Tony Reflex, Steve Soto, and Lisa Fancher on the Adolescents’ La Vendetta

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The Adolescents were already one of my three all-time favorite bands and then they turned out to be the raddest humans, too. How stoked was I when singer Tony Reflex started supporting and then attending our humble Save Music in Chinatown benefit matinees out of the blue? And I never even would have dared to hope that he’d ask bassist and fellow co-founder Steve Soto to play one of our fundraisers for music education—only to turn it into a secret Adolescents show for about 150 damn lucky supporters including many unsuspecting elementary school students.

So with La Vendetta being released domestically on Frontier–rather just exclusively via German import like the previous four or five releases–how can I not be excited or want to cover it? The completely raging and supremely catchy batch of songs touches on social injustice (the unpunished murder of Kelly Thomas by Fullerton police) and international tragedies (Fukushima), as well as local legends (Jack Parsons Laboratories) and lost friends (Pat Fear and Mike Atta). After the afternoon gig, I hit up Tony and Steve and Lisa Fancher from Frontier Records, the Adolescents’ first and latest label, with some questions about the legendary band from Fullerton’s past, present, and killer new album…

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MW: You guys have played with a number of other bands and still do. What makes Adolescents special and still exciting after so many years? 
SS: I like doing the solo stuff and I have fun playing with other bands but the Adolescents is my first love. Every time we play a show or make a record, it all goes back to two kids who met at a show because the power was shut off and then went on to start their own band. Whether we are in Europe playing to thousands of people in a field or in a small club playing to 100 people, it’s all about that bond we formed back then and all that we have accomplished together since then. I don’t have that bond with anyone else.

MW: The band’s recent string of albums is super strong but they haven’t received proper U.S. distribution. How cool is it to have La Vendetta released domestically and then have it be on Frontier on top of that?
TR: It’s pretty great. We have really wanted to do another record with Lisa. Besides being a label I respect, Lisa herself is a really awesome person. I am glad we are collaborating again.

MW: Lisa, what is it about La Vendetta that made you want to handle it?
LF: I don’t think Steve or Tony will disagree with me when I say they were bad about playing me anything after O.C. Confidential. In fact, I still haven’t heard the LPs between La Vendetta and OCC! (Ahem, vinyl please.) But, in truth, I have not been releasing new material by anyone for a long time. I knew when I heard La Vendetta that they’d really been working on songwriting and production, and I think people will finally stop asking them about the Blue Album lineup. At least, I hope so!

MW: Back in the day, what made them stand about among all the other groups that were exploding from the punk and hardcore scene? Why did you want to release their debut album?
LF: Songwriting, for sure. They were light years ahead of other punk bands in L.A. or O.C. in that department. I think the age thing was something of a gimmick. Rikk Agnew is only two months younger than me, anyway! But I am still so incredibly proud of the Blue Album, considering the time and budget parameters I put on the band at the time. And, oh yeah, the producer Thom Wilson had never recorded a punk band before–just stuff like Seals and Croft! So hilarious that the Adolescents’ debut was called “over-produced.” I still give Jack Rabid shit about that. I wanted my records to sound good and look good, and I think that’s another reason the Blue Album stands the test of time. If you ain’t got the music, you ain’t got shit!  (I trademarked that–don’t try to steal it!)

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MW: Tony, how is writing songs with Steve different from when you guys started?
TR: I thought about this one a bit because if I simply said, “It hasn’t really changed much,” it would sound like I didn’t want to answer the question. But it really hasn’t changed much. When we first met, Steve and I lived a few cities apart. Orange County is huge. He lived in the Placentia area, which is in the eastern part above the 57 Freeway and I lived more or less in the central part where Stanton and Anaheim meet. Since neither of us had cars, we collaborated by land line telephone and tapes, and traveled by bus or bumming a ride. Now we live in different counties and are separated by more distance–including the time/schedule factors–so the fact that we have cars hasn’t really contributed to anything except getting together to hang out. Now we collaborate by cell phone and MP3 files.

SS: We started off writing songs over the telephone! But however I send Tony music, he always comes back with lyrics that blow me away. I love it when he is tracking his vocals because I will start picking out lines and be like, “Holy shit! Did you just say (insert great Tony line here)?” I have a lot of “holy shit” moments with Tony because his pen is mightier than most.

But the best part about our friendship is that we laugh a lot. We have a lot of inside jokes after 30-plus years of friendship and, even more importantly, during times when things have been truly bleak in my life he was right there with me.

MW: Do you have a favorite song on the new album?
SS: Hm. Can’t pick one. I love “The Last Laugh” because it’s about Bill “Pat Fear” Bartell. I miss Bill. I also love the energy of “30 Seconds,” and the story behind the lyrics is awesome. (Google “Jack Parsons.”) And then there is “Dish.” I had goose bumps when I heard the words the first time: “With this pen, I’m going to fuck you up.” The song was about Kelly Thomas but look at how timely it still is. It hit home again when people held up their pens for Charlie Hebdo. The pen is mighty and it will someday topple fists, Tasers, chokeholds, and religious fanaticism.

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MW: The recent one-year anniversary of Fullerton police officers going unpunished for killing the unarmed and innocent Thomas really makes it feel like a fresh wound.
TR: The Kelly Thomas verdict was something that affected all of us. In fact, Steve’s family and my family were out on the marching lines, and so were Rikk Agnew and his family. The murder of Kelly Thomas stands as one of the most devastating acts of cruelty in the history of Fullerton, and it is something that brought all of us together.

Throughout the history of the band, we have tried our best to deal with contemporary issues without sounding dated. I think we have done that well, and that is why our records transcend generations and any specific time frame. They sound fresh whenever you hear them. That’s part of the reason that they work. And, yes, I think most of the Adolescents’ recorded catalog is great–with the possible exception of Brats in Battalions.

MW: Are there fans who see your set list and think “Let It Go” is a song from Frozen?
TR: Haha. Spoken like a father who has heard the Disney song a million times. Actually, believe it or not, I haven’t seen Frozen and only learned of the song on news radio and the byline was “how to get annoying songs out of your head.” But I haven’t had anyone comment on it before. Maybe they are closet AM Disney fans that don’t want to be outed.

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MW: Can you tell me a little bit about how Dan, Ian, and Mike came on board? They’re rock solid!
TR: Dan Root is a great guitarist. He was in a band called One Hit Wonder that was on Nitro and had toured the world pretty extensively. Remarkably, of all that he is done, that is the band I hadn’t seen! I did see him when he played with Jack Grisham in Tender Fury, as well as the years he worked with our mutual friend Rik L. Rik and, more recently, with Steve in CJ Ramone’s band. He brings a great dynamic and, like Mike, a sense of humor and friendship.

SS: Dan is awesome. We became friends back when he was playing with Jack in the mid ’80s. When I was in Tender Fury very briefly, Jack called me up and said, “You and Dan goof around too much. I need you to help me keep Dan under control.” I thought, “Screw that. I like Dan out of control!” He is an amazing guitarist and a great hang.

TR: Leroy was a great player but he was really clear that he could only record, so that was that. Ian Taylor, on the other hand, has made the commitment by driving up from San Diego to be a part of this. He has a rich musical history, having come from the desert area and playing in Unsound and Mondo Generator, and I was a fan of his band Furious IV in the ‘90s.

SS: Right when we were starting to look for a new guitarist, Tony ran into Ian randomly, called me, and said, “Hey, I ran into Ian and he said, ‘If you ever need someone…‘“ It was so random, yet makes perfect sense because he is a great fit.

TR: Mike Cambra is a dynamite drummer. As much as bringing a great style, he is just a really cool guy. Interestingly, his uncle was in the Tubes.

SS: Mike plays in Death by Stereo with my friend Efrem. That’s how we met. An awesome drummer and great dude.

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MW: Lisa, do you remember exactly when you first met Steve and Tony?
LF: Actually, I don’t. I remember talking to Frank on the phone and making a deal to record the Blue Album while I was working at Bomp! Records. I think the first time I met the whole band was the first day making the Blue Album at Perspective Sound in beautiful Sun Valley, CA. Steve didn’t bring his bass. But anyone can feel free to set me straight on this. This is why history books of any kind are so utterly suspect…

MW: But now you’ve got this great new album coming out, essays in photo books, appearances in record collector documentaries, and anniversary shows–are you on a roll or what?
LF: I guess? You left out co-owning my distributor (ILD) and launching my own radio station (KXFU, February 2015)! It would be bitchin’ if any of these things resulted in a paycheck but it’s the “being so insanely busy I don’t know what day it is” that really counts. The Dangerhouse show was the high point of last year for me, so I really look forward to putting on Part II with Part Time Punks this summer!

MW: With everyone’s other bands, projects, and lives going on, is it remotely possible to support La Vendetta with shows?
TR: There will be at least 40 shows. We are scheduling 10 in South America and 30 in the United States and Canada.

MW: And of course I was totally shocked and super stoked that the Adolescents played our benefit. But Steve, I really dig your solo work, too, and was excited about the idea of you playing those lovely, sad songs for us. Can you tell me about them?
SS: I started writing my first solo record after my divorce. It was liike my attempt at doing Elvis Costello’s Blood and Chocolate. I wrote one of my favorite songs on it with James Achor of the Royal Crown Review. I love Steinbeck, and was thinking about The Grapes of Wrath and the Okies that headed west for a better life. “West Coast Bound” was my take on leaving my relationship behind and moving west. And it was actually true. I mean, I already lived in Long Beach but I moved four blocks closer to the beach…

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Get the new Adolescents record straight from Frontier Records (value priced with free shipping in the U.S.!) or keep checking the band’s Facebook page for tour dates and buy it from the merch table (that’s how I’ve been acquiring the recent imports a couple at a time).

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