Adolescents' Tony Brandenburg: 'We Play Music for People That Don't Expect Cultural Food to be Spoonfed to Them.'
In this week's issue, I interviewed Shawn Stern of Youth Brigade and Tony Brandenburg of The Adolescents to determine what has kept punk alive for all these years. Both musicians have obligations outside of their perspective bands, with Stern running BYO Records and preparing for Punk Rock Bowling and Brandenburg being a parent and a elementary school teacher. Yet through it all, both bands continue to tour.
So, what's The Adolescents' secret to success? "Stubbornness. That's it, a very strong will to see this thing through until its done," said Brandenburg in our two hour interview. In the abridged version of our Q&A, Brandenburg discusses The Adolescents breaking up and making up, a current cultural lull, and sharing the stage with the Vivian Girls.
The Adolescents and Youth Brigade are scheduled to perform at Clubhouse Music Venue on Saturday, January 21.
Up on the Sun: Did you guys hand pick Youth Brigade to bring on tour?
Tony Brandenburg: We actually did, we're all friends. We've done shows locally with them a number of times and they were talking about going out. We were saying that we were going to go out and it's better for our bands to play together because we compliment one another, rather than one go out and three weeks later another one go. In times like this, it's just not good for the audiences because they support both bands. It's kind of a way to streamline it, not just for us, but for others too.
We're not competing each other, we're actually working together. It's a really healthy way to work collaboratively. We have a great time together too. We're all friends like I said, so it works out really, really well.
I bet you've known each other for a while.
Yeah, more than 30 years.
Oh wow, it's amazing that both of you stuck around this whole time.
Yeah, and them too, I'm impressed [laughs]. They have to because they're brothers, but we didn't have to. We're not obligated to even talk to each other.
Big question: can you walk me through the band's history a bit, particularly what caused the band's hiatuses?
When we were playing at the beginning of the '80s, the way we looked at the dynamics of the band was you play in a single band, you don't play in a number of bands. It didn't really translate to us that you could be in more than one band, and so when one of us would become interested in playing in a different band, it became a...I don't want to say it was a loyalty thing, because it wasn't that intense. It wasn't a boyfriend/girlfriend thing like "You're my boyfriend" or "You're my girlfriend and you can't date anyone else." It was more like when we were in a band, we didn't realize that you could actually sit down with a calendar and schedule so that your bands didn't overlap or come into conflict.
When members of the band decided to join other bands, they thought they were obligated to leave. So Steve [Soto] and Frank [Agnew] joined Legal Weapon and they thought "Okay, because we're joining Legal Weapon, that means we can't be in the Adolescents anymore." It never dawned on any of us that actually they could have played in Legal Weapon and played in The Adolescents and there would have been no conflict of interest at all. It wouldn't have been a conflict of scheduling, it just be a matter of organization.
But when you're 17 years old, you don't think in terms of sitting down with a calendar and drawing a red line through certain days and times to schedule one band versus using a blue pen to schedule the other band. It took us years to figure that out, so really, that kind of singular behavior in the band lasted for almost 10 years. We never equated that you could divide up your time and there were also inner band conflicts too. We went through personnel changes from within the first three months of the band where we went through something like three guitar players and two different drummers and between the first and sixth months.
It's really about obligations. Early on when we started to conflict within the band and band members left, Rick [Herschbeth] and Casey [Royer] actually started D.I. and we found that to be a conflict. Steve and Frank joined Legal Weapon and that was a conflict and after this went on for the first 14 months or whatever, [with] John [O'Donovan] joining another band, all these things led up to a revolving door.
By the late '80s/early '90s it was just a matter of personal choices to leave. In the late '80s, I wasn't mentally or physically adjusted enough to tour anymore. I did and I didn't like it, I couldn't do it. It was interfering with the rest of my life, so I said, 'you know what, I cant do that.' Others really wanted to do it, so there were some hard feelings, but it wasn't anything that was impossible to work through. It was just time for me to leave. When I left, the band recorded another record. There was always a band that was recording and touring just without the same line up.
That was a really mature decision for you to make at that point.
I can't say that I wasn't angry, I was like, "What do you mean you're making a record without me?" It was my choice to not make it and to not record it. In retrospect, I think that the product that they put together as a unit was...I thought it was Bomp-y, but I thought it was interesting. It wasn't something that I would have been able to do. I think Steve's vocals on at least three of the songs on the [Balboa] Fun Zone record are outstanding. There's four songs on that record that I think are incredible, incredible works of art. Rick's song "Tattoo Times" was great, I thought it was funny. It was the first thing I thought since "Amoeba" that caught this kind of tongue in cheek spirit of the band and I think he did a really good job with that. I would have never written a song like that, so I think in the long run it worked out to get the band a lot more depth.
After Balboa Fun Zone, you released OC Confidential almost 17 years later. Why was there such a delay in the next album?
We put out a couple of collections, live records and stuff. We were playing together, but we weren't writing together. That was mostly due to [the fact that] we were writing and bringing all of our material to other bands. I'd say that period right there was pretty productive. There was probably an Adolescents-related record from one of the ex-members on the blue record [once or twice] a year. D.I. would put out a record, I'd put out a record, Steve would put out a record, so we were all working and we were all doing stuff, but we weren't doing stuff as a collective group.