Youth Brigade

Youth Brigade - Shawn Stern

  • June 18, 2009
  • Bovine Sex Club - Toronto, Onatrio

500 bands 50 venues. That is what Toronto’s North by North East is all about, and this year one of those 500 bands were Southern California Punk Rock pioneers The Youth Brigade. I had an opportunity to sit down and chat with the Youth Brigade’s singer and BYO head honcho Shawn Stern before their 2am performance at the Bovine Sex Club in Toronto.

LB: So let’s start out by introducing yourself, and telling us what brings you to the NXNE festival?

SS: Well my name is Shawn Stern and I sing and play guitar in Youth Brigade. We are at NXNE mainly because we have this new 90-minute documentary on our record company, our band, and our family. We are going to screen it tomorrow, and we are also going to play a couple of shows too.

LB: So what can you tell us about the new documentary “Let Them Know”?

SS: Well it was made by the guys who did the Bouncing Souls “Do you remember” documentary for their fifteenth anniversary, I think. And then they started working with us, and while they were doing that they hooked up with NOFX and went on the road with them around the country, or around the world actually, and they made a series that they aired on FUSE TV. They just released a DVD with all the extra good shit on it.

Youth BrigadeLB: Ah yes with all the juicy extras.

SS: Ya with Mike pissing himself on stage in Australia.

LB: Any incriminating shit like that on your new documentary?

SS: Nah, I’ve never pissed myself on stage. I get fucked up and I don’t remember stuff, but I don’t piss myself thankfully. But I think they did a real good job on the entire project.

LB: Well I guess doing what you have done for the past 27 or 28 years you must have some pretty crazy stories.

SS: Well that’s all it really is, because the Bouncing Souls, I mean have been walking around with video cameras since they started. They started ten years after us. They must have felt it was important. They were smart, or we didn’t care.

LB: Is it all recent footage, or did you have old footage that you could splice in with current material?

SS: We didn’t really have old footage, but they went around and interviewed people that were there, But we did have archived photos and we had Another State of Mind of course, so we built along the grounds of that because that was something that documented the scene as it was.

LB: I wanted to ask about Another State of Mind. I’m sure when you went out on that tour you probably didn’t need that added expense of having a film crew, film itself etc. etc.

SS: We didn’t pay for anything. That’s why we don’t own it. It was a couple of guys I went to high school with, and they just said I hear you guys are going on this tour. We can get cameras, and document the tour and we will pay for the whole thing. I thought to myself well what the fuck? Why not?

LB: Before you went on tour did you intend to document society’s prejudice views on punk rock or did it just happen naturally?

SS: Well ya I mean, I booked a tour and the guys wanted to come along. I said sure. Here is what we are going to do. And they kept saying ya ya no problem about everything. Of course by the end they just did whatever they wanted to do anyways. I don’t know if they had any intention of doing anything else than just seeing what was going to happen. And you saw what happened.

LB: Do you ever look back on that time and miss those days?

SS: No, not at all. I mean it was fun, interesting, and trail blazing but I am kind of happy the way things moved along.

LB: I have always felt that “The Decline of Western of Civilization,” and “Another State of Mind” painted the best picture of what it must have been like to be a punk rocker in the early eighties. Would you agree?

SS: Well I think that Another State of Mind was reality TV in the sense of what you are talking about now, but it was very much manipulated. The Decline of Western Civilization was not reality TV at all. It was completely manipulated. I think it’s an amazing documentary as is ASM, however both movies were manipulated, but that one was really manipulated. I have a lot less respect for it because of that fact. The scene that best describes what I’m talking about is when she interviews Eugene with the light bulb dangling over his head and it was manipulated to make him look like moron. He may not have been the most intelligent kid in the world, but he also wasn’t as stupid as she tried to make him out to be. And she was an outsider coming in. Not that Adam and Peter (who filmed our movie) weren’t a little bit outside, but they had an understanding of the scene, and they were immersed in it. That gave us somewhat of a say in the final outcome of the product. Not completely though. Where as Penelope pretty much did what she wanted to do, and I think the telling scene in that was when she went to talk to X, well she was kind of enamored of them. When she was interviewing them it looked like to me that she had no idea about their music or what it was about. She had no understanding of anything. She just saw these punk rock kids on TV, and thought she would make a documentary, but I thought she just kind of exploited everything.

LB: That’s an interesting opinion that I never really took into consideration before.

SS: Well that’s because I was there. I lived it. I was apart of it.

LB: That must have really pissed you off then seeing her using these bands you loved so much?

SS: Well, I was just like who the fuck is this bitch coming around here where she doesn’t belong. And then she made the Beverly Hillbilly’s. That pretty much says it all doesn’t it?

LB: I’ve also seen some interviews with you and you were openly criticizing the more recent “ American Hardcore” documentary for many of the same reasons.

SS: Yes I mean American Hardcore was pretty silly. We had done an interview for it and I knew the guy for a while because he did a magazine. He called us up and interviewed us for the book. I mean shit, how lazy do you have to fucking be that he records people that you can’t transcript what they say in a truthful manor. I mean I am reading this shit, and I’m thinking I never said that. I don’t speak like that. He would attribute what I said to Mark, and making up all kinds of shit to fit his theory of what it was. So he kept calling us up to say that he was making a movie, and we just kept ignoring him. Then after a year he kept calling and said that he heard we weren’t happy with what was said in the book, and this would be the time to come out and speak our minds. So I was all right fine. We’ll do it. So he come to our office and at this point we had already been talking about making our own documentary. So he starts to interview us and about five minutes in, I start thinking to myself well fuck this guy. Who the fuck is he? He wasn’t there. He is just some fucking guy trying to make a movie to make some money to further back his theory of what punk rock is which I completely disagree with, and we are making our own documentary anyway, so at that point I start giving him one or two word answers. And my brother was next to me, and got what I was doing, so he starts with the one-word answers, so the interview lasts for eight minutes, and he tries to get another five minutes and if you watch the movie you see our interview was cut to 45 seconds.

LB: My favorite character from Another State of Mind was Monk. When was the last time you talked to that guy?

SS: Monk emailed me a couple years ago. He was living out in San Bernardino. I always liked the guy. He was a good guy. Without him, we would have never made it as far as we did.

LB: Yes he was like the Patrick Swayze of Tour Manager’s. He could dance, he could fight, he could fix the tour bus, and he probably sold a few t-shirts.

SS: Well I would say he was more of a MacGyver of Tour Managers.

LB: So in July of 1982 you created BYO records. Was it solely created to put out your own music, or did you see a bigger picture and a home for other bands?

SS: We didn’t say let’s put out our music or let’s put out our friend’s music. We just thought we have to put our record. We knew we weren’t well known, but thought we could put out a compilation “Someone’s Going to get their Head Kicked in”. We could take some of those bands with a little bit of a buzz going and then put some bands that nobody had heard about and expose them all. And it turned out really well. We had lots of great reviews and I think of it as a success.

Youth BrigadeLB: Which family member did you hurt the most using your Bar Mitzvah money to put out your first record?

SS: Um, I don’t think we disappointed anyone. My mom was always a little disappointed. Because where she comes from she was kind of you should go to school and get a job. When I finally bought a house in 1997, well that’s when she stopped giving me shit.

LB: She just wanted your name on a piece of paper I guess.

SS: Oh you bought a house well you must be doing something right.

LB: Now that random people from across the world are becoming overnight sensations on TV, do you get a little poke in the kidneys thinking how hard it was for you just to put a tour together?

SS: I didn’t do this to become a star. And I kind of think the fact we have been doing this all these years, that its sort of a testament too, and that I believe that people give a shit about what we do. There are bands that have come and gone that have sold way more records than us and are way more famous, but a lot of them are flashes in the pan. The fact that we have staying power and have reached so many people says something about what it is we are saying, and that people give a shit.

LB: And I would say that you guys have a bit of a cult following. Your fans have known you for years, and maybe they don’t participate in punk rock as much as they used to, but will still come out to a Youth Brigade show.

SS: Well what I think is really cool is that we get a lot of people who bring their young kids out to a show. I mean it’s not really cool for a kid to like what their parents like unless it’s punk rock.

LB: Well said, well said. With so many profound changes in the music industry, I’m wondering if there is any element to running a label that has remained since 82?

SS: I think the same ideals exist in that you can’t expect a record company to make you successful. The bands understand that you are lucky to be able to play music for a living. If you are going to tour and try hard you will have a chance to make it. That hasn’t changed. The fact that it’s hard to earn a living through traditional ways CD’s, LPs, whatever that’s obviously changed. You have to adapt or you know. Record companies are going through some big changes. The biggest changes since record companies have existed.

LB: So what have you done to combat these changes and adapt?

SS: We came up with the brilliant idea of making a box set ha-ha.

LB: Tell me more about this box set.

SS: Well that’s when we said they can bootleg the music, and they can bootleg the movie, but if we make a nice 13×13 book as a companion piece to the movie, and we slide in some records in there, well you can’t bootleg the book. It’s not worth it to them. Make it a collector’s item.

LB: It sounds undeniable for a Youth Brigade fan.

SS: We hope it goes beyond that to the point where people start saying hey I heard about Another State of Mind, or I heard The Dropkick Murphy’s, NOFX. Pennywise, Lagwagon, Bouncing Souls, Anti Flag, and 7 Seconds are all on this record, and I should get it because it’s a vinyl double LP an it’s a book. So go out and fucking buy it already.

LB: When is that going to be out?

SS: It comes out in the fall. We are screening the movie like I said tomorrow, and then in the fall we are going to come back out to tour and release it then. We are going to sell it as a full package for around 45 or 50 dollars. Then we will release a smaller version with the small book, DVD, and CD. That will be around 25 dollars for our 25th anniversary in our 28th year.

LB: How does that work?

SS: Well we don’t say that we are on top of it all the time or we have out shit together. But we manage to do it eventually. As I tell my brother what is more important that we get our 25th anniversary record out in the 25th year or we do a kick ass record (maybe it’s a little late).

LB: Of all the classic punk rock bands you have put out over the years is there one band in particular that you are extra proud of or are you going to be the good parent and say you love them all?

SS: I wouldn’t say I love them all equally but I mean I am pretty happy with 99.9% of all the releases we put out for sure. Even the bands that were hard to deal with and thought they were rock stars, and had their fingers shoved too far in their asses most of them still put out good records. I like to think that I have good taste and we picked up some good bands. If you look at some of the classic stuff we put out like SNFU or 7 Seconds and of course Youth Brigade or look at some more recent stuff we put out like Leatherface, One Man Army, or the Briefs and on and on again I think we have some good taste.

LB: Absolutely. BYO is one of those seminal labels that as soon as I see the band is on that label I feel it necessary to check them out.

SS: I think people understand that we pick good bands. We don’t sell a lot of records but we make good music.

LB: For all the Canadian punk rock fans out there, I just want to ask how you came across SNFU and what were your early impressions?

SS: Well I mean we are Canadian so even the first tour, the Another State of Mind Tour, we went straight up there to Canada through Winnipeg through Toronto and Montreal. We always loved Canada, it’s where we are from, and it’s a great place therefore we will support it. We have met amazing Canadian bands from day one.

LB: Being from Southern Alberta it blew my mind to see a teenage Mike Ness putting together the song Another Sate of Mind on an acoustic guitar, on a porch in Calgary.

SS: Calgary Manor eating chili, ya I remember.

LB: I’m sure you get asked all the time how long are you going to continue to make music. I’m not going to ask that. However is there an artist or group out there that makes you say holy shit, I can’t believe that this guy is still around making an impact with their music?

SS: Yes Chuck Berry. Hell ya Chuck Berry. Well shit when I was in my twenties I never thought I’d be playing music in my forties now approaching fifty. I have no idea how much longer I can do this, but as long as people keep coming out and supporting well it’s kind of hard to stop because it’s still fun. I gotta school those little girls over there. (Referring to a band we watched earlier that just wasn’t rocking).

LB: Now I want you to dig deep for me on this one. Now everyone should be familiar with your annual BYO Bowling Tournament by now. It’s legendary and I hear it gets pretty sloppy drunk at times. What is your best BYO Bowling tourney memory or story that you can still remember?

SS: Oh god. That’s tough.

LB: Come on there has to be something you can give us.

Youth BrigadeSS: Well I can tell you about this ménage à trois I had, but I don’t think the girls will like it. Too dirty. They probably hate me anyway. Ummm shit I mean punk rock bowling is the best punk rock party that you will never remember. That’s our slogan. It’s 1500 out of control punk rockers. Do you know Tali?

LB: Yes sort of. We are face book friends.

SS: Well she’s hanging out with us right now. Anyway some stories were floating around for the book and my brother Mark was telling me a story, but now he’s kind of fudging it a bit but he says he was at the Gold Coast and uh well it’s still a good story but the names may have changed but the scenario is still true. He is saying he walked down to the lobby at the Gold Coast and Davie Tilt wheel, well is a big guy. He’s probably 250 and I am being nice, anyway he is lying on the floor of the lobby and Tali comes along and sees him and jumps on top of him because he is passed out drunk and starts riding him like a bull and Mark walks into that, and then the elevator opens up and this family walks out obviously from the mid west with this look on their face like god save us what are we going to do? I think that is a good image of what punk rock bowling is all about. And that is a minor minor story of the debauchery of what goes on.

LB: So you are giving me the what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas?

SS: Agghhh that’s the commercial. We do way worse shit than you will ever see on a commercial.

LB: As a band member, musician, and record label owner what’s the best thing about making music in 20009 and what is the worst part of making music in 2009?

SS: The best thing is that we are still able to do what we do and people appreciate it and support punk rock because at the end of the day music that says something more than any sappy love longs or screaming growling people who have nothing to sing about because all they sing is blllaaaahhhh you know versus now check this out. We are going to play Saturday at Dundas Square stage and after us there is going to be the  $100,000 contest for the virtual Guitar Hero Rock Band people. So basically a bunch of dufus’s who play video games are going to get up on stage and pretend they know how to play music and win more money than we have ever been paid playing real music.

LB: So that would definitely be the worst.

SS: Yes that’s the worst. That’s a sad state of affairs man.

LB: Sounds like a mismanagement of funds to me.

SS: Totally. I’m slightly insulted, but believe me I will talk a lot of shit onstage on Saturday you wait and see.

LB: So what happened to the legendary BYO split series?

SS: We are working on a few. Right now the next one well shit the Dropkick Murphy’s wanted to do one and we tried to hook it up with Flogging Molly but it just didn’t work out. Apparently Brett Gurewitz still sore about the fact we did the NOFX Rancid split is now going to do one with Rancid and the Dropkick Murphy’s. We will see what happens. How unoriginal. Get your own fucking ideas. My brother is particularly pissed about that one. I don’t really care. People deal with us because they know us and respect what we do.

LB: So where did the idea for that concept come of merging all these great bands?

SS: The concept came from a phone call I had with Frankie from Leatherface because I love them, and heard they were getting back together again. Four Letter Word who was on the label, Welly told me he knew Frankie, and that I should produce their record. And I was like hell ya, I love Leatherface, so he ended up producing a record for them and he said that they are doing a reunion so I called again and they said they don’t know and I said if you do let me know, I would love to put the record out, I am a huge fan and I want to be involved. So I did that and he said they had other interests and they will let me know. Six months later I get a call from this kid named Wollard from Hot Water Music. And he says we are going to bring Leatherface to the states and do a tour with them, and they say that you are their label and I should talk to you. I said really? Fucking awesome! I had no idea. Good to know. So I got in touch with Frankie and said apparently we are your label now according to you. I said well if you are going to come over here you should probably put out a record. He said all they had was an ep. Well I said fuck that. It costs as much to make a full length with 20 songs. So I said how about a split. Who could we do it with? And Mark said why not with the band they are touring with, because we had no fucking idea who Hot Water was. So that’s how it started. Mark was in the Royal Crown Revue and he loved that blue note jazz series that they have, and I love the artwork. Let’s do it like that. And that’s why you see that similar style amongst all the releases except the Rancid/NOFX split because Tim wanted to do his thing. Whatever you want to do Tim is fine.

LB: I have to admit that the Rancid/NOFX split was by far my least favorite of the split series.

SS: Ya I mean whatever.

LB: Well we should get back to the Bovine now. I just want to wrap up with asking what are some plans we can look forward to from Youth Brigade?

SS: We have these two kids in the band now because Adam left a couple years ago because he is busy working on animations for big movies. So we have Joey and just a few months ago we added Johnny who are from the same band Blue Collar Special and they have this bluegrass band called Old Man Markley, which is an awesome band. So the two of them have been kicking our ass to write some new songs, so hopefully we get something together. The split we did with the Swingin Utters was the last thing we did and we wrote those songs in a week.

LB: Man “Let Them Know” is one of the best like artist to audience ugh I’m not sure what I’m trying to say, but the song gives me goose bumps and I cant wait to see the documentary.

SS: Goose bump songs are always good. We had this magazine and I said for the reviews that the scale should be based on the ability for a song to give you goose bumps. It just sort of came out and happened. I don’t ever over think things.

LB: Well thanks for taking the time out to chat I know you are super busy this weekend so have a good time.

SS: Thanks for talking to me.