Punk Rock Heroes Remember Thom Wilson

Thom Wlson
Thom Wlson
Courtesy of Epitaph Records

On Monday, the Weekly reported on the passing of legendary producer and engineer Thom Wilson. As outlets like ours posted the tragic news (which wasn't announced until a month after he died on Feb. 8), his production on The Offspring's seminal 1994 album Smash was the slice of his career that made headlines. Of course, that's because millions of copies later, it's an album everyone in the world knows (though we're sure there were plenty of fans who had no clue Wilson produced it).

But enough about Smash already. As many of you know, Wilson's recording credits--despite carrying big names like Ringo, Seals and Crofts, Barbara Streisand and Perry Como--included some pretty heavy hitters in the punk scene way before the '90s. Bands like The Adolescents, Dead Kennedys, The Vandals, T.S.O.L. and Christian Death were all singing Wilson's praises for all the blood, sweat and sleepless nights he put into working on their early records. But beyond that, he seemed like a genuinely swell guy to be around. In honor of Wilson's legacy as one of punk's most important producers, we collected some stories, quotes and remembrances about him from some of our favorite punkers who knew Wilson back in the day.

Joe Escalante--The Vandals

We found [Thom] through his work with T.S.O.L. I met him during their band's Dance With Me recording sessions and he just made it seem so much fun. You already think it's gonna be fun because making a record sounds glamorous. But with [Thom] in there, the combination between his sense of humor and his professionalism all of the sudden you're out of the punk world for a brief moment and you're doing something professional and you're spending money and he's making you have a good time. One of his famous quotes for us was "if you want art, go to Aaron Brothers." He really stripped us down to play our music and make it tight.

Sometimes he'd change directions on us during a recording and I'd have to learn a new drum beat. Like on the song "The Lady Killer"--I wrote that song, I lived that song, I played drums at the time and I thought I had the drum beat down...and I get into the studio and he just tells me "that is not the drum beat...throw it away and learn a new one right now and let's record it right now." I almost cried. So I did it and he was happy with it and that became our version of a hit. I don't know what it would've sounded like without him.

Rikk Agnew--The Adolescents, Christian Death, Rikk Agnew (solo)

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He came up with tons of ideas that worked for us without trying to be overbearing as a producer. Every time we used his ideas, they panned out. I'd say our records wouldn't have been half as good if it wasn't for his input.

On my solo record I was working full time and we had a very limited budget. And my girl friend at the time, Linda, would drive me out to Sun Valley to work with Thom at Perspective Sound Studio and we'd record all night because it was cheaper. And Then I'd drive back and go to work and then come back to record--we did that for three nights. By the third night, during the mixing session I had completely passed out. My head was on the board and I was just drooling and snoring. But Thom persevered through that and he showed he was truly a genius. Later, when the Offspring guys looked him up and started working with him, a lot of their more rocking hits seemed like throw aways to them at the time and Thom would be adamant in saying "c'mon guys lets get these songs done and put them on the album." And that's why they are where they are today, as far as I am concerned. But he was always a tolerant and laid back kind of guy. I'll definitely miss him.

Lisa Fancher--Frontier Records/ Bomp! Records

The first night when we worked on the first Adolescents record, he was super mad by the end of the day because I he thought they were super unprofessional compared to who he'd been working with. But by the second day after hearing the songs a bunch he was totally gung-ho and he loved them. Thom was far more than an engineer on that record even though Mike Patton was technically the producer. He was super open to anything, and he recorded a lot of my bands, from Christian Death to Salvation Army and the Adolescents. I worked with him on every single record for three years. He was a great guy.

We made the T.S.O.L. Dance With Me record and China White's EP record back to back. For four days a week we'd work like fiends in Torrance and he loved T.S.O.L. He just thought Jack was the funniest guy in the world. When they were recording with him, they'd tell stories about how they'd rob houses and pretend like Jack was dead during the Cuckoo's Nest days and he was thoroughly entertained by that band. He made two records on zero sleep and didn't ever complain about it. But that's how it had to be done!

Next page: Words from Jack Grisham, Tony Cadena, Steve Soto and Dead Kennedys  

Jack Grisham--T.S.O.L., The Joykiller

He said three things to me that I'll never forget. Whenever we finished the record he would say "And now we give this unto the hands of the lame." Because he wasn't a big fan of record companies. It's like ok, we just did this bitchin' thing and now we're gonna hand it over to someone who is gonna fuck it up. I still can't make a record without thinking of that.

Another thing he said to me one time when he wasn't happy with someone I brought in to work on this record we were doing he goes "Keep an open mind, you're gonna work with hundreds of people. You can go anywhere and work with anyone, you're not stuck to these guys."

The last thing was this time we were playing a show and Thom was doing the mixing during a time when there was this riot going on nearby in Hollywood. And in the middle of all this I get a message from Thom who says he wants to talk to me--he was doing the sound mixing remotely from another place--and I put the headphones on to hear what he wanted and he goes "Look what we're doing, isn't this bitchin'?" And I was thinking he was gonna tell me some important message. And it was cool, it was like a moment of just being aware of where you are right now, in the middle of this insanity, this craziness, everything the band's doing. Take a moment out and just see where you are. He really taught me about freedom and awareness.

Tony Cadena--The Adolescents

This came as a total shock, of course, and more so knowing that Thom left this plane some time ago. I have always been quite fond of Thom, pronouncing the TH in his name as the defining phonetic sound that set him apart from the rest of the Toms on Earth. There are demos floating around where you can hear me calling him that way.

Thom stayed in touch with us, occasionally dropping note or showing up to a show when we were in Santa Cruz. We had tried to arrange a recording session for years, but the physical logistics of location made it cost prohibitive. Thom was always fair in price with us, which considering his value as an engineer, was an indicator of his love for the kind of music we played. I had wanted to re-record Brats in Battalions with him. Oh well.

His kindness, and patience was never lost on me. He met me at a time in my life that most people would say wasn't my finest hour. I was brash, arrogant, and obnoxious. I thought his studio- which had a basketball court in it- looked like a jock hang out and so I sprayed the court with a fire extinguisher, dumped beer on the floor, and generally behaved like a jerk.

Thom was very patient, recognizing the misplaced anger of youth for what it was. He handed me a bill for the mess, and talked to me in terms I hadn't yet been treated with, so didn't understand. They were words like respect, the value and pride of hard work, the ugliness of vandalism, and specifically a talk on personal control.

He was a great dude. I'm glad that I was able to show him that as an adult I was capable of earning the respect he was willing to bestow on the child who didn't deserve it- but received it from him anyway.

Steve Soto--The Adolescents, Agent Orange

I recorded my first album with Thom i was 17 at the time ... At all my previous recording sessions (4 to be exact) the engineer always had me use a bass that the studio owned because my fender mustang bass was pretty beat and I did'nt even know what intonation was much less had taken the bass in to be set up for recording. When we went to record the LP i figured why bring my bass they are gonna make me play theirs etc so I showed up without a bass...to a studio that didn't provide one. It wasn't Thom's studio he was an outside producer but I still remember the look of bewilderment on his face when he said "so you didn't bring your instrument?"

But he was a great sport... I was able to borrow one from Roger from the Circle Jerks before we were ready to roll tape so i was off the hook. He had just had a son and was showing us pics and I noticed the baby was uncircumcised and I said "Hey Thom what's up ? You didn't have the extra 10 bucks?" He loved that one.

I think Thom and Lisa Fancher got a kick out of Frank Agnew and I we were invited to T.S.O.L.'s Dance With Me sessions (we even got credited on the sleeve as "entertainment by" ) and we were also at the "Only Theater of Pain sessions too. We also played on Legal Weapons LP that Thom recorded.

I saw him a few times over the years he was always in great spirits. He was also the first person I knew who was "living off the grid" that was a fascinating convo. He played such a huge part making some of the best early california punk records. He will he sorely missed

Klaus Flouride and East Bay Ray--Dead Kennedys

We had the honor to get to know and to work with Thom Wilson during the making of Plastic Surgery Disasters. It was an experience that was not only artistically fulfilling but also personally rewarding.

Thom had such a good ear and sense of what we were trying to achieve both emotionally and sonically. He was someone who was ridiculously patient and honest, listening to our thoughts and contributing ideas both sonically and creatively. And beyond that, he was a joy to just hang out at the house with and swap stories. He will be missed.

See also 10 Punk Albums to Listen to Before You Die 10 Goriest Album Covers 10 Most Satanic Metal Bands

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