Western Addiction is on a high right now, having recently released the well-received Tremulous in 2017. On top of that, the band is playing Punk rock Bowling tomorrow night (We're Sponsors!). So, Punknews' own Gen Handley called up frontman Jason Hall to chat about the band, their writing process, and heavy metal. Check out the interview below.
Jason Hall of Western Addiction
On stage, Western Addiction’s Jason Hall is a beast. Hunched and screaming, leaning into the crowd, clutching the mic stand like it’s his last straw. But that’s only sometimes. Today, over the phone, the lead singer of the San Francisco band is amiable and upbeat, a family man with a regular job who just wants to live life to it’s fullest and loudest.
“People ask my wife all the time,” he says, laughing. “They say things like, ‘I heard your husband is in a musical group. What is that like?’ And they ask things like, ‘Is it rock and roll like the Black Crows.’ She laughs and tells them it’s like metal so they’re like, ‘Is it like the Tool band?’ It’s so funny.”
For Hall, the balance of punk music and family has provided needed clarity, enlightening him about the many sides and colors of life.
“I like having my professional and family life and I like having this secret night time thing that we do,” he explains. “You can do both. I kind of like getting away from both worlds sometimes. I think people locked in one world, don’t understand the other world.”
In a couple of weeks, Hall and his bandmates will be thoroughly engulfed in the “other world” at Punk Rock Bowling in Las Vegas, playing songs off their relatively short catalogue including the acclaimed second album, 2017’s Tremulous. The father-of-two took the time out of his busy life to chat with Punknews interviewer Gen Handley about writing new music, making their lyrics more “approachable” and the challenges of crossing genres.
Are you working on new stuff right now?
Yeah, we’re working on songs right now. We also have leftover songs from the Tremulous recording sessions. It wasn’t like we didn’t choose them because they weren’t good enough to go on the record – there just wasn’t enough time for them. I just wrote two new songs and I’m kind of in a cool spot where I’m really writing songs again. That’s the part I like the most. I don’t like going into the studio…I find it very stressful (Laughs). I do like the making of the songs – working with the guys – and that’s what we’re doing.
Can you tell you me about how you write your songs?
I kind of have a different approach to songwriting. It’s kind of rudimentary and I don’t think a lot of bands write that way. I’m an all-or-nothing person so lock myself in a room every night for one hour and I try to make something, whether that be a song or a riff or whatever. I do it every night. I understand it’s kind of counter intuitive to people who let the magic happen. No magic comes to me (Laughs).
So what’s fueling the songs this time?
I tend to have themes about songs, about ideas and about the real parts of people and emotions – they ugly truth parts. I think that hardcore is the most real emotional form of music because it’s so truthful. I have one new song and it’s about getting the real version of someone. But only you get that. So if you’re in a relationship with someone, it’s special because only you and that person are having that relationship and there’s no other person in the world who’s going to understand that.
I’m also trying to learn about songwriting along the way. I can’t really sing very well so I’m trying to work on vocal melody and working on our lyrics to be a little more approachable because they’re kind of hard sometime. We were just playing a show in Santa Cruz on Saturday night and woman got on the stage. She was trying to sing with me but none of the words were right because they’re so difficult (Laughs). It’s such a bummer for people because they cannot even participate (Laughs).
What I love about Western Addiction are the poetic, almost cerebral lyrics. Do you consider yourself a thinking man’s hardcore band?
(Laughs) I mean…I am a thinking man. I don’t know if I’m a smart man but I’ve always been accused of thinking too much. My [daytime] job is to think about solving problems with words. Personally, I’ve always liked lyrics a lot. Like I said, I’m trying to craft more approachable lyrics because sometimes they can be too tough. Some of my favourite bands growing up had interesting lyrics and made me think. Bad Religion made me think. When I heard them, I was like, “What are these words?” I didn’t know what they meant so I looked them up. Even on earlier records, NOFX taught me how to think in a different way. I thought about treating people with respect. I thought about things differently. I want our band to do that.
It took you guys 12 years to release your second album. Are you going to wait that long for the next record?
(Laughs) No, I don’t think so. We’re talking about putting an EP together with all of these extra songs. Even with a family, I’m getting more pockets of time to work on stuff. Maybe I wasted a few years but now I’m like, this is pretty cool and we’re doing some cool stuff. We’re getting to play with these cool bands and make these awesome records and I should not take it for granted.
When I listen to Western Addiction, I can’t decide if you’re a political band or not.
With some of the songs on new record, I didn’t write them from a political standpoint but they kind of applied of appropriately with the current politics (Laughs). But everyone in the band has the same politics – we’re all pretty open-minded and we’re progressive. We all very much dislike the way the United States is going right now and it’s completely embarrassing and depressing. But while I feel those things, I don’t overtly put them in the songs. It’s just a running theme. Like a song off the new record, “Masscult, Vulgarians and Entitlement”, it can be applied. But it’s embarrassing. You can have whatever politics you want to have and you can make a case for whatever side you believe in, but if you’re a vulgar, deplorable person that really bothers me. I find the president to be completely inappropriate. I live in San Francisco where there’s all kinds of people and once you know people up close, you cannot turn your back on them. I think that when you comment on other people and put them down, you’re not close enough to them to know you can’t turn your back on them.
Speaking of San Francisco, the Bay Area is legendary for it’s punk music scene. Because of that, is there any pressure on you to hit a certain mark as a band?
I’ve never felt that. I wish we could play with more bands from the Bay Area and I wish the bills were a little more varied. I don’t there’s any pressure or anything. But it’s a great place to play music.
I love being in a hardcore band from San Francisco. There’s actually a crazy black metal scene in Oakland and San Francisco. We don’t always fly with those kinds of bands but we recently played a show with Vermib Womb and Cult Leader. It’s funny because we want to play with bands like that but sometimes the heavier bands are like, “You’re on Fat (Wreck Chords) and you’re not associated with the sound.” But when we played with those guys, it actually went over super well. We want to be in that world a little more.
What world is that?
Any kind of metal-tinged hardcore. We can’t play with full-blown death metal bands like Cannibal Corpse but it’s close. You know how Motorhead could play with anyone? I want to be like that. It’s a lofty goal but I want to be in a world where we transcend every genre. Some nights I want to play with Lagwagon where people are having a good time and then some nights I want to play with Cult Leader where people are loud and banging their heads. I want to see all the worlds and go between them.
When did you realize you wanted to be a musician?
Well, I don’t think I’m a musician (Laughs). I think I’m a guy who writes songs. The guys in the band, they’re musicians. One day, my dad came home from work and he had a guitar and amp in his hands. He put them in my hands and was like, “Here. I bought these off of a guy and you’re going to use these now. Try it.” So I tried it and that’s how I started playing guitar. I was always into all sorts of different music. I didn’t belong to a particular group, I wasn’t a skateboarder, I wasn’t a punk or metal guy – I just liked what was different. I didn’t know these things had labels.