[Originally published: Issue #4, circa 1987]
[LOOKING BACK: One of my first 7″ ever was an EP from JUSTICE LEAGUE, “Think or Sink.” Lyrics and music that sounded like they were done by a bunch of 15 year olds — which resonated with me, because I was 15 years old. They ended up with a more sophisticated sound, losing the youthful goofiness/energy. But as I became older and more sophisticated *cough* I vibed right along with them, and was THRILLED to meet the band in person. The meeting happened at a KFC across the street from Club Pizazz, which was about the only place open nearby on a Sunday afternoon. In true fanzine fashion, I didn’t buy them a goddamned thing. From what I remember, our chat was really loose and casual, and they seemed like they were having a good time. Or they were just good liars, and wanted to get the hell outta there. (And so you know this interview is pretty old: Check out my awe when I find out their new release will be on *gasp* CD!) Anyway, Ryan and Chris formed legendary straight-edge band CHAIN OF STRENGTH. (And, as a point of trivia, Chris was in a band called INSIDE OUT with some guy named Zack de la Rocha, who later started some obscure band called RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE.) — Mickey]
JUSTICE LEAGUE is a fantastic band, with one of the most intricate and powerful sounds in the scene. Although their last LP, “Shattered Dreams”, didn’t achieve half the recognition it should have, they will definitely make a name for themselves with their new LP entitled “Reach Out” and their national tour this summer. We had a chance to speak with the band in Kentucky Fried Chicken before a show.
What’s your line-up?
MARC: Here. I play bass and I’m 20.
JOHN: I’m John. Vocals, guitar, and I’m 20.
RYAN: l’m Ryan. Guitar, vocals, l’m I8.
MATT: l’m Matt. I play guitar and l’m I8.
CHRIS: My name’s Chris. I play drums and I’m 18.
You’ve been together for a while now, but you’ve been through a lot of line-up changes. Can you explain this?
MARC: Ryan is the only original member. I’ve been with the band almost three years, I guess. Something like that. The band’s been around for about three years. Chris has been in the band for about a year now. Matt and John are brand new.
Why have you had so any line-up problems?
JOHN: Ryan doesn’t get along with anyone! (laughter)
Ryan, do you consider yourself the founder of the band?
RYAN: No, Ted [Edeson] and I started the band originally. He played on our seven inch EP, then just quit.
JOHN: He quit and played in a band with me and Chris for a while.
JOHN: RED IS PRETTY.
MARC: There were different reasons why people quit. Our old singer Casey [Jones] quit because he didn’t want to go on tour last summer. And on this tour, Fred [Mahintorabi] quit because he didn’t want to go on tour. He was our guitar player.
Did they join other bands?
Why did it take so long for your “Shattered Dreams” LP to come out after your “Think Or Sink” EP in 1985.
ALL: Fartblossom Records!
So, you’re putting down Bob Fartblossom now that you’ve signed to Positive Force?
RYAN: We used to put him down when we were on Fartblossom, too! No, really, we recorded “Shattered Dreams” in March of ’86, and it didn’t come out until January of ’87. We did our part very ridiculous! So now forget all old releases – the new one is the one that matters!
Are you embarrassed of your EP from ’85?
ALL: [Various mumblings]
Well, you guys WERE young …
It was a different band, really. It’s a different style.
When did you last record for the Positive Force release?
MARC: We recorded in April of this year for our new record.
CHRIS: It will be out possibly in two weeks.
Who wrote the music and lyrics on “Shattered Dreams”?
MARC: Music? Mostly the whole band. Lyrics were me, Ryan, and Casey, our old singer.
Well, Ryan, if you had a hand in writing the music on the EP and the LP, why has it changed so dramatically?
RYAN: You think it did?
Yeah, I really do.
JOHN: He was sixteen years old! I mean, that was two years ago. People change. Musical tastes change. As you grow as a musician, your musical style tends to grow, too. Plus, Fred helped out a lot too.
MARC: He wasn’t around for the 7″, but he was on ‘Shattered Dreams”.
RYAN: And Fred’s been playing guitar for about eight years, so he taught us a lot.
Is your new release going to change a lot compared to “Shattered Dreams”?
CHRIS: With every record, the writing’s a lot more mature. The new one’s a 12″, six song EP on Positive Force called “Reach Out”.
MATT: It’s really good! They were recording it when I joined. The first time I heard it, I thought “This is a real cool band. I’d really want to do something with these guys!” It’s just a lot more mature than any of the other stuff.
What other bands have you played in?
MATT: Let’s just say I’ve played in various rock bands in LA.
MATT: Well, I played in WHITE FLAG …
MARC: Chris and John were both in a band called RED IS PRETTY before JUSTICE LEAGUE. They didn’t release anything, but …
CHRIS: And I was in a straignt-edge band called CEASE FIRE.
Are any of you straight-edge?
CHRIS: OK, straight-edge line-up: Me and Ryan. Marc is undecided.
MARC: I don’t like to label myself, but I stay away free drinking whenever I can. I don’t drink that much, but at weddings, you know. I don’t line getting drunk.
JOHN: I drink. I’m sorry!
MATT: Moderation’s alright!
RYAN: I started the band, I’m straight-edge, and that’s that! (laughter)
Did you start out as a straight-edge band?
RYAN: Yeah. But now it’s a personal preference.
JOHN: It has nothing to go with our music.
MATT: It’s like, if we’re a religious band, you know, I wouldn’t want to bring my religion into the band. [Silence, then laughter.] It makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean, if I’m in a certain ethnic group, I’m not gonna sing, like, ethnic songs. It makes sense! [More laughter]
Your lyrics on “Shattered Dreams” are all very personal – like messed up relationships and friendships?
JOHN: Well, that’s basically it.
RYAN: OK, you know how on the 7″ it was pretty much a positive?
RYAN: I wrote the music to the songs but I didn’t write the lyrics. John Roa, the singer, wrote the lyrics, so you know, he wrote what it was all about.
JOHN: But he changed, too. He was writing personal stuff after that. The lyrics on the seven inch – all was written that could be written on those subjects, we still basically feel all the saw things, but how much more can you say?
Do you like the lyrics on “Shattered Dreams”?
MARC: It’s OK, but the lyrics are slightly, well, immature. They were kinda rushed, the feelings were there, but the wording is kind of off.
RYAN: I wrote a few songs, Marc wrote a few songs, Casey wrote a few songs. Everyone has different ideas.
They all seen to be in the same vein…
RYAN: Yeah, I guess.
How’s that going to change?
RYAN: Well, our new record’s kind of in the same vein, too, but I think they’re written a little better.
MATT: The songs are a lot more melodic, I think.
JOHN: We’re talking about lyrics.
MATT: Oh … the lyrics are good, too … yeah. [Laughter]
Are you dissatisfied with the lyrics on the new release?
JOHN: No, we like them.
RYAN: I don’t know.
JOHN: Well, they still could’ve been better, but they’re good. Then again, we’re never satisfied with anything we do.
RYAN: Yean, I always think we can do better.
Tell me about the tour.
MATT: I can answer this one! The tour started the Fourth of July, and we played in Phoenix. And it was a good show …
RYAN: Don’t give the details of every show! [Laughter]
MATT: OK! We’re touring with 7 SECONDS right now, and they’ve been really good to us. Kevin Seconds has given us a lot of opportunities. And without them, this tour wouldn’t have been this good. You know, playing with a band like 7 SECONDS gets us a good crowd.
JOHN: Well, let’s not say we’re dependent on 7 SECONDS …
MATT: Well, we’re not dependent, but we’re making more money because of 7 SECONDS. But we’re not making that much.
MARC: We would’ve made more money if we were touring by ourselves. Because 7 SECONDS is getting such big guarantees, there’s not such left for the other bands.
JOHN: But we’re also getting ten times as much exposure with them as we would ourselves. We’re getting shows with them that we wouldn’t have gotten ourselves.
Has the response on the tour generally been good?
JOHN: Yeah, for the most part. There’s been two or three bad shows, but that’s to be expected.
What would your favorite type of show be?
MATT: Just a good response. People who get into it.
JOHN: I don’t like big places that aren’t full. That bugs me. If not that many people are going to show up, then they should have it in small clubs. I like places that are packed. I don’t care if it’s huge packed, or small packed.
MATT: We usually play better in smaller clubs.
RYAN: Unless the stage is really small.
JOHN: Yeah, we like big stages.
You like to move around a lot?
MATT: A lot!
JOHN: I hate small stages.
Do you mind people thrashing?
JOHN: It’s great! The only problem is cords and mic stands.
MARC: It’s fine as long as they’re not messing up the equipment.
JOHN: I don’t like mindless people who are slamming for the sake of slamming. If they’re really into our music and are listening to what we’re saying, that’s cool, but I don’t like those who come to shows and say “I’m gonna slam. That’s why l’m here!”
Are you losing money on the tour?
RYAN: No we’re breaking even.
MATT: But we had our van towed in Boston.
MATT: Yeah, we parked in what we thought was a Jewish convenience stand or something …
JOHN: It was!
MARC: Shhh! They’ll think we’re racist or something!
CHRIS: Ryan’s Jewish.
MATT: Yeah, Ryan’s Jewish! We like Jewish people! Well, we parked, and the neighbors saw all these people getting out of the van. I guess we look like vagrants. We were going to pick up some clothes from a friend’s house, and the van was gone. We thought it was stolen, and so we called the tow company. They said they had it, so we picked it up in the morning, and it cost $95. And that’s like a day’s check. And then the radiator blew, and it was $60 to get it sealed. Then there’s tires blown out and bricks thrown through our window.
RYAN: Yeah, we had a brick thrown through our window in Dallas.
Little punk rockers?
JOHN: No. Big skinheads.
JOHN: Well, we didn’t know who did it, but they stole all of my clothes.
RYAN: All my clothes, too. Now we share.
So those were the biggest problems – getting your van towed and your clothes stolen?
MARC: We’ve had a lot of equipment problems.
JOHN: Yeah, we broke an amp and a cabinet.
MATT: But it’s been good. We met a lot of people. They’re really great! We pull into a town, meet some people, and they put us up. I think people who let bands stay at their house are really cool. They’re the coolest people in the scene, when we come into a town, we don’t have a place to stay, because we don’t have that much money.
You don’t have it all planned out?
MATT: No. we get to a show and ask people or they’ll come up to us.
MARC: But this morning we got kicked out of some guys house at 8:00 AM. His dad came down and saw six guys sleeping on the floor.
CHRIS: That’s the first and only time.
JOHN: We only had to sleep in the van once this whole tour. It sucked. It was in West Virginia.
MATT: It’s been good. The people that we’ve met – that’s the best part of the whole tour.
JOHN: That’s the most satisfying part – all the cool people you meet. These are people you wish you could take home with us.
MATT: But it’s here. Because you leave new friends every day. Like, we’ll probably become real close to you, and tomorrow, it’ll be like “See you next year.” You meet someone new every day. We have friends in every state. It’s weird.
MARC: It kinda sucks, though, because these are people that you know could be your best friend if they lived near you …
JOHN: Or girls you know you could fall in love with!
Is the tour interfering with your jobs?
JOHN: We all quit, so …
RYAN: I didn’t quit.
CHRIS: I work for my dad.
MATT: I never had a job. I think having a job is stupid.
JOHN: Well, I quit my job. I’ve done it two years in a row.
Where’s the rest of the tour taking you?
MATT: Detroit, Cincinnati, Chicago, Kansas City, Trenton … I don’t know. We started in the South, worked our way up the East Coast.
CHRIS: Now we’re going to the Midwest.
You sound bored of it.
MARC: Just tired.
MATT: Playing every night, going to sleep like four, and waking up at eight … you get tired. Real tired.
JOHN: I don’t want to go home.
MARC: I’d want to go home for one or two days, then I’d want to come right back. I miss Mom’s cooking. This Kentucky Fried stuff just doesn’t cut it!
JOHN: I’m used to fast food, so ….
When’s the tour going to end?
RYAN: August 22nd.
RYAN: We really don’t know yet. It’s not booked. Let’s just say L.A.
Are you popular in Los Angeles?
JOHN: Nah. We’re lucky if we get, like, one show a year.
MARC: It’s easier for us to play Phoenix or San Francisco.
Do you expect to be popular on Positive Force?
MATT: Well, it’ll have much better distribution, so you can find it in your local record store.
RYAN: It may come out on CD [compact disc].
CHRIS: Yeah. Positive Force wants to put a lot of money into its bands.
MATT: A lot of bands are doing that. Let’s see… VERBAL ASSAULT’S new record will be on CD … UNIFORM CHOICE’S new record will be on CD … 7 SECONDS …
RYAN: A lot of labels are putting money into it, for this is the new music and they think it’ll be the new thing.
Do you agree?
JOHN: It’ll sound better, that’s for sure! But, I don’t have a CD player.
Any last words?
JOHN: Thanks to everyone that we’ve set on tour. It’s been fantastic!
Get their “Shattered Dreams” LP and you’ll know why we love this band so much. And look out for their “Reach Out” LP, out soon!