PUNK FLASHBACK – The Crowd
With the recent unveiling of this year’s Warped Tour line-up, old school punk is again in the air as California legends The Adolescents, The Dickies and T.S.O.L are heading out with bands that weren’t even born when they put California punk on the map in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. Inspired by the music coming out of New York and the UK, something happened to punk when it reached the Pacific Ocean.
One of the pioneering bands from California punk’s formative years, The Crowd, never really went away and their new record, Surf Ghetto Riot, proves they never will.
I first met guitarist Jim Kaa while training as a restaurant manager for a company in Hawaii. His chilled-out approach to life meant he wasn’t the sort to brag about his band and it was several years later before I connected the dots and realized how important The Crowd were to punk’s launch in California.
Appearing on several legendary Posh Boy compilations in the late 1970s, The Crowd seemed poised to be one of the first bands to lay claim to the surf punk throne. Comfortable within their California scene, they put out several killer records and have managed to maintain their surf punk spirit as they’ve navigated the whole “growing up” thing.
With a new album out and a spot at Las Vegas’ Punk Rock Bowling (supporting The Vandals) in the near future, it seemed like a perfect time to reach out to my old boss in the food business and talk punk.
The Crowd have a new compilation out titled Surf Ghetto Riot. What inspired you to put it together and did it stir up any new memories going through the older songs?
It was actually Rick from Hostage Records’ idea. Rick wanted us to do a new record, but we weren’t quite ready to do that. So he suggested taking some unreleased songs and combining those with singles, B-sides, tracks off of compilations & other rarities for a vinyl release. That was less than a year ago and the vinyl & CD are out!
The early Posh Boy punk comps were highly influential on the emerging California punk scene and remain treasured records today. How did you relationship with Posh Boy come about?
He saw us at the Woodsound in Monrovia with the Flyboys or Flyboys & Go-Go’s in what was probably 1978/79. Robbie quickly picked up on the energy and how many kids from beach suburbs were driving to see a local band. He was quick to capitalize on the burgeoning Huntington Beach punk scene. He actually came to a house party at Jim & Jay’s parent’s house in Huntington Beach one night. When we talked later that evening, he tossed out a Simpletones single and offered to release one for us. We actually never made a single; the 5 songs we recorded became our songs on the seminal Beach Blvd compilation.
I don’t begrudge people making a buck, as long as they are paying the musicians, photographers and other artist whose work might be used
While rooted in punk, a lot of The Crowd’s songs reflect a wider range of influence. Who were some of the bands influencing you from outside of punk?
I was a teenager in the 1970’s, so I was into music before the Pistols/Damned/Ramones era happened. Some of my favorite bands are Mott the Hoople, Roxy Music, Be Bop Deluxe, Thin Lizzy and early Queen. So guitar-based hard/glam rock was my thing. It’s hard for me to speak for the other guys, but David Bowie, The Stones, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper amongst others were all in heavy rotation
Having grown up on a lot of Eric Clapton, I especially love the cover of “For Your Love” from the Yardbirds. How did that cover come about given how distant they were from punk?
We have done a variety of covers versions over the years, but at one time “For Your Love” was a staple in our live set. It’s a cool straight rock song that you can amp up to Crowd-level speed and intensity. This version is an outtake from the Letter Bomb sessions and was only used for one of the videos on the original CD+ release. While this will sound totally Spicoli of me, the chicks really dig this song!
As one of the pioneers in the movement, how did it feel when California punk became a pop culture commodity in the 1990’s?
I really didn’t give it much thought. I don’t begrudge people making a buck, as long as they are paying the musicians, photographers and other artist whose work might be used. It was all DIY when we started and if you wanted a studded belt or wristband, you had to buy them from the gay guy at the bondage store in Hollywood. So I guess that taught us to be resourceful and work with you had.
Listening to the punk happening in So Cal during the late 70’s, it ranged from your colorful, fun aesthetic to some pretty aggressive hardcore music. At the time, did the scene coalesce around the spirit of punk or were there tensions between bands?
First of all, it was an amazing time and scene to be part of, both in Huntington Beach and all over LA/OC. But it changed over time as all things do. When we first started doing shows it was not uncommon to have hardcore, pop-punk, roots or arty style bands all on the same shows. It was cool to be different, I mean the whole idea is not to conform right? But a couple of years later it was a hardcore show or a roots show or whatever.
There wasn’t much tension between bands, at least not for me. It was more like high school rivalries if anything. I’ve been friends with the guys in TSOL and The Adolescents for almost 40 years.
Ramones or Sex Pistols?
Very very tough! I will go Sex Pistols!
In London, punk shifted into post-punk almost as quickly as the Sex Pistols imploded, while punk has remained firmly entrenched in the California music vernacular. What is it about California that keeps the punk ethos burning so strongly?
I think it is driven by lifestyle in California. Playing fast intense music produces a buzz like surfing or skating – different, but it’s a major adrenalin buzz. So it’s a perfect companion to the surfers, skaters and motocross riders to get that aggression out!
What is the most memorable gig for The Crowd and why?
We opened for Stiff Little Fingers on September 12, 2001, the day after the 9/11 attacks. It was at the Galaxy (now Observatory) in Santa Ana, CA. There were only two bands and it was packed because the SLF show in LA was cancelled the night before. From the first chords it was just the best vibe ever. The feeling in the room was both pride and defiance – “we are going to have our punk show and fuck off terrorists!” Of course SLF just brought house down. There have been some special ones, but this one was like no other.
Who are some of the bands you’re listening to in 2017?
Actually been listening to the new TSOL which is great, but last year was listening the Dimestore Halos, Bob Mould (Sugar & Husker Du too!) and actually a bunch of Crowd songs putting Surf Ghetto Riot together.