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 letâs 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 â99. It started with 27 teams and now this year weâll have 210 teams, we do three squads of bowling. And it used to be weâd do a show on Friday to kick it off and then weâd have bowling on Saturday and Sunday and then weâd have an awards party on Sunday night. This year itâs 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 itâs in Henderson, which is right next to Vegas, so itâs 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 weâre all legal and legitimate and weâre working with the casino. Weâve had no problems in the past and I donât anticipate that weâd 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 wasnât 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 weâve had over the years. Those would typically hold about 1,500 people. This holds 4,000, so weâre almost tripling the capacity. But I donât anticipate any problems. It should be fun. People are just there to have a good time. I donât think anyoneâs 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 â80s. 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 â90s 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 didnât inform us he was a really good bowler, too. Heâs our ace on our team. Heâs our anchor. Heâs 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, thatâs how that idea came about.
Anyone can bowl. You donât have to be a great athlete and the best thing about it is that you can do it drunk. (laughs) So, who doesnât like to go out and get drunk and bowl? Itâs 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, weâve 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 thereâs 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 itâs up to two-grand right now. Thereâs four people per team, so that means each person gets 500 bucks. And thereâs a trophy; we got this trophy together a few years back. Since weâre from Canada, I wanted to follow along the lines of the Stanley Cup, so we got a big trophy and thereâs a plaque that goes on for each yearâs winner. So, you can look on it and see whoâs 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 werenât winning most people were too drunk and didnât care. What we would do is we would have an awards party. The main part of the party was Manic Hispanic playing and then weâd have some other bands play with them here and there. Manic canât make it this year because the singer got really sick. Heâs doing much better now, thankfully. I know heâd like to come, but he canât.
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 theyâre playing again in the lounge and thatâs sold out. Thatâs 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 âEm within the past couple of years.
Yeah, I think this is the fourth or fifth year weâve had the tournament. Itâs gone really, really well. We do that on Thursday for people who want to come in early. I know that weâve sold over 160 rooms for Thursday, although only about maybe 50 people signed up for Texas Hold âEm so far. I think we can accommodate about 100, but we usually get a lot of people walking up and itâs sort of there. And theyâre like, "What am I going to do? Shit, letâs go play poker." And weâll have a bunch of punk rockers coming out.
Do you play the Texas Hold âEm tournament?
Are you any good at it?
Uh, nah. Iâve 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. Iâm sorry. (laughs) I donât 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 donât remember any of it. I heard that I attempted to get on stage and play. That doesnât happen to me too often. You see, I didnât 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 donât really remember anything after about the third or fourth shot.
I should never be drinking that stuff before I play; itâs a bad idea.
Iâm from Chicago and Iâve seen you guys play a few times since about 2001 and, not to be a jerk, but that was definitely the worst Iâve seen you guys. (laughs)
(laughs) Well, yeah. I mean, we couldnât 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 theyâd 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 itâs not fun then whatâs the point? I was just completely obliterated. I donât remember really anything. That happens to me a lot these days. Iâve been working on a lot of construction on my house for the last three or four years, so I havenât been going out as much as I used to and therefore I havenât 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 Iâm going to black out at some point. I mean I maintain, Iâm fine. I just donât retain anything. But, obviously I didnât maintain enough to be able to sing and play at the same time.
People donât understand that when you play and you sing at the same time you canât think about anything. Itâs just sort of automatic and if youâre 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 heâs fucking up or that he never makes a mistake, but when heâs wasted, oh forget about it. Itâs almost a joke. Heâs the glue that holds it all together and if heâs all over the place thereâs nothing you can do. You canât fake that shit.
You definitely notice when the drummer messes up.
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.
Thatâs 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 weâre friends with Hot Water Music; we did that split with them and Leatherface. And Iâm a big fan of Against Me! Itâs 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 donât really see it. Thereâs definitely a certain kind of music that appeals to pre-pubescents that tries to pawn itself off as being punk rock and itâs not. I couldnât 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.
Thatâs 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.
Itâs 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. Thatâs what our culture is all about. And that ruins it, so I donât even bother wasting my time with that. I think, let the music do the talking. Thatâs the best way.
Yeah, definitely. Itâs nice to hear, and Iâm not saying that youâre oldâ¦
(laughs) I am pretty old. Iâm going to be 50 next month.
God damn, well, Iâm glad youâre still around. (laughs)
(laughs) Me too.
I guess my point is that you guys, or at least you, Shawn, donât seem to have lost a lot of your idealism that you had when you were younger. Thereâs still something burning inside of you.
I think, if there isnât whatâs the point of doing it? Iâm 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. Itâs still relevant to them, obviously. Otherwise, they wouldnât come out and support us and support all of these other bands. We must be doing something right.
Iâve done interviews with people that say, "Doesnât it bother you that there are these bands that are huge that call themselves punk rock?" I canât worry about what other people do. The fact is, is that hopefully those bands get some kid when heâs 12 or 13 years old and itâs 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, heâs the one that started this banking mess that weâre 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 thatâs why I think that kids are still in to the music that all of us have been making since back in the â80s, because itâs totally relevant now, even more so in some ways.
Yeah, and on an obvious level, thatâs pretty fucking sad that the shit that you guys were railing against when you were in your late teens is still the same shit thatâs going on now.
Yup. How far have we come? Well, I mean, shit. Weâve got an African-American in the White House, thatâs pretty far, and thatâs great, but itâs still not the solution. I like our President and Iâm excited that heâs the President, more excited than Iâve probably been in my whole lifetime about a politician, but at the end of the day heâs still part of the system and heâs still not doing all of the things Iâd like to see him doing. I understand that itâs tough to change these people, but the corporations are running this country and people need to wake up and see that, because if they donât we donât 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. Iâm 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, Iâm probably still taking in, between the radio, TV and the internet, four or five hours Iâm listening to here and there while Iâm doing other stuff.
Obviously, that has influenced your music over the years.
Yeah, well, youâve got to write about whatâs going on in life and whatâs going on in the world. Thatâs the important stuff. Nothing against love and all, but if thatâs all you write about Iâm going to be bored pretty quick.
Since weâre 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 Iâm listening to a lot of the bands that are on the shows. The Cobra Skulls stuff is pretty interesting. Nothington, whoâs on our label, their new recordâs 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 isnât 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 didnât 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. Iâm 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 theyâre 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 weâre friends with most of the time and bands that we like and that we think other people will like. Sunday youâve got kind of an old school stage between 7 Seconds, TSOL, The Dickies, D.R.I., Ill Repute, Dr. Know, Stretch Marks, who havenât played in probably 20 years and theyâre from Winnipeg, Canada. They were on our second compilation back in â84. And then of course weâve got NOFX on Friday and weâre playing with Fucked Up and Hot Water Music. And Saturday youâve got Flogging Molly and Swinging Utters and Against Me! and Riverboat Gamblers. Itâs a pretty eclectic bill. Weâve got Chuck Ragan doing his revival thing and Me First and the Gimme Gimmeâs on Sunday. Itâs a lot of bands. I think itâs about 30 bands all together.
How has reaction been to the Let Them Know anniversary compilation?
Itâs been great. Everybody whoâs seen it loves the movie and everybody whoâs heard the record loves it. And the book, weâve 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. Iâd like to write some songs and make a record. We were talking about trying to go to Europe in the fall. I donât know if thatâs going to work out yet or not. Hopefully, after bowling, Iâm 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 wonât 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. Itâs been ten years.
I think weâve 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.