I ran into Steve Soto from The Adolescents by chance when my band opened up for Channel 3 in Brooklyn last week. The Adolescents had posted the article Anna and I wrote, and not only had he read it, he praised it incredibly highly. He also agreed to let me interview him, and was one of the most genuine, down to earth people I’ve ever spoken with. The Adolescents fucking blew me away when I saw them that night at Black and Blue Bowl as well – playing all of the greatest songs off their self titled record along with some newer ones. Highly recommend seeing them if you ever get the chance, because they still fucking have it. Anyway…
How often do you get the joke “when are you going to grow up?”
All the time. We always say, people make comments about that all the time, but does anyone ever ask the Circle Jerks when they’re gonna stop jerking off?
What did you take from the other bands you’ve been in for The Adolescents?
I didn’t really take anything from Agent Orange into the Adolescents. I’d say, when I was in Agent Orange, the Adolescents was what I wanted, not what I was doing in Agent Orange. I did it with people on the same page as me. I love Mike [Palm] and Mike’s a great writer. Mike didn’t want any other input but his own as far as writing. It works and it’s great, I love their band, and I still think they’re amazing. But at some point I wanted to be in a band with two guitar players, I was listening to Give Em Enough Rope by the Clash, I was like, “I have to have two guitar players.” That was another record you mentioned, to me that’s the best Clash record. So there were things like that went into [The Adolescents], I definitely wanted two guitar players, that was the main thing I wanted when the Adolescents started. I wanted to be in a band with Tony. We had met when we were kids, we met at a show. I had tried to get Rikk [Agnew] to start a band with him when I was still in Agent Orange. Someone needed to start a band with him. Then I was like, “fuck it, I’m gonna do it.” That’s how we started.
What other bands were you in?
I play in Manic Hispanic and CJ Ramone’s band. I play in Punk Rock Karaoke with the illustrious Stan Lee [of the Dickies], Greg Hetson of Bad Religion and the Circle Jerks. Me and Jonny [Wickersham] from Social Distortion have a band called The Black Diamond Riders that’s all 60s soul covers, the other guys from his old band The Cadillac Tramps are in that band. I do solo stuff, I just released a solo record that’s more American stuff. I just did a European tour with Kevin Seconds. Kevin and I are about to do a record together, acoustic stuff, we had a blast going on that tour. We played together, not like solo. That’s what I got going on right now. I think that’s it.
You were in Legal Weapon, too, right?
Yeah a long time ago. Just for a year or so.
How did your contemporaries influence you?
My contemporaries? They were more like, we were watching each other. I don’t think there was a lot of influence. That’s the great thing about Southern California punk rock back then, we didn’t sound like the Circle Jerks, TSOL didn’t sound like us, Agent Orange didn’t sound like anything. There wasn’t a distinct sound. There was a running thread, but none of those bands sound alike.
So it was more of a support system?
Exactly. We were all friends, we all saw each others’ bands, we all loved each others’ bands, but I don’t think we all sounded like each other.
What’s the best show you’ve ever seen?
I saw The Cramps, and it was supposed to be Redd Kross. I went mostly to see Redd Kross, because I love those guys and we were all friends, we were all really young. There were all these great LA bands but the ones in our age group…Agent Orange met Red Kross early on, we were all teenagers and there were other bands in their 20s. But I saw The Cramps at the Whisky and they were so good. I’d heard the records and I liked them, but it was such an amazing show I just walked out floored. It was 1978, or maybe the beginning of 79. Tony tried to get onstage and Lux grabbed him by the head, and he’s shoving Tony’s head [into his crotch] and Tony’s fighting to get away. And he rolls away, flops to another part of the side of the stage, and Bryan Gregory didn’t see him, and turned around and stepped right on Tony’s hand. Tony had to get stitches from getting smashed with a stiletto heel. It was crazy but they were so good. I’ve seen so many great shows, but that one always stands out in my head as the best. I’ve seen the Circle Jerks a million times and I’ve loved every show I’ve ever seen. When they filmed them for the Decline of Western Civilization, with Roger in the band, every show was fucking amazing. I saw the Black Flag show where Ron quit, I’ve seen some iconic shows. I saw the Clash which is the one good thing about being old.
Piggybacking on that…my boyfriend told me about Tony acting out at the premiere of The Decline.
That wasn’t The Decline premiere. That was the Youth Brigade movie…Another State of Mind.
Remind me to call him out on that. But what happened?
The Stern brothers [of Youth Brigade] rented out a theater in Hollywood. I wasn’t there, but I’ve heard this from a million friends that were…Tony knocked the projector over. Might’ve been on purpose, probably wasn’t, actually it was. He knocked the projector over, a bunch of people swarmed him of course, they were beating him, they were having him arrested and Shawn Stern stopped them from arresting him. And the guys that made the movie were trying to get him in more trouble, but Shawn made it go away because he was looking out for Tony.
What are your favorite records ever?
Ever? Give Em Enough Rope. Quadrophenia, by The Who.
I saw them play that in its entirety.
I haven’t seen them since ’81. Also, Group Sex by the Circle Jerks. First Generation X album. Any of the Replacements albums, I think all the early ones are great, Sorry Ma is Great, I’m a huge Let It Be guy. I mean, Pet Sounds. I could go back and forth between that and punk rock. There’s a record by a band called Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams’ first band. The Strangers Almanac record, I listen to that all the time.
What about newer bands?
Oh, what, you mean like Night Birds? Mean Jeans, I like, Night Birds record I like. There’s a band called The Croissants from Sacramento that’s fucking amazing. Off the top of my head there’s those. The Croissants are my favorite band I’ve seen in the past year, live they’re so much fun.
What sets you apart from other bands from your time? Why do you think kids are still picking up that record?
Because our record didn’t get dated. We weren’t singing about Reagan, we weren’t singing about the 80s. We were singing about being disenfranchised teenagers. That’s still a thing today, all the shit we were singing about, kids are still dealing with today.
Yeah I first heard that record when I was 13.
Yeah. That’s why I think we still like doing it. Because kids come to see us.
Are you working on any new stuff with Adolescents or otherwise?
Adolescents new record is coming out July 8. We put out like 5 records in the past 6 years.
What makes you keep making records?
Besides writing a lot of songs? I just write a lot, Tony writes a lot. We started in mid February, finished the Adolescents record in mid march, I did my solo record end of March, went on tour with Kevin, the day after I got back we did a CJ Ramone record, we just finished that, like…we got on the plane [to NYC] the day after we finished. Three records in eight weeks.
How have the lineup changes over the years impacted your sound?
We’ve had mostly the same lineup for the past three records except for Ian, the new guitar player. He came in almost two years ago. Dan’s been with us for five or six years. He plays a big part. He used to play in a band with Jack from TSOL and that’s when we met when we were younger. Then he got married and had a family and that’s when he stopped playing. We used to play in this joke band, called Flock of Goo Goo with the singer of Cadillac Tramps. We only played in Long Beach on New Year’s Eve. But I was always like, fuck that’s crazy, that’s all he does. So when his kids got older, his business built up and was running on its own, we started being like…come on man. First he was just supposed to go to Brazil with us, our guitar player couldn’t go, and he did three shows and then that was the carrot…we started being like, “how about going on an east coast tour for ten days?” Okay. Then it turned into a 6 week European tour. Here he is now. The Agnew brothers guitar team was amazing, I have nothing but crazy respect to their contributions to the band, especially Rikk’s songwriting which was far beyond anything else at the time.
Do you think you’ve retained the same sound?
I think Dan’s one of those guys who came up listening to Frank and Rikk. He plays as good as Frank. So I think we totally have the same sound. Drumming wise, it’s better, no offense to Casey. He was a great singer for DI, but every time we’d do reunion shows he’d come in and it was like he hadn’t played drums for three years. His drumming on the blue album is classic, he just didn’t keep it up. Mike, our drummer, is sick. We’ve had some others but he’s the best. He plays in Death By Stereo. I think we sound better than ever, mostly because everyone knows what they’re doing.
I was watching a video from 1982 earlier. Excited to see the difference between then and now.
There’s a definite difference. We’ve done a few live records and they’re usually sloppy. It’s not sloppy anymore.
[I was also able to ask Tony a question later, as follows]
Is it fair to say some of the motivation behind songs like “Wrecking Crew” and “Kids of the Black Hole” carried into your work with kids?
Definitely. I’m, for a lot of people, a liaison to getting help. I talk to my kids, my students, we work a lot on friendship, communication, and social skills. Problem solving. I get kids who come to me and I can spot a person with Asperger’s the way people can spot rain clouds. I can tell very quickly anywhere on the spectrum. I can help get them help and support with scripts and routines.
[For reference, this is the video I mentioned]