This interview was originally meant to be the first feature in an e-zine I was starting. It never happened; instead the conversation was the catalyst for my J Church fan site, which eventually became J-Church.com. It took place on 29 September 1997 in a pub in Cambridge (UK) during a tour with Wat Tyler.
Graham: As this interview is for a website, the first question has to be what happened to the J Church internet site?
Lance: First of all, when it first started it was through this mail order company called Blacklist in the United States and they went out of business so they shut down everything. So then we got moved over to a guy who was working at Research in the US, which is like a book publishing group or whatever, and he put it out through them. But ultimately he ended up leaving the company so when he left, it all went down and that was the end of it. We were talking about bringing it back because the record label that we have now, they said we can do a web site and we still have all the parts, y’know. It was actually even updated just before it finally collapsed. It was just one of those things we had free for a while so we let it go.
Graham: The other obvious question is that you have a new drummer - who? why? how?
Lance: Well, our last drummer [Reed] was, like, 19.
Gardner: He’s 22.
Lance: Oh really. Well, you know what I mean, he’s just like... it’s hard to explain.
Graham: Personality differences?
Lance: No, no.
Gardner: He went back to school. He joined the band when he was 19 and he was still living at home and so it was like, he joined the band and immediately went on tour after tour. So he was kind of missing out on his youth.
Graham: There seem to be a lot of bands in the US that break up because someone’s going to university.
Gardner: That’s usually where they start.
Lance: Actually, a lot of it is with college, yeah. They start in high school and when they get to college, they’re ready for college so that’s when the band breaks up, like Gray Matter or bands like that, or Marginal Man, who get together whenever school’s out. People are getting proper jobs, going to graduate school, that sort of thing.
Graham: So, the new drummer. Where did you get Andee from?
Lance: He’s, uh, we’ve just known him for a long time. He’s a friend of ours from San Francisco. He’s in two other bands so a lot of it was, like, we had a tour planned right when our last drummer quit and it was with his other band so he opted to fill in and then, y’know, for the time being anyway, he’s got enough time that he can be in three bands so it’s one of those things. We’ve known each other for a long time; he knows our songs.
Graham: You and Gardner have been together from way back, but you seem to have a fairly revolving drummer - almost a bit Spinal Tap. There was Brendan, Adam from Jawbreaker for a short time...
Lance: Adam was just filling in, the same with Duncan, he was just filling in. Reed was in the band for a while, a few years, it’s just we’ve never really spent the time auditioning drummers or finding drummers. It’s all sort of thrown together, carrying on for a few years until we need another one.
Graham: At the Reading Festival this year, you walked on and the first thing you said was “Hi, we’re J Church from San Francisco and I don’t have a clue why we’re here”. Was it that much of a shock?
Lance: Well, it was not so much a shock, it had more to do with all the other bands that were playing, y’know. It’s like, ‘why are we playing in a festival with Metallica, Marilyn Manson and Bush?’
Gardner: It seemed a bit silly. It was fun, but...
Lance: It’s the kind of thing that could never possibly happen in the States, and for a lot of reasons wouldn’t happen.
Graham: I assumed you were there because Bis had invited you. I saw Amanda [Bis singer] at one of your shows last year so I thought, as they were headlining that night they’d managed to pull some strings and get you on. Is that correct?
Lance: Bis got us on? No, they’re friends of ours but it was a big coincidence, which was really nice.
Gardner: I don’t know who it was.
Lance: The guy from the Mean Fiddler that actually books it has seen us a few times. I guess he knows all our records and songs and stuff. That’s what Sean says, anyway. It was just one of those weird flukes. It’s not like we asked or anything. It just sort of happened, y’know. It was fun playing. Reading’s kinda weird.
Gardner: Playing was fun. I thought it went over very well.
Lance: I had no idea anyone was going to enjoy it at all, just ‘cos of what it was, but it turned out to be better than I thought.
Graham: Have you played festivals in the States?
Lance: Never. We’ve played one in Sweden.
Gardner: They don’t have festivals in the States.
Graham: You’ve never been invited to Lollapalooza then? Or some local equivalent? Hawaii-fest - local band makes good?
Lance: There is no local equivalent. There’s nothing like that anywhere really.
Gardner: They’ll have a big show but it’s not like a festival. Really.
Lance: Yeah, I mean if they get seven bands to do a big gig in the Bay Area, you’re still only talking about 1,000 people. You’re not talking about Reading size or Glastonbury or anything like that. Even Lollapalooza and things like that aren’t nearly as big.
Gardner: It’s not even that, it’s just kind of a totally different atmosphere. The festival thing is not an American kind of thing; it wouldn’t really work that well. You’d probably have a lot more trouble. I mean, that was one of the amazing things about Reading to me - just how mellow it all was. Like in America, by the time it got dark there’d just be fights.
Graham: I think with that night particularly, because it was such a divided bill - the indie bands on one stage, the metal bands on another, everybody was kept apart.
Lance: Yeah, but in the States, even if you did that, if you had indie bands, metal bands, punk bands, whatever, there’d be so many fights. It’d be completely violent. You’d have so many police there because it’d be so out of control.
Gardner: And also, half of it’s because that’s what everyone would expect and so then there’d be loads of security and you have the atmosphere for it. It kind of creates it, in a sense.
Lance: And it’s like, that’s what’s accepted as the way people are. They expect to go and see a fight or get in a fight - that’s just what they expect from a gig in the States. The mentality, y’know.
Gardner: Especially the bigger ones, the bigger it gets, the more trouble there is.
Graham: I heard you had a bit of trouble at the Brighton show last night.
Lance: Yeah, it was weird. It was just like two or three people causing all this trouble - these two or three out-of-control crusties starting fights - so we had to stop three or four times in our set because the fighting got out of control. But then after they threw those people out, it was fine. After that, the gig was pretty fun.
Gardner: Except for outside.
Lance: We were inside, so it was fun.
Gardner: But they started trouble outside. They just stayed and had shouting arguments with people. Constantly on the verge of starting a fight and then breaking it up and then doing it again.
Lance: But that’s the kind of thing any scene that gets to that stage has to deal with. I mean, that’s gonna happen at some point. You certainly can’t let these people come back in so at some point there has to be a confrontation to deal with these people. It’s better that everybody agreed that they should be chucked out and not let back in.
Gardner: But it sucks because nobody wants to be like that - it’s kinda the antithesis of the whole idea of having a punk show - but on the other hand, why let three people ruin the whole fucking thing?
Lance: The saddest thing is that it took J Church and Wat Tyler to bring the Brighton scene together! (laughs)
Gardner: Or to bring out the bad element!
Lance: Well, Wat Tyler were the problem really. Basically there were a lot of crusties having a nice time and Wat Tyler got them all riled up.
Sean from Wat Tyler (on the next table): It was the Gardner one-man comedy they were coming to see.
Graham: Is there ever going to be a third singles compilation or do I have to spend half my wages trying to track down all these songs?
Gardner: No, don’t bother. Just wait.
Lance: Yeah, eventually there always will be. I mean, the singles are mostly done as convenient things. I just like singles, I think they’re really cool, so it’s cool to have a lot of singles. But at the same time I can appreciate it’s hard to get them all.
Graham: There’s not many on coloured vinyl, which obviously is a very punk thing to do.
Lance: Well, I don’t know. Our double 7” [Lama Temple] was coloured vinyl. The triple 7” [My Favourite Place EP], I think there were some on coloured vinyl. My Favorite Place [the original version] - 500 of them were on coloured vinyl; there’s a lot around. The thing is, in the US everybody does it so you don’t even think about it any more. It’s not so special as it is over here. Because it doesn’t cost any more money in the States if you do coloured vinyl so everybody does it. It’s not like here where it’s more special and it’s harder to do.
Graham: So do you have any idea when the next compilation will come out, or is it just part of the general grand plan?
Lance: Yeah, I mean next year at the earliest. We have enough that we could do one right now but there’s too much stuff that has to happen first. We have so many other things that are in limbo that there’s no rush to get a singles collection out.
Graham: So there are more singles and albums waiting to happen?
Lance: I don’t know exactly what all the stuff is. We’re supposed to do a 10” on an Italian label but now we hear they might be going out of business so I don’t know what’s going to happen with that. We were supposed to do a CD with Au-go-go in Australia but then we haven’t been able to get in touch with them so I don’t know what’s going to happen with that.
Graham: Do people just get in touch and say ‘we’ve got $1,000 or whatever, do us a couple of songs’ and you say ‘OK, here you go’?
Lance: Except the money never comes. So right now I’m owed about $2,000! So that’s why everything’s in limbo right now. We have all the songs that are recorded for different projects - singles, 10”s, whatever - I don’t know what’s going to happen.
Graham: Do you have a favourite song, or one you’re most proud of writing?
Lance: One song?! [thoughtful silence]
Graham: OK, two or three? Any lyrics that made you think ‘yes, this is exactly how I feel’?
Lance: I used to.
Gardner: I couldn’t pick one, but there’s several.
Lance: There are ones for different reasons though. I like listening to Your Shirt the most because I just like how it turned out, but when I was writing it I didn’t think it was very good. I was like, ‘oh man, this is a b-side, this is a compilation song’, and then when we recorded it it came out a lot better than I could have expected, so it’s weird, that almost feels like an accident.
Graham: Do you listen to your songs after you've recorded them?
Lance: For a little while until I can't stand it any more.
Gardner: I have to wait a few years before I can actually listen. At first I can sit and listed to it and say 'oh, this sounds good', or 'we should have done this', 'I wish this sounded a little better', and I listen to it on a technical level, and the old ones I can listen to just as a record and enjoy it like that but the thing is, by the time you get round to recording something, you're sick of it because you've been practising it and the recording process itself kind of ruins songs because you have to listen to them over and over and over.
Graham: But at gigs you still play the older songs like Bomb, My Favourite Place - do you get like the Ramones, who had to play Blitzkrieg Bop every night 'cos it's expected.
Gardner: Well we both feel that it's better. If I went to see a band, I'd want to hear the songs that I liked. I mean, it's kind of a drag but it's not that big a deal and it feels like you're playing a show for the people and you want them to enjoy it so you might as well.
Lance: And the thing is, the songs are two minutes long so it's like, how painful can that be?
Gardner: And it hasn't been as bad as when I used to go and see bands like Aggression or 7 Seconds and it'd be like everybody just wanted to hear the first record - they'd be on their fifth record and nobody cared about anything other than the first record. We've been lucky that that's never really happened to us.
Lance: People at least like the first two records! Just kidding.
Gardner: Well no, I mean, more than that, people like the more current songs also.
Graham: But the shouts at the gigs are usually for older songs - Open Road is always a favourite.
Gardner: See, only here. Nobody ever asks for that in the States.
Graham: Good Judge Of Character is another obvious one.
Lance: That's another one we don't do.
Gardner: We played Good Judge... right from the day we recorded it until just a little while ago so... Every time you get a new drummer, you have to decide what you're gonna learn from the old stuff.
Lance: I kinda think regardless of new drummers, it should always be like that. You just want to pick a certain set; you don't have to know everything. If we had to practise more than we do to know the old stuff, that would really kill the songs. It's one thing to play them live every night but if you have to practise them, that can kill an old song, it really can.
Gardner: But then, I mean, it's been getting weirder with people yelling out for songs, like there'll be two people yelling for an obscure, slow song, that if we played it, the rest of the crowd probably wouldn't enjoy it very much. It's easy if everyone wants to hear Bomb - that's kind of a big crowd pleaser - but Marge Schott or Priest or something like that, they may like it a lot but live, the slower weird ones are kinda hard to make work.
Lance: It's like we usually play pretty small places so a lot if it relies on sounding fairly decent. We just have vocal mikes - you can't pull off the clean, slow, more technical songs, I guess. At the same time, if I think about playing November, it seems really, really boring but it's always fun to play because there's so many times when you play it, people know the words, sing along and even if it's a song I'm completely sick of, it's fun to do if that's the case.
Graham: At the shows I saw on the last tour, at every one there were shouts for Planet Earth.
Lance: Oh yes.
Gardner: There haven't been any this time.
Graham: Is that a British thing?
Lance: Mmm, no, but it's really hard to play.
Gardner: We've never played it live.
Lance: Yeah, we just learned it for the studio. The bass part and the drum part are real complex.
Gardner: If we played it as slow as Duran Duran did, maybe, but it's that galloping thing - it's hard to do and it's very easy to be just the tiniest bit off, which ruins the whole thing.
Graham: You mentioned people singing along - how serious was Thirty Second Song [about people at shows who just sing along]? It always reminds me of In Bloom by Nirvana - "He's the one who likes all our pretty songs, and he likes to sing along... but he knows not what it means".
Lance: It's partially sincere because I think it's too bad when a lot of people just think of us as a pop-punk band. People don't see the difference between us and Face To Face, No Use For A Name and all those bands. I'm sure they're fine people but we're just thought of in the same breath so as a result people only know the band on a completely superficial level and I think it's too bad that people don't see there's some sort of difference. Maybe we're not lyrically more deep, I don't know, whether we try it or not, but there's other reasons why we do the band that are very different to the way bands like that operate. I'm happy for anyone to come and see us but it is too bad when the bulk of the people don't see us as anything more than this pop song.
Graham: It seems to me from 'zines that there's an incredible underground backlash against anything vaguely corporate. You did a record with Honest Don's, which is Fat Wreck Chords-associated. Have you had any flak about that?
Lance: At first it was really bad. I got a lot of letters and postcards like, 'why would you do anything like that?'. And even now that the record's out, people write and say 'that was good, blah, blah, blah, I like that record but hopefully your next record will be less slick'. People have said stuff like that. There's a lot of things I don't like about that record, but it's got nothing to do with Honest Don's or those people because I think they've been really cool.
Graham: Was that just a one-off with them, or have you got other stuff coming out?
Lance: We only committed for one record. We don't do contracts with anybody. It's not that we're not going to do the next record with anybody, it's more like we aren't committed to anything.
Graham: Do you have a best / worst gig? Best in Britain, if you want to narrow it down?
Lance: Best gig in Britain was either last year's gig at the Red Eye [in London] with Snuff, which was really fun, or the tour before that at the Dublin Castle [also in London], which was pretty incredible. That gig at the Dublin Castle was insane, people singing along. There were a lot of people over from the States, which was really weird, so it was a lot of people who had seen us in the States. So those two are the best British gigs, easily.
Gardner: But there's always different reasons that make a good gig. I mean, like that Snuff gig was great but for me it was great 'cos Snuff were playing. I didn't enjoy playing. I was just like, get it over so Snuff can come on. So it'll be a great gig if you meet somebody really cool or something like that. Then sometimes, like last night, playing was really fun but the gig sucked. Once it got going, it was pretty fun.
Lance: It was fun once it started; it was so stressful up till then.
Graham: When I saw you at the record shop on Saturday [they did an in-store show], I finally got hold of Analysis, Yes Very Nice and when I was playing it, it seemed a lot more experimental than your other stuff. Was that deliberate?
Lance: All the songs were written at the same time as the Arbor Vitae record and they were either songs that weren't finished in time for that record, like Kill Your Boss could have been on Arbor Vitae but I didn't have it finished in time. Or they were songs that were just ideas that I didn't know if they were going to work or not, so I didn't want to really spend a lot of time working on them in a nice studio in England when we could do it in a cheaper place, like where we recorded that stuff. So yeah, they were all written around the same time and they're songs that either weren't finished or didn't really fit. I just wasn't sure. Because the thing is, when you're just doing it in an 8-track studio, if it comes out bad you can just forget about it. Or you can spend more time fussing around.
Graham: It seemed deliberately experimental, or lo-fi.
Gardner: It was lo-fi. My friend has an 8-track cassette and so we can do it for free. He just comes down to our rehearsal room and we just record and we've done a lot of that.
Lance: Which I actually like a lot.
Gardner: Yeah, I mean you can just fuss around a lot more.
Lance: It's a lot more casual, like, you don't have to worry that every minute's a dollar. It's deliberately weird in that they were just songs I was fussing around with. If they'd seemed to make a lot more sense, they'd have wound up on Arbor Vitae. And there are some kinda strange songs on Arbor Vitae too, but those are the ones I wasn't really confident with until we actually played them.
Gardner: It's probably 'cos a lot of people 'don't like that stuff', and a lot of people like that the most.
Graham: Yeah, it was weird for me. The first song, At The Cannery, was really good, then it was, not that it wasn't good but it was a bit of a departure from the norm.
Lance: Yeah. That's why it was just an EP as well. We couldn't afford to do a whole album of stuff like that. The kids wouldn't tolerate it! (laughs)
Gardner: Not to say anything about other bands but I think, to me, it's more interesting to not always have every record sound the same.
Graham: And you didn't mention any names there.
Gardner: No I didn't.
Lance: Wat Tyler!
Gardner: Same jokes. No, no, no...
Graham: Do you ever make videos?
Lance: We haven't, no.
Graham: Say someone sent some camcorder thing into MTV and they said 'hey, yeah, this is good' and you ended up getting wall-to-wall rotation, how do you think you'd cope? Do think it's likely?
Gardner: Not even close.
Lance: I don't think it's likely, not at all. I mean, if it happens, that's fine.
Gardner: It's not the kind of thing you can really think about. But we've
been on MTV. For eight seconds!
Graham: OK, to be more realistic, say one of your colleagues from the Bay Area, or the California scene like Rancid or No Doubt calls you up and asks you to play support on their next arena tour.
Lance: I'd probably want to do it. I mean it's not like we're committing to anything. We did Reading y'know. We can't complain about one and be fussy about the other. Unless it was someone really ridiculous like Alannis Morissette. But if it was someone that I thought would help us then I'd say it's worth it, y'know.
Gardner: To me, that kind of stuff, I'd still feel it's kind of 'us and them', Like once in a while, they'd say 'hey, want to come and do this and we'll give you all this money for it', it's like 'sure'. Go over there, do it and then we go back.
Graham: And use the money to make lots more records.
Gardner: Yeah, and keep doing what we're doing. 'Cos that's all it'd be anyway. It's not like we're gonna be invited along. I know that bugs kids; I mean, to me, why should we say no to go over and do something and get a bunch of money and go back.
Lance: When all we're doing is just playing, and playing to more people if anything. It's not like every live show is so important that these kids who don't want to see this big band we're touring with are going to miss that much by missing one J Church show.
Gardner: It would kind of suck if we just came over and played Reading and went home. But we didn't do that and even if we had we'd just been here nine months before.
Lance: So there! Just kidding.
Gardner: As long as that's not all you do, then I don't see what the big deal is. 'Cos like he said, most of the people who like us wouldn't go to see us open for No Doubt.
Lance: Well we wouldn't tour with No Doubt.
Graham: But aren't they hardcore heroes in southern California. That's one thing I've been reading recently over here.
Lance: No. No Doubt have been around for a long time. In fact I still have a single I was given by one of them years ago. They used to open every gig in southern California, every party in Orange County - not L.A. - every band, even Final Conflict and stuff like that. They were just around for ever and nobody liked them. (laughs). It's true. We never played with them but I know so many bands saying 'Oh God, that band No Doubt's opening again!'.
Graham: So when are you going to give up this rock'n'roll lark and get a proper job?
Lance: Get a proper job? There's no time right now. We've all had jobs for a while; it's just over the last year or so we've been really busy touring so we haven't really had time. And also by and large the tours make enough money to keep us going, to survive between tours, really.
Gardner: It just got to the point where it was ridiculous to keep getting a job for three months then quit. That almost looks worse. My resume now looks like 'worked here six months, worked there'; that looks pretty bad when you keep quitting.
Lance: Mine looks better - unemployed for four years!
Gardner: At least you can say I've been doing something but the last time I got a job it was pretty horrible. They were like, 'why do you keep leaving your job?'. Then you have to lie and even if I don't care about the company, I feel bad about the other employees 'cos they get screwed 'cos then they have to train a new person.
Graham: The last question. When I was going through the internet looking for J Church references, I came across an advert for Outpunk zine and it says "For the best in queercore, there's only one zine... Tribe 8, Pansy Division, J Church...".
Lance: Yeah, I saw that too! It's really weird.
Graham: I mean, it's not something I've ever associated with you.
Lance: 'Cos it's not us.
Gardner: We're not gay.
Lance: It wasn't Matt who did that posting, it was someone who was into it, a friend of his or whatever, and just, they know we're really close to him...
Gardner: I mean, we support it.
Lance: I don't feel obligated to get on the net and denounce it.
Graham: It's just that there was nothing I'd seen on your record sleeves or in the lyrics, so I was just wondering why it was up there.
Gardner: I have no problem being associated with that but sometimes gay people get annoyed when people act like they're part of the scene 'cos it's the hip thing to be. We don't try to do that but we know so many gay people. If they want our support, they can have it but we're not trying to horn in on their scene.
Lance: I was like, 'whatever', and Matt didn't mind, so...
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