Crucial John interview by Chiller Than Most fanzine

Flowerhead issue, 2015.
Pics by miguelrdelangel, Michael Andrade, Patrick Orozco, Angela Owens, Just A Minor Threat, Chris Suspect, Farrah Skeiky.

CTM – Hey John! You are going to do a European tour again, you stoked?

Crucial John – Hey man, we do go back to Europe in July and I’m looking forward to being there in the summer and seeing the sun. Last november when we were there, it was dark and overcast the whole time.

CTM – The main function of an opening track is to encourage us to listen to the album. The track Sonic Bloom is incredible. I just remember thinking, holy shit, this may be one of the greatest opening tracks I have ever heard. How important do you think is to choose the best opening track? What are the most memorable (punk/hardcore) opening tracks for you?

Crucial John – I actually was pushing for the song “Heart First Opened” to be the lead off track but everyone else in the band was really against it. I like that song and I liked how it just busted right in, there was no epic build up or typical opening track dramatics. But yeah, Sonic Bloom really is a great opener and with the backwards guitar, it introduces the album really well. It’s a song we have been playing live for about 3 or 4 years and were saving it for our first full length so it also had that weight of familiarity. I think sequencing for a record is really important, it just gets so stressful from inside a band, it’s hard to agree on anything. For me, speaking strictly hardcore, “Flame still burns” is probably my favorite opener. Knowing they broke up, and then got back together and the record they release next starts with that song, with those lyrics and “WE’RE BACK!!”, that combo is hard to beat. “Make a Change” and “Expectations” are also great openers. Black Flag always seemed to get it right with rise above, my war, and slip it in being among the best. Some others I love are Lifestyles from kings of punk, make me an offer from Desperate Measures, High Hopes, Signed off, and Death of a Salesman. And a new opening track that I can’t stop listening to is “Gravity” from “Non-stop feeling”.

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CTM – Writing and recording the Electric Flower Circus/Sonic Bloom records, what was different about writing and recording the first Moonflower st 12″?

Crucial John – Well, the writing and recording for the first 12″ was all super new to me. I had recorded some stuff before here and there, but that was my first real recording experience. Structuring the vocals and writing lyrics came easily at that time from what I remember, and I think its because I was so amped on doing a band, I had a lot of ideas and was ready to get it all out. That first record was right off the heels of a huge change in my life and everything just sort of exploded out of me. I had spent the last 3 or 4 years in the air force waiting to be in a band full time and making music. My girlfriend of like 3 years at the time didn’t want to come with me and we ended up breaking up a few months before I moved. That crushed me and a lot of lines and themes on that first record are about that situation and things happening as a result. The song “Life Unknown” for example was about my first serious girlfriend in high school, we dated for about 3 years and during the last year she started hanging out with a guy who she would tell me about and say they were just friends. We eventually broke up and come to find out, that friend of hers she was hanging with previously had committed suicide a few months before we broke it off. 5 years later she eventually tells me that she was cheating on me with this guy while we were together and he was trying to get her to break it off with me and start dating him. She eventually decided to stay with me, and the guy killed himself a little while after. That shit blew my fucking mind, and I felt really guilty for awhile afterwards. I’m always curious what people think that song is about, no one has ever told me. But yeah anyways, I feel like this recent batch of records (Electric Flower Circus LP, Sonic Bloom and Electric Flower Cult EP’s) were written during one of the best times in my life. I was definitely stressed with writing that many lyrics but I feel like overall, I was extremely optimistic and enthusiastic and it shows on those records. I like my vocal performance the best on the LP and I think obviously I had just learned what works for me and hopefully it continues to improve. This next Give record is probably going to be a little different lyrically as it will reflect all these current transitions in my life. I’m not sure what’s gonna come out, but I can see it being a little more aggressive.

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CTM – Lets talk about your lyrics. What were the first bands who’s lyrics you really connected with?

Crucial John – I don’t think I can really remember. I’ve always felt like I was late to the party with music, everyone else I talk to seems to have gotten interested in it at a younger age than me. I know the first piece of music I ever owned was a cassette tape of Storm Front by Billy Joel. I got it for xmas in ’89 when I was 7 years old and it was the first time I remember thinking it would be cool to own music. I was really into that song “We didn’t start the fire” just like probably everyone else on earth. I think the song “Downeaster Alexa” is to blame for my weird attraction to the ocean, beaches, and boats. After that I think I had a few other cassettes here and there but I didn’t really start buying a lot of cd’s until I was 13 years old. Lyrics were my favorite part of a song right away and I think getting into alternative rock, and punk, and classic rock, I liked the lyrics, but I didn’t really connect. For example, “Fight Fire with Fire” blew my away but the lyrics didn’t make their way into my heart and all of the Misfits lyrics were awesome and I loved them, but it didn’t go beyond an aesthetic appreciation. I didn’t really understand there were greater themes at work in certain songs, it all just seemed to service the music and that was it. Eventually with Minor Threat and especially Youth of Today, those were the first bands were it felt like the lyrics described situations directly in my life and it kind of helped twist me into appreciating lyrics of all types. It helped open up doors and I can pick little things here and little things there from lyrics from all types of genres that are meaningful to my life. It’s all a time and place thing for each person. Hearing something like Rudimentary Peni at a young age, I would have had no idea what was really happening lyrically, but could eventually come around. And now I can hear a line like “We need to talk” and set to the right backdrop, it can just melt your mind.

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CTM – Which books and movies would say have left impact on your lyrics? Do you have any books or movies that have been especially inspiring you when writing lyrics?

Crucial John – I can’t think of any movies or books that were direct inspirations, but as a whole, all of that is a huge influence on me. I spend a lot of time getting wrapped up in fictional stories of some type, I love that shit just like anyone else. I can say I used to be obsessed with the book Less than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis. I love the story but the structure and overall vibe that is created with that book is what really attracted me. I have some fantastical infatuation with Los Angeles and I think it’s mostly due to that book. I was just last week reading that book Dark Alliance by Gary Webb again and remembering how much that thing took over my mind when I first read it. I have this on going dream to one day create a dramatic TV show centered around the crack cocaine explosion in LA and across the US in the 80’s. Somewhere I have written down story arcs and casting recommendations and all sorts of dumb shit. I don’t know what influence it’s had on my lyrics, but those are a few books that have really gripped my mind so maybe its seeped in in some way. I wouldn’t even know where to begin with movies, those things probably influence every aspect of my life in good and especially bad ways, there is no way of knowing really. I know Apocalypse Now is a very cliche movie to cite as an influence but that fucking thing is a flat out undeniable masterpiece that has stuck with my since I first saw it. I used to drive 8 hours to Texas almost every weekend to see my girlfriend at the time in like 2006 and I would listen to the audio from that movie on repeat the whole time. “Cleans Death” is my favorite piece from the soundtrack and I have dreamed of working it into a song ever since I first heard it. I have a 5 hour long bootleg work print of that movie that is real wild and an original program and ticket stub from when it was first released in theaters in ’79. For current American directors, Fincher, Mann, and Anderson are doing wonderful things. I like every fucking movie though.

CTM – I know that TFS will always be your favorite hardcore band, you were a member without actually playing an instrument. (Apart from that, you played bass for them at their first show.) What was the most important positive impact TFS had on your life? To me the message of your song “Learning To Die” is similar to Stephens’s “We All Die”.

Crucial John – That’s hard to say. I loved a lot of his lyrics and actually Aaron had a big hand in helping with themes and ideas and certain lines for TFS, but the influence of those lyrics would probably be more apparent to someone looking from the outside. I would say the biggest lasting impact they made on me is really just introducing me to everything. I traveled all over and met a lot of people and got involved with a lot of things because of that band, that’s something I always think about. They kind of helped hand the world to me. Again, maybe the lyrics had some type of influence on my lyrics that I’m not aware of, but I can’t really say. I can see the similarities with “We all die” and “Learning to die” but “We all die” to me was always a song reinforcing the idea that our time is limited and we should take advantage of the things we do get. I wrote learning to die about a lot of people who never seem to have a good thing to say about anything, and are either caught up in projecting an image or are actually miserable people. Seems like a slow decline to me.

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CTM – Most of the bands say that, their earliest rehearsals are some of their favorite memories of the band’s life. Just the overwhelming feeling of making music for the first time, and hearing the first songs come together is the greatest thing. However, I can see that your initial enthusiasm for the band wasn’t replaced by disinterest. You are still full of new ideas. It seems to me you are still enjoying the creative process. What is your opinion about this?

Crucial John – That’s cool that it’s apparent because it has felt the same the whole time for me. I might be more excited now. I think I was always just real excited to execute this vision and to see what it could grow into, and as time goes in, it’s still just as exciting to keep adding on, expanding and see how far you can twist something. Ian just sent me a practice recording for a new song the other day and I felt the same as I did years ago when they would send practice recordings to me for songs that we recorded for the first 12″. I don’t know, isn’t that how everyone feels about being in a band or being involved in some type of creative project? And if not, why would anyone do it. I only want people in my life ready to die for the things they love.

CTM – How did you come up with the idea for the artwork for the Electric Flower Circus? The coverart of the Electric Flower Circus looks like similar to the Stone Roses iconic, paint-spattered NME magazine cover composition.

Crucial John – I don’t even remember what inspired the idea, maybe it was the Stone Roses, but I don’t know. Painting yourself is obviously not some big new idea, but I had the idea for awhile and always told myself when we do our first LP, that’s what I wanted to try and do. I just think it shows commitment on the bands part to a few different degrees and let’s people know we aren’t playing around (or that we are completely playing around).

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CTM – I read that at the end of the photo shoot the Stone Roses needed to shower but the photographer had to break the news to them that there were no showers in the building so they put hand prints all down the stairwell of the building. How was your photo session? Share some funny stories about this session.

Crucial John – Getting everyone in the same place to execute that cover shot was a huge headache and was a factor in delaying the record for sure. We had one open day before a show in New Jersey and everything took longer than expected, the pictures weren’t coming out right and I was just getting really bummed because I didn’t think it was going to work out. We took the pictures in rock creek park in DC and on the walk back to our house, I tried one more thing and thats what ended up being the cover of the record. Everything ran longer than we thought and we had to be at a show in NJ and we didn’t know if we were gonna be able to make it. Our friend Eric booked the show and he stalled everything as long as he could and we drove straight there, had no time to clean up and by the time we got there, we had to load in, set up and play. It worked out perfectly because with something like that, it’s best to delay being at the show until the last possible second. So we showed up with our bodies still painted, set up right away, and played. It was pretty awesome. I don’t think a single picture exists from the show though. I have a red No Tolerance shirt thats still stained from the paint from that day.

CTM – Which British indie/britpop bands would you say have left an impact on Give?

Crucial John – I can’t speak for everyone in the band but for me it would have to be New Order, Ride, and the Happy Mondays. All for a variety of reasons, but those three really left an impression on me. New Order fucking especially is the most amazing band that lasted for years and never put out a bad album. These new audio clips from their upcoming album have me feeling good! If anyone tells you that Joy Division is better than New Order, they are either young or completely stupid. Happy Mondays are like the coolest band that has ever existed and impossible to replicate. Besides that I mean all the classics like The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, etc all that shit is big for each of us in different ways. The band LOOP is a big favorite of mine and Neds Atomic Dustbin, Lowlife, Jesus and Mary Chain interviews, Suede, Oasis, The Smiths, and Adorable, the song “Vendetta”, fuck man. Too much good shit. There is probably someone in give that likes any band from the UK in some way. But yeah, obviously a lot of the aesthetics are a big influence. There is a great early Ride interview where they are asked how they feel about being compared to The Smiths for using flowers on the record covers and people bringing flowers to shows, and Mark just responds with “flowers are for everybody”. Love it.

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CTM – You guys are very creative musically and artistically and with merch too. You worked with lots of different artists. Did you give them any instructions or did they come up with these concepts themselves?

Crucial John – Yeah, with everything we have done, it’s been me kind of directing what I want or providing a sketch or outline. I’ll try and convey the idea as close to completion as I can and then they just kind of make it real. Like with the record layouts, I’ll usually sit down with Evan and tell him how I want things to be placed and look, and he makes it all happen. We have been doing it together for this long, we kind of know each other well and he can already predict what I’m going to want. With other people, I usually always try and provide as many references and direction as I can. I just think it’s easier than saying “I want something cool, do whatever you want”. In my experience, that usually doesn’t work out well. Every so often someone will submit something out of the blue and it works beautifully. The artwork on the shirts for this European tour was given to me after we played a set a few months ago in Wilkes-Barre. A young kid just walked up and said “I drew this for your band” and handed me two pieces of paper with that artwork on it. I was blown away to say the least.

CTM – Breakthrough was a totally different thing in your life musically and everything else considered. How would you say that your time in Give has changed you as a person?

Crucial John – Well I’ve been in Give since around 2006 in some capacity and we became active at the very end of 2008 so that is a long time and I’ve probably changed in ways I don’t even realize. That question would probably be best suited for someone else.

Ian Marshall – John is pretty similar to his Pos-Top days, despite what some may think. The major changes are aesthetic. You can no longer see his erection while he performs, this may be on the rest of the members of Give. Are we not appealing enough? John has learned to revere Superchunk. He has always been a synth-pop loving quiet boy and he still talks about Convicted and Envy (not the Envy that black pants people like). John has become a better man and a better lyricist. He is aging like a fine, unshaven wine.

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CTM – What are your memories playing a song with Jason Farrell? How did that collaboration happen anyway?

Crucial John – We played our record release show in DC with Red Hare and Swiz and I had told Jason, who lives in Los Angeles, that we were coming to California soon. He offered up his gear if we needed it and we ended up using a cab and head of his the whole tour and I asked if he wanted to play guitar for us for a show. It was short notice but he thought it was a cool idea and showed up to our second LA show downtown at 7th street warehouse and said he was good to go on three songs, “Voodoo Leather”, “I am love”, and “Sonic Bloom”. We played those songs last and he jumped up and did them. The whole set was great and the vibe of that show was so cool. The microphone chord snapped in half during one of the last few songs and it was the only one there so we had to go without vocals the last two songs. I remember thinking “Is Jason gonna sit back and just play and chill out or is he going to do his usual?” He ended up totally doing his thing, cutting back, running here and there, stutter stops, it was really cool. The best memory was after the set, Jeremy Stith, singer of Fury was telling me how stoked he was about the Farrell appearance and saying he has to get a pic with him before the night closes out. I tell Jason “Hey man, my friend Jeremy is trying to get a pic with you before you leave” and he responds with “Oh, you mean the kid that stolen my fucking bands name”.

CTM – I really love your Voodoo Leather tape. To me, this is the band’s most experimental release and is significantly different from your other stuff. I definitely think this release has the most psychedelic vibe in the history of the band. The Voodoo Leather tape is “heavy”, the Electric Flower Circus LP and the Sonic Bloom EP are more “rockish”. What is your opinion?

Crucial John – I agree that it is our most experimental release and I remember when the time came to do that tape, Ian had those songs for awhile and “Daisy Pains” was a song we wern’t sure how to finish and the snake pair we had jammed on for awhile and didn’t know where to put them. I was talking with Heartworm about the release and we wanted it to have exclusive songs and those were some of the songs we had been working at the time that didn’t have a home yet, so we decided to just put it all on that tape. There was no big plan for the songs that ended up on that tape, it was just all of the weirder stuff we had at the time. Voodoo Leather I think is more straight forward and was a song that Ben had written right around that time and I was real excited about it. We recorded the music for that tape here in Maryland at Angela Instuments (the place Gene and I work, and also where we practice) and I went up to Boston to do the vocals. Our friend Chris recorded it all for us. I can appreciate both approaches to musical output, for example some bands are very strict and specific in executing a vision and about what they release and other bands let it all hang out and showcase everything. Like Sonic Youth for example, who couldn’t seem to stop releasing music and always had side projects and weird limited releases. I feel like that tape is more in the latter category for us. Ian can probe explain more about the songs than I can…

Ian Marshall – You are probably onto something because those songs ended up on the tape because they were sort of outliers. Snakey Charmer predates Give. I wrote it with Gene for a band him and I never did and when I joined Give we learned it. Anytime we recorded something there was not much consensus on using the song so it just kinda hung around. Eventually I wrote a sequel, Snakey Rider, and the pipe dream was to have them flow into one another on a recording but time did not allow for that. Daisy Pains was written as an ending to a song that we recorded last year for an EP on Lockin Out. There was a complaint that the ending the song had was not cohesive enough with the rest of the song and for some reason Gene and I thought if we write this other ending that is even longer and has even less to do with the song than it would work out fine. The song that ended up on the Lockin Out EP remained as is and the wacky ending eventually got used as Daisy Pains.

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CTM – What are your most memorable moments from your previous European tours?

Crucial John – I’m not good with specific moments, if you see us on tour and are curious about stories, ask our friend 85 or Ben. They have much better memories and can probably give you a rundown on a ton of interesting and funny experiences. I will say that touring with No Tolerance was great because they are one of my current favs and it’s always cool to see a band you love play every night. You get to see mistakes, good sets, bad sets, etc and thats always cool.

Ben Schultz – Playing with lots of cool bands and meeting nice people from all over Europe are probably the best and most memorable parts of any past European tours. Some more personal memories include the stench of the bathroom at cafe blitz in Oslo, meeting Denmark’s most famous rapper (Jonny Hefty), being harassed by Austrian police for no real reason, and, of course, 85 throwing a stranger’s dirty underwear on Dan’s head so that he’d stop snoring in Flensburg (sorry Dan but I was too afraid to tell you in person).

CTM – I heard that you met the son of the current Prime Minister of Hungary on your last European tour! Haha!

Crucial John – Ha, that was a fun time. I was hanging with Laszlo after the show and we were walking all around the city and I remember he ran into a friend and we stopped to chat for a sec and then went our separate ways. Afterwards he explained that it was a classmate of his and he was actually the son of the Prime Minister. Pretty cool, Laszlo was a great host and guide and I had a blast on that trip to Budapest, really like that city.

CTM – You are a TMNT fan, tell me something about your adoration of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! Who is the Krang in the Give crew?

Crucial John – Ha, no idea who the Krang is in the crew, not sure I even know anyone who would be similar to Krang. I’ll say my friend Ahron for the sake of an answer because he is the biggest TMNT fan I know besides myself and he is a small insane person and I love him. For Give, Ben is Donatello, Ian is Ralphael, Doug is Michaelangelo, Dan is Leonardo, Austin is Casey Jones, Ashley is April O’Neil, and Gene is the shredder. Maybe Ahron is actually the rat king because he is the only person I’ve known that has picked up a dead rat with his teeth. For most interesting and favorite characters I’ve always loved Baxter Stockman, was real into the way his action figure looked when I was young and I’ve always thought the mousers were really well developed. The cartoon iteration of Baxter was the version they ran with in all of the video games and he looks so cool, especially at the end of “Big Apple 3am” in Turtles in Time. The cartoon and playmates toy line were my introduction as a kid and I didn’t read the original comics until way later, and it’s really cool to see what and how things were translated The Triceratons were a very cool part of the comics and I don’t think they got their due in the cartoon. Leatherhead was an awesome toy and even more vicious in the comic. April O’Neil was a lot more fleshed out in the comic and I loved all the drama surrounding her character. A lot of the characters created specifically for the toy line were at the very least, interesting looking. I really love them all. The TMNT rouges gallery might be my all time favorite, the only other two that even come close are Batman (Joker, Scarecrow, Penguin, Mr. Freeze, Firefly, etc) and Spider-man (The Lizard, Doctor Octopus, Sandman,Venom, Kraven, Green Goblin, etc). TMNT is very near and dear to my heart and is closely associated with my childhood, it just hit at the right time. The cartoon is awesome, but I haven’t see every episode, the toy line is incredible especially the first three series releases, and the comic is among my favorite ever. The “return to new york” and “City at war” story arcs are classic and I would recommend them to anyone that enjoys comic books. The first TMNT film is a masterpiece and I like all the others to varying degrees.

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CTM – I know that the music is completely done for the Lockin Out release. What are your future plans after the LOC EP is released? Are you working on new songs?

Crucial John – That Lockin Out EP is taking longer than expected but I’m working on the layout now and it should be out later this year hopefully. Future plans for us right now is to just release more music and play more shows. The format will most likely be a 12″ but nothing is for certain. Doug came down to hang and practice with us a week or so before the European tour and we practiced and demo’d around 8-10 new songs and I’m sure more will creep in before we actually record. Ben, Ian, and Doug always have a ton of riffs floating around. We are always working on new songs, I wish I could keep up with lyrics.

CTM – Sometimes you look like Axl Rose in your vintage Nirvana baseball hat. In the music video for the Guns N’ Roses song “Don’t Cry“, a Nirvana baseball hat is visible to the side of Axl’s left leg when he is lying down in the psychiatrist’s office. Axel is also seen wearing the hat in an interview that was filmed while making the video. Despite there are various live videos where Axl shows hatred towards Nirvana to the crowd. Why did Axl Rose hate Kurt Cobain so much?

Crucial John – Well, that whole feud is well documented and basically stemmed from Kurt slamming Gun’N’Roses in interviews and just talking shit in general. I also think Nirvana turned down an opening slot on some tour with them or something. So after all that Axl started firing back and there is that famous incident at the VMA’s where Axl threatened to beat Kurt’s ass and told courtney to shut up after they sarcastically asked him to be the godfather of their child. Who knows, Nirvana is one of my favorite bands ever but both of them rock hard and are insane so who cares. I bought the Nirvana hat, which is a promo item for the release of Nevermind from Joint Custody about two years ago, Ritter texted me a picture and said a guy had come in with a nirvana hat and asked me how much I would pay for it. I replied saying “any amount” and he ended up getting it from the guy for $25. I’ve worn it every day since except for a brief period where I lost it earlier this year. The day after our record release in December, Swiz played a show at the Black Cat in DC and I lost it in the mayhem during the first song. It was packed and I searched between every song and at the end of the night but was never able to find it. I was super bummed and considered it lost but a month later we were on tour in Cali and I wake up to a text from Ritter that just showed our friend Ambrose wearing the Nirvana hat. Supposedly Ambrose had been at a flea market type event held at the Black cat that day and a guy walked in wearing the hat. Ambrose approached the guy and the dude said “Oh yeah, I found this hat on the ground at the Swiz show that was here recently.” Ambrose sweet talked him and got it back for me. Friends are cool, shop at Joint Custody.

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CTM – Is there a connection between the colors of the singles and the lyrics/titles on the records? (Heaven is blue, love is red etc…)

Crucial John – There isn’t and now thinking about it, I don’t even remember the reason we used purple and blue first. I did all of those covers with Evan and we may have played with each record to see which color worked the best with the photo, but that probably isn’t even true. It was completely random. Obviously we wanted to use all primary and secondary colors, so that’s why the “I am Live” 7″ on Photo booth ended up yellow.

CTM – Last words?

Crucial John – Everything is cool forever.

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