Interview: Jason Hall of Western Addiction

words by Jennifer Swann
| Thursday, March 9th, 2006

Western AddictionOriginally published in Verbicide issue #16

Western Addiction is to hardcore of the ‘80s as The Stray Cats were to rockabilly of the ‘50s. Both bands strongly revived and, in a way, preserved not only the music, but also the ideologies and culture of that era. Western Addiction has refined this distinct style of fast, fierce, and ultimately compelling music, while staying progressive and humble at the same time, and even making up a few words here and there.

Although they had vaguely known each other prior to working at Fat Wreck Chords, it wasn’t until all four members got jobs at the record label that they decided to play together, simply combining their acquired musical instruments one day. Little did they know that their band — a play on words with the Western Addition part of San Francisco where they are from — would soon became another prestigious Fat Wreck punk rock prodigy. Not only did they become instant label mates with veterans like NOFX and Propagandhi, Western Addiction can now call these bands tour mates, as well.

Jason, as a singer and lyricist, is intense and fervent, but as a person he is calm, and at times, neurotic. “Someone grant me social graces,” he demands in his lyrics, “Being that I’m socially graceless.” Talking to him, however, is interesting and funny, and relatable to on an immensely human level.

So where does the title of the new album, Cognicide, spring from?
It’s actually a made up word, and I kind of make up some words sometimes for our lyrics, you know? It’s just a freaky word I made up. It means thinking something to death.

Okay.
‘Cause I’m kind of like a worrywart kind of person, you know? Like a lock-checker or a stove-checker. OCD, basically. (laughter)

I’m like that, too.
So I just thought it would be a funny word, and it was one of the only titles that we could all agree on.

Is there anything in particular that you mostly worry about?
Dying suddenly, I guess. I always think [that] every time I fly somewhere, I’m like, that’s it, I’m gonna die. When we came back from touring in Japan, it was the best time and I had all these amazing pictures and I thought for sure I’d die before I could show them to anyone. How freaky does that sound?

But you made it back!
But I made it back, yes!

Was that your first time in Japan?
Yeah, it was my first time. Actually, I’d only been to Mexico, so it was my first time really being out of the country.

A lot of times I hear bands say that playing in Japan is like a totally different experience from playing in the States, because the crowd just goes crazy.
Yeah, it was crazy! They do go crazy, you know, but between each song, they don’t say anything. Like completely silent, so it’s so awkward! Usually we fill the awkward time with just yakking and talking, but I mean, we don’t speak Japanese. Well, one of our guitar players speaks Japanese, but he doesn’t really like to say a lot of things. But, as far as them being positive, I mean, I must have signed like a hundred autographs and taken my photo with a bunch of people, and I think that’s kind of silly, normally, but people were just so excited that it was kind of cool.

Yeah.
I felt like people really wanted to see a band, not like [at] our show on some Saturday night in San Francisco, where there’s ten people who don’t want to be there, like, why would you come, you know?

So in between songs they would just stare at you and wait patiently for more music?
I like when, between the songs, people yell at me or throw something at me, or something fun. But even when NOFX played, too, it was just silent between songs, it was just a crack-up. I think it’s kind of a [show of respect].

What are some of the positive and negative aspects of working at a record company and also being in a band on that label?
Positive, of course, is that you have all these great contacts. Of course, knowing people [is a plus] and also, I know the inside of the business, so I kind of know some things to do and some things not to do. The negative part of working at a record label [is that] sometimes I think some of the magic — that sounds so dumb — of music has been taken away because I know the inside story on everything, you know what I mean? If a band gets really popular on TV or whatever, I kind of know why, and its not because they’re a radical band! I just know so much of the inner working that its kind of like, you know how you never want to meet your favorite band members because they could turn out to be total jerks? Like sometimes, wouldn’t it be cool just to not know that stuff once in a while? Just to like a band because you like their songs. So that’s some of the things that I kind of don’t like.

So would you say that the reason a band gets popular is mostly the band’s doing, or is it because of other forces, like record labels, or luck, or what?
I’m sure every story’s different, but turn on your radio — are the bands that you think are really good popular? I don’t think song quality has any relation to getting popular, or famous, or rich. I believe [that it is because of] marketing and hype and timing. I mean, it’s true, eventually some really good bands squeak through, that always happens, there are always really talented [bands], but I can name ten guitar players that just completely destroy that you’re never, ever going to hear about. Quality and fame has no equation. I see the bands that get really big and I kind of know what marketing plans their label did, or how much money they spent here or there.

What exactly is the song, “Mailer, Meet Jim” about?
(laughter) That’s actually my favorite song on the record. Have you ever seen that movie 28 Days Later?

Oh, no! I rented it a few weeks ago, but then I fell asleep during it.
Oh my god! It’s like my favorite horror movie of all time. I’m gonna make sure you go rent that again, it’s awesome. I like it ‘cause it’s not like a cheesy horror movie. There are no bikini ladies running around, it’s shot really well, it looks really good, it’s really scary and really gory. It scared me shitless when I saw it! (laughter) Maybe I’m a big baby.

So Mailer and Jim are characters in the movie?
Yeah, you were probably deep in sleep, the remote resting on your chest by this time, but Mailer is this zombie guy they keep in the backyard and they have him chained up and he’s like dying with all this blood and stuff. They’re holding him to study him to find out how long the zombies could go without having food, and they’re all, “Mailer meet Jim, Jim meet Mailer.” Then the zombie walks up to him and tries to bite his face off or whatever.

You use a lot of metaphors and imagery in your lyrics. Is there a particular lyric that has gotten misconstrued to mean something totally other than what it was written about?
Kind of, yeah. I had an interview with another magazine and they quoted one of the lines in “Mailer, Meet Jim,” actually, and it was just completely not what it was about, which is cool, though, because I like when you can make your own meaning. Actually, the title of the record, with the made-up word, everybody tries to tell me what it means, and it’s not exactly what I had in mind. There was one song that I was writing, and it was the only time the band has vetoed my idea, because usually they’re pretty okay with my lyrics, but there was this one song that had kind of sensitive subject matter. They’re like, “We can’t do that, dude, people wouldn’t get it, they would think that we were like pigs or something.” I just think of things in a different way, and if people interpreted it wrong, we’d look like real jerks.

Speaking of pigs, what do the hogs on the cover of the album represent?
(laughter) I don’t know that they represent anything. I came up with seventeen different ideas for our cover art, and that was just one of the ideas, [and] we have that song, “Animals and Children.” Oh, actually that song has [been] misinterpreted. The title used to be “I Prefer the Company of Animals and Children to Adults” and people said that using the [phrase] “prefer the company” to mean like dating, or you know what I mean, like I love animals, or something super perverted.

But I like the cover art, I just thought it had some hidden message in it or something.
I like it, too. I just thought it was pretty cool, like it reminds me of a Raymond Pettibon drawing — you know, the guy that did all the Black Flag art. There’s something powerful about a mother protecting her kids, I just though it was kind of cool.

I hear that the song “The Church of Black Flag” isn’t really about Black Flag, the band.
No, it’s not about Black Flag, but we did get the title from watching The Decline of Western Civilization. Have you ever seen [the movie]?

Yeah, yeah, I love that movie. Oh, I didn’t even think of that, like how [Black Flag] lived in like the abandoned church.
Yeah, they’re all, this is the church where Black Flag lives. [The song] can be applied to their band, I guess, but its more about how artists do things because they have to, not because they’re gonna make any money. It also applies to being a tiny bit crazy. Like, have you ever heard of that band Mastodon?

No.
They’re a metal band, and they’re like, “You’d have to be crazy to do this, I mean, we’re four grown men, we roll around in a van, we live like dogs, and we don’t get paid money.” You know, what’s compelling that? You must love music, and you might also be a little insane. I’m a grown man with a family and I still sleep on somebody’s gross floor to play for 23 minutes for like four people, but it’s kind of fun, you know?