Interview in CultureBurn e-zine
Interview July 2001 by Albert
J Church formed in San Francisco in 1991. Their line-up has changed and their sound has morphed over the years. Generally, they play a blend of pop-punk and indie rock, which makes them accessible to fans of both styles. J Church is made even more interesting by their pensive yet understandable lyrics. Here, I asked a few questions of frontman Lance Hahn, a man dedicated to his music and the music he loves.
What's new with J Church these days? Are you currently working on any non J Church-related projects?
Lance: Yeah, the band just got off of a lot of touring (West Coast, East Coast, Europe and then that big tour with Propagandhi, Avail and Fabulous Disaster) so I'm working on some other stuff for the moment. I'm in the process of writing a book documenting the anarcho punk scene of the late '70s and '80s. I'm also working on my record label. I've got a new J Church singles collection coming out called Meaty, Beaty, Shitty Sounding and a few other things. I'm also writing songs for the next J Church album and a Cilantro LP. The new Cilantro 7" should also be out soon on Honey Bear...Busy, busy, busy... Oh, and I just put out a new issue of my fanzine, Some Hope And Some Despair.
If there's one thing J Church is noted for, it's the massive amount of material released. Are you constantly writing songs, or do you just write in a flurry of creativity around recording time?
Lance: That's what we used to be known for. Then I got sick and we didn't put anything out for four years! Drama Of Alienation came out in '96 and One Mississippi came out last year. We haven't even started work on the new record, so it'll be another two or three years between albums. It drives me crazy. We should be able to do an album a year.
How do you choose a set list for a concert?
Lance: I don't know. We have a list of something like 16 or 18 songs we learn for a tour. From that list we pick 12 to 14 songs to play each night. We have a few standards that people expect from us. The "hits" if I can even call them that. We try to do at least 3 or 4 songs from whatever album we're promoting. But we know that people wanna hear the old stuff too, so we try not to be too top heavy. I also like improvising live, so I do go out of my way to pick songs that we can really expand on live like Yellow, Blue and Green or I Can't Be Nice To You or now Jane, Vanessa and I. We even did a Rahsaan Roland Kirk cover on the European tour which really let us spread out.
Which songs are the most fun to play live?
Lance: The songs that have the most room for improvisation are the most fun to play. But it can be just as fun to play the hits if the crowd is really into it. It's weird how we can go to some towns and the whole crowd will know all the words to My Favorite Place or November.
Do you remember how to play all of your songs?
Lance: I do. Nobody else does. Not even close. But I pride myself on that kind of thing. There are many bands that I love where I can play every song on all of their records. If I love something, I have to learn it. I'll spend days figuring songs out, sorting out arrangements. I get obsessed with music I love really easily. I've been doing it since I was in the 8th Grade and I was trying to learn Ramones and Clash records.
You write great lyrics. They are down-to-earth and it seems like they come from a variety of different perspectives. From where do you draw inspiration?
Lance: Thanx. I used to get a lot of my inspiration from Worlds Apart by the Subhumans and the Rites Of Spring album. I think I've also always been very, very affected by Lou Reed's lyrics. Especially with the Velvet Underground who are my favorite band of all time. I also really love Raymond Carver and Mary Gaitskill and consider them to be big influences on my lyrics. I Reach For Her Hand and Anybody are two of my favorite lyrics of all time and they're heavily influenced by Carver and Reed.
How did you afford to live in San Francisco? Is the success of J Church sufficient to support you, or do you work a normal nine-to-five job in addition to your career as a musician?
Lance: I can't [afford San Francisco]. I've moved to Austin. It's nice and cheap here and the dot-com thing has really imploded here like it is in San Francisco. So, yeah, I'm able to survive just barely off of the band and a few other things I do. I buy and sell a lot of records. I go on tour and buy records in Japan, Europe, England, anywhere. I come home and sell 'em on E-bay or through my website. It pays the bills.
What are your tastes in music? Are there any under-recognized bands you'd like to recommend?
Lance: I really love the Subtonix. Best thing in the Bay Area these days. That first single is great and they're incredible live. Totally un-self-conscious. Semiautomatic out of New York are also great. I love the diversity in what they do. I dunno. There's always good stuff out there. I have to admit that the record I listen to the most these days is the new Sam Rivers CD. It's great.