Jack Grisham is a punk rock legend. He fronted the original incarnation of T.S.O.L., Cathedral of Tears and The Joykiller, and has been a consistent badass for going on four decades. With T.S.O.L.’s first album, Dance With Me, up for consideration for the Punk Rock Canon, I thought it would be a good time to run a classic Grisham interview from Life in a Bungalo fanzine.

This was conducted on October 28, 1996 on St. Mark’s Place after a Joykiller show at Coney Island High. I think I was 17 when I interviewed Jack and I had never heard an actual T.S.O.L. album, because the band’s early records weren’t re-issued until later that year. I can’t believe I had the balls to ask him how broke he is and  I’m shocked he didn’t punch me in the face, end the interview and walk off. 

I shot the photo above on June 2, 2011 at a T.S.O.L. show at Asbury Lanes. 

George: What have you been doing since T.S.O.L.?

Grisham: I did a lot of stuff, but I kinda snapped. You see, a lot of people don’t know this, and I’ve got to keep saying this. I quit T.S.O.L. in 1983. Let’s just get that straight. Before the poofy hair business, and the “Alriiiight” (standard glam rock whine). God bless them. I love them, nothing against them, but I had no poofy hair. I went the complete other way. I went totally loungy. I started dressing like a chick — wearing tube tops, you know like total lounge music. This was like in ‘83-’84. Super cheese lounge stuff. I just wanted to get away from anything that had to do with punk rock. Just fucking leave me alone.

Homeless Guy: Don’t hit me. Don’t hit me. Can I have a cigarette?

Grisham: I don’t have one.

Homeless Guy: Don’t fuck with me man. I’m drunk. Don’t fuck with me. My mom boy. I be drunk with my mom. You motherfuckers come around here, and you can’t give a guy a smoke. I’ll fuck you up.

Grisham: This is what I’m talking about. After a while, it just gets a little nuts. After T.S.O.L., I drank a lot. I spent a lot of time drinking. And the more I drank the worse the music got. If someone wanted me to put out a record I’d do one.

George: Were you in a band?

Grisham: I was in this band called Cathedral of Tears and another one called Tender Fury.

George: Cathedral of Tears? And you weren’t a poofy hair band?

Grisham: No, it was like total chick rock. It was like synthesizers and all sorts of shit like that.

George: How did The Joykiller get together?

Grisham: At the time, I had a daughter, I was broke and I was living with my mom. I got teeth pulled ’cause I couldn’t get them fixed. That’s how broke I was. So I thought, “I’ll just go do what they tell me to do.” I was hooked up with this major label, and they were giving me a lot of money, and I was playing the stuff that they wanted me to play — It was making me sick. It mentally fucking destroyed me. I got to the point where I was just going to kill myself. I had just kissed so much ass that I couldn’t take it no more.

I was telling my friend Ronnie, “I feel fucking drained. I’m gonna kill myself, I don’t know what the fuck I’m going to do.” We went to this psychic and the guy went to do my reading and he goes, “You’re in trouble. You’re being sucked dry man.” What the fuck, I just said that, right. The next day, I called everyone up on the phone — I called my manager up and said, “You’re fired.” I called the record company up and said, “Sue me, I don’t care.” I just wanted to make a band for fun. Just play in a garage and have fun. That band became The Joykiller.

Some man tells us to get off his stoop.

Grisham: It doesn’t say don’t sit on the steps. Where I live it’s the same type of thing; I’m always chasing people out of the bushes — out in front of my house and shit. Anyway, this band just started in a garage for fun. Then Epitaph heard a tape of it and said, “Hey, do you want to make a record?”

Homeless Guy: Damn I want that cigarette, now you went and put your foot on it.

Grisham: No, it’s still good man.

Homeless Guy: I know it’s good that’s why I can’t have it. You probably spit on it.

Grisham: I didn’t spit on it.

Homeless Guy: No keep it, keep it.

Grisham: I don’t smoke; it’s a lit cigarette.

Homeless Guy: Aaarrgghh… He was a black man. No matter how fucked up he was. Officer, take me away… to the police station.

George: Who’s in the band and how old are you guys?

Grisham: Old. Billy Persons plays bass; Sean Greaves plays guitar; Ronnie King plays piano; I sing; and our drummer, Steve, isn’t with us on this tour — I don’t know what his deal is… what’s going on.

George: What happened to your old drummer?

Grisham: He quit. We had a little fistfight on the freeway, on the last tour. So it kinda got bad.

George: What have you been up to touring wise?

Grisham: We’ve toured with Pennywise, SNFU, The Goops, Sponge…

George: How was the Sponge tour?

Grisham: Sponge and Stabbing Westward. That’s what we just got off of. That was weird.

George: Why? Stabbing Westward is a weird keyboard band.

Grisham: Yeah right. That’s like saying ABBA’s a cool guitar band. See the singer of Sponge likes us. So they said, “Hey do you wanna go on tour with us?” It was really weird. Some nights went well, but some didn’t. Some nights the crowd were just like, “Fuck you, get Sponge on.”

George: How do you release albums this quickly when you’re on tour all the time?

Grisham: We’re ready to go do another one right now. It could be a lot quicker, because it only takes a couple of days to write them. I’m in the car all the time, so I’m running shit through my head. Basically, once I get home, I’m just like here’s that one, and that one. If it comes out fast then you know it was meant to be. And if it’s work, then it’s not. Then I go to a hotel room for a day and write all the words, and then go record them the next week. We book time in the studio before we even have the songs written. I’ll call up the recording studio, and be like “We want to come in next month.” And they’ll be like, “Do you have the record ready?” I’ll be like, “Yeah.” And I’ll lie. Then we’ll write songs because we have to write them first.

George: On some songs, do you just write non-sensible lyrics?

Grisham: Yeah, yeah. There are some songs on the record where the words aren’t finished. If you ever listen on the new record, there’s this song called “Get Started” and I don’t ever say “get started” on the record, because I could never think of a word to fucking go there. After the album was recorded and ready to be mixed, I was like “Oh, get started.” You can’t tell, people mumble when they sing anyway.

George: Where did you get your name?

Grisham: I had this old 1930s book, and it described husband and wife relationships, and there were all these names for a wife. There was the nag, wet blanket, joykiller. I just liked the sound of it. To me, it’s the guy who ruins the party.

George: In the liner notes, you list the fuzzbox as an actual instrument being played by Ronnie King. Is there a reason for that?

Grisham: It’s technically a distortion pedal. The reason why we need it… Do you want to know? I mean if you think it’s cool or not it doesn’t really matter.

George: Sure, why not.

Grisham: We use it like two guitars. So we take the strings and the synthesizer and run them through the fuzzbox. So it sounds like another guitar, but with the piano you can play weirder, bigger chords and you can do bigger movements that you can’t do with a guitar.

George: I guess that answers my next question — why the keyboards?

Grisham: I like the keyboards. I like the piano — it’s a cool instrument and not that many people use it.

George: Do you play?

Grisham: Yeah, a little bit at home. So you don’t see that many bands with it…

George: Stabbing Westward.

Grisham: Yeah, well that’s… yeah. See I tell you something and then you hold it against me. What I meant is that you don’t see that many bands like us. If you look back at like Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and shit they fucking ripped on a piano. It was a cool thing.

George: What do you think of all these bands making comebacks now.

Grisham: I disagree with it. I got offered a lot of money. I did a bunch of T.S.O.L. reunion shows — this was like back in ‘89. Just a couple of shows, and it was before this whole punk rock thing blew up, like the Offspring or Green Day. In fact, the Offspring opened for as at one of those shows. They were like the first to play that night out of six fucking bands. I did it because I needed the money, but I have a hard time with these bands that get back together and it’s like fuck man.

George: And there are so many of them.

Grisham: There’s the Misfits…

George: I saw their show.

Grisham: Without Danzig?

George: I thought they were pretty good.

Grisham: But they’re not the Misfits.

George: It’s kind of weird seeing these three giant guys and this little punk rocker on stage, but they’re still pretty cool.

Grisham: Well, Danzig’s little too.

George: No, I meant that the other guys were like bodybuilder big.

Grisham: I could have reunited T.S.O.L. and I could have been making a lot of money back at home. Not so much out here (New York). What those guys did with the hair band (the other T.S.O.L.). Back at home [the fans] know that I quit the band. The early T.S.O.L. has a good reputation out there. I could have done that, but I love playing with this band and I love this kind of music. Broke or not.

George: Are you still broke?

Grisham: I’m very broke.

George: Epitaph doesn’t pay that well?

Grisham: They don’t pay us. It’s all shows — well last night I made a dollar. After everyone got paid, after expenses — the van rental, the fucking trailer, feeding the seven guys that are with us, paying the booking agent for booking the tour, doing all that trip — we had five dollars to split between five guys.

George: Don’t you get any money for your records?

Grisham: I get money from the records, but you have to pay back for the studio. You get a dollar a record, and let’s say you spent fifty thousand dollars on advertisement — the record, the producer and whatever — you have to sell at least fifty thousand records before you break even. That’s a lot of records. It’s not like people think.

Actually, I got into a fight with this kid because he was passing out flyers at a show calling us Epitaph Fat Cats. I fucking snapped. I get twenty dollars a day for food. If I don’t spend that whole twenty dollars, then I can save it for the next day. I can put away ten bucks every day, or whatever. I snapped at this kid, and he wrote this letter saying these guys are Epitaph “Fat Cats,” and they’re making all this money; boycott the show. This little fucker makes more in a six-hour shift at Burger King than I make in 24 hours riding in that fucking van all day. I’ve got a wife and a kid and I get off of these fucking tours with nothing. It’s kind of hard.

George: How old is your kid?

Grisham: She’s going to be nine in October. Being away from her and my wife is hard and I wanted to beat this fucking kids teeth out. I made him get down on his hands and knees and cry in front of his friends, and he’s calling me sir and sir. I wanted to knock his fucking teeth out.

George: Do you think it’s more fun then or now?

Grisham: Then. I’m older now. Then you didn’t give a shit. I’d be on tour and I’d be living in my mom’s house and it would be like, “We’re going on tour, see ya.” You take off, and you’re drinking, you’re sleeping with anybody you want, you’re stealing and you’re basically being a fuckhole. Now it’s morals and a conscious. I’m not living at my mom’s any more. Though there are times that are really fun.

George: Are you psyched that Slayer covered one of your songs?

Grisham: Do you like Slayer?

George: I never liked Slayer.

Grisham: I don’t listen to it either, but they are my favorite band. I heard the cover and I’m stoked that they did it because I’ll get money. That’s the joke. I’ve sold most of the rights — I gave away almost everything. I didn’t sell anything — I gave it away, and we all got a share. Slayer is gonna make some money, and I’ll make a couple of grand. So for me, I’m stoked. It’s nice, because it’s gonna feed my daughter for a while. That’s why they’re my favorite band.

George: Did you get a lot of girls back when you were in T.S.O.L.?

Grisham: Yeah. They would come screaming at us and I was pretty fucked up at the time. Sometimes I would sleep with like five or six a day.

George: T.S.O.L. was that big?

Grisham: A lot of these people talk about Black Flag and the Circle Jerks, but at the time, T.S.O.L. was the biggest punk band in Los Angeles. We were selling out the Palladium — five thousand people a night. That’s a lot of people.

George: Are releasing old T.S.O.L. stuff on Epitaph?

Grisham: Brett bought just Dance With Me.

We get yelled at again for sitting on the stoop

George: Would you want to kill us if we were sitting on your steps?

Grisham: Yeah, I’d come out pissed. It has basically stopped because most people know where I live now.

George: Is it because you’re in the Joykiller or do they just like your house?

Grisham: I live in downtown Huntington Beach and right outside my house is Main Street, where all the bars are. Everybody goes and gets fucked up and they park in our neighborhood. I come out and there are people pissing and shitting in the bushes. I just go out there with my golf club and my pajamas yelling, “Motherfuckers.”

George: Where does The Joykiller go from here?

Grisham: We are going to do another record.

George: You’re up there now with one every year, it’s pretty impressive.

Grisham: We could basically put a record out every six months and they would still be good records. But the record label doesn’t like that because they want the current album to sell. If the current album sells really well then they don’t want you to put out another record for the next three to four years. When did that Offspring record come out? 1993? And they’re just now working on the new record. Social Distortion is the same way.

George: That new Social Distortion record [White Light, White Heat, White Trash] is a great album.

Grisham: I still haven’t heard too much of it. I gave Mike Ness a little scare before we came here. Him and a buddy of mine were in this cigar store buying cigars and I came up behind them, and grabbed them both my the back of their necks and said, “Drop it, now.” They panicked and thought I was a cop or something.

George: No, you’re the lead singer of the Joykiller.

Grisham: Yes I am.