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05 Apr 2017

Living Punk Responsibly: T.S.O.L.’s Jack Grisham Talks About His Wild Past, Politics and the Coachella Lineup

Written by 
T.S.O.L. T.S.O.L. John Gilhooley

T.S.O.L. helped define the Los Angeles punk scene after the band’s start in 1978.

However, its initial punk success was short-lived: After frontman Jack Grisham, drummer Todd Barnes and keyboardist Greg Kuehn left in 1983, T.S.O.L. (True Sounds of Liberty) reconfigured as a rock band.

After a legal battle over the name, Grisham became part of T.S.O.L. again in 1999, with Kuehn rejoining in 2005. They’ve been performing together ever since—and recently released a new album, The Trigger Complex.

T.S.O.L. played the first-ever concert that Coachella promoter Goldenvoice put on, so it’s appropriate that T.S.O.L. will be playing Coachella on Sunday, April 16 and 23.

During a recent phone interview with Grisham while he was in traffic driving home to Huntington Beach, he was an open book. Grisham’s history includes a love for drugs and alcohol, legal issues, a marriage to a 16-year-old girl in Mexico, and eventually sobriety, which he achieved in the late 1980s.

“I believe I would have been dead if I didn’t stop,” Grisham said, “not because I was a big drug-addict guy, because I really wasn’t. I’ll tell you exactly what I was: I was a high school idiot who had gotten out of control. I was hanging out with people who were like me—a mess. Everyone was drinking, snorting coke and taking pills or whatever the fuck was going on. I would say to myself, ‘I don’t really have a problem, because I don’t really shoot up. I’m not really an alcoholic, because I live at my mother’s.’”

Grisham recalled one of his early arrests.

“I was actually arrested in Palm Springs for disturbing the peace,” he said. “Luckily, they didn’t get me for impersonating an officer, which is what they originally wanted me for.

“I did little bits of time in jail, but no prison sentences—just a bunch of stupid arrests for dumb stuff. But there were a lot of people who weren’t happy with me, and I was drinking large amounts and taking pills to go with it. When you’re 24 or 25 years old, is it a recipe for disaster? Yes. Pills and booze is a bad combo.”

Grisham still believes in punk-rock ideals, even though he’s now a responsible member of society, a husband and a father.

“It’s kind of funny, because I have the same outlook now that I had back then,” Grisham said. “To me, punk rock was always this family kind of thing. My family and I were not on good terms. The punk-rock thing was this cool family thing where everyone was an idiot and out of control. A lot of it was kind of a hippie movement, too. We were inclusive. Men and women were equal; no one cared who you were into sexually, so it was really wide open, and I still think like that. I still think that you should challenge old ideals, conflict, experiment, keep an open mind and all that stuff. It hasn’t changed, but—I hate to sound like Austin Powers right now, but along with free love comes responsibility. Now, I’m just more responsible with the same ideals.”

Grisham has spoken out in the past about political issues, and was one of the 135 candidates who ran in the recall election for governor of California in 2003. Grisham said it’s hard to say whether he’s always considered himself “informed.”

“That’s a hard one. I don’t know how informed a lot of us were,” he said. “I was pretty ill-informed, saying, ‘Fuck the government!’ I had a dad who was 30 years in the Navy. Attacking what he stood for was part of being a young man growing up and turning against your father. How informed was I, really? I don’t know. Sometimes, I think we’re fighting the wrong demons at times. I don’t think people realize that some of these issues we’re dealing with, many of them are things that have been going on for thousands of years—fear, greed and these kinds of things.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s actually pretty frightening. Who isn’t scared? But you can be conservative and liberal at the same time. It might sound a little crazy, but I love helping people who have been harmed by circumstance. I’m in, and I’m 100 percent in. Those who have (been) put out by their own choice, I’m not really a big fan of. I think they should teach courses in religious tolerance in schools and start teaching tolerance and understanding. These are things we’re not teaching our children. A lot of people who believe in a higher power are basing their political decisions on those beliefs, yet we refuse to look at other people’s beliefs and understand what we’re dealing with.”

As far as Goldenvoice goes, Grisham said he’s had nothing but positive experiences with the group over the years.

“T.S.O.L. played the very first Goldenvoice show in Santa Barbara. I’m still friends with those guys,” he said. “(Goldenvoice president) Paul Tollett wanders around Coachella, and you wouldn’t even know it was him. I was out there for Desert Trip, and he was really nice, and he invited my family out. He’s wandering around in jeans and a T-shirt; all these people are there to see these bands and have no idea he’s the guy running the show. He walks up to my wife and said, ‘I still remember having to call Jack’s mom’s house,’ and rattles off my mother’s phone number. My interaction with them has been great. They’ve treated my family with respect, kindness and love, and that’s what I like about them.”

However, Grisham conceded he’s not a fan of large festivals.

“I’m not a big concert guy. For me, I’ll probably wander around, play and then go back to wherever I’m staying and go to bed,” he said. “I’ll probably hang out during the day and visit people in town. If I’m going to listen to music, I like listening to it at home. I think it’s really cool they asked us, because not a lot of bands of our type have been asked. Yeah, the Vandals and the Damned have played, but it was really nice (for them) to ask us to do it, and I’m stoked to see people and my friends. That’s what I’m looking forward to. My kids are more stoked about it than I am—not that I’m not stoked; it’s an honor, but I like being at home. I shoot photos, too, and people have to come to me, because I don’t go anywhere. I get asked to go to studios to shoot so and so, and I say, ‘No, tell so and so to get in their fucking car and come to Huntington Beach, and I’ll shoot ’em over a cup of coffee.’”

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