Andrew Jacobs (AJ) - So this new Triggerman record, Learning To Lie, there are 11 songs on the vinyl and 14 songs on the CD that comes with it. When were the songs written?
Gavin Oglesby (GO) - Probably '92 through '94. They were all songs that were demoed when the band originally was together in the early/mid '90s. But, for whatever reason, the songs never really came together at practice or... just, a variety of things. Some of 'em might have been things that I could demo but not really play live.
AJ - Discuss the lyrical content of some of the songs on Learning To Lie. In particular, because many of the songs were written 20 years ago, were any of the lyrics and/or content updated somehow so that the songs would be relevant in 2012?
Joe Nelson (JN) - I would say that 9 or 10 of the songs were completed (lyrics included) before we decided to do the new record. The rest had maybe a chorus or a verse and maybe some other parts. They also had titles. Therefore, I didn't change much lyrically. For instance, there was a song called "Speed Trap" that I changed to another set of lyrics and renamed "Driving On" but I'd had those lyrics since the very early days of Triggerman.
One song that I found really interesting to record is a song called "Whisper" that was written about my relationship with my father circa 1994. My dad died a little while ago, so recording that song with lyrics that are set in the present tense and not the past tense was kinda weird.
Another song that was, say, "dated" in context but still worked when we recorded it was "Long Way Left". That was written about my friend Pat Dubar from Uniform Choice who, at the time, was sort of MIA. Pat had been a lighting rod in the hardcore scene and people seemed to really pile on him and talk shit about him or whatever after he was gone. That song was about all that and how I felt about Pat at the time.
However, with all Triggerman lyrics, I always tried to write so that they could be left to the listeners' interpretation. So even though I just clued you in on what "Long Way Left" is really about, it could be taken many different ways, especially in 2012. Also, keep in mind that Triggerman was always a band that mainly wrote introspective and personal lyrics, so there was no need to ever update them for 2012 or whatever. If you are depressed and all emo in 1994, it would be for the same or similar reasons that you would be in 2012. I was always in my pseudo Ian Curtis mode when writing for Triggerman.
AJ - So these songs were written when Popeye and Kevin Murphy from Farside were in Triggerman?
JN - Kind of, but not really. A bit half and half maybe.
GO - Yeah, I'd say about half of 'em predated Popeye and Kevin. But when those two guys were in Triggerman, I always felt like the band was just sort of... I mean, in retrospect, going on fumes. It was like we were just kind of trying to keep it going to keep it going.
AJ - And they were in the band for like a year? '94 to '95?
JN - I don't know. Yeah, maybe. I would think Sean Higgins probably left in... '93? It's all kind of a blur.
What you gotta understand is that Gavin had, like, TONS of cassette demos like, all the time. And we would record every practice. So you'd have, like... I mean, I think we had 14 songs but we probably had more.
GO - Yeah, we probably pulled from about... I'd say 20 songs that were in, shall we say, consideration. Not 20 that I think were really good songs but just 20 that, I think, could've been reworked and made solid.
JN - What we're saying is that there were 14 songs that were actually completed. And then lyrically, out of those, maybe like 9 or 10 had real lyrics. And then the rest were just kinda from journals or from lyric books from like back then that I just kind of pulled.
It was kinda hard recording those songs because like I said, there were lyrics for maybe 10 of 'em but then there were probably 4 that I had to kind of piece together. Like I'd have a chorus and then I'd have to kind of form the rest for the recording.
GO - We also had to be pretty careful about trying to make it true to where the band was at that point rather than, like, oh, let's get the band together and write a bunch of new songs and maybe be influenced by anything that happened since then. And I think that we got better... I don't want to say more talented. More competent. But the ideas and the other inspirations were from that (early/mid '90s) era. There's only one song that was written in the last 10 years, I'd say.
AJ - So just to be clear, neither Popeye nor Kevin Murphy had any sort of input in the songs on the new record?
JN - No.
GO - No.
JN - I mean, they were on, there's some demos of some of those songs.
AJ - The Dead Wait demo?
JN - Well, that's what we called it later. I mean, those guys wrote but as far as Triggerman, Gavin writes all the music and then I write the lyrics.
AJ - Well, I was just wondering because being as how Popeye and Kevin are both guitarists.
JN - Well yeah, but those dudes were our friends and they did us a favor by being in the band. But they weren't, like, coming up and going like "hey man, I got a rad part for 'Flux' " or whatever.
I will say that on the song "Flatline" that was on the Guilty By Association compilation that Dave Mandel put out, there's a guitar part that Popeye added to Gavin's that's really cool.
GO - Yeah.
JN - That I know is a Popeye kind of influence.
GO - Yeah. I think it makes the song work a little better.
JN - Yeah. But these songs, no. These songs... there's nothing on here that I would say those guys had a hand in.
Now Brett Rasmussen (Ignite), on the other hand, definitely added some stuff to these songs. Brett took over on bass and there's definitely some bass parts on these songs that Brett added that are really cool. And very Brett sounding if you know how he plays.
GO - It was fun to play with Popeye and Kevin because I'd show them a part and...
AJ - I know that they were also way into Triggerman. Particularly Kevin.
GO - Oh really?
AJ - Yeah. I remember reading interviews with both Farside and 411 where Kevin mentioned that he thought Triggerman was a great band.
JN - Yeah, those guys are rad, dude. I love those guys.
GO - I was really flattered that they would play with us at all!
JN - We had the main guys in Farside as, like, backup players in our band! (laughs) That is so awesome!
Here's what we're gonna do - Popeye, you're playing second guitar and NOT singing. And Kevin, you're on drums. I'M doing the singing and Gavin's playing guitar. Let's go!
GO - Yeah, we were just short of trying to get Mike Rosas to play bass!
JN - Yeah. No, those guys are good dudes and it was cool having those guys in Triggerman. And the one thing about having those guys in the band that really helped was we didn't have to practice alot. Like, if we had a show, those guys are such talented musicians that it didn't take them long at all to learn how to play their parts.
GO - I particularly liked playing with Popeye because I'd show him a part and he'd play it back and it would sound so much more musical than how I would play it! (laughs) He just exudes that "I'm a talented musician" thing.
JN - Yeah, he's talented.
GO - Meanwhile, I'm still counting dots on the guitar neck!
AJ - And it must have been cool for them too because all they had to do was show up and play the songs.
JN - Yeah, well, they were friends of ours and they liked the band. And it was very effortless for them to be in Triggerman.
GO - I kind of look at them like the way Joe and I were in Ignite. Joe Foster was on a writing binge and we just kind of go in and... half ass do our thing! (laughs)
JN - I wish we had videos of Ignite practices, man. Remember the practices in the machine shop and Foster would have each of us be in a different room? And I'd be in the actual machine part of the shop. No one could see each other!
GO - Yeah, it was odd.
JN - It was amazing! You'd come in and Foster would have... Foster would write a song and he would name the song for you. Before you even had the chance to write lyrics. Like "this song's called 'Shade' ". And you'd be like, "okay".
JN - And then you'd actually try to write lyrics to incorporate the name "Shade" in it. And finally, you'd be like, screw this, man!
GO - This is "Would Have Been", not "Should Have Been". (laughs)
JN - He's so funny, man.
GO - Or "Could Have Been". (laughs)
JN - Yeah. But as far as Triggerman, the songs on the new record are all Gavin's with bass harmonies contributed by Brett.
AJ - Okay, let's talk about Triggerman's formation. In 1990?
GO - That sounds about right.
AJ - How exactly did Triggerman form? I know that Carry Nation was also around at that time but ended during the summer of 1990.
GO - I think that Triggerman and Carry Nation co-existed. I don't remember exactly but Sean Higgins came out to California to try out for No For An Answer sometime at the end of No For An Answer's existence in 1989. Shortly after that, he went back to his home state of Michigan and then he came back out here again for school and he wanted to start a band with me. And I didn't particularly like him at the time. But I just thought, well, what the hell? We'll try it. And I knew that Carry Nation wasn't gonna be a real long term thing.
So Sean and I started playing together and we just kind of hit it off. He and I played together for probably 3 to 6 months just trying to get something going. And then we added a bass player.
AJ - Was Sterling Wilson the first bassist in Triggerman?
GO - I don't remember.
JN - I think you guys were a 3 piece with John Ma'ae on bass and Gavin and Sean. And then they did a demo and John did the vocals on the demo.
AJ - So Sterling didn't play bass on the demo?
GO - No. I think we added Sterling when John moved to vocals. And that just didn't really... like, I think he was a good singer but I think he didn't like being a singer. It's almost like it changed his personality.
JN - Yeah. I actually tried out and was in the band for a second during that time and John went back to bass. And then you guys kicked me out.
GO - We kicked you out?
JN - Yeah! Kind of. I mean, it was no big deal but, like, we were practicing and you were like, "well, we're gonna have John sing and Sterling's gonna go back to bass". And I was like, "that's fine. FUCK YOU GUYS!"
JN - And then I went on tour with Insted again. And by the time I came back... for some reason, Sean Higgins was, like, my champion in that band.
GO - Oh yeah, Sean loved you.
AJ - And he hated John, right?
JN - Oh I don't know about that.
GO - He kinda turned on John.
JN - I don't wanna speak for Sean, you know. He's not here. But... he hated John! (laughs)
No, but I think the thing is, he championed me for some reason and he had my back. And I never really had his. So, that was nice of him.
GO - Yeah. It's funny, it might be a character flaw on my part but Sean REALLY wanted Joe and I was sort of ambivalent towards it.
JN - Well, I couldn't sing! I mean, I really couldn't sing compared to John.
GO - But then there was that one song. I can't remember if it was 11 or 13 but I remember thinking that that's, like, exactly what I wanna do.
JN - You mean the more hardcore stuff that we never really pursued??? (laughs)
GO - Yeah!
JN - Wait a second - you mean, like, the Impressions song??? The Impressions stuff is what we were gonna be???
GO - Yeah.
JN - Wait a second - you're telling me that I've been doing this band for 20 years and we went in the wrong direction???
GO - Well, I just... I didn't have the heart to tell you!
JN - That's AMAZING!!! Because I always liked those more hardcore songs but it sounded so much different than almost all of our other stuff.
GO - In MY mind, that's what got you in the band!
JN - Well that's good to know, man! Shit!
GO - Yeah, I remember the practice! I was facing the wall and you were, like, in the corner by the door!
GO - I just didn't have the heart to look at you because I felt so bad about it!
JN - (laughs) That's funny, man! That's amazing. I never knew that. Wow!
GO - Yeah. Then, I think, Sean sort of soured on the two of us! (laughs)
JN - Yeah. Well, I think Sean had different... like I said, I don't want to speak for Sean but Sean had different ideas. He was going to school too. He's just a different cat. He was looking to go to school and get his career, which he has, and be a family dude. I was looking to be a professional musician. (laughs)
AJ - Okay, let's talk about the songwriting in Triggerman. Specifically, the fact that you referred to the songs by number as opposed to name. Why did you do that?
GO - Well, like I said, it was just Sean and me for a really long time. And then we added John on bass. It just took us a really long time to get a proper singer. And rather than giving yourself away by going, "let's do the Cro-Mags song" or "let's do the American Standard song", it seemed to make more sense just to call 'em by number.
AJ - More generic?
GO - Well, just sort of... it was just sort of, like, our novelty.
AJ - Yeah.
GO - It was our gimmick. It didn't catch on for some reason. (laughs) But it was just something that I always thought was kinda funny. And, I thought, if you knew the history of the band, it was, you know, sort of interesting.
AJ - And you numbered them, Gavin?
GO - It's purely based on songs we brought to practice and worked on.
AJ - So Joe, you didn't number them?
JN - No. But see, you're at band practice and you've got, like, 15 songs. You might only be playing maybe 5 of 'em still. But then Gavin would come in with a new song and we'd kind of work that in and call that song 16. And then the next new song would be 17. So it was just easier.
GO - Good news for Triggerman fans - I've got songs 47 through 49 in the works right now.
JN - Yeah, it was just one of those things. So the set lists would be, like, the whole band knew. It was weird actually! (laughs) But it worked for us.
GO - Yeah, I think, if Joe was more of an egomaniac, it might have been a problem.
JN - Yeah. "Goddammit, the set list doesn't say the song titles!" (laughs)
GO - Like I don't see Dan putting up with that. (laughs)
JN - It made sense though 'cuz think about it - when you're first starting a band, you're writing songs and you finish one song and go on to the next. Then later, you decide to rework the first song. Or the second song. It's just easier to not name them until they're in a more finished form.
In Triggerman's case, because they didn't have a proper singer for a good 6 months in the beginning, it was probably easier to just number the songs.
GO - And we didn't have songs like "Shade". (laughs)
JN - Yeah, it wasn't like with Foster. "This song sounds like 'Remember' ".
GO - It never even occurred to me to just force song titles on you like that!
JN - It's so genius, dude!
AJ - Joe, is the first Triggerman LP (Dead Like Me) your first time out on lead vocals?
JN - Oh yeah. Well, I think we recorded a demo just for the band's use before that. But yeah, that was my first try at it, man. And that was an experience.
AJ - So what exactly was it like for you having your first lead vocal performance being on a full length as opposed to an EP or even a public demo tape?
JN - Well, I was in my early 20s at the time, so I probably had alot of ego and just thought, "EASY! Let's record a full length!". (laughs)
I'd done backup vocals on a number of other band's records before that but primarily, because at the time, I was in my early 20s and when you're that age, you feel that you can take on the world. In hindsight, of course, it probably would've been easier to do a 7" first and then kind of build yourself up to do an LP. I actually like the Dead Like Me LP. Obviously, I think I'm better as a vocalist today than I was then. But I still like some of the songs on that first record.
GO - Yeah, I think parts of it really hold up well.
AJ - I think it's a solid record.
GO - Parts of it are just kind of uncomfortable for me.
JN - Yeah. And also, like... yeah, it's just such a different time, man.
GO - I wish we would've edited some of the songs down a little bit. I think it would've been a stronger record if we had more 3 minute songs.
JN - Right.
GO - Rather than songs that got into the 4+ minute area.
JN - That record is almost like two different records because there were songs on it that we wrote together and then there were songs that were already written before I joined the band that I changed some of the vocals on. "Insulate" is a song that the band had before I joined.
GO - Yeah, that's one I think we should have edited WAY down.
JN - "Insulate"?
GO - It's a LONG song.
AJ - Now I remember, at the time and even now, very strong criticism of Joe's vocals.
JN - Oh sure.
AJ - And because this is, for all intents and purposes, the hardcore genre of music, I just never understood the criticism. It's hardcore. It's not and it's never really been about being able to sing per se.
JN - Well, Triggerman wasn't really hardcore.
AJ - But you played mostly hardcore shows and you were part of the hardcore scene.
JN - Yeah. I understand what you're trying to say.
First off though, if you looked up the definition of "does not care what anybody thinks" in the dictionary, I would care even less than what the definition says!
AJ - Yeah.
JN - But the simple fact of the matter is I'm NOT a great singer. I know that. But I wanted to sing because it was fun. Speaking of which, Gavin and I were joking when we were making this new Triggerman record that we've written and recorded almost 100 songs together! Which is approaching, like, Lennon/McCartney territory!
JN - But I think one of the problems that Triggerman always had was... Gavin and I had already been in the scene for a long time. So we were kind of over hardcore as everyone knew it. And we wanted Triggerman to be more like a D.C. band in the vein of Jawbox and Girls Against Boys. That's the stuff we were listening to at that time. And that's how we kind of saw ourselves.
But in California, you know, we're hardcore dudes. So we'd play shows with bands like Strife and A Chorus Of Disapproval. And it's pretty hard to go, "okay, we're Triggerman and we're gonna play these mid-tempo songs with NO mosh parts. And you guys with your Xs on your hands are gonna HATE it because you wanna hear 'Justice' by A Chorus Of Disapproval, which we hate."
JN - So, here we are together, trying to co-exist at this show. You know.
But then we'd have some good shows too, man. You know, we would go on tour and, especially when we played out of state, we had a pretty good following out of state. And we'd play shows with Down By Law and Sense Field. And even 411. We'd do shows with 411 and those were always pretty good.
GO - I don't want to say that we were under-rated. But I'd say that we were...
AJ - Under-appreciated?
GO - Well, it's just that the way everything was evolving... like, with No For An Answer, that was kind of an attempt to be Minor Threat-type D.C. style. Well, Minor Threat/D.R.I./Stalag 13, things like that. But with Triggerman, I wanted to be more musical. Like, more of a D.C. sound that kind of had the drama but, like, with more of a finesse to it. Unfortunately, the bands that were coming out at that time were Judge and Chorus. The real extreme, almost metal-based hardcore bands. Which is fine but when that stuff becomes really popular, the stuff that doesn't sound like that kind of falls by the wayside.
Another problem Triggerman had was we were much more friendly with those types of bands than we were with bands that were more musically like us. Bands that were more like us were probably in different scenes. Like, I got the feeling that San Francisco had some bands like us.
JN - Yeah. And I think also that bands from that era that I'd tie us to like Samiam, Sense Field, Seaweed... those bands were around the same time that we were and I feel more spiritually aligned to those bands than, like... even though the guys in Blackspot are some of my best friends, we had NOTHING in common with Blackspot. I love those dudes but I look at Blackspot, who was more popular than us, particularly in Huntington Beach because they're from Huntington Beach, I look at Blackspot as a band that I would've done when I was a sophomore in high school but not in my early 20s.
GO - Yeah, absolutely nothing against those guys because I like them for what they are. But Blackspot, to me, sounds more like your first band. Like, it's got kind of an enthusiasm. And we were WAY beyond enthusiasm when we started Triggerman!
JN - Yeah, we were over the enthusiasm stage! (laughs)
AJ - I won't print any of this.
JN - No, please do. I'm not talking shit on those dudes or their band that I wouldn't say to their faces. They're some of my best friends. That's whats fucking wrong with this world, man. It's okay to have discussions, not agree, talk shit or whatever and still walk away friends. I promise you, Greg Brown is fine with anything I've said and Scott Lytle has talked more shit on Triggerman than anybody I know and we're still friends. Well, I wasn't invited to his wedding, so maybe we're not, but you get what I mean.
The point I was making is that was not the kind of band that I wanted to do as an early twentysomething year old guy. That doesn't mean that I don't like Blackspot or didn't support them. I pretty much went to all their shows back in the day and I was front and center for them when they played that big reunion show in 2009. They just really fucking sucked (laughs). That was a joke, by the way.
Part 2 coming next week.