Adam Pfahler of California (and Jawbreaker) on Save Music in Chinatown 3
As soon as I found out that my pal Adam Pfahler was in a new band that was starting to play shows, I asked him if they would play our next Save Music in Chinatown benefit. And then they said yes. Wow. The group not only features Adam (who was in Jawbreaker, J Church, Whysall Lane, all among my favorite bands) but Jason White (from Monsula, Pinhead Gunpowder, Green Day, and a bunch of other favorite bands) and Dustin Clark (The Insides, who I’m guessing that I’ll love). So cool of them to book their first SoCal tour around our punk matinee/benefit show for music education at Castelar Elementary that will take place on Sunday, May 18.
How could I not ask him some questions about playing in Chinatown, the new band, some old bands, and an old friend…
Most people think of you as a Bay Area guy but you grew up in L.A. Did you ever get to see any punk shows in Chinatown?
I remember going to the Hong Kong Cafe after shows to drink coffee and listen to the jukebox but never saw a show there. Maybe it was a bit before my time. I’m sure I’ve been to shows at Madame Wong’s in the mid-eighties but I couldn’t tell you who I saw!
Jawbreaker had a band meeting there once around the time we were practicing in Highland Park before recording our first album. It wasn’t a venue at that point and was just a bar and restaurant. So we’re having a beer and bao there one afternoon and out of nowhere a fight breaks out between these two really tough Chinese girls. They’re full-on punching each other in the face. Like, shit’s falling off tables and everything. It’s so gnarly that everyone in the restaurant pretends that it isn’t happening. One of the girls screams, “Fuck you, you two-bit Jawbreaker!” Blake says, “Hey, that’s our band!” I say, “That’s it–the name stays.”
Do you remember the last time you played in Chinatown? Was it for my wedding banquet?
Okay, let’s set the record straight. Whysall Lane was the SECOND CHOICE to play your wedding. Apparently, the great No Pants Lance Hahn of the J Church couldn’t make the gig. But we were a pretty damn fine replacement, if I do say so myself. Your wedding was awesome! Jenny Choi was cracking me up all night. But to answer your question, I played Human Resources a couple years ago with the amazing Rachel Haden. Here’s proof:
Tell me about California and how you started playing with Jason and Dustin. What do each of you guys bring to the band’s sound?
It just happened. Those guys knew each other from Little Rock, Arkansas. I knew Jason from Bay Area bands from way back like Chino Horde, Pinhead Gunpowder, Monsula, and Green Day, obviously. I met Dustin through my friend Bianca Sparta. The three of us used to play together in the basement of my video store. This was an organic thing. I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner. We’re a three piece, so if this band was a KFC/Taco Bell, Dustin would be the wing, Jason, the breast, and I’m the drumstick. But we each bring enough to the table that we sound more like a 7-layer burrito. With a Diet Pepsi. And hot sauce. Does that make sense? Are you hungry?
What has it been like playing out? Any surprises in how certain songs are received?
I’m having such a great time playing in this band I honestly don’t care what people make of us! I have heard from a few different people that they like the song where I play the mallets. It’s the weirdest, darkest song in our set, which I find really encouraging.
Is there anything cool about being in a band now that your girls are old enough to go to shows?
We’re playing an all-ages show with the Avengers next month. I think they’ll get a kick out of that. But they don’t really listen to my bands and I’m okay with that. They’re into their own thing.
Have you considered singing from behind the drum kit this time around, like Blackie from The Hard-Ons or El Duce from The Mentors?
The only person who ever sounded great and looked cool playing the drums and singing is Levon Helm. Period.
What’s going on with the Blackball re-issue of Jawbreaker’s 24 Hour Revenge Therapy? Will Whysall Lane follow?
I just got the art proofs from 24 Hour Revenge Therapy. It’ll be out this year in time for the 20th anniversary and have six extra songs on the CD and digital (the two outtakes from ETC. and four alternates recorded with Albini from that same session). I reshot the artwork and threw in more photos shot by Don Lewis from that same Jabberjaw show. I still have a bunch of unsold copies of Whysall Lane if anyone wants to hit me up. I never did press that one on vinyl, but maybe I will. It’s a great record.
Back to California, how’s the bidding war between Adeline and Blackball heating up? Is the band being wined and dined by its suitors?
California will sell out immediately, let me just lead with that. But no one has thrown their name in the hat just yet–including me. We do have a pre-practice ritual, which might count as being wined and dined. It involves a sit-down at either The Old Clam House or Silver Crest Donuts on Bayshore Boulevard. The former has complimentary hot clam juice as a starter. The latter specializes in square donuts without holes and the distinct possibility that you’ll be murdered. In either case, I rarely pick up the check.
While California is up-and-coming and everyone loves Jawbreaker, you know there’s a special place in my heart for J Church. What’s your favorite J Church song that you played on and do you have one good Lance story for me?
My favorite was the first one : “The Sound Of Mariachi Bands” from the Mission District box set. I love that song. I stole the drum fill from it and used it on Jawbreaker’s “Do You Still Hate Me?” Lance gave me endless shit about that. I have a lot of Lance stories….You remember when the Rodney King verdict came down, L.A. went up in flames. You’ve seen the footage. Well, that happened up here in SF, to a lesser extent. Lance was out there rioting with other punks from the Mission. People were smashing jewelry store windows and snatching gold chains and diamond rings, running down the street with radios and televisions. What did Lance get? He grabbed the only thing he could get his hands on–a remote control car from a ransacked Radio Shack on Market Street. It’s like he just just wanted a souvenir of the day. And he didn’t even get the remote! That was his favorite part of the story, actually, that it never even worked. He’s sad, “I should have at least stolen 9-volt batteries for my effects pedals!” Maximum covered the riots and published a photo of people coming out of that Radio Shack with their eyes blacked out for anonymity. But it’s so obviously Lance in the picture: ponytail, band shirt with hoodie, long underwear under black jean cutoff shorts. And he’s laughing. You can almost hear him.
For more information about California, check out the trio’s brand-new Facebook page. For the benefit, which happens on Sunday, May 18 at Human Resources, there’s the Save Music in Chinatown 3 Facebook event page. For ticketing, an Eventbrite page. Spread the word and hope to see you there!