For plenty of punk bands, reinvention is the mother of necessity. Reliving the glory days by trading on the band name that brought them popularity is a way to come out of retirement with guns blazing. It’s about feeling important again. For Nick Sjobeck, one of OC’s most infamous punks and the founder of Dodge Dart, returning to music after a long hiatus was mostly about simply feeling whole again–which meant starting from scratch with a brand new name.
“So many members were in Dodge Dart, it was a fun band and really cool but we wanted to start fresh,” Sjobeck says. “We wanted it to be just a one lineup band with a bunch of new songs.”
The band that gained rabid popularity back in the mid ‘90s for its OC punk sound went through countless members and dramas over the years. For as much as he loved DD, and his previous band–the legendary Electric Cool-Aide, playing bass alongside with Anton Newcombe of The Brian Jonestown Massacre–and the fun times he had, with music back then were also closely tied to many of Sjobeck’s memories of drug addiction, jail time and personal derailment. After his last jail experience in 2010, the father of two vowed to clean his life up.
“I had two young kids at the time and I didn’t see myself ever going back to jail and there I was with warrants out, and I knew I was going to jail, I had to turn myself in,” Sjobeck says. “It’s a bad feeling when you have an 8 year-old and 11 year-old. I got clean in 2010 and turned myself in and been sober ever since.”
On a recent Saturday afternoon, Sjobeck is sitting at a table outside a Kéan Coffee in Costa Mesa, sporting thick rimmed glasses and an LA Rams cap. Beside him, longtime friend and now bandmate Duke Seino sits white-haired and cross-legged, two aging punks trading stories that brought them out of retirement from music to collaborate on their new band Mesa Lanes alongside their bandmates Ian McNasty on drums and Tony Morehouse on bass.
For Sjobeck it was a commitment to living sober and loving life outside of jail after a life in the system. For Seino it was a social and spiritual awakening and the need to not only touch a guitar again, but rip the shit out of it. Both of those crusades met in the middle of the band’s debut album High Crimes & Misdemeanors, out now on Hostage Records.
Stoked by the bipartisan fury of the Trump Era and the agitation of society’s flame war interactions that leave everyone on edge these days, High Crimes & Misdemeanors is a four chord tour de force coated with wisdom and tasteful guitarwork and memorable hooks on songs like “Build a Wall” “Already Dead” and “Does Anybody Think About Me?” The latter tune is Sjobeck’s remembrance of the OC he grew up in, one that’s long been paved over, rough neighborhoods turned into strip malls, old character turned into something cute that serves coffee.
“So much has changed but everyone has stories about their old neighborhood,” Sjobeck says. That includes the name of the band itself, named after an old Costa Mesa Bowling alley that Sjobeck frequented in his adolescence where he and his brother would go to loiter, steal people’s shoes and, yes, sometimes go bowling. “It used to be a bowling alley on 17th St. years ago. Nobody remembers it, they remember Kona lanes but Mesa Lanes was a cool hangout where Michael’s is now.”
For Seino, the nostalgia that drove him to join the band was more about reconnecting to an old version of himself that grew up playing in bands like popular SoCal punk band White Flag before becoming a full time working stiff. His re-awakening came after he was asked to play a punk rock reunion show at the Echo with bands like the Germs, Adolescents and Red Kross.
A couple weeks later his old friend Sjobeck called him about filling out guitar in his new band, an offer he couldn’t pass up. “I said yes and a couple shows later he was talking to a couple guys after the gig saying ‘I’m so glad Duke joined the band’, Seino says. “I’m like ‘I did?’ And I said yeah I’ll do it, it’s been great.”
Part of the band’s appeal, especially to the veteran punks who play in it, is the lack of ego that allows everyone to contribute, write great songs and enjoy playing without the prospect of trying to become the next big thing.
“As far as the band goes, it’s comfortable because everyone is in this band to have a good time, Seino says. It’s been great because I feel there’s no pressure.” After a lifetime of personal struggle during his old rockstar days, Sjobeck says after leaving his old band name Dodge Dart behind, the only pressure he feels is whether we’re gonna have a good gig or not.
“This is the least selfish band I’ve ever been in. It’s cool, everyone has a role, they just fit in it perfect,” Sjobeck says. “Nobody’s tryna be something they’re not. Everyone’s really comfortable in their roles.”
Mesa Lanes performs with Firecracker 500 at Fitzgerald’s tonight at 9 p.m. For full details, click here.
Nate Jackson is the gatekeeper to your dreams of local dive bar stardom. If he writes about you, expect your band to be offered at least one more drink ticket than the rest of the bands on the bill. Get his attention with some groovy tunes and he might just do it. Then, boy will you feel special.