At the time of this interview in 1996, Jeff Abarta was probably best known as one of Epitaph Records' publicists and, until recently, had his own band as well as offering guest vocals on albums by the likes of NOFX, Bad Religion and Rancid.
How have you seen punk rock change since you became involved with it?
Jeff: Interesting. Very vague question. Well, obviously I've seen it go from a very specialized fan-base where the fans were just punk rockers to where mall rats and those kinds of dorks like punk rock also. Now it's gotten back to where punk rock is more of a scene thing. It's been forever changed because of the crazy success the Offspring and Green Day had. I don't know. It'll never be the same as it was, but on the other hand, why should it be?
Is it better now or worse than when you got involved?
Jeff: I don't know. I don't really know. It's hard to say. I mean, when I go to shows, I still have a good time. Then again, I can't say everyone else would feel the same way, but then again, there are tons of kids out there who hate bands because they're popular whereas I like music and I like music because it's good music, not because of who likes it and who doesn't like it, so I still have a great time. I love the music and that's really the main thing that matters to me. Do I like the scene better or worse now? I don't really know. I still like the music and that's the most important thing.
Do you think there's anything wrong with punk?
Jeff: Absolutely not. I think punk is necessary, and in terms of punk being rebellious, loud, obnoxious music and in terms of people living that lifestyle, I think it's absolutely necessary. If we don't have people out there counterbalancing the conservative right, this would be a really scary world. I think punk is actually necessary, not only as a style of music but a lifestyle as well.
What's good about punk?
Jeff: Well, I suppose in the sense that it's so popular and has such widespread exposure, it's good there are a lot more people who are hearing the "message" of punk rock. Whether or not a lot of the mainstream kids get it and actually apply what they've learned from punk rock remains to be seen. I really don't think it's going to have really lasting mainstream success. There's no way punk rock getting huge is going to turn the country into anarchy. I think the good thing is it keeps the conservative right on their toes. Actually, there was going to be a press conference on C-SPAN last week. I believe it was put on by the PMRC and they were singling out obscene records and I believe NOFX's "Heavy Petting Zoo" was one of them, but for some reason or another, they canceled the press conference. The point is, there are punk bands today who are keeping the conservative right on their toes and offending people, which is good. I don't think they should be dictating what we should believe and what we should look at and how we should act on a daily basis, and that's why I think punk is good.
How have you seen the crowds and people at shows change?
Jeff: Well, obviously when it got mainstream, you got a lot more average joes, and especially for punk rockers, that's going to fuel their fire because they're outsiders. They don't necessarily subscribe to the same belief system they do and so consequently a lot of shows tend to be a lot more violent, not actually just because of punk rockers, but because mainstream kids come and they think "Oh, let's go slam," and they don't get that you're there to dance and have fun, but they think it's there to be violent and stupid and so, consequently, the real punks fight back, as well they should, but it turns into a volatile mix. I wasn't at shows in the late 70's and early 80's, but those were supposed to be pretty violent too, but I think they're violent now for a different reason and I think it's because there's lots of jocks and, in L.A. at least, there's lots of gangsters there and it gets pretty hairy. It's changed a lot that way, because punk rock has gotten so big it's everywhere now. It's not limited to punkers anymore.
Do you see any problems with the way people act at shows?
Jeff: Yeah, absolutely. I think slam pits should be a fun place to get some aggression out, but the key word is fun. You come out of there with broken ribs and noses, and it ain't right. Someone missed the point.
What can we do to make the scene better?
Jeff: I don't really know. I'm not one to preach, so I'm not sure I can do anything, because I don't want to go out there and tell people what to do. To me, that goes against what punk rock is all about. People will figure it out eventually. Punk rock, as a scene, doesn't need a leader or someone telling them what to do and to me, that goes absolutely against what it's all about. I think if you don't like what it's become, get out. Start something new. Do something else then. If you hate what it's become that much, find something else to do. Maybe people are going to be pissed at me for saying that, but I don't know if it's a good idea to sit around preaching the way people should act. I think if you don't like it, leave. I want to follow that up by saying if you're going to do anything, lead by example. Go to a show and be cool, but then again, I don't want to preach and I don't want anyone to preach to me, so if I go to a show, I'm going to hang out.
Any final thoughts? Anything you'd like to add?
Jeff: Remember punk is about attitude, but it's about the music and if you don't have a good time, don't go.