At age 29, Michael Vogelsang sometimes feels as if he ought to be collecting Social Security. Farside, his decade-old band, spent most of last summer touring the East Coast with two other punk groups, Fastbreak and Save the Day—neither of which had a member older than 20. "These guys were just out of high school, and we were the old men," Vogelsang remembers. "Save the Day even named themselves after a line in one of our old songs, we've been around so long. After the shows, they were ready to go out and turn the town over, and we're going, 'Well, I don't know, guys, it's 11, and we should be getting to bed.' Ten years ago, when I was their age, I'd stay up all night drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. As much as I'd still like to be doing that, though, my body has other ideas."
Yeah, things just ain't like the old days—if that's what you want to call OC's late '80s/early '90s hardcore/ straight-edge underground that birthed Farside and other groups such as Inside Out and Sense Field. Lately, though, Vogelsang's been mulling over Farside's future, questioning how long his band can continue when all these annoying, inconvenient things—like real life, and real life's real responsibilities—keep getting in the way. Earlier this year, longtime bassist Bryan Chu left the band to get married and move to San Francisco, where he teaches kindergarten. After a year of unemployment, Vogelsang (a.k.a. Popeye, to the liner-notes writers) took a gig editing an employee newsletter for the city of Los Angeles and moved from OC to West Hollywood. And reality keeps intervening—Farside were scheduled to play this weekend's Akoostic Xmas shows at Koo's Art Cafe but had to cancel because drummer Bob Beshear got a decent-paying temp job.
Real life is why it took the band so long to release The Monroe Doctrine, their follow-up to 1994's Rigged, just this past June. But such intended and unintended breaks have also kept the band alive all these years. "Part of the reason we've been together so long is because we didn't spend the last 10 years constantly doing the same things," Vogelsang says. "Everybody in the band went to college. And as you get older, you have more responsibilities. People get married, have steady girlfriends. It's different when you're 19 and living with your mom, and you can just say, 'All right, Mom, see you in two months, I'm going on tour.' So music has to become more of a hobby as we get older, whether we want it to or not. That's why we've been able to maintain the joy of it, because we've never actively pursued it much further than that. We never needed to make a lot of money—we're still really cheap to hire."
There were times when Farside probably could have made a lot of money, though, and turned their hobby into a full-on career. When the Green Day/Offspring punk revival of 1994 hit, the band received several offers from major record labels looking to capitalize. But Vogelsang and Farside were keenly aware of the compromises almost always involved in dealing with music conglomerates.
"We were happy with what we had and still have with Revelation Records [their longtime Huntington Beach-based label]," Vogelsang says. "We have total creative control and can do whatever the fuck we want to."
Still, Vogelsang admits he asks himself "What if?" on occasion. "I think about that a lot. But the odds are against you if you go to a major—they only expect a very small percentage of their bands to be successful, and the rest of them end up getting dropped. So I have no regrets. I'm really glad I finished college because that was really important to me at the time."
They also could have easily—if cheaply—piggybacked on the fame of one of their former members: Zack de la Rocha, who now fronts Rage Against the Machine. Like Vogelsang, de la Rocha was an alum of Irvine's University High. He signed on as guitarist in an early incarnation of Farside, between stints with his other band, Inside Out.
"It was an enjoyable experience when Zack was in the band," Vogelsang says. "He's a great guy, a very talented guitar player. I usually don't get to talk to him anymore—success like that definitely changes your life. It's very difficult to maintain relationships with anybody when they're on the road for a year or two straight. But he's a busy guy. I'm happy for him. He tries to do a lot of good things with the money he's made, and I respect that."
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With everyone in the band involved in full-time, non-Farside occupations, Vogelsang isn't sure how long he can keep it going. They aren't kids anymore (except for 21-year-old Rosey, the bassist who replaced Chu; Beshear and guitarist Kevin Murphy round out the band), and they've all accepted the fact that they may never be the next Blink 182.
Monroe was actually intended to be their last record, and they hadn't planned on touring behind it. Ultimately, it seems, Farside is like a bad smack habit, a 10-year jones too tough to simply put down and walk away from. It'd be a shame if they bowed out now—The Monroe Doctrine feels like they're just getting started. Easily the best thing they've done, it's a disc that neatly fulfills their early promise of mixing hardcore with actual melodies, molding themselves into something more than just a generic punk band. As Social Distortion did with its Prison Bound album, Farside acknowledge their past on Monroe, make a break from it, and lay out a course for their future—if they want a future, that is. Several songs, like "I'm Not Shy, I Just Don't Like You" and the acoustic-accented "I Hope You're Unhappy" (which sound like something Bob Mould or the Foo Fighters might do) resonate like solid radio hits (on the other end, though, the album would be a major-label marketing department's nightmare: "Save It for the Children" is Cannibal Corpse-like grindcore, but jokingly so; speed-metal riffs are placed up against warm ballads; and there's a note-perfect cover of Graham Parker's "Blue Highway," of all things).
"I have yet to see the end of the tunnel, really," Vogelsang confesses. "We'll see how it goes. On the tour this summer, people told us they'd been waiting so long to see us, because the last time we toured was in '95, and a lot of people had gotten into us since then. And people who were already fans told us how happy they were to finally see us again. We had a good time and even turned a profit, which was nice.
"We've been doing it so long, it seems like something you could never see ending, like it could just go on forever. There are a lot of other things I want to pursue, not just musically. Since I'm living in Hollywood, I might as well try to become an actor or do voice-over work—put my 12 years of smoking to good use, use my deep voice to my advantage. But I can't not have a band; I can't imagine life without one. I gotta be doing something. Either way, it's always gonna be better than punching a clock. The ultimate goal is to not have to work. Not too hard, anyway."