Interview from Flipside Magazine #103
J Church formed out of the ashes of the dead and buried Cringer which were young west coast pop punx in the mid 80’s to early 90’s. I interviewed Lance because his music seemed to mean something more than the paper it was blend onto and I needed to find out if the feelings were real. All this was live on the air (WHFR in Detroit) on 4/27/96.
Bart: What about Allied? I know you’ve been on a billion different labels…
Lance: Our first 2 proper full length albums were both on Allied. John Yates is a really good friend of mine. At the time it seemed like the logical label for us to be on. Then there was Broken Rekids. We put out some singles and comps on the label since I knew Mike from when he was in A.P.P.L.E. We were just dealing with people that were our close friends. Honey Bear is my label. We’re going to focus on a couple of labels in the States, singles on Honey Bear and I’m not sure where we’re going to do our next album.
Bart: With so many releases that you’ve done and so many songs you have, it’s like Prince with his safe full of 500 unreleased songs. Do you just have a home studio so that you’re always recording?
Lance: That was the case for a while. We had a studio where some of our b-sides were recorded at our practice space. We go through about 20-24 songs a year. You can only put 12 songs on an LP. It’s better to put out the leftover songs than to shelve them – assuming you still like them. Whenever we go on tour we try to pick one or two covers to do just for fun.
Bart: And you’ve picked some dooseys as well. Duran Duran seemed to come out of the woodwork. Are you a big fan?
Lance: See that’s the thing. I only like the first album. I like Hungry Like The Wolf but Alice Donut covered it already. It was between Planet Earth and Save A Prayer. I remember the video for Planet Earth with Simon Le Bon dressed as a pirate and the bad special effects.
Bart: You guys need hair cuts and make up to put you over the top. I know you have an R.E.M. fetish, can I bring that out or is it a closet thing?
Lance: R.E.M. was one of the first bands I saw live. I was in high school and I saw them. One of the first bands I saw that I still like. Everyone I know hated it but secretly thought they were great. They have some foophy production but some of the songs are really great, at least musically.
Bart: What about the Radiohead cover?!
Lance: Yeah, you know, it’s a good song and we were practising for the tour and we said “Why don’t we learn this song, it’s only got one part and it’s easy to learn” and I thought it got pretty good at the end of the tour, so we recorded it. There’s a lot of songs we’ve covered that we’ve never recorded. People didn’t understand why we were doing that. What’s really interesting is that our whole world is so separate from the Radiohead world. A lot of people thought it was one of our new songs.
Bart: Speaking of your touring, is this a management co. that you actually have to go out and pay, or a friend, or…?
Lance: This woman Robin that I’ve known for a long time. She used to book the O.K. Hotel in Seattle. We’re friends and she said if you ever need anyone to book a tour for you… So we let her book a few little tours for us and they were great, she did such a better job than I could do.
Bart: I’m really surprised that Jawbreaker didn’t ask you to do a tour with them.
Lance: Adam the drummer is one of my best friends, we hang out constantly when he’s here. I’ve known those guys probably for 10 years. Locally we’ve played together like 50 times. A lot of it (not touring together) has to do with our tour schedule. At this point they can do whatever they want; they’re doing a tour with the Foo Fighters now. Everything we do depends on what’s happening record-wise and we tour outside the country as much as we tour in side the country now. It’s easier for us to tour Europe and Japan now.
Bart: How did the Europe thing happen? Because I know in Cringer you seemed to be catering toward the European audiences.
Lance: Cringer actually only did one tour. It was so long, about four months. So it seemed like we were there forever. The only thing available in England for Cringer was a singles comp of things available in the US and the same for J Church now. Importing is so expensive. There we try to license as much as we can. If you really care and you were like collector scum you could bother to try to find all of those because they have different covers but the songs are all the same.
Bart: That brings me to the record covers themselves. Who’s the photograph junkie? Picture of soccer players for the hell of it or?
Lance: Not much thinking went into that cover. It just had an English feel to it. Gardner our bass player is really into photography, the last job he had was doing film work. So he acquires lots of photos, but I have a hobby where I comb thrift stores looking for old photographs, old family photos of families I never knew.
Bart: The distributor problem. What’s the deal with that? I know there are three companies with all the main distribution.
Lance: Revolver, who’s our main distributor, does a pretty good job. It’s more a matter of the distributors will have it and it will sit around until a store orders it. If a store doesn’t order it, they get sent back to the label. The problem with a band like us is that we have people out there who want these 7”s, which you’d be surprised how rare that is in the indie underground world. But we don’t really have press. If you’re a buyer at a local record store and you hear about a band in OPTION or SPIN you’re going to keep the record in stock because you know people actually care about these bands. But we don’t press like that. If someone buys our record I’m sure the buyer is thinking “Oh, thank god, I wasn’t sure if anyone was going to buy that or not.” So they don’t think to re-order our records. I don’t know what else we can do about it, obviously we’re not going to be on a major label or anything like that. So I don’t know how we’re ever going to end up getting the kind of press it takes to keep our records in stores.
Bart: Now you’ve brought up the bit ‘M’ word – Major label… Why not?
Lance: It’s really strange because Green Day was from here and no matter what you think of them, they’re our friends. They just said a lot of great things about us as well as a lot of other bands. So a lot of people were after us. We hemmed and hawed, let the interest cool out. When the time came to talk to these labels it’s like you’re going to commit yourself to these labels and this is your life. It’s not just a job or a hobby, it’s your entire life. So you’re going to be working with these people on a regular basis. We’ve met with lawyers and management companies, a lot of people. There was no one I could imagine spending more than an hour or so with. They’re all friendly and that’s their job to be nice to us, but the idea of having to spend a week with some of these people would just like destroy us. Of course instinctively as an indie band we were opposed to major labels ‘cause in all truth major labels are the evil corporations which destroy labels, scenes and bands. Instinctively you don’t like them but when a lot of money is waved around we’d be the first to admit that if someone said “Here’s a million dollars for free and all you gotta do is sign this paper, give us an album”, we’d be the first to do it but it ain’t that easy.
Bart: How was that handled? How did they approach you?
Lance: The whole process is suddenly there’s a buzz about your band. We play in L.A. a lot ‘cause we lived there but it’s also where all the business is. So there’d be a lot of label reps that went to talk you up, buy you dinner. I don’t understand what the point of that is because if you’re going to sign, you’re going to go with whoever will give you the most money for the most freedom, so why do all this fake stuff? I guess if you’re like a really gullible band, you’d be like “They gave me some free CDs, let’s go on that label”. Once you’ve desired that, you usually want to sign all these lawyers to do all the negotiating. What it comes down to for any new band is they give you an advance for a record like one or two hundred thousand, whatever it is, and you don’t make any money after that until you’ve made that money back which means you have to sell at least that many records. A two hundred thousand dollar advance means you have to sell a quarter million records to break even. I can understand why a lot of bands go for it. If we were on the verge of breaking up or, we would take the hundred thousand, record a ten thousand dollar album and leave. But since we’ve got a least a few good years left in us we couldn’t get away with ripping them off. Now some bands got offered a lot of money or a really good deal. They always talk about how Rocket From The Crypt got this great deal or Sonic Youth, but not us. Even if we wrote a great pop song, just ‘cause of the way we are and the way we look and the way we eat we are never going to be an MTV band. I think Jawbreaker and Green Day are great but at the same time they look really good. With what we look like you’re not going to see us on the Tonight Show. It’s no wonder Hüsker Dü never made it. I love them but Jesus Christ, we’ve got more of that look going for us.
Bart: How different is an indie as far as process?
Lance: You don’t get tour support, no video, way smaller advance but usually you’re dealing with people that you like and you have control over what you’re doing. They don’t tell you this song is the next single and you’ve got to edit two minutes off it, and this video with this director and producer. You don’t get that ‘cause they’re not giving enough money, they don’t demand that of you. It’s a whole different community. When a band like us goes on tour, there are hard times, but every show is fun and people are there because there’s this whole scene going on. There’s something that can still be said about the idea of an underground scene.
Bart: Do you think so? Can something still be said for the scene still surviving and thriving in some sort of perverted way?
Lance: Yeah, there are still some bands that are still part of that and pretty big. I think our shows are a pretty good indication of that because you compare us to a band that is getting radio play on big stations and you go to a show like that and the crowds are just awful. It’s like people who have read about slam dancing in Spin. I’d just assume to not have those people at our shows. I don’t want to be associated with that but some bands do, we know bands who are.
Bart: Can you make enough money to survive on music alone?
Lance: Yeah, if you call it a living. We tour constantly when we’re not recording. Because of that we’re not able to have jobs. It’s like I have X amount of money to survive X amount of time on.
Bart: How has the world changed for you from Cringer to J Church?
Lance: Not much musically. Cringer was around for seven years. The last line-up was what people think of as the Cringer line-up because we were together for about two years. We were all driving each other crazy. It was just insane. It wouldn’t have been fair to kick people out and keep the name so it seemed better to shut down the band. It also meant we didn’t have to do songs that were seven years old. Which I don’t really mind now, but at the time there were songs that I wrote when I was 16. It’s like reading your diary from when you were 16 years old, totally embarrassing. At the same time I hate it when bands act like their early days don’t exist, so we still do early J Church songs.
Bart: So you’ve totally cut out those Cringer songs, like I’m not going to hear Blasphemous when you come to town?
Lance: With the line-up we have now it’s difficult enough to keep up with the J Church stuff.
Bart: Out of curiosity do you have a favorite Cringer 7”?
Lance: I think the Lookout 7” was the best. That’s the only one where the production was pretty good. It seems like I put more thought into some of the lyrics.
Bart: I thought that 7” had a nice touch in that it had a sort of letter from the band about moving to San Francisco.
Lance: Well you know we are actually getting good about answering our mail. We used to be the slacker band.
Bart: I’ve got the split you did with Hopeful Monsters. It was neat because it was dirt cheap and you had a bunch of information and you really don’t see that any more.
Lance: The people who put that out run Hippycore and have printer friends, so it was cheap. It’s easier to do that when you’re putting out 500 or something. Right now it’s like just go to our website!
Bart: Do you still talk to Vinyl Communications?
Lance: Yeah, Bob, the guy who runs the label, we’ve been friends for years. They’re re-issuing the first 7”s and first album of Cringer which is actually pretty atrocious. But whatever, it’s a documentation of something that was happening then and I hate the idea of people paying $25 for the first Cringer album ‘cause it was so limited. So it makes all those songs, as horrible as a lot of them were, available. Just if you buy it you don’t need the lyric sheet. It’s really kind of embarrassing, a lot of it.
Bart: How much of a say do you have over re-issuing?
Lance: Oh if we didn’t want to do it he wouldn’t do it. If anyone spent $25 on the record, took it home and heard it, they’d feel gypped.
Bart: What about The Mob’s No Doves Fly Here cover?
Lance: Yeah, The Mob was one of my favorite bands. During Crass, when they were around I was so into that scene.
Bart: I bought the Quetzalcoatl vinyl when it first came out. Then later when I was looking at the CD and discovered there were more songs!
Lance: It was a single on Dead Beat Records. There is only so much time available on vinyl, so we stuck it on the end so they were available on CD.
Bart: What shocked me so much is that I know you’re into the preservation of vinyl. I thought I was fine if I was buying your vinyl but now I’m forced to buy the CD.
Lance: The last 10” we put out had some extra songs and a remix so it’s no big deal. Our last two proper albums, the vinyl had more songs. Prophylaxis vinyl came with a 7” for the first 1,500. Arbor Vitae has two extra songs on the LP.
Bart: But there is always songs you can’t get anywhere but on the CD. Like the Prophylaxis CD had a totally different version of a song on the album which a lot of folks liked so much they felt they had to get the CD.
Lance: We only put the throwaways on the end of the CD to fill space. If it’s important it’ll come out as a 7” or on vinyl.
Bart: How can you think the piano version of I Can’t Be Nice To You was a throwaway?!
Lance: I had a cold and the vocals were off-key. We did it at my friend’s house and she has a cat. I love cats but my allergies were acting up that day so I was going crazy. It was originally going to be on both, but I don’t know, maybe I’m being too critical of myself but I felt it came out really off.
Bart: I think you are! I think that’s another one of your hit songs predicted by me! Everyone is really into your throwaway tracks and alternate versions. Back to Quetzalcoatl, a song off it called Cilantro. Now maybe I’m being over-sensitive but that has always seemed to be a touching song.
Lance: It’s about a friend of mine in L.A. who was basically forced to leave the country ‘cause he wasn’t from here. It’s a really heavy situation, there’s really not a whole lot you can say that will dilute it. I wrote the music first, which isn’t what I usually do. I was going to add more but there really wasn’t anything else to add.
Bart: That’s good ‘cause I always thought it was a heart-wrencher. I didn’t want to be disappointed when it was about Superman or whatever.
Lance: Oh, no, no. We don’t have any songs that are hokey. Every song, the lyrics are about something substantial. Ivy League College is the most light-hearted song we’ve got, which is basically poking fun at college students.
Bart: Jennifer Jason Leigh came out after the film Mrs Parker And The Vicious Circle which was a fabulous movie that I care so enough about and totally got me into the real Dorothy Parker’s writings.
Lance: The main reason I got into her was when she was in ‘Miami Blues’. I knew who she was ‘cause I was really into Fast Times At Ridgemont High and stuff like that. Then I started reading interviews with her. When Miami Blues came out she did a promotional tour for her next film, Last Exit To Brooklyn, which I liked. That was the start of her taking these incredibly dark roles. I saw this interview, you just get so obsessed with her personality, why she does things, why she chooses roles. All these crazy things that happened in her family and her father. I don’t know if you know all these stories. At one point she just desired to take these serious roles. She used to do things like Flesh And Blood, which was this cheesy, almost soft-porn, swords and sorcery movie, and Fast Times… which was great but kind of a hokey film. Her father was Vic Mora who died while filming The Twilight Zone. He was the guy on stage when the helicopter crashed and cut him in half. At the reading of the will she was broken up, obviously. The story goes, she won’t talk about it in interviews, he was offended by nude scenes she had done in movies. So when they read the will he left her sister a lot of money but to her $20. So from then on she’s been picking up these darker and heavier roles. She’s into a lot of writers that I like. I’ve collected a lot of Hollywood interviews just to read them. I know people that know her and it’s interesting to see how she handles her relationships and people. I won’t say I’m a stalker.
Bart: You’re just at the house an awful lot! The other songs on Map Precedes The Territory are pretty interesting as well. Fascist Radio, for example. Was that one particular radio show or?
Lance: No. Actually that started with an article I’d read in one of the Simultext collections. Then it turned into a song about the old guard in underground music and how no-one knows where to draw the line on certain things so as a result everyone gets really defensive. Everyone slags everyone all the time, even your best friends. It’s just sort of how the whole music scene is, especially in San Francisco. In fact, it’s probably worse here than anyone else in the country, because this whole place is so cynical. Also your friends don’t necessarily respect what you do and if they do they’re not necessarily going to tell you.
Bart: Since your lyrics are true to the heart, then Case Number is about you in the unemployment line.
Lance: Totally. I was unemployed for a year and a half after my last job. So it’s all about standing in line and the unemployment center here is so bad. All the bureaucracy you have to go through. When you’re in that stage where you’re getting kicked off unemployment and you hop on welfare for a little while if you have to, which I ended up not doing. It’s such a bureaucracy and such a hassle, it’s actually easier to get a job. Also the lack of sleep and how I feel that the unemployment office is built purposely to make people feel horrible and inhuman. That number is my actual case number.
Bart: You should have used 867-5309! Ending up this release, the song Part Of The Problem.
Lance: It’s a lot about San Francisco. The weirdness of the city. People move here because they think it’s going to be… I can understand that if you lived in the Midwest or something and are left-wing and all… You move to San Francisco thinking it’s this totally great, radical, progressive climate. Once you see what protests are like here, the marches and things like that, it’s so controlled and middle class. You can’t help but get sickened by it. I would never say ‘don’t do anything’ ‘cause I don’t think of us as slackers or ‘Generation X’ or anything like that. The liberal movement in San Francisco is the most cynical of all. The people have resigned themselves ‘cause they’re gonna be working with what they’ve got. People feel guilty and they feel they can’t criticize causes or these people because they feel they are essentially on the right side. They say the right things but that’s not what it totals up to when you see what they do. I don’t fall into either camp politically.
Bart: The Bikini Kill song. I thought that was an anti-Bikini Kill song at first.
Lance: No way. I know it comes off that way. Every night when we first were playing that song I had to say what it was about to make sure people realized. I met them through their band, we had coffee together and started talking politics. Some people, you meet them and it just clicks. All the ideas we talked about were identical. This was before the whole Riot Grrl thing and they got popular. They’re like any other band, they make mistakes and there are things you could criticize about them certainly. It’s also about all these fanzines who came out knocking them without knowing what happened; using third-hand information. If you’re going to criticize something you should find out what’s going on with it first.
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