If you live in Orange County and you're unfamiliar with the Adolescents, then I don't know what to tell you. In 2003, this paper named the group the No. 1 greatest OC band ever, but that's not just hometown bias as the Adolescents – founded in Fullerton in 1979 – helped create and spread American hardcore across the world thanks to 1981's self-titled record (aka "The Blue Album"), and are bona fide punk royalty. Luckily, the Adolescents have been more active in the past decade than ever in their career. I say "luckily" because the band has released four full-length albums since 2004 (along with an EP and a split LP) that – in an almost unheard of feat in reunited punk bands – don't suck.
Part of what makes these records worthy of the Adolescents moniker is the signature harmonies and pop-infused songwriting created by bassist Steve Soto. The other is singer Tony Cadena/Adolescent/Montana/Brandenburg/Reflex, whose ability to capture frustration, hope and despair in a three-minute song is rivaled only by his voice, which is both melodic and guttural. So, yeah, when OC's best opens for the Offspring (OC's most well-known band not named No Doubt) Friday at the Pacific Amphitheatre, you should ditch the fried food line and show up early.We spoke to Soto Wednesday to discuss his band's latest, La Vendetta, which has a song and artwork that's going to get people talking.
OC Weekly (Ryan Ritchie):Tell me about the new song "A Dish Best Served Cold." Obviously, it's about the Kelly Thomas beating/death, the cops and the aftermath. As a band that started in Fullerton, how did that incident impact this record?
Steve Soto: We were on tour when that went down and were coming home to a show at the Slidebar. We set it up in advance because we always like to come home and play a show right when we get back. Anyway, I've known Jeremy back when Lit played the Doll Hut before they were famous. I went out to his house, sat down with him and was like, "What gives with all this?" He came off looking really bad. He said some stuff that was like, "Dude, you shouldn't have said that that way." In the end, to me, I believe the police are accountable.
Regardless of why that got to where it got, and everyone's pointing fingers, but that's neither here nor there. If those cops had done what they were supposed to do, which is protect and serve, not murder, it wouldn't have been an issue. From the very beginning, we started going down to the police station for the protests. Through the course of all this, Tony became friends with Ron, Kelly's dad. When it went to trial and things were progressing, in my mind, it was like, "This is finally going to happen. The cops are going to get convicted because how could they not be convicted?" So, when they didn't, it was really soul-crushing. I was out at my parents' (house) in Fullerton that day, so I cruised over to the spot. Tony came out with his kids. Rikk [Agnew, former Adolescents guitarist] was there.
[Tony] wrote those lyrics after the verdict, I'm pretty sure. I don't know what he's doing until we're recording. I totally trust him. I know he's going to come in with great stuff, so it's not like we rehearse it for months and then record it. Hearing those lyrics when he first came in, I got chills when I heard them. He's had an effect on me so many times where I'll grab certain lines right off the bat. That song, from the gate, was like, "Oh wow."
Tell me about the record cover. It appears to be a caricature of officer Manuel Ramos' head as a piñata about to be hit by a bearded homeless man. Were you all in agreement when you first saw it or was there fear that it might be too controversial or that it could be dated in a few years?
We were all totally into it. I back it 100 percent. Originally, the back cover was going to be the other guy like a roasted pig. You know how they have an apple in their mouths sitting on a table? I know when people see it, they're like, "Whoa." When you go after political people, you totally date yourself, first of all, but also in the big picture of things, I'm not happy with the way the White House is being run or what the government is doing, but I can make more of a change in my community than I can in the big picture. Being part of these protests against police and what they did and that leading to the D.A. pressing charges might have never happened if there hadn't been those vigils. Change can be made in a smaller setting or in your community, maybe not a global setting. There's that line in the song where he says, "With this pen, I'm going to fuck you up." Once again, that's a testament to Tony's art.
La Vendetta was recorded in April. It's June. How do you feel about the record now?
Steve Soto: I'm pumped on it. He [Tony] and I are hitting this cool writing stride with each other. Dan [Root] been with us a while, so he definitely brings his elements to the table. I don't know…everything's just flowing really well. I still feel as strongly about it when we finished it, which is pretty damn strong.
If you look at the arch of Adolescents records, the songwriting becomes much more about you and Tony.
When we did OC Confidential, that record took a long time to make and a lot time to write. As things progressed, we honed in on what we do and what we wanted to sound like. Before, maybe when there are more people bringing in songs, you have to be like, "We have to listen to this guy's songs and do this." Now, I just send Tony a batch of songs and he picks through them and comes up with words for them. I guess it's more streamlined.
It sounds like you're at a point where it's you and Tony and you knock shit out.
Yeah, although one of my favorite songs is one Dan and Tony did. It's called "30 Seconds to Malibu" and on the last record there's a song called "Big Rock Shock" that was Dan's that we play all the time. My ego can take a backseat to the song. If the song's great, I don't care if I wrote it or not.
What is about taking your songs and thinking of them as Adolescents songs? Why not find another singer or start another band?
I love playing with Tony. We've been doing this since we were kids. I like doing solo stuff. That's cool. And I like playing with the other bands. But, me and Tony started out together and he's still my favorite singer of all the singers I've worked with. Every time he comes in and starts singing these songs, I'm like, "Wow. I'm lucky to have someone to write with like this."
I've always thought he had such a great voice. It's melodic and has an edge. Why isn't he put into that "punk rock iconic" status?
Years ago, I think it was a book or magazine, but someone wrote his was the voice that launched a thousand punk rock bands. I love it. I love his whole trip. As a lyricist, he's way underrated. He writes pretty heavy stuff. I don't want to say he's better than this guy and this guy who get all that notoriety, but I know he is. It boggles my mind. I know we get a lot of respect in the punk rock world, but we don't have anywhere near Black Flag. Think about in the last 20 years – how many bands that have been successful in punk rock have sounded like Black Flag versus how many sound like us?
Why are the Adolescents so prolific right now?
I can't really say there's a reason. For me, it's like, "How much longer are we all going to be able to do this?" I love writing songs. I guess it's just something we do, so why not do it? If I wasn't happy with the songs, we wouldn't put out a record every year. On top of all of that, I wrote 12 songs in April that I'm doing with this girl. It's going to be a duet type of thing like Graham Parsons and Emmylou Harris. Our voices sound really cool together. Point being…I like writing songs. They stack up and I want to get them out there. I made a record with CJ (Ramone) this year. Hopefully by the end of the year, I'm trying to squeeze in a Manic Hispanic record. I would love by the end of my 50th year to have made four records in one year.