Interview from Fear And Loathing zine #54
Interview by Andy on 16 December 2000
I’ve been joking with Lance over the last few years that I was only ever going to do a J Church interview in San Francisco. It seemed appropriate, but although we had met-up several times when I’d been over there, we’d never got around to it. Well, this time in London, I decided that I was going to have to scrap those plans, not least because Lance has recently moved out of SF and is now living in Austin. So, after an enjoyable meal at a nearby noodle bar (where those Hardskin boys were on their best behaviour), we found a quiet corner of the Underworld and proceeded with some conversation. The history of J Church, and before that Cringer, goes back a long way so I thought that some sorta chronology seemed appropriate, starting with how Lance first got involved with music.
“I was born and raised in Hawaii, and with the exception of one year, I lived there until I was 18. There was a period of about a year when I was 9 or 10 when my step-father had a job in Texas, but apart from that I grew up in Hawaii. I became aware of punk first of all because there was so much hype going on in the press, especially when the Pistols played in the States. Most of it was negative of course, but a lot of my family and friends at the time were sorta like hippies so I’d get to see copies of High Times magazine and Johnny Rotten was on the cover of one issue. It had an article on the Sex Pistols and also all about the New York punk scene. So I heard about punk through stuff like that, although at the time I was still listening to Aerosmith and stuff like that. I didn’t really hear a punk record until quite some time later, when my uncle bought me a copy of London Calling. I really got into that, so then I sorta backtracked into the stuff I’d missed. And at that same time, while I was hearing the earlier English stuff for the first time, it was also when Hardcore was really starting to take off on the West Coast ... The Decline Of Western Civilisation came out and the Circle Jerks released Group Sex ... There was so much hype in the States when Decline... came out because that was the first movie where the audience would go really crazy in the theatres, there’d be fights and the seats would get ripped up... so straight after I saw that, I went out and bought the records by every band that was in it! And everything just went from there for me, I mean, in Hawaii there was only a really small hardcore scene ... even at its peak, you were only talking about maybe 300 people who were interested at all, and that was really mostly made up of military brats, kids who had lived in New York or LA or wherever when they first got into it. That was what the scene was really based around, but out of that came several bands, from when I was about 15 years old. There were actually a lot of bands, but most of them only ever played two or three gigs and then stopped. But that was also how Cringer started, in 1984 or ’85 ... I was still at High School but I think we were the first band in Hawaii to play pretty regularly. We recorded our first demos while we were still in Hawaii but then we all moved to LA, right after we finished school ... so our first record included songs from that time.”
So you got into punk music while you were still in Hawaii, but how and when did you first become interested in the ‘ideals’ of punk?
“When I first got into The Clash, I’d try to read every interview or article about them and at that time, the way they were portrayed in the press was as socialists, leftists ... I mean, there would be articles about then in newspapers like The Revolutionary Worker so from the beginning of my being into the music, I also became aware of the political stuff. So I kinda got into it through The Clash, but then when I heard Crass, I really started reading more about things in that kinda direction. I think the main thing about the early punk bands, like The Clash or the Pistols, was that if you liked them in the States you were gonna get beaten up. Even later on when they got more popular it was never ‘cool’ to be into The Clash, it wasn’t the way it is now, with lots of college kids into it, it was more something that would appeal to the nerdy, loser kids, the ones who were already disillusioned with the structure of school, which ultimately meant they would be disillusioned with society or whatever. So these kids got together and that really had a bigger effect on the Sates than the big political issues ... to the extent that when Sandinista was released, I doubt if most of the kids listening to it even knew what the title referred to, even though America was directly involved in it!”
Was there a particular reason why Cringer all decided to move to LA?
“We all lived there for a few years, partly because our singer at that time, who later became the bass player, was going to University in LA. Actually I think all of us had plans to go to college there, as well, but he was the only one who did it! But the initial decision was just kinda random ... living in Hawaii, we didn’t know the differences between LA, San Francisco or anywhere else ... it was all just ‘California’. We had no idea that there could be such great differences between cities. I think we were all into the punk scene in LA as it was a really thriving scene at that time. So we stayed there for about three years and our first few singles and our album came out while we were there. But it also turned out to be one of the worst times for new bands in LA because either you were going to play really huge shows, which for us was impossible to get on, or if you played at most of the smaller clubs then it was ‘pay to play’, like a $300 deposit just to play a gig! The clubs would insist that you pay them the money and then you’d get 100 tickets, and if you could sell them to your friends you would get your money back. So we ended up going to play in San Francisco and San Diego more than we did in LA. During the three years we lived there, we probably only played in LA about 20 times, which isn’t a lot because we really wanted to play every weekend. So we decided to move to San Francisco. We seemed to be playing there all the time anyway. This was right when the whole Gilman Street thing was first starting to happen so we had already played lots of shows with bands like Operation Ivy and Crimpshrine, so we knew all those people. They were kinda doing something similar to what Cringer were doing at that point, so it just seemed like really good sense to move there. None of us were really happy living in LA, and San Francisco was smaller, cheaper and at the time there were a lot of good things about it, so we just ended up moving there. It was really just for the band and as soon as we got there we started playing gigs all the time. I’d already been writing stuff for Maximum Rock’n’Roll over the past few years, so I was able to move into their house, and that’s when I started writing full time.”
How did things change from Cringer to J Church?
“Well we’d done a lot of touring up to then, but we only put out a few more singles after we moved to San Francisco. And I think we just toured too much. Like, we did a two month tour in the States with Citizen Fish and then immediately came over to Europe for a further two month tour, and it was just too much. We ended up sending each other crazy! And we were all sorta heading in different directions. We were all just sick of the older songs, but it also didn’t seem right to continue calling it Cringer if we weren’t going to play any of those old songs anymore. So we carried on playing for a while but we just realised that we needed a break from each other. But the idea behind it was still the same. J Church actually started practising before Cringer ended ... I mean, we had already planned our last gig but it just took so long to arrange, and J Church started up in the meantime. In fact the first batch of J Church songs were actually the last batch of Cringer songs, which had never got recorded. So it wasn’t like a totally different concept, we just went from one thing straight into the next. And it turned out to be a pretty good time for the new band to start, because there was a lot of new bands really starting to happen in San Francisco, rather than the East Bay. Bands like Jawbreaker had just moved to San Francisco, and Steel Pole Bath Tub were playing a lot, and the Strawmen were getting started, so there were a whole new generation of bands who could play together. And also there seemed to be a lot of new venues suddenly, so it was a really good time.”
Was it also around this time that you ended up playing guitar for Beck?
Yeah, maybe a year or so later, around the time of the second J Church album ... I just got asked to audition, as I already knew the guy who was playing bass for him. I’d met Beck before, but only briefly, when I was still living in LA, but I didn’t really know him. So I just auditioned, up against all these other people, and I really didn’t think there was any way that I’d ever get the job. I mean, I’d never done anything like that before, you know, playing guitar for someone else, and I didn’t even know the songs very well. But they offered me the audition and were willing to pay my costs to go to LA, so I thought, I’ll just treat it as a vacation, spend a day at the audition, then visit some friends and go home. So I didn’t even take any spare clothes or anything, cos I really didn’t think I had a chance and I’d be home in a couple of days. But then the next day I got a call and they told me I had the job and that I’d be playing the first gig that evening! So I had to play that show after only ever practising four or five songs with them, as a group. The rest of it they taught me backstage before the show! I didn’t even get to hear the songs, they just told me the chords, so for the whole set I was surrounded with all these pieces of paper with all my notes written down for each song! And that’s exactly what it was like. I had no idea what was going to happen next, I just had to follow the rest of them. But it was fun, and he was into it. So I played with him for the rest of that year, touring in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the States and Europe ... but the problem was that I was hired full time, in case something came up between tours, so even in my spare time it still meant that J Church couldn’t do anything. And that’s why, after the European tour, I decided to leave the job. He was starting to write songs for his next album and a lot of people seemed to think that he wasn’t going to continue his success, so I decided, well, time to go back to J Church ... and of course his next album went on to sell 8 million copies, or whatever! So I really should have stayed around for that record, goddammit!”
You’ve always written a large amount of songs in your own bands so how was it to be playing someone else’s music as part of their band?
“It was really good, actually, because it was really challenging. Even back then he had so many different weird styles – there was a lot of hip-hop, r’n’b and funk styles, a lot of country stuff and early blues playing, as well as the rock stuff. He was always into Captain Beefheart so there’s a lot of really weird things going on. So it was pretty difficult and also at that time he didn’t really know how to explain his music to the rest of is, so for virtually every song I had to make up my own guitar parts. I had already been playing guitar for maybe ten years at that point and I think you really get set in your own ways, especially when you’re writing the songs for your own band. You end up writing everything around your own abilities so to suddenly be in a situation where everything is very different and you have to figure things out for yourself, it was a lot of hard work! But I think that was really good for me.”
A lot of people tend to look at J Church as ‘your’ band – was that your intention?
“Well yeah, I suppose it is. I don’t think it’s ever really been a collective. I’ve always written all the songs, not that I’ve never invited contributions from anyone else. But I think that people have always just assumed that its’ my band, so that’s the way it’s been. J Church has also always been such a specific thing, so it’s been possible to have a revolving line-up, pretty much, and the newer records won’t sound drastically different to the older ones because of that. It also makes it easier for me because now I don’t have to worry about the amount of touring that we do. That’s always been the hardest thing. I mean, I can totally understand that some people don’t want to tour as much as we do in this band, like sometimes we’ll tour six months out of a year. Some people are not going to want to do that and it’s not fair to expect someone to do it. A lot of people have kids, or their families, or serious jobs to consider. So I couldn’t expect someone to just give up half a year to go and do this, especially as we don’t make much money from touring. I mean obviously it would be better to have a regular line-up but, like, on this tour Adam wasn’t able to tour for such a long time so we’ve been able to get someone else to sit in for him. So just ‘cos he couldn’t make it this time, it isn’t the end of the world.”
Your recent albums have been released through Fat / Honest Don’s Records. How do you feel being with these because you don’t seem to fit with a lot of the other bands on those labels?
“It’s strange, definitely. When we first signed up with them, we were actually talking to several other labels and it was a really weird time because it was right after the whole major label fallout happened. I mean, we never even came close to signing to a major label but nearly every band had been talked to by so many bigger labels. So we really had a different perception of what it was like to talk to a label which would have been totally unrealistic, or totally unreal, like, two years previously. You suddenly had independent labels who were sorta starting to act a little bit like major labels, or at least trying to compete in some ways. So, with Honest Don’s, I have to say they were able to offer us a fair amount of money, and that was a big part of it. It was also based in San Francisco, which helped, and I already knew and liked most of the people who worked there. So those were all things that influenced our decision. I mean, at the time the album was sorta planned to come out on Kill Rock Stars, but there were just a lot of things that were more appealing about Honest Don’s, especially the fact that it was right there in San Francisco. If we needed something, we could just walk down to their office and talk about it, and to be honest about it, they had enough money to be able to let us do what we wanted. Also, they’ve never tried to make do anything we didn’t want to do, like playing tours we didn’t want or anything like that. They’ve had no say in the records they’ve released by us, not even things like who we should record with or what studios to use. Like, this latest record, they didn’t even know it was going to be a double album until we turned up with the tapes! But they’ve really been good about things like that ... we were even joking about the double album, saying that we wanted a gatefold, full colour sleeve ... we really were just kidding but there were like, Alright! And they actually let us do it! I still can’t believe they let us do that! So, I really can’t complain about them at all, they’ve been really great with us!”
You’ve recently moved away from San Francisco and you’re now living in Austin, Texas. I was wondering why so many people seem to be leaving SF these days?
“Well firstly I have to say that my reasons are probably different to everyone else’s. I’ve moved to Austin because that’s where my girlfriend attends Grad School. But I can understand why most people are leaving and I think we probably would have moved eventually as well. It’s becoming really expensive to live there. As it was, I wasn’t living in San Francisco, I was living over in Berkeley because San Francisco itself was just becoming outrageously expensive. Even places like the Mission, where everybody used to live because it was so cheap – now it’s the most expensive! It’s been voted the second hippest place in the whole of the States! So a lot of people I know got evicted and a lot of the old buildings were getting knocked down or totally renovated and there were suddenly lots of mysterious, illegal insurance fires. Also, a lot of the older clubs have shut down around San Francisco, basically because all the dot.com people have bought up the whole city. Most of the people I know are moving to Berkeley or Oakland or wherever, because there are still areas out there that are quite reasonable. But the crazy thing is that this whole situation is very likely to change at some point. I mean, already the whole dot.com thing is imploding. Like, all the places where people used to live or where there were used to be really cool clubs are being bought up and changed into office space or live-work spaces, but already the economy that supports these people is collapsing in places. If that continues, what’s going to happen in a couple of year’s time when all these new people have to start leaving? I certainly don’t think they’re going to donate everything back to the people who used to be there, so then there’s just going to be all these empty buildings. I don’t know what will happen but it’s certainly tough around there now.”
There was one specific song on the new album that I wanted to ask about, Rich And Young And Dumb. It seems like a song that could refer to a lot of bands at the moment but I wondered if it had been written with anyone specific in mind?
“It was about three of four different bands but it’s not the ones that people seem to think it is, or the ones they keep asking me about. A lot of people seem to want it to be about Jawbreaker or Green Day but it really isn’t. Those guys are friends of ours; how could I write a song about them? I think some people try to make us out to be anti-Green Day or anti-Jawbreaker but that isn’t the case at all. In fact the song is more about management people more than bands, and more about people in the LA scene. I mean, at the time when a lot of bands were signing to major labels and we didn’t, it seemed like a lot of people wanted us to talk shit about these other bands, as if it was Us-Versus-Them, but we’ve always got along great with all those people and I’ve never had a problem with what they decided to do. So, more power to them. I mean, like, what were Green Day all about? Pop songs about girls! So what’s so unethical about them trying to sell lots of records? And if you’re driving across the country listening to the radio, it’s always a breath of fresh air to hear a Green Day song rather than all the other stuff they play.”
So. After being involved with music for so long, what is it that still keeps you interested?
“Well a lot if it is really that there’s still new records coming out that I really like, and there’s still a lot of older music that I can discover. It’s usually a combination if those two things as there don’t seem to be as many great bands right now as there were a few years ago. But it’s always so exciting the first time you come across a really great band and there’s always a new generation of bands waiting to come through. Obviously there are always ebbs and flows and right now we seem to be at a low point, if you know what I mean, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be something good next year. So I still buy records and I still enjoy them and there always seem to be at least a few new things that I’m into. And every time I hear a record that I think is great, I wish that I’d written it, so that’s one of the things that keeps me writing my own stuff. I’ve never been bored with it ... I think there’s maybe something pathological about it as well. Once you’ve thrown yourself into it, you’ll be constantly looking for new things so it puts you into a sorta constant momentum of writing. It’s like you start thinking, if I was to take myself away from this for a year, I don’t think I could jump back into it. So you keep yourself in it because it is still exciting and interesting and you want to be there. You don’t want to miss anything. And of course you never want to be the guy who everyone talks about, like, ‘oh remember him? Whatever happened to that guy?’ Hahaha!”
Back to Article Index