The Brian Brannon JFA Interview

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JFA released it’s first single in 1981, dark times in the history of skateboarding. Near as I can tell, they were the first “Skate Rock” band. In 2009 they released a live CD, and have plans to go into the studio to record again. On the eve their 30th year, in a time when skateboarding has never been more accepted in the public eye, here’s an interview with lead screamer, Brian Brannon of JFA.

Do you find yourself surprised to be playing JFA shows in the year 2009? I’m guessing you hadn’t expected it to go on this long.

I didn’t expect to live this long so yeah, it’s kind of surprising. We always said if it stopped being fun, then we’d quit doing it. But needless to say, we’re still having fun!

Can you remember your first time on a skateboard?

Well I started out lying down and pushing with my hands. Then sat on my put and pushed with my hands. Then I got into sitting backward and pushing with my hands (would that be switchstance?). Then a few days later, I finally reached Warp Speed.

Who did you look up to or get inspiration from as a skater, when you were just starting out.

When I was just starting out I didn’t ever read the skateboard mags or know anything about them. I was maybe five at the time. I just pushed on my knees down the sidewalk pretending I was Capt. Kirk and that my board was the Starship Enterprise. So I guess I’d says James Tiberius Kirk.

Can you remember what inspired you to write songs about skateboarding? Was JFA a “skate rock” band from inception, or did it just happen naturally?

Skateboarding is actually what inspired us to write songs about skateboarding. What better inspiration is there? Yeah, JFA was a “skate rock” band from it’s inception. Don and Michael Cornelius both skated, then they got Bam Bam to play drums and they needed a lead screamer who skated and there I was…

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It occurred to me that there will be readers who might be too young to know the story behind the name J.F.A.. How did you pick that one? Were there any good band names on the b-list?

Our original name was the Breakers. We liked the name because it could mean we were breaking things or it could refer to our surf-style influence. We played our first gig in Tempe, AZ, with the Crowd and a bunch of other bands at an “Industrial Dance” at the Knights of Pythias Hall. Don had written a song called “Jody Foster’s Army” that was kind of a satire on the whole John Hinckley shooting Reagan thing. Most of our friends were hardcore skaters from High Roller Skatepark at Phoenix. They’d always bum out all the junkie punks when they showed up because instead of pogoing, a slam pit would ensue. Anyway, our drummer Bam-Bam liberated a sheet from his mother’s linen closet and dyed it army green, then cut it into squares and gave it to all our friends to put around the steel-toed engineer boots they wore to the shows. So basically we were the Breakers and our friends were Jody Foster’s Army. Well sometime before the next Industrial Dance, we found out there was another band in California called the Breakers so since we already had the bandanas, we just went with JFA and our first gig as JFA was with Black Flag at Knights of Pythias Hall. Killer show. That was when Dez was still on vocals for Flag…

Was there any truth to the rumor that you guys met Jodie Foster, or that she found out about the band name?

We heard that Rodney Bingenheimer, of Rodney on the ROQ fame, from KROQ, gave her our first EP. When he asked her what she thought, she said, “Neat.”

Who designed the band logo?

That would be our drummer Bam-Bam. We were heavily influenced by the Santa Cruz/Indy posse at the time, hence the “A.”

What’s your favorite JFA tune to play?

Depends on the crowd really. “Do the Hannigan” is always good because it’s short, fast and intense.

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Let’s talk about the new record, since that’s supposed to be the reason we’re here. “To All Our Friends” is your first live recording in 20 years. JFA has kept it going over the years, are there going to be some new songs in the mix? Are you still writing new songs? How has the typical subject matter of a JFA tune changed over the years?

Live shows have always been what JFA’s all about, so we thought it would be good to release a recording of the current set. I think there’s one or two relatively new songs in there but it’s mostly the hits played fast and loud with people flying all around, just like if you came to see us at your local dive. We called it To All Our Friends because there are so many people we’ve met through the years that have been so cool in so many different ways. We wanted to at least say thank you somehow and when I saw the photo on the cover, I knew that was the shot. It reminded me of that movie about Charles Bukowski where he keeps saying “To all my friends…”

Has your audience changed any?

Well let’s see, a lot of our old friends are either dead, in jail, sober or married. But those that are still around show up in force. Plus there are a bunch of new kids coming out that carry on the banner. I’m sure it’s changed somehoe but I can’t tell you how…

Can you tell us one thing about yourself that fans of JFA might be surprised to know?

This probably should come as no surprise to anybody but I got kicked out of Glee Club in the first grade.

What’s your all time favorite skate zine?

I’ve been digging Lowcard pretty much lately. Old time-wise, my brain starts farting out. I think Neil Blender had one that was pretty good…

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Do you still have any of your old JFA boards?

Yeah I got a few. Only one that hasn’t been ridden though and unfortunately the paint’s fading on that one.

How many JFA boards did you sell back in the day, and who manufactured those original JFA boards?

I honestly have know idea. I didn’t really keep up on that kind of stuff back then. Madrid did them for a while. Then we got hooked up with a company called Skateboard Plus out of Arkansas that pumped out some really killer stuff.

Will we ever see a re-release of the Don Lincoln model? And by the way, WTF?

You’ll have to ask Don about that one.

What was the deal with Placebo Records? I had always assumed (erroneously I think?) that you guys (JFA) owned it since it seemed like JFA was the main product being pushed.

Our manager Tony was the brains behind Placebo and also behind all of our early tours. When he folded Placebo in 1988, a lot of people thought we broke up because all of a sudden we weren’t as visible as we were because Tony wasn’t there to make things happen. It all pretty much fell to me because no one else wanted to do it and all I really cared about was skating and playing for my friends, so that’s what we did for a few years, was just play backyard pool parties, skate and show up at random joints to play. Mater of fact, that’s still kind of what we do.

Did you ever get a cease and desist for covering the Peanuts theme, or was it licensed?

No, but we do credit the publisher so I think they get a cut from the CD sales.

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So you’ve got another JFA model out on Backstage Skateboards. What’s the scoop on that?

Well, our new live record “To All Our Friends” is out on DC Jam Record, as will be a new studio album we’re working on. And the guy Darron that runs DC Jam is just a full on hustler, something we’ve been sorely missing ever since Placebo went under and we lost Tony Victor as our manager. So anyway, Darron got in touch with Backstage and asked if we wanted to do a JFA popsicle stick. We said sure, as long as it’s not too skinny. So we have some 8.0s and 8.25s that they did. Pretty solid decks. Nice wood. Good pop. Not everyone rocks the 215’s in pools and pipes like I do so this way if someone’s into us and wants a smaller board, we can accommodate them. We’re still doing the Pipe decks, Pool boards and Liquor Store Cruisers (longboards) with Danny from Factory 13 and he just relocated to SoCal so he’s busting them out again. The next batch he’s doing our more “fish” shaped like the original JFA boards where the ones he was doing before were a little pointier and had more parallel rails. The good thing about Danny is he’s totally into doing custom shapes, so if you want that’s X wide, with X wheel base and X nose with a JFA logo on it, he can definitely accommodate you. Plus he rips pools. Took him to Burger’s Bowl a while back and the bro caught his wheel on the loveseat coming in and took one straight to the sonar dome. He shook it off though and I think we’re going to try to go back there again soon…

How did you get hooked up with Danny and Factory 13?

I think he just hit us up and sent us a few boards. We were completely stoked with his workmanship and he was willing to make ’em big enough for 215’s so it was a go.

What’s your (skateboard) setup these days?

JFA pipe board. 215s, and the biggest wheels I can get (still rocking some 65’s I had stashed from when Death Box was still in business).

What do you think of the current crop of skate rock? Does the concept make sense in this day and age where punk and skateboarding are so blown out and publicly accessible?

It makes more sense now than ever. With all the places to skate and all the gnarliness people like Grind Line are building, you need all the ampage you can get to hit that shit!

What’s the last killer spot you’ve sessioned?

I really dig the Burger Bowl. It’s down the street from my house and has a million lines and all the bells and whistles. Two death boxes, three hips, two lights, love seat, good shallow end, good pocket and killer deep…

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What’s your favorite spot to session, past and present?

Florence Pipes. The ones on the cover of the Untitled LP. Smooth as anything and downhill like fuck. You could get booking like a mofo in those things and next thing you knew you were way over vertical…

What’s the last good book you read?

One of my favorite books is “East of Eden” by John Steinbeck. I did my master’s thesis in humanities on the influence of the Greek emperor/philosopher Marcus Aurelius on Steinbeck in writing “East of Eden.”

What are you listening to (music wise) these days?

Just saw the Meat Puppets the other night and they friggin’ rocked, so I’ll be listening to them for a while. I pretty much always play some blues whenever I get the chance: Muddy Waters, James Booker, John Lee Hooker. Punkwise I really dug playing with Hightower, Frontside Five and Five Days Dirty a couple weeks ago…

Where are you living, and when are you coming up to Oregon to skate?

Living in Huntington Beach with about 5 or 6 built to skate backyard bowls in my immediate vicinity so I’m pretty much a happy camper. Not sure when we’re going to come out there again but I’d love to sample some of the latest crete you guys have going up there…

Tim Kerr loves to tell the tale about the time JFA came to Texas and went out to skate a ditch with the Big Boys. He says you guys sat out the first half of the session because you were trying to assess whether or not the Big Boys qualified as “skate rock.” Let’s hear your version.

He’s got it all wrong, we already knew they skated and without a doubt they had pedigrees in skate rock. It was all the other bands we were worried about. We were just fininshing off a couple cold ones and eyeing their lines…

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What’s one of your fondest memories of being on staff at Thrasher?

Two words: Mofo.

So how about a good Mofo story?

Don’t know if I could choose just one or even put it into words. Best I could suggest would be to read one of his “Wild Riderz of Boards” stories in the very first issues of Thrasher. That might give you an idea where he’s coming from. Mofo is one of those guys who’s larger than life. Kinda like Duane Peters. Visionary is the word that best describes him. He’s driven to make his visions come true. He’ll stop at nothing to make things happen and doesn’t care who he pisses off to get it done. Great writer. Outstanding photographer.

When’s the last time you talked to Kevin Thatcher?

Probably the 2nd Old School Skate Jam at Skatelab in SImi Valley in 2002. Haven’t heard from him since. If you see him, tell him I said hey.

Brian Brannon Interview continues

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