I interviewed guitarist John Haggerty by phone after the start of Pegboy's tour in late 1993. If you haven't heard the band yet, the "Strong Reaction" CD is a nice introduction and includes the "Three Chord Monte" EP. Then get "Fore." After Metallica bassist Jason Newsted cut his hair, he suddenly resembles Haggerty. Coincidence?
How's the tour going?
John: Oh, pretty good. We've only done four shows.
I thought you'd already done about a month's worth of gigs.
John: Uh uh. We started off a week ago today but we've had a couple of traveling days so we've only done four.
So where are you calling from today?
John: Um, Bellingham. That's where I'm at right now. We played Bellingham, played Spokane the day before yesterday.
How'd that gig go?
John: Good. I was kind of surprised, because I knew it was a small town and we hadn't played there before so I didn't know what to think, but I was pleasantly surprised. There were quite a few people there.
You just released "Fore." Why did it take two years to get it out?
John: Well, there were a few reasons. One of them was that we lost our bass player and we had a heck of a time replacing him. That really slowed us up quite a bit. We weren't really a whole band. Motivation kind of went down. We found it was hard to work as an incomplete band, you know, with practicing and trying to write new material. We learned a valuable lesson, but it took us about a year. Now we're going good I think with Pierre [Kezdy] in the band.
What happened with Steve [Saylors]? Did he want to go on to something else?
John: Um, no. Steve felt that he wanted to keep his regular day job and his boss put it to him that if we toured, he'd lose his job, so he decided to keep his job.
That's kind of sad.
John: Yeah, well, I don't know. I mean, that's what he wants, that's what he should have.
"Strong Reaction" had a lot of sing-along melodies. "Fore" seems more hard-edged. Was that influenced by the producer?
John: I'd say production wise certainly, but the song writing I don't think was influenced. He didn't have a hand in writing the songs, but as far as the production, I guess you could draw your own conclusions.
So what influenced the change? "Fore" sounds harder than "Strong Reaction" or "Three Chord Monte."
John: Really? I don't know. Actually you're the first one I've heard say that it sounds harder. I don't know, it's just what's going through our minds. It's not really like a deliberate something that's happened to us that's made us harder or something. It just seems to be what we find pleasing to play that we think others will like as well. I don't know. It's not really a conscious thing at all. I can't really explain why we do certain things, or why even it strikes you as more hard perhaps.
So your music is evolving?
John: Yeah, I would like to think that it's an evolutionary process. I mean, I don't think a band should stay in the same place their whole career.
With the addition of Pierre, this means that 3/4 of Naked Raygun is touring with Larry [Damore]?
John: It's actually only half. Pierre and I were in Naked Raygun, and my brother Joe was in a couple other bands and Larry was in a couple. I know it seems kind of strange, it must seem kind of strange, but it just really happened that way. Pierre just ... basically I found out that he lost his day job which I thought was something that maybe had held him back in the past, but he seems willing to do it now.
I'd just been hearing rumors about a Raygun reunion.
John: No, it's not like that at all. In fact, we're trying to keep it as little like that as possible. People in the press don't seem to want to go along with that. It's something to talk about, I understand that, I understand like the press point of view that you have to have something to talk about because you can't really listen to the written word.
Part of the problem is the pressure to find an angle.
John: Right. That's the nature of the game.
It seems like a lot of people would rather write about the past, like the Rolling Stones or something.
John: Yeah. I guess they can't help it.
It has to be frustrating because you're not doing Naked Raygun, and it seems like people want you to.
John: I don't know, I think that must be human nature because they always say they like your old stuff better. I mean, even like your example of the Rolling Stones, how many of those people who are fawning over them now, you know, they would probably in the same sentence say 'Yeah, but I like your old stuff better.' That's just the way it goes I guess.
The difference I hear between "Fore" and "Strong Reaction" is probably due as much to the time separating the two as anything else.
John: Yeah, I would say that's probably more so than anything. It's the time between the two records that makes them different. I think the record that we're going to do next is going to be even more different because now Pierre's going to be in on it and Pierre can write a lot of varied type things. So I think this next record is really going to be something I'm looking forward to doing. "Fore" is pretty much just a stopgap to have something out and keep interest up to kind of pave the way for this new record which I think will be something. I'm looking forward to doing it, I hope it's good.
After that delay, I was wondering if "Strong Reaction" was just a one-off project.
John: Well, we've made plans already to do another record and it looks like it's going to happen and it looks like it's going to come out September 1. I know that's kind of a long time. But it has to do also with the time the record company feels it's best to release it. I mean, the album itself will be done a lot sooner than that, but they're going to hold it because they don't want to release it in the summer or in the late spring. It has to be in the early Fall.
There have been a lot of lyrics about resistance, being yourself, longing and regret. What other themes does the band write about?
John: That's predominantly Larry's department. What we try to do overall is not something that should be easily talked about. It's really hard to describe the themes. You know, should a song mean something? I say no. A song should not really mean anything. I know it's hard, I mean, you have to write lyrics, sure, but if you can write something that creates an emotion without actually saying anything in particular, I think that's the greatest part of all.
It sounds like you want people to get their own impressions of a song.
John: Yeah. I mean, that's what we're hoping to achieve. I mean, by nature it should be vague, but it should also be stirring. It's kind of a complicated thing. Sure, the struggle, those are things that are common to all people and all places and all times. It's something that transcends time and place and language and race and color. It should be something like that. Anything within that realm. We like to write about things that are common to all people.
Writing and talking about music is really difficult. How do you discuss something that causes emotion so easily but is so hard to describe?
John: Right, because by its very nature it should transcend language and to talk about it is almost completely futile, because what you're talking about, ideally, should transcend language.
And you can't catch it, words just aren't enough.
John: Right. They cheapen it. So it's a difficult position to write about music. I mean, it's either something you get or you don't get and if you get it, I think we all know what it is, we all know that we have it in common, but can we describe it? Not really.
I think about the nights I used to sit up at 3 a.m. when "Three Chord Monte" came out, and put on "Through My Fingers" or "My Youth" and rock out to it just because it made me...
John: It made you feel good.
Yeah. It made me feel. "My Youth" made me feel good. I'd wind up thinking about an old girlfriend I broke up with or something like that when listening to "Through My Fingers" and I'd feel kind of regretful or sorry it happened.
John: Right, right.
I just get the impression that's what a lot of people get out of the music.
John: Right. I think that's all there is to get out of music. I think that's what it's all about, period.
Do you think the next album will do as well as "Strong Reaction"?
John: I think so. I hope so. I think it will though. It kind of depends on people's reaction to "Fore" I think, and the reaction to this tour. Yeah, I think it'll happen. "Fore" is off to a pretty good start. I think a lot depends on that. But I think we can get it to carry over. It's been some time, and we might need a little bit of luck but you've got to hope for the best.