Kirk And The Jerks were several variations of four kids in a punk band that existed in Lancaster, Pa. from 1986 to 1995. They played local shows, recorded music, and never really made any attempt to do anything more. In 1988, one of their tapes ended up in the hands of someone working for the skateboard company H-Street and a couple of songs ended up in the skate video Shackle Me Not. Kirk And The Jerks’ positive rock’n’roll punk sounds stood out in the video and more songs were used in the 1989 video Hokus Pokus.
These videos put the little teenage band in skaters’ consciousnesses across the country. But Kirk And The Jerks had no idea and kept playing local shows and recording their songs. As the years went on, the people wanted more Kirk And The Jerks music but the only way to get it was one of two impossible-to-get self-released tapes, downloads from old blogs, or on the H-Street soundtrack compilation from 2011.
After thirty-plus years, a Kirk And The Jerks discography is finally available. I talked to David Benner (guitar) and Eric Benner (bass) of Kirk And The Jerks about the release, skateboarding, their other music projects, and the titular and mysterious Kirk.
Rick: Would you say that most people familiar with your band heard you on the H-Street skate videos?
David That’s where most of it comes from, yep.
Eric: We’ve been hearing that for years. People ask, “Where can I get some Kirk And The Jerks music?” And it’s posted in different places on the internet. We’ve been saying for a long time that we got to get it out there for people to hear. It looks like it’s finally gonna happen and we’re pretty pumped about it.
Rick: And there are so many tracks on this release. Was any of it released anywhere?
David: Some of it was released on cassette tapes, given out at shows and the local record shops here in Lancaster, Pa. That’s pretty much it, except for the stuff on H-Street. If it wasn’t for H-Street, we’d pretty much just be another local band.
Rick: And folks will be stoked they can finally hear “Hang on to the Dream” without that weird sample that cuts off into the beginning of the song on the H-Street compilation. [laughter ensues]
If somebody would have approached us and said they’d put out our music but they couldn’t give us any money, we would’ve done it.
David: We were always hoping for some kind of breakthrough—a record deal or anything! If somebody would have approached us and said they’d put out our music but they couldn’t give us any money, we would’ve done it.
David: H-Street was really the big thing for us. And we wouldn’t even be talking to you right now if it wasn’t for them.
Rick: The later stuff is recorded so well. You just recorded that and put it on the back burner?
Eric: That’s the thing, we were songwriters and musicians. Not businessmen at all. We’d record the stuff and then say “Okay, we got a brand new set of songs. Who do you know that can shop it around? Drummer, who do you know? Guitar player, who do you know?” [In a dumb-guy voice] “I don’t know anybody.” [laughter ensues]
Eric: And that’s pretty much how it went.
David: And you gotta remember it was a different time. We didn’t have the internet like we do now. Now you have so many places to put your music, like Instagram, YouTube, et cetera. Back then you needed some kind of list or a connection somewhere. The resources just weren’t there and, well... the motivation may not have been there either. Like Eric said earlier, we were caught up in the music. Every other aspect of it went to the back burner. We just hoped someone would stumble across it, but it never happened.
Rick: Did you guys ever tour?
David: [laughing] No.
Eric: Nope, nothing like that. We never made it out of Pennsylvania.
Rick: [flabbergasted] For you guys to be so well known but never leaving your state is wild.
David and Eric: [laughing] We know!
Rick: Then how did H-Street hear you guys?
Eric: Steve and Art Godoy (The Godoy Twins), the professional skaters, are also from Lancaster and they were friends with Kirk and his sister. I think they came to see us a couple of times. They later moved to California and did their skateboard thing out there where they turned pro and hooked up with the H-Street guys. That’s when they handed over our cassette tape and the rest is history!
David: We got on the video and that’s how it all started.
Rick: Were you guys skateboarding? Did you consider yourself a skate band?
David: That’s funny. We never considered ourselves a skate band. That label was sort of put on us—which we don’t mind, we’ll take it! We’ll keep it as long as people listen to us.
Rick: But wait! You liked skateboarding, right!?
Eric: We have a picture of Dave skating in the local shopping mall hitting a curb with his shirt off. All skinny and young.
Rick: I was afraid you would be like, “We hated skateboarding!”
Dave: Some of us were into it. Some of us not so much. Eric, did you?
Eric: No, no. I tried to do everything you did because I was your little brother. The skating thing I couldn’t get. But the music thing I made sure I didn’t want to get left out of. I busted my ass on that.
Dave: Music was our main thing and everything else was secondary.
Eric: It was just something to do between breaks.
Rick: One of you was in a band before with the titular Kirk from Kirk And The Jerks. What was that like?
Dave: That was me in 1985 and we were called Nobody’s Fool. Kirk was the drummer. Joel Klein played bass and he went on to join Jet Silver, which became a popular band from around here. We played pretty basic punk rock stuff. We were pretty bad. We did that for a couple of years until Kirk and I split off and started Kirk And The Jerks.
Rick: Have you guys as brothers been in bands before?
Eric: Not before. Dave was like, fifteen when Nobody’s Fool was playing and I’m two years younger. And like I said before, when I saw big brother doing this cool stuff, I had to be a part of it. So I watched and learned as much as I could, so when the day came when they needed someone in the band, I would be good enough to join. That day finally came when Kirk And The Jerks were formed. They needed a bass player. I joined in and it was a glorious time.
Dave: It was strange, though. Just the whole kid brother thing. The little kid who follows you around, gets in your way and tries to imitate you. And all of a sudden the guys are like, “Well, why doesn’t Eric play bass?” C’mon, that’s my little brother!
Eric: “He’s a dork!”
Dave: “He’s annoying!” I’m just kidding. We gave him a shot and he was just a natural. It doesn’t matter which instrument he picks up, he can play it. He just did a great job. The guys took to him and I started thinking, “I don’t know, maybe he’s not so bad after all.” Eric was only thirteen when he first started playing with us. If you listen to our earlier stuff, just imagine a thirteen-year-old playing all those bass lines.
Eric: Well, that’s very sweet of you to say, Dave. All these years and you finally say that. Wow.
Dave: You did good!
Eric: Thanks! [Brotherly love fills the room.]
Rick: Since you were barely teenagers, are you at all embarrassed by any of those songs?
We did all that stuff in our parents’ garage with rented 4-tracks.
Dave: I’m not really embarrassed by the lyrics or the songs. I’m more embarrassed by how bad some of the recordings are. We did all that stuff in our parents’ garage with rented 4-tracks. We tried to figure those things out the best we could and at the time, we thought the recordings were great. To us, it was so cool just to have a recording of our stuff. We made tapes and handed them out and that was great at the time.
Eric: That was one of the main challenges with putting this thirty-seven song discography together. Later on, we had part-time jobs and could afford some studio time with the To Be a Hero era (1986-1991) and Can’t Wait for the Breakdown” era (1994-1996), which were actual studio recordings that sound good. And it’s hard to put these 4-track and boom box recordings on the same plane as those later recordings.
Rick: I never heard any of the later songs until this discography. Even though it’s sort of a departure, I like the power pop stuff. Lyrically, you were still very posi.
We didn’t have much hardcore in our blood.
Dave: We didn’t have much hardcore in our blood. We were always into the good melodic punk. We grew up on The Boys, The Clash, and the Ramones. We always strove to write good quality songs you could hum or sing along to. If the chord progressions clashed, we would scrap it. We always wanted to go with something powerful.
Rick: I’m assuming you were a good live show band. I’m sure people were shaking their fists and their butts at your shows.
Eric: [laughs] They did!
Dave: Kirk was one of the best frontmen I’ve ever been with. He was up there with the greats. Kirk was something special. Or is. Kirk is something special. And we were all honored to take the journey with him. No doubt about it.
Rick: Where is Kirk anyway?
Dave: Kirk decided he didn’t want to have anything to do with this stuff anymore and went his own way. You won’t find him on any social media or any online presence. He’s not into any of it.
Rick: He’s just Kirk.
Dave: That’s right!
Eric: And we can respect that. His lyrics were great.
Rick: His lyrics are super epic and positive songs. They make you feel good. I guess this isn’t really a question, just a statement.
Eric: I agree one hundred percent. I still look through his lyrics. He’d come to practice with lyric sheets and left this yellow notebook full of unused lyrics in my parents’ garage. The guys would be riffing around to come up with a song. He’d thumb through his yellow notebook and pull out what he thought would work. Every once in a while I go through the yellow notebook. It’s pretty neat.
Rick: I’m looking at the discography track list right now and the two songs that seem like Kirk love songs, “Backstreet Angel” and “Tears of a Fool,” are very long songs.
Dave: [exhausted sigh] Yeah, yeah, yep, yep, yep.
Eric: [laughs] Yes they are. No doubt about it.
Rick: I’m guessing when Kirk got romantic, he had to drill it home.
Dave: That’s how that worked. We would be like, “Well, we have to do another verse just to get this in and we gotta do this so we can put the bridge in.” We got out of hand sometimes, but it flows pretty well.
Rick: And you two were in a band after Kirk and the Jerks?
Dave: Well, Eric went on to play in the Stiletto Boys. Some of the Razorcake readers might recognize that name.
Rick: Oh yeah, I enjoyed the Stiletto Boys.
Dave: Eric was in that band for its duration and two of the Stiletto Boys were also Jerks. So the Jerks and the Stiletto Boys are connected.
Rick: I read on a blog (Tapewrecks.blogspot.com) that you two were in a band together post Jerks.
Dave: Oh, that was Mystery City. It was Eric and I and another Jerk, Curt Laudenberger. And another friend, Jamie Pinkerton. We recorded a CD and had another situation where we handed it out to family and friends, and that was sort of the end of it. I think it’s on YouTube.
Eric: It is. The whole album, Mystery City, Road to Happiness.
Dave: It’s not as punk as Kirk And The Jerks and a little more refined and polished, but it still has that energy. (It’s super sugary power-pop with some Descendents/All flare. –Rick)
Eric: That was a fun project.
Rick: So people started asking where they can get Kirk And The Jerks stuff, including me at one point via email. Whose idea was it to finally put everything out?
Dave: That all started with a guy named Indy Powers who runs Division Street Sound. He managed to track me down through my most recent band, Dying Elk Herd’s Facebook page.
Rick: Oh yeah, Dying Elk Herd’s website is currently taken over by a Chinese advertising company.
Dave: [laughs] I saw that too. We no longer have it, but the Facebook page is our go-to. Indy said he was searching all over the internet for contact information for Kirk And The Jerks when he finally came across Dying Elk Herd’s Facebook. And he said he had been a fan of ours and the H-Street stuff for so long and wanted to put our recordings out for people to finally hear. Not just a couple of the H-Street songs—all of it!
And I told him, “Okay, but I’d have to check with everybody.” This is something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time and I’d get back to him. So I tracked everybody down, which is ten of us. We’ve had ten people in Kirk And The Jerks over the years. Some weren’t easy and took a little while, but I was able to get ahold of all of them. They all gave the green light and we’ve been working on it for five months now.
Eric: It’s been a hell of a project that Dave’s been heading up. He’s been running it like a CEO of a corporation, man. He’s up there and gets things moving. So kudos to David B.
David: No, no, no...
Eric: It’s all you!
David: No, you stop. I got a lot of help from a lot of people. There are a lot of hands in this.
Rick: Look at these guys! They used to bicker all the time and now they’re best friends.
Dave: That’s another good thing that came out of all this is Eric and I have been a lot closer. We went months without talking much. We would see each other at Thanksgiving and Christmas or whatever, but since we started this project, we’ve been talking just about every day. It’s really helped out our relationship. Wouldn’t you say, Eric?
Eric: [awkward pause] Sure! Absolutely! [Everyone laughs.]
Rick: What if he said no and stormed off?
Eric: Dave, you’re taking my spotlight! Again!
Dave: It’s good all around.
Eric: Absolutely. One hundred percent. It’s been a lot of fun. [Brotherly love intensifies.]
Rick: This interview may not be seen for a while and I saw that the discography record is a limited run. Will it be available digitally?
Eric: Yeah, all of it should be on the Division Street Sounds website.
Rick: And H-Street is even releasing a Kirk And The Jerks skateboard coming out to coincide with the release. You’re getting buck wild to make up for lost time.
Dave: You’re right about that. We’re excited about it.
Rick: I’ve only recently become the “skate deck on the wall” guy. Someone sold me a Darby Crash deck and I plan on throwing that up. And now you’re going to make me buy another one. And I still skate. I’m thirty-eight. I’m not great and I hurt myself a lot. But it’s fun.
Dave: I thought about getting back into it, too. But my wife doesn’t think it’s a good idea.
Rick: Nobody’s partner thinks it’s a good idea. But if you’re just rolling around the church parking lot, you’ll be alright.
Dave: That’s what I say.
Eric: Where’s the harm in that?
Rick: What’s up with Dying Elk Herd? Is that still a thing?
Dave: Sort of, on and off. It’s with two other former Jerks, Curt Laudenberger and Greg Cassy. We put out a CD and there’s a filmmaking group called Motern Media who got us into a movie called Don’t Let the River Beast Get You. We made a music video for the theme and it played under the end credits. We did a song for their other movie, Slingshot Cops. Motern Media is Matt Farley and Charles Roxburgh, and they make these low budget horror-comedy films and we’ve been writing songs for their movies. We pretty much get together just to do these.
Rick: Well, cool. Hopefully people will get their hands on this before it sells out. It’s about time, and I’m sure it’s a dream come true for you guys and probably for a lot of other people, too.
When you’re in a band and thirty years later you hear someone cover a song you wrote when you were so young and thought nobody cared about, that’s a very cool feeling.
Eric: You know, when you’re growing up and playing these songs in your garage and you cover a song, that’s always cool. But when you’re in a band and thirty years later you hear someone cover a song you wrote when you were so young and thought nobody cared about, that’s a very cool feeling. And it’s a compliment to have anybody do that.
Rick: I thought the Soophie Nun Squad cover of “To Be a Hero” was an original and I just thought they wrote one of the greatest anthems ever. But it turns out it was some little kids in Pennsylvania. [laughter]
Dave: Good stuff.