It is a rare opportunity to be able to do a band interview with all members present. Less common is an interview with not only the musicians, but their road crew as well. That is, however, what happened on October 24, 2000 at Nashville, TN's The Plunge. I caught up with Squad Five-O on their tour with Living Sacrifice and Ace Troubleshooter. In what was a little less like an interview and more like a big conversation, the band discussed everything from the comical to the profound. Jeff performs lead vocal duties, John plays bass, Adam and Kris play guitar, Justin does the drumming, Jimi keeps an eye on the stage and handles other such road management duties, and Joel sells merchandise.
Luke: How are you able to pull off the style you play, the glamish, "true rock and roll" sound, when it really is not "the thing to play" right now?
Adam: There is always a scene for it, but I think that one reason that we do fairly well doing it is because we have built on the success of the old Squad Five-O. There is name recognition there, and there is a good fan base for the band. They played ska/punk, but did it in a different kind of way. That style was a fad at the time, so when we started playing different kind of stuff, we still retained all those fans and gained some new fans. The music sounds different, but we still have the same energy and the same feel. Anyone who liked Squad before and had fun at the shows is still going to have fun at the shows.
Luke: In light of all of that, how do you go from punk/ska or whatever you want to call what you played on your first two records, to this stuff? Obviously, the transition took place a while ago, but the record just came out and to someone who has not seen you live in a few years, "Fight the System" was one style, and "Bombs Over Broadway" is something completely different.
Kris: It was the label change.
Justin: Actually, what really happened was that these guys were deep in their OPIV, punk/ska, skunk, whatever you want to call it. Then Adam joined the band and started changing them for the rock. Then when I started playing with them, Adam and I were fighting together, trying to get them to listen. Jeff, John and Jimi—he doesn't really play an instrument, but he is still a big part of the band—were all really loving this punk/ska stuff, and Adam and I were really trying to tell them that we should get more of a "rock" sound to the music, because it would just be more rockin'. So since then, we've been pulling it off, and slowly…
Jeff: Oh, so you wanted us to sound like some of your favorite bands? Ok, tell us who your favorite bands are.
Justin: Bands like the New York Dolls, the Backyard Babies, the Hollywood Brats, the Alice Cooper groups, you know—but only early 70s Alice, though. The Black Halos, the Stones…
Jeff: You're so full of it, Justin. Ok, all that aside. The biggest thing was the time lapse between the two albums. The kids just see we put out one album and then we put out another album. There was two, almost two and a half years in between those two albums. Musically, even spiritually, and personnel-wise we were growing. I like all kinds of different music. When the first two albums came out, I was really into bands like OPIV, Suicide Machines, Minor Threat, and 7 Seconds. I still really love all those bands, I really do. But since the 8th grade, ever since I can remember—5th, 6th, 7th grade—I have been a huge Rolling Stones, Beatles fan, just a rock and roll fan. I think this new album is just a reflection of the band's entire love for music, all genres. It was just a natural progression to me, and we feel more comfortable doing it this way.
John: "Fight the System" came out in May of 1998, and by the end of that summer, September of 1998, we had written "Apocalypse Now." I would say it started changing pretty quickly after "Fight the System" came out. It is not like we suddenly changed a month before we recorded "Bombs Over Broadway."
John - photo by Luke Harlow
Jeff: I don't think it was any one point in time. We didn't sit down and say that we were going to "do it different." That is just how the sound came out. It was just a progression, we didn't say, "Let's change our sound," the sound just changed.
Justin: So how come we don't play the old stuff?
Jeff: I'm going to let Adam handle that.
Adam: It is just out art. We gotta be true to our art.
John: I don't like to play the old songs because my heart's not in it, and if my heart's not in it, I am just doing the kids wrong. Actually, Justin just wants to play the old songs because he wants kids to know that he can play really fast. Since we can't play them, after he gets all his drums and stuff set up when we sound check, he just plays really fast, just so the kids know he could play really fast. He doesn't want them to think, "Man, maybe they don't play the old stuff because that drummer sucks and can't play really fast." He's like, "Look how fast I can play! I'm good."
Luke: Talk a little bit about the producer of "Bombs Over Broadway." The average kid is probably thinking, "Duane Baron, who is that?" The fact is, though, that he has done some pretty amazing stuff.
Jeff: The first thing that he ever worked on or engineered was Quiet Riot's "Metal Health." That sold six million copies, and probably more than that by now. That is the album that had "Come on Feel the Noise," and "Bang Your Head (Metal Health)." I'm not a big Quiet Riot fan, but he was really interested in doing the album, and we were interested in having the album sound bigger and larger, than say, a punk album. For the most part, I'd say we captured that, but at the same time, when we were making this album, we were listening to a lot of 70s stuff like T Rex and Sweet. The album is not indicative of what we do live. We are kind of on that David Bowie level. When he played live, it was totally different than his albums. His albums were these slick-sounding, extravagant things, and then live, he was more rockin', more energy. I have a video of him from the Ziggy Stardust era, and it is just rockin'. There are more guitars, and hardly any pianos or anything like that. So, we kind of did an album like that, but I think on the next one we are going to go for a more raw, live feeling. Our first two CDs weren't that well produced, this is the first one that was. Even so, we've still never been able to capture what we do live on tape—even on the new album. We have always been a "live band."
Luke: How does it feel to have a band that it is getting taken over by people from the north?
Justin: Not just people from the north, but people from the southwest as well.
Jeff: I just look at it as "The United States of Squad Five-O." It doesn't matter where we're from; we're all in this together…except for John, because he sold out.
Luke: John, tell us a little bit about selling out, if you would.
John: Well, it was about three weeks ago when I made a conscious decision to sell out. I was sitting there thinking, "Man, how can I do that?" Then I realized, I would betray the trust of the kids, I would pull the Samson, and I would cut my hair. I would pose to lose my strength—but no! Instead I have lost my dignity. I have sold out. I am no longer "underground" and "indie" and all the things that are cool.
Luke: Justin, how does it feel to be latest in a long line of drummers? Is this like Spinal Tap?
Justin: I don't know, according to these guys, I am just the next in line to play drummer. They will probably be through with me after this tour or the next one. They'll kick me out. Actually, I think it is really cool how God pulled this band together from all over the country. It seems we've got a bunch of different states going now. Kris Klein and Adam, my brother, are from Philadelphia. I am originally from there, but I now live in Arizona. John and Jeff are both from Savannah, Georgia, but John now lives in Florida, and Jimi and Joel, our merch guy, also live in Florida. So right now, we have Georgia, Florida, Arizona, and Pennsylvania represented in the band.
John: We are trying to get Kris to move to a different state, so all the playing members could be from different states…
Kris: Yeah, they want me to move to Jersey…
Kris - photo by Luke Harlow
Jeff: Actually, we need to get someone from the Northwest, like Seattle, so we can have all four corners of the U.S.
Luke: Kris, how does it feel to have your drummer disowning Philadelphia? I mean, you were born and raised in that city.
Kris: Disowning Philadelphia? The only thing that I can really think of is that it is just corny, and dumb.
Luke: Explain how Kris got in the band.
Adam: We were on tour as a four-piece and Jeff decided to not play guitar anymore, so he could have a better time interacting with the kids and displaying his awesome dancing skills. I was just going to handle the guitar by myself, but we had already recorded the new album, and there are two guitars on that album at all times. There was no way for me to possibly play both parts on stage at the same time, so we just decided that we needed another guitar player. Kris Klein is the man, so once we began thinking about another guitar player, we wanted to see if he would do it. There were a couple other dudes that we had in mind, but Kris was the least corny, and he is the SnakeWolf, so we got him to do it.
Adam - photo by Luke Harlow
Luke: This question is for Jimi. You have a reputation for throwing kids off the stage that get a little unruly. Explain to me what goes on when you see that type of thing developing, and how you keep the control.
Jimi: I don't know. It depends if too many kids get on the stage and if stuff might break.
Jeff: Do you worry that we might be endangered or something? Is that why you beat up a girl?
Jimi: I never beat up any girl, what are you talking about?
Justin: Jimi threw this girl off the stage and busted her lip.
Joel: No, no. This girl had a busted lip, she got up on stage, and Jimi threw her off again. It was in Orlando.
Jeff: The thing is, if a kid is looking a little too rowdy, or is just up on the stage too long, just running around, Jimi will probably take action.
Jimi: If it just one kid, and they're just singing, that's cool. But if a bunch of kids get up there and they are dancing around, stuff gets broken and you just can't have that.
Jeff: Do you remember that one time in Virginia Beach? This guy came up and he was all punked out—leather jacket, spikes, you know…
Jimi: Yeah, and he broke an amp head.
Jeff: He didn't break it. He knocked it off the cabinet. I tried to take him out, but evidently I am not that strong, because he took me out.
Luke: So, Jimi, were you a wrestler in high school or anything? I mean, where did you learn your technique?
John: Tell us just how you did in high school, Jimi. What was your GPA?
Jimi: I graduated with a 4.5 GPA. Umm, I was valedictorian of my high school class.
John: Try 2.2, 2.3 GPA.
Luke: Who had the better high school record Jimi or Kris?
Justin: That had to have been Jimi. Kris Klein, in his senior year, was only on time 28 days. Out of the whole year. I saw the report card slip. He was absent for a total of two months, spread over the year.
Luke: Jeff, how is it being in a band full-time, going on the road, and having a wife and a little girl at home? That has to be different than the average work situation.
Jeff: It is definitely different than the average work situation. My wife understands about what I do and why I do it. When I am home I work; I wash windows, and that helps a lot. I make a lot of money, really fast. We store it up and prepare for me to go on the road, because on the road I only make a fraction of what I would normally make. I am always checking myself to make sure that I am doing this for the right reasons. I am definitely not in this band for the money. But, we have a great calling. We have an opportunity that not a lot of other people have in their lives. We take a platform and get to see places that a lot of people haven't seen. But, it is difficult. They just left yesterday and last night was really hard for me. Every day gets a little better, but there is never a day that I don't miss them. The happiest day is when you go home. There are two people at home just waiting for me. The thing they wait for everyday is just for me to be home, whether I am at work and coming home that night or out on the road. It is pretty exciting to be wanted and loved that much. It is hard, but I definitely would not be doing this if I did not feel like God was calling me to it. There is just too much at stake in my personal life, and in my relationship with my wife and my family. There is too much to jeopardize by "just doing it."
Luke: On the calling issue, explain how you knew this was the right thing. You could have gone to college, gotten a "real" job, and so on.
John: I hated college. That was the big deciding factor for me to do something else. I left college with a 3.9 GPA. It isn't like I was doing bad, I just hated it. On top of that, the letters and emails from kids telling us how much we mean to them or how much a song affected their life proves to me that we are doing the right thing. It is the fruits of what we are doing that gets me.
Jeff: Look at last night. That was a really weird show, but a kid accepted the Lord last night. It seems to be the really weird nights that God really works. For me, it is just like John. I was in college, just killing time there, taking classes like badminton and swimming, just filling up my schedule with P.E. classes. But, I felt like I was not glorifying God there because I was just killing time. I prayed about it, asked God where he wanted me to be, and he has really blessed this band. That is how I know I am called to do this.
Justin: God moved me out to Arizona about two years ago, August 1998. I was pretty bummed about it for a while. I didn't know why I was out there. Squad Five-O's drummer quit, my brother Adam was already in the band, and God made it possible for me to get out of high school early. The way the schooling is out there, it is possible to do that. I did graduate; I have a diploma, by the way. Anyway, God made it possible for me to get in the band. I don't think that I would have been able to do that without moving to Arizona in the first place. It was a long process, but He got me in the band, I have been blessed since then, and before I was even in the band, too.
Justin - photo by Luke Harlow
Adam: Good things keep happening with the band, and I think there is a reason for that. God is faithful to those who are faithful to him, to do things his way and in his time. We are always in prayer about what needs to go on. I would hope that we are not ambitious in such a way that we are looking to glorify ourselves, and I think God has blessed us for that attitude. We are able to have a great time. In Jeff's case, he is able to raise a family and have another job on top of this. Most people would not be able to do what he does, but the way his job at home is, he can. For the rest of us, we always have a good time just playing. It doesn't matter if there aren't tons of kids at the show; we always have a good time, because God enables us to do that. He gives us the sight to see that we are playing for Him. We are doing our best with the abilities that we have. We are trying to make the most of our talents and skills, and we are trying to play the best music that we know how to play. I think God will honor that, if we are looking honor him.
Kris: At home, I really wasn't doing anything. Basically, I was just working crappy jobs, and not for much money. I was just sitting at home. These guys asked me a long time ago about joining, and Adam just asked me to think about it and pray about it, because there was a possibility that they might want me to play with them. Eventually Adam asked me to come on tour with them, and it just seemed like it was the right thing to do, what God wanted me to do. I didn't have any job at the time, or any school or car—nothing to pay for—it seemed like the right thing to do. Plus, I really liked the band, and the guys are cool, too. They're my friends.