Puckett and Ted Tarris conducted this interview in the band's practice space after the release of "Rock Like Fuck" in 1999. It was originally intended for publication in Flipside but never saw print.
Puckett: Please state your name and age for the record.
Steve: Steve Rodriguez. I play bass.
Mario: Mario Escovedo. I'm 36 years old and I play guitar.
Ken: Ken Horne, 28 and I play guitar.
Jarrod: I'm Jarrod Lucas. I play drums.
Puckett: So let's start off with a general topic. Something I've always gotten from your music is the idea that rock and roll, when it's done best, is something that makes you feel better, at least while you're listening to it, even though the next day you have to go back to the trials and tribulations of daily life. It seems like your music really taps into that in terms of the way you write in the ways that you write lyrics and in the topics you write about. It's not about going out and getting drunk and getting laid necessarily. It seems to be about finding what's important - it's about going to work, it's about seeing people drive by in fancy cars and maybe wanting something more and wondering why you don't have it. That's just a general impression I've gotten from your music.
Mario: As far as like escapism, I think every song we write or every song is an emotion or something that we're fighting with or dealing with it at the time. Every song on every album so far has been about whatever period that we're going through. Everything comes from something. It's not just a made-up idea about getting laid or whatever. It was actually getting laid, or I did get laid, and whatever consequences that brought. Everything is a real emotion and I just try to capture whatever emotion that feeling is from the music.
Puckett: Why do you do it, Jarrod?
Jarrod: It was something I was growing up with. Being up there on the stage, it does seem to help. I love it.
Puckett: Especially playing drums. You get to sit down.
Jarrod: That's right, through the whole thing.
Ted: But you have to look at all their butts.
Jarrod: Yeah, well, you kind of overlook that.
Puckett: You're sitting down, how can you overlook that?
Jarrod: Bad joke.
Puckett: Yeah. But you get what I'm saying here. It seems like there's this pervasive sense of frustration in the music and I think it really comes out in the lyrics and the instrumentation. The music ties it together, the music sounds uplifting and angry. When you listen to the guitar lines and the bass lines and the drumbeats, it's motivating and powerful.
Mario: Well, if all there was was going to work and living life the way that a lot of people live it, it seems to me like it would be nothing, that there would be nothing there. I couldn't wake up in the morning and do that every day. Without this feeling of picking up a guitar and playing, without this release it provides, there's nothing. A lot of that is that feeling of a euphoric moment, if anything, that provides enough for everything else that you have to go through, whether it's showing up for work on time or just tying your shoes or listening when you don't want to listen.
Puckett: So what fuels this? I'm not sure how personal you want to get with this, but when we talked about the first album several years ago, you mentioned that "Painkiller" was about the prospect of pushing someone off Suicide Bridge in Balboa Park. What sort of things fuel the songs?
Mario: A review we got for "Rock Like Fuck" said that our minds are continually in the gutter, basically that was the sentiment. I thought it missed the point that if there isn't someplace better, if there isn't a Hell, there can't be Heaven. If there isn't a bad place to take these emotions, there can't be a great place. I think a lot of times, we have a hard time dealing with regular stuff but we have a great time dealing with the great times or the really shitty times and there's no in between.
Ted: If you look at the bare bones of it, you guys look at sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, but would you say each album has had a theme?
Jarrod: Actually, "Painkiller" was more down in the depths, that was a starting out thing and what everybody was feeling. "Cheers to Me" was more like, "Hey, I got past all this, I'm here, so here's to me."
Mario: Yeah, I felt like "Painkiller" was more innocent as far as playing and drinking and the pleasures of whatever we were getting into, of playing in front of people and enjoying the celebrity or whatever that brought us. "Cheers to Me" was more about the hang-ups that came along the way, whether it was breakups or binges or DUIs or whatever that came with it and the ups and downs of going through the peaks and valleys, of going through that. I feel like "Rock Like Fuck" is more about coming out of it, maybe a little scarred but smarter and stronger for it.
Ted: What about the very first album? Could you count that as a natural Dragons record?
Mario: Kind of not, because most of the songs were already written and it wasn't as a group. I did all the lyrics, but I try to take emotions that everyone else is going through at the same time and try and place them. I think that was maybe a sentiment of trying to form a sound for the band and a road for the band and not so much as what we were really about. I listen to it now and I think it's a great record but as far as capturing any emotion or the band's personality, it was still pretty young.
Puckett: As time has gone on, the songs have evolved and they're more mature now and deal with more serious subjects. How did that happen?
Steve: I don't know, it just did. When four people are together long enough, we understand where everybody's coming from and what we can do as a band and what we want to do as a band. It's probably 70% emotion and 30% more emotion but a different kind. Actually getting to work it out and playing, that's the part I like the best.
Puckett: So it's almost like a therapy session?
Jarrod: That and marriage.
Mario: I mean, the one thing that fuels everything is that we aren't songwriters per se where we want to come up with a hit tune or something with a melodic line and this theme. Every sound we make is pretty instinctual and taking a note or a sound and running with whatever it leads us to. I think we've all become better at it. Instead of trying to take it in four different directions, we can see that it's going one way and all take it that way. Instead of trying to make one song the big picture, we make that song a captured moment and let the song represent that as a whole. They're just themes and actual moments that came along at certain points. Almost with every song, I can kind of see where I was that day or that week or what sparked that song to go that way.
Puckett: So what sparked the line about Charles Bukowski?
Mario: Um . well .
Jarrod: Well, uh .
Mario: We went to go play Halloween in Seattle and we got there very early that day and pretty much drank the whole day in about three or four different bars. We played and from there I can't remember much except tripping up the stairs to a party in Capitol Hill and it just reminded me so much of a Charles Bukowski novel because of how everything ended up. I stole somebody's purse, I broke something, I lost our paycheck for the night. I woke up after blacking out and jumping in bed with these guys and I scared the hell out of them because they couldn't tell if I was still going crazy from the night before or if I was back to normal. It was just kind of putting together that emotion with the next time we were all in a van and all this stuff was happening and it was time to get everything back together and move on to the next show, the next party, the next moment and it was kind like trying to put yourself back together and do it again.
Puckett: And pretend that you're okay.
Mario: And pretend that you're okay, yeah.
Ted: Was that the night that Peter Buck played with you?
Mario: No, that was a long time ago. This was last year, over at Jason from the Presidents of the U.S.A.'s house. He had this house up these steps. At one point, I was so drunk that I couldn't tell whether I was going up or going down the steps and I kept falling. Then they kept trying to put me to bed and somehow I kept ending up back at the party and it was like a machine battery - bounding energy and then falling down again and then finding another spark and getting another beer and then falling down again.
Puckett: So the house was nice when you got there. Was it nice when you left?
Mario: Uh, as much as I can remember, yeah. They did a good job of putting me to bed . three or four times.
Puckett: Now, it seems like some of the songs on the new album are more optimistic, like "Roll The Dice."
Mario: I think so. At that point, I think I was feeling that it was time to write new songs for the album. Or music has grown so much and I think we're the best we've ever been, but as far as getting a booking agent or getting onto bills, it really hasn't gone that way and it's hard not to get jaded. I was feeling like if we want this, fuck everything else. Just let it go. Maybe we haven't reached that level because we've all been holding onto everything like our personal lives, our jobs at work and stuff. We're getting married, we're getting higher up in our jobs and we've never really gone hungry on the road. We've never said, "We're really good, let's just let it lie out there for what it is." I think that song is saying maybe it's just time to let it live or die and fuck everything, let's just go do it.
Ted: As a whole though, I think all the songs are optimistic.
Mario: That's what I'm saying. If everything is down in the gutter and there's never any overcoming, then there's no real point. You have to have hope in all the songs or else you don't wake up the next day or you don't carry on or you don't keep the spirit of what you're doing alive. It's just letting each moment die and that's not what it's about.
Puckett: So what is the spirit of what you're doing?
Steve: For me, it's just being able to get together with people I like and play the kind of music that I love and being able to express myself that way, and to get up in front of people and do what we do and not feel bad about all the things that I've missed along the way or what anybody missed along the way, for me, has better than anything else I've ever done. For me, it's the fact that I still get excited to play with these guys three nights a week. It doesn't really matter what level to me. I'd like to be successful, but I don't think the goals that I have as a band are necessarily the same for me as they were when I started out. Now, we just write good songs and for me, that's it.
Jarrod: Exactly. Like you were saying, a long time ago, my goals were different and I was at a different place than where I am now. I've been in the band for seven years and being able to practice three nights a week and still get a kick out of it, I love it.
Steve: And we're not the kind of people who are going to sit around anyway waiting for something to happen. That's why we keep growing and keep writing and still have a friendship.
Puckett: How about you Kenny?
Kenny: Probably playing and being on stage. It's about the only 45 minutes of the day when I can forget about everything.
Steve: What he said about that 45 minutes, that's what everything else in our lives is geared around. We work the 45 hours a week or whatever, pay bills, it's all geared around having that time and letting it all out. It's something we created and that we're proud of and that we love.
Puckett: It almost sounds like you live for that.
Mario: I think maybe that's the best thing, that we haven't made some huge success on MTV because the greatest thing is being the underdog and fighting and overcoming. The moments driving to work and dreaming of making the big show or the greatest show of your life and still it hasn't come yet, or the best song still hasn't come and it's still ahead. One thing that feels good is that we haven't sold out or changed the way we played, we've just kept true to what we've been playing and writing no matter what anybody else has done.
Puckett: Now when you guys are on stage, it doesn't even seem like the rest of the world exists.
Kenny: I still think of weird things when I'm playing, but I get shy speaking in front of 15 people, like if I have to go up in front of a class and do a presentation or whatever, I'll get really shy, but when we play, I never get nervous. I don't really worry about anything. It's kind of hard to say. I'm sure everyone gets lost in their own little way, but then they're still conscious about some stuff. It feels good, standing up there, sweat pouring down.
Ted: All the girls in the front row.
Kenny: No, actually, I get the weirdoes. [Everyone laughs] But it just feels good.I don't know how everyone else feels, but it's the best time I have, jumping around.
Ted: What was it like opening for Megadeth and an all ages show as opposed to a normal bar show? You know, you had people running around, punching each other in the face.
Jarrod: That happens at the bar shows too. I liked it. I liked playing in front of a large crowd, most of whom if not all of whom have never seen us before, and watch them enjoy us and play our gig and know in our heart that we did good.
Steve: It's always nice to walk in somewhere and do what you do and win everybody over by just doing what you're doing. It's definitely satisfying.
Puckett: Did you guys think about the challenge of opening for a metal band?
Jarrod: It didn't bother me one bit.
Steve: I think it's because of the fact that we like to rock. People are either going to get it or they're not, whether they like punk rock or jazz or whatever. I mean, people that really appreciate music are going to appreciate all kinds of music, so we went it and didn't really worry about it.
Jarrod: I was standing at the side of the stage, looking at this huge, huge audience out there and I was thinking, "Man, I'm ready to kick these guys in the shins so we can get up there and play."
Mario: We haven't really targeted where we want to play, whether it's all ages shows or not all ages shows. I think we do pretty good at all ages shows and it seems to me that there's a whole new crop of people that were all ages before and now can get it in the clubs.
Ted: That's true, because it's been so long.
Mario [laughing]: Yeah, exactly, they were 15. But I think a lot of those people are like now, especially when they hit the Web site, who were these guys and where did they come from and now they're really into us and a lot of them are still all ages but the come and hang outside the door to hear us play. We've always run in different circles than the bands that do play all ages clubs, so it's never really been something we could facilitate.
Ted: Plus there's no alcohol.
Mario: Plus there's no alcohol.
Ted: Why bother?
Mario: That's never stopped us before.
Puckett: So do you think anything gets lost in the translation between an all ages crowd and a bar crowd that's closer to your age and maybe understands what you're singing about more than a high school kid would?
Mario: I thought it would at first, but not really. The one thing is that it's kind of easier for the band because the audience can occupy themselves half the time when they're wasted, and an audience that's not is just focusing on the music.
Jarrod: Exactly. Are they enjoying themselves or are they really wasted? Are they enjoying it and really liking the songs?
Mario: A lot of times, the kids at all ages shows are more determined to have a good time without getting drunk or getting wasted, but there's nothing better than being 16 and getting wasted for your first time and see a rock band.
Jarrod: Oh yeah.
Mario: When you're not supposed to, it makes it even better.
Steve: Yeah, then you have to crash out at your buddy's place.
Puckett: You guys always tear through your sets like you really believe there is no tomorrow. Why is that?
Kenny: Well, when you see a band, you don't want to see them talking and telling jokes and stuff is my opinion.
Steve: What's that show that's on VH1?
Kenny: Yeah, "Storytellers." We're not doing "Storytellers." It just feels good to me to go all the way through.
Jarrod: You push yourself even harder, there's more energy.
Mario: Early on, I think that's one of the best things that we brought to a set was the banter in between and the sum of our personalities along with the music, whether it was joking or fighting or whatever. You got a feeling for who we were and it just made what we were doing a moment. Especially now, I want to go out there and not have a moment of doubt that rocked like fuck. I don't want there to be a question for a moment. I don't want you to go away and get a drink. I want you to be there for the whole time, caught in the whole set.
Puckett: It sounds similar to what you were talking about when you were commenting on being stuck between real life and the band.
Mario: That's what always was a great rock 'n' roll band to me. I wanted to go into a club and see a band that could uplift you or take you away somewhere else for 45 minutes because everything else is so fucked up. If you can go there for that moment in time and they can do that to you, to me, that's the best rock 'n' roll band in the world. That's always been the goal is making a set that's in your face and kicks your ass and gets you drunk and leaves you wondering what happened when it's done.
Puckett: So if I'm understanding what you're saying, you guys want to be the best rock 'n' roll band in the world, one person at a time.
Mario: Sure. Whatever it takes.
Puckett: "Cheers to Me" was really consistent - similar tempos, guitar tones. "Rock Like Fuck" seems a lot more diverse. Was this conscious?
Steve: I think it's just natural. We've never written songs to try to get a certain sound. We just write for ourselves and write what we like. We probably have a million songs that never went anywhere and these are the ones that all came together. They make a good package together, they sound good together. They were just the ones that stuck out when we were working on them.
Mario: The one thing I felt was that "Cheers to Me," the way everything was sequenced, it was the up and down emotions of that year and everything as it went up and down and whatever. I always had in mind that this one was going to be more of the live thing and live surroundings of everything we lived and was around us when we were playing clubs and out on the road and the life that went with it. That's what most of the themes are about and that's kind of what the album is. In a nutshell, it's the live shows and the feel of the road.
Ted: Speaking of live shows, you said you're doing a live album for Junk.
Mario: It mostly came up from a drunken conversation I had in LA a couple of weeks ago about how we really are a live band and that we wanted to capture that live feeling on tape and incorporate all our music so far in one set instead of just one album at a time. I think this gives us an opportunity that we can't do otherwise.
Puckett: You can revisit some older songs.
Mario: Yeah, and incorporate them into the set. I think it'll give people a picture of us as a whole and not just one album at a time.
Ted: Are you going to put some covers on there?
Mario: It's a possibility. We haven't even talked about all the songs that we're going to put together. I'm sure there are going to be some "for sure" ones, but I think one of the things we're always going for is our sets at The Casbah. There's no place that's more perfect for us to record it than there.
Ted: It won't be as good as the Stones album on Scam-O-Rama.
Puckett: One of the songs I liked best on this album was "My Confession." What sparked that one?
Mario: Guilt, I guess. It's kind of a battle of living a life that I think we've all been accustomed to and kind of enjoy.
Steve: Yeah. It kind of comes down to do you what you feel like doing or do you do what you're supposed to do?
Mario: Yeah. A lot of times you're brought up a certain way and it's a battle that goes on all the time, especially with drinking and overcoming hangovers and overcoming whatever they take you to, and then standing up and saying that whatever you do is right, whatever you feel is right, and you should just go ahead with it and live out the life that you're living because you have to do what you feel and not what you were taught to be or brought up to be or what other people tell you to be.
Puckett: So it sounds like this album has a theme of rebelling and looking for something better, like the question in "Roll the Dice" - "Is this what you really want? Is this all you're looking for?"
Mario: Yeah. I mean, it's overcoming. Everything is overcoming. It's just the things that you want and strive for and the part of you that says maybe you shouldn't. You just have to fight your way through them and overcome and find a way to find the truth for yourself.
Puckett: It seems like your music usually has a positive bent, that it's not all bad and that there is something better. But it also seems like there's a down side, like a longing for something more.
Steve: Yeah, it depends on what you do with it. You can listen to a Judas Priest record and say "I want to kill myself" or something stupid like that. For me, the kind of music that I like, the kind that makes me dance or whatever, I always come away from it feeling rejuvenated or able to express another kind of emotion, whether I'm sad or angry or whatever. It's why I buy the records I do and listen to the music I do and play the music that I do. I don't try to fight it. I don't know what it is, but for me, it's a good source for positive energy.
Jarrod: Well, from my standpoint, I back them up as best I can. It's weird because I think everybody's feeling the same feeling and I do what I can to back it up, but I can feel like crap going on to that stage and after that 45 minutes to an hour, that's the best feeling I've ever had. Sure, I may feel horrible the next day, but I love it. That's all I know. I've always loved it.
Kenny: I just feel really good about it, kind of like they said. I can feel nervous, but I just go up there and play and everything else, I don't even really think about it.
Jarrod: I think about the next day at about four o' clock in the morning.
Kenny: Yeah, but you don't think about it while you're playing.
Steve: Plus, that's just the choice that we make. Everybody likes something different. Somebody might be into going to the beach or whatever and they stay at the beach all night, every night, but they still have to get up and go to work the next day, but it's what they like and they want to do that and they deal with it. I guess it's like what we do. We may feel shitty the next day sometimes or we miss out on something or we're late for something, but in the back of your mind, you're always going to want that, sink or swim. You try to get the most out of it that you can.
Mario: I was thinking that one time, there was a band with a release on the radio and we were wondering why they were on the radio and we weren't. I sat down and looked at my idols, who I liked, like Johnny Thunders or whoever, and most of them are either dead or gave their life to rock 'n' roll and it cost some of them their lives. I always remember thinking as a kid, dreaming of watching my brothers or whoever and the euphoric feeling of just what a great life it is and how cool it is and stuff. As far as playing it, you realize there are costs and there are pains. There are days when you feel you can't do it anymore and people get hurt. But if you don't feel that stuff - if you don't feel the lowest lows - then you can't feel the highest highs and you can't take other people there. There are costs, but without those costs, you can't reach the points that make it so great for 45 minutes. To me, it may be like walking on a tightrope, but if you don't walk to the edge of the cliff and look over, you can't see how great it looks from up there. Sometimes there are costs, sometimes it is fatalistic, but without the chance of that happening, you can't really feel it, and if you can't feel it, you can't take other people there. To me, that's the most important thing. It has to be real. I think that's one of the most important things we provide is that the music is real, the stories are real, everything is real. It's not fake. When we're feeling our worst moments, we're at the bar next to you. When we're playing in front of you, if we make you feel great it's because we're feeling great.