Interview from Trust zine

By Daniel of Trust and Norbert of Ox zine, December 2000. Original version in German available here. Translation by Mike Haynes.

Some things seem as though they will never change, such as the boredom of a new pop-punk disc, which nowadays doesn't have to be produced well to climb high in the charts, let alone contain a melody line. Bloody awful actually, but all that's needed is a couple of tattoos and a suitable advert. I mean, it actually doesn't matter who gets the cash, but that there has to be blatant losers like B. 182 or Papa R. or Offspring in the genre... well. And then there are these bands you have to search all over the country for, for whom good songwriting actually means writing accessible songs which pass the camp-fire test even without any technically brilliant production and a few of which perhaps can tell a good story. And they stole everything from Cringer and their successors J Church. Even better, then, that J Church were on tour and we drove 220 kilometres to Bochum one Monday evening in good spirits to be present at a very short gig with about 30 other people (wow - the Ruhr basin is really sizzling, or do they only ever hear the sound of shagging!) The owner of the shop was probably unhappy and hurried the band through the set. There was, of course, the long-overdue opportunity beforehand for a talk, which Norbert from Ox also joined in with, so that like the old days we could together 'show the youngsters how to do things' (Norbert on his colleagues at Ox). And also because we're not stupid and didn't want to ask the man the same questions twice in a row. Take this as an example: Buy more GOOD records, for example from J Church, is what Daniel both thinks and writes.

Lance: You're all going to watch the football. St Pauli.

Ox: Is that this evening?

L: Oh yeah, St Pauli against Mainz.

Ox: Do you know a lot about German football?

Lance: No, but everyone wears these St Pauli shirts with the death's head on it. They're popular in a certain scene... You recognise them in the USA by dreadlocks and all the patches on their clothes - crusties?

Trust: Hmmm... is there a sports team in the USA with which a punk rocker could identify with?

L: All the S/E kids wear baseball things...

T: But there's no specific team---

L: No, everybody hates the others...

Ox: I've heard you're now living in Austin?

L: I commute between San Francisco and Austin. The rest of the band are still living in SF, and we also practice there and do all the business there - so I commute. I live in Texas.

Ox: But no longer in the Mission District.

L: No, no, our rehearsal studio is there and I lived there earlier.

T: Why did you move away?

L: My girlfriend is studying in Austin. Apart from that SF has become too expensive. It has been completely taken over by yuppies, the whole city has been 'upgraded'. At that time I was paying $250 a month for my crappy room in the Mission, now you don't get anything for under $500, even in the bad districts.

Ox: Wasn't there a referendum in SF about whether the number of dot-com companies which are allowed in the town should be limited, and 90 percent of the population were against it?

L: Exactly. Something like this is also naturally supported by the mayor and the city council because of the huge amount of money it brings into the city. Many of the old, run-down houses in which people still live cheaply are being torn down to make room for office space for the computer people.

T: Austin has a vast musical history. Is a lot still going on there and do you take part in it?

L: More than in San Francisco; everything's closed there now. There was perhaps a dozen clubs in which you can see live bands, and now there are only two left - and that's happened over the last two years. In Austin there's bands on every evening and a million bands rehearsing...some good record shops and fanzines.

Ox: I worked a year ago in SF. What shops are still there? Bottom Of The Hill?

L: That's right. Bottom Of The Hill and that's it. Covered Waggon only does something on a few special days, Cocodrie is shut, Chameleon has closed, so has Boomerang, there's no place to play there. In Austin there's a greater history of live clubs, it's still very big.

Ox: A friend of mine in Austin anyway thinks that it's changed there. Dell Computers is now there, for example.

L: You can't compare that with the speed Austin's growing, though. The city has much more room to expand, whilst there's no more room in SF. Because of this they're tearing down buildings and putting new ones up, so driving people out of the city.

Ox: How are you doing otherwise - physically? That was really a problem for a long time.

L: You never know what's coming next... I was in hospital for a time, that was almost two years ago. I still have to take a lot of drugs - up to twelve a day! Apart from that I no longer have any problem with the heart, which is very strange. My heart expanded rapidly i.e. the heart chambers got bigger which means that sooner or later you have a heart attack, you've got extremely high blood pressure, and so on - I've got all that, and that means that your life expectancy is halved. Then I started on all the medication, was in and out of hospital over the course of a year and got better, which is a thousand to one chance. A small miracle.

T: Why are you doing things like flying round Europe touring with your band then?

L: I spoke with my doctor and he said that as long as I take the medicines - my heart's back to where it was five years ago - I won't have any more problems. But we're not touring like we used to. Then we were often away for half a year; we're here only two and a half weeks - one week in England and one and a half weeks on the continent.

Ox: You're missing all the fun of your elections!

L: I'm glad I'm not there! I don't give a shit. Both [candidates] are terrible. They're simply these rich assholes. They're also all conservatives, regardless of what party they belong to. Not that England's any better - the Labour Party is also just bullshit, there's no socialist party at all, they all belong to the right. It's also different in the USA though because the country is so big, because there's so many different cultures there, so many economic differences. There's not simply a lower class, middle class, the Bourgeoisie and so on. There won't be a president who can unite all that. He can hardly represent ten per cent of the people. It's funny that the election where there's the biggest media reporting is precisely that where the candidates are the most like each other. Who cares?

T: It's obvious that the whole election process as well as how it is carried out must be re-thought. That's the crucial thing. When the fuss has died down, will it change things?

L No, I don't think so - nothing changes. Every 20 years there's the discussion that it's all a one-party system; these electoral college representatives, a further indication that that the people's opinion doesn't count. No-one's going to ever change it. It is, though, only a symptom of a much bigger problem. The fact is that the president or your local congressional representative never represents the voters, but rather the military and the economy. You can't change the election process so that the politicians actually represent the people.

T: What is your personal conclusion?

L: What I'd like - it'll never happen - but the first logical step is for the USA to cease to exist. It can hardly hold itself together, it's heavily in debt. Everyone's so busy looking after themselves that no-one's holding the economy together. People say, on the one hand, that the economy's doing really well, but on the other hand you've got the biggest slums of all time.

T: But the economy doesn't care about slums. And it also doesn't care whether they are in Brazil or the USA.

L: Exactly. But that can't go on for ever. One day the USA will break up.

T: Do you believe that, or hope that it will happen?

L: A bit of both. It won't happen in the next four years. There's a lot of talk in Hawaii about secession... the Rodney King riots - I also don't think people have understood at all what significance that has for Southern California. The people who rioted there didn't care that the police had beaten him up, but rather they were poor people - at that time poverty in LA was at its peak. It wasn't primarily Afro-Americans, it wasn't racial unrest, it was precisely because they were poor and it was their time to express that. People were also surprised about the WTO thing, about how many people took to the streets. I've become very cynical here - all these things happen and then there's a Desert Storm and everyone's a patriot again.

Ox: What I never understand is that, for example, at the moment everyone sees how bad the electoral system is, but nevertheless it's still loudly proclaimed that the American constitution is the best in the world, God bless America and so on.

L: When I was growing up in the late sixties and early seventies it was a different time, very open... my parents were ... really liberal, belonged to the hippie generation. When I went to school we never had to say the Pledge of Allegiance (a sort of prayer for America) in the morning.

T: And something has changed since then - most of the people who go to your concerts will be younger that you.

L: It's different for a band like us. We're not a band like Green Day, playing in front of Blink 182 fans. Our band plays in occupied houses and we do interviews for fanzines. As far as age is concerned, it's different here to America. We play in front of older people on average than here. To know a band like J Church you have to read fanzines, things like that. You have to have at least a bit of a connection to DIY, some sort of connection to underground culture, or you must know someone who has one - we're not talked about on MTV. And that's something a bit different than with the other pop-punk bands. Even if it happens unconsciously, you have to operate a bit outside the big business path. Even if there's an age difference and people can't then say 'I remember Vietnam or Watergate' there's a connection there. The direction they're going today is also the same as mine was when I was as young as they are.

T: What's it like seeing younger people today making exactly the same mistakes as you made?

L: (laughing) I don't think they're mistakes. You do what you think is right, personally, politically, socially... you make your moral decisions. You can't control history though, and sometimes - like in politics and the economy - there are precisely those chance events where there's so much potential that things get moving. And if that doesn't happen you still have to believe in it, of course, and keep going, even if you make mistakes in doing so.

Ox: Don't you get cynical when such times have passed?

L: Precisely the opposite. Things won't be the same in a hundred years, and often you don't see where things are going. Five years before its end, nobody would have believed that the Vietcong would win the war. Not that that is a great example! Or that San Francisco changed dramatically because of the big earthquake, by numerous people moving away because they were afraid.

Ox: As you sing in a great song, "if the big one hit tomorrow it wouldn't be too soon".

L: That wouldn't hurt right now! I've become very cynical about a lot of things - you have to do what you have to do.

T: As we're on the subject of decisions, you've brought out a whole lot of singles as a band, and there are (clears throat) even some people who collect them. Now there's bound to be a load of people who don't, but who must have three 7"s of yours. What would you recommend as the essence of your music?

L: This Song Is For Kathi - our second 7". I like all four songs and they show where we were then. We still play them today. It's also the most honest representation of what people would think of as being 'representative' of us. The multiple 7"s which we did for Damaged Goods, because technically it's our best recording, and because everybody likes the song My Favorite Place. The third record would be... the Ivy League College single, because I think the song's funny and lots of other people have today perhaps thought so too. I also like Nick Lowe a lot and I'm glad to have squeezed a song out of him. And the third song Band You Love To Hate has an Elvis Costello touch, so the whole album looks like a record on Stiff.

OX: I find it quite brave that you've now brought out a record consisting only of E.L.O. covers.

L: Eh? Well, the end of the 70's and the beginning of the 80's was a terrible time for music - the production was awful. We're talking here about the worst in New Wave, that end-of-the-seventies shit. But there's nevertheless a few good songs, and so the idea came to us to take them and record them with better guitar production. Everything had previously got lost between the synthesizers and the massive drums.

Ox: What is Quetzacoatl?

L: It's sort of like the Middle American Prometheus. Our drummer at that time painted the cover for the record. He was an art student and that was the title of the painting.

Ox: Are you still working for Maximum Rock'n'roll?

L: Oh yeah, interviews and the like...

Ox. Years ago we had an interview with Timojhen about Vacuum Mailorder, which has closed down in the meantime, and he thought that a split 7" between Boris The Sprinkler and you would be a sign of the Apocalypse.

L: Ah, he occasionally said that about us and Thee Headcoats. Man or Astroman. I've got to admit that we're all fighting against one another in order to bring out the most records.

Ox: If you now live in Austin, how can you continue with the band name? [J Church is a tram stop in SF]

L: No-one knew that before, so there's no harm in it. Anyway, we'll probably move back when my girlfriend's finished Uni. Some people have thought that the name stood for a sort of marijuana, or Jah Church. In Spain people thought it was a joke about Julio Iglesias, as Iglesias means church.

T: And then there's my standard question: Who would you like to take the place of in which band?

L: There's lots. Mick Taylor during Exile On Main Street - I don't know. The rhythm guitarist on the first Minor Threat US Tour, Brian Baker, or Lyle Presnall on the last Minor Threat US Tour... they're good answers, but not the best! Anyway, you often hear later about how bad it was with them on tour... Clash - sounds good, but they often totally beat each other around. So perhaps Minor Threat after all!

Ox: It's the first time that Gardner isn't with you. [Since the late lamented days of Cringer the two have been inseparable]

L: Yeah, he hasn't been with them for a long time now. He was so burnt out, six months on tour in the entire year... he still comes to our gigs, we see each other now and again.

Ox: How is it that I always automatically think of Jawbreaker when I think of J Church?

L: Well, the J's at the beginning, we've toured together, lived together...

Ox: ...and you've always told little stories in your songs

L: We were all really very pretentious!

T: But you don't have a false English accent!

L: Not yet! It worked for him, not for me!

 

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