EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Jack Grisham of the legendary T.S.O.L.

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LOS ANGELES, February 13, 2014 — Jack Grisham is the lead singer of the punk band, T.S.O.L. They released their first E.P. in 1979. Grisham and original drummer Todd Barnes left the band prior to the 1984 Change Today? Release. The rest of band split up in 1986 and later reformed ten years later with Jack Grisham on Nitro Records. Their most recent album, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Free Downloads, was released through Hurley as a free download. T.S.O.L. is often credited with influencing many major bands, such as The Offspring. Back in November, Jack Grisham took some time to speak with Wells On Music about the early days of punk music and T.S.O.L, new T.S.O.L. and Joykiller records, being a hypnotherapist, and running for Governor of California.

Scroll below video to read interview.

Kevin Wells: What bands were you listening to when you realized you wanted to start your own band?

Jack Grisham: A lot of mostly English stuff like The Jam, Souixie and the Banshees, Adam and the Ants, a lot of the early U.S. stuff too like X, The Bags, The Germs, The Plugz, you know, most of the early stuff because I got into it in ’79, ’78. Everything that was out at that time, it was all so different and so cool. I don’t think people really realize what a big change it was in music when that came out. Now, because stuff has moved along so gradually that they don’t really realize how big that first shift was, like how exciting it was. You know what I’m saying? We came out of Journey and Styx, man. [laughs] It’s like if all of a sudden you had never been able to use a cell phone and then somebody puts a cell phone in your hand, like what a trip that would be. And that’s how it was, like being a little boy and seeing your first [breast]. [laughs] It’s like, f**k! What’s that? [laughs] Everything was cool. It was all exciting and bitchin’, you know, and shocking.

That’s the other thing, it was shocking. I mean, ‘cause they’re singing about stuff. You know, I was listening to The Tits and The Tits had a 7” single, “We’re so glad Elvis is dead.” [laughs] F**k, man. That’s rough, you know? People weren’t walking around saying stuff like that back then. Go back in music history and see if it’s ever happened before. No one has ever been that much of an a**hole in music history. I mean, seriously, even when they were complaining about the rock in the 50s, when all the rock n roll came out, they were all scared of rock n roll or whatever. You didn’t have people in the 50s coming out saying, “Hey, f**k you, we’re glad they shot Kennedy.” [laughs] You know what I mean? In the 60s, can you imagine if there was a band that said, “We’re so glad Kennedy got shot?” Or “Kill the president?” Never! Never!

I think people forget how shocking and how crazy and taboo and scary that all was if you’re a kid listening to that s**t. It was really f**king gnarly. It wasn’t just protest either. They were doing violent stuff you weren’t supposed to be doing, man. This is the other thing, people wearing t-shirts saying, “Club baby seals.” [laughs] What is that? It was like full shock and crazy.

KW: When T.S.O.L. first started, how well were you perceived?

JG: Well, I was in another band called Vicious Circle that I was in before T.S.O.L. Vicious Circle had a really crazy, violent reputation. It was really bad. So, people liked us because of that. If you’re in a band with a bunch of violent criminals around, people like you because it’s safer to like you. People like you because it’s kind of scary not to like you. Do you know what I mean? If you live in a neighborhood that is a gang neighborhood, it’s probably a good idea that you associate with the gang that lives in the neighborhood. You know what I mean? Being a kid growing up, you wanna associate yourself with those people. Say, if you like gang activity and you’re in the Grape Street neighborhood, then you should probably associate yourself with Grape Street, right? You’re not gonna associate yourself with 52nd Street. [laughs] You’re gonna die.

Being in Vicious Circle, there was a lot of craziness, a lot of violence, a lot of, you know, real thugs. [There were] fights with the police, fights with a bunch of people. So for people in this neighborhood, it was like, “Oh, okay, we like these guys.” And the music was kind of cool and adventurous too. It wasn’t like just a bunch of thugs. We were playing some cool music. There’s actually a Vicious Circle record that just got released from some old demo tapes. It’s online, you can look it up online. There’s a few different Vicious Circles, this is the first one from 1979.

When T.S.O.L. started, Todd and I had both been in Vicious Circle. So when we started T.S.O.L., a lot of the Vicious Circle people automatically liked us. T.S.O.L. had a following pretty quick. We were playing a lot of parties and that kind of thing, you know house parties and a bunch of kids at the time. That’s a quick way to get a following.

KW: What do you think was the major difference in the early days between the Los Angeles and Orange County punk scenes?

JG: Well, a lot of the early punk rock, there were a lot of artists involved. It was real arty-like. It wasn’t as muscular and as heavy and as threatening as it turned into. The beginning of the punk rock, they were crazy and saying crazy stuff, but it was more artsy a little bit. Artsy is a weird word to describe somebody. You know, it’s a guy that might have a gallery that is into getting wild. That kind of s**t. And then you moved down to Orange County and when the second wave of that punk rock thing came, it was more real muscular, heavy duty beach kids that were really into the physicality of it. At first, it’s sort of more of a cerebral trip, you know what I mean? And then it moves into all of a sudden, “Nah, this is physical too, bro.” Now, you’re attracting that. You’re getting a lot of the heavy hitter, crazy beach kids getting loose.

KW: In retrospect, do you feel that the violence was ultimately good or bad for punk music?

JG: In the beginning, it was good for punk because a lot of the punks were getting picked on. A lot of the early punks were very outnumbered. You were outnumbered and you were getting picked on. So, when more of the heavies came in, it was good because people stopped getting picked on. You know what I’m saying? F**k you, we fight back, champ. [laughs] You wanna bite? We bite. We bite hard. And so now, we’re coming back at ‘em. So, at the start it was good because it was a mix between the heaviness and the intelligent. But then later on, it got to be where it was just heavies, where there were people into it just for that and not anything else. Then, it’s not good.

At the start, it was great because everyone loves muscle, man. It’s great to have an idea, an idea of change. You know, you can have an idea against the government and control, but if you don’t have the muscle to back it, you have no idea. Even for the unions, the mafia guys were great for the unions at the start. Organized crime was wonderful for the unions because now they have muscle too. They got organization and muscle.

I hate to say that, but every society that changed, you need warriors. Nobody comes up with an idea and people just go, “Brilliant, I’m going with that.” [laughs] It doesn’t happen. Look back at anything. Look at the American Revolution. I hate to compare punk rock to the revolution [laughs], but we’re basically talking about a musical revolution, style revolution, all that. So you have the idea come up and some of them are kind of geeky ideas. Then you have these guys, the power comes in, the muscle comes in behind it and it starts taking off. So then things really change.

KW: Why did you leave T.S.O.L.?

JG: [laughs] I don’t think a lot, you know what I mean? I’m more like the Mr. Magoo wandering around here. I stumble into good s**t, but it’s not because I think about it too much. My subconscious is great, my conscious not so great. Hemingway used to say that with his writing. You write it, then walk away from it and let the subconscious work it out. Don’t even think about it. So, I made a lot of moves based on my subconscious that were good and I made a lot moves based on my conscious that were not good.

KW: Where do you see T.S.O.L.’s place among the early punk bands?

JG: You can go to any area and get an old band and they will tell you how important they are, you know what I mean? I influenced this, I influenced that. So, who knows where our place is? In Orange County, yeah, there are bands that we’ve influenced, but we weren’t as popular as Black Flag or Misfits. We never gave up enough of ourselves to allow that to happen.

There was always change, like no record’s the same. If you go through the T.S.O.L. records, the records were always different. I mean, I changed my name. We screwed with people and effed with our fan base. We didn’t just pick a sound and stick with it. I mean, you’ll hear Bad Religion, the Ramones or Social Distortion and they come up with a sound and then they stick with that sound. I don’t mean that in a bad way, it’s just the way it is. They have a sound and they just stay with it. With T.S.O.L., we screwed with our sound constantly. You know, we didn’t say, “God, this first E.P. was successful, now let’s make six more first E.P.s” We said, “Oh, no. Let’s try this now and let’s try this. Now let’s swing into this. Now let’s see what we can do with this.”

Sometimes you can change faster than your audience can keep up. And then people go back later on and “Oh, that record was so cool.” [laughs] At the time, people hated it. So, how important we are, where we fit in? I don’t know. I don’t know. I get a lot of people saying we influenced them, but who knows if you really did or didn’t. There was a time when I was getting calls every day from big music magazines fact checking me on stuff because they would be interviewing a big band and the band would say, “We used to hang out with Jack and T.S.O.L. We used to do this.” You know, like saying T.S.O.L. or claiming T.S.O.L. was good for a while. You know what I mean? Even fighters. One of the big MMA fighters, they said, “When did you get into fighting?” He said, “When I was a kid, my brother would take me to T.S.O.L. shows.”

KW: How did T.S.O.L. get back together and start playing again?

JG: I was doing this band called The Joykillers, which I really enjoyed. Then we layed off on that and I went to an art show about early L.A. bands. So the guy said, “Jack, will you come and play some T.S.O.L. songs? You sing ‘em and we’ll just get a cover band.” And I thought, oh, that can be cool. Then I talked to Mike Roach and he had recently got out of prison. I said, “Hey, Mike, would you be interested in doing this too?” He goes, “Oh, Jack, it sounds great.” And then he goes, “You know, Ron’s out of prison too.” [laughs] I go like, “Great! Well, there’s three of us.” [laughs] So then we just put this thing together.

We went to this art show and we just were going to play a couple of songs. It was a great show. It was Devo and the Go-Go’s and X played and The Weirdos and The Crowd and The Deadbeats, all these old cool punk bands. So, we walk on stage, we played three songs. The crowd goes crazy. The P.A. goes down. I break one of the bouncers’ nose by accident. [laughs] There’s blood and craziness and so much energy and power. Some dude came up to me and was there and saw it and he goes, “Ah, man, would you guys go on tour? I’d love you to go on tour.” And that’s kind of how it happened. We really got back together and stayed together.

KW: T.S.O.L. released their last album as a free download from Hurley. Can fans expect more T.S.O.L. records? Is anything in the works?

JG: Yeah, we’re actually supposed to work on another T.S.O.L. record right now. I’m working on another Joykiller record too and I write in between. So, I’ve been writing a lot lately. I released my second book a couple of months ago. But, yeah, there is supposedly a new T.S.O.L. record in the works. I say supposedly because the band is really a punk band. I mean, it’s really a punk band. Some people say they’re in punk bands, but those people that sometimes say they’re in punk bands, they’re in punk sounding bands. That’s what they’re in. They’re in bands that sound punk, but the band itself is not necessarily punk.

T.S.O.L. is basically a punk rock band, meaning no one’s in charge. Nobody knows what the hell is going on. Nobody can keep their s**t together. We can’t stop being at our own throats long enough to do something and it’s pumped in chaos and destruction. That’s what T.S.O.L. is about. To kind of remedy that a little bit, we actually got Bad Religion’s manager, Kathy Mason, to manage us. So, maybe there will be another record coming out. Hopefully.

KW: You are also a hypnotherapist?

JG: For fun.

KW: That seems like an interesting field to get into.

JG: Well, it’s bitchin’. I mean, the money’s crazy. People are quick to write hypnosis off or that’s nuts or whatever, but what they don’t realize is they don’t know enough about it to write it off. You are basically in trance and hypnotized hundreds of times during a day. So, you’re a writer, right?

KW: I am.

JG: So, I assume you read all the time.

KW: I do.

JG: So, you have books you enjoy reading, authors you enjoy reading. When you read that book, you get into the book, right?

KW: Right.

JG: You get into it, you can see it. You can picture it in your mind. You flow with it, you’re involved in the story. Have you ever tried to read something you couldn’t get into?

KW: Oh yeah.

JG: Okay, so what happens? Each word is a word. It never becomes a picture. You’re like stumbling through it. You’re like forcing yourself. You never leave consciousness in the book. So, when you read something that you enjoy a lot, that’s a form of trance. It’s a form of hypnosis. The story lulls you enough where you can get involved and sucked into the story where you can see it happening. When you read something you can’t get into, that’s the lull that stops you from going under, from being in trance. Have you ever seen an actor in a movie and he never becomes the character? You’re like, “Ah, that’s Brad Pitt. It’s Brad Pitt, Brad Pitt.” You know, they’re terrible in the part. Or you’ll see somebody in the movie where they become that character and you totally believe it. All that is a form of hypnosis. Have you ever been on the freeway and passed your off-ramp?

KW: Of course.

JG: You were thinking about something else. Trance. Basically a state of trance. Same thing. Ever day dream? All that’s hypnosis. All hypnosis is is basically to get passed the block, which stops you from listening. To get someone to relax, you open them up by telling a story and then you implant positive suggestions in the middle of the story. That’s what it is, real simple, but it’s cool.

KW: Do you kind of feel like a puppeteer at times?

JG: Well, yeah, maybe. [laughs] But you can’t make someone do something they don’t want to do. Some people think, “Oh, if I go to a hypnotist, they’re gonna make me rob a bank.” I can’t make you rob a bank, but if you wanted to rob a bank, I could encourage you to do so. That’s the difference. I can’t make you, but I can encourage you. This is why hypnosis works on people because most people, somewhere down inside, they want to be healthy. They want to be well. They want to be happy. So, all hypnosis is is going in and bringing that out from them. We encourage them to be happy. Or you can find out that some people don’t want to be happy, that they don’t want to be okay, they don’t want to be happy. Then there’s a secondary issue going on and then you can find that out also.

KW: You unsuccessfully ran for Governor of California back in 2003. Would you ever consider running for political office on a smaller scale?

JG: Never. The only reason I did was because I went and bitched about healthcare in California and, basically, healthcare in general in the United States, which now is a huge topic. But when I ran, it wasn’t that huge of a topic. So, basically, I went and bitched about healthcare issues in California. I wasn’t gonna win. We had no money. We didn’t have anything. You know, I wasn’t gonna win anything. We knew that. That wasn’t gonna happen. I went and did it just to talk about healthcare really.

KW: Well, is there anything else you would like people to know about you or anything you have going on?

JG: They can always check out the books. I wrote an autobiography called, An American Demon, and then I just wrote a collection of short stories called, Untamed, I write a weekly column for the OC Weekly magazine. You know, now I’m just learning how to write. You can teach grammar [laughs], but I don’t know if you can teach writing. Somewhere down the line, you just develop your own style and your own voice and somebody can’t teach you your voice.

Kevin J. Wells is the Sports Editor for Communities Digital News and also writes about Major League Baseball, punk rock music, and food. Follow him on Twitter @WellsOnBaseball

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