LOS ANGELES, June 17, 2014 — Justin Thirsk is just one of many in a long line of great drummers from the South Bay that includes Byron McMackin of Pennywise and Bill Stevenson of the Descendents. Thirsk’s first band, 98 Mute, called it quits in 2002 after releasing four albums, two on Theologian Records and two on Epitaph Records. From the ashes 98 Mute a super group was born when guitar player Jason Page and Thirsk formed Chaos Delivery Machine with Thirsk on drums and vocals, Page on guitar, and Fletcher Dragge from Pennywise on bass. The band released their debut album on Felony Records in 2005. Chaos Delivery Machine has just finished recording their much anticipated follow up record and is now working on the mixing process with a goal of releasing the record before the end of the year. Justin Thirsk took some time to speak with Wells On Music in the studio regarding the numerous rumors surrounding 98 Mute and their possible return, the new Chaos Delivery Machine record, Burn, Motherf**ker, Burn, and possible live shows.
Kevin Wells: Going all the way back, why did you choose to play drums as opposed to other instruments?
Justin Thirsk: I think it was before I even knew a lot of music. I used to bat football helmets and pans when I was a kid and then, to tell you the truth, I think because my brother was playing bass and you could play drums with bass and it could be alright. And it’s bigger. I’m not very technical with my hands. Guitar, I could never play in my life. It’s wacky. I don’t get it. The strings are way too close [laughs]. I can’t do it. Whereas drums, they’re far away from each other, kinda, and it was easier in fifth grade to do that. I think you need less attention span than you did playing a guitar in my mind. I liked the sound of drums. I always liked Keith Moon from The Who when I was a little kid. I just always listened to the drums before I listened to the guitar, I guess, subconsciously.
KW: When you started out, was Keith Moon who you wanted to play like?
JT: [laughs] In my dreams, sure, that’s who I wanted to play like. I always liked style over perfection. Everybody loved Neil Peart from Rush. He was awesome. Okay, he’s a machine. I’d rather a guy look gnarly and hit hard and just look like he’s having a good time, like Keith Moon always did, John Bonham. My favorite punk drummers were Earl Hudson from the Bad Brains. Just seeing him drum, so powerful, that’s what I liked more than technically correct. Could he do a triplet or a paradiddle right? I didn’t give a s**t about that.
I wanted to hit the drums kind of hard and just look like you’re having a good time and not be perfect, but just have fun over it. It always looked like Keith Moon was just always having a good time in all of the old videos I would see. And Jeff Nelson from Minor Threat, from the videos I would see because I never saw Minor Threat live, I’m not gonna lie [laughs]. I just always liked the fact that they were having a good time and hitting the drums, not even so much hard, just I guess hitting it hard, but having a good time doing it and I guess a little bit of style. I have zero style [laughs], but I like that style instead of doing it technically perfect. I guess that’s what I looked up to; the funness and the craziness of it all.
KW: Your angelic voice can be heard on the Chaos Delivery Machine recordings. Are you classically trained and did you start your vocal lessons around the same time as you started drums?
JT: [Laughs] No. I do not sing. I do not know how to sing. When I was in 98 Mute, I was never allowed to do backup singing because I was always out of time, out of tune, never fit in. I was always in the other room. I would try it and they would go, “Get the f**k out of here, Justin, because you can’t do it.” I am a horrible singer and that’s what came across on the first album. It’s a horribly sung thing. I’m not trying to sing in tune. I’m trying to sing somewhat on time, but Fletcher would say, “Oh, do this key.” I’d say, “Shut up. I don’t even know what a key is. Key up, key down, give me a f**king break. I don’t play guitar. I don’t know anything about notes. Can I just scream it and somehow it will fit in, please? Thank you [laughs].”
KW: Speaking of 98 Mute…
KW: When can fans look forward to the 98 Mute reunion tour?
JT: Ah. I think that will be, like the Eagles said, when hell freezes over, but this will actually be when hell freezes over [laughs].
KW: Is there any truth to the rumors of a 98 Mute box set being released in 2016 to coincide with the 20-year anniversary of your self-titled debut?
JT: Okay, that’s obviously a fake question because there are no rumors of that. The rumor would be that people actually want that. There’s no rumor of that and that would not happen. I think our albums are discontinued on Epitaph because nobody bought ‘em. So, it’s very hard to find [laughs]. So, no box set. No greatest hits, none of that s**t. No live [record] because we never recorded live because we never thought of that s**t.
KW: Is it true that Incubus is putting together and will be appearing on a 98 Mute tribute record?
JT: Incubus? We did play with them once. I have the picture.
KW: It was at the Roxy wasn’t it?
JT: It was at the Roxy with Sack Lunch, which was Rob Machado’s band, us, Blink-182 with Incubus. I don’t know what happened to us. Somehow we missed the boat. We missed the A&R people. They weren’t there to see us for some reason [laughs].
KW: Where did the idea for Chaos Delivery Machine come from?
JT: After 98 Mute broke up, Jason and I were kind of always on the same page. Everything Jason did, I liked. Everything I would write, lyrically-wise, Jason would like. I mean, I liked stuff Pat [Ivey] and Doug [Weems] did too. It was just Jason and I were more in sync. We still wanted to make music and everyone in 98 Mute wanted to put it down before we made fools of ourselves.
JT: [laughs] Not that we didn’t, but [we didn’t want to] make more fools of ourselves.
KW: [laughs] You waited a few records too long.
JT: [laughs] Exactly! Our last record was actually our best record, but nobody heard that.
KW: It only sounded good because you used my 5150.
JT: S**t [laughs] …but Jason and I kept playing. Pat was finishing law school. He was done kind of with music in a way. Doug was starting a family, so he was all done. Jason and I still want to do it. So, basically, we were just writing songs not even thinking we were going to record an album. We were recording in my garage and we said, we’ve got some songs, let’s write some more songs. I want to be different from 98 Mute. I want to be more like Rudimentary Peni, Bad Brains. Obviously, we don’t sound anywhere near as good as those two groups. I’m not comparing, I’m just saying those were our inspiration, I guess you can say. I wanted to do more of that kind of s**t.
I didn’t want intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, double chorus, guitar lead, then outro. I was like, f**k that. Let’s do other s**t, 30-second songs, maybe a three minute song, who cares? No template of what we were going to do. It worked out perfectly with me and Jason. I loved everything he wrote. I would tell him, go slow here because I want to do lyrics and then it kind of worked out perfectly and then Fletcher came in and played bass on the album, but he didn’t write any of the s**t [laughs]. Fletcher basically insisted that no one else would play bass on the album except him. We had no choice in the matter. We did not seek him out. We’re happy for him, but we did not seek him out in any way, shape, or form [laughs].
KW: Did you try to do anything differently with this second record than you did with the first record?
JT: I don’t think we tried to, but I think it’s a little different. Some songs are exactly the same, we have some longer songs where we wanted to put some weird s**t in it. We have one song that is literally four and a half minutes and I’m doing nothing but tom-toms. Some songs aren’t even punk, in a way. I mean, they’re punk or whatever. I think there’s more variety on this album than the last album.
We took a lot more time to record this record because we are out of shape and we are about eight years older. Last time, we recorded the album in three days. This time, it took us weeks, probably like four or five weeks together. I would sing a song, then my voice would go out because I was screaming until I was dead. We’d have to wait a day or two and then come back and sing another song. So, it took a lot longer, but I like it. I don’t know if I will ever like anything as much as the first album because of the rawness of it, but if they liked the first album, I would think those people would like this album.
The 20 people who heard [the first record], I think they would like this one too [laughs]. I can make my millions. I made 1000 CDs [for the first record], I still have about 800 of them under my bed. We didn’t do any interviews. I just recorded it for myself and if people liked it, people liked it and the same with this one. I’m paying for it, recording it for myself to have for my own selfish reasons and Jason for his own selfish reasons. We’ll put it out there. If people like it, cool. If they don’t, it doesn’t matter. We’re not gonna play a f**kin’ show, so it doesn’t matter [laughs].
KW: Obviously, it will be available digitally, but on which other formats will you offer the record?
JT: There’s a bone of contention for that. I’m gonna do a CD layout, but it’s gonna be mostly vinyl because I want to have it for myself. Nobody has CDs anymore. I do, but me and you are not the norm. We’re gonna put it Hardline Entertainment with my friend, Ken Seaton. We’ll put it on the Hardline Entertainment site and you can click on a banner or something. We’ll have pdf things for the cover and lyrics. I’m still gonna do everything handwritten and everything kind of hand done because I like the first album how it all kind of looked. It will be pdf so you can download it on your computer because no one looks at CDs anymore even though I do. I guess I have to come to the realization that I don’t know what is going on in the normal society anymore. I actually listen to a CD player in my car and people think I’m a joke [laughs].
KW: What is your ultimate goal with this record. Will you try to promote it more?
JT: I think Ken probably will try. Our goal is to get it out there more, as much as we can. We’re not gonna be playing live because all three of us can never be in the same room together.
KW: Speaking of which
KW: I heard, through the grapevine, that people saw Matt Wheeler and Ben Beverly from NoBigDeal
JT: Oh, those f**kers?
KW: They were seen leaving your rehearsal space. Does this mean that there are some live shows in the works?
JT: From the infamous NoBigDeal?
KW: No, my sources say they may be possibly gearing up to join Chaos Delivery Machine for a tour.
JT: Oh, is that what you heard? Does that mean Ben would actually have to pick up a bass and learn to play bass again?
KW: I believe so, yes.
JT: Ah. Hmm. I think Fletcher would argue with him on that [laughs].
KW: These are just rumors I have heard.
JT: Well, you must be on peyote or something. I don’t know [laughs]. No. That’s completely false [laughs].
KW: Why do you hate your fans and refuse to play live?
JT: [laughs] No, it’s because I love my fans, or I guess I should say fan. We would sorely disappoint people, seriously. I’m not even trying to be self-deprecating. We would sorely disappoint people because I can’t sing live. I would have to get massively drunk to be able to sing live in front of people and then I’d forget the words. I would be Ozzy Osbourne and I would need a f**kin’ computer screen telling me the words, but my words go by a lot faster than Paranoid. I couldn’t read them that fast, so that would be a problem.
And I would lose my voice in about ten minutes. And we’d have to find a drummer and we’d have to practice. To get all three of us in a room with a drummer for practice? It’s just not worth it. We’re basically not good enough [laughs].
Fletcher says we’re gonna play live. He said, “This is what you’re gonna do. You’re gonna wear a gas mask and you’re gonna tape the microphone into the place where you breath out. You’ll be hands free. The microphone won’t come out of the mask and you will scream like that.” I said that’s a good idea, but I might die of lack of oxygen in five minutes. I said I will do that if [Fletcher] plays in a speedo and a top hat and nothing else playing bass. People will come to the f**kin’ show just for that. We won’t even have to play a note and people will just love it.
KW: And, thus, the reason Chaos Delivery Machine will never play live.
JT: [laughs] We’re like the Beatles. We just put out albums and we don’t play live. After 1967 or whatever, they didn’t play live. So, f**k it.
KW: But they did start out playing live shows before stopping.
JT: They did. They were a little bigger than us. It’s just one of those things, dude. I’m a weirdo where I like writing the songs, the process of going from one note to a recorded song that’s all done. I like that better than playing the songs over and over again live. I would suck singing live. I did it for 98 Mute for that Red Kross cover song. I was horrible for that. Thank god it was only a 45-second song. We could hire a drummer and hire a singer and we could do it [laughs].
KW: If you were going to hire a singer, couldn’t you just play drums at that point?
JT: Okay, true.
KW: Or can you not play drums for more than ten minutes either these days? [laughs]
JT: Uhh, that might be true too [laughs]. We’ll play our whole first album. That’s 30 minutes. I can do that. I can do that. I could play drums, yeah, but do they have samples on those drums? [laughs] or do I have to hit them hard? [laughs]. If we get a professional singer, we will do it. Get Keith Morris to sing for us. I’m sure he’d do it.
KW: Is there anything else you would like people to know?
JT: Nothing I said in this interview was true or false. I don’t know what you were doing interviewing me because nothing is going to come of it. I don’t know if you’re going to make me look like a fool, but if people like this, I’m stoked. I love writing it and I love playing it. Jason Page wrote all the music and he loves it. He loves this album way more than the first one. He can’t stop listening to it. I’m sure after the mix is done, I will love it too. If people know about it and if they can get it, rip it off because nobody buys music anymore and I am totally fine with you just completely pirating it. That’s fine with me. I couldn’t care less. I think that’s awesome.
Kevin J. Wells is the Sports Editor for Communities Digital News. He also writes about Major League Baseball, punk rock music and food. Kevin plays guitar in the Los Angeles punk band Emmer Effer. Follow him on Twitter @WellsOnBaseball