Interview: Brian Brannon and Don Redondo - JFA

Just like Punk Rock itself, the original Skate Punk band, Arizona's JFA, has never gone away. The band has just released its first new album in ten years - the live 'To All Our Friends' on DC-Jam Records - and is currently in the throes of recording a brand new studio album. I hooked up with vocalist Brian Brannon and guitarist Don Redondo to discuss the band, Punk Rock and, of course, skating. Interview conducted in December 2009 by Steve Scanner. Photos as credited.


..JFA has just released the live ‘To All Our Friends’ album – tell us a bit about that.  I believe I’m correct in saying this is the band’s first full-length release since 1999’s ‘Only Live Once’ album – why choose now to release it?

..Brian) We’ve always been a live band and to really capture the essence of a live JFA show is pretty hard. When we heard these recordings we were stoked and wanted to get them out. As you mentioned, it’s been about 10 years since our last release and most of our stuff is out of print so we figured this was a good way to get our music out to our old fans and also hopefully get some of the younger kids stoked on us as well.


..The album has been released on DC-Jam Records – how did you get involved with the label?  Did you have any other labels interested, or consider releasing it with any other labels?

..Brian) Darron from DC-Jam got in touch with me a while back and it just clicked from there. He’s a totally cool guy and stands 100% behind his bands. Since we’re really only interested in skating and playing music, we kind of need someone else to deal with the rest of it so it’s been working out really well.


..Between the release of ‘Only Live Once’ and ‘To All Our Friends’, there was the Alternative Tentacles compilation, ‘We Know You Suck’. Did AT approach you guys in releasing that? I do recall talk of a second volume – that likely to happen?

..Brian) We’ve known Jello forever and at the time he was one of the few people we trusted to put out our old records and do a good job and treat us fairly. I’d say it worked out pretty well and we were stoked to have something out on AT, as they’ve had so many great releases over the years. As for the second volume, we’re still talking about it but don’t have anything in concrete just yet.


..What has the band done in the interim – have you continued to play during that time as JFA?

..Brian) We’re always playing. Mostly local shows because we all have families and jobs, but we do get around every now and then. Every once in a while someone calls us up to play a party at an empty pool, or jam at a skatepark, or do some totally killer old school Punk gig with bitchin’ bands out in the middle of nowhere and there’s really no way we can say no. So although we haven’t toured in a long while, we’ve been playing continuously at select dive bars, sleazy holes-in-the-wall and skate bashes just like we’ve always done since 1981. But if you weren’t there, you probably didn’t know we did it.


..Going right back, you became the final piece of the JFA puzzle at the age of just 14. How did you get involved with the other three band members? Given the original premise of JFA was to be a band of full-on skaters, was it skating or Punk Rock that drew you all together?

..Brian) It was both. At that point in time, being a Punk was one strike against you and being a skater was another three or four. Being a Skate Punk basically meant you were due to get your head kicked in every day at school. So when you saw another skater or a Punk on the street, you definitely felt a kinship. I met Michael Cornelius at a ramp in Scottsdale, and Don and Bam both skated High Roller, which was the big park in Phoenix. They had the idea to put together a band that played music that skaters would listen to and I couldn’t have agreed more. It’s been a wild ride ever since.


..How aware were you of the Punk and burgeoning US Hardcore scene at the time? I’ve read of a band you were ‘in’ called THE DECEASED. Did that band actually exist, or was it a mythical ‘dream band’?

..Brian) Nah, we never existed outside of our minds. I don’t even know what I was supposed to play. Or if I was the singer. We didn’t have instruments. All I had was one T-shirt. I wrote The Deceased on the front and spraypainted JOCKS SUCK on the back in big dripping black letters. The one time I wore it to school, the football team ripped it off my back. That was pretty much the end of the band.


..Tell us a bit about Phoenix, Arizona at that time. It’s easy to forget in today’s sanitized Punk Rock world that, as you stated earlier, back in �� you could get a serious kicking for being a Punk – but from what I have read, you actually went out to provoke such reactions from jocks etc yeah?

..Brian) It’s funny. Back then everybody hated Punks: jocks, preppies, teachers, hippies, heavy metalers, moms, dads, little old ladies, cops, dentists, used car salesmen… They were all out to get you. All you had to do was have messed-up hair or some crazy shirt and they’d yell, “Hey DEVO!” because that’s what they thought was Punk Rock at the time. A flock of hippies would be driving in a Camaro and throw beer bottles at your head for walking down the street. Jocks would mob your ass. If you ran across a cop somewhere, forget about it… Funny thing is that now all of those people are into Punk. Or at least they think they are. Or at least they think what they’re listening to is Punk. Or even if they’re listening to it, they don’t necessarily understand it.


.. I guess back then, the ‘big’ Phoenix bands would have been THE FEEDERZ and THE CONSUMERS (later 45 GRAVE). Did these bands prove to be an influence on the formative JFA? What about MEAT PUPPETS – they would have been starting around the same time as JFA? You seemed to have strong connections with Huntington Beach band, THE CROWD also – how did that come about?

..Brian) We weren’t influenced by THE FEEDERZ or THE CONSUMERS. They were the old guard. We were younger, played faster music and liked to slam and dive. The two didn’t really go together. THE MEAT PUPPETS on the other hand, were and are simply amazing: super fast and intense musicianship from Mars with a great sense of humor. I will never get tired of seeing them live. Still one of the best bands ever. The thing I figured out recently is that to really appreciate them live, you’ve actually got to close your eyes so you’re not distracted by everything that’s going on around you and just focus in on the harmonic genius and complexity of their music. As for THE CROWD, Don was originally from Huntington Beach and was a part of the early HB Punk scene before moving out to Arizona to go to school. So he knew those guys really well. Nowadays, both he and I live in HB and we play with them from time to time.


..Your debut 7”, the classic ‘Blatant Localism’, was released on local label Placebo something like a mere six months after the band formed! How did that deal come about? The band had a long relationship with the label – it must have been a good working relationship. Looking back at ‘Blatant Localism’ now, what are your thoughts on the record?

..Brian) Placebo was owned by Tony Victor and Greg “Mr. Wonderful” Hynes. They also put on shows in Phoenix. They liked our energy and our youthful spirit and backed us 100% until the label folded in about 1988. Without their support, it’s doubtful we would have gone as far as we did. Tony was the brains and helped promote us and set up all our tours. He was really the mastermind and we owe a lot to him.
Looking back on 'Blatant Localism', I think it captures where we were at the time, playing as fast as we possibly could and waving the Skate Punk flag high. It also shows what living in the baking Phoenix desert can do to you.


..The record featured ‘Beach Blanket Bong-Out’ which suggested you drew a hypothetical line between the old Surf Punk ideal and the new Skate Punk idiom. Was there a great deal of rivalry between the two scenes at the time?

..Don) Nah, the song was more of a Quadrophenia reference except instead of Mods and Rockers it was Punks against (surf) Hippies. That single Surf Punk line was more to distance ourselves from New Wave. Everybody in AZ called you a Surf Punk if you weren’t a Skynyrd hippie.


..While the debut album, ‘Valley Of The Yakes’ continued the sound of the 7”, 1984’s ‘Untitled’ album saw the band’s sound developing with more instrumentals and the atmospheric ‘The Day Walt Disney Died’. Was this a conscious progression, or something that came naturally? Tell us the story behind the track, ‘ABA’, which has writing credits to both THE DAMNED and BOWIE.

..Don) It was somewhat the luck of the draw, a lot of those songs were in our set when we recorded '...Yakes'. 'ABA' was in the first five songs we ever learned, it just did not get recorded until 'Untitled'. 'ABA' is a redone version of 'Andy Warhol' by DAVID BOWIE; the intro is from THE DAMNED ('Teenage Dream'). The title is a slap to Anita Bryant (Anita Bryant’s Army)†who was an early celebrity (sort of) anti-gay crusader.


..It was following this album that you wrote a letter to Thrasher Magazine requesting a ‘Skate Rock Challenge’ to various USHC bands, who allegedly skated, to front up and take the JFA kids on. What was the outcome? Which bands took you on – and which ones failed dismally?

..Brian) Unfortunately no one ever called us on it. We never actually had a “skate off” with any other skate bands, much to my dismay. A few bands did take offense, but I won’t mention any names. I think it would have actually been fun to have a skate band skate contest and maybe a gig afterwards, but alas, it wasn’t in the cards.


..Original bassist Michael Cornelius left the band around this time – why did he leave? I recall it was because he kept some kinda secret about some skating pipes – that correct?? Was the bond of skating THAT strong to essentially cause a split in the ranks of JFA?

..Don) He really did not want to tour in '84 (nine weeks on the road is a big commitment). The pipe thing also happened around then, but we found the pipes on our own anyway - hence the 'Untitled' cover shot - so no hard feelings there.


..Your 1985 EP, ‘Mad Garden’, was named after a Phoenix venue that was an old wrestling hall yeah? What were shows there like – were there wrestling matches going on when bands played, or did the bands actually play in the wrestling ring??  Must have been a blast if Punks could slam off the ropes!!

..Don) The wrestling was Friday night and the bands played on Saturday nights. One night, one wrestler threw the other one out of the ring and onto some old ladies in the crowd on folding chairs. After that there was a floor-to-almost-ceiling chain link fence all around the ring so you pretty much had to be in the ring to bounce off of the ropes. The ring had some bounce to it as well, so it was a fun “stage” to play on. Brian always got some good airs!


..I’ve heard rumours of an unreleased instrumental album also. Does this exist – will it ever see the light of day? Why did you never release it?

..Don) That was between 'My Movie' (with Alan Bishop on bass) and right around the time we got Mike back on bass so we shelved it to do 'Nowhere Blossoms' thinking it would eventually get released, then Placebo folded. You can hear some of it on the Santa Cruz video 'Wheels of Fire'.


..As you said, Don, the split with Michael wasn’t a major issue as he was back in the band for 1988’s ‘Nowhere Blossoms’ album. What brought him back to the band? And what brought about the album’s ever-more keyboard-laced rock sound?

..Don) With all of us working, we weren't into the 9-week tour thing any more; plus Mike had some good songs so we just started working on those plus some new stuff Brian and I had. He only wanted back in if we were going to keep doing new stuff, which was good by me. More keyboards meant Brian was writing more.


..What happened to the band’s morale after Placebo Records went bust? It must have had a double hit on JFA as Placebo’s Tony Victor was also the band’s manager. Did JFA ever consider splitting at this stage?

..Don) Not really. After 'Nowhere Blossoms', Bam quit (again) because he was going to get signed with his other band (again). Then Bob (from ONS) had personal issues and then Mike quit, then Placebo folded and we just kept going. We were still having fun playing, we were still writing new stuff and still skating, so we found two new guys from other bands (bass/drums) and just kept going. If JFA was my whole life (to pay bills) I might have been more down, but it’s hard to quit something you do as a hobby to have fun and have as an excuse to skate with your friends. Tony would still get us shows even after Placebo, but at that point we were not into long tours and then eventually Brian moved to California so the AZ shows were more rare.


..Brian, tell us how you got involved in not just writing for Thrasher Magazine, but becoming Music Editor and eventually Art Director. Did you not move to San Francisco to work there – how did you feel about leaving Phoenix at this stage? You still involved in writing for the magazine?

..Brian) Don and I both freelanced for Thrasher for a long time off and on during the 80s, writing about the cement wonderland of pipes, pools and ditches in Arizona. Every time they sent me to write about a contest I’d get sidetracked and go skate a pool and end up writing about some killer pool session instead of the contest. Likewise, Don always had his own twisted way of looking at things that always caught people off guard, so they kept printing whatever we sent them. Then in August 1990, we were playing in Chino, California, and I got a call from Kevin Thatcher who was the editor of Thrasher at the time. He said Miles Orkin, the staff writer, was going back to school and did I want to come out to San Francisco and work full time at the magazine. Took me a little while to think about it because at the time, I had the AZ pool scene completely dialed with all my bros. We had our fingers on like 20 pools a week, but we’d only skate the top three or so because why mess around with quick transitions? That’s when I decided that life’s too short to skate crappy pools.

These days, whenever I go out to visit Salba he wants to take me to like 50 pools in a day and I’m all, “No bro, let’s just go straight to the last one you were going to take me to because that’s always the best and I don’t need to crack my ankles trying to hit tile on anything cheap…” So anyway, I figured it was a once in a lifetime chance to work for Thrasher, so I moved out there and lived with Kevin for a while in the Hunter’s Point ‘hood. Learned to surf at Ocean Beach there, which is treacherous, cold, sharky, and gets huge and pummeling in the wintertime so that tends to keep the crowds down. They say if you can learn to surf there, you can surf anywhere.

Skatewise, I hung out with Noah Peacock and Coco Santiago and the rest of the boys and learned to skate downhill San Francisco style, throwing powerslides down the hill to control your speed. The early 90s were the dawn of street skating: tiny wheels, big pants and rap music, so I was the proverbial fish out of water as a Punk Rock pool skater, but you gotta do what you gotta do. So I learned to skate street a little, learned to ollie and noseslide. Skated the Safeway curb with Danny Sargeant, Stacey Gibo and Steve Rugey. Skated Bryce Kanights’ Studio 43 vert ramp and Jake Phelps’ and Max Schaaf’s Oaktown vert ramp.

Mofo gave me the honor of taking over his Notes From the Underground column and I’d call up every band I could think of just to give them a couple sentences in the column to make it as bitchin’ as it could be and after a while, Fausto and Ed Riggins offered me the title of Music Editor. So I said hell ya and kept on going, interviewing any band I wanted to, because when you called a record company and said you were from Thrasher, they were like, “Yeah, whatever you want to do.”

Thrasher was also one of the first national magazines to use the Mac for production and I’d been working on old school photo typesetting machines so I picked up Quark, Illustrator and Photoshop pretty quickly. Next thing you know, they fired two art directors and I kind of fell into doing it, just because Fausto knew he could trust me not to ruin a good article and some killer skate shots by trying make an art project out of it. So I did that for a while. Got into making longboards out of used waterskis I’d pick up at garage sales for five bucks. Take the boots off them, turn them around so the nose is a perfect kicktail, put some soft wheels and real narrow Indy 88s on them. Then I’d make the trucks as loose as possible and go bomb hills in the Avenues, riding up driveways and popping off ledges at speed. The beautiful thing about the waterskis was they had such a long wheelbase that even if you got speed wobbles the trucks were so separated that it was a real long swerve instead of a wobble, so you could keep the trucks super loose, which made the waterskis super maneuverable.

Well eventually, Jake Phelps and I had a falling out so I decided to move down to Huntington, to surf, skate and be by Don and the rest of the band, and I’ve been here ever since. Some call it Surf City and some call it the Asshole Capital of the World. Sometimes it’s both, but I call it home…


..The band also released something on Nicky Garrett’s (UK SUBS) New Red Archives label. How did that release come about? Could it not have been a long-term deal – especially considering JFA recorded the back-to-their-roots style ‘Only Live Once’ album a few years later?

..Brian) We were kind of going through (another) experimental period when we recorded with New Red Archives. We did a split single with JACK KILLED JILL called 'Secret Agent Man' and a song for a compilation called 'Clown Party' with Jello Biafra singing backup. Neither was your traditional slam and dive Punk Rock, so it wasn’t really what Nicky was looking for. Can’t say as I blamed him as it was kind of different, but that’s where we were out back then. If everyone else is doing Punk Rock, the Punk thing to do is something different... We were definitely showing our DAMNED influence (circa 'Strawberries' album) round about then. We did 'Only Live Once' with a buddy of ours from Chicago on Hurricane Records. You’re right, it was kind of back to the roots. By then, we figured we could mess with people’s heads more by playing straight ahead Punk Rock then by doing a bunch of weird stuff…


..Do you feel that, as JFA never officially split up as so many bands of the original USHC era did, the band never capitalized on its early influence?  The line-up remained moderately stable (unlike, say, TSOL), the sound – while it progressed – never really mutated into something hideous (like, say, SSD), the band just never really went away in a blaze of ‘Last Ever Tour’ propaganda. Given the benefits of hindsight, do you think all of this possibly impeded the band’s legacy?

..Brian) I’ve heard that it’s my singing that’s impeded the band’s legacy. That, and my keyboards. Oh well, I always give it all I have and if you don’t like it, feel free to take a hike… Brett from Epitaph offered to sign us one time if we got rid of the keyboards and we were like, “Thanks but no thanks.” It wasn’t so much that we were married to the keyboards, it was just the thought of getting off on a bad foot by having someone tell us to change our sound before we even did anything with them.


..That brings us back to the live album – just tell us how you hooked up with current bassist, Corey Stretz and drummer Carter Blitch. Is Corey the same Corey who played with THE CROWD? You ever see original drummer Bam Bam or bassist Michael now?

..Brian) Yeah, Corey’s the same Corey from THE CROWD. He was also in THE OUTSIDERS and CHINA WHITE and about a million other bands. He’s been in so many bands that sometimes he has trouble remembering new songs because he’s got so many stuck in his brain. But he’s one helluva bass player and once he’s got ‘em memorized, he’s got chops for days. Carter is the youngster in the band, but he’s also the one hitting the most pools (I kinda stick to the ones I like). He’s a super solid drummer and just wrote a couple killer songs for the new CD we’ll be recording soon. Together, they’re the perfect rhythm section for JFA. They’ve been playing with us for over seven years now and we’re stoked to have them. As for Bam and Michael, we see them about once a year when we go out to Arizona to play the Apache Skate Blast for our friend Doug Miles on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. Doug is a great painter and runs Apache Skateboards. He’s super good people and always takes care of us when we go out there. Looks like the next one is scheduled for the end of March, so it should be a good time.


..Looking at the flyers on the cover of ‘We Know You Suck’ comp, it appears you played with all the significant bands of the USHC era. For someone as young as you were then, that must have been quite an experience.  Can you just tell us your thoughts on the following bands both as people and as a live band?


..Don) They were great until they got Henry. He just tries too hard and acts too heavy. The rest of the guys are just “back of the class screw ups” that had really loud amps. Really nice people... really amazing shows!


..Don) Just amazing. Jello is a one-of-a-kind front man and writes amazing songs. East Bay Ray is one of my favorite guitarists. All of those guys are really nice too - and really smart. Trouble is they are too smart; the folks they are burning don’t ever get it - listen to 'Holiday In Cambodia' sometime... its a slap against daddy’s-money know-it-all college kids.


..Don) Their Hardcore 81 Tour was one of the reasons there is a JFA. I was bugging Mike for a long time to start a band... the night of that show he told me he was in!!
..Don) Played with them at the L7 club in NY; it's really small, the size of a living room. Bam got really hammered and left some of his drum hardware. They grabbed it and made sure we got it all back the next day so we could make the next show.
..Don) One of my favorite bands mostly because nobody sounds like them. Treated us like kings every time we went to Texas and good skaters too.
..Don) I think I missed them or saw just one song. Early Punk band version opening for REAGAN YOUTH who were really good.
And lastly the UK’s DISCHARGE
..Don) I don't remember that one - must have been good?


..Brian, your own skating has quite a reputation for being no-holds barred and you have associations with the likes of Tony Hawk and a long-standing relationship with Duane Peters. Have you ever seriously injured yourself by skating in such a full-on style?

..Brian) I try not to dwell on the injuries but just avoid having them happen again. Broke my arm one time at Kelly Belmar’s pool but don’t remember the details too well on that. About the only serious injury I remember is dislocating my finger at Bryce Kanight’s Studio 43 vert ramp. Every Friday night, he’d have a big session and this particular Friday night I had tickets to see the original Spinal Tap at the Waldorf and my favorite band at the time SWERVEDRIVER after that; don’t confuse them with the idiot racist band that has a “k” in it.

..Oh yeah - SWERVEDRIVER's 'Rave Down' EP is still a favourite with me.
So I had my evening all planned out: a little skating at BK’s, swing over to see Spinal Tap, and then finish off nicely with SWERVEDRIVER. Well, BK’s ramp had a section that was about 40 feet long and 12 feet high with 20 feet of flatbottom. That connected to a section that was 16 feet long and 10 feef high with 16 feet of flat bottom. So I’d do this thing where I’d get hella speed on the long wide tall part backside and then do a frontside nosegrab on the lower part and just put the board up there at a full clip and see what happened: air-to-grind, tailslide, lapover, wheeler, whatever. This particular time I had so much speed that I missed the grind entirely and came down the wall still in the tailslide/nosegrab position, with the tip of my tail sliding down the transition instead of my wheels rolling down it. Well, Bryce juiced every square inch he could out of that warehouse to make the ramp as big as possible so when I ran out of ramp there was nothing left but a solid wall coming at me. I flew right into it and put my left hand up to break my fall and my ring finger bent backwards and got dislocated. I was fine with it all dangling there until I thought, “Oh shit, I’ll never play piano again…” Then I went into shock and they took me to SF General. Being in SF General on a Friday night with a dislocated finger means you’re not number one in the triage line. There were gunshot wounds, knife wounds, all kinds of stuff lined up before me. So I’m laying on the gurney, and this dude comes in with a hemorrhaging head wound, totally bleeding from the dome and they lay him down next to me. He gets into an argument with himself for a while and next thing you know, he’s heading out the door. The attendants were less than on top of things and when they finally checked on us about ten minutes later, they said what happened to the other guy. I said, I don’t know he just headed off into the night. Long story short, they finally pumped me up on lidocane, jammed my finger back the way it was supposed to go and sent me on my way. Well, I’d missed Spinal Tap by then but I didn’t really care. So I had the taxi drop me off at my car at BK’s and drove to see SWERVEDRIVER and they friggin’ rocked. To this day, I still have a slight bump in the second knuckle on my ring finger, which my wife thinks is totally bitchin’ because it’s almost impossible to get my wedding ring off. I have had to have it cut of two or three times since when I’ve hurt my arm and my hand started to swell up around it. That always makes her sad…


..In what ways do you think the relationship between skating and Punk Rock has changed today when compared with the early 80s?

..Brian) In the most important ways, as far as stoking people out to get rad, I think it’s stayed exactly the same. Sure you have a few more posers and the like running around because both Punk and skating are more popular now than back then, but on the whole, when it really matters, it’s still there to provide fuel for the fire to get out there and rip it up.


..In 2001, you joined – I think – the US Marines (or was it the Navy?). Can you tell us a bit about that as an experience? You still involved? How did the anti-authoritarian, skateboarding Punk Rocker fit into such a strict regime as the armed forces?

..Brian) I joined the Navy Reserve after 9/11 in 2001 because I wanted to do something more than drive around with a flag on my car. I’d always been interested in the Navy from way back to when I’d watch Victory at Sea on TV with my dad, so it was a natural choice. Since I’ve joined I’ve been all around the world, Nicaragua, Colombia, Panama, Hawaii, The Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Cuba, and I’ve never regretted it. Sometimes I bum out when it comes time to do the mile-and-a-half run because I’ve never been much of the jogging type. But that’s kept me from getting fat in my old age so even that’s good. One of the best things about the Armed Forces is that it’s truly a meritocracy. You see people from all walks of life, and as long as they’re good at what they do, they can go far.


.. What are your thoughts on the situation in Iraq?  Have you seen anything that has been so alarming that it has actually changed your perspective?

..Brian) As for the places we’re at right now, I can only say this. As a member of the Armed Forces I’m sworn to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. And the Constitution is truly the document that makes us a great nation. The military chain of command goes up to the Commander in Chief, the President of the United States, and that’s whoever our great democracy votes into office. I follow his orders through my chain of command because though I may or may not agree with him personally, I most assuredly believe in what this nation stands for and the right of the People to elect whoever they choose.


..How do you think that Obama has done during his first year as President of the States?

..Brain) I think he came into a very challenging situation and he’s done an admirable job so far.


..If you could change one thing about life in America, what would it be?

..Brian) I’d like to see less poverty.


..A fun question – you and your skateboard could travel back to any time in history – when would you choose and why?

..Brian) Honestly, I’m happy anytime I’m on my board. I’ve had some great adventures to be sure, but I’m still having great sessions all the time. Just the other day we have a session at Joker’s Pool with Duane Peters, Dave Hackett, Jeff Grosso, Dave Reul, Jake Reuter, Arab and Nathan Groff and it was just as rad as any session I’ve seen in a long time. I’m still learning new tricks and still having a blast and skating with my friends. I wouldn’t change a thing.


..So, what’s in store for JFA now? In the wake of the live album, can we expect any new studio recordings also? Any tours lined up?

..Brian) We’re working on a studio album right now. No tours planned as of yet, but if anywhere there’s a Punk Rock dive bar or an empty pool session, we’ll be glad to show up and play.


..Anything you want to add?

..Brian) Thanks for the in depth interview. Tell all our brothers and sisters out in New Zealand thanks for the support and ride on!
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