By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Photos by Jack GouldEvery now and then, Orange County serves up an ominous day that's neither cold and crisp nor warm and sunny, but instead, it's a disquieting mix of the two in which the air feels strangely stagnant and you can't quite tell if you're hot or cold. This is the kind of weather we're having at the Hub cafe in Fullerton, where Jeffries Fan Club lead singer Mike Dziurgot, who recently announced he's quitting the band to devote his life to God, is waiting patiently.
He's waiting for a number of things. In the broadest sense, he's waiting for the world to end in an explosive, fiery, brutal war that will usher in a utopia the magnificent likes of which you can't imagine. In the narrowest sense, he's waiting for a reporter. You, the reporter, are off to a late start, though, and the freeway's a mess and parking's a pain in the ass, and by the time you approach the table, you're a frazzled bundle of earthly concerns.
"Hey, don't even worry about it, really," he says sincerely with a wave of his hand. And then, as you wrestle with a pad of paper, pencil, tape recorder, jacket and cup of hot coffee, he says, "I have an extra hand if you, you know, need me to carry something."
Dziurgot is different from what you expected. What you expected, quite frankly, was some kind of wacko Jesus-freak nutjob.
OC six-piece Jeffries Fan Club, whose members range in age from 21 to 26, have been plugging along now for about four years, playing their tuneful, melodic blend of ska, pop and rock to a loyal, young following. They're not the hugest or best-known band in the world, but they're not tiny either. To get some idea of the impact they've made on their scene, check out their website (www.jeffriesfanclub.com), which has received a phenomenal 52,801 hits in the past two years and features teary posts by heartbroken fans who CAN'T BELIEVE THE BAND IS SPLITTING UP!!!!!!! Jeffries Fan Club (JFC) have toured Europe twice and the U.S. a number of times. They've released three CDs: 1997's Feeling Sorry, 1998's Nothing to Prove and 2000's JFC Live. Their music has been featured in video games, in skate and snowboard videos, on MTV's Road Rules and Real World, in the Disney movie Johnny Tsunami, and in the cable movie Girl.
As a trend, ska may have peaked a few years ago, but hard-working bands like JFC, who still manage to pack clubs, are proof that despite what the press (including this very paper) might say, ska isn't dead. But it doesn't matter; Dziurgot wants out.
"He's quitting so he can give his life to God," says drummer Justin Ferreira, "and you can't continue without the lead singer, so we're breaking up. We think it sucks."
Ferreira is bitter because for the past four years, he's been the one—and this is according to Dziurgot—who has done most of the grunt work required to move a band along. Dziurgot wrote many of the songs and lyrics, but Ferreira made fliers, got JFC on shows and talked up the band. "It's my identity," Ferreira says. "I'm Justin from JFC. That's who I am."
Greg Meyer, owner of the Glasshouse in Pomona, where the band is playing its Jan. 6 farewell show (which will be recorded and sold as a live CD), recently offered to give the band a deal involving touring money and a booking agent. Of course, they had to decline.
Ferreira says ruefully, "He was handing everything to us."
There are a few reasons Dziurgot is quitting the band he started, named and devoted four years to. The first and foremost is religion, which we'll get into in a moment. But the others are worth considering as well. Dziurgot is working toward a journalism degree at Cal State Fullerton. School is—and always has been—important to him, he says. "I started going back to school, and the band just went from first priority to last priority over the course of months."
It's clear that Dziurgot, 22, is trying to grow up. "The band could never be a career unless we went all out, and I can't live with that kind of uncertainty. I'm a real conservative person. I like certainty. I like to know that I can go to school and get a degree and get a job. I don't want to play my heart out tonight to make enough money to stay in a hotel and maybe have some money to bring back and pay the bills. I'm getting older. I don't want that."
The band was never meant to be more than a hobby anyway. "I never wanted to be a rock star," he says. "I never thought of it as a career, and I never thought it would even go as far as it did—which, at times, was on the brink of being a career."
Dziurgot doesn't even consider himself a showman. "I liked to play music, and I liked to write songs, but I did not like to perform," he says. "I was horrible at performing. I'm really, really shy. I don't like attention. One on one, I'm fine, but you get a whole bunch of people and . . ." He interrupts himself. "I mean, I remember the first couple of shows we played: I was stiff as a board."
To combat nerves and make it not only tolerable but even enjoyable, Dziurgot did what countless other natural and unnatural performers before him have done: he drank. "When I was wasted, I would enjoy performing a lot," he says. "But when I wasn't, I didn't enjoy it. I was just really nervous. I mean, after four years of playing, I wasn't as nervous about playing the music and singing, but as far as putting on a show, being a showman, I wasn't good unless I was drunk."
Dziurgot says several of his band members suffered this same affliction. "When everybody would drink, we were hams. But when everyone was sober, we were really kind of boring," he says. "There were times when people worried that drinking was going to be the downfall of our band."
It wasn't. Or, maybe, in a roundabout way, it was.
You must understand that Mike Dziurgot is trying to clean his shit up. He's trying to quit smoking and drinking and cussing. He doesn't even want to say the word "ass" anymore. "He says 'butt' instead of 'ass,'" says Ferreira. "It's awkward for him, like you see him slow down, and you can tell he has to think before he talks."
For four years, Dziurgot silenced the voices in his head that were telling him he was a hypocrite. He considered himself a Christian, professed to others that he was a Christian, and yet indulged his hedonistic side. In no way was he that wild; in fact, Dziurgot's AA-style story of drinking and discovery suggests he and the rest of the guys were fairly tame. Ferreira concurs. "Some of the people drink, some of them smoke, and everyone cusses," he says. "We're all normal. It's not out of hand."
But still, Dziurgot felt he was going in the wrong direction. Drinking isn't a sin, he says, but getting drunk is. He couldn't find a way around that. "There are some things that just disagree with me from the depths of my soul," he says. "There was always that internal battle going on."
A couple of years ago, Dziurgot came close to quitting when the band's original guitarist, Sonnie Johnston, and trumpet player Chris Rush quit the band. The band had just returned from a tour with Christian ska band the Insiderz—a band whose members held Bible study every night, which Johnston and Dziurgot attended. Rush quit JFC because he wanted to concentrate on school, but Johnston, who went on to join Christian ska band Five Iron Frenzy, left because, according to Dziurgot, "He's weak. He couldn't do both—couldn't be a Christian and be in JFC. He said he'd rather not be tempted."
So two years ago, Dziurgot told trombone player Chris Colonnier he was quitting. Then, after a show one night at the Fly Theater in Victorville, he "pulled a complete 180," Colonnier says. "He told us that he changed his mind and that [since] we've spent this much time and energy on the band, we may as well see if we can keep going." They did for another couple of years, but from that moment forward, Colonnier knew the end was coming.
Dziurgot's parents, his construction-worker father and school-supervisor mother, both Christians, tried to talk him out of quitting the band. "I wanted them to be proud of me, and they were proud of me and the band," he says. "My mom loved the band. She would always talk me out of quitting."
So much so that it begins to seem as if Dziurgot stayed in the band for a bit to appease his mother. Then he heard a sermon at his church. The minister was telling his own story of struggle with God, how he was opposed to his son-in-law going to England to work as a minister because it meant his daughter and grandchildren would move there as well. The son-in-law said to his father-in-law, the head of the church, "Regardless of what you want me to do, this is what God wants me to do, and I'm going to do it." Dziurgot says he "realized I'd been giving a lot of weight to my mom's opinion rather than my own. I felt that God was telling me, unequivocally, to get out of the band, and I'd been holding back, but that was exactly what I needed to hear." And his father? "My dad is, you know, money, money, money. He was like, 'You're stupid: as soon as you quit, you're going to get a big deal, a big major-label deal.' But he lives in his garage, so . . ." Dziurgot cuts himself off with a big, uncomfortable laugh.
For a while, he decided to stay in the band and try to live a more wholesome life. But it was a struggle. During practices, when others took a smoke break, Dziurgot would remain behind the studio, strumming a guitar and singing Christian songs. One night, he went to get coffee with Johnston, who'd just returned from a tour with Five Iron Frenzy. That night, he made his decision. "I went home and decided, 'That's it, I'm not going to be a hypocrite anymore. I'm not going to say I'm a Christian and then live like I'm not. I don't want to be a bad example of a Christian anymore. There're too many bad examples of Christians out there.'"
Telling the band wasn't easy. "It was scary; I had butterflies in my stomach," Dziurgot says. "Talking about religion is a real hard thing because I worry what people are going to think. Are they going to think, 'Oh, he's just a religious weirdo'? It took a lot for me to tell them, but I said, 'I'm done; I'm not going to live for anybody else. I don't care what anybody else thinks about me.' They can think I'm an ignorant person because I believe in this archaic thing. That's fine. I'm a logical person. I'm educated. I've heard all the arguments against it, and that's what I believe. I've taken a leap of faith. This is what I believe." And their reaction? "They were actually really, really, cool with it, except for one person who laughed at me."
The night Dziurgot told them was a practice night like any other, held at Ferreira's house. As soon as everyone showed up, Dziurgot told the band. "Everyone got really quiet," Ferreira recalls. "It was like, 'Okay, you're quitting; the band's over.' I was the only one asking why. Why not play a show every few months? But he said no."
It didn't come as a complete surprise, though. For the past few months, Dziurgot had been withdrawing. They had only played one show all summer because Dziurgot refused to tour. "The band was slowly coming apart," says Ferreira. "Dziurgot was losing interest."
Colonnier has a similar recollection. "I know him well enough," he says, "and I could tell that his heart wasn't in the band anymore."
For Dziurgot's entire life, he says, he's dealt with people misinterpreting him. He's shy, and in turn, he's quiet, but instead they think he's arrogant. "People think I'm sitting there thinking I'm better than them, but really I'm sitting there thinking, 'They're staring at me. What's wrong with me now?'" Dziurgot laughs uncomfortably again. He thinks he knows why he's like this. "Part of it is that my dad, um, likes to pick on people," he says. "He picks at you, picks at you, picks at you. My house is dominated by guys, and that's how we bond, by picking on one another —you know, 'Get out of here; leave me alone,' that kind of picking. I just get real nervous when I'm around other people because I think they're picking at me like my dad did." But then he backpedals. "I mean, don't think I have, like, these emotional scars from my dad. I get along with him very well." Dziurgot laughs again. "I'm just that type of personality because of that." And then he says, "I mean, this is all off-the-subject, stupid stuff."
Dziurgot recalls a Bible story in which Jesus says something negative about a man who can't put himself in another man's shoes. "I'm the opposite, though," he says. "I put myself in other people's shoes too much. I automatically put myself in someone else's shoes."
Perhaps Dziurgot is saying more when he says he's "weak," which he's said countless times. He seems without any kind of buffer. "The minute I see someone being hurt, I put myself in that person's shoes," he says. He talks about going to his uncle's funeral and watching his cousin and thinking about how sad his cousin must be to have lost a father. He talks about Johnston, who lost his dad to cancer when they were seniors in high school. "I don't even know how he's made it through," Dziurgot marvels. "He isn't bitter at God, though. A couple of other guys in the band who've lost their dads, one of them was raised Christian and one of them wasn't, and they're really bitter at God."
But maybe that's only Dziurgot putting himself in other people's shoes. Colonnier says nobody in the band is bitter at God. "I'd say that's fairly inaccurate."
Some time ago, Dziurgot and his girlfriend were watching TV, something about the fighting in the Middle East, and Dziurgot got a big smile on his face. "Not because of the violence—I don't want the violence; I pray for peace every day," he says. "But I had a smile because the Bible predicted this. I knew it was going to happen. I'd been waiting for it."
"It" is the End Times prophecy. The Christian Bible's Book of Revelation says the generation that sees Israel become a nation will be the generation that sees the Second Coming of Jesus. It will not be a pleasant coming, but one filled with mass murder, acts of outrageous brutality, the Antichrist and, of course, Armageddon, the war to end all wars. Some followers of the End Times prophecy regard the current fighting in the Middle East as a continuation of a fight that started in biblical times and read it as a sign that the end—or, rather, the End—may be closer than you think.
But Dziurgot isn't scared. "I'm absolutely excited—absolutely," he says, smiling, and then he describes what those same millennialists think comes next. "It's going to be amazing. Come on! A place where there's no sorrow or struggles? It's an eternal resting place, a utopia. I've thought long and deep about it, and there's nothing else I want more than that. Nothing else."
Jeffries Fan Club's final show, featuring the Skeletones, Longfellow, Codename: Rocky and One Hit Wonder, is at the Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, (714) 647-7704. Sat., 7 p.m. $12. All ages.