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TSOL frontman Jack Grisham: Once a punk, always a punk

TSOL today.
TSOL today.
John Gilhooley
TSOL today.
TSOL performing in 1981.
Edward Colver
TSOL today.
Jack FGrisham of TSOL, left, with The Frame host, John Horn.
TSOL today.
An early photograph of TSOL rehearsal.

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The punk band True Sounds of Liberty, better known as TSOL, has been around for nearly 40 years.

They’ve broken up and reformed a few times, but always with frontman Jack Grisham at the helm. TSOL’s first incarnation was as Vicious Circle, a short-lived, but memorable punk band that often left the stage — and members of the audience — covered in blood.

It’s been a long time since Grisham’s crazy days as a youthful punk rocker, but he says those rebellious impulses will never go away.

When he stopped by The Frame, Grisham told us how he was surprised when Goldenvoice founder Paul Tollett asked his band to play Coachella this year.

Interview highlights:

On his friendship with Goldenvoice's Paul Tollett and getting to play Coachella:

He invited me and my family out to Desert Trip and we had a nice time together. Then I kind of teased him. I said, "Hey, don't you think it's time for us to play Coachella?" He wrote back and said, "That's funny. I was going to send you an offer." So it's really nice. We actually played the first show that Goldenvoice ever did in Santa Barbara, back in 1982 or '81. It's funny because Paul came up to my wife and he said, "I still remember his mother's phone number" — because they had to call my mother's house to get a hold of me.

On punk rock and violence:

You get a lot of anger from these kids. I'm not a psychologist ... although, I am a hypnotherapist. There was just a lot going on. There were a lot of attacks from outside. The guys that liked punk rock at the time, they looked weird. I had friends going, What are you into? What is this punk rock? They don't understand and people would be getting attacked just for looking strange. So a lot of the guys I hung out with were big guys. We fought back. So that's where a lot of the violence came to. It was directed outside of our group, not necessarily inside.

On his 2003 run for California governor:

I ran to talk about health care, which at the time wasn't a big issue. Now it is. But at the time, it was really about health care. I got injured and I wasn't making enough money where I could afford anything. But I was basically making too much money to get help. I was told, If you leave your wife and kid — if you were divorced — we could help you. I just thought it was so ridiculous. So when they asked me to run, I said, I'm not going to talk about punk rock. I'm not going to be some crazy candidate with a mohawk, but I'd be glad to go on and talk about health care. So that's what I did. I think it was [someone from] either CNN or FOX who said, Mr. Grisham, you're the only one of these candidates that even sounds like he knows what he's talking about. I got offered a couple jobs out of it.

On the kinds of messages he'd like to be spreading:

Let's be realistic: anarchy is not going to work. We struggle enough with social democracy around here, let alone anarchists. We can't take care of ourselves. So there's a need for government and it's like, How do we work this out? How do we care about our people? This is a real question I want to ask: Who's got the vision to see beyond where we are right now? Where's the world going, where's our species going? What's the real wealth in this world? It's us! So why aren't we mining the real wealth in this world? Why don't we back education? I'm for free tuition, but I think they should also have to serve maybe a year in social services for the government. Nothing is completely free. I have people say, How can you be a liberal and a conservative at the same time? And you can. I believe you can.

On how the band has evolved:

I think what's remained true is the attitude. That's the only thing that can constantly remain true. When I grew up, punk rock was supposedly about being inventive and being inclusive. This was a thing where sexes were equal, there was no gay, there was no straight — at least this is the message I got: Always challenge. Think about what's been offered to you. Think about what's been said to you. Challenge yourself. Push yourself. Try new things. Be open-minded. Question everything. That for me has remained the same. Maybe other people got a different message. The music's changed a ton of times since then. 

On the changing styles of T.S.O.L.'s music:

Production has gotten more grand. Maybe it's gotten a little slicker. When I first started playing music, I had no idea what was going on. The first band I was in — we only used two strings on the guitar because we didn't know how to use the other four. It was just, La la la / neighbors suck! That's how it started. If anything, you're going to learn. Maybe you listen to The Beatles. Maybe you start moving into a little jazz or Neil Young. Like, How does somebody put a line together? How do they put a phrase together? What is it to write a great pop song? What is that? You really just start studying and experimenting. 

On touring and recording:

It puts Fruit Loops on the kids' table. A lot of times, I tell people I tour because I need to pay the bills. That's the bottom line. That's the truth of it. I don't want to be a rock star. Helmut Newton said, I love having f*** you money! If I had f*** you money and somebody said, I want you to tour this summer, I'd say, f*** you! They'd never see me again. Most of the stuff I do is because I have to pay the bills. So now, you're coming to the point where you want to create the coolest record possible and you don't want to cater to anyone — and I refuse to cater and I'm not going to do something just because they think that's how the sound is. Then you've got to get out and tour and back that up. Hopefully you don't have to think about paying the bills when you're writing the music. The minute after that, I'm done. The minute it's recorded and laid down ... I'm on to the next project. 

Maintaining a punk sensibility as he gets older:

I wish I couldn't maintain it, to be honest with you. I've told people before, my biggest regret was that I didn't stay in school, go to a great college, be in a fraternity and be in sports. I never could. I wanted to with all my heart. I've been trying to go straight since third grade. There's just something in me that's not right. 

Here's a story for you: I was with my daughter one time and at the time — she's 29 now — she was going through this punk rock, anarchy business about the government. She was at all these protests and whatever. So I'm speeding and I have my kids in the car and I get red lighted about a mile from my house by the police. I just decide, I'm going home. I'm not going to pull over. So this shows the difference between youth and now, as an adult, after getting into it with them in front of the house — luckily they didn't take me down for [resisting] and writing me up for everything. After I calmed down I realized I owed them an apology. A couple of weeks later, I saw the police officer sitting a mile from my house. I was with my ex-wife and said, "Hey, I've got to go in." I started walking toward him and he got up and covered his pistol. He sees me and goes, "Hang on right there!" I walked up to him and said, "Hey, it's not like that. I just wanted to apologize. You're out here just doing your job. I had no right to treat you the way that I treated you and I hope that you can forgive what I did."

I started to walk away and he goes, "Hang on a minute, man." He's actually misty-eyed and he said to me, "That's the first time in 20 years that anyone has ever apologized to me." So it's still in my heart to act like this, but then I know how to turn around and amend it. 

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