Youth Brigade's Shawn Stern on The Adolescents, Punk, and BYO Records
How is it that a band that hasn't released a full-length album since 1996 continues to tour?
"If we didn't get new fans coming out, we'd probably would have quit awhile back because it would get really boring playing for just people our age because they're not always as fun," says Shawn Stern, frontman of Youth Brigade and co-owner of BYO records.
Youth Brigade has been playing fast-paced punk rock since the early 1980s. Although their shows don't end in riots as often as the early years, the band continues to tour and share its message.
We recently caught up with Shawn Stern to discuss Adolescents' Tony Brandenburg getting drunk at a film premiere, the roots of punk, and running a record label in the digital age.
Up on the Sun: How did you guys meet The Adolescents? I talked to Tony [Brandenburg] yesterday and he said you guys go way back.
Shawn Stern: The first time I saw them, I think it was 1980, or maybe it was '81. They were playing with Black Flag at a place called Besas Hall, which was on Vermont just north of Sunset [in Los Angeles]. The place was packed. It wasn't very big, it probably held 250-300 people tops, it's just a little hall. I was just blown away, they were really good. It was this skinny little kid and this big huge bass player and just really, really good band.
Black Flag was supposed to come on and the cops came in riot gear and just stormed through the front door as we all went out the side door and got in a big ole' fight with the police, which was kind of typical at the time.
I think [Adolescents] had kind of had broken up, but we put them on a show called Youth Movement '82 which was at the Hollywood Palladium. Then, I knew them. Well, actually, I knew I knew them because Tony came to the screening of Another State of Mind that we did at this theater, the Beverly Theatre on Beverly Boulevard. The movie was filmed in '80, so we probably screened it in '81. And he, I don't know what...I guess he was really drunk and he...the movie was almost over. Mike Ness was singing the song "Another State of Mind" and Tony just got mad and jumped and knocked over the projector.
I remember him knocking the thing over and there was only five minutes left in the movie, but the guys who produced and directed the movie were trying to get it out there and show it, they put the thing together and they asked us to run security. Not like we needed security, it was just a couple hundred kids watching this movie, but and then one of our friends, Tony, gets drunk and knocks the projector over. These guys, Adam and Peter, mainly this guy Peter, this guy was paranoid, he freaked out and started telling everybody he'd refund their money. I said, 'what are you doing?' People were lining up and he was handing out $5 bills because he just charged $5 bucks to get in. He was handing out $5 to everybody, people would grab a five and they go to the back of the line and stand in it for a second five.
I said "You're a moron, what are you doing? Don't give them back their money. There's five minutes left of the movie." Too bad, it's not your fault that Tony was a jerk, but apparently people wanted to beat up Tony and I came out and saved him. He tells the story in the book of our boxed set saying that made a big impression on him, but I don't even remember, I thought I wouldn't let him get beat up. He was stupid and he did an asshole thing. I asked him, 'Why is it that you did that?' He thinks he was just upset that was Mike was singing or something, I'm not really sure.
It seems like shows don't really get busted by cops anymore. Could you paint a picture of then and now? Is it any easier for you guys as a band now?
I wouldn't say that that never happens because we played with TSOL at the Key Club just about a year ago and there was a huge riot. The cops came in riot and gear and maced everybody. They had fire extinguisher cans full of mace they were spraying on everybody and shooting rubber or beanbag bullets at people. Apparently, they shot one through the door of the Key Club from the street at me when I was on stage telling everybody they wouldn't let us play. People were getting really pissed. It was sold out and there was about 200 kids on the street that couldn't get in, some of them with tickets. It was a Key Club screw up, and I guess some kid inside got in a fight and broke one of the security guys' noses, so the Key Club called the police.
But yeah, it doesn't happen like it used to. It's hard to compare. People always ask me what was it like back in those days compared to how it is now. But, it's apples and oranges. It was something brand new then and we were just sort of making it up as we went along and now you've got 30 years of history of punk rock plus another 15 or 20 years or rock 'n' roll.
It can get crazy here and there, but I think people are a little bit more understanding of what's going on in the clubs. The clubs have been doing it a long time, they understand what's what. The use of barricades changes things a lot. You don't get the interaction at a lot of places with the band and the fans unless it's a smaller club that doesn't bother with that stuff. Overall, it really comes down to economics. In those days, things were new and people weren't really making any money off it. It was just a way to go out and have a good time and express your anger and the problems of the world, and now people are making money off of it, so they take the precautions and they control the situation better so there's less problems. Maybe kids aren't as pissed off as they used to be although there certainly are a lot of reasons to be pissed off in the society we live in these days.