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youth brigade photo by glen friedman

Youth Brigade interview from Forced Exposure 5

This interview took place in the B.Y.O. tour bus (a converted school bus) with Shawn Stern after the show at the Lit Club in Hartford Conn.

Katie: So can you explain the B.Y.O. concept?
Shawn: Well the idea came out of the Elk's Lodge riot of '79. A bunch of bands played. I didn't go to the show but I think the GoGos played. The Plugz and um all these bands played. It was a pretty big show. The cops came in for no reason with riot gear and billy clubs and started busting people's heads open. Everyone was really thick then. This was in the days when the scene was still small and the first bands were still around like the Weirdos and the Screamers so everyone was alot closer. They were going to sue the cops and it just gave me an idea that we should start some sort of organization to deal with things like putting on shows, nothing really came out of the idea.

I knew it was going to get worse after that cause I knew the L.A. scene was going to explode cause when me and my brothers got into it we were like the only kids. We knew the surfers and skaters would get into it and about six months later all the Huntington Beach punks started coming around and they just got really crazy.

Then in the spring of '79 Sham 69 came. There were a few thousand people there and the dance floor was all these punks and skinheads. Not like it's good or anything, but everytime a hippie would go out on the dance floor he'd just get trashed. Nobody knew each other but anybody who was a punk or a skinhead enjoyed themselves and stuck together and it was a lot of fun. But I knew right then that this was gonna get big and get really violent.

The Fleetwood opened up in the winter of '80 and that's when the whole beach punk scene really exploded. The summer of '80 it was huge. It just kept growing and growing until the B.Y.O. idea which was always in my the fall of '79 we got this house called Skinhead Manor. That's when alot of people with similar ideas to what we have...which is basically to try to start some sort of alternative scene, put on shows, have radio stations play the music, fanzines, every aspect of it...we wanted to put it all together, to have a house where they could rent a room to put on shows, a rehearsal studio, recording studio and a pirate radio station and put out fanzines...a big headquarters. That's what we thought the Manor was going to be, we had a stage in the living room and it was a really big place. There was 20 people living there and always another 20 crashing and we always had these big parties.

Katie: How'd you pay the rent. Just by doing shows or...
Shawn: No, Just the people who lived there would come up with the $150-200 bucks a month and that was the rent. There were 8 bedrooms, it was pretty good. The rent was pretty high but with all the people, we managed to pay it for a while.

We all went in there with these great ideas, but unfortunately the main important thing when you want to get something done is you've got to have money. No matter how idealistic people are, no matter what they say. We're gonna do all these great things for nothing, after awhile if they're not getting something out of it they are not going to come up with any great things. You've got to have some income. So the Manor was just a fun place where everyone would come. The Fleetwood closed in the spring of '80 so in the summer everybody would just come and meet after shows at Skinhead Manor, we had parties there...

Angie: Where was it?
Shawn: Right in the heart of Hollywood across the street from Hollywood High School at Sunset and Highland. When the Manor closed down a couple of months later, my brother met this guy and opened up Godzilla's. This guy put up the money and we ran it and we got punks to work there. All the people from the Manor who we'd met worked there and the idea was to try and get all different people from different areas working as bouncers to keep the fighting down to a minimum. It really worked well but it came to an end because the guy didn't get the legal things taken care of and it was illegal and eventually the fire marshal came and closed it down. It was a really cool club, the big room could hold maybe 2,000 people and so we started doing benefits in the small room.

Godzilla's was like a really big Starwood cause it had the disco room, a restaurant, a bar, so when we closed down the big room, we still had this little room that held like 500 people and we did benefit shows in which bands played for gas money and all the bouncers took cuts in pay. We thought the money was going to go to pay for a lawyer to get the big room open. After a few weeks everyone was getting really discouraged and the owner, he was spending money on really stupid things like an architect to get plans to renovate the place.

It was really dumb, a waste of money. So he decided, all these rich people were approaching him with connections, like this guy who used to run the Starwood who was a real asshole. He got involved with those people and we told him we wouldn't work for him cause that's not what we are all about. We'd rather struggle along than give in to these rich businessmen who want to exploit the scene, but he did it anyway.

He got some rich guy who came in and started telling him what to do so we said fuck off and we quit. He says we were fired and we tried to affect a boycott but it's bard to affect a boycott in L.A. cause there's so many people and there's so few clubs. People just want to see the shows. So that's a problem you've got. When everyone was working at Godzilla's everyone had money in their pockets so everyone was happy. You can get alot of things done when you have a source of income.

Katie: Do you guys all have jobs in L.A?
Shawn: Well, we all have had odd jobs in the past but we haven't had a steady job since Godzilla's. We took the money from Godzilla's and we put on a show at the Hollywood Palladium with TSOL, LA's Wasted Youth, Social Distortion, my band, the Blades and AKA. It was at the Palladium, which holds about 5000 people and it's a really posh place. It's the first big show that anyone has ever done there and almost 3000 people came. We managed to get away with it.

We made like $5000 but they held it. A chick fell off the balcony and broke her hip and is suing us for like a million dollars. Some celebrity's daughter...Ken Berry's. Fucking cunt, she got in on our guest list too, bitch. She knows us and she's suing the Palladium. The insurance company will pay for it if anything happens but I don't think she'll get anything. She was all drunk and it was her fault. She can't prove negligence on our part, how are we going to stop her from sitting on the balcony?

So the Palladium show was a big success except that we didn't get our money and that set us back. When we did it we really wanted to put our money into the compilation album. I like Oi music and I thought the Oi compilations were really cool and I wanted to do, not a similar album, but an album that we thought...take a couple of name bands to some sort of attention to it and then a bunch of newer bands to give them some exposure. Bands that we thought had a similar sound. Not really thrash bands because I personally don't really like thrash bands. We wanted bands that have some sort of melody to them like Social Distortion, Bad Religion and Adolescents. The Adolescents started the whole sort of sound that TSOL picked up on. We got all sorts of press about Godzillas cause Godzillas was listed as a kid place, run by the kids for the kids. It got the B.Y.O. all sorts of publicity.

Katie: It was all ages?
Shawn: Actually it was just mostly kids, there isn't alot of over 21 clubs in LA cause you cut off more than half of your audience. When you do that, it would be real stupid. The thing is, in LA the kids trash the clubs, and the clubs get pissed. They don't even trash clubs that much anymore cause the people are smart enough to put bouncers in the bathrooms now. They just hang out outside and trash the neighborhood and they fuck and piss and shit all over peoples lawns, and on their front door steps. The neighbors complain and clubs get closed down. That's why the Starwood is closed and The Whiskey is closed down and they're going to make it into a New Wave Disco. That really sucks because the Whiskey is a great place and that's how people fuck things up. There's always a few assholes everywhere, everywhere we've been. There's alvays a few assholes in the audience that fuck things up for everbody cause they just don't use their brains.

Katie: Those are always the people that get remembered too.
Shawn: Exactly. Anyway, we got all this press from leaving Godzilla's and then we put on the Hollywood Palladium Show. That was the big thing. That's got to be the biggest show for independent promoters of local bands only that's ever happened in LA. So we got alot of good press out of it. The only problem was, we didn't have any money so, like I said, unfortunately, it is a very important part. Our wheels were moving full speed ahead and then we lost the money. So we finally scraped up the money and got the album put out two months later which was kind of drag cause we wanted to get it done right after the show. We could have done this tour at the beginning of the summer. I think if we had done this tour at the beginning of the summer it would have gone alot better cause alot more clubs were open at the beginning of the summer.

Katie: Do you think that the lull helps it by pushing it more underground or...
Shawn: Um not really underground, uh cause it's hard to say if it'd even underground anymore. There's so many kids. At the end of the summer it will calm down and in the fall there'll be a few big shows like Dead Kennedy's at the Florentine Gardens which was a big riot scene. We beat the shit out of a all the bouncers cause they were really, really stupid. In LA the bouncers don't even try to stop the kids at big shows cause there's just too many of us. So I think that what happened will be a repeat of last year. San Francisco promoters are moving in and want to do shows in LA which is fine by me cause we don't have much money to do anymore shows anyway. So we'll just let them put up the money for them. After the album came out we set the tour up. It was postponed a few weeks cause we had to get some dates on the east coast. Plus the album was selling really well. We just didn't have time to coordinate everything to the point of where we sent our press stuff out on time and get the publicity we wanted. Like I said, money is just such an important thing when you want to get things done.

Katie: Maybe you should clarify that you want to do things with the money, not sit around and collect it right?
Shawn: We're not talking like you have to make $1000 a show or it's not worth doing it. I'm talking, you need money to be able to do things you want to do, just to break even, cause we do this for the music. That's what we've been doing for 4 or 5 years now and that's the most important thing. When I say money's important, you can't do anything without some money.

Katie: What about the Youth Brigade album?
Shawn: We pressed about 400 copies and we already sold out. We rushed them to put them out before the tour and that was a mistake. You've really got to take your time and so I'm not really happy with it. There's a few songs I want to drop and playing all these shows, we know which songs get the best reactions. Some of the songs on the record were written two years ago and it's just not the same band anymore. When we started it was a six piece and now we are a 3 piece.

Katie: Who was in it when you were a six piece?
Shawn: The band started just as Skinhead Manor was dying and alot of the skinheads from that and guys from Hollywood and Huntington Beach. We had two front guys singing and me and everybody sang. After the summer of '8l, we got it back together with the original guitar player and we went through alot of lineups because of personality differences. When we broke the band up in '81, we got the original guitarist back and played New Years at Godzilla's with the Circle Jerks and Fear. There were 1500 people there and it was a really good show. After a couple of months, the guy left the band cause he was married and it was just too much for his wife. We went to being a three piece and that worked best because we're all brothers and we know how much we argue.

Katie: Do you think that makes Youth Brigade unique and more stable?
Shawn: Well I don't know if it makes us more stable. It does make things easier to work out cause we all have lived together most of our lives and we've always argued and shit but we usually overcome it. We don't have as much of a problem as most bands. I still kinda think sometimes I'd like to get another guitarist in because it is really limiting, singing and playing guitar. You can't really move around alot. You've got to stand there. People say we should move around more on stage but it's kind of hard cause the more you move around, the more mistakes you make. When you're like Social Distortion and you've got two guitarists if you jump up in the air and miss a note, it's not as noticeable. Plus my brothers, they didn't really sing that much before and they have to sing now, and they are not really good singers. I'd like to get someone who can harmonize and stuff. To me, the vocals are one of the most important parts of the band and that's one of the reasons I don't like thrash bands that much. They sing too much what the guitar is playing. If the guitar goes "dah, da da da da dah da" the singer does the same thing. It's just not very creative.

Katie: How Oi influenced do you think you really are?
Shawn: Not that Oi influenced. I mean we like chants and stuff...that influences us but I still don't think we're an Oi band. I'm a skinhead but I don't know why people think we're a skinhead band either cause my brother's got spikey hair. My other brother looks like a fucking smoothie. I think we sound like no one else and I think you could compare it to bands we like and stuff but I don't think you could really give it a label.

Katie: When you named the band Youth Brigade, did you know there was another one 3000 miles away?
Shawn: No I didn't. We found out after cause some guys from DC came and stayed with us. It was like eight months after. The DC kids told us about it. But they broke up right after that. I think we started about the same time, about the end of the summer of '80.

(talk goes on about the tour)

Shawn: The thing about punk is that people are really dedicated. They know all about all the bands and that's really great. I don't know, this NYC thing, this hardcore thing...I mean to me, NY is going to explode the way LA did two years ago. It'll explode within the next year cause it's just like, there's so many cities close by. There's so many kids, it's got the potential to be as big as LA. In LA, you don't just draw on LA, you draw on all of Southern California, which is 1500 square miles or something.

The thing about NY is that it is really narrow minded. That hardcore is the only thing...what's hardcore? Punk is punk and that's all there is to it. Fuck Oi or hardcore. It's like the music has something to say and if you believe in it, that's all that matters. The music is for the kids and it should be played by the kids. That's what rock and roll has always been about. That's what punk is all about. It's music for our generation so we don't have to listen to that rock shit that says party and have a good time, when all the shit around you says it isn't that way. When you look at it, and go to school and stuff and that's what the music is about, that's what is started. You start to get into this whole gossipy bitchy clique thing, this fashion thing or whatever. It just ruins it. It's more fun to just listen to the music, have fun and believe in it. Try to get something out of it, try to educate yourself, try and gain some knowledge cause that's the only way it's gonna change things. Fighting among yourselves and arguing, that gets you nowhere.

Angie: The violence in LA, is it kids fighting eachother?
Shawn: It's really toned down alot.

Katie: I think by the time it gets to this part of the country, the stories get blown out of proportion.
Shawn: Oh yeah, but it was really violent for a while. First it was the hippies to the point that if you were at the Fleetwood and you were a hippie, you just got your ass kicked and then, that's what I'm saying...the narrow mindedness. The original people didn't like the Huntington Beach people but they were all older so they couldn't do much about it. The Huntington Beach people, after they'd been around for a while didn't like the newer kids coming from Southbay or the inland areas. They were getting pissed off about it and they started this whole shit "oh, you're a poseur" and then they'd beat up each other. It's sad. Sure maybe some kid just cut his hair and he doesn't know that much but I mean, it takes balls to cut your hair because no matter how many punks are in LA, people get really jaded cause there are so many punks, they think, "now I'm sick of the punk scene, there's so many new people and I've been here for three years and all these fuckin idiots just cut their hair a fuckin week ago," and to me, it's like every kid who cuts his hair is fuckin great because he lives out twenty, thirty, fourty miles from LA in Buttfuck suburbia and he gets shit for walking down the street and from all his friends. It takes balls to do that. It's not something just any kid can do, you've got to have guts to do that kind of thing. I think it's still true and that's why I support anyone who still does it. I don't care if you have a mohawk or a skin or they've got spikey hair, y'know I'm not...I used to fight all the time too and I'm not gonna say it was cool beating up hippies. We used to do it all the time and I couldn't justify it, we just did it because we used to get beat up by them. We used to get hassled by them, so we took our aggressions out on people, which was really wrong. Most of those hippies we beat up just weren't the ones who gave us shit. Y'know, you've got to lash out and you make stupid mistakes sometimes. It's just narrow mindedness.

What pisses me off is when people are arguing and bickering "LA sucks" and "NY rules." We are all in this together so it's so stupid to fight. I'm not saying Unite. Idealistically, that would be great but it's not going to happen. I don't think you are going to see an end to the violence. If you do, the scene is not going to be the's going to be ruined. That's what makes it really...I can't say great...

Katie: Like walking on a tightrope, it makes it more exciting.
Shawn: Yeah, exactly. That's the chaos aspect of it. It's what makes the whole scene. I mean at a big show in LA there's the thin line between total chaos and order. It's always there and that's what makes it exciting. You're never gonna know when the cops are going to come in and just start busting heads or the kids are going to riot...just run out on the street and start breaking things, which is great. That's the way it should be.

Fighting amongst each other is stupid and I don't think you're going to stop it but at least you can try and smarten people up about it. If you're gonna lash out at something, lash out at the people that dislike you or really give you shit. Not the people who do the same things as you and have the same ideas.

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