Love Canal used to tell crowds at backyard parties in 1982, "Punk's not dead, but we're doing our best to kill it."
Thirty-five years later, it turns out punk's still not as dead as everybody likes to believe it is. The perfect example might just be this band, whose members have about a century's worth of punk-rock cred between them, yet they are just now releasing a debut album.
"Look at how many genres have come around since punk started," says guitarist Eric VonArab (a.k.a. Arab). "It's pretty cool that both [punk] and we are still going."
If It Ain't Broke, Break It is a timeline of Love Canal's journey from being kids jamming in their parents' garages to being men who own garages and play as loud as they damn well please. The combination of old and new songs written over nearly four decades is filled with political screeds against government corruption and shattering society's status quo, and it's almost impossible to decipher by era or who occupied the presidency at the time they were written.
The band endured their fair share of lineup changes over the years, including the recent replacement of co-founding vocalist Mr. Kerry because of scheduling conflicts that resulted in one too many no-shows by the front man for important gigs. When they opened for Agent Orange at the Doll Hut, veteran OC punk John Bosco, who'd been filling in for bassist Bob Gnarly at the time—stepped up to fill Mr. Kerry's role and has been the band's singer ever since. "I went over to Bosco to thank him for putting his time in because it was his last show on bass, and he's like 'Why don't I sing?'" Arab recalls.
"It was nerveracking; I still didn't know all the words to the songs," Bosco remembers. "I fumbled my way through, but I think I pulled it off."
The current lineup—which includes Bosco, Arab, guitarist Carey Howe and drummer Doug McKinnon—went into the studio a few months ago with Grammy Award-winning punk-rock production wizard Cameron Webb, who recorded the whole album with no frills, no click tracks (kind of a metronome used to synchronize recordings).
"When we walked in, I'd been practicing the songs, and I set the BPMs for the songs, and I told him, 'Hey, we're gonna run the click on this song,' and he just starts laughing," McKinnon says. "He just said, 'Get behind the drum kit and play as clean and as hard as you can. . . . Name me one punk-rock record that influenced you as a kid that was played to a click track.' And I was like, 'Yeah, good point.'"
Aside from a golden opportunity to debut their new album, Love Canal's slot at this weekend's It's Not Dead Fest gives the band a chance to shine together, as many of their members have bounced around as sidemen in bands including the Vandals, D.I. and Agent Orange.
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"We've opened up a lot of shows for a lot of people, so it's great to finally get a show like this," Howe says. "It doesn't matter how hot it is; we're gonna have a blast."
Though they're considered among the third generation of OC punks, they've stuck with punk when plenty of people told them the genre was over and now sit on the It's Not Dead roster between punk godfathers such as the Buzzcocks and fourth-wave wonders the Interrupters, their tongues out and middle fingers held high.
"That's what kept punk alive: kids loving the old bands and starting their own band," Arab says. "Being old guys, we always get lumped in playing with old bands, but I love playing with the newer bands. . . . If it wasn't for them, punk would actually be dead."
Love Canal perform with Rancid, Dropkick Murphys, the Adicts and more at It's Not Dead Fest at Glen Helen Amphitheater, 2575 Glen Helen Pkwy., San Bernardino, (909) 880-6500. Sat., noon. $42.50-$99. All ages.