Interview: Greg Hetson (lead guitar Circle Jerks, Bad Religion and formerly of Red Kross)

Greg Hetson,Circle Jerks,Bad Religion,Redd Kross,Punk,Rock

Let’s start off with the LA scene of yester year. You’ve lived in LA pretty much your whole life. We’ve all seen Decline of Western Civilization, for us that didn’t come up in that time or place can you paint us a picture of the So Cal scene from back in the day?
It was just a huge music scene for all genres back then. You had a big metal scene. You had a pop scene, (they called it power pop). There was all the metal stuff with bands like Motley Crue and Wasp. Then there was the punk rock scene. There was even an alternative country scene. Dwight Yoakam used to play the same clubs we did. The metal clubs were established, then anything that wasn’t metal played at the underground clubs. One night it would be the Blasters, the next night  it would e Black Flag……All the bands would hang out together  because it was the only place to be heard if you weren’t playing what they thought rock’n’roll should be. It all kind of intertwined, but the biggest thing besides the metal thing was the punk scene back then. The live music scene as a whole was cool back then.

Things changed, what happened? Do you think the labels, or maybe the music industry lost interest in maintaining credibility in lieu of making a quick buck?
To me, what’s a record label job to do? It’s to take bands, get them out there, market them and sell them so they can make some money and the bands can make some money. I don’t know about credibility, it’s a business. There’s people who are credible and there are people who aren’t; in all genres. I don’t really buy into this indie versus major, evil versus cool thing.

What about radio stations and music television? Granted I’ve lived on the east coast my whole life, it may be vastly different on the west coast, but here it’s the same 10 shitty songs every hour with some asshole DJ piping in some mind numbing bullshit in between.
It’s still pretty much programmed and commercialized for the most part. I mean there’s a pretty decent station who under the guise of calling themselves an indie station (it’s owned by Clear Channel) but it’s still totally free form. There’s not really a set list. There’s guest DJ’s every day. Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols has a show, Joe Sib has a punk show. LA does have the best stations I guess. Even California seems to have some good radio stations, I mean compared to the east coast and other places. I spent a lot of time in the northeast New York area and it was just dismal. The radio up there is horrible.

Aside from the radio, it’s undeniable the scene’s taken a nose dive. Here’s one of my (and I think a lot of other people’s) pet peeves, and playing the Warped Tour I’m sure you’ve come into contact with your share, how do you feel about the "emo kids"?
 It doesn’t affect me. It doesn’t bother me. I don’t like the haircut. I mean when you get down to it who wore the first "emo" haircut? Adolf Hitler. One more reason to hate the haircut. So that’s what I think about emo, Hitler. *laughter* And you know what? A comb over is a comb over. It’s never fucking cool. You want a comb over?

With my male patterned baldness, I could rock a comb over. We both could. But it looks like we both choose to be bald.
Greg- That’s right, bald is beautiful. So to all you kids out there losing your hair, just fucking shave it. It took me years to come to that realization.

I’ve never seen you with a comb over.
No, but I was bumming. I was bumming when I first started losing my hair.

When did you start losing your hair? My hairline made a full retreat the day I turned 21, like "welcome to adulthood fucker."
Mid to late 20’s I started noticing it.

What pisses me off is I can’t even rock my mohawk anymore.
Shit, I even went and seen about transplants and was like I’m not gonna do that! Cut my scalp open for that?!? And then, you know what I realized? Chicks dig the bald head. I didn’t know that.

Dawn the photographer- Yeah we do! It’s fun to rub on!
If I would have realized that 10 or 15 years ago, I would’ve lost even more hair. I think I got it from my dad. He’s been wearing a hairpiece since I was 21. 2 years ago, when he retired, he finally took the rug off. He sported it until he was 70 or something.

You’re a founding member of the Circle Jerks (who are playing tonight),  Red Kross as well as a long time member of Bad Religion, what got you into punk in the first place?
Greg- I guess it was looking for the heaviest guitar oriented music out there. It was kind of a progression. After metal and listening to hard rock (Zeppelin and that kind of stuff), I heard the Ramones and stuff like that and it was just like "Ok, yeah." … saw a couple of local punk bands and it pretty much couldn’t get any more guitar driven than that.

Being the only band you’re not still affiliated with, what made you leave Red Kross and cofound the ’Jerks?
Greg- The guys, the brothers McDonald, at the time they were kind of wishy-washy. They weren’t sure if they wanted to do music full-time or what. I found a drummer and they didn’t like him because they thought he was too new wave and they didn’t want to tell me they didn’t like him. But anyway, I quit the band and then I got Lucky Lehrer, he was going to be the drummer for Red Kross but ended up being the drummer for the Circle Jerks. I think it worked out pretty good.

How did you and Keith meet up?
 We used to practice in the same spot, the church in Hermosa Beach. It was like us (as in Red Kross), Black Flag, The Last and a couple other bands… the Descendents were there too. So anyway, I met him through that, we grew up in the same area. He quit Black Flag maybe a month before I quit Red Kross. He literally heard me quit Red Kross in line to go see a gig at the Whiskey and basically (I think his words were exactly) *in an excellent Keith Morris impersonation* "Fuck those guys. Let’s start our own band, man." So we did.

A common bond a lot of punks share is coming from broken homes - does this hold true for yourself?
 It was pretty normal. My parents stayed together until I was 17. My family life and childhood didn’t really play a role with me getting into punk. I found out about it through a friend’s older brother who had the Ramones and Dead Boys records. Then I found out there was actually a local scene around the time I was a junior I high school and started to go see bands live.

Here’s a question that’s plagued me in regards to the Circle Jerks since I first heard of you guys damn near 20 years ago. What’s the story behind the name?
We were looking for a name. We played a couple of parties under 3 or 4 different names. Ray Pettibon, the guy who did a lot of the Black Flag artwork (he did a few fliers for us too), we were at his house and he had a copy of the American Slang Dictionary. We just started looking through that and laughing and we seen the term Circle Jerk and we were like "we have to name our band Circle Jerks. This is just ridiculous!" That’s kind of how it happened. Our original bass player, Roger, he wasn’t too happy. He was like "I can’t tell my dad I’m in a band called Circle Jerks".

Granted you guys went your separate ways there for awhile……
 A couple of times. We broke up in ’90 and got back together in ’94 and then broke up again around ’95. That was short lived.

….whereas most bands break up for good after a couple years, you’ve been together for 25 plus years. What keeps you guys coming back to the table?
I guess some of the other guys just need some cash here and there. Let’s call a spade a shovel here. (laughter) But we have fun doing it ya know. We like a little spending money out on the road and do what we need to do. But it’s not like we’re trying to pull some kind of scam. We always go out there and try to give it our best. We enjoy it. We’re like one big dysfunctional family.

Do you ever kick back and think "look at all the people I’ve influenced"? I mean with (your early years with) Red Kross, Bad Religion and the Circle Jerks it’s pretty safe to say you’re somewhat of a punk rock legend.
That’s what people keep telling me. I don’t really think "oh my god! I’m this trail blazing artist!"  But I definitely feel fortunate and understand there are people who have been inspired by some of the bands I’ve been in. It’s kind of strange. It’s funny too, people will come up and say "oh my god! You inspired me!" or this and that and you always feel uncomfortable. So a couple of years ago on the Warped Tour and the Damned were on there. So I saw Captain Sensible sitting at this picnic table and I thought I gotta go up and tell him. Dude, I gotta be that guy. I’m in Circle Jerks and Bad Religion and people do this all the time, so I got to give him a dose of that. So I told him "I saw you guys when I was like 17 and it was a mind altering experience. You’re so influential to me!"  and that sort of shit. So it’s come full circle.

Can you once and for all explain to those who may not be in-the-know (nobody reading this magazine of course) what that little area in front of the stage where people tend to migrate towards and dance is called and what it’s for? I’ve always thought the words mosh pit refer to a place angry ignorant knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing  apes go to intentionally try to injure people whether they be man, woman or child.
 I don’t know what a mosh is. I don’t know where that term came from; maybe it was an east coast thing. But I know the term "slam pit"; I guess it originated in LA. Although nobody called it that back then. It ended up in the LA Times somewhere around 1981. They were doing a big expose’ on the music scene, the punk rock thing and the pit and how it was dangerous and this and that. I think some kid was fucking around with the journalist when he asked "What’s the name of your dance?" and he said "We call it the slam, it’s the slam pit." And you’re reading this article, and you know the LA Times is a respectable paper and it was just like "What the fuck is a slam pit?" I don’t know who coined the term mosh. But we just call it the pit. There’s a little history on the words "slam pit", it was a figment of some lame journalist’s imagination.

It’s been 10 years since the Circle Jerks put out a new album (Oddities,…..), tell me the time has come for a new album.
Greg- We’ve been trying to work on some stuff. We got a couple of songs. We’re not quite ready to rip’em live yet. We keep saying we’re gonna do it, but we haven’t yet so….. I can’t make any promises, but we’re trying to get some shit together, maybe next year, maybe not.

I think that’s a good way to end it, with a little hope on a string.
Cool. That was painless.

1 comment:

  1. Maybe it's time for Keith to follow some the same "hair advice" given here, haha. I met Keith and he was a total dick. Good to see Greg isn't anything like that. In fact, some of the recent OFF! interviews with him lately, talks quite bit of shit on Greg and rest of the guys. C'mon Keith...we all know you just need the money!