Youth Brigade

The founding members of the seminal Los Angeles punk band Youth Brigade, Shawn, Mark and Adam aided in the rise of hardcore punk, swing revival and, just over a decade ago, introduced a new punk institution to Las Vegas: Punk Rock Bowling. In this interview, conducted by Brandon Campbell, Shawn Stern shares the story of PRB, discusses Youth Brigade's most recent affair with The Fest 8, attempts to recall a tequila soaked performance and lets us know how people have been reacting to the band's 25th anniversary compilation, Let Them Know.

The last time we talked to you was a few months ago, back when you were doing all of the Fall fests and just released your 25th anniversary compilation, and I would eventually like to get some follow up on those things, but first let’s talk about Punk Rock Bowling. As succinctly as you can, would you explain what it is?

Yeah, this will be the 12th year. It started in ’99. It started with 27 teams and now this year we’ll have 210 teams, we do three squads of bowling. And it used to be we’d do a show on Friday to kick it off and then we’d have bowling on Saturday and Sunday and then we’d have an awards party on Sunday night. This year it’s become more of a music festival with bowling instead of a bowling tournament with music.

The new place that we moved to has an amphitheater right on the property that holds 4,000 people. We have three shows in that amphitheater Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And then we are also going to have bands in the lounge, which probably holds about another 550 people. It should be pretty crazy.

This is all in Vegas, right?

Technically it’s in Henderson, which is right next to Vegas, so it’s outside of Vegas city limits.

With such a large amount of people, do you guys have issues with the law enforcement out there?

No, because we’re all legal and legitimate and we’re working with the casino. We’ve had no problems in the past and I don’t anticipate that we’d have any problems. This is new for us because, like I said before, it was mostly just the bowlers. You know, people would come and hang out and watch, but it wasn’t a huge amount of people. And then the show, we would do it at the House of Blues, or there was this place called the Hudridge way back when we started, and a few other venues we’ve had over the years. Those would typically hold about 1,500 people. This holds 4,000, so we’re almost tripling the capacity. But I don’t anticipate any problems. It should be fun. People are just there to have a good time. I don’t think anyone’s going to cause any problems.

Why bowling? Was that a favorite pastime, or was it just an excuse to go hang out with some friends?

Well, the way it came about was there was this guy Andre Duguay. He used write a zine back in the ‘80s. I cannot remember for the life of me right now what the name was, but he used to write the time. And when the label started up again in the early ‘90s he moved to California and started working for B.Y.O. for a few years. And he heard that Fat was doing this bowling league up in San Francisco and he said, "We should do something like that in L.A. We know all these other labels and bands."

So, we did that down in Santa Monica and it went really well. But, Andre didn’t inform us he was a really good bowler, too. He’s our ace on our team. He’s our anchor. He’s the man for our team, which is why we won two out of the twelve years and come close several other years and usually are in the playoffs every year.

After we did the league, I think it was about ten weeks of us and Epitaph and Hopeless and Fearless and a bunch of bands and zines and stuff in L.A. I think we had maybe 15 to 20 different teams. Me and my brother Mark were talking about how great it was and we should do it again. We should just do a tournament and we love Vegas. Why the hell not go to Vegas and put this on and we like to go out and party? So, that’s how that idea came about.

Anyone can bowl. You don’t have to be a great athlete and the best thing about it is that you can do it drunk. (laughs) So, who doesn’t like to go out and get drunk and bowl? It’s just a good excuse to go to Vegas and party. Not too many people take it that seriously, besides Andre and the Epitaph guys and maybe a handful of others.

Has your team won any of the tournaments?

Yeah, we’ve won twice. We won the first year and I think it was four or five years ago we beat Epitaph in the heads up, straight out, even without the handicap. And then they beat us either the next year or the year after. They won four times, they won the most. We won two times. And then there’s been a Stern on the team of three other winners. My brothers have been on teams that have won.

What do you guys do for the winners at the end of the tournament?

You get a cash prize. I think it’s up to two-grand right now. There’s four people per team, so that means each person gets 500 bucks. And there’s a trophy; we got this trophy together a few years back. Since we’re from Canada, I wanted to follow along the lines of the Stanley Cup, so we got a big trophy and there’s a plaque that goes on for each year’s winner. So, you can look on it and see who’s won over all these previous years.

Epitaph won 2007, 2006, 2001 and 2000. And we won 1999 and 2005.

So, do you guys do a big ceremony for it at the end?

We used to, but it just became less and less important to people. If you weren’t winning most people were too drunk and didn’t care. What we would do is we would have an awards party. The main part of the party was Manic Hispanic playing and then we’d have some other bands play with them here and there. Manic can’t make it this year because the singer got really sick. He’s doing much better now, thankfully. I know he’d like to come, but he can’t.

Actually, the first year we had the tournament, Me First and The Gimme Gimmes played at the Double Down, which holds, I think, about 120 people and it was packed. So, this year they’re playing again in the lounge and that’s sold out. That’s 550 people. That thing sold out the quickest of everything. That sold out in like three or four weeks.

I noticed on the webpage that you guys have added Texas Hold ‘Em within the past couple of years.

Yeah, I think this is the fourth or fifth year we’ve had the tournament. It’s gone really, really well. We do that on Thursday for people who want to come in early. I know that we’ve sold over 160 rooms for Thursday, although only about maybe 50 people signed up for Texas Hold ‘Em so far. I think we can accommodate about 100, but we usually get a lot of people walking up and it’s sort of there. And they’re like, "What am I going to do? Shit, let’s go play poker." And we’ll have a bunch of punk rockers coming out.

Do you play the Texas Hold ‘Em tournament?

Of course.

Are you any good at it?

Uh, nah. I’ve never won any money. The only people that earn the money is the final table, which, I think, tables are usually eight people.

I want to switch topics and ask you about The Fest last year. That was your first year playing The Fest right?

No, no. We played it two years earlier.

Oh, ok. I’m sorry. (laughs) I don’t mean to embarrass you guys or anything, but I saw you guys play the previous night, before your official set, when you guys were pretty hammered.

Oh, no. That was just me. I don’t remember any of it. I heard that I attempted to get on stage and play. That doesn’t happen to me too often. You see, I didn’t realize that it was a tequila bar until someone pointed out, "Hey, you want to have a shot?" That was my undoing, right there. Yeah, I don’t really remember anything after about the third or fourth shot.

I should never be drinking that stuff before I play; it’s a bad idea.

I’m from Chicago and I’ve seen you guys play a few times since about 2001 and, not to be a jerk, but that was definitely the worst I’ve seen you guys. (laughs)

(laughs) Well, yeah. I mean, we couldn’t even play. I felt bad and I apologized the next day. I hope we redeemed ourselves. Some people told me that was the greatest thing they’d ever seen. They said it was hysterical.

Me and my friends were laughing our asses off. I mean, it just seemed like it was all in good fun.

Well, yeah. If it’s not fun then what’s the point? I was just completely obliterated. I don’t remember really anything. That happens to me a lot these days. I’ve been working on a lot of construction on my house for the last three or four years, so I haven’t been going out as much as I used to and therefore I haven’t been drinking as much. My tolerance level for hard alcohol apparently is not what it used to be. (laughs) I have to work my way back up, I guess.

I used to be able to put away, in an evening, a good 12 pack or more and three or four shots of Petron. And I could still be pretty decent, but now after the second shot I’m going to black out at some point. I mean I maintain, I’m fine. I just don’t retain anything. But, obviously I didn’t maintain enough to be able to sing and play at the same time.

People don’t understand that when you play and you sing at the same time you can’t think about anything. It’s just sort of automatic and if you’re fucked up, that just messes everything up.

Especially when most of your stuff is really fast.

Yeah, you should see when my brother gets fucked up. He, of course, never admits he’s fucking up or that he never makes a mistake, but when he’s wasted, oh forget about it. It’s almost a joke. He’s the glue that holds it all together and if he’s all over the place there’s nothing you can do. You can’t fake that shit.

You definitely notice when the drummer messes up.

Yeah, exactly.

Personally, I think you guys did an unbelievable job the next night and I know the crowd was insane for you guys.

Yeah, it was fun and we had a good time. When we played there two years before it was a lot fun, too. We were kind of wary about it the first time, because, I said, "Shit, man. Are these people going to even know who the hell we are? Are they going to like us?" It was not really the normal crowd we expect at our shows, but they went crazy and we had a lot of fun.

That’s why we wanted to come back, because we enjoyed it so much.

You guys felt like you had a place at The Fest?

Yeah, definitely. And we’re friends with Hot Water Music; we did that split with them and Leatherface. And I’m a big fan of Against Me! It’s good to know that the punk rock community is still the punk rock community. They do have diverse tastes, because a lot times people are always bitching and moaning about how everything is so fragmented.

I don’t really see it. There’s definitely a certain kind of music that appeals to pre-pubescents that tries to pawn itself off as being punk rock and it’s not. I couldn’t tell you what punk rock is, but I know it when I hear it and I know it when I see it. Definitely, The Fest is all punk rock.

That’s a good way to explain it, I think. I feel the same way. If you explain it, if you trap it in to words, then it kind of loses some of its effect.

It’s our need as a society, as a capitalist society, which tries to put everything in to some sort of packaging, because they want to sell it. They want to make it in to a product; they want to be able to describe it so you can pay money for it. That’s what our culture is all about. And that ruins it, so I don’t even bother wasting my time with that. I think, let the music do the talking. That’s the best way.

Yeah, definitely. It’s nice to hear, and I’m not saying that you’re old…

(laughs) I am pretty old. I’m going to be 50 next month.

God damn, well, I’m glad you’re still around. (laughs)

(laughs) Me too.

I guess my point is that you guys, or at least you, Shawn, don’t seem to have lost a lot of your idealism that you had when you were younger. There’s still something burning inside of you.

I think, if there isn’t what’s the point of doing it? I’m lucky enough to be able to earn a living off of playing music and doing something that I enjoy. But, if that was my reason for doing this, I would have given up a long time ago. The thing that keeps me going is the kids that are discovering our music 20, 30 years after we started playing. It’s still relevant to them, obviously. Otherwise, they wouldn’t come out and support us and support all of these other bands. We must be doing something right.

I’ve done interviews with people that say, "Doesn’t it bother you that there are these bands that are huge that call themselves punk rock?" I can’t worry about what other people do. The fact is, is that hopefully those bands get some kid when he’s 12 or 13 years old and it’s punk rock, or what he thought was punk rock, and then some of them are smart enough to say where does this music come from and they try to check out the influences, which is how they discover bands like us and TSOL and 7 Seconds and Adolescents and some of these bands that have been around and are still around.

I just think that the things that we were saying 30 years ago, that were inspired by Ronal Reagan and the policies that he started, which are now coming home to roost more than ever, he’s the one that started this banking mess that we’re in now and a lot of the problems we have now are from those days and directly related to the policies that they had. And that’s why I think that kids are still in to the music that all of us have been making since back in the ‘80s, because it’s totally relevant now, even more so in some ways.

Yeah, and on an obvious level, that’s pretty fucking sad that the shit that you guys were railing against when you were in your late teens is still the same shit that’s going on now.

Yup. How far have we come? Well, I mean, shit. We’ve got an African-American in the White House, that’s pretty far, and that’s great, but it’s still not the solution. I like our President and I’m excited that he’s the President, more excited than I’ve probably been in my whole lifetime about a politician, but at the end of the day he’s still part of the system and he’s still not doing all of the things I’d like to see him doing. I understand that it’s tough to change these people, but the corporations are running this country and people need to wake up and see that, because if they don’t we don’t have much time left on this planet.

Look what happened in Louisiana, with that mess in the Gulf.

Oh, yeah. With that oil spill?


So, do you read the news everyday?


Where do you get your information?

I listen to NPR every morning and every evening and then I watch the local news and the network news and I read online about stuff, too. I’m not as much of a news junky or as informed as I was, say, in my 20s and 30s, because I got a lot more responsibilities to deal with. But, I’m probably still taking in, between the radio, TV and the internet, four or five hours I’m listening to here and there while I’m doing other stuff.

Obviously, that has influenced your music over the years.

Yeah, well, you’ve got to write about what’s going on in life and what’s going on in the world. That’s the important stuff. Nothing against love and all, but if that’s all you write about I’m going to be bored pretty quick.

Since we’re talking about personal stuff, what bands are you listening to right now?

Well, we just did a bunch of dates with Off With Their Heads back in the fall and I like them a lot. And I’m listening to a lot of the bands that are on the shows. The Cobra Skulls stuff is pretty interesting. Nothington, who’s on our label, their new record’s really good. I listen to a pretty wide variety of stuff and a lot of times I just put the radio on and I hear new stuff off of that.

I met those kids from Vampire Weekend, which isn’t a punk band, but they were super nice and they called me up and they were all inspired by Another State of Mind, which I thought was funny because I didn’t know much about them other than the one song that was on the radio that was a hit about three or four years ago when they started. A month later their record was number one in the country, which was pretty hysterical.

And I like Fucked Up. I’m real in to them. They played with us at the Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin, which was really amazing. We asked them right then and there to come play bowling and they said, "Yeah, it sounds like a good idea." So now they’re on the show.

And you guys also have a shit ton of bands from L.A. coming out to play. This goes back to the fact that it was mostly you guys and your friends mainly, right?

Yeah, I mean we put on bands that we’re friends with most of the time and bands that we like and that we think other people will like. Sunday you’ve got kind of an old school stage between 7 Seconds, TSOL, The Dickies, D.R.I., Ill Repute, Dr. Know, Stretch Marks, who haven’t played in probably 20 years and they’re from Winnipeg, Canada. They were on our second compilation back in ’84. And then of course we’ve got NOFX on Friday and we’re playing with Fucked Up and Hot Water Music. And Saturday you’ve got Flogging Molly and Swinging Utters and Against Me! and Riverboat Gamblers. It’s a pretty eclectic bill. We’ve got Chuck Ragan doing his revival thing and Me First and the Gimme Gimme’s on Sunday. It’s a lot of bands. I think it’s about 30 bands all together.

How has reaction been to the Let Them Know anniversary compilation?

It’s been great. Everybody who’s seen it loves the movie and everybody who’s heard the record loves it. And the book, we’ve got nothing but great reviews on it.

Even after watching Another State of Mind, which blew my mind as a teenager, seeing you guys kind of intellectualize about that movie and punk rock in general made this one of my favorite punk rock documentaries.

Well, thanks man. It was the real thing, other than the stuff that they sort of manipulated, but you see that every day in reality TV.

Beyond Punk Rock Bowling, do you guys have anything coming up for the summer, any tours, are you guys working on an album or anything?

We keep talking about it. (laughs)

You get so busy with this. I’d like to write some songs and make a record. We were talking about trying to go to Europe in the fall. I don’t know if that’s going to work out yet or not. Hopefully, after bowling, I’m going to go down to Mexico or Nicaragua, or somewhere, and go surf for my birthday for a week or two. And then when we get back, maybe we can sit down and all just start writing. Maybe I won’t have to work on anything else for a while, so I can sit down and do that. That would be good to make a record. It’s been ten years.

I think we’ve got enough here. (laughs) I just want to thank you for talking.

Thank you. Thanks for giving me the opportunity, man.

Good luck with bowling and happy early 50th birthday.

(laughs) Thanks, man.