Interview from Maximumrocknroll, November 2000

 

Surely everyone has a J CHURCH release by now. They've been called pop-punk, listed as ex-CRINGER and blamed for the scourge of DISCOUNT. This interview took place, mainly in J CHURCH's van before they played a show at Frisco's Bottom of the Hill. At this same show MRR's Floyd and Andy Darling were given the boot by the most ill-dressed bouncer in the Bay Area. Floyd of course sweet-talked his way back in. Interview by Tom H.

MRR: Is the double LP J CHURCH's Sandanista?
Lance: No, we don't have that dub side. We've been talking a little bit about a remix 12". (laughter) I hope not. I really like that record (Sandanista) though, I really do like it. Although, it's funny, we were listening to it the other day at the video store and I swear, I didn't think I ever heard the last side until that day. I was like "I don't remember this song." (laughter) But no, that was them jamming over a year, this (double LP) is us practicing one day and coming up with 26 songs. So, it's totally the other way around.

MRR: A number of the bands on Honest Don's are more career-oriented bands. Do you get any pressure from your label to…
Lance: I think of the bands as more failed career oriented bands. (laughter) I don't think that they're going to read this, so it's OK for me to say that. (laughter)

MRR: So you don't get pressured to do more touring or…
Lance: No, we don't get pressured to do anything, are you kidding? We have to pressure them to make a photo to send to fanzines. I think it's the other way around. A lot of the bands (on Honest Don's) are the ones that were picked up in that huge major label sweep and were gracefully dropped and let go in the past few years. The better ones, in the eyes of Fat Mike, end up on Honest Don's. Amongst a lot of other stuff, obviously we weren't a part of that. So, there's no pressure. It's like any other bigger indie, really.

MRR: A lot of the bands on that label and Fat Wreck have done the Warp tour, would J CHURCH do something like the Warp Tour if it was a possibility?
Lance: Uhhh, well, no. But, that's not as altruistic as you think. It's not like we aren't doing it because of Van's Central American factories. It's more because they would hate us. (laughter) I mean, a few years ago, before we on Honest Don's our booking agent had been solicited to have certain bands apply to the Warp Tour. We were one of the bands that could have applied for it, but it seemed sort of ridiculous. What was the best thing that could have happen? We'd get on and then we'd be playing at 12:30 in the afternoon…

MRR: To three people…
Lance: Who are saving a good spot to see NOFX. We'd be stuck touring on a bus with some other band that had a pro snow boarder in it and that's the only reason they're on the tour. It's just really not our scene. We don't go over well with huge athletic crowds. (laughter) I'd like to say it's because of other reasons, it just never really occurred to us to inquire because it would be terrible for us.

MRR: (to Jeff) Was it difficult for you to come into J CHURCH after a number of others came before you?
Jeff: Somewhat. I really liked J CHURCH back in High School. (laughter)
Lance: Back when I was thirty! (laughter)
Jef: I was kind of nervous about it, maybe because I liked J CHURCH for so long. But it was really relaxed when I finally got in and played with them. They're a great band.
Lance: But that was what you thought before. We just made him wear a shirt that said "I am Gardner." (laughter)

MRR: So, you feel like a full member of the band? Or more as back up for Lance?
Jeff: I don't know, I just pretty much got in about 6 months ago and we've only practiced like… four times.
Lance: Well, we take this thing very seriously. We practice in the basement for about 15 minutes. "OK, we already know this song, let's go on." (laughter) "You've heard this record right? Well just play that, and we'll go on to the next one."

MRR: As far as the songs that were there before you came in, are there songs that you wouldn't feel comfortable playing, or that y'all don't play?
Jeff: No.

MRR: You don't disagree with the bomb throwing Anarchism of Lance?
(laughter)
Lance: What's not to like?

MRR: How many songs do you write a day, Lance?
Lance: None, actually. I write them in clumps. It will go for about a month and then all of a sudden there will be like 12 in a day. I used to do that thing where you try to write a song a day and then at the end of the week see what you've got. But, everything sucks when I do that . Everything REALLY sucks. (laughter)

MRR: Has moving out of the Mission District cause you to lose a lot of lyrical subject matter of inspiration?
Jeff: Now you can sing about the BART.
Lance: No, only the first record dealt with a lot of Mission stuff, really. I ran out of ideas ages ago! You just change the name, they're all the same song really. Fast and Slow, those are our songs.

MRR: Are there any J CHURCH rumors that you've come across, any particular favorites?
Lance: People thought I was dead, years ago. This was even before the heart stuff. People had thought I had died in a car crash. There was all this stuff on the internet about it. Someone we know HAS to have done that. It was ridiculous, it's not like it's hard to find me.

MRR: Nothing other than that one?
Lance: Nothing outrageous, just all the typical band stuff. "This person fought with that person." "This person does drugs, this, that and the other." Well half the times they are true, I just don't know how they found out! Yes, we kicked him out of the band because he was doing heroin in the van.

MRR: What were the recent health problems that you went through?
Lance: I had congestive heart failure. I thought I had bronchitis, so I went to the free clinic to get bronchitis medicine and they freaked out and sent me to the emergency room at San Francisco General, and they were freaking out because my heart beat was so quick. Thy thought that I had had a heart attack already or it was happening right then. So they did all these tests on me and they couldn't figure out what was wrong, why my heart was out of control. They thought I was on drugs, they kept asking me if I was on crack. Seriously. I was like, man, it's been weeks, what are you talking about? (laughter) So, they were freaking out and did test for hours and it was really insane, because they thought I was going to die. They thought I had cancer, another possibility they had said was "Maybe you've got full-blown AIDS." I was dying. They never did really figure out what was wrong, except that my heart had been enlarged. When you get hypertension sometimes your heart gets large, but that doesn't usually happen until your 70s. But it was fucking up all my other organs. I couldn't sleep because I was coughing. Which is why I thought I had bronchitis. But it turns out that blood was filling my lungs. It also messed with my kidneys. I was in the hospital for a week where they ran test on me every day, all day long. The rest of the time I was watching TV and basically waiting to die. They thought I was going to die and I thought I was going to die. And then after five days , they were like, "Well, I guess you can go home, just cut down on salt." (laughter) They put me on medication, obviously, but they don't know what caused it. And even if they did know, they couldn't reverse it without giving me a new heart, which isn't really worth the risk. They just put me on medication that slows my heart down to below normal. The heart's too large, so even if it pumps at normal pace it's still too much blood. So they slow my heart down until it's a little below the normal human rate and that's the only way I can live, basically. So I take medicine every day and three other medications to control body functions that are affected by that.

MRR: Does your health have any impact on playing live or recording?
Lance: I can't play drunk any more. (laughter) I didn't have to stop drinking .. they really don't know what caused it, so there's really nothing I had to cut out. I really couldn't go on a two month tour again. First of all, I only get the medication in month and a half doses. So I'd run out. But also, because of the way you live on tour, I wouldn't be getting enough sleep. I have to sleep eight hours. I can't eat really salty foods, well, I can, but not with any regularity, and on tour you're eating fried food all the time. I don't drink any more, though they didn't tell me I had to stop. All those little things help, maybe I've added five years to my life.
Jeff: Those are the worst five years.
Lance: I know, it's like fuck it, I don't want to be alive when I'm 90! (laughter)
Jeff: That's what I tell people when they tell me to quit smoking.

MRR: Are there any cover songs that J CHURCH has wanted to do but just didn't work out?
Lance: Yeah, there are lots. Some of them we tried were just so boring.

MRR: What were those?
Lance: We used to try and do Hitsville UK by the CLASH, which is the xylophone song on the record. Just, no way. The only way to make it work is to make it sound like a Motown song, but really sad. I used to want to do Peg by STEELY DAN but that's just too hard, there are too many parts and fingers involved for the chords. Songs like that are too hard. If you can't make it into a RAMONES sound song, then it is just out of our league. If you can't reduce it to five bar chords, forget about it?

MRR: Are there any political ideologies or belief systems you align yourselves with? Personally, not as a band.
Lance: The band never totally agrees, ever. There has never been a line up that was a united Anarchist front. There was never a line up like that, so that's why we don't really go with really specific political stuff. It's not really our style.

[At this point the interview is halted so J CHURCH can go play. The interview resumes with Lance answering questions that were to be asked of their drummer, Adam. Why was Adam absent from the interview? I was given two different reasons. 1) He hates MRR (an admirable stance) 2) He has grown tired of being asked about his previous band JAWBREAKER (which would not have been a problem here because I think that band stunk.)]

MRR: So, now we're going to go over the questions that were scripted for Adam.
Question 1: Are you the owner of a local video store?
Lance: Yes.

MRR: Owner or part owner?
Lance: Part-owner with two others.

Question 2: Has your involvement in punk affected the way you run a business?
Lance: I'd say it's definitely true for all three of them. The whole ethics of their store was to see how business could be run … well, it's about as collective as you can get and still have employees.
Liberty (long-time Epicenter volunteer): And get things done.
Lance: Exactly. It's just an Epicenter model, but they pay people…
Liberty: (muffled, something about getting to pick the employees)
Jeff: Being able to hire and fire people.
Lance: The three owners were so entrenched in the 80s punk scene and so deeply involved in the early DIY stuff, punk stuff, overseas, here, whatever, it had to have had an effect in a lot of ways. Also, just based on the people they've hired to work there. People like me. I wouldn't work there if it was just any store. The fact it that it is a little more…

MRR: And you get to keep your mohawk.
Lance: I don't mind the uniform, the 'Lost Weekend' blazers. (laughter)
Question 3: Is the majority of the money made in a video store on late fees?
Lance: Generally, yes, but everyone is such a softie that no-one ever charges the late fees. "Oh, I'll give you a break this time." I've heard that said so many times since I've worked there.
Jeff: I've heard you say that so many times. (laughter)
Lance: "You have $50 in late fees… just give me $10." "So, let me see, you broke the video tape, there's shit on it, you set it on fire … two bucks is cool." (laughter)

MRR: This is in regards to your health again. With your condition, does this mean that other band members can't sneak up on you and try to scare you?
(laughter)
Lance: They just can't hold me down and make me drink any pork. They scared me tonight. It's always scary when someone says, "Now which song was this?" in front of a large crowd.

MRR: Do you have a message for any of the mail-order customers of Honey Bear Records?
Lance: Oh, my god. I'm really trying to catch up. Ever since I was in the hospital, everything just fell apart. I'm really trying to go through all of the mail-order and catch up. There's probably about 20 people who have been waiting on orders for about a year. And I'm trying to pay everybody off and catch up with stuff. It's totally outrageous. When I was in the hospital I was out for a week. And then for a month afterwards I wasn't able to do anything. For the first two weeks I couldn't even leave my house. And between that, and the fact that things have gotten kind of backed up from touring anyway, there are so many orders I haven't even gotten around to. So, right now what I'm doing is farming everything out to people. I've only got two items in my ad in MRR right now. And that's about all I can really handle, Ebay is hard enough. The last couple of ads that I've ran actually said, if you are owed something get in touch ASAP because we are trying to clean it all up and get a clean plate. Especially now that I'm moving out of my apartment, I'm finding letters in every corner. I pull books out to put them away and orders come tumbling down. They're all over the apartment. Some of them are for records that I never even got, and I don't even know why I was selling them in my mail order. Like this CD The Ecstasy of Communication that came out of Sweden. I guess I must have thought I was getting copies of it, but I don't even have a copy of it for myself. And I've found 20 orders for this CD. I mean, I still have the money for them too. I'm just going to put the money back in envelopes and send them back to people. The money's just sitting around in jars and stuff. So, if you are a burglar there are jars of cash all over my apartment. Two years of Honey Bear mail-order.

MRR: Do either of you have a top want list record right now?
Lance: Wow, there are a lot of records that I really want. The top one would be the MONKS LP. I really, really want that record.

MRR: Wait, here's another question. When you went through all your health problems, how did you pay for that?
Lance: I just paid the first bill. It's going back and forth. There are a lot of things that are happening, a lot of which is caught up in the possibility that I might get Medi-Cal for my heart condition. So, everything is pending. I thought I was home free then I got a bill that was for $5,000.00. Something really low. I was like, no way! If I get turned down for Medi-Cal, which more likely than not I will, because even people that really deserve it are turned down.

MRR: You don't deserve it, Lance?
Lance: Well, I sort of deserve it. The hospital cost about $80,000.00. Every test I did apparently cost about $5,000 and I was doing them like ten times a day. Plus the emergency room for an entire day. The medication for almost a year. So far I've paid a few hundred dollars, and I'm about to get really screwed. I'm putting a little money aside, selling a lot of records on Ebay. A lot of stuff. If I haven't listened to it recently, it's gone. I don't care if it's ROCKET FROM THE CRYPT or MISFITS Evil Live 12". It's on Ebay right now. I'm putting all that money to the side.
Jeff: I'm shopping next week at Lance's.
(laughter)

MRR: Other zines have touched on this before, but … being on a label that is sort of on the bigger side, do you think the bigger indies could provide health care for their bands?
Lance: A lot of labels do. Merge has health care. Sub-Pop…

MRR: Well Sub-Pop is a bigger label with connections…
Lance: I think Fat is as big as Sub-Pop at this point. I would think so. They never had a NIRVANA or anything but they've had a lot of things that were comparable. They have stuff that is selling equal to SEBADOH. But, Honest Don's is a much smaller label. They couldn't really give it to us. But money's never been a problem for the basic needs with this label, which is great. I think if they could do that they would. Especially with a label like that, where they have so many bands and a lot of them they only do a one-off record with, it would take so much structuring and order … it would be great. We'd have to start selling 10,000 records to warrant it. My health care is more than all of our royalties combines.

MRR: Plus, you have a pre-existing condition, Lance.
Jeff: And I'd get turned down for being a smoker.

MRR: I think that's it…
Lance: Last thing to mention. Crucial things not to forget about this interview. 1) We do have a new record, that's not an illusion. 2) I am trying to catch up on all of that Honey Bear crap, there is potential litigation that I can't go into at this point, so there's been all sorts of problems health-wise and personal-wise and financial-wise. If you are one of those people waiting you have every right to be pissed off reading this interview. If you are so angry at the end of this interview you can write me a letter. The last thing is: my label has lost thousands of dollars over the last couple of years, the indie rock recession is in full effect, so stop sending me your demo tapes. That is the most important thing of all.

 

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