Hey, this is Wes, from Punknews. How's it going?
Good. I was just giving the kids a little breakfast, but my wife just took over.
Right on. Well, first off... Merry Christmas.
Same to you, man. Merry Christmas.
Thanks for taking the time to talk today. I'm sure it's a pretty hectic day.
It will be tonight, I can tell you that much. I got two little ones; a one and a half and two and a half, so you know how that goes. I get to play Santa later tonight.
It's always fun sneaking around in the dark.
Yeah. I'll be in my Santa suit.
How does this Christmas, being at home with little kids around and all, compare to earlier ones, being younger and touring?
It's always better with kids around. I love Christmas. I always have and always will. It's a great time, and it's much better when you have children because when you get older, it's just Christmas. With kids around it's so much more magical, because you're looking at them and they believe in Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and stuff like that. And you start thinking, man, how nice it was to be young, and believe in Santa Clause and Rudolph, and not have to deal with the bullshit stuff that we have to deal with. Like trying to believe in the President, y'know what I mean?
I definitely do.
I live vicariously through my children's eyes to relive those innocent days. It's amazing.
Oh, I know. It really is. From the title of your new album, Gotta Get Up Now, to songs on it like "Stand Up and Fight" and "Tonight's the Night", there is a definite sense of urgency going on. So what is it about this moment in time that we need to stand up and fight for?
I think in general, we always need to be on our feet. The problem, especially with people in America, is... I've been around the world a lot, and at least in Europe and other places they stand up to their government. There is definitely a lot more activist stuff going on out there. I think there is a difference out there where the government is actually afraid of the people. I think that in America it's actually ass backwards. They have the people so terrified that they fear government. And that's what they want. They don't want you to question anything. They just want you to roll with it so they can do all the criminal stuff they've done and continue to do. An example of that is Sadam Hussein, for instance. We all saw that. I mean how quickly was he executed?
For sure. I thought the same thing. There are WWII Nazis that are still on trial.
You know there are concentration camps here in America? They exist man, I'm telling you they exist. I read a lot and am into a lot of the conspiracy theory stuff, but it's because a lot of it is true. They've always wanted us to fear government, and I've always been the type of person who... well everything's got a limit. Look, when I was a kid, like the song says - "Run Jonny Run" - off our first title record, I took a garbage can and threw it through a McDonald's window to make my statement, to make my point, in broad daylight. I did that when I was young rebellious and crazy and I didn't have a children or worries. Today, I wouldn't go do something like that in broad daylight in New York City. There's cameras everywhere. There's all kind of shit everywhere nowadays, which is completely different. Everybody's got a cell phone, so everybody's going to video tape you and everybody's going to call the police. You can't get away with half the shit you used to, like we did in our past. A lot of our songs are about stuff from our past, but you can't get away with any of that anymore.
Today you've got to think differently. Maybe a little wiser. Maybe you'll go into that McDonalds you hate and take some toothpicks and jam it in the goddamn keyhole or something. And do that late at night. Or just smash the window late at night and hopefully there's no cameras around. It's just different times. We got away with a lot more in the late 70's and early 80's than you can now. Big Brother is watching.
Speaking of the times changing. On the song "Outcast Youth" from the new record, you reminisce about being a young punk at CBGB's. I was wondering what is your last, or best memory of the place and is there anywhere like that for the outcast youth of today?
Well, unfortunately CBGB's is gone, and Hilly Kristal is gone. He was a great person, and he believed in underground music. He kept the underground music scene in New York alive. So that's sad. There is no other place like CBGB's, not in New York City, at least. There's places like it elsewhere, in different cities... until they get heavily gentrified and all the yuppies start to complain and bullshit like that. I saw what happened to the Rathskellar bar in Boston. They knocked that place down way before CBGB's. That was the CBGB's of Boston. I saw it happen to The Wetlands too. People move into these neighbourhoods and they want The Walsh, and they want all this stuff, but they forget there is a CBGB's there and it's a live music venue. They forget that the Rathskellar is there and it's a live music venue. Or The Wetlands. This was here first. But that's what happens, the rich always get there way.
Going back to your question. Yeah, it's unfortunate it doesn't exist, I don't know if it will exist again in New York. There's a lot of stuff going on in Brooklyn right now, and it's like I've said about The Disasters songs, it's just me reminiscing about the past. The stories of me living my life prior to Agnostic Front, or just joining Agnostic Front, it's just being a part of that New York punk/hardcore community.
That reminds me of another song on the new album, "City Soldiers", and I was wondering who the female voice on the track was, and would I know that already if I had an actual copy of the album with the liner notes, instead of a digital copy with nothing?
I like to do that a lot. There's only one record that doesn't have a female vocals on it which was 1984. On all my other albums I've incorporated girls into it because I think girls are a humongous part of our scene. Not only is it cool to listen to, it adds another texture to the song and there's something different going on, but they belong there. They are just so much a part of the scene that I don't want to not include them. The girl who sang on that song, I'm trying to remember, we recorded it in three or four different sessions. There's two of them, but I can't remember the names off the top of my head. They're local girls here from a band in Arizona.
That's sort of the other point I was trying to make with the question, and I know it's something you've spoken about, is the importance of actually having an that album you can hold in your hands, with the cover art and the liner notes and what that experience offers.
I have always stressed that. I mean, I've also said get my music by any means necessary. If you want to go into the store and rob it, whatever. If you want to get it from the internet, get it. I speak about overcoming oppression and I'd like people to understand that and get it. But if you like it go and pick it up. Like in the old days, if we would get record and we loved that band, we would check out what bands they thanked, who sang on the record... "Oh cool, who's that on vocals? I'm gonna go check out their band." Stuff like that. That's the kind of passionate, intimate stuff that I'm really into, like you're into, I would say because I can hear what you're saying and where you're coming from. And it's cool that you heard it, but if you were to download it from iTunes you would have just heard it and never known anything about it. But if you go out and buy the CD or by whatever means you get it, you can follow that and find out who it was and get into their bands.
As you've said, The Disasters songs are often odes to the past, but what are some things that have happened in the five years since My Riot came out, that are going to be reflected on the new record?
Well, I've had two kids. My daughter Havi, who's three and half, and my son Desi who is one and half. And I've moved to Arizona within the last five years. My life has changed a lot. I felt like a needed to leave New York City. It wasn't the New York that I knew before. It was just a place to go nowhere if you ask me. Unless you're single. It's awesome. But you can't raise children in New York anymore. It's got no family values anymore. It's all about models and hiked up rents. You can't afford to live there anymore. So I kind of saw reality and moved to Arizona and had two children. I've been having a great time, met a lot of cool people out here. And luckily I've got everything in my mind to write all my Disasters songs. It's been really cool.
One thing I've added to this CD, that's very personal to me which is the last song called "JR". Did you get that song too?
Yeah. I've listened to the whole album a few times. That song sure does stand out.
That song is completely out of left field, and I wasn't even going to put it on the record. I wrote that song before my son was born. I wrote that about two years ago. But then I'm like, "You know what? I wrote this song for my son. It's very personal to me and I'm going to put it on the record." And I did. It's weird though, because it's a full on country song. And the vocals are more spoken, in a kind of Tom Waits, kind of grittier style. I decided that this belongs here. I wrote this for my family, and for my little ones. This is its home. So that's one cool element that I brought to the band. Besides that, Rhys, my guitar player also moved out of New York City and he has a child too. So now we're raising families and we have time. We've had five years to kind of think about stuff and freshen up for the new record, which I feel is our best record. It has a real cool energy to it; Johnny Rio from The Street Dogs produced it. He heavily rehearsed with the guys in Texas to make all the songs happen. He actually played on the record. I think he plays on eleven of the tracks. It was just easier and convenient because he was with the guys. Roy, my bass player was hear in Arizona said he played everything I would have played, and only changed one song. We're very family orientated, and past members are always current with us too.
As you've been living in Arizona, have you been following the new immigration laws and how do you feel about them?
Yeah, of course. I mean I live here. I think the majority of the concern has to do with safety. I'm sure there's some corruption behind it, and when they present the law there is meaning behind it. Nothing is ever innocent when it comes to the government. But living here, I've seen a lot of stuff, and I understand why they're doing what they're doing. There are a lot of kidnappings and murders that are going on. Just recently a man was killed, and they found his six year old son shot to death in a different location too, and of course it was drug related. Stuff like that. It's kind of sad, we're so close to Mexico here a lot of the Cartels are coming through and damaging families. It's the number one city for kidnapping in the world. Not just in America, but in the world. There's a lot of kids getting kidnapped, so I can understand some of the reasoning behind it, but believe me, I'm first generation Cuban. I'm from Cuba, I wasn't born in this country, so I understand what it's like to want to come to a country because you believe in freedom and make a start. That's what my family did, and that's what I did. I just became a citizen five years ago. I just got my passport five years ago. I've always had a Cuban passport, so I understand that point too.
I live in America, but if I had I choice I would live in Europe. Like in Amsterdam or something. But I can't just go to Amsterdam and live there, there are laws there that won't allow it. And if I went to Mexico and said I want to live here, I wouldn't be allowed. They'll throw me out too. So I understand vice-versa what's going on. People just look at it in a racial way, which is an easy way to look at it. There's racial profiling, and that's what it's going to lead to. I can understand the basics of the law and how they want it to work, but we also know there's a meaning behind it. I think the underground reason behind it is the racial profiling, which kind of sucks, y'know what I mean?
That's definitely the way it's been portrayed here, and over the international media. It's good to hear from someone actually living there.
Like I say, I'm Cuban. I'm Latin, and I'm for my people. I've got 100% Latin tattooed on my neck, but there's a point where your safety is violated. That's when I'm like, "Look, this is getting ridiculous." There are too many kidnappings and I fear for my own children. I don't want to let them go out and play when I don't know what's going on. And all of the violence is from all of the drugs.
How does Christmas in Arizona compare to Christmas in New York?
Oh, it's nothing like it, man. I'll tell you what. The only time I really, really miss New York is Christmas. There is nothing like a New York Christmas. Actually, there is only one place its better, and I'll be honest with you... I mean, I love New York with central park, and the Christmas tree, and the ice skating rink, and all of that is beautiful, but there is nothing, nothing, nothing like Christmas in Germany.
Every city in Germany has a Christmas Village for all of December. It's the most beautiful time to ever go on tour there. That whole month of December, every city you go to, you go into the Christmas Village and everybody's so happy. They're out with their kids, they're drinking their wine. That hot wine, whatever they call it.
Yeah. And I'm wondering why can't we have this in America, and it hit me. They don't have as much crime there. If we tried to have this in New York people would be getting pick pocketed, and who knows what else. They don't have the level of violence that we have. They don't have the gang violence and all of that stuff. And that's why they can do things differently. It's beautiful out there.
We just got a German Village in Vancouver this year. I went with my German girlfriend and had a great time. It definitely had a good vibe.
It has a great vibe. There's no violence in the air. When you have a parade here in New York, there's always a fight at the end of the parade or something. There's always something ridiculous, y'know?... I guess I'm getting older.
There's always that. You talked about the song "JR" earlier, but as you've gotten older are there things that stand out to you on the new record as things The Disasters have never done before?
Absolutely. First of all, I feel like this new record has the same excitement that the first record had, when it comes to that it feels exciting, refreshing, it's peppier. The new members brought a lot to the table. I think, no, I know our new drummer Pete Sosa is a fantastic drummer. You can hear it in his drumming. You can hear all his energy and his passion for what he's doing. Everything he's adding to it is tasteful, and it's uplifting. It's nothing new, but it's refreshing. Same with our new guitar player, Randy.
I used to sing and play guitar too, so that's something else that's new. I just sing now that we've added Randy Rost, our second guitar player who also brought another fresh element to the band. It's great for Rhys because he's been doing most of the song writing on the new album, so it's good to have someone else to help him out now. They share the same passion which is awesome. And then our bass player, Roy is phenomenal. Everybody just came to the plate on this album. They're excitement about being in the band, combined with mine and Rhys' passion for being here, it all got captured. I feel like this is our best record to date, and I say that with a lot of truth behind it.
I believe you and I agree. That about all the questions I've got left, so is there anything else you'd like to add or say about the new record?
I just want to say thanks for the interview, man. I appreciate it. One thing I want to say is that with everything I do, and especially with The Disasters, it's all about storytelling about my past and a lot of my life. I'm very passionate towards this music scene that I've found to be my home. As an outcast and a misfit I never felt at home until I found the New York punk scene, and I'm very grateful for that. I hope people can find that kind of friendship. I know there are a lot of people out there who are walking alone and don't know who to turn to, or where to look for answers. And I hope they can find that in the punk community like I did. I am very passionate towards this movement, so I hope that people will take that to heart.
Awesome. Well, thanks again for your time.
No, thank you. I appreciate it.