Interview: Toxic Reasons
We had no delusions that we could change the world with a rock & roll band but we ALL believed in personal responsibility, social justice, anti racism/fascism, and apathy.
Toxic Reasons blazed a trail in the 1980s and beyond with a string of albums that fused hardcore punk with reggae and melodic elements with brilliant results and the band garnered a cult following because of this. The band have just re-released a selection of their albums (1984’s Kill By Remote Control, 1985’s Within These Walls, 1986’s Bullets For You, 1993’s In The House Of God and 1995’s No Peace In Our Time) that will no doubt take the music of Toxic Reasons to a new generation that will take to their hardcore sounds. Gavin Brown caught up with drummer JJ, who talked us through the reissues in depth and gave us an insight into the past, present and future of Toxic Reasons.
E&D: You have recently reissued a number of your past albums. What led to the albums coming out again?
JJ: Over the years we’ve had sporadic interest in releasing past albums but we’ve never really had the where with all to do it (time, energy, money) not to mention the fact that we didn’t have masters of anything. Steve Beatty from Audio Platter was persistent in his quest to release our back catalogue so I dug around for a way to make it happen. Biafra told me “he had a guy” that could make excellent masters from vinyl records. It was expensive but there was a program that could take out clicks pops and crackles. Then Bruce told me he knew a guy that said he had primo vinyl copies of all our stuff. I contacted him (Danniel C Foote) to get the vinyl to send to Biafra to get to “his guy” to master the stuff. Dan said that HE had the illusive program Jello spoke of and he would be honoured to do it for us. So now we had the way (Dan Foote) and the means (Steve Beatty and Audio Platter) to finally do this fucking thing. So do it we did.
E&D: What has the reaction to the reissues been like so far?
JJ: So far it’s been GREAT. There have been several flattering reviews and I’ve done interviews for German, French, English and Greek magazines. A few online blogs as well. Our Toxics Facebook page has been getting a lot of hits from old school fans, very happy that our stuff is finally available to hear and own. I’ve seen several that have bought ALL 6 releases and a shirt or two as well.
E&D: What are your main memories of recording and releasing each of the albums you’re reissuing?
JJ: My memories of some of the albums were that we never really had the money to spend much time in the studio perfecting the tunes. We basically wrote the stuff, banged it out jamming a while and then quick as snot, recorded them and put the stuff out. If I could go back in time I would spend more time rehearsing and perfecting the songs before we jumped in the studio. A lot of times the tour after releasing the songs we would have played them a shit ton on the road and developed the songs to be way better than the albums. We were MUCH more of a touring LIVE band than a studio pro band.
E&D: Could you give us a few recollections about each of the albums, starting with Kill By Remote Control?
JJ: This was our FIRST album without Ed. (No LEAD singer? WTF?! ). For me, this is when we REALLY became a BAND. We were ALL equals and we all put our heads together to make what some would say our BEST album.
E&D: Within These Walls?
JJ: This was our Sgt. Peppers. We tried things that were not common for a punk rock band. We wanted to spread our creative wings as it were to see what we could do. At the time, it wasn’t fully received with open arms but time has been good for this one. Getting a lot of feedback from fans that have revisited the album and NOW realised how good it was. A lot of it was driven by Rob Lucjak’s creativity and taste in musics.
E&D: Bullets For You?
JJ: This was a bittersweet time, Rob was leaving the band and Terry Howe (ex Zero Boys) was joining the band. Mark Cutsinger (from Zero Boys) and who also played with Toxics (when I left the band) joined us in the studio and played on the song ‘It’s a Lie’ Paul Mahern, also a Zero Boy, produced (if I remember correctly). I remember this recording as a bunch of friends having a blast banging out some tunes.
E&D: In The House Of God?
JJ: This was the first recording with me back in the band (after a brief sabbatical). It was great to rock with my brothers again. Honed to the core of the band (just Tufty Bruce and I) and I think it was us in our purest form.
E&D: No Peace In Our Time?
JJ: I think this is Tufty, Bruce and I at our finest together. We put the songs together, together and we let each one of our strengths shine through. And we did a little experimenting as well. (Bruce’s German lyrics ‘Die Kristallnacht’) Tufty brought in a First Nation buddy of his and we collaborated. A native chant and our music in the background with wah taku way a son. (Hard to actually come up with a spelling from an unwritten language) but it was awesome. He blessed and cleansed us (and the studio) with burning sage and chants and away we went.
E&D: How do you feel that the music and lyrics of Toxic Reasons evolved over the duration of those five albums?
JJ: We had no delusions that we could change the world with a rock & roll band but we ALL believed in personal responsibility, social justice, anti racism/fascism, and apathy. Traveling around the world, playing all those shows, we were always meeting and working with people of like minds. it naturally lead us to believe that why couldn’t, if all of us that felt the same way about important issues, that if we put our heads together and try, we could make some sort of tangible change. Naive as it may sound.
E&D: Was it always crucial to have that melodic element and reggae influence on certain aspects of your music?
JJ: Reflected by bands like the Clash, punk rock and reggae just seemed to blend together well. We were first and foremost, musicians and we liked to make the songs entertain US. With Tufty’s incredible bass lines, it was hard for the songs to NOT have the melodic elements that they did. For example ‘Third World America’ started with us jamming in Tufty’s basement, he came up with that bass line, Bruce and I played along throwing out vocal ideas and it just came together as a kinda ska flavoured tune, but really Ed Pitman was the conduit to the reggae influence in our band. He planted the seed in us and we carried on with it in songs like ‘The Guns of September’. We currently do a version of The Ruts song ‘Jah War’, just for a creative twist (and because it fits) I throw in vocal lines from ‘Guns Of September’ into it. It seems to go over well.
E&D: Can you tell us a bit about the God Bless America compilation you’ve released alongside the reissues?
JJ: Simply because so much of our past recordings were going to be released at the same time. Expecting people to buy them all was a little overwhelming, so Steve Beatty (from Audio Platter) and I figured that (for some of the punters) really might JUST want a TASTE of all the stuff. A sampler/compilation, greatest hits kinda thing seemed to be in order and would go over well. I had been recording some songs (for a solo project) also, Bruce and I had gotten together and started working on and recording the song that would end up being ‘Unholy War’. Since we were going to be doing THIS audio platter release, I asked the other guys to come in the studio and add their OWN parts to these songs and VOILA! Two new “previously unreleased” songs ‘A.G.R.O’ and ‘Unholy War’.
E&D: Are there plans for a brand new Toxic Reasons album?
JJ: We love playing together, we love writing songs. So you never know
E&D: You’re finally playing at Rebellion festival next year after being booked for the cancelled 2020 event. You must be looking forward to that one?
JJ: That show is a blast. It’s just so many great bands under one roof at one time. It does kinda ruin the chances for well attended shows anywhere near that place and time but it’s a fuckin’ blast and it gets a shit ton of fuckers out to shows that might not normally get their shit together enough to get out to attend a show.
E&D: Have you got more tour plans for next year as well?
JJ: Yeah, we’re going to spend a few weeks over in Europe this time. We wanted to in 2018 but with work and other commitments we couldn’t get it together. We ALL know what happened to 2020 so this time we weren’t fuckin’ around! We want to play as many shows as we can. A couple few festivals and a gang of club dates. Also working on a west coast tour.
E&D: What have been some of the most memorable gigs that Toxic Reasons have ever played?
JJ: AJZ in Bielefeld stands out for me. The 100 Club in London, opening for The Ramones a few times. CBGB’s with Bad Brains, countless shows with The Dead Kennedys, shows put on by Nick Toczec and Ginger John (The doomsday commando) were always GREAT. Omaha Nebraska, Tübingen Germany, Leon Cavalo in Milano, Tommy Weisbecker House (Squat) in Berlin…. some of the best days of my life.
E&D: What led to the band getting back together after such a long hiatus?
JJ: We did a thing with Ed some years back, playing ‘Independence’ in its entirety and it just got us thinking about going out and doing some shows. Ed wasn’t interested in going to Europe and the rest of us were ALL about going back to Europe so that kinda took Ed out of the mix. We are all just really good friends and we enjoy playing together so why the fuck not eh?
E&D: Did you feel that you had unfinished business with Toxic Reasons?
JJ: Myself? I don’t feel like it’s unfinished business per say but I don’t feel like I’m quite done having fun yet and I believe my brothers in arms feel the same way.
E&D: Does it feel inspiring to still be doing this forty years after Toxic Reasons first started?
JJ: I can’t get my head around the fact that Independence came out fuckin’ 40 years ago. It just blows me away. Time is a crazy thing, but we still have it in us and there are still people out there that want to hear us, so, as much as we can, we’re gonna play
E&D: How did you first discover and get into punk rock in the first place?
JJ: My introduction was going to a DOA hall show in Vancouver. Shithead, Biscuits and Rampage changed my fuckin’ life! Ed, Bruce and the boys had a similar experience with DOA in Dayton Ohio. So we were destined to hook up together.
E&D: What was the punk and hardcore scene in Dayton, Ohio like when Toxic Reasons first started out?
JJ: There was only a few bands of note in Dayton when I first started with Toxics. Dementia Precox, The Delinquents, Adherence, and The Dates are a few I can think of. Hell even less bands when Toxics FIRST started. Dayton was like many Midwest towns back then. Factory closings, jobs drying up and RONALD REAGAN led to a small and vocal, tight knit community of punks and new wavers that liked to get crazy.
E&D: What are your main memories of those times?
JJ: Packed hall shows at Brookwood Hall.
E&D: What is it like today and are there bands you could recommend?
JJ: I don’t know much of what goes on in Dayton for some time now but we have some buddies, The Luxury Pushers, that still play some shows out and about.
E&D: What bands did you and still do love sharing bills with both past and present?
JJ: KGB (from Germany) truly our BEST friends and great touring buddies, UK Subs was one of my most favourite and inspiring shows. Articles of Faith were great buds. One time label mates and good friends Personality Crisis and as I said before, opening for the Ramones a few times was fucking great. The Dicks and MDC were always good fun.
E&D: What would you choose as your essential hardcore albums of all time?
JJ: Nevermind The Bollocks, DOA’s Something Better Change and Hardcore 81. Clash first album, Dead Kennedys’ Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables. Circle Jerks’ Wild In The Streets, Black Flag’ Jealous Again. TR Independence and KBRC (if I can toot my own horn).
E&D: What have been some of your greatest memories of Toxic Reasons over the years?
JJ: One of my FIRST memories with Toxic Reasons was going to play my first show in the states with them in the summer of 81, San Francisco opening for The Kennedys at the Mabuhay Gardens. I was in the back of the van, right next to Bruce and we squeezed up to look out the windows when we were crossing The Bay Bridge from Oakland into SF. We thought we were on the Golden Gate Bridge and it must have been getting painted because it was grey. we we’re coming to when the bridge goes on treasure island and then we get the first view of the city! We see the trans America pyramid and Bruce and I look at each other and at the same time say “holy fuck”. I dunno THAT just stuck in my head. It was the beginning of my adventure with them. Originally the plan was, I was JUST gonna play the 4 shows they had booked in California then go back to Vancouver. they would go back to Ohio and regroup. Mark Patterson (the original Toxics drummer) had quit the band in my hometown of Vancouver and that led to DOA telling Toxics of their 16 year old roadie, who could play the drums pretty good, might be able to fill in. The shows were with Dead Kennedys in SF, TSOL in LA, then back to SF for two more shows. Opening for Black Flag, then a final show opening for Flipper. After those 4 AMAZING shows I asked if I could remain in the band. I guess I did alright, cuz they let me stay. Recording the Ghost Town single (with East Bay Ray producing) sticks out in my memory. Playing (and hanging out) with The Ramones was definitely a highlight of my career. Our Bass player (before Tufty) Greg Stout was buddies with Arturo Vega so we had an “in” with the Ramones boys. Getting to see the world and playing with a shit ton of cool bands (too many to list). I was a very lucky 16 year old kid drummer to hook up with these guys. My Band Of Brothers.