Interview from After Your Mom zine #1

 

Email interview by Alex P., 13 April 2001
Contact: 20305 Seagull Way, Saratoga, CA 95070-3126, USA

1. What do you think of Green Day and the "corporatization" of punk rock?

Well, it's hard for me to really get into that anymore. I mean, yeah, it's always hard when the underground goes mainstream. It always leaves the underground grasping for a raison d'etre. It takes the wind out of everything. But, I don't have any problem with Green Day. I really quite like them, actually. Having known them since they were teenagers, I know that their interest in "punk" was more casual and relative to the scene where all of their friends were.
Also, it's really hard for bands on indie labels. Now, Green Day aren't necessarily the best example of this as they had always been somewhat successful. But for most bands, labels treat you crappy, fanzines shit all over you, gigs and tours are totally unpredictable (and I do mean in a bad way). Considering how relatively disorganized and unforgiving a lot of the underground is, it's not surprising that most bands have no problem walking away when a big label comes running.
Things are different for bands in the underground. While the major label boom accelerated this problem. The problem surely existed before Green Day and Nirvana. Until the indie / underground scene figures out it's own problems, bands and people in general are gonna care less and less...

1a. Do you think it's fair to connect Green Day to this phenomena?

I think it's fair to say what you feel about any band. Everyone has a right to their own opinion and any band is up for scrutiny. But that goes for everyone, band or not...

2. What do you think of MTV?

I just think it's boring. I mean, yeah, everyone knows that it's mostly a big advertisement for the major labels. But lately it's morphed into something weirder. It's an advertisement for some sort of youth lifestyle that merges all kinds of weird elements that manages to draw in hip kids with jocks and with nerds. Talking to kids in school of the new MTV generation is like talking to the Stepford Wives. And I know that as many, many, many J Church fans fall into that category. I don't know. I guess our music is a little more mainstream than a lot of other punk bands. But it's weird to think that a lot of J Church supporters don't listen to punk. They listen to Radiohead, Everclear and Weezer. In terms of music, I kind of like some of that stuff. But we're really on another planet from these people...

3. What do you think of Operation Ivy?

I saw 'em many times. I loved that band. It's funny, the first time I saw them, I didn't think that much of them. It was a New Year's Eve show at Gilman Street and they didn't have a record or anything out yet. I was actually there to see Stikky and Isocracy. I remember that Jesse kept jumping off of the kick drum. At one point, he didn't look where he was jumping and he landed on Matt's head knocking him out! After a minute or two, Matt came around and finished the set. I liked 'em. But at the time I thought all of their songs sounded like a ska version of Wild Thing.
But Operation Ivy were great. Live, they were crazy and their records are still timeless. I see Jesse around every so often.

4. When did "it" all start to go downhill? (make of this what you will)

When I was in the 4th Grade back in '76, I joined the Kiss Army and started collecting Queen and Rolling Stones records. That's when it all started to go downhill...

5. Was it a conscious decision for J Church to have such a ridiculous discography, or was it more of a runaway train type thing, or what happened there?

Yeah. I have to say that it really was and is a conscious decision. I just really wanted to band to operate on a different level from other bands of the day. We were trying to go back in time a little with the way that we "promoted" ourselves. We're sort of a throw back to the '60s and '70s that way.
I love 7"s and I don't mean that just in terms of punk rock. I love that Queen and Abba and Blondie and whoever have millions of different versions of their records. I love collecting that stuff. I love finding something weird at a record swap or at a little shop in the middle of nowhere. I love that. What's the harm in it?
I also think bands are lazier today. Think of Creedence Clearwater Revival. They put out all of those records over the course of a couple of years. Look at the early Elton John stuff. Bands used to come up with two to three albums a year at least. Even the Smiths used to come up with two albums worth of material every year. I miss that and I really want J Church to continue to operate on that level.

6. Is punk rock better, as a subculture, than it was ten years ago?

Yeah. It sucked 10 years ago. Well, it didn't suck. But it was even less together than it is today. I mean, now anyone can book a tour of house parties all across the US. You can even book a tour on the internet. Booking tours was much, much harder back in the late '80s and early '90s.
Also, you don't have to worry as much about racism, sexism and homophobia anymore. It's still there. Believe me, it's still there. But it's much more subdued than in the old days and that's certainly positive.

7. Describe Lawrence Livermore.

A long time friend of mine, I think Lawrence is a really smart guy with a lot of life experience. Of course, if you just read his columns and that's all you know of him, you might think he was a little condescending. But I know him. He's got an agenda like anyone else in the world. But he's a really good guy and really nice. He's one of my old friends that I always look forward to seeing. I enjoy his company more than he probably enjoys mine!

8. Describe Jello Biafra.

Again, a really smart guy. I feel really bad for him these days and I think I know how he feels. I mean, he put a lot into the Dead Kennedy's. He made them what they were and what they still represent. It's sad that these ex-members are now coming back to exhume and humiliate the body just to make a little cash.
But, just talking about Jello, it was weird meeting him and getting to know him. I mean, he was one of the people that I really looked up to when I was in High School and getting into punk and politics and everything. He's a little socially awkward, which I think is really cool. But I think most people don't get that and, as a result, don't realize how intelligent this guy is.
You know, he changed a lot of things for my generation. I mean, I wonder if anyone from this new generation of punk and hardcore know anything about irony...

9. Are you guys really "in it for the music"?

We're in it or the art, if you can believe that. I think of what we do as a sort of mirror of my little part of the universe. As time goes on, I try to make it a more and more complete reflection. I guess that's partly why we sometimes do really weird things that seem completely out of range for a band like J Church. It's also why I feel comfortable talking about anything in the lyrics. It's not all politics as some would lead you to believe.

10. Does punk contradict itself at all? Too much?

Punk, especially right now, is a constant contradiction. Shit, a British working class struggle that has manifested itself in suburban USA? What else can it be? But like Marx said, heighten the contradiction!" The more conflicting and seemingly conflicting constructs and ideas crash into each other, the more possibility for the truth to come up...

11. What does Lance Hahn think about the Napster squabble?

I really couldn't care less. Shit, Napster is a dumb company just like any other company. But Metallica are a big dumb group too. They all just care about the money and really the only people getting fucked around are the music fans. I don't really care about the Napster debate one way or the other.
Now, having said that, I know that people bootleg our music everywhere and I don't mind really. In Poland, people sell tapes of our stuff. That's cool with me. It gets our music to more people and maybe helps someone get a meal. Kids always trade CDRs and live recordings and whatever. As long as no one person is making some huge profit off of our music, people should feel free to do as they please...

12. How do one-sided interviews (like this one) compare to ones where the two parties actually interact?

I usually say "um" all the time.

13. Have you sold out in any way? If not, would you like to?

I don't know. I guess it depends on who's perspective you're asking. I don't know. Being in a band is always give and take. Nobody is trying to sell out (at least not from our scene). But that doesn't mean it happens inadvertently. Anyway, we're not planning to sell out.

14. Who's funnier, Jeff Ott or Aaron Cometbus?

Aaron is a great guy. He is really fucking funny at times. I just saw him for a second the other day. Just about everything he does is interesting to me. Who would've thought Cometbus would still be such a great publication?

15. The Buddha sez that suffering is caused by desire for material possessions. Do you think that art (or the experience and interpreting of art or a piece of art) would count as a material possession enough to apply to this philosophy?

Art is a mirror and the act of interpreting and appreciating any art is as much metaphysical as it is intellectual. Aesthetics, I think, are only one facet. That's the breech of modern art and contemporary art. To put it in terms of "material possession" or that possibility of being such, you would have to be putting a value (in terms of approval and not money) on the physical piece and not the intentions. But art has everything to do with context and vision. You can't judge a Rauschenberg or a Jasper Johns strictly on the physical product.

16. How do you pick the songs you choose to cover?

I have a few thousand records and I spend most of my free time listening to them. My records are at best 40% punk, so I listen to a lot of other stuff. So, I get ideas all the time. It's mostly because I'll hear a song and realize that the basic song structure is similar to ours or "punk" in general and I'll be wondering what it would like with our type of production and arrangement.

17. Is it wrong for a man to steal a loaf of bread to feed his starving family?

Only if he's stealing it from another starving man and his family.

18. If 2n x 4n = 96, what is n?

Around 3.46... I don't know. It's been years since I was on the math team.

19. What are your thoughts on the current presidential situation?

I don't give a fuck. He probably needs a bullet in the head. But so did Clinton. All politicians are the same and they're all worthless.

20. How important do you think zines are to punk rock, mass media and the world as a whole?

I really don't know. Sometimes I'm not even sure how important bands are to punk rock. But it's a nice forum for people to get their ideas across in a more controlled environment then a show. I don't know. All the best zines are relative to the personality of the person putting it out. Unless the band makes the effort, I think most band interviews are kind of boring. But that's just me. I obviously don't represent the average zine buyer. I probably see a lot more zines than most people. Hey, there's something desirable about doing a zine. I'm 34 and I still like doing one.

21. What is the deal with all the photos included in J Church records? Are they all found, or do you know what they all are, what's the deal?

They used to be mostly photos found at estate sales, thrift stores and yard sales. I also have a big stack of photo books that I used to pilfer. But it's a little harder these days as we're selling a lot more records and we need to get the rights to everything. So, now, I usually just approach photographers I know and who's work I like. That's how we chose Sonja for the last record cover (One Mississippi).

 

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