Thursday, August 9, 2012

WRETCH FALAFEL ARCHIVES – THE VANDALS - Interview with Warren Fitzgerald and Joe Escalante 8/8/1998 - Originally appeared in NOSEBLEED 18


The Vandals are somewhat of a national underdog institution in the States and even though this is almost a completely different band than the one whose roots go back to 1982, at this point in time they're probably at their strongest. The past year has seen the band operating on a broader scale with European support slots to the Offspring & No Doubt (the later who recently covered the Vandals yuletide anthem "Oi to the world")... and some crazed kid embodying mental derangement on the X FILES by wearing a Vandals T-Shirt. This interview was conducted with guitarist Warren Fitzgerald (WF) and bassist and sole original member Joe Escalante (JE) on 8/8/98 on the quays across from the Funnel...

NB - Do you guys remember anything about the first time you were here...
WF - Not the one ten years ago, no, he would remember.
JE - Yeah, it was this small place and everybody was really drunk and it was a lot of fun ... we stayed at someone's house and I kept asking everyone had they heard of that movie "Darby O'Gill and the Little People" but nobody had ever heard of it...
NB - what are you talking about... everybody knows that film...
JE - Well then they were pretending they'd never heard of it!
NB - it's a cult classic to some people...
JE - Is it? Good...

NB - I was looking at the cover of the new CD and the pictures of the Helicopters have me baffled because they look like stills out of a 1970s cop show or something...
JE - but if you look closely, there's a 1988 Corvette in one of them... and that's what baffled us about them... we were like, we thought they were from the 70s and then there's this late model Corvette in there and they're from our singers private collection...
WF - His office at his beer company...
JE - His private collection of helicopter photos...
WF - Yes, it's huge...
JE - We would rehearse there and then we were going "What the fuck are we going to put on the record?" and there were these photos and we kept asking him what they were and he had no idea so we just took them off the wall and put them on the record.
NB - Has anyone else asked you about them?
JE - No, you're the first one...
NB - I was just looking at them going “What the fuck???” you know...
JE - They're scenes from our video...
WF - From our high budget video that we haven't shot yet...

BOZ - At this point things must be a lot easier for American punk bands touring Europe than it was 10 years ago...
JE - Yeah, it's a lot easier... when we came 10 years ago, it was still pretty good because no bands had been there... we hadn't been there and people made sure they went to the show... now there's a lot more shows so some kids just won't go because they know that the American band will be back next month, but it's definitely a lot bigger now.
NB - And did the support slot with NO DOUBT have any visible effect?
WF - Yes... and we toured over here with the Offspring also so there are a lot more braids and No Doubt fans with the Gwen dot on their forehead...
NB - Does that happen in the States as well?
JE - No.
NB - One thing that's pretty noticeable is that a lot of touring punk bands do festival dates in Europe... are you doing any?
JE - The only festivals we do are like... the Warped Tour and we haven't been invited to any other festivals except for some in Italy... and it's only Italy so we've got to fly out just for that... so we're just not at that point yet and I don't know whether we want to do it or not... I wouldn't mind trying it...

NB - Are you planning on playing over here more regularly now... like trying to build it up again??
JE - Well we've been to Europe... this is our 4th time to Europe in the last year and a half so we consider that pretty regular...
NB - and does that make a noticeable difference to sales figures of records... are they selling more each time...
JE - Yeah, it's the only thing that sells punk records is touring... there's no radio or TV or anything else so... yeah, you definitely notice it.

NB - Seeing as you have 3 guys who weren't in the band at the beginning, how far do you delve into the back catalogue for playing live?
JE - Hardly at all... most nights we'll play almost nothing from our back catalogue... maybe one or two songs...
WF - Yeah, we've put out 6 records with this line-up so we have lots of songs to choose from and it's younger kids mostly and they tend to know the new stuff better...
JE - Yeah, when we play an old song... there's always one drunk yelling for it and then when we play it, nobody else has ever heard it before...
NB - Like "Urban struggle"...
JE - Yeah... good example... exactly...
NB - That's kind of like the Vandals greatest hit because it's been in films and on compilations... are you at the stage where it's haunting you and you just don't want to play it any more...
JE - No, it's just like... it depends... we play it sometimes now and sometimes we don't... I think with this drummer we didn't even rehearse it because people don't really ask for it, but I noticed when we got here, there's a lot more people asking for it than usual... so maybe we should have learned it but... usually the people that are asking for it are really loud drunks...
WF - And it seems like there's more people asking for it than there is because they're so vocal...
JE - ...and you play it and everyone else is going "What? I don't know this song"...
NB - So at this point there's more product put out by this line-up than the rest of the history of the band so you've established it...
JE - Right... yeah...
WF - That was all part of the master plan...

NB - The new album sounds really, really good... do you reckon it's the best thing you've done?
JE - Oh, thank you... we agree... we worked hard on it.
BOZ - Whose idea was the Sound of Music track?
WF - That was my idea...
JE - He likes show tunes...
WF - Well, aside from being a show tune lover, I noticed when we were on the Warped tour... I had that soundtrack and girls get really gushy when they hear it so I figured if we played it, maybe they would get gushy over us...

NB - ...that's something I never would have thought of... Has it ever crossed your mind that at this point in time, the Vandals are suited to the big commercial swoop up that has happened to the Bosstones, Offspring etc, Do you think that maybe even unknown to yourself there's a chart hit in there waiting to happen?
JE - That's like a big game to play and since we do other things it's hard and everyone thinks that will happen... we get that question a lot... but it's just we're doing so many other things...it's a real concentrated game... you get a hit, you make this video, you have to do a bunch of tours that you don't want to do because they're just for the purpose of playing radio shows and stuff like that and we, for some reason or other, are not on that path and so, to me, it's very hard to imagine without some huge accident...
NB - Well it could happen, I mean, the music is there...
WF - It's possible, but it's like winning the lottery, you know... all the bands - Green Day, Offspring... all that stuff... it's just like the planets just aligned in a certain way that it happened... and there was accessible punk music coming out for 15 years before that happened so there's no real formula to it... we just kind of do what we do and... who knows... we certainly don't expect that though.

NB - So Nitro... do they even do singles at all...
JE - Yeah, well... just promotional... they don't like release them commercially...
WF - Not in a way that a major label does, no.
NB - I've read a couple of interviews already which discuss the mullet song on the album (“I've got an Ape Drape") and you've got the Achy Breaky reference in there... ls Billy Ray Cyrus really that much of a fucking bastard... like responsible for crimes against humanity in the states?
JE - I think so... almost...
WF - Musically speaking, yes...
NB - How about in terms of the way people look?
WF - Yeah...
JE - Oh yeah...he's perpetuating some scary stuff...
WF - Well he didn't invent that haircut but he certainly glorified it...
JE - He put it on television.
WF - Exactly... he brought it to peoples homes to where there's these poor bastards sitting at home going, "You know, that might look good on me, I'll give it a shot".
JE - He's the first guy to, I think, make money and have that haircut... it's like "Look: I'm this rich glamorous star and I have this haircut".
NB - and then there's Michael Bolton...
WF - Well, Michael Bolton, his is a mystery to me... I don't think that's hair, I think it's kelp...
NB - So we're not far off reopening the Nuremberg trials for bad hair?
JE - I'll be there...
WF - Well, you know... there's so many to blame, you know, and some of them were just following orders...

NB - What was the motivation behind doing the Christmas album?
WF - We talked about it for years and we'd sit bored in the van driving around for hours and hours and making up silly Christmas songs and, you know, the Yobs (The Boys alter-ego) had done it before... and we thought, hey, there hasn't been a punk Christmas record for a long time... and actually, that's probably, besides the new record, that's my favourite record that we've done, just from the fact that it was liberating... we could do whatever we wanted... we could bring a string quartet on and nobody's going to say... oh we're sellouts ... we're not punk... We're just doing it to dramatise the effect of how many problems we have with Christmas... or how much we enjoy it or whatever...
NB - I don't think that's really the case anymore because so many bands are broadening ... bringing other instruments in, I mean... the new Swingin’ Utters album has cello and accordion and other stuff like that...
WF - The thing is, I don't have a major problem with it... I like music in general... I just like the notes and I like sounds... I like simple punk rock and I like elaborate things, you know... classical music, whatever... but as long as the lyrics are not clichéd garbage you hear on the radio then I don't have a problem with it.
NB - Yeah, the Christmas album has a real vibe about it... it's like you weren't under any commitment to throw something that was going to be your best album together, yet, for that reason, it sounds great... I mean... how quickly was it put together?
WF - Oh, that was done in April, it was done very quickly...
JE - Slapped together for $2000.
WF - We recorded THE QUICKENING right before that... and then the Christmas record was mastered which is the final process of it where it's readied for manufacturing before THE QUICKENING was even out so it was about 2 months or less from recording to finish...
JE - ...and that cost about $3000... it was about 5% of the cost of recording the next record...
WF - Exactly... it was done so cheaply and so quickly... but for some reason I think that's part of the charm of it...
NB - how strange is it locking yourself in a studio in April and recording a Christmas album?
WF - I can't describe how much fucking therapy I needed just from doing that record... Christmas is over for a couple of months... then you're right into Christmas and then by the time the record is out it's Christmas again... yeah... I had one too many Christmas's that year... it seemed like two too many Christmas's...
NB - How did Rat Scabies end up playing on it?
WF - He's an old friend of mine and he was in town and we were having all sorts of guest musicians and drummers and so... I'd written this song and I thought it was perfect for his style... his little shuffle that he's good at...
BOZ - Yeah... I reckon that's my favourite song on the album...
WF - Oh, thank you...

NB - I don't know whether you feel the same way but for a lot of people over here that I talk to... the pop punk thing that's been manifesting in the states... it's getting to the stage where a label releases a sampler and the sampler sounds like one bands album...
WF - Right, well, you know there are a lot of bands that sound very similar in the pop punk genre and a lot of them that are very influenced by some of the earlier ones... so they all kind of have a similar sound but... I don't know... I look at it in the way that if they're all being derivative then at least they are all copying a good song to start with so it doesn't really bother me that much... you know what I mean... at least it's not a flood of...
JE - It used to be a lot of bad songs that sounded the same...
WF - Exactly, so, you know, the state of music... punk rock has improved a lot... especially over the last couple of years.
NB - Do you think that has a lot to do with the fact that people have a lot more money at their disposal to do things???
WF - Well, I think that... and I think that there's now a lot of bands who've been a real key in it... like NOFX has...I'd say they're definitely in that genre...
JE - Yeah, they make it fun to be a NOFX fan... you know... put out so many records and have really good shows and they attract more people into it...
WF - And really on their own terms they've managed to bypass radio and MTV and things like that... and be successful at it and put out good records.
NB - But that was the thing... NOFX came over to Europe and played everywhere... basically really, really small places ...
WF - Yeah, they worked it over here... they paid their dues over here, that's for sure.
JE - But they also backed it up by putting out good records.
WF - And you know, starting like that, Mike starting the label... and a lot of bands are somewhat similar sounding to a certain degree but the quality of their music was definitely above what was going on in the early '90s...

NB - With all the stuff you have going on outside the band, how often do you get to go out on the road???
WF - Well in the last few years we toured a lot... and then... only since we were working on finishing this record we decided to slow down a bit... but in the past few years we were touring like 5 months out of the year so we were out quite a bit...  now, it's kinda... see how the record does and see what the reception and we squeeze it in when we can.

NB - And there's KUNG FU records on top of that... who's responsible for that?
WF - ...right... that's me and Joe.
NB - How big an operation is that? The only things I know that have been on it are the GLORY DAZE soundtrack, the Vandals Christmas album and Assorted Jellybeans...
JE - And we're about to release BLINK l82's very first record... like a kind of 15 song demo thing of the very first recordings that they released... we're putting that out pretty soon...
NB - I'm only familiar with their name...
WF - They're very big in America but they really haven't hit Europe that much at all...
JE - They have a Gold record in America and they're doing ok in London but they haven't really done much else... it's a good band... you know, NOFX-y style...

NB - How did you get involved with the GLORY DAZE soundtrack?
JE - They wanted Fat Mike to score that movie...
WF - Yeah... that's how it actually started, they wanted him to do the score and then I did some work like that, you know, doing the underscore for movies and I ended up working with the director and doing that and from there they decided they needed a musical director... so Joe took over the music directing... picking out songs for it... and then it just kind of made sense to put it out on our label.
JE - Yeah, we just asked them the whole time... "We wanna put it out" even though movies like that get made all the time and they don't come out... we knew we could put together a good compilation.
WF - Basically what it is... yeah.
JE - And also it's fun to work with a director and say, you know... "I think the Bouncing Souls should go here... "... and we tried to make it a little better than it was... and then we made what we think is a pretty good compilation out of it and even though the movie wasn't really ever released in the United States, it still sold 8000 units just as a cool compilation album... and now it's just come out on video cassette...
WF - Ben Affleck won a fucking Oscar...
JE - Yeah, Ben Affleck, the star won an Oscar and stuff so it's doing a lot better now... it turned out to be a good deal for us.
NB - That's what I was wondering... the film obviously didn't go anywhere...
WF - Well it's going to be on all the major cable stations... the movie stations in America, which is going to help...
JE - Yeah, it's starting to do that and we think it'll be around for a long time... and now these guys who made Ben Affleck's next movie CHASING AMY and the movie CLERKS... they're putting 3 of the songs on our new album on their next film.
WF - We like movies...
NB - That's Kevin Smith isn’t it?
JE - Yeah ... he just sent us a fax the other day and said I want these 3 songs...

NB - I was reading over the Vandals interview that came with the Rodney On The ROQ compilation in 1982... it seems strange that the bands that are still going from that era have had their greatest success, like Social Distortion... would you have ever thought that for a minute at any point?
JE - No... well, Social Distortion, those guys... I always liked them... but they're like fuck ups, you know... they're a miracle, the fact that they've lasted this long...
WF - What with drugs and everything like that... they managed to pull it together.
JE - They have a really good manager... he's a friend of mine... he had a lot of faith in them and took care of them and even though they don't sell a huge amount and get played on the radio a lot in the States, they are all basically, in my opinion, taken care of for the rest of their lives the way their manager has worked their career... and it's VERY bizarre that that happened...
NB -It seems really strange that they were on Sony...
JE - Yeah, they just finished a seven-year deal with Sony...
WF - yeah, they put out a few records on Sony...
JE - They were on Sony for 7 years and now they're free and they're gonna make a huge amount off money on their next deal, believe it or not... it's going to be a huge payday... they will never have to work again after this next one...
NB - Has anyone been sniffing around the Vandals like that?
JE - Yeah, we get a lot of that sniffing... a lot of it... so we think about it and then we just kind of try to last as long as we can being on Nitro... until the very, very last second... we'd much rather have success on Nitro than try to have success on a major label...
NB - Is Nitro suited to what you're doing in that you're not pressured into doing anything?
JE - Yeah... definitely suited to us...

NB - I noticed your name on a few other bands records as legal representation... are you involved in that in a big way?
JE - A little bit... I worked at a TV network for a long time and when I left to start this label and tour more, to make money I would represent bands and record labels so I'm a lawyer outside... I'm the Swingin’ Utters lawyer, A couple of other bands... some record labels like Skunk and Fearless... that sort of stuff...
NB - It's strange that not only are there all these people in punk bands ... the stereotype is that you're meant to be fuck ups and outcasts or whatever... and then there's people like yourselves and say, Bad Religion... who have members in respectable professional careers outside... and then you have people who were maybe 200 times bigger might ever be... Twisted Sister, The Bay City Rollers... someone like that who are now sitting in bedsits going "Damnit, I used to be something"...
JE - Yeah, and seriously... WHAT DO THEY DO?... At that point, what do they do? That scares me more than anything... That's why I always have like gone to school and made sure I had something else to do because what do you do when it's all over and you still have 40 years left of your life?
WF - Yeah... where do you go from there?
JE - You've just got to have things... like a career...
NB - Dee Snider is probably sitting at home in front of the mirror looking at his filed front teeth...
JE - Yeah...
WF - Exactly ... it's like ... "What now???"...
JE - Yeah... that to me is just worse than anything... it's worse than failing at music for 100 years...

BOZ - With that in mind, can see at this point how long the Vandals will go on for?
JE - I don't know... I don't see any end in sight... As we get older we tour less, but you know, when I got into my 30s, I toured more than ever in my life... so, I don't know... we'll keep making records... that's for sure...
WF - Yeah... that's easy and it’s fun...
JE - And we let everyone in the band do whatever they want, you know... someone goes off and does whatever they're gonna do... that is why it lasts a long time... it's not like you're in this band and it's exclusive... and if you do anything else, you're kicked out... it doesn't work that way...
WF - Yeah... it doesn't work that way... we're free thinkers
NB - So maybe we'll see the Vandals doing not just film scores but... maybe a full soundtrack... a South Pacific type thing???
JE - Sure... absolutely...
WF - We do all sorts of different stuff and I produce a lot of records... that's what I do at home... I'm in the studio with other bands... bands on our label... bands on other labels and that's my other job... it's music related but it's also... lf people stop coming to see us, it's not going to affect that career.

VANDALS - Hitler Bad, Vandals Good CD ******
Until recently, the Vandals have been a grossly under-recognised stalwart of US punk ... sure they've had their line-up shuffles and whatnot, but as they exist today, they're at their strongest. In terms of broadening their sound, the experience the Xmas album bought them is very visible here... It's hard to destructively criticise songs like "The people that are going to hell" or "My Girlfriend's dead". It's a kind of acute angle on life that says these things have real overtones, but you've got to laugh anyway. "I've got an ape drape" is their de-celebration of the mullet cut and there's even a Rodgers & Hammerstein track, which sits well amongst all this. Another obvious characteristic that colours this album is the bands capacity to blend competent Beach Boys harmonies with loud guitars... something much strived for amongst current punk bands but rarely achieved... and what's most important is that, the music comes across in such a way that suggests the band themselves are enjoying this more than they ever have!! (NITRO Records)

- BOZ




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