Social Distortion's Jonny Two Bags: "I Don't Know What Else I Would Be Doing If I Wasn't Playing Music."
Danny Clinch Social Distortion
Orange County punk legends Social Distortion have always been generous about performing in Arizona. The band usually plays a double-header at Marquee Theatre early in the year, and once again, Social D will return to the Marquee on January 22 and 23.
The Tempe dates are part of a string of multiple headlining dates Social Distortion has all over Southern California and Las Vegas. Year after year, these shows continue to sell out, which is a testament to Social Distortion's staying power. After 35 years of rocking songs about hard luck with women and the law, Social Distortion continues to have a mass appeal.
"I really haven't been interested in doing anything else with my time other than being involved with music," says guitarist Jonny "Two Bags" Wickersham. "I think that we just got really lucky in that we've been able to do that and it still is relevant. We're really fortunate because it's true: A lot of bands don't get that opportunity."
We recently caught up with Jonny Two Bags to discuss Social Distortion's legacy, the band's new material, and the guitarist's reaction to The Vandals' writing a song about him.
Up on the Sun: How's the tour going so far?
Jonny Wickersham: It's been cool. We did Anaheim House of Blues and the Hollywood House of Blues: That's where the majority of the shows are. We did a couple in Vegas, a few in San Diego. It's pretty cool. [It's] kind of like being on tour but not really going that far.
You guys have been playing double-header shows in Phoenix since I can remember. What keeps bringing you back to Arizona?
The shows are great there. We play there all the time. The crowd brings us back.
The shows always seem to sell out, or at least get close to it. How does your music continue to reach new, young fans?
Word of mouth is one way, but probably even more than that I'd say due to the Internet. It's interesting, because before I was in the band, I filled in for Dennis [Danell, who passed away in 2000], the original guitar player. He played in the spot that I play in Europe in '97.
At that point, Social D had been over to Europe, I think, twice before that, and it was a cool tour. I did the last couple of weeks of the tour because Dennis had to come home because his son was being born. They were good shows, but it wasn't like they were all sold out or anything like that. Weirdly, Social D didn't get back there 'til 2004, and I was in the band by then. It was a completely different thing. It was completely off the hook, the shows were all sold out and we were doing multiple nights in the same town. It was really crazy. It was just really exciting. The band hadn't been touring over there since '97. That's a lot of years in between. It had to be because of the Internet and word about the band getting out there.
How do you approach your setlist when you play a bunch of shows in the same city? Do you mix it up, or do you keep a lot of it the same?
We try to. We've been doing a pretty good job of it for this run. There's something about being able to get a set together and play it regularly. You just kind of get this groove and this flow happening that doesn't really happen as much when you're dramatically changing the set up. It's a different kind of energy that you put into playing. When you play a set enough times to where you're able to sort of anticipate what's coming, you can just kind of dig in a little bit more than when you're throwing a bunch of songs in that maybe you haven't been playing all the time. You're thinking a little bit more about it [laughs].
We have to do that so people don't come out and see the same set night after night, because a lot of the people that come to the shows, they come to a lot more than just one, so we have to do that for them. After a while, if you're playing the same set every night, it just gets burnt for us, so we've got to change it. We manage to go through all of the songs that we play live over the course of a couple of years, we [eventually] work our way through the whole catalog of tunes, the whole repertoire. There are the standards that we play almost every night -- "Ring of Fire," we play "Story of my Life" most of the time [and] "Bad Luck."
I like that you guys don't shy away from old songs.
Yeah, there are several off of Mommy's Little Monster that we do still. A couple that predate even that record, from Social D's first seven inches and stuff. "1945" or this song called "Rude Boy" that was on a compilation before the band even had an album out.