Save Music in Chinatown 15 preview: Cringeworthy, a tribute to Cringer and J Church

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Cringeworthy at Awesome Fest 11 (Bar Pink, April 17, 2018) – Photo: Greg Wong

I never expected our Save Music in Chinatown benefits to support Castelar Elementary’s music program to last this long. For five school years now, our all-ages matinees inspired by the neighborhood’s punk rock past at the old Hong Kong CafĂ© (but with cookies and little kids dancing around in front like the Peanuts Gang in a Target Video) have raised about $10,000 annually to help provide an extensive music education to largely immigrant, English-learning, and underserved students. We also have a lot of fun exposing kids that can handle it to DIY culture. All the while, we’ve made a lot of friends in LA’s storied punk community. Adolescents, Channel Three, Alice Bag, Mike Watt, Chuck Dukowski, Rikk Agnew, Phranc, Alley Cats, The Crowd, The Gears—our list is way too long to list and includes rad newer bands as well as some from China!

Our fifteenth show is the most shamelessly selfish lineup yet. Most of it is newer bands with members of older groups that never got very big or popular back in their days. But I loved them and want people to check out the current music, too. These are punk rock lifers who don’t play for fame but love and the scene.

Cringeworthy is a tribute to Cringer and J Church, bands that Lance Hahn used to play in. It was a big deal to me when I found out that he dug GR, the magazine that I helped make, and it wasn’t long before we became friends and he would stay at my house with J Church when they toured through Los Angeles or even just to visit.

Lance was a DIY dynamo who would write a song every day, release singles and records nonstop, contribute to a bunch of compilations, and tour with bands that ranged from Subhumans to Seam. Our overlapping interests stemmed well beyond punk rock, and conversations spilled over into Asian cinema, vegetarian Chinese food, lefty politics, and baseball. He was supposed to play my wedding but came a week too late—perfect for a guy who not only had Charlie Brown on his record covers but who embodied that sort of relentless persistence in the face of doom, surrounded by oddballs. The miscommunication actually worked out for the best because we were able to hang out for a much longer time, and that turned out to be the last chance I’ve have to see him before he died from a variety of health-related issues.

Cringeworthy includes Cringer drummer Kamala (also of Kamala & The Karnivores), her husband Frank (Star Fucking Hipsters, The Love Songs, Degenerics), my cousin Anthony (RAD, Sick Burn), and Lory (also RAD and Sick Burn). They have played only a handful of shows and it means a lot to me that they are traveling all the way down from the Bay Area to play our humble benefit. I will try not to cry during their set, especially if my 10-year-old daughter Eloise happens to grab the mic during one of my favorite Cringer songs.

I asked Anthony and Kamala some questions on the cusp of this great occasion.

MW: Can you remind me why and how Cringeworthy started?
AL: George Chen contacted me about doing a one-off band to pay tribute to Lance for the Epicenter Zone Reunion weekend in July 2015– a series of shows celebrating the 25th anniversary of Epicenter Zone.

[Lance’s partner] Liberty was one of the event organizers, I recall.  Lance, of course, was such a central figure to Epicenter, being the record buyer and store manager at various points. You couldn’t really do this anniversary and not acknowledge Lance’s importance to Epicenter.

The original plan was that George would play guitar, I would play bass, and Adam Pfahler would play drums. The songs we were considering were all J Church songs, since Adam used to drum for J Church.  I remember that Adam really wanted to play “Sound of Mariachi Bands,” in particular.  The vocalist position was never quite pinned down, because almost immediately Adam decided he couldn’t manage the time commitment.

We then got in touch with Kamala and found out she was interested in doing this project. At that point, it really became a Cringer tribute band, because Kamala played drums on so many classic Cringer songs, but of course not in J Church.  Since Cringer was a 4-piece, we needed another guitarist, and Kamala’s husband Frank was the perfect choice because he is an amazing guitar player and all-around great person.

Later, George moved to L.A. from the Bay Area, so it became necessary to replace him in order to play a few more shows. Lory from RAD stepped in and learned all the songs–some on bass, some which she plays guitar on.

The short answer to this is: to pay tribute to Lance Hahn, and have a lot of fun playing these songs that mean a lot to us over the years.

MW: Lance once told me that he tried to write one song a day. Wth so many Cringer and J Church songs to choose from, how did the band come up with a set list?
AL: We started from the set of songs that Cringer commonly incorporated into their live sets back when Kamala was their drummer, and just picked the ones we liked the best. Besides having Kamala’s lived experience and fantastic memory, I had a couple of old Cringer set lists I had hoarded away, plus the Live in Europe VHS tape, to provide guidance.

To humor me, everyone learned “Yellow Blue & Green,” which is one of my favorite J Church songs because of the bass line.  All the rest of our set is Cringer songs.

MW: Kamala, did the songs come back pretty fast? Has it been a weird trip back in time in any way?
KP: Yes, songs came back pretty quickly. I guess it was muscle memory!

I wouldn’t say it’s been weird–more like conflicted. On one hand, it’s great to have had enough distance from playing the music to realize they are special and it’s been great revisiting it. On the other hand, an endeavor like this can feel like ego-stroking nostalgia. And there was some reticence about doing J Church songs for me. There was never a conversation about Cringer breaking up. J Church just formed in its place while I was recovering from a broken finger gotten on the Cringer/Citizen Fish tour. However, J Church’s songs, in reflection, are very special and I’m happy to incorporate a song into the set. It turns out that “Yellow, Blue, and Green” is one of my favorite songs that we play.

MW: Can you talk about that first Cringeworthy show?
KP: As indicated above, it was the Epicenter Reunion show at San Francisco’s Verdi Club in July 2015 since Lance was a well-loved volunteer at Epicenter. The show was mayhem, in many ways, because they had so many acts (spoken word, bands) in such a short period of time and no equipment backline. So, I think we had 20 minutes to set up, play, and then get our equipment off-stage. It was strangely silent after we played our set of five songs. We thought that people didn’t really like what we did, but it turns out that most people were crying because they were moved by hearing Lance’s music again.

MW: Wait, I thought everyone got sick and it was a big disaster!
AL: That was the second show!  We were gonna play the Lookouting Fest in January 2017, but 3 out of 4 of us got the flu and were really sick the day of the show, and then had to cancel at the last minute. We got to play Gilman again in January 2018– sort of our triumphant makeup show.

MW: Did you expect other shows to happen?
AL: No.

KP: This will probably be the last show for the foreseeable future. We all have busy lives and other bands.

MW: What possessed you to come down and play our benefit?
KP: We have the great honor of being asked but also have an inside track since Anthony is your cousin. It’s a small but fantastic cause in this dystopian world and the billing is eclectic. As a life-long sober person, playing in the middle of the day at an event attended by people of all ages at a venue not focused on alcohol or meat markets is pretty much heaven.

MW: As punks from the Bay Area, do you feel connection to the Hong Kong Cafe or that thread of underground music and culture? Is it exciting at all to play in Chinatown?
AL: Not being from L.A., I mean I can’t claim to have any direct connection with the old Hong Kong Cafe. For me, that connection would be with old venues where I did see bands I loved back in the day, like J Church at Jabberjaw, Jawbreaker at Macondo, or any number of bands at the Smell.

Of course, I feel a connection with the DIY spirit and passion that makes Save Music in Chinatown so special– bringing bands, music fans, and non-music fans together for a righteous cause really appeals to me and makes me want to be a part of it. Having it hosted at a venue in Chinatown is just a bonus, moreso because as a Chinese person whose dad was born in L.A. Chinatown, I treasure the neighborhood and what it means to the longtime Chinese community–and less so because of the punk connection!

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Follow Cringeworthy on Facebook and get tickets to Save Music in Chinatown 15 at eventbrite.com!

 

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Adam Pfahler on reissuing Jawbreaker’s 24 Hour Revenge Therapy

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Photo by Wild Don Lewis circa 1994.

While dorking around Facebook just like everyone else does, I started seeing posts about the upcoming reissue of Jawbreaker’s 24 Hour Revenge Therapy. Of course, I had to hit up my pal, Jawbreaker drummer, and Blackball Records founder Adam Pfahler about it…

I last saw him in the spring when his new band, California, was in town and they even played our Save Music in California benefit on a double bill with the Chuck Dukowski Sextet. How awesome was that? Did I mention that he also played my wedding banquet with Whysall Lane? Crashed at my place with J Church?

Obviously, I’m a big fan of the man and his music so you probably can’t trust me when I say that 24 Hour Revenge Therapy is possibly the raddest Jawbreaker album–a perfect balance of being evolved yet totally ripping. Can’t wait to hear the alternate mixes when the thick wax reissue drops on October 14.

Was the 24 Hour Revenge Therapy period a blur or do you recall everything?
Both. I’ve found in the process of doing press for this record that while I like to think I have a photographic memory, there’s all kinds of stuff I totally forgot. But what I forgot, Chris remembers. What Chris forgot, Blake remembers. But I will say, the things that I do remember are very clear to me. Also, I kept journals on all of our tours. They’re written in a sort of shorthand. I always thought that I would eventually flesh them out if I was ever inspired to tell our story. I’m thinking I might bring my 1993 book down to Giant Robot and just read from that in lieu of boring people with weak freestyle.

Is it awkward to listen to the old songs? Weird? Awesome?
I think we sound great. Objectivity is the benefit of being so far removed from the band at this point. I’ve said it before: Jawbreaker was so long ago, I’m not 100 percent sure I was in the band. But the weirdest thing is when I hear our music out of context, by accident. Like one time I was in a coffee shop and they were playing one of our records. It took me way longer than you might think for me to recognize it was us. But the cool thing was, I liked what I heard! Anyway, I find that it’s more awkward and weird to listen to new music.

You get pretty serious about the remastering part. Have you always had the ear for that? Is it something you learned?
My ears are pretty shot. The reason I spend so much time mastering then, remastering then re-remastering the re-master, then eventually going with the original is that I can’t really hear. I don’t trust my ears. There, I said it. Did you hear that? Because I didn’t. See what I mean?

For the reissues, do you read the reviews and comments when they get posted? People are either so serious or snarky it hurts!
One time a guy who wasn’t even old enough to have seen us play made a snide remark that we weren’t a good live band. Now, I don’t care if you don’t like my band. But I’m absolutely sure about one thing and that is that we were a really good live band in spite of what this prick saw on YouTube. So I wrote him back, “Fuck you in the heart.” That’s about as far as I’ve gone. Mostly, I just wash them out of my life.

Does your inner label guy have battles with your inner band guy about why there’s no shows to go with the re-releases?
I see where you’re going with this–because I’m both the label guy and the band guy. The inner struggle! Dr. Jekyll versus Mr. Heckle! Alas, what I truly want is for everyone to go out and purchase Jawbreaker’s 24 Hour Revenge Therapy at finer record stores in their area. Then I want them to listen to the record and be inspired enough to start their own band. Then one day when they’re practicing their craft, I want their copy of 24 Hour Revenge Therapy to be stolen from
their car when they absentmindedly leave it unlocked in a sketchy-but-affordable part of town. Then I want them to march right out and purchase 24 Hour Revenge Therapy again. But before they do that, I want their bandmate to be like, “It’s cool dude. I have that record. I’ll rip you a copy of mine. Or better yet, why don’t you just stream it on Spotify or Rhapsody or Pandora or BitTorrent or any number of illegal downloading sites that David Lowery warned us about?” Then I want them to go, “You know what? I’m buying it again. And on top of that, I’m buying an extra copy just in case this one gets broken or stolen. Wait. No. Fuck that. I’m going to buy three copies. That way I’ll have one to give away as a gift if the spirit moves me.” Then I want Jawbreaker to get back together and play Vin Scully’s birthday party.

Does all the producing make you want to drum?
In the past 33-plus years, the longest time I’ve gone without playing drums is precisely nine months. That was after my third shoulder surgery in 2006. I have three drum kits: one set up at my practice space, one set up at my house, one in cases in the basement waiting for the next show or recording session. Looking at my usual routine via GPS, it appears I’m never more than 5 miles or 20 minutes from a drum set to bang on. This is comforting to me.

Is California the next release on Blackball Records?
I give you my word.

Can we plan our spring Save Music in Chinatown show around California’s next tour, and what will it take to get Rachel on the bill?
You say jump, we say, “How high?” We ask Rachel to get onstage, we go through a number of receptionists at Third Man Records before finally
getting “accidentally” disconnected and continue trying to reach her through the That Dog Totally Fanatical Fanpage on Facebook posing as Todd Rundgren offering a proper paying gig. When she finds out it’s us, she burns an effigy of the band–a VHS copy of John Milius’ Big Wednesday–atop the lifeguard station on Santa Monica State Beach just north of Chautauqua.

In reality, all it will take is a pack of Marlboro reds. In a box.

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Eloise’s first pilgrimage to visit Adam at Lost Weekend Video (February 16, 2014)

Pre-order 24 Hour Revenge Therapy from Midheaven and follow Jawbreaker on Facebook.