By Sarah Bennett
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Photo by Jack GouldTSOL have a new album coming out. There might be another tour in the works. This Saturday, they're playing an all-ages Surfrider Foundation benefit at now-seems-tiny Chain Reaction. And somewhere, something hellish is icing over nicely.
"I never would have thought we'd be back together like this—ever," says original singer Jack Grisham. "That band was buried. That band was a punk band, and there was no way we weren't going to self-disintegrate. There was no way we were going to come out of that band and be lawyers. That band was predestined to kill itself."
And it did—temporarily. The original True Sounds of Liberty—Grisham, bassist Mike Roche, guitarist Ron Emory and drummer Todd Barnes—exploded out of the first wave of OC punk, crafting a sound that blended everything from searing political hardcore to creepy, campy horror-core, from nigh-sacrilegious ventures to moody, keyboard almost-pop. Kids turned out in droves to watch Grisham and company stalk the stage and smash out their distinctively strident and fiery songs. "Whatever TSOL picked up, they did it with finesse and musclebound grace," wrote one reviewer.
The seams finally split in 1983. Grisham and Barnes quit, and Grisham's brother-in-law Joe Wood started singing. A few years later, the original members had tumbled into prison, homelessness, drug addiction and other similarly sordid ends while Wood's TSOL—stitched together from all-new members—trundled along with their big-hair hard rock and the legal rights to the name (perhaps the lowest blow to the band's punk legacy came when Guns N' Roses drummer Steven Adler was spotted wearing a TSOL shirt in the "Sweet Child o' Mine" video). A blink-and-they're-gone TSOL reunion in 1990 had to be billed as Superficial Love.
"We're the Muddy Waters of punk rock," Grisham says. "It's a mess. No one knows where anything is, we didn't get paid for songs, and when all this shit finally blows up and the Offspring sell millions of records, I'm making $3.65 an hour sharpening knives in Los Alamitos. We didn't have control of anything; we didn't own anything—we basically came out with nothing."
But then a show on the last night of an exhibition on LA punk at a Santa Monica art gallery with other similarly resurrected punk bands rekindled a spark, says Grisham. TSOL was asked to get back together and play a one-night-only gig alongside the Bags, the Urinals and the Weirdos, among others.
"It was the coolest show," he says, grinning. "We walk onstage, and on the first song, the lighting rack goes down. I swing around and hit the security guard onstage in the nose, and there's blood all over the place. It was almost like 1-2-3-chaos! We played for 15 minutes, and nothing had changed—it felt like any other show we had ever played."
That show turned into a spot on the Social Chaos tour alongside English acts like U.K. Subs and the Business, and that was followed by a spot on the Warped Tour as, says Grisham, the oldest and most obnoxious punks on the bill—someone threatened to drop TSOL from the tour almost every other day, he says, laughing. And now they've got a new album slated for release on Dexter Holland's Nitro Records.
"We still think how we think, and we still have a lot of the same policies as we did back then," Grisham says. "But it was hard because so much changes—the last record we made together was in 1983. We're all different people now, with different influences. We're an old band, but we're almost like a new band at the same time."
They're especially new to the generation of kids who were barely born when their first self-titled EP screeched out of the Posh Boy bins—kids who were weaned on cartoony Blink-182, went to the Warped Tour and got Grisham (who's creeping up on 40) snarling and spitting and showing the crowd how to propel crowd surfers some 20 feet in the air by using a sleeping bag as a makeshift trampoline.
"Kids come up to me and ask, 'Who the fuck are you guys? What was that? What did we just see?' None of 'em know who we are," says Grisham. "How would they? We never got played on the radio, and once the band turned into a metal band, it was something completely different. But it's cool to turn on a whole generation of kids."
It's not a stab at hitting it big in these punk rock™ times, Grisham says. It's just that after all the trauma and tribulation, the smoke has cleared, and it's too much fun not to keep going, the same way it was in the beginning.
"We were clueless as to what we had—we had a band, our friends would hang out, we'd make a record and a lot of people would buy it. It was never a planned thing. The plan was no plan," he says. "Of course, I ended up living with my mother till I was 30 fuckin' years old. But that's still the plan now. As long as it's fun, we'll keep playing."
TSOL PERFORM WITH CH3, BOOBIE TRAP AND SPIDER AT CHAIN REACTION, 1752 W. LINCOLN, ANAHEIM, (714) 635-6067. SAT., 6:30 P.M. $12 THROUGH TICKETMASTER ONLY—NO TICKETS WILL BE SOLD AT THE DOOR. ALL AGES.