The JFA Interview

A few weeks back Arizona skate rock legends JFA headed to UK shores for their first ever run of gigs here, with three dates covering London, Rebellion Festival in Blackpool and a Dean Lane Hardcore skate rock gig in Bristol. Flying into London with a day free to get their bearings (apart from Don, who was doing some sightseeing with the family), me and designated driver Leo decided that the best jetlag cure for them would be hitting the crumbling concrete curves of Harrow Skatepark. Like the proper skate rats they are, they weren’t fazed by getting off of a flight straight into an hour or two getting to grips with some of the strangest kink that 70s skatepark architecture can muster. After sessions ranging across the park’s varied obstacles and discussions on favourite live bands, meeting the Big Boys and the period back in the 80s when a new highway in Arizona saw a massive swathe of houses with backyard pools evicted and skateable, we headed over to the House of Doom for a miniramp session and round of teas courtesy of Nick Zorlac and Rich West.

The caffeine saw us through a sun drenched backyard ramp session before making plans to reconvene in Bristol on Friday (as I was missing the London date due to previously booked tickets to see The Descendents) for the Dean Lane Hardcore Funday warm up gig.. Arriving in Bristol saw another day of good weather, with the band getting in a Dean Lane session while I’d joined a London stag do crew at the M32 DIY spot. We managed to squeeze in an interview in the pub next door to the venue in between watching support bands and setting up for the gig – in fact the interview was cut down because the guys didn’t want to miss the support acts, clearly still as passionate about hearing new punk music as they are about seeking out new skateable terrain.

We still had time to cover plenty of ground including the joys of Dean Lane Skatepark, playing skate jams in Apache Reservations, skateboarding through the lean years of the early 80s, the Olympics and how a widespread appreciation of The Damned amongst other things. They then proceeded to tear through a set of mach ten hardcore classics and surf influenced instrumentals next door to an appreciative and sweat drenched pub, packed to the rafters, with no-one leaving without a smile on their face. Long live Jodie Foster’s Army, and go see them next time they play over here if you get the chance…

Cheers to Zorlac for the brews and miniramp hospitality, Simon and Rich for the pics, the Dean Lane Hardcore crew for organising one of the best gigs of the year so far and Leo for organising and shooting photos at the gig from a vantage point higher than mine!

Skate photos by Simon Pegler and Rich West. Gig photos by Jono Coote and Leo Harrison.

* Having conducted the interview in the midst of an authentically ‘British Friday Night Pub’ experience, with the TV next to us and a bar full of people washing away thoughts of the working week, some of the below quotes may be attributed to the wrong members of the band – apologies if they are…

Hi guys, we’re here  in Bristol in the middle of a three day mini tour of the UK – this is the first time you’ve been over here right?

Don: Absolutely our first time in the UK – 35 years, and we’ve never been over here…

Brian: Yeah our first show in the UK was last night and already the Bristol show is shaping up to be way better. London was good, but skating down here, Bedminster…we’ve skated all kinds of DIY parks, we’ve skated, umm…

Carter: …Burnside?

Brian: Burnside!

Don: God Brian, how many fingers am I holding up?

Brian: (laughs) Four ciders? But yeah, we’ve skated San Pedro, Burnside, all the good California parks, but Bedminster? I could spend years there. The big hip is good, its downhill, then just the whole backdrop – it looks like where Tony Iommi cut his finger off!

This is actually the warm up gig for the Dean Lane Fun Day event at the park in Bedminster…

Brian: Yeah I wish we could be there for that! A lot of times we just do these tours and we’re in and out in one day, then it’s on to the next place. But I mean Bristol; I was standing out on the corner right here, I saw eight skaters coming down the street holding beers. I’m talking to Pigdog, saying ‘please let them be stopping here’, and they were. They were flying down the street you know, doing powerslides; these are our people. This is home for us, home away from home doing stuff like this.

Brian Brannon – frontside grind nosegrab. Photo by Simon Pegler

So what are some of your favourite jams or contests you’ve played at over the years?

Don: The Etnies jams are pretty gnarly…

Brian: Yeah we play at the Etnies Skatepark they have out in Lake Forest every Halloween, the bands play right by the pool which is always good.

Don: Rumble in Ramona…Christian Hosoi comes out of retirement, does the fucking Christ air, that was so cool.

Brian: We’ve played at a few empty pools, we’ve played at the Nude Bowl – any time you’ve got skateboarding by an empty pool that’s good.

Carter: We’ve played the Apache Skate Blasts, playing on the Apache Reservation…

Don: So that’s kind of a whole story; the Apache Indians live on these shitty Reservations in the middle of nowhere where there are high instances of diabetes, so these guys built a skatepark. Brian and a bunch of dudes with industry connections got all these companies to put up a bunch of swag, so we had the skate contest and all these kids walked away with new shoes, backpacks, boards and stuff. Then we had this whole concert at night with us, Agent Orange and other bands, it was fun.

Brian: So the guy who puts it on, his name is Doug Miles and he’s a full blood Apache from San Carlos reservation – he’s an artist and he does this amazing art, paints on skateboards and shows it in galleries. He also started this company called Apache Skateboards which gets boards to all the locals. His son, Doug Jr., is a full on ripper! We’ve played it three or four years in a row and each one was better than the last. We did one, it was, what were you saying?

Don: Oh, they did the Red Rover thing!

Brian: Oh yea they did the Red Rover where, instead of a slamdancing pit, there were two lines and they ran towards each other…

Carter: Like Braveheart!

Brian: Yeah, a Braveheart. Talking of gigs, should we get back and see the other bands soon?

Corey: He has a lonnnngg list…(laughs)

We can cut down the list… so Brian has a wristguard on at the moment, and Carter has some Harrow roadrash. Have you guys ever had to cancel a gig because of skateboard injuries?

Brian: Nope, not yet – broken ribs, whatever. I’ve got a broken toe and a broken wrist at the moment and we’re still skating, so there you go…and my mind is in serious jeopardy at the moment (laughs).

Don: Yeah you got that football concussion shit going on…

Brian: I got all kinds of shit going on, just makes you stronger!

What doesn’t kill you and all that! So as one of the forefathers of skate rock, who are some of your favourite bands, both on the OG tip and more recent artists?

Don: So before skate rock happened I loved The Damned, The Clash, the Dead Kennedys, but none of those guys really skated. So we started the band and everybody skated, then we started hooking up with bands like the Big Boys, reading Thrasher. We kind of threw the band together because we all actually skateboarded.

Brian: We’ve been playing since 1981 and we never broke up. We play a lot of underground stuff…

Don: Here, I got the quote; Jodie Foster’s National Guard – one weekend a month and one week a year (laughs).

Brian: You see all these bands nowadays, they’re still going! Like we are right now…we’re playing right now with the Broken Bones Gentleman’s Club, and they fucking rock! And to know we play a small part in that coming about is fucking rad…

Don: When we started, skateboarding wasn’t cool; “Oh you skateboard? That’s too bad!”

Brian: We had three strikes against us – we were punk rockers, we were living in Phoenix, and we skateboarded. Everybody – from the cops, to the shitkicking cowboys, to the heavy metallers, to the little old lady whose pool you’re skating – wanted to kick our ass. You look around now and skateboarding has taken off, you’ve got parks everywhere, you’ve got fucking rippers everywhere…we could never imagine that shit when we started, and here it is!

Don: All the parks were closed, Thrasher Magazine was newsprint, skateboarding was dead. People were going “Oh, you’re a skateboarder? Lah de dah…”

Brian: But at the same time that was a cleansing time. Before that skateboarding was like Little League; they were trying to put together teams and have compulsory tricks and it was just lame. Then it fizzled and went back to its roots of punk rock, empty pools, no skateparks – the ones that were left you had to climb the fence or run from the cops at some point – you had to build your own ramp….

Don: All the guys in sweatpants that pulled their socks up quit (laughs)…

Brian: And those fuckers started street skating twenty years later! But now everything’s kind of balanced out and people skate what they want. There’s none of this “Oh I’m a street skater, fuck vert” or vice versa.

Grant, Raven and those guys…

Brian: Exactly; if you charge, you fucking charge!

So you mentioned one of the bands playing tonight. Who gets you stoked from the new breed of hardcore punk bands?

Brian: The Broken Bones Gentleman’s Club, holy shit! They’re my new favourite band. Hands down, they’re the fucking best.

Don: I like Frontside Five, they’re from Denver. They’re killing it.

Brian Brannon – layback front rock slide or kiwi slide, depending on who you speak too… Photo by Simon Pegler

You mentioned The Damned before; when ‘Nowhere Blossoms’ came out it seemed heavily influenced by The Damned circa ‘The Black Album’ with its use of keyboards and changes of pace. Were The Damned the main influence behind, or were you also listening the similar changes happening with the sounds coming from the likes of TSOL and Government Issue?

Brian: The Damned were a huge influence, TSOL were a huge influence. TSOL were on that maybe a little bit before us… I mean when we started in Phoenix hardcore and slamdancing was a whole new thing, it was mostly new wave otherwise. So what we was doing was new, and scary, and we were getting kicked out of every place we played. Fast forward three or four years later and that’s a thing – hardcore is a thing, there’s a way to play and certain clothes to wear – and at that point we were like, well that’s not really punk rock if you’ve got the uniform and you’ve got the sound. So we started doing different stuff. TSOL-style stuff, looking to The Damned’s stuff…if you’ve come to just hear punk rock, the most punk rock thing we can do is not play punk rock, motherfuckers – how’d you like this? (laughs). So that was part of it, but we also liked…we liked loads of stuff, not just the punk stuff happening around us.

Yeah, I’d imagine there are a lot of surprise influences in the mix that people wouldn’t think of?

Don: Yeah, back when we started, the owner of the club would be freaking out and kill the PA. So we’d be on stage going “OK, the PA’s gone so let’s play a surf song”. So the crowd’s still going, trashing the place, and the guy would call the cops…we were banned for life from every club we played. James Booker, if you want to talk unexpected influences.

Carter: Mick Bronson and Bowie…

Don: Queen…I mean this was before punk, you had to listen to something.  I learned to play along to Black Sabbath, Geezer Butler, you can’t go wrong!

Brian: I was only 14 when I started…

Don: We played The Wipers single at the wrong speed! Listening to it going ‘Oh, this kind of sucks!’

Brian: My buddies at high school were Mormons and their parents threw out all their punk records because they thought it was devil music. So they called me telling me to go to their house, look in their trash can and get all their records out. Five minutes later I get there and that shit was already warped!

Corey: That’s Phoenix…

Brian: The Flyboys, their EP was a 12” but it was 45rpm. So when we first started, we were playing it at 33rpm because it was a 12”. “This guy’s got a real deep voice…kinda slow, but a real cool voice” (laughs). A month later we looked at it properly and it was a 45, then we really got into it!

Brian Brannon – edger. Photo by Simon Pegler

Having borne witness to so many different eras and changes in the way skateboarding is viewed by a wider society, what’s your take on skateboarding’s upcoming inclusion in the Olympics?

Carter: It is what it is, and I’m not going to knock it…it doesn’t affect me. I probably won’t even see it, I’ll be out skateboarding!

Don: You know what, this is a pet peeve of mine. I think the Olympics is for shotputting, high jumping and shit that no-one cares about – not for pro sports like tennis, basketball or even skateboarding. The high jump guy? Who the fuck’s ever heard of that guy?! Every four years these guys get to shine, no-one knows who they are except the Olympics. If it’s already a pro sport, I’m not into it.

Brian: Here’s my take on it; I agree with what those guys are saying but, with skateboarding, these dudes are putting it on the line way more than the average curler or pole vaulter; they motherfucking deserve the money for what they do. In some ways yeah, it’s kind of diluting it and it’s putting it out there to a mass market, but if you’re fucking Bob Burnquist you deserve that money! There are these motherfuckers getting 40 million dollar contracts for playing baseball, short stop – I’m fired up to see these guys get some money for what they do. But, by the same token, it’s like I was saying before – when skateboarding is real and it’s underground and it’s true, it weeds out the guys who are in it to be cool and I’m cool with that.

Don: I think all the money should go to Bode Miller for going 90mph on skis!

Brian: Damn right!

Don: I mean there’s always going to be politics, but look out there right now; there’s so many public skateparks right now because skateboarding is popular and is out there. I can’t argue with that logic.

So to finish up, what comes next for the band with regards to tours or albums?

Corey: We’re going to play this fucking festival tomorrow!

Don: Yeah, I’ve always wanted to play with The Damned; always wanted to play with The Damned and I’ve always wanted to play with New Model Army.

(General appreciative murmurs for The Damned from everyone at the table).

Corey: Yeah, and we’re probably going to try and write another record – once we all get back and settle in. Blackpool, then back home, then maybe a new record.

Brian: And play more gigs like this! This is our bread and butter, playing a real skate show with real skaters, wherever that is. If you’re there, we’ll see you, if not, hopefully see you next time!

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