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TSOL formed in 1979 and instantly established a physical and aural presence in the burgeoning Orange County music scene. The members looked like menacing surf punks who wore white face paint and sang about fucking the dead. Early OC punks often flirted with pop sensibilities, but no one mixed melodies and dissent better than TSOL.
Last November, TSOL (True Sounds of Liberty) played two farewell shows at Vault 350. The Long Beach/Huntington Beach band was calling it quits due to guitarist Ron Emory and bassist Mike Roche moving to Iowa and Nevada, respectively. It wasn't the first break-up for the group, whose original lineup disbanded in 1983, and barring a few reunion shows in the early '90s, didn't perform as a full-time act until 1999. Since then, TSOL have been just as active as they were during their initial run, with two albums and a 7-inch single on Nitro Records and a live DVD.
For the farewell shows, the band dusted off material that hadn't been played since the Reagan era. The shows were a success, and each member went his own way. That is, until earlier this month, when the band—Emory, Roche, singer Jack Grisham, drummer Tiny Bubz and keyboardist Greg Kuehn—reunited on stage in Spokane for the first night of a West Coast tour.
Grisham called from a Seattle tour stop (where the area's dampness caused him to fall down a flight of stairs earlier in the day) to explain how his band regrouped after what seemed like the final nail in the coffin.
OC Weekly:Last time you played, you said the door was open for reuniting again, even though the shows were billed as farewell performances.
Grisham: You can't say "never." The chances were slim that we would be playing together again. Until we got on stage in Spokane, I hadn't seen these guys. We just walked on and said, "Okay, let's go. What song do you want to play?"
What's the future of the band?
Who knows? Maybe we play a show once a year. The interest level is always there.
Were people surprised when you announced you were playing again?
No, they were thankful. I guess there's not a lot of good bands touring, so they're stoked we're doing it. That's what the kids say; I don't know.
What's the set list like?
We're playing whatever. We take some requests—if we can remember it. Some of the shows go an hour-and-a-half long. That's a lot for short punk songs. I drop the microphone when I realize I can't remember the words and act like it slipped out of my hand. Then I pick it back up, and by then, I've remembered all the words. Or I make it up as I'm going along. It works great. No one cares. People go see these old bands and wonder why it doesn't feel right. The difference with us is we really do like it. We get on stage, laugh and have a good time and the kids are stoked. You can tell when someone's not into it. You're getting to see us have fun. It's not a job; that's what makes it cool. The minute it turns into a job, that's bad news. My job could be eating ice cream and fucking hookers, but after a week or two, I've had enough.
Are you guys still sober?
Of course. Here's exactly what would happen [if we weren't]: The gear has been pawned by now. The borrowed gear has also been pawned. Then we borrowed more gear, which will get pawned. Then the night of the show, there will be no gear. On top of that, we get an advance from the club and blow it, then harass the club for more money and tell them we aren't going to play. We've spent all the money they've given us, so why play the show? [Years ago] there was one show that I was so hammered, that while I was passed out, they held my mouth closed and put coke in my nose to get me to wake up.
Your legal debt is paid off, right?
Yeah. [Editor's note: This alludes to a shooting incident that took place during a TSOL show at the LA House of Blues in November, 2002. The band was cleared of liability, but were stuck with a bill for $14,000 in legal fees.] It took a long time, maybe a year. Some guy comes in and shoots another guy and it's our fault? It's one more bit of nightmare that we don't really need. People get worried to book us. I don't care how long you stay clean and out of trouble, we still go into town and people read all these horror stories and get scared. Afterwards, promoters are shocked that we're nice. I'm not saying we haven't done that stuff or we don't deserve that, but when they see us they realize it's a completely different deal.
TSOL perform with the Smut Peddlers, 45 Grave, the Detours and the Crowd at Vault 350, 350 Pine Ave., Long Beach, (562) 590-5566; www.vault350.com. Sat., 7 p.m. $20. All ages.