Sometimes, they come back. Sometimes, a once-legendary band goes away for what seems like an eternity before re-emerging with a particular vibrancy that makes them more than just a nostalgia act. It doesn’t happen often, but in the case of the revitalized True Sounds of Liberty (better known as TSOL), fans of kinetic rock n’ roll just might have an oldies band they can get behind with fervor.
The road to the present, however, hasn’t been simple. The band (comprised of singer Jack Grisham, guitarist Ron Emory, bassist Mike Roche, and drummer Todd Barnes) led the thriving Orange County, California punk scene from the late ’70s to the early ’80s. After a batch of incredible records and countless destroyed stages, Grisham called it quits, and put an end to the band’s most potent era.
Following a run sans Grisham and Barnes that produced one notable disc and several years of devolving dreck, the original TSOL line-up is back nearly intact (Barnes died in ’99), and churning the gears with impressive results. Their new disc on Nitro Records, Disappear• is more vital than any reunion disc has a right to be. Its overall punk drive recalls their landmark Dance With Me LP. Meanwhile, some elements reflect the band that floored unsuspecting fans with the baroque, pop-edged gem Beneath The Shadows. Simply put, Disappear adequately exhibits just why TSOL are so revered as a unique rock dynamo.
I spoke with Jack Grisham from his California apartment, where he talked about the old days, recording the new disc, and how he kills spare time•
Jack Grisham: I’m kind of into the online gossip thing right now [laughs] — going to gossip columns and shit and just printing dirt about my friends. It’s fun screwing them around. They’re trying to figure out where it came from. I’ve actually had people complain because I’ll write fake stuff about myself on our site [http://www.truesoundsofliberty.com]. People get mad defending me and they don’t know it’s me writing it!
What kind of stuff have you written about yourself?
Just that I’m a sellout asshole, shit like that. “I ran into Jack at the market the other day and he’s a total cock, who does he fuckin’ think he is!” Then people will get on saying “fuck you, he’s totally nice” [laughs]. It’s pretty funny. My wife got on there and called me up and said “who’s this chick you’re seeing?•” when it was me writing as a girl!
Were you pissed off when you originally left the band?
No, at first I was just more frustrated. I wanted to change the name of the band. I just got sick of doing the TSOL thing. It was like a joke. We’d try to play a show, there’d be thousands of people there — we couldn’t play the show. It was like a nightmare. I said, “let’s just start over under a different name.” Those guys weren’t really behind that. It got to be where we couldn’t even play shows. It got to be where every show we played turned into a riot. It got to be a real hassle• It was like, that band was going to self-destruct anyway. We weren’t business guys, we were just punks. We weren’t gonna have good day jobs on the side. That was really how we were and how we fuckin’ ended up. That was the problem. Our bass player ended up in prison for three years. Our guitar player was livin’ in the back of a truck behind a donut shop. I was in and out of mental wards. That’s just how we ended up.
You’d think that having that many people at your shows would be a good thing.
It’s not as fun.
People were getting violent?
Yeah, there was violence. You get those people showing up, the violent idiots that think “I’m going to go to the TSOL show and kick some ass.” Then when you’re dealing with big shows like that, you’re dealing with tons of security guys; you’re dealing with fuck-up promoters. For me, I like doing parties. I like playing at people’s houses. We tried to do a whole tour for this new record in people’s houses. We couldn’t afford to do it, so we said, “look, there’s all these people wanting to sponsor shit, why don’t we get one of these companies to sponsor a backyard tour for us?” So we stick some company’s sticker on the side of the van or whatever — I don’t care — then we go play all of these kids’ houses for free all over the US. But the record company freaked out and said we’re gonna get sued. So that shut that down.
What’d you think when TSOL got back together with (replacement vocalist) Joe Wood?
Well, they never stopped. They just got a new singer. At first, I didn’t care. It’s like, I didn’t really realize what we’d done. I didn’t realize how cool some of the stuff was we had done. Then when they ruined it, I realized what they’d done.
Have you given ’em shit for it?
You know, I’ve made some fuckin’ embarrassing music myself, but not under that name. Yeah, I’ve busted their ass before on that. I blamed them. We used to get into it when I’d say, “look, you fucking did this. You’re the ones who got that fuckhole and hired these people.” You know, whatever. That stuff came up a lot when we were making the record. That was tough.
What were the early days like?
I was in a band before TSOL called Viscous Circle. The early scene in California — a lot of the punks weren’t very strong people. It was more of an arty kinda scene. And you got a lot shit for being a punk. These were people that got their asses kicked a lot. They’d be going down the street and some jocks would beat the shit out of ’em, that kind of trip. Well, we came along, and we’re a big band. I’m like 6’3″, our bass player’s 6’5″, our drummer was 6’1″, our guitar player was 6’2″. We were like big thugs. We were like hanging out being punks or whatever, and guys would stop to kick our ass and we’d say, “yeah, kick it. Come get it!” It got really violent ‘cuz we were basically fightin’ back with everything we got. When I first got into this, just going to the liquor store was a big deal. If I was going to leave my house and go to the liquor store, I was going to get into a fight. I had people shooting at my house. They blew up my car. There was a lot of shit that went on. You had to stand up for yourself, and of course a lot of that got brought into the shows.
I grew up with a bunch stoners and fuckin’ bikers. And you go walkin’ out of your house with pink hair, you better be ready to kick some ass, ‘cuz you were gonna get beaten. The cops hated ya. There was a gang of guys around where were called the crop dusters. There were all the longhaired guys and the punks had their hair cropped. So there was a gang of these longhaired guys that went around beating up anyone that looked like a punk. People in Hollywood didn’t get shit like the people in Orange County got. When you’re in the big city, you can see a lot of freaky shit and just let it go, but if you’re in the suburbs• I got the shit beaten out of me a number of times. That’s where that stuff kinda started. Then when we went up to LA, it came up with us. Viscous Circle got blamed for being one of the first gang bands in LA. In that book Hardcore California• it says at a typical VC show there would 12 ambulances with 24 stretchers outside. A lot of those arty LA guys were pissed off about it.
Who were some of the bands you were friends with and played with?
Early Black Flag — I fuckin’ loved ’em. I think Henry [Rollins] ruined ’em. A lot of that pissed me off, because people always say Henry was Black Flag, and by then, they were done. I saw Black Flag with Keith Morris [Circle Jerks] singing, and they were unbelievable — one of the best fuckin’ bands ever. We played one of the first shows with The Circle Jerks in a garage. In the area I lived, you had Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Adolescents, Agent Orange, Vandals, China White — shit, I could go on and on. This is just in a 15, 20-mile area!
When you did Beneath the Shadows, were you worried about possibly losing some of your audience?
See, now that’s something else that got ruined later on. When we first got into punk rock, it was more of an attitude than a sound. Yeah, there were a lot of bands that had a certain sound, but it was more of an attitude than a sound. It was that you could do anything. I remember a show one time that was The Go-Go’s, Black Flag, and Rhino 39 on the same bill. And that was like a standard bill. You were stoked, you’d go and see a bunch of different bands, and everybody was cool with it. And then later on people started saying, “oh, that’s not hardcore, that’s emo-core, this is speedcore, this is death metal•” and they fuckin’ ruined it.
So when you were making Beneath• it wasn’t like you were thinking, “this is a big change, I wonder what they’ll think?”
No, it was what we were supposed to do. This is what we were taught to do. For us, selling out would have been making the same record over and over again because that’s what people wanted from us. It’s like, “no, we’re gonna experiment. We’re gonna fuck around. We’re gonna grow. We’re gonna ungrow. Whatever we’re gonna do — we’re not gonna do the same thing. And we’re not doin’ it ‘cuz you wanna buy the record.” We didn’t give a shit.
Whose idea was it to combine death imagery with punk?
It wasn’t like a plan. It wasn’t like we planned to be spooky guys. It’s basically, we were spooky guys [laughs]. The kind of shit we were doing was fucked. We were doing spooky-guy shit. We were like the guys you’d meet in a horror movie. We’d be out at night rippin’ off churches and diggin’ up graves and shit just ‘cuz that was what we did. It was fun, it wasn’t a plan. And we just happened to be punks on top of it. The shit was pretty autobiographical.
Did anybody “Code Blue”? [Note: If you don’t know what this means, listen to the Dance With Me LP!]
No! [Laughs] But we did — it’s sad and it’s pretty funny — this one mortuary we broke into because we were going to steal a body out of it. Later on, that was where they had the service for our drummer. And so the priest says, “hey does anybody wanna say anything?” They asked me to come up and I say, “yeah, 15 or 16 years ago, Todd and I tried to steal a body out of this cemetery, and now, this where he is!”
Did they freak out?
They were bombed. The whole place was full of punks so everybody’s laughing, but [the priest] didn’t think it was very funny.
So things are different now than they used to be.
Well, we all got cleaned up [laughs]. We stopped getting high. Makes a big difference, man.
So you guys are pretty straight?
Completely. We don’t care what anybody else does, though.
How did you approach the new material? Did it come as naturally as the older stuff?
No. At first it was really tough because we were trying to figure out what we were. We couldn’t pick any song off of any record and say, “here’s what we are, let’s do this.” So it took a lot of work and we threw out a ton of songs before we got what we got. And it’s kind of like a mix of the three without sounding like any of the three of ’em.
How has the live thing come off?
We’ve been touring, and that has gone great, that stuff has gone great. People have said, “hey, it’s like steppin’ into a fuckin’ time warp.” A lot of the shows have been really insane. Just good, crazy shows.