this, it was great to talk to you.

J: Yeah, thank you David.

D: Like I was telling a friend the other day, if your favorite band is Led Zeppelin you’re not gonna get a chance to talk on Skype with Jimmy Paige.

J: (Laughs)

D: That’s the advantage to liking bands like Screeching Weasel.

J: That’s the thing about liking Mike Watt too. I really admire that attitude, and I want to be like that myself, just talking to whoever wants to talk.


  1. I must say here, I felt a little uncomfortable talking about the Lookout conflict involving Screeching Weasel and Larry Livermore, but I promised myself to answer all questions put to me. My quotes above horrendously simplify the conflict and simplifies the relationship between Ben and Larry. I don't like that part. There is much more to their friendship/non friendship than I can ever understand. And I've grown to appreciate and like Larry more over the many years I've known him, what I said doesn't seem to speak to that fact, and I felt it had to be said here.

    John Jughead Pierson

  2. I didn't feel you said anything out of line or overly simplistic about that conflict, and I think you did your best to present an even-handed explanation of it.

    However, there is one inaccuracy in the account, one which I'd assume stemmed from a misunderstanding rather than any attempt to misrepresent the facts.

    Lookout used a 60-40 split with the bands for the entire time I was there. This meant that ALL costs and ALL profits were split on this basis. No additional charges were ever added on top of that. This formula was explained verbally to every band when they joined the label, and was also clearly expressed in writing in the contract that each band signed.

    Whether Ben Weasel genuinely misunderstood this or was being deliberately disingenuous in an attempt to increase his share of the profits, I have no way of knowing, but it is not true that "all the bands" were lined up against Lookout in this regard. In fact, Screeching Weasel were the only band who made an issue of it.

    Possibly some confusion stems from the fact that most bands DID fall out with Lookout over unpaid royalties some years later, after I'd left, but that was an entirely different issue (and one in which Lookout was clearly in the wrong).

    I wish I didn't feel the need to make this correction, because in every other regard this is a fascinating and informative interview that, more than almost any I've seen, truly does justice to the breadth and depth of John Jughead's work as well as his role in punk rock history.

    Best wishes,
    Larry Livermore

  3. I welcome the correction Larry, a portrayal of accurate history is not my forte, but I am trying and I must admit I'm pretty good at setting tones.
    I do have some other questions regarding this, that may help me understand how my aforementioned remark could have been holy incorrect, but I'll do that privately.

  4. great interview, i really liked it!