While this year's CMJ Music Marathon brought a host of sub par indie rock bands to New York City, it also brought The Bronx. And what this means is if you were one of the lucky ones who made it into the 100 person capacity basement of China Town's Fontana's, then you now know what it feels like to have your face melted.
It's shows like this that make bands like Bad Religion and Social Distortion want to take you out on tour. They're what makes ex-Guns 'N' Roses guitarist, Gilby Clark, want to produce your record. Flat out, they're what make bands and characters of this caliber, LA's finest, want to pass the torch.
Guitarist Joby Ford took some time beforehand to discuss what it means to be homeless in the name of music, how much office jobs suck, White Drugs, and white drugs with our own Francis John Corva III,
The Bronx's set comprised of some premiere tracks off of their new record, The Bronx (2008), as well as some choice jams from their first two records, The Bronx (2003) and The Bronx (2006). Judging by the crowd's reaction to the new material, The Bronx is still living up to it's name.
Lets start with the big question of moving from a major label (Island) to putting out a record on your own label, White Drugs, with the help of Original Signal Recordings. It goes without saying that the major to indie shift is a big trend these days. How's it going for you guys?
It's fuckin' awesome. I mean, here's the thing, I want to make something very clear, I'm definitely not anti-major label. It's just not for us. It's for the Jessica Simpsons or for bands that…
…write mega hits.
Yeah, it's like where the children of America is their [target audience.] That, and when we got signed it was a completely different thing. Major labels did well, had cool bands… now, it's gone. Everything's gone. Yeah, I feel bad for a lot of people that lost their jobs, but at the same time I'm glad I'm not stuck in a legal situation where I have to deal with Jessica Simpson's fucking publicist going, "Alright, if we get Jessica Simpson on the cover of Teen People that means we can get you guys an interview in it." And you're just like, "Dude, are you fucking serious?! Wow. That's great - thanks." It's the way all that stuff works, [but] it's funny because a lot of people that I knew at Island [I've been] hanging out with this evening or are coming to the show. So, there's definitely not any bad blood, but I'm glad not to be in business with that anymore, because it's just not for us.
How did it officially come to a close? Were you dropped or did you just want to part ways?
We asked. It wasn't in their best interest and it wasn't in our best interest, so we were just like, "Listen, can we please just go?" And they were totally fine [with that.]
Is it difficult to do it on your own, without tour support and other nice bonuses like that?
Oh, yeah, they threw tons of money at us. They paid for tours. We were on buses. Now, (he taps on the inside of the van with a smile.)
Yeah, I was going to say, this is a little bit different.
Yeah, it's nice to be on a bus, but that's not the point. The point is doing what you want and you definitely can't do what you want on a major label. Now it's like "I can do whatever the fuck I want," and we're having a blast. We're playing music. This band and crew, our minimalist crew, are great friends first and foremost. It is a constant party and it's a constant road trip around the world. We do very, very well in other countries, but not so great in the US, but it doesn't matter. We don't want to be a Teen People magazine band. I want to be in a band that plays music that I like and also has another band where they play mariachi music (The Bronx have an artistic alter ego that performs as a mariachi band from time to time.)
The thing that's tough is to continue doing it your way and to pay bills while doing so.
Do you guys run into a dilemma with that?
Oh yeah. Absolutely. Island Def Jam bought us a recording studio before we left. Three of the band members live there because they can't afford to pay rent. So, it's like, yeah we're really lucky, but at the same time it's like, ummmm. You can always work and get a job. I mean, I still work (as a graphic artist. Ford also used to work at Vagrant.) A couple of us still do stuff -- both guitar players, me and Ken. The economy is in the shitter. It's not just bands that are having a tough time. It's everybody. It's definitely not like a sob story, like "Woe is me." No, this is a choice that we made as five people, that this is what we want to do with our lives, and so that's what we're doing. What comes of it comes of it. I don't know, I've worked corporate jobs and it almost killed me, and I just vowed to myself that I wouldn't ever fucking do it again. Being happy is more important than being rich.
What was it like to open for Bad Religion? You guys have a pretty fickle fan base. Do you make converts on a tour like that?
Absolutely. That was weird, because Bad Religion is such a seminal band. And it was just like they invited us to go on tour with them. First of all, I was blown away that they'd ever heard of our band. Second of all, we played right before them and they're like the nicest guys. They're all very peculiar people, very intelligent. The singer is a professor at UCLA. It's a very strange dichotomy.
I'm sure they were a big time influence on you guys, growing up in LA and all.
Yeah, I mean it's Bad Religion.
To be able to tour with them has to feel like a rite of passage.
Yeah, to get the blessing from that band felt pretty... I'm not going to lie to you, I felt pretty cool.
Speaking of bands from Los Angeles. I know that this is a question that was probably asked a million times after you guys recorded the first record, but what was it like having Gilby Clark as a producer?
No, no. It's cool. It was awesome.
Did he give you any Guns 'N' Roses stories that blew your mind?
Yeah, but it was like the weird little stories. Do you remember those Converse that Axl wore with the white and the red…
The ones with the big tongues and stuff that said Axl on them?!
…that said Axl on them (said in unison.) Yeah, the whole band had a pair of those and Axl was trying to get the whole band to wear them on stage. And everybody was like, "Go fuck yourself." It was stuff like that where you're just like, "Wow." He brought them out and they said "Gilby" on them. And he told me [that] Axl fought a lot, had a bad attitude and that [he] was the baddest motherfucker [he'd] ever met. He would beat anybody up. It didn't matter how big they were, how big their security guards were - he'd always win. And if you pissed him off he'd never speak to you again. That's the way he rolled. And he said it was really uncomfortable when he would write off crew and they'd still be with the band, but Axl wouldn't even acknowledge their presence.
Did you read Slash's biography? He mentions Gilby producing you guys in it. I mean, being asked to tour with Bad Religion is one thing, having Slash know your band, even just the name, is the next level. I mean, it's Slash.
Yeah, I got an email that was like, "Dude, the name of your band is in Slash's book." I was like, "You gotta be fucking kidding me." Of course, I went out and got it and it was just like, "Yeah, Gilby was doing this band called The Bronx." I was pretty stoked.
You guys have a very dedicated fan base, at least here in NY, which is cool…
Especially since we stole our name [from this city.]
Good point. But you guys draw from punk kids, indie kids, post-hardcore kids, etc. and now have your own hybrid of fans. What is it like in the Midwest or other not-so-hip places? A lot of bands that sound something like The Bronx speak a lot more highly of places like Europe or Japan.
I think that it's different in Europe or Australia or Japan, those countries are small. I mean, Europe's big, but you know, France, Germany… they're not very big, whereas America, if you want to tour America you have to tour for two or three months just to hit it, where as Australia is five days and you're gone. The UK is 10 days. You play one date in France, two dates in Sweden. In America, there's so much shit going on because this country is all about people selling stuff and making money. The amount of attention that people have to spend time on music is so little compared to people in a country where it's like, they go to work and they buy bread and they go on the Internet. It's amazing how little focus is placed on hanging out and doing things for yourself in America. People work way less and hang out way more in those countries. In America, you work way hard and [in] the amount of free time you have, you have to pack all this stuff in.
Also, in these countries, it's not that social mobility isn't possible, but people seem to be more content with where they are in life. It's not all about getting ahead.
It's the way Americans have been brought up to think. I mean, I was an '80s kid and it was like you have to go to college to get a job so you can work really hard so you don't have to work that long so you can retire, whereas other countries are like, go to school, take some time off, go travel, get a job selling coffee and spend time with your family and friends. People seek out entertainment a lot more in other countries than they do in the United States and I think its because your time is so limited and your so inundated with video games, music, television, movies and just have so many things trying to grab your attention.
I also think that counter cultural entertainment is more appreciated abroad and that trends don't come and go as quickly as they do here in America. It seems that substance is more important.
That's the great thing about different countries. It's like being in New York City, [it's like] who cares about the gig, man? we're in New York (laughter.) And its not like who cares about the gig. This city is fucking fun. In LA its like, "Let's go to the beach." Not us, but probably people that come. The experience is probably half of it. I haven't had a job for five years. How many people can say that? I feel very fortunate and so does everybody else. Yeah, we're broke but we're living, having a good time.
You guys have a reputation for "partying" pretty hard. Is that still as full-throttle as ever?
Well, if you were given a golden ticket with five [or] six of your best friends, to go around the world for five years, do you think you would sit in a room and drink coffee or would you live it up?
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