I grew up on a lot of Southern Californian punk, bands like the Adolescents’ music helped me through the shitty high school years and have continued to be a faithful never fail go-to to cheer me up when life goes a tad pear-shaped. Their speed, intensity and heart has never waned in their 30+ years of bringing us punk rock goodness. They’re about to come to Australia for the first time ever! I recently had an awesome chat with the Adolescents’ Steve Soto to celebrate. We geek out over music and records, talk about his sobriety, family and community, plus he tells me all about the new Adolescents’ record ‘La Vendetta’!
BIANCA: You recently posted a photo on your Instagram of a Washburn guitar that’s almost a 100 years old that once belonged to your great-grandfather; can you tell us the story of the guitar and how it came to be yours?
STEVE SOTO: My grandfather who is still alive – he’s 103 – gave it to me a couple of years ago. My great-grandfather lived in Mexico, my grandfather was the first generation to come here. My great-grandfather used to play, tour around and play in bands in Mexico. My grandfather always tells me that I’m keeping alive a family tradition. My grandfather played too but not as a profession, more just for fun. He can’t really play anymore so he gave me the guitar. It’s funny though, it’s such a rare guitar and it’s like a family heirloom, I’m nervous to have it! For a long time I had it at my parents’ house, they live in a nice suburban neighbourhood; the neighbourhood that I live in is a city called Long Beach and it can be a little dicey sometimes [laughs]. I would never want someone to break in and take this guitar. I recently started a new project musically which is an acoustic thing doing duets with a girl. I wrote all of the songs on that guitar. It sounds so cool.
B: I was going to ask you, what kind of songs have you been writing on it?
SS: These songs are definitely more country duet kind of songs. Are you familiar with Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris?
B: Yeah for sure. They did a bunch of stuff together in the 70s.
SS: Yeah cool, well stuff like that and even newer stuff like Ryan Adams, that stuff he did in Whiskeytown with that girl Caitlin. I just love the way that sounds. Johnny Cash and June Carter too. I’ve always thought that was all so cool and it’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I know a lot of girls that sing but not that I’d… [pauses] …usually I’m starting a band with guys, you meet people but if you’re making music you gotta be able to hang with them. This girl Allison used to sing in a band called Old Man Markley, it’s a bluegrass band that was started by punk kids. She was in the band very early on, she’s not anymore. We were talking about that and how she wasn’t doing anything, I pulled out my guitar and played her a song and she thought it was really cool. She’s so easy to get along with. We decided to make a record. I wrote 12 songs and recorded them all last Sunday. She doesn’t live in California anymore, she just moved to Chicago. We met right before she moved. With technology it’s awesome, I sent her all the stuff. It’s fun because it’s a side project. I’m getting different friends of mine to play on it like Stephen from the Descendents. He’s the guitar player for them but he’s actually going to play drums on this record.
B: That’s awesome!
SS: Yeah. He was telling me how he never gets to play drums and I said, why don’t you play drums on this? [laughs]. Greg [Kuehn] from T.S.O.L. is going to do some piano and organ stuff on it. Some other guitar playing buddies will do some picking stuff too. We’re just really having fun with it. The project’s also special and awesome because I wrote all the songs on that guitar we were talking about.
B: I can’t wait to hear it! I love collaborations, especially ones that have male and female energies coming together.
SS: Yeah. We’re playing our first live show in two weeks. I’m going to Chicago. I’m doing a festival with Punk Rock Karaoke in Montreal and then I have a stopover in Chicago. I thought why don’t I just try to extend that and we’ll try to play a few shows. I’ll be there for four days, we’ll practice for two of them and then play our first two shows. I’m looking forward to it because I think we have a good chemistry, we get along really well. It sounded cool, we’ve only really sat down together one time, at that Punk Rock Bowling festival. We were both there and met up in the afternoon just to see how things would go. For me, if I start doing a project, I’ve learnt that you make it happen right away, you jump right into it or it’ll just fizzle out. We started talking about this in April and the fact we’re doing our first show in June, that’s really cool.
B: I’m so stoked for you. I know what you mean, when you first jump into a project, I think that spontaneity and freshness can spark some really magic moments.
SS: Yeah definitely.
B: How did music come to be such a big part of your life? Growing up you listened to The Beatles and [Paul] McCartney stuff…
SS: My cousins decided to ditch The Beatles and go all in with the Rolling Stones, so they gave me all of these Beatles records that they had. By the time I was five I was listening to The Beatles and that just kind of got me. When I was young, I was never like, oh I want to be a fireman, pilot or an astronaut—I wanted to be in a band. It seemed like that was just cool and something I was interested in. The other record back from that era that really floored me was Johnny Cash live at San Quentin. I always call that the first punk rock record that I ever listened to [laughs]. His attitude towards the guards, just everything was awesome. The way that he was, was just so punk. Music is something that intrigued me right from the gate.
You could call it fate or whatever but, when I was fourteen, my father worked for the city and someone had left at one of the park bandstands a Hofner bass, the kind that Paul McCartney played! It sat in the lost and found for a year or so and finally my dad went to the police chief and said, “This thing has been sitting here for almost two years…” and he said, “Give it to your son.” So I got this crazy Hofner bass and then it was on!
B: That’s such a great story. it’s like it chose you.
SS: Yeah [laughs]. Sadly though, when I started playing in Agent Orange…that bass is like a hollow bodied bass and there was so much feedback from it. It didn’t sound good loud. I traded it for a Fender bass, which I wish I never did. I wish I would have held onto that thing forever. Punk rock was calling though and I had to be loud and aggressive [laughs].
B: So you mentioned Johnny Cash was your first introduction to punk rock in your eyes; what were the first punk bands you got into?
SS: A friend of mine – I started this rock band with Mike Palm who is in Agent Orange and Scott [Miller] who is the drummer – lived around the corner from me and we all kind of met through him. His sister came home from college in the late 70s with a Ramones record and Sex Pistols’ ‘Nevermind The Bollocks’. I remember listening to them and thinking it was so different to what was going on in the world of radio at the time, stuff like The Eagles. I hated The Eagles and Journey, it was so over played and shoved down your throat. From the minute I heard the Ramones and Sex Pistols it was like, wow! One of the first punk records I got was ‘Young Loud & Snotty’ by the Dead Boys—that was really influential. So, we were doing this band (at the time we were also listening to early Judas Priest) but when we heard punk we were like, this isn’t Jackson Browne [laughs]. We started putting punk songs into our set, the first ones we covered were Dead Boys’ ‘Sonic Reducer’ and ‘I’m So Bored of The U.S.A.’ by The Clash. At some point someone told us that we should really write our own songs [laughs] so Mike wrote ‘Bloodstains’ when he was 15, that started it off.
B: I read somewhere that part of the reason you started the Adolescents was because Mike was writing the songs in Agent Orange and that you wanted to write songs too but Mike was pretty set on writing all the songs.
SS: Yeah [laughs]. He was like, “I wanna write all the songs for this band”. I was like, yeah well you do that! [laughs]. Back then I was so angry about it but then in the end, it ended up making two really cool Southern Californian punk bands happen. I am so happy with… [pauses] I like the differences in our bands. I love Agent Orange but I like that two guitar player sound. I was really into that, ‘Give ‘Em Enough Rope’ record by the Clash, I love the guitar interplay. We couldn’t really do that in Agent Orange without adding a second guitar player. I lucked into ending up being in a band with two amazing guitar players, the Agnew brothers [Rikk and Frank]. They work so well together. It really shaped our sound and inspired others. I was just talking to my friend Zach from Rise Against the other day and he said in their music they have Adolescents’ parts’ [laughs]. It’s cool that it’s carried on like that. Also the guys in NOFX say they have “Agnew” parts [laughs].
B: Didn’t the band Middle Class have an influence on your songwriting?
SS: Not so much the style but more so the speed! Up until I heard ‘Out Of Vogue’ by Middle Class…when you listen to it against like the Sex Pistols record, that was slow and with the Ramones they played at warp speed live but their recordings can be slower. The first time I heard Middle Class’ ‘Out Of Vogue’ it was so fast and sounded that much more intense. Our song ‘Self-Destruct’ was influenced by that intensity and speed.
B: I know it’s a big question but, do you have a favourite song you’ve written?
SS: [Laughs] Songs to me are like children and I can’t pick a favourite. There’s a lot of songs that I am really proud of. Tony [Cadena, Adolescents’ vocalist] and I just finished doing songs for a new Adolescents record. Me and him make a really good writing team, especially in the last five years. Last year we made a record called ‘Presumed Insolent’ and I was really proud of it. I thought there’s no way we will top this. Tony was like, “Maybe we should make this our last record” because it was so good and we were so proud of it. We just recorded 16 songs…a lot of times you’ll record ‘x’ amount of songs and maybe twelve of them make it out of twenty. We went in with 16 songs and when we were finished with them we decided we liked all of them [laughs] so we kept all of them and put them all on the record. There was nothing we wanted to cut. Right now, I’d say they are my favourite Adolescents songs. Lyrically, like the very first part of our song ‘Wrecking Crew’: there’s nothing to do / excitement level zero – I love that line, I’m proud of that. I wrote that when I was 16 years old. That’s not bad for a 16 year old [laughs]. It’s funny because someone did a punk rock book and that was the caption for the first chapter. At the top of the page of the book it had those first few lines. When you look at it out of context in something like that you’re just like, wow! I’m pretty stoked with that [laughs]. I’m so proud of that.
B: Yeah! Especially something you wrote when you were a teen.
SS: Yeah. For me, it’s easier to talk about things I didn’t write like Rikk wrote ‘Kids Of The Black Hole’. To this day it is one of my favourite songs to play ever, it probably always will be. We will always play both ‘Kids Of The Black Hole’ and ‘Amoeba’ because people identify those songs with us. ‘Amoeba’ is a cool song and I love it but sometimes it’s like, I’ve played it 4 billion times! [laughs]. With ‘Black Hole…’ every time it’s great! I really do love both of those songs. There’s just a real magic to ‘Kids Of The Black Hole’. I still remember where I was the very second Rikk showed me it. I just sat there and was like, whoa! This is different to the punk rock that is going on around here, this is going to be fun to pull off.
B: Where were you when he showed you it?
SS: I was at Rikk’s apartment in Anaheim. We were sitting in the livingroom. The song is pretty intricate so he had recorded one of the guitar parts on just a cassette player (this was before they had home recording stuff) and then played the other guitar part along with the cassette when he showed us. There was a lot of interplay, it was so fascinating. We were sitting on a couch and my jaw was on the floor I thought it was that good.
B: A decade ago I read an interview Tony and he was talking about Adolescents’ songs and said that he thought the song ‘It’s In Your Touch’ was his favourite track that you’ve ever written. Did you know he felt that way about that song?
SS: He hadn’t told me that but we have talked about that song. He wasn’t in the band when we recorded that. It’s funny because later on when he and I talked…I don’t know if he knew this when he did the interview, you said it was like 10 years ago so he probably didn’t but, that song is actually about him. It kind of sounds like it’s about a girl but it’s about me and Tony. It was about me missing my friend not being part of this thing anymore.
B: How interesting then that he chose that song out of all he ones you’ve written as his favourite.
SS: Yeah [laughs]. Maybe I told him? I don’t think I did though, I think I’ve only told him about that in the last five years. Maybe he just knew.
B: Let’s talk about the new record – La Vendetta – that’s coming out. What do you love most about it?
SS: I love that lyrically we cover a lot of ground as far as what we’re talking about on the record. There’s stuff that is environmental, stuff that’s personal and then there’s a song…I don’t know if you’ve followed it at all? There was a homeless man that was murdered in our hometown by the police.
B: I did follow that, you’re talking about Kelly Thomas. That’s what your song ‘A Dish Best Served Cold’ is in reference to?
SS: Yeah. In my solo stuff that I’ve been doing I’ve also been toying around with a song that’s to do with it all too. I don’t live in Fullerton anymore, it’s still my hometown though. We were coming out to peaceful protests in front of the police department and trying to get the District Attorney to take on this case against the police officer, which they did. At some point we thought that this would be the time that the cops would get called out for something that they did which was wrong; you can’t murder a man for a crime. He didn’t even commit a crime though, his “crime” was being homeless and schizophrenic, he was mentally ill. Anyway, when they jury came back and found that the cops were innocent, that was the final blow with all of us. We were riding it out to see what happens…we stepped up our awareness of things that are going on. When we come back from our travels in September we’re going to do a benefit to raise awareness of the homeless in downtown Fullerton and we want to work with Kelly’s father on changing some of the laws that protect police officers in these cases. There’s this separate thing called the Police Officers Bill Of Rights; there’s certain things in trials that can’t be introduced as evidence because they have coverage under this bill of rights. It’s crazy!
As we get older, we try to…like the way this country is now, its sad and pathetic to me. I know when you get up high into Washington and The White House there’s just nothing, it’s beyond sad and repair in my opinion. I still think that in my community we can still change the smaller things to make a difference. You just have to pick your battles. When Obama became president that was my last moment of hopefulness, like maybe this guy can change things, maybe this guy is going to be the guy—he’s not. He’s bought and owned by the corporations just like everybody else. It’s pathetic, sad and disheartening to say the least. There are things in our community that we can do, Tony goes and speaks at city council meetings. He’s really active. So, there’s that song about Kelly on the record.
We lost some really good friends last year, one being Pat Fear from White Flag. Tony wrote a song about him and another song about another friend that has passed, so they’re special songs in the fact that they’re about our friends. There’s a lot of stuff on our record.
Musically, the band is playing amazingly together. Dan Root who has been playing the guitar for us for the last five years has really stepped it up and came correct and did some really amazing stuff on the record. I co-produced the record with Paul Miner from Death By Stereo. There’s times in the studio where we’d beat Dan up and tell him he could do better, do it again [laughs]. I’m sure there was a few times where he wanted to wack us with his guitar [laughs] but he just killed it! That was awesome. It was the first Adolescents record for our new drummer, Mike Cambra who is also from Death By Stereo.
B: I love those guys! They were just out here. They’re definitely one of my favourite bands.
SS: Yeah they were on Hits & Pits. Mike is such a great addition to the band. We just went in there and everything was just firing on all cylinders. We were recording, doing tracking when this big earthquake hit [laughs]. We kept playing the whole take through. It was funny, we all kind of looked at each other and was like, is that what we think it is? The mics were swaying around but we just kept charging through.
B: Can you tell us a little about the last song on the record ‘Let It Go’?
SS: Yeah, right now that’s kind of my favourite song. It sort of wraps things up. It says: when you feel you’re gonna blow / just walk away and let it go. Despite all these things in our lives that can happen to us, with your family or community or whatever…when we got the verdict (going back to the Kelly thing) we had a candlelight vigil that night and everyone was just angry, sad and bitter at the same time. I know Tony wrote that song right around then. It’s basically just saying that life can hand you whatever and at the end of the day you can’t let it burn you up, you just have to let it go and carry on. When we were figuring out the sequencing for the record, I thought that was probably the best way to walk out. It’s funny because Tony and I always laugh about how when we were kids on ‘The Blue album’ the first song on the record is ‘I Hate Children’ and the very last song is ‘Creatures’; the last line of ‘Creatures’ is: I hate them all. The record starts off hating at the beginning and then hating at the end too [laughs]. We were frustrated kids. We’re still frustrated and angry adults [laughs] but at the end of this record with ‘Let It Go’ it’s like, you can harness that energy that is dark or that burned you up and turn it into something good.
B: I know exactly what you mean. I had a conversation with Jason [Cruz, vocalist] from Strung Out about this exact thing and he was saying that as he’s gotten older his learned to not fight anger with anger in a way. Like often if you’re angry towards someone they’re more than likely just going to be angry right back to you—you have to fight smarter. Like we were talking about before, you have to pick your battles. We still get super angry about stuff but like you said, we need to channel that into something positive, something constructive that can hopefully make small changes for the better.
SS: Definitely. If you react quickly to something out of anger, nothing really good comes out of it. If you take the time to put things into perspective and look at what they really mean and how things really are, how you feel about it, you can react to the situation appropriately and not just lash out. You get the fear or flight thing. Your natural instinct as a human being, if something happens that you don’t agree with is to lash out, to protect yourself but sometimes there’s ways, if you sit back and think about things, to handle the situation better. You gotta spend a lot of years on the planet to figure that one out though [laughs].
B: In mid-April you made a post online about being grateful for being 1,000 days sober…
B: I know when you made the records ‘Brats In Battalions’ and ‘Balboa Funhouse’ you don’t really remember too much of that time because you were in an alcohol blackout when you made those records. What’s it like for you making records now not in blackout mode?
SS: It’s awesome! [laughs]. It’s funny because I’ve actually been sober for 14 years. I quit when I was 31 until I was 45. At that period I thought, I’m a grown up now I can handle this. I’d drank from 14 until 31, I just extended my crazy youth too far. It took me three years to figure that out, on top of ruining a marriage. After ruining things in my life I finally got back on track though. Everything is so much better now. Touring is better. I remember things now. In the time since I quit drinking we’ve made two records! I’m fired up and I write for all these different bands. I play more music than I ever have in the last three years. It’s awesome.
On the blackout thing…the girl Allison that I am doing this new project with that I was telling you about, I met her when I did a tour with Frank Turner and I was part of his band in America when he first started coming over because he couldn’t afford to bring his band…anyway, I met her at one of those shows and she showed me a picture of it and I have no recollection of it whatsoever. I saw the picture and it totally freaked me out because there’s nothing there, there’s nothing behind my eyes—I looked like I was gone, that I was blacked out. I remember the day after the show a bunch of my friends were like, “Dude you were checked out!”. That was weird. Just last night me and Allison were looking for pictures of the two of us to give this club in Chicago where we’re going to play and I came across that one in her Facebook and I don’t even remember it. She said we talked for hours the night we met. It’s a constant reminder that I never need to go back to that kind of thing, it’s scary that you can just check out like that.
The last night I drank was in Hamburg with the Adolescents. I had a lot of money from the show from merch in my pocket and I’m stumbling around Hamburg, which is not a good city to be doing that in. I woke up in a panic and didn’t even know where I was. Lucky for me I’d given the money to our guitar player to look after at one point. Those kinds of things are no longer part of my life and I am really grateful for that. I feel better. Sobriety is good, I get more accomplished.
B: What are some other things in your life that you are grateful for?
SS: I’m totally grateful for my family. I don’t have any children. I’ve been married a couple of times, not very successfully but…it’s funny because the first time I got sober, dude I’d always be the guy that dodged all the family stuff. I’d make up excuses or be like, I might be over later but never end up going. I missed all of my nieces and nephews birthdays when they were little, that kind of thing. At some point I started looking around at them and realised that these people are the most important thing in my life, it just clicked to me. Now I do everything I can to be there and be at everything. My niece is graduating from high school this weekend and I’m going to make sure I get there. I make a point to be at home for important things in my family’s lives.
I’m really thankful for the opportunities that I get to play with really good musicians too. I do a side band called, The Black Diamond Riders with Jonny [Wickersham] from Social Distortion and Greg from T.S.O.L., some guys from a band called The Cadillac Tramps and guys from Royal Crown Revue. It’s just so great to play music with these people. I mean I’m going to be making a record with Stephen [from the Descendents] that’s rad! I am so grateful for all of that. Where we live in Southern California, it’s still probably the best place for punk rock. Over the years punk has gone up and down in other places but here it’s always been vibrant. I’m grateful to have that community to work with.
B: I love Southern Californian punk, I grew up listening to all that stuff. My big brother gave me Circle Jerks’ Group Sex when I was a teen and that just blew my mind!
SS: [Laughs] That’s still one of my favourite records of all-time.
B: Mine too! It’s so fast and it’s…
SS: All over in like 18 minutes!
SS: That’s another guy I love, Greg Hetson. I play in Punk Rock Karaoke with him. We were friends before the Circle Jerks when he was in Redd Kross. I remember when they were putting the Circle Jerks together. Greg was telling me how he was going to be in a band with Keith [Morris] from Black Flag and I was like, let me play bass! [laughs]. I didn’t have a car so I wouldn’t have been able to get out there and they said they already had a bass player so I was like, damn it! [laughs]. I love both Greg and Keith so much, those guys are awesome.
B: I love those guys too. They’re really nice, good dudes.
SS: That’s the thing about around here, there’s such a great community of guys. It’s rad to see them all out and doing stuff still too. We’re all like in our 50s! How awesome is OFF!?
B: They’re amazing.
B: When OFF! came to Australia for the first time a couple of years ago I was talking to Keith and he was saying how he can’t believe it took him so long to get to Australia. With all of the rad bands he’s been in over the years he should have been here already.
SS: Yeah. I can’t believe it’s taken us this long too. We’ve tried. Over the last five or six years there’s been a bunch of times. I know one tour was pretty much set up in conjunction with a Japan run but then the whole tidal wave, earthquake and Fukushima thing happened right before that. All our shows got cancelled.
B: There’s a song on the new record called ‘Fukushima Lemon Twist’.
SS: [Laughs] That’s one of the environmental songs. There’s a line in that I love where he says something about: As our greed comes home to roost / Now we get what we gave / When we put our necks in a nuclear noose. You pay the price for that later down the line. That’s a fun song. That’s one of the songs where Dan’s guitar playing is just so disgustingly sick! [laughs].
It’s funny talking about Keith Morris because with Dan, one of the things we’ve always laughed about is that he’s played in a band with Keith and played with Rick L Rick who was in F-Word (he’s an iconic Californian punk rock guy) and he’s played in a band with Jack Grisham in a band called Tender Fury after T.S.O.L…anyway, Dan said he always ends up playing in bands with these guys when they don’t want to play punk rock and they want to break away from their past. Dan said he loves being in the Adolescents because we’re embracing our past.
B: I have a lot of different kinds of stuff in my music collection, I’ve always thought it strange when people decide, oh I can’t listen to this anymore I only listen to this now. It’s like I listen to pretty much all the stuff I’ve always loved.
SS: Yeah. I totally agree. When the whole punk rock thing first started happening at first I didn’t have a lot of money to buy records and there was a place you could trade in your old records and get new ones. I was trading in stuff like Ted Nugent and Kiss but there were certain things that I always hung onto like my Elton John stuff from the 70s. He was such a great songwriter. When I got older, I ended up going and rebuying the Kiss records because they were part of my youth and fun. I love Queen, even all through punk rock I never gave up listening to that stuff. I remember one time my parents were out of town and I had a bunch of people over after one of our shows. These punk rock girls were going through my record collection and they were like “oh why do you have these Queen records? Why do you have David Bowie records for?” [laughs]. It’s like, because they’re great!
B: Exactly! I have music to suit my every mood in my collection. It’s pretty much the one thing that has been a constant in my life and been there always for me, even at times when I felt I haven’t had friends around when I need them most. Some of my dearest friends live far away from me and it’s cool because if I’m feeling down or frustrated with things I can just put on a record they’ve made and it feels like I’m getting a big hug from them.
SS: [Laughs] Yes that is true! That’s a great way to look at it. That’s the awesome thing about music. Even though technology has in some ways really made music weird, like we listen through our laptops and use little ear buds and it doesn’t sound big like it used to. You still have your turntable at home but when we go out and about with your iPod you can have your whole record collection there. For me being out on tour, depending on my mood that day I can listen to whatever I want and that’s awesome. Some days if you’re missing home you can find some great sad record and get into that on the road. Some days it’s fun when you’re in the van and someone puts on Kiss ‘Alive!’ [laughs] and then everyone shouts along with it.
B: I love that I can listen to certain songs and it will spark memories of a time in my life or a place or of a person I really care for. To be able to pinpoint parts of your life with music is really magical.
SS: For sure. When I was going through my breakup with my wife the Adolescents were in Europe, there’s this record ‘Too Far To Care’ by a band called The Old 97s and I just listened to that over and over and over and over and over and over [laughs]. There was a song on it called ‘The House That Used To Be’ and there’s this line in it where he says that: this ain’t a home anymore / it’s just four walls and a floor. At the time that was really sinking in. When I got home, I’ve never met this band but I love their records, they happened to be playing that record on a tour for the 20th anniversary of it. I went to the show and it turned out that there tour manager knew a friend of mine and he was an old punk rock fan. Those guys, even though they’re an alt-country band, the bass player is a big punk rock guy and I got to meet them. The drummer shows me his iPod, he’s like, “Look, look!” and he had Adolescents stuff on it. It was so amazing. I told them how their record carried me through the summer. Music is awesome! Just to have moments like that is crazy.
B: Totally! I’ve had some of the most beautiful moments in my life thanks to music. I’ve made some really deep connections with people I’ve met thanks to music. I had a conversation with Efrem (from Death By Stereo) about this when I first met him like eight years ago. We were both trading stories about all this awesomeness in our lives thanks to music. It always makes me laugh when I hear people complaining about there being no good music out there, it’s like you can’t be looking very hard. I find new music every single day…
SS: Yeah and it doesn’t even have to be new music but it can be something that’s old that you’ve just discovered or something you haven’t heard in a long time that it feels new to you again. When I started doing this Black Diamond Riders stuff, I’ve always loved soul music and Motown, but we started to dig deeper into tracks, older stuff. I came across these records that I’d never heard before and they just blew my mind.
I saw The Damned on Saturday. I’ve seen them like 50 times; I’ve probably played with them 30 times. The other night they played one of those sets that was just from top to bottom one of those amazing sets. I’m friends with the drummer Pinch. Me and him have done projects together over the years. When they came off stage he was just beaming. I was like, you do realise that you’ve just totally killed it? And he was like, “yeah”. It’s awesome when that happens! We have those nights too with the Adolescents when we’re playing. Everything just comes together and you’re looking around at each other and you’re like, there is no place I’d rather be than on this stage with these four guys making this noise.
B: I hope I get to see it all come together like that when you’re here in Australia.
SS: [Laughs] Me too! I am so excited to be coming down there. I’ve been there before with 22 Jacks years ago.
B: I know, I saw you guys play.
SS: The Warped tour or the Reel Big Fish stuff?
SS: That was such a crazy time. We were all staying in tents. We’d get to the venue and they had all these tents set up. You’d throw your bag in the tent and you slept in the tent. In the morning they’d wake you up so they could pack the tent ready to go to the next place and you’d be stuck out in 100 degree heat all day [laughs]. The first couple of nights it rained though. We thought it’d be so awesome because CJ from the Ramones was playing with us and we were in Australia but it was so brutal. I love camping and I love playing music but I don’t love doing them at the same time [laughs]. By the end of that tour though you kind of had the feeling that after all that, nothing could stop you. Australia is definitely my favourite place that I’ve ever been on tour. The people are so amazing. You know what the best time of the day is when you’re on tour?
SS: For me a lot of the touring part can be a drag, the money I get for playing shows is not…like, I’d do the onstage part for free. The money is for sitting in the van for hours and having to be away from your loved ones. That hour that you get on stage is the best part. That hour makes everything all worth it.
B: I feel that way with the interviews that I do. I’ve been doing this for 20 years and for the most part I put them out into the world for free, like I might ask for some dollars for a physical zine that I’ve made and I might occasionally get paid by some publication but on the whole I just put it out there to share people’s stories and experiences with others and to offer an alternative to what’s in the mainstream media. I see my work in part as a way of documenting the lives of Creatives and their communities and things that are important to me. Like how cool is it that I get to talk to someone like you who’s made music that has moved me and given me lots of happy moments in my life and that we can have this chat and just geek out over the awesomeness of music!
SS: Yeah its times like this that makes it worthwhile. Sometimes you’ll be in interviews and be like, oh I can’t wait to get out of this [lauhgs]. I feel comfortable talking to you. You can really sense when someone is a music fan and when they love what they do. No one’s getting rich but there sure is a lot of love and good feeling—that’s really the point.
B: I’ll always just be a big music dork that’s a fan who likes talking to people about stuff they’re passionate about. I like that having the conversations that I do about the stuff that really matters has really helped people, like people write me and tell that. I’m sure you’ve gotten that with your music over the years too. One dude I interviewed for my punk and spirituality project told me that because of our chat he decided not to leave his band and to finally get sober. I was floored when he told me. Sometimes you just don’t realise the impact of what you do can have on people. Helping others really means a lot to me.
SS: That’s awesome. You know you could take any musician and catch ‘em on the right day and they’re totally one step away from just going, why am I doing this? I think it’s part of the process, especially when you’re on tour and you’re like, why am I going through all this for this? At the same time when you get those affirmations from someone like, “Hey, your record means something to me” or “your band means something to me” …that’s amazing right there. When someone tells you that your record changed their life like, what do you say to that? I know it’s heavy.
B: When people say heavy stuff like that to me about my work, I usually just say thank you and that’s awesome…then I ask them about themselves and what they do.
SS: I’ve done that too. Years and years ago I met the guys from Pearl Jam. We were at dinner with a mutual friend. They were huge at the time but I didn’t watch MTV or anything like that so I didn’t really know what they looked like and we didn’t talk too much until later. I heard afterwards from the mutual friend that they were like, “whoa! We’re sitting at a table with the guy from Adolescents” [laughs]. I met the guitar player years later and I didn’t really know it was him and I asked him, if he played in a band? [laughs]. It was so cool because he was like, “I play in a band called Pearl Jam” and without missing a beat I was like, that’s probably a really awesome band to be in. He was like, “yeah it is” and I was like, rad! [laughs]. A friend of mine recently put up a photo of me, a person commented on it, it was the bass player from Pearl Jam and he wrote something like: one of the great melodic punk rock bass players. I tripped out on that [laughs].
B: Dude I always see a lot of love for you online. I saw a comment from CJ Ramone not too long ago saying something like, you write songs like no one else can!
SS: It’s funny you mention CJ…like recently a friend got married. I was there when they met and they asked if I’d be the officiant. I was like, nah I’ll make a mockery of it. I should have just said yes. They came back a day later and asked if I could play two songs I’d written. I said yes. The girl my friend was marrying works for Rancid, I’ve known those guys for years. After we were done playing the songs, Tim [Armstrong] came up to me and asked if I wrote those songs and said how they were great songs. He said he wanted to cover one of the songs. He and I got talking about writing music together because we both love the soul thing so we thought we should write a soul record together. The song I played he really liked was more of a country song though and he was like, “Dude you write good country songs and we like soul music and punk rock, we should really write together.” When I get back from touring hopefully we’re going to do it. A lot of people say you should write with them but a lot of times noting ever eventuates but anyways, I was on tour with CJ like a week later and I get this text from Tim. He’s like, you really need to send me that song you played at the wedding, I want to hear it again. It’s nice to hear that stuff from guys you respect and who is an amazing song writer. Writing for me is one of the best parts, I really love writing. It’s fun doing different kinds of music. I’m going to be doing a record with Efrem and Elvis Cortez [from Left Alone].
B: Awesome! Those dudes are rad. What will you guys be doing?
SS: It’s going to be punk rock but all in Spanish. My Spanish is really horrible [laughs]. My mom is Swedish and my dad is Mexican so it wasn’t really spoken in our home. I go to my grandfather’s and he and my dad will be speaking in Spanish and I have to go, what are you guys talking about? I usually figure it’s bad about me [laughs].
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*Photo’s courtesy of Steve’s IG.