A lot of punk frontmen seem to position themselves as beings that are as much an element as they are human- They don't bend their principles. They don't flinch in the face of adversity. They don't worship heroes. And they damn sure, don't care what others think! So, when Joe Sib, front man for Wax and 22 Jacks, takes the stage on his spoken word show "California Calling" and basically cuts himself open, it comes as quite a shock. Instead of portraying himself as some unwavering code of honor, Sib lets the audience know that it hurts when people boo the show. It sucks when a record you love doesn't sell. And, most importantly, meeting the Ramones is friggin' awesome.
Although he started fronting skate punk bands, Sib and his partner in crime Bill Armstrong, went on to found SideOneDummy records, home to Gaslight Anthem, Fake Problems, and Flogging Molly, among others. In his current spoken word tour he touches upon his parent's divorce, getting into the skate punk scene, and meeting the Ramones. So, it's as good time as any for Punknews interviewer John Gentile to sit down with Brian Fallon's boss and talk about the state of punk past, present and future.
In your show, you mention the punk communityâs reaction to the Wax reunion. You seemed genuinely distressed by the ennui that members punknews.org had towards the Wax reunion where you opened for Weezer. Often, punk rockers take the attitude that "I donât care what the audience thinks!" Do you have a different mindset?
When we got to open for Weezer, it was great. I think some people missed out on the historical importance of the show. When I moved to LA, Wax was a band that started a small scene and Weezer used to always open up for us. During Waxâs original run, bands like the Smashing Pumpkins were popular. No one was like us because were like a pop punk band. Once Weezer blew up, Rivers Cuomo said, "Why donât you guys come play with us at the Palladium." Since no one ever got to really see Wax, it felt like we were getting our opportunity to play in "that" light. The thing that I joked about was when I went home the next day, there was a post about Wax that said, "who cares?" I mean, I though it was funny. I have to admit that the post got us pretty good- it was funny.
You seem to stress how accepting the punk community was to you. Other performer/speakers, such as Henry Rollins and Jello Biafra, talk about how they were alienated from the rest of society. Do you feel the same way?
When I was growing up, I went to a private school. In private school, from first grade youâre under the same priest and nuns. Every time they go to lunch they talk about their classroom. Sister Alice might talk to Sister Roberta and the kids are really talkative. So, all the teachers get a preconceived idea from the first and second grade. I wasnât bright, but I would joke around a lot, so the teachers would always keep an eye on me. The first day in the school year, I would get called to front of the classroom. The reason I was in front is because I was always joking around. Because I was always joking around, I ended up becoming friends with all walks of life â the jocks, the dirtheads â all the guys that were into punk rock. My one football friend couldnât get laid at the parties he went to, so he started to come to the punk parties with me. Iâve been very fortunate that Iâve been friends with everyone. I never really felt that, "no one understands me!" I loved punk rock because there werenât any rules. You had the college guys, and the punk kids, and some Hispanic lowrider gang members, and a whole group of nerds, and no one ever said shit to each other. Thatâs why I love those early years of punk rock. Thereâs something special about that. For instance, at a Flogging Molly show, everyone is singing about being Irish. I donât have any Irish ancestry, but that Irish part of me comes out. That type of unity is what drew me to punk as opposed to any disassociation.
Do you ever fear punk becoming a caricature of itself?
You know, all music does that. You had the foundation of punk rock, then you had Circle Jerks, and then the next tier, the Verbal Abuses. Just like anything, there is a watered down version. The emo scene went from those great original bands to what is now- someone wants to make a buck off of it. For me, it comes down to this, thereâs no backup plan. When you have the backup plan, youâre already setting yourself up to fail â There was no backup plan for Joe Strummer. There was no back up plan for Jimmy Pursey. But, in these watered down bands, these kids do have back up plans and theyâll just weed themselves out eventually.
A lot of band on your label, such as the Gaslight Anthem, Gogol Bordello, have become very popular while at SideOneDummy. How come youâre able to predict what the kids like so well?
I donât know what the kids like. I only know what my partner, Bill Armstrong, likes. We have one motto, "If you signed this band, would you would follow them around in your own car and sell the CD out of your own back seat?" If yes, weâll sign the band. I love every band on this label. Weâve never put out an album because we thought it would sell. Though, when it does connect with the fans, itâs one of the greatest things ever. But, one of the hardest things is when you put out an album that doesnât connect on that level. Itâs the worst.
Since your run a label, give us the inside details. Whatâs in the future for the music industry?
I think right now thatâs something that remains to be seen. I really believe that youâre really gonna need the likes of Brett Gurewitz, Bill Armstrong and Ian Mackaye. You're gonna need someone that can help you bounce ideas and you canât do all the record distribution work from the road. I donât know what that is gonna be called in the future. I think 10 years from now Iâll be working with bands. How youâre getting your music? Thatâs all gonna keep changing. I think that youâll be getting your music for free. Itâll all be good.
Any good Ramones stories?
Joey Ramone was a really close friend of mine. He threw my engagement party, and paid for all the drinks that night! I donât know why I love the Ramones so much. Iâm a neat freak and their music is so neat and orderly, I was fortunate to see them as many times as I did, I can always put onItâs Alive by the Ramones and it just takes me back to that special place.
Joe Sib is currently touring to support "California Calling." More information can be found here