20 Questions: Jason Hall of Western Addiction

Monday, March 27th, 2017
Western Addiction, photo by Melissa Chow

Western Addiction, left to right, top to bottom: Jason Hall, Chad Williams, Ken Yamazaki, and Tony Teixeira | photo by Melissa Chow

Nearly 12 years after their debut full-length, Cognicide, veteran punk rock group Western Addiction finally released their sophomore album, Tremulous, in March 2017. The band will play a handful of shows in California in April (dates are at the bottom), but in the meantime, vocalist/guitarist Jason Hall agreed to play 20 Questions With Verbicide and provided some very thoughtful answers.

Describe your perfect smoothie.

I make a hell of a lot of smoothies. I am not ashamed. The perfect smoothie is coconut milk, almond butter, bananas, vanilla whey, coconut shreds, crushed chia, and flax seeds. I recently learned about collagen peptides as well. I probably shouldn’t be discussing this with other humans.

Favorite thing about being on tour? Least favorite thing?

My favorite part of being on tour and maybe one of my favorite parts of being in a band is the drive after a show. We discuss everything that happened during the evening, laugh incessantly, get food, and listen to music. It is usually between 1 and 4 a.m., and it’s this special pocket of darkness.

My least favorite part is the waiting. I’m a naturally antsy person, and “just chilling” is something I do poorly.

How has your family influenced your career?

They’ve influenced it by making it possible. From my dad buying my first guitar and amp, to my wife running the show while I’m playing, to my kids for reminding me what is special about life and to do what makes you happy. I feel like families are the silent, humble heroes when it comes to music. They don’t get enough credit.

How many pillows do you use?

I use one, but for some reason, there are at least six on our bed. I’m constantly griping about how two humans with one head apiece need six pillows. I’m against a multiple-pillowed bed but I’m losing the battle.

I’m trying to talk my wife into getting a weighted blanket. They are therapeutic and used to keep people calm while sleeping. When I bring it up she gives me the “dumbass/what’s-a-matter with you” look.

How many tattoos do you have?

I have zero tattoos, and for some reason, people are surprised by this. I like how they look on other people, if done right, but they have never seemed to fit who I am. I pretty much am the opposite of everything you associate with rock and roll. I don’t see it as an avenue for attention, fame, financial means, companionship, or partying. I also think about the things I <em>really</em> liked two years ago (at different points in my life) and I’m thankful that I don’t have a tattoo that represents those fleeting interests. I’d probably have a Weird Al tattoo.

If you could only appear on one late-night television show, which would it be?

Saturday Night Live. I think it is the pinnacle of American and maybe international pop culture. I realize the spirit of who they have playing in recent years breaks the mold, but it used to be about the biggest of the big. It also happens to be my favorite TV show, and I’ve been watching it for decades. I also love Dave Letterman, and would be excited to meet him and play his show if it was still active.

In your eyes, what is your biggest accomplishment in life?

Having a family. It changed my outlook on life. I’m not saying it’s the only way to go, but I think it’s designed to keep you active at different stages in your life. Oddly enough, I discovered this earlier in life than most of my rocker friends, so there is this moment that happens where, one by one, each of my pals that play music approach me and say, “I get it now. I understand why you couldn’t party and be out all hours of the night. And I understand why it’s special.” That might not be an exciting answer, but I don’t care. It’s made me respect and value music even more.

I’m also very proud of making a record. I don’t think the average person understands what goes into this. On paper, there is no logical/financial reason to be in a band. It flies in the face of all common sense, but I do it anyway, because I love it.

Iron Maiden or Megadeth?

I’m a Megadeth person. I could be killed for saying this, and while I respect them greatly for their longevity and influence, I am not as drawn to Maiden.

I also have a fascination with Mustaine and his trajectory. It’s almost like a Shakespearean tragedy. They won a Grammy this year, and I was proud of them and I think he deserves it. Also, the Countdown to Extinction record came out when I was young and impressionable. The riff in “Symphony of Destruction” is beautifully simple, yet completely epic.

On a side note, we constantly mess with our drummer Chad, with regards to the song “Sweating Bullets.” He loves Megadeth. We pretend we are Chad and we say, “Hello me, it’s me again,” just like Mustaine. This never gets old.

Other than your primary artistic medium, what is your next go-to?

I like gardening quite a bit. In fact, our song “God Says No” is about gardening. I reference several plant types. Gardening has opened my eyes to food production and made me greatly value what goes into getting a meal on your plate. I never waste food and I treat it with great respect. Same with water.

A neighbor recently taught me how to clone fruit trees. Our shed is like a freaky lab.

What defunct band or deceased performer would you have loved to have seen, but won’t be able to?

My favorite singer of all time is Johnny Cash. If I had a time machine, I would go back and see several landmark performances by many bands. I want to experience them with my own senses to see if the historical interpretations are accurate. Cash and I have the same birthday, etc. His voice is mesmerizing. There is a scene in Walk the Line where Sam Philips is conveying to Johnny that if he had one shot to tell the world what he stands for, would he be singing the same, tired song or would he do something “different.” I measure everything we do by this scene and although not always successful, I try my hardest to put something into the world that I think is worthy of time and attention on both my part and the listeners.

What do you believe is the easiest way a person can make the world a better place?

Be kind and respectful. These things are free. People always want to make these grand gestures or donate money, which are great, but if you just made a bit more effort to be pleasant to your fellow human, a lot of our problems dissipate. I don’t always succeed but I think about this a lot. I try my hardest to show respect to others.

What is one surprising thing about you that most people wouldn’t know?

I name products and services for a living. Aside from being in a band, which people are always interested in, I have a pretty strange job. It seems very interesting from the outside, in the same way people have this completely fabricated illusion of what it means to be in a band, but it’s actually quite tedious at times. I really like learning about new subjects in the world, but you would be astonished at what it takes in time and money to get a name into the world for a big company. I’ve learned about sweet onions, the psychology of eating chocolate, airborne wind turbines, etc. It’s fascinating at times.

What is the best part of your life?

Although I’m not a wealthy person, I do think that sometimes I have a rich life. I have healthy children, I get to make music with my close friends, we just put out a record that I’m very proud of, etc. I know that everyone is racing towards finally being settled, whether that’s money or leisure, but I don’t think that’s the secret of life.

My grandfather worked every day of his life, and now I understand why. You need to keep moving. You need to keep doing. You need to keep making. These things keep you alive. I try to remember that I’m lucky enough to be busy.

What is the greatest live band you’ve ever seen?

We discuss this in the band quite a bit. There are a few for me…

Dillinger Escape Plan — there is no band on Earth like them. Their show is like a sensory nightmare. I almost feel sick when the show is over because my senses are on fire. Their shows are very physical and the perfect balance of excitement and danger. I’ve seen them several times over the years. Our guitarist, Tony and I just saw them on the farewell tour. The singer climbed this balcony where people were being served food. He rolled over the edge onto their dinner tables, stopped mid-song and said, “You guys got food up here,” took a bite of man’s hamburger, spit it out, threw the burger into the crowd, then dove into the section below, which was like a 15-foot-drop. It was utterly extraordinary.

In terms of a band’s band, I think the Bronx are one of the best live bands from a musicianship and entertainment standpoint. Morrissey and his band are truly incredible. I could go on and on, but those stand out.

What is your best piece of advice for aspiring artists?

Have drive. I don’t think I have a lot of musical talent, but I do have drive. Just keep pushing, just keep going. I always feel like I’m pushing a rock up a mountain. If you love being in a band, show heart and put work into it.

I love that scene in School of Rock where Jack Black is talking about rock and roll not being about drugs or women or hanging out. I completely agree. I also like this interview with Josh Homme and he gave this advice: “Don’t expect anything from music.” I think that’s partially right. One thing you can expect from it is the happiness you feel while playing it. Other than that, if you are looking to make money or get fame, I think it dilutes the result.

What is your best tip for soothing a crying infant? Seriously, I need to know.

There is this special way to hold a baby that they say stops them from crying. You can look it up on the internet, but there is something about this method that is soothing.

I also find music works. My wife is a doula so I get to know in-depth baby tips. Childbirth is one of the most misunderstood, mismanaged events in humanity, yet the most important.

What is your favorite film of all time?

It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s the greatest movie of all time. I like it because the main character, George, is trying to be a good man. He tries to treat others with respect and do what’s right versus what is profitable or advantageous at the expense of others. I respect this. Selfishly, I think Donna Reed is absolutely stunning. They put that haze around her, but they don’t need it. My mind is mush when she’s present. Sweet mercy, what a lady.

What is your favorite holiday?

Halloween. It’s the number one holiday for our family. We have a huge party and decorate our house. I get dry ice from the store and make our front yard look like a foggy graveyard. We go a little nuts. I think it’s the reason the band has never played the Fest because it happens at this time. I could be killed for missing Halloween. I make a playlist of all this scary music too like Khanate, Sunn, Sabbath, etc.

What is your favorite live album?

Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison. My mind is firing when it’s on. I’m just wondering how intense that would be. In the movie, he slams down his glass of yellowed water. It’s the ultimate defiant move. He looks crazed. I love it.

I also like AC/DC Live From the Atlantic Studios. They were a real band. I love how you can hear the air around the notes. Music is not perfect. In fact, when music sounds too perfect and polished, it doesn’t sound pleasing to the ear. Our engineer was talking about this because he worked on a couple of big-budget records. The more perfectly matched to the beat something got, the more displeasing to the ear. That’s why I really respect bands that sing live. Being off-key is normal. Hitting a wrong note, is normal. Being perfectly auto-tuned with a backing track is not normal.

I also have a bootleg of the Thorns of Life show at Gilman. This was Blake from Jawbreaker’s band right before Forgetters. I think the songs are very strong, and although it’s not a great recording it’s an indication of what could have been. I would of loved to hear these songs recorded. He’s one of my favorite songwriters.

What is your favorite mainstream magazine or publication? What is your favorite fanzine, either active or defunct?

I’m a longtime Rolling Stone subscriber. While I feel they are always chained to the past and they offer the cover to undeserving artists, for better or worse, I see this as the pinnacle of rock and roll, even if it is sometimes off, in my opinion. I don’t agree with the magazine, but I respect it and am thankful it exists. I was hurt when they didn’t put Lemmy on the cover. I felt it was a tragic yet painfully clear reminder of how the world really works.

I also like this art magazine called Hi-Fructose. I tried to get them to do a story on the artist (Thierry de Cordier) who painted the picture that appears on the cover of Tremulous. They wouldn’t respond. I was crushed.

What is your favorite restaurant to eat at while on tour?

We’ve had some staunch vegans in the band so this is always a consideration. Fine by me because I try to eat vegetarian whenever possible. One of my favorite restaurants of all time is Veggie Heaven in Austin. It’s a hole-in-the-wall, but a vegetarian’s dream. I eat so much it hurts.

What is your favorite website?

There are a few sites I check daily, but I think Stereogum is my favorite. I feel it is a little more approachable than Pitchfork and it covers a broader range of music. It’s done pretty well and it’s current. I was dismayed at the lack of metal, rock and punk coverage, but that has improved greatly, even though I think there are styles of bands they cover and styles they won’t. I find it unacceptable when a publication like this isn’t covering every genre of underground music. They have corrected this and the best example is their column called the “Black Market” where they discuss the month’s best metal releases, mainly death and black.

What is your prized possession?

The older I get, I’m trying to divorce myself from “objects.” I do the love the photographs our family has, so I would say they are the most important. I have a necklace that was in my grandfather’s workshop. He’s the greatest man I’ve ever known. We have a song about him that isn’t on Tremulous because we just ran out of time but it’s mostly recorded and I do want it to come out.

What song really hits you in the feels and makes you cry?

“Highway Patrolman” by Bruce Springsteen. I want that song played at my funeral. I have a strong connection with the theme about never turning your back on your family. It suggests the idea that the only thing that could test your morality would be the protection of your family.

I love that whole record, Nebraska. My mind runs wild when it’s on and it’s a snapshot of American life, with an underbelly of depression. I would also play it in the car when I was trying to get my little daughter to go to sleep on “night rides.” We’d look for raccoons and deer and jam this song. I guess it’s a special song in our life.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7EVCO7ZKVDs
What’s the best venue you’ve ever played?

The humbling part of being in a band is sometimes you play a palace, sometimes you play a junkyard. Our guitarist, Tony, literally played a junkyard in Eastern Europe. Last week we played a moldy shed at a punk house and it was awesome. The next night we played in a proper club to 200 people. We’ve shown up at venues where literally no humans came to the show to playing a baseball stadium in Japan in front of 10,000 people. It keeps you very grounded.

I’d say my favorite venue is Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco. It’s remote, the sound is good, the staff is incredibly kind, and I’ve seen countless wonderful shows there.

What’s the worst venue you’ve ever played?

Ha ha, we’ve played a few. One time we played a club in Downey, California. We were band “9 of 12.” We began playing and the staff started yelling and telling us to wrap it up because the Stitches weren’t going to have enough time to play. We drove eight hours and played three songs.

We also played in this venue in Baltimore and the upstairs had this locked room with a big hole in the door. We stuck a flashlight through the hole and it was someone’s apartment that looked like that movie Seven, or Silence of the Lambs. We all ran downstairs. One time we played in Reno with Propagandhi and it was so cold “inside” the venue that we played with giant snow jackets on.

What’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?

The birth of my daughter. It was mind-blowing. It is the most powerful, science-fiction, mind-melting thing to see. I’m often moved by grandiose art as well. Going to the Guggenheim in Bilbao was quite cool. Seeing those giant Richard Serra pieces of curvy, rusty metal was pretty stunning.

What’s your favorite scary movie of all time not based on a novel by Stephen King?

28 Days Later. I think it’s stylish and smart. We have a song about it called “Mailer, Meet Jim.” I do love The Shining, but I’m not allowed to say that.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in the San Francisco Bay Area but I grew up in a town called Paradise in Northern California. Not many people have heard of it, and the name implies the exact opposite of what it’s actually like.

Which artist or album did you listen to most when working on your current/upcoming release?

My job allows me to listen to music all day long. Some songs on the new record are influenced by certain bands (“Taedium” = Metallica; “Masscult” = Motorhead) but I listen to so much music that it all gets thrown into the mix.

I would say that two that come to mind are Simon and Garfunkel and Jesus and Mary Chain. Paul Simon is a master of vocal melody and that’s something I really tried to work on for this record. Their songs are incredibly dark if you really listen. Jesus and Mary Chain are actually a traditional rock and roll band that’s been drenched in reverb and ’80s goth aesthetic. It’s like the Beach Boys ran through a pedal. We have another song that will be on an upcoming EP that is deeply based on Simon and Garfunkel. It’s called “Deranged By Grief.”

Which band or performer would you love to see, but haven’t yet?

I would have loved to see Black Sabbath, but I had to leave town for work. I was pretty upset about that. They are in my top five bands of all time.

Which city draws the best crowds for your shows?

We are always the odd band out and don’t easily fit in sometimes. I don’t think people hate us necessarily, but sometimes they don’t know what to do with us. We are on Fat and we have played with some bands that are more melodic and fun and we are just screaming the whole time. I’m not complaining, but I sometimes wish we would find our place.

With that said, we recently played in Portland and Seattle and the shows were great and the crowd understood us. I can’t wait to go back.

Who is your all-time favorite author? If you can’t decide, list more than one. Which is your favorite book by your favorite author(s)?

It’s cliché, but Ernest Hemingway. I’m sure this is short-sighted because I’m not extremely well-read, but I love how he treats words. He uses regular language in a beautiful way. It’s something I’m striving for as a person who writes songs. I haven’t reached this yet but I’m trying. I love the depiction of him in Midnight in Paris. I realize this is Hollywood magic, but it cracks me up every time. We have a song called, “My Opinion is I Hate It.” It’s from a line in that movie.

Western Addiction on Tour
4/07/17 Santa Cruz, CA @ The Catalyst
4/14/17 San Diego, CA @ Brick By Brick
4/15/17 Los Angeles, CA @ Troubadour
4/21/17 Berkeley, CA @ The UC Theatre

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