I had been hearing about Jersey for a while before I picked up "The Battle's Just Begun." I interviewed vocalist/guitarist Greg Taylor and bassist Johnny Lubera (who were also in Believe) in their tour van before a recent show.
Please state your name and the instrument you play.
Greg: I'm Greg Taylor, I play guitar and do vocals.
Johnny: I'm Johnny Lubera and I play bass.
Greg, you just mentioned that Sarah left the band in the middle of the tour.
Greg: Well, she's been in the band for four years. She originally started out as a backup singer. We thought it would be cool to have a female vocalist in the harmonies and it more or less came down to her wanting to sing more and not really getting what she wanted out of the band. Basically, I was in Grade and I wanted to do a band where I was singing so I didn't want to split it 50/50. Anyway, there's no hard feelings, it was just a mutual decision.
When I first heard about Jersey, I didn't know there was any connection to Grade. How did Jersey start?
Greg: We were all in Grade at one point in time. Johnny played the first couple of shows, I was an original member for about six years, Kev was the original drummer for three years. Then when I left the band, Sean filled in for me. Grade took a one year hiatus before the album "Separate The Magnets" and we didn't really know what was going on with the band and we weren't really serious, so almost everybody in that band had other bands as well, like Jersey. We started this because we wanted to do something that we all liked, just totally fun punk rock. Kyle had Acrid and Matt was in 78 Days. Anything else?
Johnny: That pretty much answers that question. We all grew up in the same area and I think Kyle was sort of in the band in the beginning. Kyle and a couple of his friends knew each other. How did you get affiliated with Grade, Greg? Through Sean, their roadie?
Johnny: Then when they decided to start the other bands, that's how I got to know them. Greg kind of brought me in and they had their friends and they brought them in and it all kind of formed, but that's how we all met and we're still all good friends today. That's pretty much the answer to that question.
How did you settle on the style? On the first record, there's a pretty heavy ska influence that's absolutely nothing like Grade.
Johnny: I think when we began, Greg called me to get in the band and at that point, he was the one doing major writing and I think he just wanted to do something different than Grade and totally get away from that and play punk rock. We weren't looking for any specific style. I think we just play punk rock and we covered many genres. We did a little bit of hardcore, a little bit of ska, a little bit of pop-punk, a little rock 'n' roll and at that point, that's what we were happy with. Now I think, since time has passed, we've definitely come up with a style and we've got our own little thing going now, but in the beginning it was just fun and we just wanted to play punk rock. We didn't set any limitations for ourselves. We just played what we thought sounded good.
Greg: We started just before that huge ska explosion. We grew up on Operation Ivy and things like that; we thought it would be cool to play songs like that. It sounds strange enough, but right after that is when it got crazy and musically we just grew out of it.
So I've heard that the new Jersey songs are a lot more straight-ahead punk, a lot more rock and 77-styled punk.
Greg: That pretty much sums it up.
Johnny: I'd say that's what we play, but we know how to play. There's talent there. It's not like we're just banging away on three chords. We know what we're doing. There are a lot of good rock solos, breakdowns, bass lines, drumming, harmonies.
Right, like the bass intro to "The Only Girl."
Johnny: Yeah, yeah, total rock.
Not only that, but it involves playing melodies instead of three notes in a generic hardcore progression.
Greg: That's what he's all about man. You'll see tonight.
Johnny: The whole band now, guitars, vocals, everything you'll see, I think everyone in this band is always looking to become a better musician, a better singer, a better player and that's what I think makes our band good. I think we write honest lyrics, too. A lot of people seem to think that so many bands are doing this, but when we sit down and think about it, we don't really think that many bands are doing it at all, or at least not really good. That's the way I see it. Maybe I don't know the bands out there.
I could hear the ska influence, but I could also hear a lot of stylistic similarities to Ann Beretta.
Greg: We get that comparison.
Johnny: You can definitely get that.
Greg: They're actually really good friends of ours.
Johnny: They don't see it at all, which is cool.
Greg: They don't see it, but on the same note, we can't pass up saying that they were an influence.
Johnny: Ann Beretta for sure is a big influence on us. They're a good band.
I'm glad you mentioned the lyrics earlier because I spent some time writing down lyrics that seemed to suggest what Jersey was about, like "I've had enough of scene politics, jaded attitudes and raver chicks."
Greg: That kind of sums up our hometown scene. I mean, it's so on and off and I'm sure it's like that everywhere you go. In the beginning, everybody loves you, you have everyone's full support and then you start playing out of town, you start playing with bigger bands, you go on tour, everyone all of a sudden thinks you're a rock star and then nobody likes you. And then it comes full circle and new kids come in and they like you again and that was just basically a statement about all the scene politics and the attitudes. Most of the kids for a long time were young kids. It's cool that they're checking out punk rock, but you knew they weren't there to stay. They were like ravers and stuff, they're growing up and finding out who they are.
Johnny: They'll be at the show for like two weeks and then you'll never see them around again. That basically summed it up right there, I think.
Isn't that the way punk rock has always been though? You have a small core of people who are always committed to it and always going to shows and then you have the average kids who do it because the other kids at school think it's cool.
Greg: Which is fine. They're totally welcome to come and check it out and if they don't like it after a year, then that's their own thing. It's just those people who make remarks and judge you like they know what they're talking about.
Johnny: Yeah, I don't think it's so much about the people who go in and out or whatever, but it seems like a lot of them have so much to say and know very little about us. They know nothing about us except for maybe seeing us once or twice. They try and say this shit, like people trying to say we're sell-outs. I don't know where the hell that comes from when we have to pay all these bills and the last bills we pay when we get home from tour are our own. Hopefully things start to change, but up until now, we've been paying out of our own pockets. Not to give anyone a sob story or anything, but we've been working in steel factories and shit like that and doing jobs like that so we can do this. We do have educations and shit, we could do other things but this is what we chose to do. People just don't know the sacrifices our band goes through. Our drummer is a mechanic, he busts his balls.
That has to come in handy on the road.
Greg: Oh yeah.
Johnny: It does, totally. Sean works in a tie-dye factory.
Greg: But that's just it, people listen to your record and think that they know you and can say all this shit about, but really they don't know a fucking thing.
Johnny: They ought to come take a ride with us.
Greg: They'll see how it is. I mean, we had a super fan who came to every one of our shows and it was probably his dream, he asked us if he could come on the road with us when we were on tour with Ann Beretta and we were like, "Fuck, this kid has been at every show, let's give him a shot." I'm sure it definitely was not what he expected it to be because when we picked him up, he had no sleeping bag, no pillow. I'm sure he thought it was going to be hotels every night. People just don't know that it's a lot of hard work.
That's one of the reasons I got a leather jacket. You can use it to sit on, you can use it as a blanket, you can use it as a pillow, you can use it to stay warm.
Johnny: Yeah. I like leather jackets man, they're bad-ass.
So how did you guys get into punk? It sounds like you have pretty strong roots in the community and the scene.
Johnny: We'd have to give two answers. Greg, you give yours, because we've got two different personal things.
Greg: It almost kind of stems off yours anyway. I got into punk, creeping up on, I'm not that old, but like 8 or 9 years ago. I started listening to Minor Threat and 7 Seconds, Agnostic Front, our Canadian Dayglo Abortions, things like that.
I remember the Dayglos, I used to spin them in college radio.
Johnny: Everyone on this tour is throwing that out at us.
Greg: They were all over the news and everything, people trying to get their albums banned, but that's how I got in. I've always been into things like, like I told you earlier, BMX riding and the videos and things like that and I just found out more and more about it. Then I found a group of friends in high school that were really into underground hardcore and they introduced me to it. When you're younger, you're a lot more hardcore about things. You really get into something and I've done a lot of growing up since then, but that's basically where all my roots come from.
Johnny: I don't know. I got into punk when I was like in Grade 3, man. I was the first kid at school in Grade 3 to wear Docs and everyone made fun of me and I was like, "You'll see," and two years later, everyone was wearing them. I don't know, my brother got into punk through one of his friends, same sort of thing. His friend's older brother raced BMX and I guess it was part of the lifestyle, like punk rock goes hand in hand with skating and BMX at that time. My brother was huge into punk and my best friend and his best friend, Mike Russell, was also into punk, and that's what introduced me to it, just going out and going to the record store. Whatever was good, we bought it and listened to it and that's how we got into it.
Greg: It was a different story back then though.
Johnny: Yeah, it was bad-ass.
Greg: I'm sure you know. I don't know if it was like that in California, but you had your fucking local skinheads and you had your Doc rollings, people just cruising around, "Fucking give me your boots!"
Johnny: Lots of violence, shit like that. You had to have a set of balls if you wanted to wear your Docs and a flight around town. Those were the days.
Greg: See, that's when punk was hardcore, man.
Johnny: That's when it was real, man.
Greg: Not that that was cool, but yeah, that's when it was real. Now it's a lot more watered down.
Johnny: It was harder to be a poser then because if you were, people would beat you down.
Yeah, but people beat you down anyway so if you were a poser, you were out quick.
Johnny: Yeah, that's right.
I totally know what you mean though. I had this friend in high school and he got me into the DKs and Black Flag, the guy who wore a devillock every single day and read "Thrasher."
Greg: I'm sure he got the hardcore ridicule from everybody.
Yeah, we'd be listening to S.O.D. and shit like that in Biology.
Johnny: I listened to S.O.D. and stuff like that, sure.
Everybody has those formative experiences.
We were pretty heavily into skating and it was basically just us two, nobody else we knew really liked either of us because they thought punk was Psychedelic Furs and shit like that and they didn't understand why we were listening to Minor Threat or Agnostic Front or Dag Nasty. We'd be out skating and this is out in a redneck area of town so we've always got cowboys trying to kick our asses and shit like that, so I totally know what you mean. It wasn't other punks, there were no other punks, it was just the culture.
Greg: Even just going back to the question about the lyrics, punk is so different now. Most kids have no idea what it used to be like. We come from different worlds. It's weird, like we have to adapt to the new world which is totally fine, I mean, things aren't going to stay the same, but it's just the comments from those kids. They don't really know anything about real punk rock.
So do you think that kind of culture and history is getting lost as punk becomes more popular and mainstream?
Greg: For sure.
Johnny: I've seen some violence on this tour which was surprising, but besides that, yeah, it's nothing like that anymore. It's not like it used to be. I remember way back in the day when I was really young but even my brother, he was a pretty tough guy, and when the Dayglos were playing back when I was like 11 years old, he was probably 16 or 17 and a pretty tough guy and had some tough friends and even they didn't go to Dayglo shows. They were like, "We're not going to hit that up, that's pretty nutty shit, like tons of violence and crap."
Greg: Not to say that violence was a cool part or that's what punk rock was.
Johnny: I think people lived by it more then, it was way more working class and shit.
Greg: Well yeah, and if you wanted to be a punk rocker you had to fucking stand up for yourself.
You had to be ready to fight for what you stood for.
Greg: Now, you have these kids coming out and it's a fashion show.
Johnny: Pretty much.
Greg: It was a fashion show back then, but it meant something.
Johnny: Sort of off topic, that was like me when I was little from like Grade 3 to Grade 7, I did the whole punk rock image thing for like five years. I'm not going to lie, I thought it was cool and shit like that and I was totally into it. I wore my Docs, army jacket, flight jacket, even had a mohawk, but after a while, I was still totally down with the music, but I just toned it down. When I first started in Jersey, people would bust my balls and bust the band's balls all the time, saying I was just some jock and all this shit like that, but that was just a total judgment by face value. They don't even know me, they know nothing about me, so how can they even say?
Greg: He is a definite hockey player.
Johnny: A lot of true punks are.
Yeah, but you don't have a mullet.
Johnny: Yeah, that's right, but I did though. I did. I grew it for fun on tour.
Greg: We get comments from kids .
Johnny: 11 years old.
Greg: Like "The only thing punk about him is the spikes on his guitar strap."
Johnny: It doesn't matter what the image is.
So is that more or less punk than spending $80 on a shirt or bondage pants?
Johnny: That's exactly it, man. The image doesn't really matter anymore. Like, it's all cool, everyone likes fashion and shit, but that doesn't matter. It's what in your lyrics and if you mean what you're saying through your lyrics and your music, that's all that matters.
The lyrics actually seem to have more of an old school feel to them. You write about friendship and brotherhood and unity.
Johnny: The important things, rather than singing about riding around with the seat off your bike. I get a kick out of that though.
Greg: We write about things that are important to us. We aren't going to go busting our balls out of our way to write a fucking political song if that's not a common topic in our daily life.
Johnny: I think we just write whatever we're feeling that day. That's the way I look it. If I've got some story or some experience and I want to tell it, I'll just write it and I'm sure Greg probably does the same thing.
Isn't writing a song about unity while other bands write about throwing bottles to the ground kind of a political act in itself?
Greg: If that's what a band wants to write about, then I'll take them as that. That's totally fine if that's the kind of band they want to be. They can still be totally punk rock in their ethics. Anyone can write whatever they want.
Johnny: Yeah, I'm not going to front on anyone's lyrics, it's whatever people want. If that's what they want to write about, go ahead. If that's what fuels their fire, then go ahead. I'm just concerned with what we're doing and I like it. I'm stoked.
So how does the songwriting process break down? Do you start with lyrics, music, how do you divide the music parts?
Greg: Sometimes it's a jam. Either that or Johnny will come to practice with a bass riff and we'll start jamming it out or I'll come to practice with a song or a half song written. It's the same as a lot of bands. It goes through a metamorphosis and the lyrics are the last thing that goes on. When it's finally done, you play it live and you demo it and it changes from there. It's a process, man.
So you hash it out live before you drop it to tape.
Greg: We try to. We're going to play a lot of new stuff tonight, actually.
Johnny: I don't write that much, I wrote maybe two or three songs on the album, but if I write a song, usually I just write it and then give it to Greg and he checks it out and puts his thoughts in there, if he can relate to it. I don't know. I don't think we really structure a song around the lyrics first. We usually write it first.
Greg: People have designated jobs in the band, like Johnny will bring a kick-ass lick to a practice, or I'll bring a riff or Sean will bring a riff. I used to do it all in the early days but it's come a long way since then. Nowadays, we jam out a song and I found what I'm really good at now is putting the song together, just composing it.
Greg: Yeah, arranging it.
Johnny: Yeah, I can bring tons of good riffs, but I'm just like, "Dude, I've got this and that and this, but I don't know exactly how it goes." I'll bring it to practice, he'll get it and twist it around and then it'll sound good. A couple of days, couple of weeks pass and we've got a good song.
Greg: Just the last Grade thing here, I wrote tons, like most of the music for Grade and then when I started really feeling this band, I'm sure you can tell, I don't know, have you heard "Separate The Magnets"?
Yeah, got the 10".
Greg: See, that's my favorite Grade record. Then you go to the new one which is the last one I was on and it's a lot more poppy. That was, I think, largely my fault. I don't really like that record as much as I like "Separate The Magnets" just because I was in Jersey and that influence was coming through. I don't even know why I'm talking about that.
Johnny: You were just so in depth with Jersey shit that it was probably tough to go back and write Grade riffs and shit like that after you'd been writing for Jersey.
It seems like Jersey's a lot more stylistically consistent. I mean, Grade has the beautiful melodies that break down into hardcore.
Greg: Yeah, we just try and keep the energy going, man. That's the main thing. We fucking like to keep the energy going. We like to keep it aggressive but melodic at the same time, catchy. We love to have the crowd in there, singing along with us.
Johnny: We try to sculpt some shit around that so that people can sing along.
Greg: That's a big part of the songwriting process, how we can make it a fucking anthem.
How you can take it back to the old school days when you've got a mike in your face and the whole crowd is screaming along.
Greg: See, we grew up on that scene, man, the whole hardcore thing.
Johnny: You'll see it tonight, you'll hear more of the new songs tonight. I don't know how to put it and I don't mean to be arrogant, but I think our tunes are starting to come together like more of a full package. On that album, "The Battle's Just Begun," we didn't have Sean and now we have Sean so we're way more full, we can do more with one guitar, bass stuff, solos and then we've got a guitar backup.
Greg: Sean is a huge addition to the band.
Johnny: Totally, and he sings. He's good with harmonies, it's just a total stepping stone in our band. He's the stinkiest guy in the world too. Sean McStinky.
So have you had a lot of kids singing along on this tour?
Greg: We're still doing a lot of legwork because as a band, we've been together for a long time but we just started biting the bullet and getting down to business last year so we're still doing a lot of legwork. This tour is a little bit different than every other tour we've done because we're touring with bands that are not really at all in the same sort of genre as us.
Yeah, I was surprised to see you on the bill with Slick Shoes and Cooter.
Greg: Well, what happened was that both of those bands did a split EP on our record label, Fueled By Ramen, and they had to tour. They were going on tour and our label asked if we could go along and they were cool enough to say yeah, so here we are. I mean Slick Shoes is a Christian band.
Yeah, I thought they were on Tooth & Nail.
Greg: They are on Tooth & Nail. They're not preachy or anything. With that, we're basically playing to at least a 60-70% Christian audience and this is definitely a brand new thing for us. It hasn't been mindblowing on this tour in terms of responses from people because I'm not even sure that people who would like us would come to this kind of show, you know?
If you guys weren't on the bill, I wouldn't have been here.
Johnny: I would definitely say though, and I'll say it for the record, at a good majority of the shows, our crowd participation, minus Slick Shoes, has been just as good or better a lot of time than a lot of other bands on this tour. A lot of people might not know the lyrics and stuff but we do a lot of other little surprises to get the kids into it and it seems like they're cooperating quite a bit for the most part.
Greg: The crowd responses have been great.
Johnny: Yeah, the crowd response has been good. Some shows have been off the wall, like in Calgary and Edmonton, those shows were off the wall. Yesterday, wherever we played in Anaheim, that was pretty good. Some kids in the front were lame, but in the back there was a pit going and shit.
Greg: I guess I was trying to say that the response has been really good on this tour, but not a lot of people know who we are on this tour.
Johnny: I mean, I seriously think a lot of people who come to these shows don't even know our kind of music. I'd be surprised if they even know who Rancid is.
Greg: A kid who lives in Cleveland told me that he fucking loves the music, but asked if we sing like that on the record. I'm like, "Pretty much," and he said it's a little too Dicky Barrett for him.
Johnny: I think a majority of kids at these shows are listening to Blink-182, NOFX and Pennywise. I don't think they've heard of a lot of good little punk bands, they don't even know them.
So they're into mainstream Warped Tour punk.
Johnny: Yeah, a lot of them, and then you'll get the odd kid who's totally into it and he's so stoked that there's even a band like this on the stage, like that kid yesterday in the front row with the spikes and the blonde hair? That kid was losing his mind, man. It was rad.
So you do get people who are into old school stuff coming out.
Johnny: I'm surprised, like it's handfuls.
Greg: We get a lot of, if a kid really likes us, just like, "I have not seen a band like you guys play here in a long, long time."
Johnny: I got that yesterday.
Greg: It's kind of cool. I mean, it's stoking for us.
Johnny: I think that the consequences is that a lot of kids at the show want to buy our album and then they find out that we aren't Christian and they won't buy our album, or if we swear, they won't buy an album. They're like, "You guys cussed, I can't buy that album." Just because we swear doesn't make us evil people. Our lyrics are still positive, so we're battling with all that too and that's weird for us. I still think we're doing pretty good though. It's a totally weird thing, but in a way I guess we're winning over some new fans and we had to hit these places because we wanted, before our next EP comes out, to definitely cover all this. We didn't want our EP coming out and we've never played here before. I don't know. We did it, we made some good friends on this tour, so it was good.
It's interesting that you're talking about Christians who are prejudiced against your music because you swear. It seems like that kind of defeats the purpose of being a Christian, doesn't it?
Greg: We've seen a lot of weird things and I'll never say a bad thing about Slick Shoes because they've honestly become really, really good friends. They're into their religion, but they never spoke a word of it to us unless we asked. So having said that about Slick Shoes, I don't fucking get or agree at all with this Christian shit.
Johnny: Yeah, you can't judge one person. Some of these kids won't buy an album because we swear or because we're not Christian, and then another kid who's totally Christian will come up and buy the album and be like, "That was wicked, man."
Greg: What blows my mind is how can there be Christian punk rock? The whole thing about punk rock as far as I was ever concerned was anti-establishment.
Questioning received values that you got.
Greg: And then the Christians come in and start playing punk rock music and calling it punk rock music, but there's all these rules. Can't swear, blah blah blah. There are so many Christians like that.
Johnny: But guys like Joe, the drummer for Slick Shoes, we were blowing his mind. I know it too because he watched us every show. If you're on tour for two months, it's hard to watch bands every show for two months and he's one of our biggest fans and he'll listen to it.
Greg: But you say that as far as your knowledge and I know there are many Christians like that who do not drink and do not smoke, but how can there be other Christians following the same religion that drink and smoke and it's okay?
Doesn't it just break down to individualism?
Greg: I guess so, but Christianity is not individualism.
Johnny: I don't know.
Greg: I'd really like to not talk about this, to tell you the truth, because we could go on forever.
Johnny: I would like to get more knowledge about it so I can understand it if I'm going to talk about it, but yeah, whatever. It's really strange. Everyone seems to have their own little rules and everyone's different. You can't judge anything by one person.
So what keeps you guys doing this? What keeps you going when the van breaks down?
Greg: As cheesy as it sounds, we fucking love playing. That's it as far as I'm concerned.
Johnny: I like it too. I don't know if I like it as much as McNab over here. He'd play 365 days a year if he could.
Sean: I live for it.
Johnny: But the thing is, you have to make money to survive, not that it's about making money because I love to play, but I have to go home and work because this isn't paying the bills, so anyone calls us sell-outs .
You're going to ring their bell?
Greg: That's basically the bottom line.
Johnny: It has to be because we love it.
Greg: There has been so much bullshit, the drives, the no showers, the sweating, the eating fucking garbage every day .
Johnny: Being away from our families .
Greg: But we just love it. We know that sometime that day we're going to get to fucking rock out.
And maybe blow somebody's mind.
Johnny: Blowing minds across the U.S. of A.
Sean: That's what this tour's all about.
Johnny: That's our slogan.
Greg: That's our goal, man.
Sean: Blowing Minds Tour, 2000.
Johnny: I wouldn't say it's about the money. It's about survival and rocking out at shows because we aren't making a fat bill, I'll tell you that right now.
Any last words you want to throw in?
Sean: Boo yaa ka.
Greg: I'm not so good with words.
Johnny: Keep a lookout for our new EP in the new year. We're recording 4 or 5 songs in January for Fueled By Ramen. Keep a lookout for us in the new year.