Sean Wheeler on Being a Crybaby and How They Turned X's John Doe into a Fan
Sean Wheeler (right) and Zander Schloss.
Photo by Brian Kasnyik
Sean Wheeler and Zander Schloss represent two eras of punk rock. Schloss gained his punk success in the early stages of the Los Angeles scene as a bassist for the Circle Jerks. Wheeler is the rowdy frontman of Throw Rag, which formed in Salton Sea, California during a subsequent wave of punk in the early '90s. The pair met when Throw Rag toured with Circle Jerks, and collaborated unofficially off and on for a few years until they became a bonafide music duo around 2005.
The Americana acoustic duo spoke to us in anticipation of their Coach House show Wednesday, an early stop on their new tour with X. Some of the interview was featured in our print edition, which you can read here, but as Wheeler said, he's "gabby" and there was no way to fit all of the notable things he had to say into the allotted space.
So here's a continuation. Some of his responses don't really fit in with the preceding questions because, as Wheeler warned, he has a stream of consciousness way of thinking. "You'll have to reel me in otherwise you'll have three hours of tape to work through," he said. The tape counter read 49:07 at that point.
OC Weekly: What's new since we last spoke in 2009?
Sean Wheeler: We went to Europe last February for about six weeks. We've just been running around in circles trying to get people to hear what we're doin'.
How was Europe?
Europe was great, actually. We went to Germany and Austria and Czechoslovakia. We stayed in the Basque country for about a week; that was beautiful. We did a lot a lot of shows in punk squats because of our background. But what we're doing now is different than what we did back then. Early on there was a little fear-- "Oh they're not going to like this because it's nothing at all like what we were doing in the past." But they loved it. Every night we got encored almost.
People just like music if it's good. It doesn't have to be any sorta kinda thing. Sometimes I worry people are going to be stuck in a genre just because they look like they "belong" to a genre. What I've learned is that if the music's not bad people generally respond positively and that was the case.
I have some friends that say you should have been doing this [project] the whole time. It just depends what you're looking for. Punk rock is great for partying and all -- I get it. This is just a little deeper than I usually get to play.
It's easy starting over with the way the economy is right now. [Having a two-man band] makes it cheaper to travel. With two people, you can just hop on a plane with a backpack full of CDs and Zander will bring his guitar. You can fly cheaper and there are patrons of the arts everywhere.
It's so hard to make ends meet right now. Even as a two piece -- we leave the house in the red like, "How is this going to work?" but we always come back with a little bit of money. Which is better than some. Who would have thought that in 2011 being a musician is a safer bet than being in the construction business or something? It's really weird. People ask "Why don't you get a real job?" Or what's that word when you have a job and it's supposed to be secure?
Yeah, a career. Yeah, as a musician it's hard to say what's going to happen, but anymore ... A lot of my friends had safe jobs and unfortunately are out of work. My God, I never thought I'd be singing in an acoustic duo and paying my rent while my friends are losing their homes. It's hard going down that road but it's everywhere you look. It's hard not to. There's good people doing "the right thing" and they're in a bind.
[Zander and I have] toured for a long time, so we've seen it in other cities like Detroit or Pittsburgh or Cincinnati -- any industrial city where the jobs have left -- but now in California, you're seeing it too. California is the dream land -- you just wouldn't expect to see that.
We're playing anywhere that'll have us, trying to pick up a handful of fans wherever we go. Then we're doing that X tour. We're so glad to be doing that X tour. Exene was already a fan and I thought John Doe would like it if he heard it so we took a show in Joshua Tree pretty much for free. The guy gave us gas money. We were like, "Let's do this show and John will see us and if John likes us, and Exene likes it, who knows? Maybe we'll get to do an X tour." And it worked out just like that.
You never know when stuff like that will happen. Its always like, "Oh, I'm going to go over here because its the most obvious place to receive good fortune, but it's never in the place you're looking for it to happen. It's always in the oddball places.
When [Zander] moved to LA he was in a funk band called the Juicy Bananas and was just barely making ends meet. He was walking down the street and someone pulled up and said, "Zander! The Circle Jerks are looking for a bass player," and he's like, "Why you tellin' me?" [The other guy] is like, "I thought you could use the money." I'm pretty sure -- you gotta ask him -- he joined the Circle Jerks because he really needed a job at the time and then thirty years later ...
And he'll tell ya -- there's no retirement.
What can people expect to see at your shows?
[See response in print article].
People cry at our shows. Even big guys. We play one cover called "Spiritual." I listened to the Johnny Cash version and just broke down in tears. What a heavy song, man. It talks about Jesus a lot, which, I try to stay away from -- direct spiritual figures. But the song is beautiful.
I'm a crybaby. I cry on Geico commertials. Like when the little boy is playing basketball with his father. I like when I'm out on the street and I see a dad and a little boy walking to school. I love seeing love. It's easy to see all the other crap in the world. But if you look around you'll see a lot of beautiful things out there.
I'm holding on to hope. It's a hard world to try to get by anyway.
Zander will tell you the opposite. He'll tell you the world is going to be just fine without humans. As long as we don't nuke the whole thing or whatever, it will probably be better off.
Last time you spoke with us in early 2009, you said it was a challenge to shake that punk image. Is that still true?
Yes and no. It's a quality problem to be known for something else -- if it's a problem at all. Sometimes Zander will get depressed "Bass player in the Circle Jerks -- people don't even know I'm a guitar player." When we were in Czechoslovakia, a fifty year-old-man came up to us, crying, because when the walls went up there was one cassette in this Russian-occupied village and they would all share it. Told us how much it meant to them in the '80s. That's the thing you should be taking away from it. If you can realize that what you did really helped someone, they're not really bothering you.
As for the image, people will look at me and -- I haven't used in 15 years -- but, they'll look at me and go, "Hey, you need something?" When I quit drinking and using, I was so scared. I was in Throw Rag at the time and all of the shows leading up to me getting sober were full of nudity and vomiting, chaos, I wasn't allowed to go to places because I was disrespectful. I was scared like, where am I going to fit in? A frontman who's no longer "that guy." It was actually better. I could play more than three songs without getting exhausted.
Keith Morris came down to our record release party and told Zander that he didn't expect to like it but he actually loved it and this is what Zander should be doing. That's great coming from these old guys who don't just throw compliments around and aren't full of shit. I'm still like the little fan kid, I still like that kind of acceptance from my peers. There can be a thousand people in the room, and I'll only see the one guy walking out. "Why is he leaving? He doesn't like us?"
We were at Ozzy and we had front row tickets. I had to pee on the second song. I got up to leave and Ozzy looked over at me -- he might have even said, "What's wrong? Not good enough for you?" Of all the people who are there, he focuses on the one guy in the front row leaving. So insecure. Humans. They are.
I do the same thing. I'll see people texting, which is always a bummer. Then I see the people who are way into it and those are the people I try and focus on. But then again, who am I to say what I'm doing is the most important thing going on? What a bunch of weirdos we are. Human beings are so fragile. We're such a strange species.
Sean Wheeler & Zander Schloss with X at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 4968930; www.thecoachhouse.com. Wed. Call for time. Sold out. All ages.
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