I’ve been doing interviews of bands I really like for a long time, but never have I been so excited about doing an interview as I was to do this one with Youth Brigade. Youth Brigade is one of the bands that introduced me to punk rock all of those years ago, and I’m still a fan. My excitement was compounded when I saw 7 Seconds a week before Youth Brigade. 7 Seconds were also a big, influential band in the early eighties, and they came back to play all songs off their first two albums. I watched Kevin Seconds pace back and forth on the stage with a barely controlled rage, and I couldn’t help thinking about the time I’d seen him just two and a half years ago, playing an acoustic set of bad folk songs, and the only rage that had to be contained that night was my own. Youth Brigade, on the other hand, has not vanished into bad music and irrelevance over the past fifteen years. I’d even go so far as to say that their most recent release, a split CD with the Swingin’ Utters, is their best music yet. When Youth Brigade played in Orlando in October, they played four songs off of that split CD, and their set was composed of a good mixture of music from all of their albums, and absolutely no posing. Eighteen years later, and I still can’t wait for the next Youth Brigade album.
So, yeah, I was a bit star-struck meeting Shawn Stern, the lead singer of Youth Brigade. I know he’s just a guy who writes and plays music, music that most radio stations and people in general don’t know about, but music that has consistently inspired me throughout my youth and adulthood. I was actually apprehensive, worried that he’d come off like a star and make me feel foolish for holding his music in such high esteem. Instead, I found him to be more candid, open, and enthusiastic than most bands that haven’t accomplished even one-fourth of what Shawn Stern has. After a few beers, we sat down on a curb in downtown Orlando and had this conversation about Youth Brigade and their record label, BYO. And, again, Shawn Stern continued to inspire me.
It’s been eighteen years since Another State of Mind came out, and at that time, no one was really putting together record labels on their own. I mean, there were punk rock record labels, but it was you [BYO Records] and Dischord who started it.
Yeah, and Epitaph had started around that time, but they didn’t put much out. Well, they pretty much just put out Bad Religion. And there were some other early ones that were mostly started by business people who may have been fans, but they weren’t, really.
When you first started to do BYO, what were some of your apprehensions? What did you fear as a musician?
You know, the thing is, we never really thought about what we were doing. Everything came out of necessity. If we needed to play a show, it wasn’t a matter of options. If we wanted to do a show, we needed to do it ourselves, because there weren’t any other possibilities. It was the same thing with putting out a record. We didn’t think, “should we try to get on a major, should we check out some of these other labels?” ’cause there really weren’t any other small labels. We never really thought anything except, “we’ll do it ourselves.”
Why did you guys release the Sound And Fury twice, with different remixes and different songs so close to each other, and a different cover on each?
In 1982, we decided to start the label, and we decided to do a comp to start it off. And then we decided to do the tour. That was the Someone Got His Head Kicked In tour and…. We figured, “all right, it would be smart to put out an album out before we did a tour.” So we ran into the studio and rushed out an album. We recorded it at Mystic.
After we had recorded it–we pressed out a thousand copies or eight hundred copies, I think–we went on the road, and by the third show, we had a copy of it, and we sat down and listened to it and it sounded like shit. Just the quality of the recording sounded bad, and we thought the production was really bad. We liked the songs. But when we listened to it, we said, “Fuck, this is lame.” We called back to LA where we’d made the stupid deal with Mystic to distribute the first thousand copies. We said, “Stop. Don’t press any more of this Youth Brigade album. Don’t sell any more.”
So when we got back [from the tour], we just said, “Fuck, we’ve written a bunch of new songs. Let’s go in and record it. We’ve taken some time, we know what works and what doesn’t.” So we re-recorded it. We recorded it with Thom Wilson, and we recorded a bunch of new songs, and we liked the new songs better. And, uh, people kept bugging us to re-release that [first version]. And when we actually pulled it out and went in and [Youth Brigade drummer and partner in BYO] Mark remastered it, we found out that it wasn’t the recording that was bad, it was just the master. And if you listen to Out Of Print, which is basically that [first] album with some out-takes from over the years, it sounds fine. And the songs are good, we like the songs, but they’re just different songs that we never bothered to re-record because, by that point, we were just so sick of those songs, and we’d written a bunch of new ones. We’d written “Sink With California” and “Men In Blue”, which weren’t on that first album. We kept the ones we liked; we dumped the ones we were sick of, and that’s how it happened.
I was thinking before the show that you had that song about Ronnie [Reagan] and his merry men…
Have you thought about redoing that, modernizing it, making it appropriate for the next President, whoever he may be?
No, I never thought about it. I used to love playing that song live, but Mark hates it. He’s a big baby so…
You know, the thing I loved about that second version of Sound And Fury is that it had a sense of humor. There were a lot of fun moments on it that we captured. It was very spontaneous. We would be recording a song, and I would say, “I got this idea. Let’s just do this.” And Mark would… Mark’s kind of… Mark’s kind of just sometimes a party pooper. But we did it [“Jump Back”] after recording “What Would the Revolution Change.” You know, “I am an individual” and all that sort of stuff. That was totally improvised. And I just said, “Follow me. I’m going to try this thing, like a Marines sort of thing, rah, rah, rah.” We did it and it came out pretty cool. “Jump Back,” I mean. We pretty much wrote that in the studio. I think I had a seed of an idea a long time ago. I don’t know. That was eighteen years ago. Jesus Christ. But I kind of remember… there were a few songs where we’d do that. You know, I’ve got an idea but it’s not really fleshed out, and we didn’t really work it out in the studio–I mean in the rehearsal studio–and then we got in the studio, and we start recording, and we just start playing with it, and it comes out great. That’s the fun thing about Thom Wilson: he was really open to that. When we went to record in the beginning, we didn’t really have anything worked out. After about two days, he said, “You know what, you guys aren’t ready to record this album. I don’t think I can work with you on this because it’s not ready.” We didn’t have enough songs. But that record, it was fun, really a learning process, and it worked out well. I think it’s one of the best things we ever did.
Looking back over all this time of being independent and putting out your own stuff, what different things has that allowed you to do musically? I know you’ve had a number of offshoots and smaller bands that you’ve each been in and put out different kinds of albums. What kind of freedom…
Well, actually, Royal Crown Revue (a swing band which featured Mark and Adam Stern from Youth Brigade), in the beginning, we couldn’t give that record away. Nobody knew what the fuck it was. People would love them live and buy the records at the shows, but I couldn’t get distributors to do anything with it. But then when it all blew up, after my brothers weren’t in the band any longer, we sold a shitload of that record. It was crazy. We made a lot of money off that record. It was cool.
All in all, it’s pretty amazing that we’re able to do what we love to do, which is play music, and we pretty much make a living off of it. It’s pretty cool. I’m pretty happy about it.
So what are you guys doing next? What’s the next thing after the split with the Swingin’ Utters?
Uh, we’ve been talking about making an album, so I guess I need to write some songs.
Or just go into the studio with Thom Wilson.
Thom Wilson gets a lot of money now. He did all the early Offspring stuff. He’s a millionaire. I mean, we’ve worked with him. He mixed our To Sell the Truth record. And we love working with Thom, but we can’t afford the guy anymore. We work with Steve Kravac. Like the split we did with Steve. We did it in just a few days. It came out really good. We’re really happy with it. We figure if we could make a record like that split, we might as well make a full-length. So we’ve been talking about it. Hopefully next year we’ll have one. I got to write some songs.