As Orlando, FL's New Mexican Disaster Squad began winding down last year, vocalist Sam Johnson began writing songs that would eventually become Virgins debut album, Miscarriage. With Virgins in motion and a new band with former band mates all ready started, No Friends, Sam shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. He will be playing with both bands at this years FEST 8 on Oct 30-Nov 1. Here Sam talks with Adam Sever about the endings of New Mexican Disaster Squad, the beginnings of Virgins, growing up in Orlando, plus he shares his experiences of previous years' Fests.
It seemed that Virgins and Gatorface were already in their early stages even before New Mexican Disaster Squad broke up, was NMDSâs breakup something everyone in the band knew was coming?
Well, NMDS had already been slow for the year prior to our last show. Brian had already said that he wanted out but we kept roping him in for a few shows here and there. I think before we said anything to each other, we kind of knew where it was heading. I definitely started Virgins not only because I was writing songs that might not have fit so well with NMDS, but also because I knew I had to get something rolling so I wouldn't be restless after the band ended.
Was it an easy transition going from New Mexican Disaster Squad to Virgins?
It was kind of tough to get some guys who were going to be on the same page as me, obsessing over songs and practice but I think I have some pretty rad dudes jamming with me. Pitman has been a good friend of mine for at least a decade, and I had been friendly with Phil for about as long. Other than that everything felt really natural.
Have fans of New Mexican Disaster Squad gravitated towards Virgins?
You know, it's hard to tell. I'm sure most of Virgins fans were New Mex fans, but I also feel like a lot of fans might not know about Virgins yet. I hope some more do soon! I figure as long as we keep playing and putting out records, people will take notice. I'm not the best with promotion.
With having previous relationships with A-F Records and Jade Tree from those labels releasing New Mexican Disaster Squad albums, what drew you to having Miscarriage put out on Kiss of Death Records?
Bryon Lippincot has been a friend for years. We saw him a lot with his old band Mid Carson July, especially after he moved down to Tampa from Pennsylvania. I hadn't talked to any of the Anti-Flag guys in a while, and I didn't feel like seeing if Jade Tree wanted to do it. It seemed like a ton of work and waiting just to get a record out that way. NMDS had done an EP with Bryon and he was into Virgins from the start and it just felt right to cut the record for him. It was a good idea. I love KOD. They take care of business and get that shit out there fast.
Was there any message you were trying to get across or anything you wanted listeners to take away from Miscarriage?
I just felt Miscarriage has a classic anti-social vibe that I love about all of my favorite punk records. The lyrics are a reflection of all the shit I see that fascinates or disgusts me. Or describes me and my peers I guess. I suppose it's kind of a bi-product of feeling like an outsider all my life, and maybe some people out there can relate to what I'm yelling about.
Miscarriage was released on CD and vinyl, what do you think the importance of releasing albums on vinyl is?
I love vinyl. When I was little all we had was vinyl and tapes, CDs hadn't happened yet. Obviously it is more fun as a kid going through you parent's big, colorful records rather that tapes. Later when I got into punk, that was just the preferred format. Everyone puts out a 7inch when they start, you geek out about finding rare records. It's just an awesome, interactive hobby that looks like it's coming back in a big way. Not to mention they sound better. CDs are totally on their way out. I feel like the main reason we have CDs are because in other countries where people aren't as spoiled as us, a lot of punks only have a CD player. No iPods and shit like that. Also it's easier to send them out for promos and reviews. But vinyl is still the ultimate punk format and it's important because its a traditional punk and rock 'n' roll ritual.
For someone who has played The Fest every year, how does the first one compare to your most recent one youâve played?
Well, that's easy. The first one we played at this jock bar that FINALLY closed down, the Purple Porpise. It smelled like vomit and date rape. I was the only one in the band who drank at the time so I ended up getting shit-hammered on the Old Mil they used to give you when you check in. There were maybe 12 people in there who may or may not have worked there or been in the other bands. I barfed. It was also in the Spring back then, so it was pretty fucking hot. Flash forward to last year, 500 maniacs crowd surfing and stagediving and singing every word at Common Grounds (which coincidentally formerly occupied the real estate in which the Purple Porpise made it's last stand) was pretty cool considering our humble beginnings.
For you, which year of The Fest stands out as one of the best or the one you have fondest memories of?
I usually can't remember anything from the FEST. Just kidding. I think every year is great and gets better in different ways as it changes. Those early ones were a blast, but it's such a big event that people from all over the world attend now and it's kind of exciting have seen what it's turned into over the years. I guess what I'm saying is that I can't single one out. I have great memories from all years of the FEST. It's like Christmas for all of us because we get to see so many friends from all over the place that we met along the way. Who knows what FEST 8 will bring!
For people who don't know, describe in your own words that The Fest is?
The FEST is a celebration of being punk, independent, and drunk down here in muggy, beautiful Florida. We bring in all the best bands in punk today and from the past, not to mention myriad sub-genres.
How do you think The Fest is different than other fests?
There are no big corporate sponsors, you have to be cool and not act like an asshole if you want to play, you get what they give you with no special treatment for princesses. My amazing friends who put it on have the best intentions and somehow make go down every year with no real problems. I don't know how Tony does it, but he seems more and more relaxed every year.
What makes The Fest so appealing to play?
The first thing is that it's only an hour and a half away from Orlando. Also, these are the people who put on our shows, and party with us in Gainesville. It's also the bands that I have either toured with, or grew up listening to. The whole event is such a blast. Gainesville has always been a fun city anyway.
At last yearâs Fest you played 2 shows with different bands, NMDS and Virgins, and this year you are doing the same with Virgins and No Friends. How do you handle playing for 2 bands in the same weekend?
Oh, it's easy. Weinbender doesn't make me play twice in one day. Just as long as I don't drink too much, or keep from getting hung-over it's no problem. I love to play anyway, the more I get to play the happier I am.
How do you divide your time between Virgins and No Friends?
I spend most of my time on Virgins, we practice after work 2 or 3 times a week. I work with our drummer, Eric too. Virgins takes a lot more of my personal effort that No Friends. I really only work on No Friends when Tony Luxury comes down to play a show or practice. I guess Alex and I show each other songs from time to time, but my main musical time goes to Virgins. No Friends kind of has a life of it's own. Virgins needs me.
Does Virgins still get confused for the, as you put it "crappy disco band from New York"?
Ha! Oh yeah, every once and a while some nerd says they read about us in SPIN or some shit like that. Anyone who would make that mistake probably isn't into what we do anyway, and I'm okay with that.
With Disney World located nearby, most kids would think Orlando would be a great place to grow up. What was growing up in Orlando like for you?
Orlando hasn't been terrible, but it hasn't been a dreamland by any means. When you talk about the actual city, you have a small town that thinks it's "world class". That makes for a weird inferiority complex that echoes through everything in town. Everything. On the same token, I don't feel like I need to get out for good. I have family here, friends, connections. It's 28 years of roots and that's hard to give up. Not many people who live here were born here, and even fewer have a parent born here. My Dad was born here, so we both have a special place in our hearts for it, but it aint perfect.
Most people vacation in Orlando, where is your ideal vacation location?
Well I don't really get to go on vacation, just tours! But I really love San Francisco. I love Exeter in the UK. But I'm still a sucker for some good ol' Florida Beaches.
Can you share some of the details on your upcoming EP and split releases?
Yeah, were in the middle of recording six songs with our buddy Ralph that we work with. Nothing is set in stone and all plans are always subject to change, but it looks like we'll be putting two songs on a split with Ryan from Monikers new band up in NYC, which features a couple other familiar punk people. The remaining four songs will be the EP. I'm thinking I might try my hand at the artwork on that instead of bugging Richard. He's a busy boy.
Do you have anymore plans to take Virgins on the road or overseas this fall?
I'm working out a Florida/southeast tour with Lords for September, that will be awesome. I would like to get back overseas ASAP. My buddy Chad Williams from Western Addiction played drums on Virgins recent UK tour and it was awesome. I can't wait to get back there and to mainland Europe next year. Some of our UK friends will be attending and performing at the FEST 8 this year! I'll see all you punks there too!