A couple of weeks after the Take Action tour and moments after his baby had gone down for her mid-morning nap, I was able to speak with Jeff from FIFTEEN. It was a very informative phone conversation with not only a good look at the band, but serious insight into many important issues, which affect our society.
Mauxa: the first thing I want to ask you is how and why was FIFTEEN started? The reason I ask is because I did a review of the Sub City launch party a couple of months ago, and at the time, I was given some misinformation about you guys. I wrote in the article that you guys had started about 10 years earlier than you actually did! Thinking that you were from the late 70’s, I was like “wow those guy’s sure look young!” so I want to clear all that up in a little prelude to the interview here, so if you can give a brief history of the band, that would be great.
Jeff: Alright let me think… I was probably about 8 – 9 in the late 70’s! although I did start being in bands when I was about 12, but I think that was the early 80’s. Let’s see, we started basically out of the collapse of my previous band, which I guess was somewhere between 1988-89, I don’t exactly recollect due to drugs and alcohol and other things. So primarily, I was just trying to teach a roadie how to play guitar, and it turned into this band essentially.
Mauxa: And what’s the guitar player’s name?
Jeff: umm… that would be me! He ended up being the bass player. His goal was just to learn how to play ac/dc or lynard skynyrd or something and the whole thing just kind of happened semi by accident, I guess.
Mauxa: so, that was 88-89, and you’ve put out several albums since then?
Jeff: I think 8, yeah.
Mauxa: how would you describe fifteen to one who has never had the opportunity to hear or see you guy’s?
Jeff: musically I guess it’s pretty much the same as the other pop-punk stuff coming out of northern California for the last decade or whatever. At live shows it’s a lot of speaking, its about half speaking and half music, although if I’ve played shows the last 20-30 days, maybe I wont speak very much. I’d say the band is about 60% musical and 40% other stuff.
Mauxa: how did the take action tour go? Did you feel like you were able to reach a lot of kids with the important issues that sub city is dealing with?
Jeff: yes. Actually there were a lot of different things that I noticed. I always kind of wanted to have a circus rather than a tour, and this last tour was not quite a circus yet, but it was finally the first step in the right direction of having a circus. One thing really noticed was local affiliates for the national coalition against domestic violence showed up at almost every single show, with tables and stuff. They had these questionnaire things like 30 questions, kind of like alcoholics anonymous, “are you an alcoholic?” and you go, “well, I only answered yes to 12 of them”. Then you look at the bottom and it says, “if you answered yes to 3 of these questions, you are an alcoholic”.
Mauxa: and I’m sure a lot of kids that were there were young, so its good and seems sort of preventative in a way.
Jeff: yeah, well, I know from my wife’s experience, that I think her first encounter with having to reckon with being battered, was like in her late 20’s I guess. I think its just really cool if girls and guys can at least start reading this and have it in their head in their early teens so that maybe before they have their first experience with being battered or being a batterer, its not like 10 years of it before they get any help.
Mauxa: I had read in a past article your little schpeel on what you felt the essence of punk rock is. Do you want to sum that up again for the skratchers out there? I just thought it was really cool what you said.
Jeff: Well, I’m not sure what it was that you read, but basically for me it’s just all about activism really. I don’t want to come across sounding… just because some kid lives in a town where their scene is just a musical kind of thing that’s not good or whatever. I happen to be fortunate to grow up in a place where the punk rock scene was extremely political. Mainly, I would just like to present that as an option to them.
Mauxa: Do you feel the term punk rock has been abused as of late by corporations and major labels and such?
Jeff: not anymore than it has been by people like us!
Mauxa: In the song “welcome to Berkeley” , are all those people and stories past experiences?
Jeff: Yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever written about something that wasn’t true. Once I think I wrote from someone else’s point of view, but that’s it.
Mauxa: What inspired you to become politically minded and politically active from the beginning and who were the people you looked up to?
Jeff: Probably most of it I think is just because I grew up in Berkeley!
Mauxa: Speaking of Berkeley, how do you feel about the KPFA situation?
Jeff: I feel very bipolar! KPFA not only could I say that it belongs to the people, but literally it does because they paid for it! So I think it’s rad that the whole bunch of people are going “Wait a minute we paid for this, you’re stealing it from us, so screw that”.
Mauxa: You see all those people putting their energy into that (KPFA) and it’s hard to understand why they’re not willing to put their energy elsewhere as well.
Jeff: Well, I know why. It’s because it’s a very scary thing to confront people who go around and murder other people and then decide it’s okay! People in positions of authority with a giant gang to back them up!
Mauxa: Do you feel free speech rights have become more limited or more open in recent years?
Jeff: Well, in the same way that you can go take American history in high school and hear one fact and then have it buried by tons of other useless information, I think that you’re given the right to free speech and then it’s buried in total wave of media.
Mauxa: Speaking of the social and family structure or what have you, I really like the first track on the new album “Family Values”. You talk about corporate greed and over consumption, etc. what though, in the literal sense, does the term “family values” mean to you?
Jeff: I don’t know if white people have ever had any kind of reasonable family since they’ve been here. I imagine that they do in some places, but the majority of the people haven’t. To me, it’s about 98% of what does a child actually need? more and more as I look at a bunch of different things I find that I just have to take a walk from what Europe has to say about anything and look at other people, and how other people do things. If you look at what people in America looked at, how they prioritized things, how they arranged their values was, and is, that we do what’s in the best interest of the child.
Mauxa: you said you were an alcoholic, what are your personal views about drugs and alcohol? Are you clean and sober and do you encourage your friends and family to be so also?
Jeff: I am currently battling with caffeine and have been since I got clean. I have about a year off of caffeine.
Mauxa: I’m glad you quit caffeine, because I’m always telling people that caffeine is just as much a drug as anything else.
Jeff: caffeine is the most widely used drug!
Mauxa: you have a song called “war on drugs” how do you see the future of Americas war on drugs?
Jeff: I think it’s going to collapse.
Mauxa: in what ways would you encourage the average Skratch reader, which to make a broad demographic statement, is a 13-25 year old punk kid from the suburbs. How would you suggest to them ways that they could make some sort of difference in the world around them?
Jeff: before I would even encourage anybody to do anything, I’d have to say that there is a cultural phenomenon by which young people do most of the work which produces change because they’re not totally caught up in work/rent, work/mortgage, car payment, paying for kids, etc. so if you are still in the place where you can just quit a job because it sucks and it’s not a big deal and you can still pay your rent or can get help from your folks or whatever, then you’re in the prime situation to do all the other stuff.
Mauxa: Are you a vegetarian?
Jeff: I am now (laughs). I made a deal with my older daughter (Vanessa) that when my younger daughter started eating solid foods, we would stop eating meat.
Mauxa: so it was actually your daughter that encouraged you to become a vegetarian?
Jeff: she’s a black belt, I have to do what she says!
Mauxa: what are FIFTEENs plans for the future?
Jeff: we’re doing the spinal tap drummer thing, you know where they like all catch on fire! I think we’ve got some choices, so we’ll probably take a couple months and break somebody in and record again in like February. The bassist and I are thinking that we want to pay off all our debts so we can tour more than one month a year.
Mauxa: Well it was certainly a pleasure speaking with you!
It was pretty cool getting a slice of Berkeley style punk from an expert source! If you need more inspiration to get involved or be exposed to issues that affect our world, you should go check out FIFTEEN when they come to your town. You can also pick up any subcity release and be automatically informed about one issue or another just by the free pamplets and stuff that comes along with the CD. Instead of expending energy talking shit about what a scene is or isn’t suppose to be, maybe we should try taking a deeper look into what really matters!
Interview by : Skratch Magazine issue #45