John Denney is the lead singer for The Weirdos, one of L.A.'s first and most intermittently active punk rock bands. Fast on the hot heels of a recent "mini-tour" and Frontier Records' long-awaited release of the rarities compilation We Got The Neutron Bomb: Weird World Volume Two, John agreed to a phone interview one fine January eve. But then I called him and he was taking care of his baby. So we rescheduled for the very next fine January eve. Our conversation is revealed below. If it seems to end all of a sudden, that's because we spent about 15 minutes near the end talking about a subject that John asked me not to include in the transcription. But don't worry - we weren't making fun of you! Or were we? I guess nobody (who doesn't steal my microcassette of the interview) will ever know the truth! My questions are in bold; his answers are not in bold, because what would be the point of having both the questions and answers in bold? What the hell good would that do?-------------------------------------------------
Hello. No one is available to take your call. Please leave a message after the tone.
(*Hangs up. Tries again.*)
Hello. No one Howdy! is available to take your call. Please leave a message after the tone.
How are ya.
Pretty good. Am I being recorded on your machine?
Yes you are.
Oh! Then you can transcribe the interview!
Hang on while I turn it off.
Yes, we are being recorded.
Uh oh! Do you have time now? Is your son asleep?
No, but my wife (*high-pitched feedback begins*)
Heh. So how's it going? What are you up to?
(*odd ringing clinking noises begin*) You know what? Could you hold the line for one moment?
I'll be right back.
(*ringing noise turns into clacking, then silence, then a very very loud static noise, like crowd applause or a whole bunch of fake snow machines. Continues for quite some time. Disappears.*)
(*ringing begins again*)
I'm getting a lot of fuzz here. (*fuzz begins again - and I don't mean a police officer! Heh heheh ah yeah good one*)
Yeah, me too.
(*loud static begins again*)
Should I call back?
I beg your pardon?
Should I try calling again?
(*static grows louder, followed by silence and beeping*)
Hey! What was all that craziness?
It was two phones. Two phones at once create - it's called feedback, I think.
How are you?
I'm good. How are you doing?
I'm pretty A-OK.
Is fathering pretty exhausting?
I am having to tap deep resources of energy that have been dormant until now. So yeah. It's a new kind of exhaustion. It's a good exhaustion. It's the best! It's exhilarating. Oh yeah, it's wonderful. I'm ecstatic.
What's his name?
It's your first?
Did you know for a long time that you wanted a kid?
Well, I never ruled it out, but it was never really a practical - or two parties could never quite agree upon such a plan until recently obviously. But that's not to say that there weren't some knocking on the door, wanting out or in, whatever the case may be. Both. But this one, Travis, I pledged Cindy my girlfriend at the time that if ever such a thing happened like that, that I would have to let her decide and I would back her 100%. And we were both gears and headlights when we got the news because it was - I'm giving you the whole lowdown here. But literally it took one month. There was no Planned Parenthood or - People hate us. They despise and detest us, because we didn't spend tens of thousands of dollars to try to conceive. We just - Cindy was curious, having been on the pill for many years. And I said, "Well, there's one way to find out." And she took me up on it. I sort of forgot, and lo and behold - it took all of one cycle.
Ah, makes you feel like a man, doesn't it?
I tell ya, Mark. I'm just - yeah. I felt like quite a stud, I really did. I still do.
Did your reaction - your emotional response after he was born, I mean - was it what you were expecting? Or was it stronger or different? I don't have any kids, so I'm just -
I had a pretty good hunch that fathering would be a profound thing. Other people had ruled out the concept of a kid for me, whereas I just sort of in my own quiet way would entertain the idea from time to time. But there was never the opportunity to - I'm sorry, where was I going with that?
So you did know that -
Well, I always felt that I would be a certain kind of a Dad, I guess, and a proactive kind of - I'm pretty much a house-husband is what it is. I think that's pretty clear that that stems from my Dad, who was an artist and worked at home for most of my childhood. So I kind of attribute it to that - my willingness and kind of - I don't know if - I'm a little short on patience, which I'm learning to conjure up.
I would think you'd kind of have to have patience with a -
Yeah, it's critical. It's pretty important.
Are you gonna get him listening to The Weirdos at a very young age?
Oh, I suppose so. Right now he thinks I'm Jimi Hendrix and Bob Wills and whoever I'm singing along with. He'll do a double-take - stereo speaker and me, and how am I doing that? The harmony. I only play the best. Also just so you know, he's real keen on Charlie Parker and Lionel Hampton - you know, be-bop. He likes a lot of notes in jazz. The best.
There's no language barrier there.
There really isn't. And it's fascinating to see little glimpses of musicology. Which we all have, I mean I'm not making it into anything more than -
But we aren't all nine months old.
Yeah, the whole thing is really mindboggling, for lack of a better term. From top to bottom. Because it's just so...
Well, it's just - I think it's REAL. More real than surreal. Definitely. The thing I like is that it absolutely brings you out of self to deal with other, as it were. Others. Which is really what growing up is. Something like that. I don't know if I've achieved grownup status, but this accelerates it. I mean, I'm not exactly a baby making babies.
Yeah. Are you still playing any music?
You mean -
You still writing songs?
Yeah. I just jotted down a thing last night that caught my attention. Exploding through the -
Are you playing with anyone?
Well, we just played a mini-tour, The Weirdos.
Any chance of another album coming out, aside from the compilation?
There very well may be some new stuff. What that is is yet to be determined. There is things to choose from, but it's all kind of up in the air. We're right now reassessing the direction, because we did a mini-tour of the west coast just this past several weeks. We went to Seattle, Portland, San Jose, San Francisco and a couple more thrown in there, and we kinda approached it cautiously and realistically. By that I mean, it was pretty much an experiment. But it was successful, I would say, in terms of turnout and enthusiasm and the putting across of the music, which for me is the number one purpose in serving - I like to call it "serving the songs." We try to serve the songs first, and then -
Why have you put out so few records? What you've put out is so good, but it's just so seldom that we hear from you.
Well you know, it's been a very spotty - I wouldn't even call it a career.
I've done a good job avoiding a career. I'd hate to put that on the Weirdos - that it's a career. But just because it's been on-again off-again for so long. But the reason for that is that we never closed the lid on the coffin. Even after the initial, when I left the band - it sounds like Spinal Tap - back in '81, six months later, oddly enough we got together and ran through the last set. And nothing ever came of it. I'm trying to remember why in the hell we did that. And we regrouped about three and a half years later and played a couple of shows in L.A. that were just hugely great. That was in '86. I'm all over the map here.
I saw you when you were touring for Condor. When you were with the Circle Jerks. I saw that show in Atlanta.
That was the first time I'd heard you guys.
That was an odd one.
The Atlanta show, as I remember.
Really? Probably a bunch of skinheads there. I don't remember.
That's right. That's right. Oh yeah, there was.
Really? Yeah, there were a lot of skinheads in Atlanta.
That was cool though. It was great. The song that really struck me was "Helium Bar." I found out later it was "Helium Bar." I love that one. One chord! It's a great chord! I also didn't know until this new record came out that you and your brother put out a solo album?
That was way back in '81. That was just - we would always be making racket and tapes and recorded things, recorded songs. And we were just kind of on a roll for about a week because our Mom was out of town and had left her house, which we kind of invaded and took over her house. The percussion was all done on her washer and dryer, using pots and pans. And we manipulated a four-track recorder. So as we just 24-7 for about a week solid got together on this particular batch of compositions if you will, it just sort of took shape. And we said, "Hey, let's put this out as an album. Wouldn't that be daring because there's no vocals?"
Who put it out? Did you put it out yourself?
Yeah. Just as a sort of educational aspect, I handled every aspect of the production literally of the record itself, the vinyl. Took it to the pressing plant and oversaw all of that, had them pressed, picked them up - it was a very limited pressing.
Probably 2000 tops. So it's going for - cleverly it goes for, I don't know, 200 bucks probably in some places. I hope. We hope somebody is making a lot on them! Do you have the new album?
One track is from Warhead, is from that session. And that's "Hey Big Oil." The one that's percussion and uh -
There were two on there from you guys, I think.
The other one was from '79, which was another sort of home recording session, which became another record after-the-fact. That was even more of a stunt. Having been ignored by the record industry, we kind of were thumbing our noses by just - again we made it ourselves, following every aspect of it.
Weren't you one of the most popular punk bands? You were like the first punk band in L.A.!
Well, I wouldn't say - that would be for someone else to say.
Okay, well I'm saying it then. You WERE one of the most popular punk bands!
Well, we were uh. Yeah, there was a stretch where we were sort of the uh - we were hot shit there for a while.
Why did you never put out a full-length album at the time?
It was always our intention to do that. We've been asked that many times, and it's really just lack of - I don't wanna sound like sour grapes, but the - what am I trying to say. The environment of - The state of the record industry relevant to bands of the day, circa '77 to '81, which was the first five-year stint of the Weirdos - the record industry in L.A. had us written off very early on. It sounds conspiracy theory-esque..
But you got a lot of people at your shows though, right?
Yeah! And we were na‹ve enough at the time to presume that that's what it took to get some label interest. But ultimately though, we used it. After the first few months, we thought we were pretty good and we thought we might just land a deal. Which seemed pretty cool for the first six months or so. And as we kind of quickly - we ascended kind of in public really fast as bands go. I mean literally within three months we were headlining the Whiskey-A-Go-Go, which was the most visible club in town, and all the industry people were there. So we got our chops in public, which is pretty rare. At any rate, we were pretty much of a musical bombast in the beginning, and they - whoever "they" were - we weren't their cup of tea and so be it. And we soon realized that we'd sort of found our purpose. And we used it - it fuelled us for the next four and a half years until we were so full of anger...
But none of those, like, Slash or Dangerhouse or any of those?
I beg your pardon?
Slash Records and Dangerhouse Records - none of those were interested?
Well sure, those were - yeah, we put out two -
Who put out those EPs? Was it Dangerhouse?
We put out the records on small little indie labels, but they had no money and no uh-
Lousy distribution, yeah. I thnk what I was gonna say earlier, which I'm sure you're very aware of, the climate of the industry back 25 years ago was entirely different than it is now. We called it a machine then, but now it's really just a cookie-cutter machine, and it's just - we don't need to go there.
We don't need to talk about how bad almost every record that comes out on a major label is these days?
Right. Yeah, how utterly clueless and stupid major labels are. I'm glad to see the whole bottom falling out of the industry. They deserve it. This huge monolithic pile of crap. And I think it's really its arrogance finally eating itself from its innards on out. Technology has really helped undermine it too. A guy can go into his bedroom and do his whole deal. Which is really what the Weirdos, to come back to a point - we were do- it-yourself literally in every facet, from flyers, artwork from the singles - all the artwork, all the graphics, all the clothes, everything we did ourselves out of, you know, we were completely self-contained. And I think essentially for us back then, punk rock was about creating your own scene that would back the music, and making it our own sort of, if I can be a little high-falutin'. And we didn't need an industry. We didn't need a major label or a big producer. It was all so backwards. And that's the arrogance of the industry to me. Bands allow it to control them. And really the Weirdos controlled it always, and that's why we could never get together with a major label, I think. They had misconceptions about us, which we would hear through the grapevine.
They just thought we were insane.
That's not a misconception though!
Well, to the untrained eye, it appears as such, but.
I was all excited that Weird World II was finally coming out and I got a copy of it, and there are still some songs that I've never heard by you guys! I know about these songs like "Big Shot," "Hit Man," "Idle Life" - I have no idea how any of them go though.
Yeah. Because I have both Weird World records and Condor.
Right. That's just how I planned it.
Aww! So is there gonna be a number 3? Where I can hear "Why Do You Exist" and "I Feel"?
Yes! Yes, yes.
Oh good! Is it gonna take another - how long did this one take?
Twelve years - HA!
Yes, it's a 12-year process. One song per year.
So in 2015, I'll finally -
No, actually we're really gonna - we thought it would be really funny to pull a fast one and come out with Volume 3 in two months or so. Just really bumrush the market with Weirdos backlog.
Are people buying this one?
I'm not too sure about it. That would be nice. I don't have huge expectations. I haven't really thought about that. To be very frank with you, my concerns and motivations are so different now that - In fact, this recent tour, we're kind of essentially back together right now in '04, but it took a lot of coaxing on the part of our "agent," if you'll pardon my Spinal Tap tone. We got together and hammered out a way of doing the Weirdos in '03 and '04 so that we could give it what it needs to have to be put across. I would hate to fall short of the standard that we set, which was set in our youth! Ha! A quarter century ago. It was a pretty tall order, but we delivered. I can confidently say that we rose to the challenge. In fact, I think we're better in many ways than we ever were. We should be. So that's fun to see that. And I think another, just to jump all over the place here, the little tour showed me that there's a real renaissance, for lack of a better term - that's a pretty big word for what I'm trying to make, but we did shows that - we joked about the shows we did; we had this running banter that went sort of like, "Punk rock for punks from 1 to 99!" We literally had at the shows from 14-year-olds to - We did all-ages shows and a couple of over-21s, and the age range was amazing, because we'd get old- timers that had seen us back in the day, to use the vernacular. And we had an equal number of fourteen-year-olds and up. 14, 15, 16 - in that range. And they were there just to see how the Weirdos -
How do you think they hear of you? The younger kids?
How do you think they -
That they hear about you?
We garnered quite a bit of press from this release, all over the country. At least in the towns where we played, because there was some advance promotion. So in all the local papers, in all the, you know, the L.A. Weekly and Seattle Weekly or whatever. Whatever it's - you can edit that part.
Seattle papers. The local papers, all that. A lot of really amazing articles on the Weirdos. I was very humbled and blown away by some of the reviews and the words by various parties. It was quite, quite, quite an eye-opener, because it's really kinda taken on a new life of its own. Because it's sort of like you capture the imagination of the people and that's what it's about.
You need to get the people to hear the music is all. Because those are really, really, really catchy songs.
Well thank you, Mark. Thanks.
But the problem is I guess that for so many years, it was so hard to find any of it. And you guys weren't constantly on the road promoting it and stuff like that.
We'd throw in the towel for periods of time. We weren't active for this last stretch, which was just about our longest. But we never ruled out playing or getting back together. Part of it was that it was sorta fun to titillate everybody, you know when we were coming back. To just see how long we could stretch - because there was also the fear that we could just stretch this out and nobody would -
Yeah, but eventually you're gonna be like 80 or 90.
Ha! Yeah, well that was a consideration too. Better do it now.
And it's a fun concept but sometimes life interferes.
Yes, that's right. Arthritis.
Exactly! How are you gonna run around onstage, and how's Dix gonna play his guitar if he can't lift his arm up and he's in a wheelchair? It's not gonna happen. What kinds of stuff were you doing in the off years? Were you still involved in art- type stuff at all?
Yes. I just did things to amuse myself really. Self-. self-something. With the intention of selling, but it's very difficult - I sound like I'm copping out, but -
No, you're not!
I basically did things for the joy of making things.
As a completely failed musician, I understand what you're talking about. I know it's extremely difficult to get things out there.
I'd like to think that I've evolved a little bit, and I don't have much to prove really. Whereas in the old days, boy we were just - we were on a crusade. We were hellbent on bringing it to the people. Showing `em how it's gotta be done. And now it's really about the music, as ridiculous as that sounds, but back in the old days, there was a whole lot of attitude in punk rock. A lot about attitude and being a little asshole. Not the Weirdos, but the scene at large, as it inflated and got bigger, it got even crazier and more dangerous, which was exhilarating but.. Whereas now, to make another point, the punk rock scene - I think it is valid to call it a punk rock scene. And it's '04. And what I came away with is that it's really about the music. There's not a lot of bullshit. No media clich‚ behaviorisms going on. It's really about the music. And there's young bands that are focused on playing and composing great tunes, and are dedicated to their instruments. And these weren't virtues that punk rock really embraced, so that's another kind of irony to it. But they love punk rock! And there's these various bands I saw and heard, all great players. In fact, this one band comprised of 14-year-olds were remarkable in Seattle. The drummer at 14 - I just, he was creative and innovative and had amazing chops.
What was the name of the band?
DEK. They're really dedicated.
And we had the fortune to play with a bunch of old-school punk rock bands. But it was enlightening to see that there was an emphasis on the music. That was sort of always my bugaboo. We were punk rockers - not just punks. There were too many just punks. A little mayhem is okay; there's a time and place for everything. But we always felt that we were rockers first really. It was about rocking. And to see that flourishing now, all these years later, playing what is really sorta becoming a distinct genre, like rockabilly or ska. For better or for worse, I don't know. It's not for me to - you know, the old fart punk rockers - old school punks dismiss all the young bands - "Oh, that's not punk. They weren't there. Blah blah blah blah blah." But I find that absurd, because I love Gene Vincent and the Bluecaps. To me, that's some of the greatest rockabilly ever recorded - or rock music, period. I never saw them; they were way before my time, but you know, you can't deny me my `50s rockabilly. You know what I mean?
I'm really on a roll here, Mark.
No! I know exactly what you're saying though, because - Yeah, I know what you're saying and people who say - Like I know one guy who said - There was this Russian guy George Starostin who was writing some record reviews about Neil Young, talking about Neil Young. And a guy responded to him saying, "Well, you can't understand Neil Young. You're Russian! You'll never understand what he's talking about."
Well, he can still enjoy the music, I think! You don't need to be raised in Winnipeg or something to -
It's not for that guy to even - what is he, a mind reader? Music is always subjective. Always. And he doesn't know how that affects that Russian guy. I agree with you. It's ridiculous. And for that guy to be dictating to him what he feels -
And like it's a 14-year-old kid's fault that he wasn't born in 1970 or whatever. 1965.
Right. I've had young kids say, "Oh, I hate when I was born." Like they want to be older. And I'm like, "Kid, just enjoy your youth."
Interestingly, about three hours ago, I interviewed John Doe.
Yeah! And I was talking to him about that movie The Decline of Western Civilization, and he said it didn't really represent what the Hollywood scene was really like, and they made it look a lot more violent and they picked the more violent bands. And I said, "Well, who do you think should have been in there?" And one of the first he said was the Weirdos. And he specifically mentioned "Helium Bar." He said he could never have written a song like "Helium Bar" - it's just such a great - What he said was it's such a great song that if it had been produced a little differently, it could be like today's "Wop-Bop-A-Loo-Bop-A-Wop-Bam-Boom" kinda thing.
Ha ha ha! That's great. We go way back with John.
Was there a lot of friendship between bands? Or rivalry?
There was a healthy rivalry, but there was also a community feel to it, because we encountered a lot of hostility and it wasn't a real - I mean, it wasn't like the hippies, for crying out loud, but there was a certain community togetherness, I think. But even within that, there was a lot of infighting and petty rivalries.
I guess that happens when everyone's so young.
Yeah. And initially I didn't want any other bands. "We don't need any more bands! We don't need a scene here. We've got it covered!"
But I was very supportive nonetheless. I always was. You know, in my own way.
Who were some of your favorites from that time?
I would say, at the time..
Or for that matter, who are some of your favorites now?
At the time, my favorite would have been the Dils, who were a three-piece. They were like the Who - the early Who. And I've always dug the Who, so. And they were real streamlined and just really good. And great players. Chip was a great guitarist back then. And then now, I kinda - I always liked them back then, but I've recently had a new - several years ago, I rediscovered the Bags, and how just damn good the songs are. They hold up. It's interesting to see which ones hold up for me. And X.
Do either the Dils or the Bags have CDs available? Because I try to collect as much of that stuff as I can, and all I've heard by the Dils is the song "Class War."
Yeah, I think they only released one or two records. And I don't think the Bags ever recorded an album unfortunately. And the Screamers hardly recorded anything at all. They thought that was clever. I remember thinking, "Hmmm.. Interesting concept! Problematic later on down the line."
Ha! Someone put out a live CD of theirs.
Yeah, they've since pulled some things together.
But it's impossible to tell what they sounded like from the live CD.
Or what the show was actually like too.
We touched on that, but the Weirdos for me - the live show was the essence. It sounds redundant, but -
More so than the recordings?
The live performance - witnessing the Weirdos live is what it's all about. And then the recorded material is just to get you by until the next, you know -
`Til you finally play a show again twelve years later?
`Til the next spectacle rolls into town.
I thought the Condor show was great. Like I said, that was the first time I'd heard of you guys, and it was real - First of all, I think you went out there dressed like Napoleon or something. Someone was wearing fur pants or something. I mean, it was a long time ago. It was all pretty crazy.
We always try to live up to the name. Within our own code. Because we would get ridiculous suggestions from people. They would think - well-meaning, mind you - but like one woman said that.. Spandex had just been invented, and she thought we'd look great in yellow Spandex. Which, you know, she was ahead of the curve, because what was that - Stryker? Stryper?
Stryper, yeah. So are you guys gonna be playing more shows?
Yeah, we're getting calls from Europe actually. And New York too.
So we're formulating our plans now for the spring and the summer.
Who's drumming with you?
Sean Antillon. He plays for the Skulls. He's a great drummer. And Zander Schloss is on bass, from the Circle Jerks. Repo Man.
And are Cliff and Dix both playing guitar?
Wow. Cool! Have you come up with any new material to play? Or are you playing all the old hits?
We're kicking some things around. By the time we're back on the road, we'll have some new ditties.
Anything else I should put in here?
Well, uh. Let's end the corporate stranglehold.
It's a tall order. That should be a nice tag there at the end. Or BRING DOWN - Bring down the corporate stranglehold.
So there's gotta be some corporations that have to do with your paper. Your paper's a corporation. Or in a corporate - I mean, the uhh. oh never mind.
Ha ha ha!
I was about to go off on some diatribe. Well Mark, it was a pleasure talking to ya - yackin' at ya.
It was a pleasure talking to you! Thanks for your time.
And we'll do it again if need be. Maybe when we come into New York, which I hope will be some time in the spring, we'll re-adjourn.
Yeah, that'd be great! Very cool. Okay, make sure to get some more records out. I need some more records.
Oh yeah. We'll get that moving for you there.
Okay cool. Alright, thanks so much.
Okay Mark. You have a good night.
Okay, you too.
Over and out.
If you thought this was handy-dandy, you GOTTA dig my interview with Cliff Roman from these very same Weirdos! It's on this site here, with all this other crap!