An Interview with Javier of the Zeros: By Mike Frame

Mike: It seems like you grew up with a lot of your family playing music. What kind of an effect did it have you, growing up in an environment like that?
Javier: It was inspiring. It seemed like a natural thing to do, really, because I had brothers that played. My dad was married twice and my stepbrothers Coke and Pete played with Santana. Pete’s daughter is Sheila E. (who has played with Prince as well as having a big solo career in the ’80s). Pete and Coke play Latin jazz and they had been playing professionally. They played the San Diego Sports Arena and our whole family went. It was kind of exciting as a kid to see your family doing that. You hear about parents freaking out when you start, but my parents were already used to it and they helped me out. I needed something to haul around equipment in, so they bought me a station wagon.

The Zeros was the first band I was in, that was starting in, like, late 1976. The New York Dolls had influenced us and my brother (Alejandro) was starting the Nuns up in San Francisco and his friends Tony and Chip (from the Dils) had opened up for them. It wasn’t like today where you plan things out, we just started playing together. I had a little trailer behind my house that we used to rehearse in. Things just kind of moved along really quickly from there.
Mike: What kind of music were you into before punk rock?
Javier: I guess it would have been “glitter rock” – T. Rex, the Dolls, Lou Reed, and all those bands. Iggy and the Stooges, the Velvet Underground. When I was younger, growing up in southern California and listening to the radio as well as having older brothers and sisters kinda hipped me to the ’60s punk rock bands like the Standells, the Seeds, early Stones, the Animals and all that. I always dug that stuff and it became an influence later on. I was 19 when we started the Zeros, so that’s the music I was listening to in my mid- to late teens.
Mike: How did you first meet up with the rest of the Zeros?
Javier: I had been living in Huntington Beach in 9th grade and when it was time to start 10th, we moved to Mexico. Then, after a semester there, we moved back to the States to Chula Vista. So, I went to Chula Vista High and it was weird for me. Huntington Beach was faster, it was kinda crazy, actually. I thought San Diego/Chula Vista was very slow and I was bored and going crazy. I met a guy named Ray Wise at school. We formed a band called the Main Street Brats. It was just him and me; he played drums and I played guitar. He then met this girl in his class named Evie and she was best friends with a girl named Rhoda, who was Robert Lopez’s (El Vez/Zeros singer) sister. So, that’s how we met him. Rhoda became my girlfriend and she is now my wife. She told us her brother played guitar, so we told her to bring him over. He came over, to this trailer behind my house (laughs), and we started playing together.
Mike: Was there anything happening in the San Diego area musically at the time?
Javier: No, not at all, it was really bad. When punk rock was getting to be really strong, we would play shows in San Diego and it just wouldn’t happen. It wasn’t until the Casbah came along in the ’80s, that was probably the best thing for San Diego. We just started playing in L.A. We played our first show with the Germs and the Weirdos. That was our first show in L.A., but we still lived in Chula Vista. They would have these “New Wave” nights at the Whisky, and it was weird because there weren’t any punk rock bands, really. There was a very small group. There were the Germs, the Dils, the Weirdos, and the Screamers. The Nerves were great, but they were more pop oriented. Thank god for the Nerves because they really made things happen. Paul Collins put on our first show. Those new wave nights were so funny because there would be these bands that were just so weird. There was a band called Juice, with a guy who had really, really long hair like he was in Black Oak Arkansas or something. They would have these really weird bands. They were offbeat bands, but they weren’t exactly punk rock. They had to have bands so I think they were just scraping to put these nights together. Anybody who said they were punk rock could get on one.
Mike: How long did the Zeros play before you recorded?
Javier: Not very long, a couple of months, maybe. A friend of mine from high school started working at a studio as an engineer. So we told him we wanted to come in and record. We went in there and made the tape that became our first single. Greg Shaw from Bomp was at that first gig and he told us, “You guys should be putting out records.” I was really shocked that he would say that. Of course we wanted to put out records, but we didn’t have any idea how to do that. So, I called him up and I went over and played him the tape and he said he wanted to put it out. That was a pretty big step. We were one of the first punk bands from California to put out a single.
Mike: When and why did you move up to San Francisco?
Javier: It was in 1978. We had gone up there to play at the Mabuhay Gardens, and it was really good. We played at a couple of different places and we always had a really good crowd. It was just a real cool scene. There were a lot of bands there that I really liked. The Dils had already moved up there by then. What happened was that Robert and I weren’t getting along at the time. I don’t even remember why, but he decided to leave the band. I got a call from this guy Ken Friedman up in San Francisco and he wanted us to come up and do a Northwest tour; Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco. I told him the band had broken up and he asked me if we could get back together. Hector (Penolosa, bass player for the Zeros) had left the band at that point so we had Robert’s brother, Guy, playing bass with us. I called Baba (Chenelle, drums for the Zeros) and told him about all this and he said, “I think Hector wants to get back in the band.” So, Guy left and Hector re-joined and the three of us went and did this tour. Both Hector and Baba were singing as well as myself. This guy Ken did a really good job; we never had a manager, so he was really good. He promoted us as co-headliners with the Dils and the Avengers for a show at the Temple Beautiful and did a really good job with that. So, we thought we’d just move up there. We drew pretty good crowds, but we didn’t do any recording until the very end, like 1981 or something. We became a really good band but it was never the same as when we were a four piece.
Mike: Why did you not get a full length album out at that time?
Javier: Greg Shaw had asked us to do an album, and of course today I wish we would’ve, but at that time I thought we weren’t good enough and not ready, so I said no to him. Later, after we had management, we tried to record some stuff. We had the same manager as the Dils, Peter Irwin, and he wasn’t able to get any of us signed. It was just circumstances. We weren’t music business people, really.
Mike: Why did you disband the Zeros originally?
Javier: It was just time. It seemed like punk rock was over in a way, and it was just time to do it. We went out to New York and it was kind of a rough trip. To tell you the truth, when we came back, I didn’t have my shit together. It was just time for a change. After you do the same thing for a while, you wonder why you’re still doing it. It was that kind of thing. Still, though, at the end, we were playing at this club called the Roosevelt, and a lot of people were coming out. They were fun shows and everything, but it was just time to walk away from it.
Mike: What did you do musically after that?
Javier: After that, I moved back down to L.A. My brother Alejandro had been in a band called Rank and File with Chip and Tony Kinman (of the Dils) and he told me he was leaving that band and wanted to start a new one with me. So, I moved to Texas and we started a band called the True Believers. We ended up getting signed to Rounder/EMI and put out a record in 1985. Then, we toured like crazy. We toured around by ourselves and then Los Lobos had put out the soundtrack that Ritchie Valens movie (La Bamba) and we were on tour with them for a long time. We toured for like eight months straight at one point. It was pretty fun. We put out the one record and then we had a second one all ready to come out and we got dropped. Later on they both came out together on the Rykodisc label on one CD. After the True Believers, I was playing with Will and the Kill with Will Sexton, Charlie Sexton’s brother. I played for him for a while in Austin. It was fun. Then I went to New York and played in a band with a guy called Lucas Jankrell. He had a band called the Lost. We were signed and had a lot of financial backing. It was a big deal, real professional. It was pretty cool though, a lot of rehearsal. Six days a week, eight to ten hours a day…I became a killer guitar player [laughs]. It was cool, being a musician, you know? It was great; I was living in NYC, around the corner from Mick Jagger. I met a lot of people. It was a really good experience.

I was there from 1988 to 1990 and Jack had never been in a band before. So, the management had all these things that they wanted him to do before he could make a record. I was getting to be like, “Come on let’s make a record, let’s tour, let’s do something.” I wanted to do something and he needed more time, so I was like, “I gotta get out of here.” So, I came back to L.A. and I formed another band with Baba called the Sacred Hearts. It was me and Baba, Billy Dousche, and we had a bass player named Rick Brody, and then later on we replaced him with Dave James. We had an EP come out on Sympathy for the Record Industry. That was pretty cool.
Mike: What led to the Zeros getting back together and recording the Knockin’ Me Dead LP?
Javier: When I came back to L.A. and we were doing the Sacred Hearts, the Zeros did a benefit for Craig Lee (guitarist for the Bags/writer for the L.A. Weekly), who was in the hospital. There was a benefit to pay for his medical expenses and a lot of the punk rock bands played. The Go-Go’s, X, and a lot of other bands. So, we played and Bill Bartell from White Flag was there raving about us. “Oh, you guys are the greatest thing.” [laughs] He told us we should record a single, so we did. Then Robert (Lopez, aka El Vez) knew the people at Sympathy and they wanted to do a single as well. So, we did a single for Bill at Gasatanka and one for Sympathy. Then Bill wanted us to do a full length record. We had a lot of songs that we had never recorded because we never made a full length record. He told us that there was a Spanish label that wanted to put out an LP for us in Spain. So, we ended up doing Knockin’ Me Dead for Munster Records in Spain. It came out on Gasatanka/Rockville here in America. After we did the Munster record, they brought us over to Spain to tour. We recorded a live album while we were there that came out on Imposible Records. Then we did a short tour with Mudhoney and Clawhammer. That was fun.
Mike: What happened between then and the time you released Right Now! on Bomp?
Javier: We kept going back to Spain. The Zeros have done three tours of Spain. On one trip we did France and Germany as well. One trip we did Spain and then Sweden. There’s a band called Sator that we toured with in Sweden. They’re really good, really cool guys. So, we recorded Right Now! in about two days and it came out on three different labels. It was on Houston Party Records in Spain, Empty Records in Germany, and Bomp here in the states. We would get together when Robert had the time (he was really busy recording and touring as El Vez). I think we are pretty much done recording stuff, though there may be some more live shows.
Mike: What are you working on musically these days?
Javier: I did a record with Bill Bartell and Ken Stringfellow from the Posies called Chariot and that came out on Munster. I have a new recording that I did, four songs. I had Tony Kinman play bass and Denny Sidewell – who played with Paul McCartney and Wings and Ryan Adams – played guitar and sang and did some keyboards. I’m putting this together and I’m gonna take it around and see if anybody wants to help me do a full record. I’ ve definitely got the songs, and I am gonna start playing live.

All flyers were taken from the book Fucked Up and Photocopied without their permission, it’s a pretty fucking awesome book, so click here for more information.