Interview with TSOL: This interview originally ran in Razorcake #04, 2001.

Jul 17, 2012

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            The members of TSOL found themselves at the wrong place at the wrong time shortly after their interview with Reflex. In 2002, while playing at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip, two men were shot backstage. Both survived, but TSOL was held partially responsible and slapped with an exorbitant attorney fee that took years to pay off. In 2003 they released, Divided We Stand, featuring Greg Kuehn back on keys. The lineup also included Billy Blaze on drums and legend David Bianco on percussion and guitar. Kuehn has spent his time working on television and movie scores as a composer. His company, Peligro Music & Sound, has a reputation for quality production. His laundry list of credits and clients include, Duane Peters; Morgan Spurlock’s documentary Confessions of a Superhero and We Were Feared; and a documentary on the infamous Cuckoo’s Nest where TSOL, XTC, and The Damned played in the ‘80s.
            Jack Grisham threw his hat in the ring when he decided to run for governor of California in 2004. Grisham rationed he was tired of complaining about government and decided he should act to change it, dispelling the idea he was reneging on his “fuck the government” stance. His campaign highlighted the environment, universal health care, and immigrant rights. Sadly, Jack didn’t garner enough votes.
            Who’s Screwin’ Who? was released in 2005 on Anarchy Records. This best-of live comp mixed the old with the new such as “Code Blue,” “Dance with Me” and “Fuck You Tough Guy.” In 2006, Nitro re-released Dance with Me and Mike and Ron moved from Southern California to Las Vegas and Ohio. Mike has been operating out of Carey Hart’s tattoo shop, Hart & Huntington, in Sin City’s Hard Rock Hotel. He continues to collect custom tattoo guns.
            In 2008, drummer Tiny Bubz, formerly of (hed) p.e. and The Cadillac Tramps joined the lineup and a year later TSOL released, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Free Downloads, through Hurley’s website. The skate, surf, snowboard giant hosted video blogs on the site, chronicling the making of the album. Opting to make the new tunes free, the boys urged those to donate to their favorite charities like the SPCA, The Orange County Food Bank, and Midnight Mission. They toured for the album, playing in NYC for the first time in six years to fans old and new.
            2010 marked the year Ron released his first debut album, Walk the Walk, which spanned over twenty years of songwriting and included a who’s-who list of punkers: Mike Ness, Dexter Holland, Tim Armstrong, and bandmates, Jack Grisham and Mike Roche. Ron spent the better part of that year touring to support his album.
            In 2011, Grisham released his first book, An American Demon: A Memoir, which steers clear of the predictable road to redemption of drug-addled rock star autobiographies. Jack instead told his story from a fiendish, first-person narrative disregarding chronology like Henry Miller meets Bukowski. Grisham is a licensed hypnotherapist and practices in Huntington Beach, California. He regularly holds seminars on topics from quitting smoking to meditation. While all members have their own set of projects, each attests to their commitment to TSOL.

–Kristen K., 2012

            I remember sitting in my bedroom when I was about sixteen or seventeen listening to the first TSOL EP over and over. I had a stereo that would automatically replay records and because the 12” was a 45RPM it kept dropping the needle in the middle of the disc. I had gone into the kitchen to get coffee and, apparently, the record player arm kept dropping on the “America / Land of the free / Free to the power of the people in uniform” lyric. When I got back to my room, my mom had taken the record. “If I had to hear that damn ‘America, land of the free’ line again I thought I would smash this record.” It had repeated about eighteen times while I was in the kitchen and she was hearing it through the walls. Mom hates = is good. Later, when Frontier’s Lisa Fancher, who was about to finance the first Adolescents record, asked me if there were any bands I would recommend she record, I told her that I thought the best band around was TSOL.
            For the next year, our two bands would play a handful of amazing shows together—the Vex and Devonshire Downs stick out in my head—and I went absolutely bananas over their sound. Jack, besides being incredibly funny, has one of the voices I admire most; Ron has a signature style, something most guitar players never achieve regardless of ability; and Mike has always been the kind of focused and dedicated bass player that I compare bass players to when I’m looking for my own bands. The bass player is the cement in any building, I promise. Without a guy like Mike, you’ve got a house of cards—it may be a good hand, but they’re coming down.
            I’ve followed the band members through their various projects and have remained fond of them as individuals and as musicians. They are, individually and collectively, amazing dudes.
            I had the opportunity to follow them to a few shows this summer of 2001 and was jazzed to see them looking so up. Jack and roadie Raybo {who doubles as the singer of Bonecrusher} gave my five-year-old daughter orange juice like the total dad hosts. Ron’s big brother Bob was out, and no surprise, just as cool as I always remember him. I met Jack’s daughter, who I had only seen as a baby picture in his wallet years ago when Tender Fury and the Flower Leperds played together. She was every bit as charming as her dad. Twenty years ago I could have never imagined the shoes we would wear. The shoes look good.
            TSOL is currently touring for its album Disappear, which is an amazing blend of vintage TSOL and influences that range from Gang Of Four, Magazine, and the Buzzcocks to Siouxsie And The Banshees and Adam And The Ants. Great stuff. TSOL was interviewed July 20, 2001 in their mobile unit outside of the Ventura Theater in Ventura, California by Tony Reflex, Steve Godfather” Martinez, and my man Todd. Todd took a bunch of pictures and was especially trick by carrying around the official camera backpack.

Interview by Tony Reflex aka Tony Adolescent and Todd Taylor

Reflex: So, why now? I know you guys did a tour about a year ago, kind of a reunion set up, but now there’s a new album.
Ron: Originally it was that Bergamont Station thing {1}, and then the idea just came around like a couple months....
Mike: ....out of oblivion, enough to where Jack was talking to me and saying “Maybe you should come down and play on something I’m doing,” and I said, “Wow, that would be cool,” because I had all but forgot the fact that I’d ever be able to do music again.
Todd: What were you doing in the interim?
Mike: About three-to-five for sale, possession, transportation.
All: Ouch. [laughter]
Ron: I was busy. I was real busy.
Mike: When we heard the roster of bands, it was like “My God! Those are the bands; that they’d even mention us in the same fucking breath.” So we did it, we did four songs, and there was property damage, blood, and all the good components of a good show. It was nuts! It was wild, and it was fun. {2}
Ron: Right. And about a week later somebody called us and asked us to do the Social Chaos Tour.
Mike: They said, “We need a headliner. Our headliner dropped out for all of these English punk rock bands.”
Reflex: Oh right, that thing that you and DOA played with.
Mike: Vice Squad, The Vibrators…
Ron: Chelsea, the UK Subs, yeah.
Mike: Right, so we did that. We just kind of tentatively did that because I was still on parole. I could only play in the States. My parole officer gave me the “We can’t really tell you that you’re allowed to do this, but I’m going to {drug} test you twice so that you won’t have to come back for two months. I can’t tell you that you can go, but bye. See you later.” I hadn’t really been any problem. So we did that and it was tentative and weird and we had a lot of learning to do; how to get along together; a lot of humility. You’re living in this little box together and you get kinda not “up” sometimes. That was the first stage, right?
Ron: Right. We did a couple of shows around in L.A. and went up to San Francisco. Did a Thrasher party. It was fun. That was different. We actually got along. Got to get out there and experience things that we were probably blind to before. We take these trips more like a vacation, too. On our second day of this trip we were out fishing on a river.
Mike: I think, initially, from the gate, when Grisham told me about this tour I said, “Well, sure, I’ll do it. If it goes well, will you consider writing new songs?” and he went, “Well, yeah. We’ll see.” The “We’ll see” was a lot better than ahhhhh…
Mike andRon: Uhhhh... nnnnn... ahhhhh
Mike: ....So I was hopeful, right? We did get along. We did have fun, regardless of whether we played good. It didn’t matter, whatever. The hard part came next.
Ron: A year or so...
Mike: Right. Maybe we’d done another little tour in there.
Reflex: And you’re still relying solely on old material, no new material?
Ron: Completely. No new material.
Mike: So we’re at, “This is fun, and this seems valid and relevant.” We get the old guys, and their kids, but now we’re also getting a lot of kids who have just discovered the stuff, and it was new and fresh to them. To us, we knew this is really old shit. We thought we had a deal in the bag with Epitaph. He’s such a big fan {Brett Gurewitz, head of Epitaph} and Jack was always signed there and stuff, and they’re such a solid label. We’d never really had any experience before with a solid label. So we started to try to write songs, and that turned out to be a long, protracted, semi-nightmare.
Ron: Yeah, we went through lots of really good songs but, for some reason or other, didn’t feel right. They felt right to us [refers to Mike] but it was because we were stoked on playing again.
Mike: Then Jack would say, “I don’t feel it.” We give props to Jack, I mean, as much as we’re all equals in this, he’s been on board and playing the whole time where we haven’t. So, where we are on the same level in a lot of ways, we’re not on the same level in a lot of ways. You know what I mean? I’m still waiting to break through some plateaus that I would have or should have if I’d continued to play that last ten-year run. The only thing I was playing the last ten years was implements to…
Ron: Self-destruction.
Reflex: So you guys carried on playing with Joe {Wood} through what, 1990 or 1991?
Ron: I left him in, I think, ‘87.
Mike: TSOL was getting harder. More rock.
Reflex: I saw you guys toward the end and, no offense, it was horrible. It was at Night Moves in Huntington Beach. I’d also seen you earlier, at The Cathay de Grande and it was absolutely brilliant, but toward the end... I could see by looking at you guys that you just weren’t there. I felt really bad about it. It was hard to see you like that.
Mike: It changed, and changed, and changed again. Ron saw the light first and said, “Fuck it, I’m done with it.” He was done with the behavior. He was done with the drug shit. He was done with it all.
Ron: Yeah, it was right in the middle of another record and I just said, “No. Sorry. No.”
Mike: Yeah, and you know, being a good little fucking, “Give me a rut, and I’ll move in,” playing was all I knew. That took a lot of the heart out of it, too. I mean, me and Ron had been doing something together since we were teenagers.
Reflex: So, the two of you played together, and Jack and Todd {Barnes, the original drummer} played together before you all hooked up—is that right?
Ron: We started playing instruments at the same time. From going to shows and stuff, we picked up instruments. Mike played in The Accidents and I played in The Hoods with Steve Olson.
Mike: Our claim to fame was that we played two shows with the Flyboys and then we broke up.
Ron: So yeah, Jack and Todd had Vicious Circle and they had Johnny Coat Hanger.

Reflex: I saw Vicious Circle in Redondo Beach at the Fleetwood.
Mike: Yeah, but after one of those Redondo Beach things, Jack checked out because some guy came back in with a gun… Who else?... Oh, fucking Houston. But he couldn’t do it because The Klan was reforming. That was great. So Ron said, “Fuck it, great!” So me, Ron, and Todd started a band, and Steve Olson was going to sing. Steve Olson’s girlfriend wouldn’t let him do it.
Ron: Yeah. Actually we played at The Cuckoo’s Nest as a three piece.
Mike: We identified early that we needed a little bit more. We knew Jack was in town. Through a bit of courting and a bit of whatever, we coaxed him out. There was no one quite as flamboyant and just as trippy. He’d show up at a party in full make-up, and he had a command over people. That’s when it started to work, and the rest is some sort of history, anyway… The new record thing was hard and Epitaph heard the first demos and didn’t like the vocal stylings.
Ron: They thought it sounded too much like the Joykiller. Jack had been recording there and putting records out. He knew how to sing. He has two other records in the can over there. Gentleman Jack and The Go.
Mike: I think they wanted Dance with Me personified. We kind of thought, well here’s our first demo thing, and they said, “Unhhh.” And we felt, “Well, fuck.” We thought we had an in with this, and no.
Reflex: The last time I took a record over to Brett, he told me he hated it and that it sounded like L7.
Mike: We knew we had an in, possibly, with Nitro because of Dexter {Holland, The Offspring} and stuff, being a big fan. Dexter’s response, if I remember correctly was, “Yeah. Just don’t make another Beneath the Shadows because I already have one in the catalogue. Otherwise, make a record.” And we were like, “Okay. Make a record.” But... well, Brett’s a force, and he’s a writer, and a great producer. I gave Brett one of the records and he liked it. He said he liked the guitar sound, which was a big compliment. So, we ended up with Nitro, which seems to be working out cool. It still took a while to put the songs together. The recording process went quickly. We ended up with three extra days in the studio. Recorded seventeen songs in seven days.
Reflex: How was it to work with Thom as grown ups, as opposed to kids? {3}
Ron: It was great, man.
Tom: He told us about stuff we didn’t remember. He had a lost TSOL album. He had a tape of some lost TSOL songs that we forgot about, like some frigging rock opera shit that we made.
Mike: Yes, it was stretching it musically. So, that happened. Trials and tribulations, still, always with the band. Then Mitch and Joe were about, because when I left the band they ended up with the name. {4}
Steve: When I was working at Triple X records, I was doing the artwork for the live album. I had the art all done and it was ready to go and then all of sudden I’ve got a lawyer calling me. I’m being told, “If you even consider using the name True Sounds of Liberty, we’ll sue. If you print TSOL backward, we’ll sue. If it says LOST, we’ll sue,” so I was, “What the fuck am I going to do?” So I took a photo from the Cuckoo’s Nest, and I tinted it. Then I found out that if you put a sticker on it, which is advertising, the name thing could be avoided. So that’s why we put the TSOL sticker on. {5}
Mike: We figured there are a number of ways to skin them. One of them was, “Blah-blah, the original members of TSOL.” The fact of the matter is that they promised to pay me a pittance and they paid me most of it, but not all of it. Then they refused to pay me the rest.
Ron: It’s sort of like paying for a used car and deciding, “Well, I think I’ve paid enough on this car. Now it’s mine.”
Mike: Yeah, I paid six. You wanted twelve, we’re done paying. Then, only then, did I break the code I’d had, which was not doing the reunion shows. We’d had an offer on the table from Gary Tovar {of Goldenvoice, a booker, super supportive of early L.A. punk} for a million years, which was way more than I’d made doing anything with those guys {Wood-era TSOL}. I went down and saw them. I said, “Where’s the money? You said you were going to pay me this.” And they said, “Well, ya know dude, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” So I said, “If you don’t pay me, then I’m not going to do the fucking reunion shows and bury you.” Joe’s words, exactly—I remember them to this day—were, “Do what you’ve got to do.” So I said, “Okay.” That’s when our relationship with the Offspring started. They opened for us at the Celebrity Theater for $250, along with the Cadillac Tramps. {Reflex note: at this point we all started laughing. We were looking out the window at three Offspring tour buses and an equipment truck.}
Mike: I was told, “There’s an up-and-coming Orange County band that are TSOL freaks and they want to play.” I said, “Fine. Put them on.” So, that’s how all that worked.
Reflex: So you’ve retained the name?
Ron: Everything’s squared. Nitro has been good. This is the first time anyone’s offered to help. They’re not really looking to get anything off of us except what they deserve for their work. We finally gained their trust. They know we’re not going to pull something off, other than what we do on stage. They get a little scared about that. But they’re willing to help us out and to pay for our gas. Out of seven or eight record labels, that’s a first.
Mike: Dexter may be worth whatever Dexter is worth. His label is a separate thing. And it’s a small label. Truth be, it’s much, much smaller than Epitaph. Epitaph is a mini-major now. They have juice and power. Nitro is a grassroots label just getting started. They have a budget. Like Ron said, they’re nice. They’re behind our music.
Reflex: Yeah, those folks are cool. In any starting business something has to be put in, but at a point it has to start to run itself. I guess that’s why there has to be a budget.
Mike: They gave us artistic freedom and they gave us respect. Now we’ll see. I’ll be better able to assess this in a couple of years. How did the first thing go? I don’t really know—whether it goes, or doesn’t go—that it’s any fault of theirs. The ball’s in our court now. That’s why we’re out working it. We’re not really scared of touring and stuff. Barring any major incidents, we’re ready to work. And we’re trying to position ourselves in a way for this new crop of kids that the music is relevant and new and stuff. You know at a lot of these Offspring shows, the audience doesn’t know who we are. They don’t know that we influenced the band they came to see. They don’t know we’ve been around forever. The Warped Tour was good for us. Kevin Lyman {who runs the Warped Tour} did us really good. He did us a really big favor.
Ron: Yeah. Thirteen or fourteen shows and we played in front of a hundred and something thousand people.
Mike: Yeah, on the West Coast. That was a lot of love for us. We were the oldest band on the tour and causing the most trouble on stage.
Ron: Getting talked to every single night about getting thrown off the tour.
{Reflex note: it suddenly gets really loud. Some young ladies think they have found Millencollin’s van and get all noisy and giddy. Ron takes a walk. I then talk to Mike for a while about their touring vehicle and his new business. He requested I not discuss it in regards to the band’s interview as he felt it would be a conflict of interest. All I can say is that I am really impressed by his ingenuity and his hard work. Awesome.}
Todd: What did TSOL mean? Was it an acronym for different things at different times?
Mike: People have often misunderstood at times, but to us it was always True Sounds Of Liberty and it came from a religious program we saw when we were young and starting the band. {6}
Reflex: I was a good Baptist. I remember the Sounds of Liberty...
Mike: The Sounds of Liberty Choir. “Call up and your soul will be saved. All you have to do is send in your money. Call now. The lines are open.” I kicked over the TV and said, “We should call the band The True Sounds of Liberty.” We all just went, “A-ha-ha-ha” and just forgot about it. Me, Todd, and Ron were constantly rehearsing in Todd’s garage. We need a name. Somehow we tossed up True Sounds of Liberty. Pat Brown {7} was in there and he started to yell, “Yeah! TSOL! Yeah, TSOL!” and he ran out the door. We looked at each other. “TSOL? Huh? We were going to call the band True Sounds of Liberty. What’s TSOL?... oh... okay!” He was the first one to call the band TSOL.
Todd: Not to dredge up anything painful, but was part of the complexity of making this new record having a new drummer?
Mike: We had another drummer for a minute. Danny Westerman, who is a professional.
Todd: He was in Down By Law.
Mike: Right. Very good drummer. Crackier, poppier. Filling Todd’s shoes is hard. Todd was a character, unmanageable—like us, up to the very end. We tried to get Todd to come aboard, but the criteria was he had to change his lifestyle. We couldn’t put a lit match in here with us. Some of our stability was precarious at best. He had arthritis and he had different things, and he had used the whole damn time. It takes a lot of work to get back up to what you’re doing, especially for a drummer. It’s like being an athlete. He was a little bummed out about the whole thing, and this and that, and whatever. Jack at one time had told him, and I at another, “Dude, this is your place. This is rightfully yours, but there’s a couple of things you’ve gotta do. You know what you’ve got to do.” So on, and so forth, and he passed away. We were there when they unplugged him and it was a bummer.
            But we knew he would want to go on, and we wanted to go on, and that’s just the way it is. We deal with the kind of thing we came from—and the dope, and the heroin, and excess, the punk rock loss of values, or complete snubbing our noses or giving it the finger—if it was the wrong way to do things then that was our way, and to the hilt. Jack, in thirteen years of sobriety, says he has buried in excess of sixty people, and I know for sure in three-and-a-half years, fifteen people that are dead. You know? That’s what happens.
            It’s almost that with Todd gone that it put a little more fucking resolve into doing this. The record is dedicated to Todd. I have a little memorial at home. Everyone holds Todd in a special place. He was so talented, not only as a drummer, but he played guitar, played bass. He was just one of those guys. So even Jay—who is the closest thing to Todd’s playing—can never be Todd. He used to play with Todd, hang out with Todd, travel with the band out of town with Todd. His mom would give Todd a note, putting him in Todd’s custody.
            Jay plays on some of Todd’s drum kits. He’s from Long Beach. He’s like us in a lot of ways—a big, dumb, strong, won’t listen in a lot of ways, kid. We love him and stuff, but the core band is definitely me, Jack, and Ron. It’s kind of hard for Jay in some ways, and that’s a drag, but there’s no way to level the playing field. I mean, he just wasn’t there twenty years ago and how can we just say, “Well, here ya go”? There were four of us then, now there’s just three. It’s a weird thing and a weird dynamic that we’re working through every day. It’s a family kind of thing.
            I have a lot of respect for Jack in a lot of ways. His command of music, in general. He always blows my mind. We seldom, if ever, rehearse or write a set list. Usually, when we go on tour, we know that by the third show “It’s on.” The band will be down. We’re such a tight unit. There were two rehearsals prior to this tour and that was only because there are so many new songs that are in the set and we needed to not so much learn the songs, as put the titles with the songs.
Reflex: Oh yes, the drummer problem is what we refer to that as. They know the song as a riff or a beat, not a lyric.
Mike: Mistakes. We’ve all had our share. We never did anything quite half way. We embraced that thing for doing shit wrong. The hard stuff is doing things right, normally, like normal people do it. Simple things around the home. How to do things wrong, like dope fiend maneuvers, and scams, and hustles—things like that we’re, “Oh, yeah. We can do this”—but that’s not how you’re supposed to do it. I’ll work hard. I’ll have a pocket full of money. I still won’t fucking pay my bills. “Aw, fuck, it’s late. Shit, it’s more money. Aw, damn, this ticket would have been ninety bucks. There’s half the money.” Knew the thing was due, but still! That’s foreign! Register your car?! Insurance?! That’s foreign. At least a couple of us are in a learning process. We function pretty good now, better than we had. But, life skills... fuck.
            Grisham, still. He’s fucking nuts. Out of his fucking tree. He’s got this stroke of genius in him, too. We’ll be in the studio and he’ll sit down at the piano, and start playing. I’ll be like, where the fuck did you learn to play like that? He always had a piano in his parent’s house, and he’d fuck around on it. He never took any lessons. Or, we’ll be playing something, or writing it—and most singers would go unh-unh-unh {meaning “I don’t know“}—and Grisham will say, “Go to that part, you know, when you go to the D sharp” and he’ll pinpoint the part. I’ll have to catch up with him. I’ll say, “What? Oh, you mean here?” He’ll go to it on the piano. “Got it.” I’m still in awe of his skill, and Emory too. Emory blows my mind. He can name any song from any TSOL era. “Beneath the Shadows” and he’ll call it out and just goes into it. He just remembers it. He’s got a great tone, a great style. I’m still struggling to just remember my one part that I have to remember. He’ll have four parts all ready to go into the studio. A little subtle nuance here, an overlay there....
Reflex: I always wondered if he listened to Alice Cooper records, Siouxsie And The Banshees, early Cure. I hear all that stuff in his playing.
Mike: We all listened to the Banshees, Gang Of Four, Elvis Costello—though when I listen to it now it sounds like jazz. It’s incredible the shit he’s playing. Early Crass stuff. We borrowed heavily, not the music so much as visuals, like the early shirt I gave you, where all the words ran together. Direct from Crass. We just thought that was cool.
Reflex: We traded shirts. {8}
Mike: The first TSOL shirts we ever made, we made twelve. We wanted to be elitist. People come up and say, “Aw, dude. This and that. This song is a direct rip-off of you guys.” I personally feel that all rock and roll, based on the history of rock and roll, the length of the neck, and the amount of frets, it’s all relative. Who didn’t borrow, mix, mash, mesh, to come up with this or that? Who didn’t borrow? Some is just more blatant and obvious than others. That’s all.
Steve: Was Soto playing with you guys, or just Frank Agnew?
Mike: Frank played with us for a minute on the Beneath the Shadows tour. I think Ron wanted to bolster the sound a bit. Make it more of a heavy, full kind of thing.
Reflex: Spanky played for eighteen months with me. Sober, non-smoker. A good boy. Six weeks of TSOL. He’s a chain smoking, hard drinking monster!
Mike: He was white knuckling it at one point and Jack forced him to drink a fifth with him and Jack used to be a blackout drunk. He’d be smiling and laughing and shit. Jamming whiskey like it was nothing, but since he wasn’t there, it really was like something! So, if ya knew him, you knew he wasn’t there. He made Frank drink, told him he’d do something heinous to him if he didn’t, and Frank went on a long bender after that. Jack felt pretty bad about it.
Steve: So Frank was really the only outside member?
Mike: We had Jay of Bad Religion on board for a show. I was barred from a show. He played for TSOL and then Bad Religion for one night. They called me back for the next show. Todd hit the motor home or something on one tour, probably the same one Frank Agnew played on. We called Rikk out and he came and played drums. He just winged it and got us through the tour. On the last tour I couldn’t go into Canada and a sound man filled in for me. I have a passport now and can go out of the country. We have a plan to go to Europe in November. I’m looking forward to it. This trip is set around fishing and skin diving. We went fishing on the river in Fresno and we plan to scuba dive in Florida. We have a punk rock guide in Utah that’s going to take us fishing.
Steve: You guys still surf?
Mike: Only Jack still surfs everyday. He’s the only one who still lives near the beach now, which is a weird twist. I live kinda close to the beach in Santa Monica, but it seems like I’m always working. I work at a tattoo shop. I’m an apprentice tattooist. Ron lives inland. Has a cool pad, impeccable taste. Bitchin’ furniture. He’s that guy who can look at a car, a guitar, and can tell you exactly what it is and if anything’s been changed. He likes to shop for vintage stuff.
Reflex: You guys write when you’re on the road?
Mike: Nah. Hopefully we’ll just turn it on again and see where it goes. The good news is that we’re playing together, getting comfortable. I’d like to see us stay close to the meat and potatoes of this record {Disappear} so that if we build up a fan base they’re not left out in left field because we changed again.
Todd: What’s interesting about this record in the feedback people give me is that you and Ron are the most definable, and the vocals—some people really like, and some people really don’t—but they think the instrumentation is great. Instantly they say, “Okay, I can see where things are starting to compress over what they did prior, and that is really identifiable.”
Mike: That’s a great compliment. I just have this awe of Ron’s talent and ability. With me, I was happy with the way it came out, but I think I’ll be better on the next one. It’s weird ‘cause we have to work everyday. We’re not exclusively musicians. We have to shift gears. It would be nice to be musicians all the time, but we don’t have that luxury. I work fifteen-hour days in a tattoo shop. I’m dead at the end of the day. If I have forty minutes to pick up a guitar, I call that a good day. If we can string the tours together enough then we can spend more time on the instruments, who knows what will happen?
Reflex: I will try to go out to Gorman for the last show of this tour because you guys will be like a machine by then.
Mike: It will be two weeks at home, and then out for another two. We’ve gotten good reviews. We didn’t know what to expect. We expected some bad, of course. We’re an old band coming back. People want the new thing. I didn’t go with a five-stringed bass. We didn’t go with a synthesizer or try some new hybrid shit. There’s no rap in the mix. No speed metal meets pop meets hip-hop mixed in it. The stuff that’s killing it. That’s what’s making it, but it’s not our gig. Our thing is just our thing. The best compliment we’ve received is that some of the stuff is seamless with the older stuff. That’s the best we could ask for.
Reflex: The sets are a nice mix of material. The songs fit together and compliment one another. [Commotion]
Mike: I’ll leave you with Grisham.
Reflex: You guys had to work through some stuff together after Joe came in and took the band into another direction. You had to get back to here. Where’d ya go? How did you iron that shit out?
Jack: Did you see how mad they got at me when I said my voice hurts and I can’t talk and you’re gonna have to do it? They both got pissed off and they left the van. It’s not ironed out. It’s so bubbling under the surface that it’s not even funny [laughing]. Some of that stuff is totally my fault and I totally take the blame.
Reflex: Well, you walked away from it all. You left the band.
Jack: Yeah. Mike asked me, “Do you mind if we take the name?” I said, “No. I don’t care.”
Reflex: You had no way of knowing you would all lose the name. So, Joe Wood is married to your sister.
Jack: Right. And living at my mother’s house.
Reflex: Ooooooo. What’s Thanksgiving like?
Jack: I don’t even deal with them. It’s really sad. When I call to talk to my mom, they just hand the phone right to my mom. My sister won’t talk to me either. She believes her husband.
Reflex: Well, she has to.
Steve: What about the kids? Aren’t you like Uncle Jack?
Jack: Yeah, she has two. Everything’s cool with the kids. They don’t talk about it either.
Reflex: So your sister won’t be inviting you to do any vocals on her next album?
Jack: No. No. They don’t like me at all. I’ll tell you what makes me mad. I stayed out of the whole thing. I told Roche and Ron, I said, “You guys do what you have to do and leave me out of it. You take care of it. I don’t want any part of it.” It got to a point where they were lying, they were stalling. They were screwing around. It got to the point where I said, “Look, do you want me to take care of this?” and Roche and Ron said, “Do what you gotta do.”
Reflex: This back and forth—this was Joe and Mitch going back and forth...
Jack: Right. I called Joe up and said, “Guess what? Fuck you. I’m in charge now. You get nothing. You get no points. You get fucking nothing. You don’t own shit. You can sue us if you want, but what we’re going to do is take it and dump the whole thing on Napster and give it all away for free and just play live shows. You can go ahead and try to fucking sue us and you can fuck off.” Then I just kind of went off and I said, “You’re a liar. You’re full of shit. You’re a lying asshole. I never want to talk to you again. Goodbye.” Click. And then the next day he went in and signed the contracts at Nitro.
Reflex: Maybe he’d realized that he’d pushed the wrong button?
Jack: It was a mess. I tried to stay out of it because he was my sister’s husband.
Reflex: Maybe by doing that he was trying to make leeway with you; reconciliation.
Jack: He wanted $50,000.
Reflex: But he let all that stuff go, right?
Jack: Yeah. He knew he was gonna get nothing.
Reflex: Maybe it was his bridge, letting it go.
Jack: Yeah, but he wanted $50,000 for himself and $50,000 for Mitch.
Steve: That’s crazy.
Jack: It’s fucking crazy, especially since they kept telling us they’d done this and that, that the band had been at its biggest when they were doing it. All this shit, right? Supposedly, at the biggest of all, Mike Roche’s cut—when they bought him out—was $10,000. So now, when the name is worth nothing—when there is no band—how is it worth $100,000? And he can still sell shirts. I don’t like even thinking about it because it just makes me mad.
Reflex: So he still has a claim? That’s not letting anything go.
Jack: He’s getting points on this record. They had to buy him off. I said, “He’s not getting points out of my share. You guys do whatever you want, but fuck him.” Nitro can sue us too, for all I care. Get in line. You never make any money from selling records anyway.
Reflex: No shit. Not in a punk rock band.
Steve: I don’t get it. It’s your band, your name. You fucking started it. Then someone comes in and says, “It’s mine.”
Jack: Well, one thing is, we were only a band from ‘80-’83. Three years. They were a band from ‘84-’91. Seven years, though someone can tell me that Creedence Clearwater Revisited have been together for a long time. [laughter] The True Sounds of Liberty, Revisited. [Mike brings in a guitar for Jack to sign.] Oh this is nice. Why does this guy want his guitar signed?
Mike: This guy has been to the two Universal shows. He came tonight and he’s going to Las Vegas. He’s ditching the wife and hiding the credit cards.
Reflex: Tomorrow night he’s going to sell this to the Hard Rock Cafe. It’s gonna be on the wall, behind the glass. With Joe Wood’s picture right next to it.
Mike: Oh man, he signed Joe’s name the other night. It was so cool. [laughter] The guy was so stoked.
Jack: I signed his name. I’ve seen his signature.
Mike: This guy brought a CD. He said, “Can you have the singer sign it?” and I said, “Sure.” [laughter] Brian said, “Dude, isn’t that album with...?” and I said, “Shhhh....” Fuck it. The guy’s happy. Let him go home happy.
Jack: I used to try to explain it to them. Or they’ll say, “Hey, when I first heard ‘Strange Love’ it meant so much to me.” I say, “Oh, thanks man. I really appreciate that. We really appreciate that.” And I just wandered away instead of saying, “Fuck you.”
Reflex: I get that a lot with people who want to hear Balboa Fun Zone, which was an Adolescents album I wasn’t on, that people always request.
Steve: Well, what do you guys do when that happens?
Jack: I just smile and wave. “All right! We’ll get to that baby. We’ll bring that out for you, all right!” And when they come up later, “Why didn’t you play it?” “Awwww. We didn’t have time. Sorry, next time.”
Reflex: I just pass the buck. “I was ready to go. Those other guys forgot it.”
Jack: I’ve been mad when I’ve been put to this Joe Wood thing. People would give me shit and say, “Fucking metal band. Fuck you guys.” It would make me really mad. It made me think of some guy fucking my girlfriend. So I’m already hurt, and he’s fucking my girlfriend. But beside fucking my girlfriend, he’s out fucking shit up around town. Everyone’s getting pissed at him, and when they ask, “Who is that fucking shit up around town?” They think, “Oh, it’s the guy fucking this chick.” You know what I’m saying? But they’ve ruined—I’m sorry—but they’ve ruined that fucking band. Bottom line, that is some sad shit. I’ve made a lot of crappy music in my day, but I never made it under that name.
Reflex: I saw them in the late eighties. We split, and we were really bummed. But then, Change Today? is a really great record.
Jack: Yeah, but it’s not a TSOL record. They should’ve changed the name. They got voted in Flipside the most boring band to watch. That’s really fucking sad. Whatever. God bless them.
Steve: Was it hard to get back into writing with these guys again?
Jack: Yeah. We had a hard time. One thing that was hard is that this thing is a real democracy, and all the other stuff I worked on was not.
Reflex: [across van] Ron. Do you listen to a lot of Alice Cooper records?
Ron: First concert I ever went to.
Reflex: I fucking knew it. I can hear it in your guitar. I hit it on the fucking head.
Ron: We were just listening to that Mascara and Monsters. See, that makes a big difference, you bringing that point up because I was listening to Dirk Wears White Sox and I had stolen it off the Dirk Wears White Sox album. {9} God, I stole ... that Italian thing. I had stolen a vocal pattern for “Funeral March” from it. When we used to write together the stuff we listened to was different. A lot of Magazine, Damned, Buzzcocks....
Jack: ....Gang Of Four and all that shit made us TSOL. We all go on, we learn to play our shit, and then we come back with a new set of influences. For me I think it’s an okay record, but I’m really looking forward to the next one because we’ve gotten over a lot of hurdles. For just coming back after seventeen years—with the lawsuits, the water under the bridge, and all that other shit—it’s a great record. You almost have got to listen to it as a first record. If you looked at it like it was just some kids, and they made their first record, you’d say, “Fuck. They did a great job.”
Steve: What about the writing?
Jack: Well, that was tough, too. On the last Joykiller album—there wasn’t a note on that fucking album that I didn’t have something to do with. The last record I did with those guys, I pre-apologized. When I went into the studio I said, “Look, I just want to say ‘I’m sorry’ in advance for what I going to do to you guys.” This last Gentleman Jack stuff. I wrote it all at home. The band didn’t even know the stuff. We went in the studio and I brought out butcher paper and just wrote all the notes on it and said, “It goes like this and this, with this kind of feel. Let’s go.” With TSOL it was a whole different trip. We wrote. Threw out songs, and wrote, and threw out songs, and...
Reflex: So this was collaborative.
Jack: Yeah, and it was tough, man, because of what I feel like now, about personal responsibility. I was listening to that Offspring song about driving in the car and fucking shooting somebody. I can’t get behind that. You know what I mean? I don’t believe in that. I’m nonviolent now. So you take someone who was once violent, and is now nonviolent, so there is now a lot of stuff I can’t back lyrically. You start thinking, “All right then. What do I write about?” So it’s tough.
Steve: Well, like with Tony, I’ve asked him, “Why don’t you write something like the first Adolescents stuff anymore?” and he said, “I can’t write shit like that anymore because I don’t think like that anymore. I’m not gonna go home and jack off or do this or do that.”
Reflex: Well, I might...
Jack: Exactly. It’s tough.
Reflex: They’ve got a preconceived notion of what we’re all about. It’s a drag. No one wants to be pigeonholed by someone else’s ideal, as opposed to the reality of what a band wants to do and how things really are. I think your voice sounds great and I’m glad to hear you push it and challenge it, rather than aping something you did twenty years ago. I’m glad you’re pushing yourself.
Jack: Yeah, I’m feeling okay. I wish some of the stuff got played live before we recorded it. Stuff changes from when you did it in the studio. A lot of the problems are gone now. When we head into it, that’s all gone.
The live shows have been lots of fun. The mustache thing was fun. We gave a kid his first shave in Bakersfield. If you think about that, it’s a total rite of passage, man. Like, if you go to some societies it’s a big deal. Getting your foreskin whacked, getting your first facial hair cut. That’s important. I felt pretty tribal about that, man.
Ron: Get out your sack, kid.
Jack: Right. I’ll never forget this buddy of mine—he’s dead now—he was so fucking funny. My nephew wanted to go to a show, so my older sister told me, “Hey, your nephew wants to go to a show. Is that cool?” and I said, “Yeah, no problem.” I pick them up. They’re fifteen. They don’t know what’s going, right? They get in the car and they sit with my buddies in the back. My buddy looks over like this and he goes, “Let’s see your sack, kid.” My nephew goes, “What?!” “Bring out yer sack. Show me what ya got. I’ll show ya what I got.” My nephew was so bummed. I turned around I said, “Come on. Put your dick away!” [laughing] He’s dead now.
Then they got in a fight in the car. These two guys got in a fight. Not my nephew and his friend. They’re already freaked out. They’re on a trip with Uncle Jack and it’s already bad news. So one guy’s sitting next to me and the other guy’s in the back. The guy in the back said, “Hey man, how come you only got four months of time for that crime you did? That was a big deal.” And I go, “Rat. Rat. Rat. Rat.” And the guy in the back goes, “You fucking rat, bro?” And he turns around in the front, and he did rat and I didn’t know! And he starts to yell, “RAAAAT! RAAAT!” Then they start yelling back and forth, and I’m just laughing. These kids are leaning against the side, and then a full-on fist fight in the car! It was so fucked, so fucked. Oh well. [general laughter]
Reflex: Does he still go out with you?
Jack: Yeah. He lives with me now. Living with Uncle Jack. [looks out the window] Look at this. No chicks, no nothing. Old man riding around the corner on a bike. I talk to my wife and she says, “What’s going on there?” and I say, “Nothing.”
Reflex: I’ve been to three of your shows this week and it’s been pretty quiet.
Jack: I was telling a friend I can’t remember when the last time was that I was on tour and picked up and messed with a girl. It’s been twenty years. Normally, I just get out, grab a book, lay down, and read…
I should show you what I have for the Agnostic Front show. A skirt—pink with white spots. They can’t figure us out, those fucking skinheads in the audience.
Reflex: Yeah, I worry that you’ll get yourself killed. Baiting two hundred angry skinheads in a dress. It’s gonna be hard to spot you.
Jack:A friend of me has a video of me fighting two guys, in a dress. I was just fucking them up. The guy had said something about me. I don’t know what he did. His buddy kept pushing it. I don’t remember it, but I saw the video. I had a tube top on, too. I mean, what do you do? You go home, you’ve got a black eye, you’re all bloodied, and say, “Some guy in a dress fucked me up!” Fuck that. I’ll run nowadays. I don’t want anything to do with it. Once you’ve been stabbed a couple of times, shot at, it’s no fun. I had a guy pull a gun on me at Chaz Ramirez’s studio. {10} Some guy came down from, whatever. The guy I was working with brought his producer, some guy from Hollywood. I got into an argument with him, and was fucking around with him. He starts spinning around going, “I didn’t do three tours in Nam to have some punk ff-fff-fff-” I turn around in the chair and say, “Shoot me, Jew boy.” I had a couple in me that morning though. Chaz and I had been on the Thunderbird. {11} I wouldn’t have felt it anyway.....

{1} Bergamont Station/Track 16 is an art museum in Santa Monica, California. From April to June 1999 an exhibition curated by Exene Cervenkova and John Roecker called “Forming: The Early Days of Los Angeles Punk” took place, which chronicled part of the Los Angeles punk rock scene. The exhibit culminated with a concert which featured an array of bands which included Devo, X, Weirdos, Plugz, Adolescents, F-Word, and TSOL among others. Bootleg videos are floating around as well as a never-to-be-released feature film. This would be the last major rock performance by Rik L. Rik.
{2} The set at Bergamont Station was great. The place turned into a zoo. There was total bedlam. Mike Rouse, a local musician who owned some of the stage equipment used, got his nose thumped. He took it like a trooper and later commented that he’d expect no less from a great TSOL show. TSOL would play less than a week later at Fletcher’s birthday bash at the Key Club with the Adolescents as a support. A bootleg video is floating around.
{3} Thom Wilson recorded Dance with Me and Beneath the Shadows for TSOL, the self-titled Adolescents LP, and Welcome to Reality EP. He disappeared—no pun intended—for a while and was looked up by the Offspring to record Smash. He was the engineer on the new TSOL release.
 {4} In a very confusing TSOL dichotomy, there are actually two distinct bands who have used the name TSOL. One ran from 1980-1983, and the other from 1984-1991. The latter band, fronted by Joe Wood, retained legal claim to the name. The first lineup began to reclaim the name after 1991 and has been caught in periodic haggling with the latter up until recently.
{5} Steve Martinez worked at Triple X records from the mid-’80s into the early ’90s. He was the in-house artist and did graphics for a number of Triple X releases at that time, including work for TSOL and Tender Fury.
{6} My favorite was an early misprint in a fanzine which dubbed them True Sons of Liberty, which had a Guns of Navarone feel to it....
{7} Pat Brown was a staple at many early shows and parties in the beach area. He was the same Pat Brown of the early Vandals anthem “The Legend of Pat Brown.”
{8} In 1980 I traded Mike a Mickey Mouse T-shirt for a TSOL shirt. It was one of twelve the band screened. Rikk Agnew is wearing it—actually borrowed from me and never returned!—on the back cover of the blue Adolescents LP. Gimme back my shirt, Rikk.
{9} Dirk Wears White Sox by Adam And The Ants.
{10} Chaz Ramirez was the owner and engineer of the Casbah Studio in Fullerton. Beside playing bass in Eddie And The Subtitles and collecting vintage vacuum cleaners, Chaz recorded a number of Orange County bands, including Social Distortion, Adolescents, Eddie And The Subtitles, Pontiac Brothers {the band that introduced us all to the Doll Hut}, Jack Grisham, Flower Leperds, Berlin, and a million others. Chaz, the consummate worker, fell through an acoustic ceiling while pulling out some electrical wiring he was going to use for his studio and died from head injuries sustained in the fall three days later. Mike Ness and Dennis Dannell later bought the studio in order to keep that piece of rock and roll history going. Its current status is unknown.
{11} Thunderbird is a cheap fortified wine. Prior to his abstinence, Chaz would drink “shortdogs,” which were the smaller bottles.