Interview from America? zine #13


By Travis Fristoe
Zine available for $1 postpaid in the u.s., $2 global, from PO Box 13077, Gainesville, FL 32604-1077, USA


(I admit that it's a little ridiculous that I didn't really get into J Church until I was 30. But, like with drinking, I had to let the hype die down, then process it on my own. It's only now that I can appreciate the lyrical saviness & pop goodness of Lance Hahn's songs. Thus, when J Church came to town for "the FEST", the only way to redeem the situation was to do an interview. Conducted outside while everyone else watched that silly band Lucero played.)

What's your impression of Gainesville?

This is like my 5th or 6th time here. I love it here. I mean, I've known people from here from before I even visited. I've known Var... I can't even think of how long. Definitely my favorite part of Florida. It's kind of like a muggy Berkeley. Berkeley with boiled peanuts along the way.

So you've kept the name J Church through many line-ups?

Yeah, we still do a lot of the old songs. And a lot of people thought it was weird that I wanted to change the name when Cringer broke up. There's not been a huge departure musically. If I ever do something really weird, I'll call it something else. But J Church will continue as long as its in the same musical direction. No one knows what J Church means anyway or how tied it is to San Francisco. It's more of an idea anyway.

Is it odd then having relocated your-self (& J Church) out of the Bay area?

Well, I don't know how long I'm going to be out of San Francisco. The only reason we came to Austin is that my girlfriend is in grad school there. So when she's done, we're probably going to move.

How's the reaction to the new album?

It's like every record - there's the people that "get it" & many that can't stand it. People get really angry, and some like it. It's good - I'd rather a lot of people dislike it. If everyone likes it, you're pandering.

Was there much debate within the band to have the b-side be such an epic?

Uhh...not so much that. Because when you break it down, it's 6 shorter songs. There are people who don't like the idea of punk bands doing songs longer than 2 ½ minutes. There is that. They won't even listen to that side, assuming it's a 15-minute jam session... [significant pause] People seem to like us or not like us before they even know what we sound like, so...

Based on your longevity or the pop-punk style...?

Based on us having trouble with other bands. Based on us saying stuff all the time and being more political than many groups. And I don't mean political just because we don't like the war and capitalism & all the big things. I mean politics as far as scene politics too.

I know this is an old topic, what was reaction like to your song "Why I Liked Bikini Kill"?

At the time, there was so much bad reaction to Bikini Kill. That was before their 2nd album I think, and there were all these articles being written in zines like "they're so mean". No band is perfect, but these writers seemed to have some weird vendetta. And I liked Bikini Kill - what they're about, their music. A band like us was really outside of that riott grrl scene & I thought it was a good idea to write something in support of them. To show that it's not just the insular Olympia community backing them up. Bands like us, that people think of as Gilman/East Bay, are still with them. You do something like that song and not every-one is going to be happy. But that's why we do it.

Along those lines, how do you deal with pop-punk typically being male, adolescent juvenilia?

Well, I think that's because a lot of the bands don't challenge these notions. There are a lot of bands that have no ambition with what they could do. Plenty of bands would be just as happy covering Descendents songs. Or Operation Ivy songs. I like both those bands but there's so many bands that limit themselves to that within pop-punk. The criticism makes sense in general. The Descendents actually said I Don't Wanna Grow Up. That was their thing! All the bands that copy it sound at best like high school kids, and at worst frat boys. We don't associate with that. I like catchy music. But I like all kinds of stuff as well.

Last time I saw y'all play was on the Avail / Propagandhi big tour? How was that?

Great. We've known both those bands for a long, long time. We go way back with Propagandhi. We played with them in Canada before they even had an album out. With Avail, same thing. We'd never done a full tour with either of them. Wait, that's not true - we went to Japan with Propagandhi. But nothing in the States. With us & Propagandhi, the 2 bands that have a lot of similar ideological positions, but very different approaches to how they write about it. Mostly it was that we knew we got along with Propagandhi. It was our 2nd record with Fat and we were kind of seeing what it would be like to go for a Fat audience.

Like clubs with bouncers...?

Just what you think of when you think of Fat Records fans. Sometimes it works, but a lot of times it doesn't.


I love Fat & all the people there. I maybe don't like all the bands, but the time we spent on that label was great. We just didn't gel with the scene there...I don't think anyone would argue that [laughs].

On the new album, there's a cryptic line about "the benefits being infinite". What's that one about?

Well, that song in particular was written after a show we'd played with Mates of State. That's another weird example of a band that I really love hanging out with. They're cool, on-the-level people. The song was about walking home at 4am after hanging out with them & Rainer Maria. 3 really different bands. We stuck ‘em together & it worked.

It made me think there's no point in being so self-conscious. Like there's all these bands that wear ties now (or have bullet belts). Even the emo bands will wear studded belts! It's better to just do things the way you feel comfortable. And I don't mean just the way you dress. With "the benefits are infinite", maybe we'd be cool in a year if we tried to look like the Hives, but it's more beneficial for us to do what we do & do it forever. I'm happy not to be cool.

Is it akin to the line "it's no big deal to be so real"?

That line is more about being self-conscious. Especially now with this regeneration of emo bands that are doing whatever is popular. Some bands, like ‘em or not, are trying to get something across. The whole thing is that you don't have to rip your heart out every song! It's great, but you don't have to live & die with every lyric. I respect bands that do that, but you don't have to. We don't do that.

What's going on with the ex "Beautiful Frenzy" video that you put out?

It's out. It came out over the summer. Actually, it's sold out. But I'm going to make more of them! Every copy was gone within a week. The movie is awesome. And as soon as I have the money together, I'm going to make a DVD as well. But I'll make more videos, too.

Did you dub it yourself?

No, it's a "proper" release. It wasn't me at home with 2 vcrs! I made a few hundred of them.

How does your family react to you being a musician and doing this for so long?

They think it's funny. My parents aren't super-hippies, but they're ex-hippie-ish. They would prefer me to finish college or this or that. But they're happy with how my life is in general. If I'm happy doing this, they support it. They come see us. They're out in the D.C. area. My mom's hung out with Ian MacKaye before! {laughs]

Are you still doing Some Hope & Some Despair?

Yeah. I haven't had time lately. I put out one this summer - the one with Flux of Pink Indians. I'll finish another one before the end of the year when we get back from Europe. Issue #8. If I can get 2 out a year, that's great.

With the interviews & stories of the UK anarcho-punk bands, is that going to come out as a book sometime?

Yeah, I'm going to do a book for AK Press. I've gotten most of it done. We're going to Europe in November/December, and I'm going to hang out with some friends of mine in London for a few days. All these old anarcho-punk people, and get the last of the interviews done there. They've been saving fanzines since the 70s. So I'll get all that stuff, edit it, and that'll be it.

Was it awkward to get in touch with some of these people?

It was so hard to get in touch with most of the bands. Some of the bands, I'm just using old interviews. The thing that's great though is that the interviews I did get are so long. If anything, I have too much material. So I'm going to make a really long book, give to AK Press & say "edit away". I can't decide what to cut.

Do you still work at Sound Exchange?

Me & the bass player [Ben Snakepit] used to work there. But it went out of business. Like a lot of record stores, it had been around for 20-something years & then went under.

Being around music for so long, do you ever get jaded?

Not really. Because I like so many other things as well. If all I was doing was collecting punk singles, then yeah. It definitely ebbs & flows - there are periods where nothing good is coming out.

I'm a big jazz collector, too. Particularly 60s & 70s avant-garde jazz. I'm a huge Eric Dolphy fan. A huge fan of Mingus. I'm always looking for live recordings of the post-Coltrane scene.

Did a lot of that stuff come through the store?

A little bit. But there's another shop in town that's mostly a punk store that somehow gets these original pressings of 60s jazz albums. And whenever we go on tour, we hit the record stores. In Japan, I found the most insane jazz lps.

What did you think of the Ken Burns jazz documentary? Particularly the 60s section?

Well, I love the first 5 episodes. But I also really love Cecil Taylor [ed. note: Taylor gets a particularly brutal dismissive in the film]. The fact that the 6th episode was called 1960s-Present is revealing. I mean, they wheeled out all these people to dis on Cecil Taylor. They didn't cover Eric Dolphy at all! And he plays on the classic Coltrane stuff, obviously the classic Mingus stuff, his own stuff! There's no talk about fusion, Bitch's Brew. No Albert Ayler. It was shocking, horrifying

It was official music history in action. Like "here's how it's to be remembered and maybe we'll throw in a footnote or two from outside our canon..."

Allegedly, Sam Rivers is putting together his own documentary. He's been working on it for years supposedly.

What do you think of current players like Ken Vandermark or Matthew Shipp?

I like Matt Shipp a lot. Susie Ibarra. I even like Zorn and his related players. But mostly I like the European stuff. Players that played with Dolphy & are still doing their own stuff now. What's that movement called? The ICP! Not the Insane Clown Posse, but the European ICP. A collective of 60s avant-garde players. That stuff I really, really like. It's funny. It took me so long to catch on to European players. I had this kind of prejudice that a lot of people have since the jazz avant-garde had so many roots in getting back to Africa. It's more of an Afro-American idiom. And with the American version, I see where it's coming from. Now, with the Europe players, they're taking it in whole other directions.

Since you used the adjectives "overconfident, undergraduate" in a new song, is that about Austin? Would you consider Austin a college town?

Austin is definitely a college town. But so is Berkeley. It's not just about students. My girlfriend is a grad student. But particularly at UC Berkeley, there's a type of hip student punk kid. They consider themselves on a different intellectual level than anyone else in the DIY community. There were huge battles between MRR people & some of these kids. Anyway, it's me poking fun at those people.

Working in record stores for years, I'm around these undergrad music guys coming in talking about how Yoko Ono destroyed the Beatles. That's most of what that song's about. The Beatles were going to break up anyway! And just because you don't "get" what Yoko Ono does, doesn't mean you can dismiss her. I didn't like her music when I first heard it, but I can appreciate it. And I've learned to like a lot of it. Some of it is very academic, definitely. It's not commercial pop pap. You can't dismiss someone because they're "weird". I mean, not if you're trying to be some sort of music scholar.

You set up a really good dichotomy between Yoko & Nico in that song.

It's perception & image. There's good Nico stuff. But she was also really out there. And allegedly had racist tendencies. Read any biography by or about her & you'll see that she was guided around by however was leading the band at the time. It's not like I don't like Chelsea Girls. But people are so into Nico and her avant-garde stuff (Camera Obscura, all that). And to dismiss Yoko is a disservice to both.

How is the Honey Bear label doing?

I've been doing a lot of small run stuff... I did a few J Church live records that were super-limited. Like 20 copies. Just for people that write to us. But I'm going to put out a couple of singles of unreleased Cringer songs. That'll start up again. But Honey Bear's always been for fun. Bands will put out their 1st records with me. It was fun to have Unwound do something for me and then move on. I did that single for Refused, then they went on Epitaph. Obviously, the label is not my main focus. I like vinyl so I'm going to keep concentrating on singles & lps. Anyone can do a cd!

This might be old news, but how did it work out with the fire at your apartment?

Actually, there's been 2 fires. The first one was the bad one. This woman in my apartment complex was schizophrenic, borderline violent, and probably should have been in the hospital. Anyway, one day she flipped out, set her place on fire & the whole building burned, all 12 units. That was the one where I'm still trying to replace items. We were very lucky that a friend from the New York Times sent us a computer. That was really cool. A lot of labels sent us records. But all the Honey Bear stuff got destroyed.

What do you think of fests in general?

Depends the fest. We've been to good & bad ones. This one is fun. We like most of the bands, most of the people. We like everyone that we know who is personally involved.. This is like a vacation for us. We played the Reading Festival a few years ago, which was crazy. With like Metallica, Marilyn Manson & Bush. We didn't get to meet any of them, of course, since they have their own buses and we roll up in a little van. That's kind of neat as a once-in-a-lifetime experience in front of 50,000 people. I wouldn't say it was fun, though. When we weren't playing, you're stuck in a crowd of 50,000 people. That's not fun to me. And most of the bands were terrible.

What was reaction like to the Discount split, particularly the decision to cover ELO???

People were really against until they heard it. But once they realized we didn't have a cello & violin... When you break the songs down, they're basic pop songs. We wanted to do that even before deciding on a record with Discount. I've always liked ELO, and I thought that if you got rid of all the fluff, then the pop songs would work. We just happened to be in England with 5 days off after tour, so we spent 2 days in the recording studio kind of winging it. I think it turned out well.

That's pretty much it. Thanks for doing the interview, and I want to thank you for writing intelligent, critical songs in American during wartime.

Yeah, man, that's my thing. [laughs].

lance hahn. J Church. honey bear
1730 e. oltorf #135
austin, tx 78741


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