Interview with the Jukebox Zeros: Meat and potatoes rock’n’roll. By Frame

Jukebox Zeros is a world class example of an increasingly rare breed: a good, solid, meat and potatoes rock’n’roll band. Sure, there are elements of punk and garage in the mix, but this band is pure rock’n’roll at the core. And what glorious rock’n’roll they make! Philly’s finest have been around for the better part of a decade now and have released a couple of quality EPs and a classic full length record. Fans of the Humpers, Lazy Cowgirls, Jeff Dahl, and the Devil Dogs will be knocked out by the amazing, energetic blast of the Jukebox Zeros. Recently, the band released a back-handed tribute to their hometown with a new 7” single called The City of Bother and Loathe via the always classy RankOutsider Records. Anyone hankering for some real rock’n’roll with no overblown image or other pretense will wanna get on board the Jukebox Zeros train.

Mike: What was some of the first music you got into when you were a kid?
Peter: Just stuff that was on the radio. My dad was really into country and also had the oldies station on, so any kind of ‘50s or ‘60s rock’n’roll. My mom is not into music very much. I can vaguely remember easy listening or AM gold type of stuff [laughs]. The first record I bought, I wanna say that it was Kiss, but I don’t think that’s right. I honestly don’t remember the first album that I bought. I know the first CD that I bought was Ramones Mania.
Rob: I had an older brother and sister, and my dad liked rock’n’roll, so music and that stuff was always around. But the first thing I had myself was Queen’s Greatest Hits. It was given to me as opposed to given to my sister or brother. Then in junior high, I went hognuts wild for David Bowie and The Beatles. That was all I listened to for two years.
Mike: When did you first get turned on to punk?
Peter: Probably in grade school because everyone was into skateboarding. I never skated though; I have terrible coordination as far as that goes. I played Little League when I was a kid, but I was never into sports. You will definitely find that disconnect in the band. Rob and I are like, “Sports? Whatever,” and Brian and Justin follow baseball. Justin is really into soccer now that we have a team in Philly. So, the first punk rock I heard was just hanging out with my friends and watching them skate. It was probably after Little League practice as a matter of fact. Black Flag, Ramones, Misfits, Suicidal Tendencies, B-52’s. I remember “Rock Lobster” was a big thing. Everybody always had that song on a mix tape, just that song. No other B-52’s. I guess I got into it pretty early, but I don’t even think I recognized it as punk rock or anything at the time. It was just music. I didn’t really buy much music either. It was always a friend who had an older brother who had dubbed tapes of all that stuff, and you would only know one or two songs by a band. I didn’t really get into buying records until high school. That’s when it started.
Rob: I got into punk pretty late. I gotta admit I was a prog rock dork. I took guitar lessons like everybody else, but I wasn’t real good at it. I couldn’t play King Crimson and all that. I always liked the Ramones, I remember Rock’n’roll High School always being on cable and liking that. In college was when I went wholeheartedly into the punk rock.
Mike: What were some of the first shows that you went to?
Peter: Dead Milkmen was definitely one of the first ones I went to, a VFW hall show. Other than that, it was mostly just local punk bands at halls. There used to be something called UniSound that started in Reading, PA and then it moved to Pottstown. They did all-ages shows. I saw Anthrophobia, Batman’s Brother Ed. It was really just going to see your friends’ bands play. I didn’t even have a band in high school. I tried really hard to have a band and nothing would happen. Nobody knew what the fuck to do.
Rob: I can tell you exactly the first real punk rock show I ever saw. It was a matinee with the New Bomb Turks, Dancing French Liberals Of ’48, Showcase Showdown, and The Wretched Ones. I think the next one after that was Wayne Kramer. Growing up in the suburbs there was nobody really into what I was into, at least in my social circle. The kids in high school who wore black and were the punk rock kids, I didn’t like them particularly. I had the Repo Man soundtrack and they all had that too. In God We Trust by Dead Kennedys, I had it, but I don’t remember how or why.

Mike: When did you finally get a band going?
Peter: When I was in college, I was in a bunch of bands. I was in a band called Sleddog and, unfortunately, it was just a mishmash of styles. I had bad luck with people who were into Rush. I hate Rush, by the way. I fucking hate that shit. The first band I was in to actually release a record and do stuff, we were first called Knucklehead. Then we realized that name had been taken so we changed it to Knuckleheads. Then we found out that name had been taken, and by then we already had a 7” out. We changed our name to the Caffeinds only to find out years later there was a band from Texas called that. That band was around for three or four years and we put out a four-song single, opened for Boris The Sprinkler, The Criminals, Squirtgun—a bunch of ‘90s pop punk type bands. It was kind of like Angry Samoans meets Ramones. I played bass in that band and I wrote all the songs. The first band I was in after college was the Stuntmen in Philly. I played bass in that band for about three years. I was the third or fourth bass player and the last. We put out a CD while I was in the band and we recorded a single for Junk Records that never came out. I still have the test pressing.
Rob: I had always played guitar, not particularly well, and I did a battle of the bands kind of thing in high school. The first original band I was in, it was real late. I was twenty-four. It was the 440’s. Within six weeks of joining that band, I was on tour with them for a month. So, it was kind of a trial by fire. It was an interesting experience; in retrospect it was awesome. But, at the time, it was really tough. It was all new to me. If I went now, it would be completely different. I played on a record that came with Carbon 14 Magazine with the Humpers and other great bands. I was just listening to that record last week with a friend and that record is awesome. I am really happy with my playing on that and happy to have been there for that. I played in a cover band after that for a while.
Mike: Did you know the other Jukebox Zeros before you started the band?
Peter: No. I met Rob by putting an ad on a website called Philly Music. Then we had a guitar player for about six months who was kind of a metal guy but he knew Johnny Thunders and stuff. He flaked out after we played a show with the Real Kids and then Rob’s friend Brian, from high school, said he would fill in and we haven’t found anybody since then. [laughs] Our original drummer, Chris, was in the band for six months. Then he moved and we found Joe, who came on our West Coast tour. Joe had played in the Artistics and the Sickidz, a classic Philly punk band. Lux and Ivy from the Cramps produced one of their records. He came and played and just fit right in. He is twenty years older than all of us. But shortly after the West Coast tour, he decided to stop playing with us. We still see him all the time. It wasn’t like a bad break up or anything. Without Joe, we wouldn’t have probably gotten anywhere, ‘cause we were just starting to get a lot of good shows, we recorded, and we wouldn’t have been able to record without Joe.
Rob: I had stopped playing in the cover band and I had sold all my stuff after that because I was really soured. That went ugly, as far as I was concerned. Then I was farting around on the internet and I saw this ad… Pete used the golden words like The Humpers, Devil Dogs, and somebody else and I was like, “Hello.” [laughs]
Mike: What was the music scene like in Philly when you started?
Peter: It was dire. There weren’t even that many clubs around. There are more clubs around now than there were ten years ago. You’d look in the paper and see shows or see flyers around town and think, “I don’t wanna do this. I don’t wanna participate in this.” So I thought, “I am going to do this. This is a good time. This is a band that I would hopefully wanna see if I was going to pay at the door. I would wanna hear these types of songs and see these guys up on stage.” Just a fun, trashy, rock’n’roll band. So that was pretty much the impetus, being annoyed by everything in town. [laughs]
Rob: It’s a strange town. It really is. Talking to people who were in bands in the ‘70s, it was the same thing. There wasn’t a lot of local respect until these bands went out of town and got notoriety. It’s always been an R&B town. It’s a small radio market, despite being a major American city. It’s tough in Philadelphia. It’s a mean city. It’s a sports town, a blue collar town. So, most of the bar interest is sports-related.
Mike: Did you have an easy time getting shows in the beginning, since things were so bad?
Peter: I don’t know if it was easy. Anytime you’re a new band, you have gotta pay your dues all over again. I just would bug the shit outta people for shows and still do. You have to kinda get in peoples’ ears. With the advent of MySpace and social networking, a lot of it is just annoying. But, it is cool that you can just pop online, hear a couple songs, and if you dig that band, you can book them. We did pretty good from the get go. It’s not like people weren’t interested. We started getting some bigger shows. The Real Kids show was within the first six months of being together. I don’t wanna be like sour grapes, but we really have busted our ass for anything we’ve gotten. We got to open up for the Cramps. We got to open up for Mudhoney, but we definitely busted our asses doing that, promoting shows, putting up flyers, and trying to put on good shows, fun shows.
Rob: Jukebox Zeros have a thing where we are not punk enough for the mohawk kids. We’re not garage enough for the guys that wear Beatle boots and we’re not pretty enough for the glam guys. Our music has all three of those elements in it, so as far as people who come out to see us, it’s really hard to pigeonhole us. The punk rock scene in Philly is mostly younger guys who put on house shows. They would probably dig us, but they would never see us. I have heard the word “rockstar” used negatively towards us, maybe because we have played some bigger shows and we’re older guys. We’re not punk looking.
Mike: You put out the first EP yourselves?
Peter: Yeah, we recorded it and we tried shopping it around, as stupid as that sounds. We sent copies to Get Hip, Swami, Bomp, Dionysus, all the labels that you would wanna send stuff to. Nobody really got back to us. John Reis at Swami sent a nice note saying, “I’m only putting out my friends’ bands, but you guys are about as good as you’re gonna get as far as being ‘Chuck Berry on steroids,’” which we still use on our press kit. [laughs] So we just thought we would put it out ourselves. To go back to the Stuntmen, the last Stuntmen record came out on Steel Cage Records, which was the same people who did Carbon 14 magazine. I had been writing for Carbon 14 since right after I got in the Stuntmen. So, we put out the EP ourselves and when the Steel Cage people heard it, they said they would distribute it for us. Then they said they wanted to do a full length with us and it went from there.
Mike: Now your new EP is out on RankOutsider Records, run by Pat Todd of Lazy Cowgirls. How did that come about?
Peter: Pat is awesome. He’s got a great roster of bands on his label and it really is a collective with bands helping each other out. Rob had been talking with Scott Drake (The Humpers) when we played with him in Portland, OR and I think Scott probably put in a good word for us.
Rob: I had interviewed Scott Drake from the Humpers for Carbon 14. We did a show with him when we went out to the West Coast. He’s a super cool guy and I just maintained an internet friendship with him, I guess you would call it that. Pat Todd called me up and explained their mission and it fit in line with what we are trying to accomplish.
Mike: What is coming up as far as future releases or touring?
Peter: Well, now that everybody in the band has a kid, any sort of long touring is probably out of the equation, at least for right now. As far as releases, we have five more songs from the session that we did for the Rock’n’Roll Ronin EP. We recorded eleven songs. So, the next EP is going to be a 4 song 7” single called City of Bother and Loathe and the last song from that session will be on a RankOutsider compilation disc.