Jess Margera is the drummer of CKY (formerly "Camp Kill Yourself"), a buzzy new-fangled grungey-ish melodic heavy metal skater band that you may know from their early skateboarding videos or MTV's Jackass, which starred Jess's professional skateboarder brother Bam. I'm pretty fond of CKY's second official CD, Infiltrate Destroy Rebuild (especially the weird electronic-sounding guitar tone), so I was darned happy when Jess agreed to a telephone interview one windy eve in November. My questions are in bold; his answers are in skinny.
Hey, what's up?
Hey, how you doin'?
How you doin', Mark?
Good! Where are you now?
I'm in California.
What are you doing these days? Are you rehearsing new songs?
Yeah, we're working on new material for a new record.
Any idea when it might be out? Or when you might start recording it?
As soon as we come back from Europe, we're gonna start working on some songs, but I don't know - we definitely take our time with it and make sure it's perfect.
Do the songs so far seem like a continuation of the last record?
Oh, not at all. I was kinda afraid that we'd kinda tread old ground, but the two songs that we just demoed are crazy. Deron's definitely into writing some different style riffs for each record. I think there's a big leap between Volume 1 and IDR. But yeah, I was really interested in seeing where he would take the guitar riffs with this new stuff, and he's really going out on a limb. There's even some mellow parts during the songs that are definitely a departure from what he's done in the past.
Are the guitar lines more complicated?
Yeah. He's got a knack for writing complicated riffs that are catchy. That's twice as hard to do - anybody can go out and spend a lot of time on some math-rock, but this guy - that's pretty much the reason I joined this band is just because I've never seen anybody play guitar like Deron.
Oh! Have all the band members always pretty much supported what he's done? Have you always followed the same sort of -
Definitely. Well, Chad's a great producer and he's an awesome guitar player as well, but Deron usually writes most of the riffs, if not all of them. I was ready to go do the college thing or whatever until I heard Deron play guitar.
Really? You were gonna go to college and that was like -
I was pretty much ready to go do the whole college thing, yeah. But I knew that, as soon as I heard him write crazy riffs like that, I'd never heard anybody play like that before, so that's why I joined the band personally.
That sound on - see, I still don't have either Volume 1 or Volume 2. I just have Infiltrate Destroy Rebuild, which I just love. I need to - I'm gonna get the other ones shortly. What has the progression been? You said that Infiltrate Destroy Rebuild is a lot different from Volume 1?
Yeah. I love Volume 1, but it's definitely a lot darker and a lot more raw. We just went in and pounded some songs out, and I just like it because back then nobody knew who we were, so we didn't have to prove anything. Well, we had to prove ourselves actually, but we didn't have fans awaiting a new record with any expectations. We just had to go out and make an album and prove to the world that we could make the sickest rock record, you know?
Yeah. What is that weird fuzzy tone all over Infiltrate Destroy Rebuild? Is that a guitar tone? Or is that the moog stuff?
Yeah, those guys definitely run their guitars through some crazy pedals and stuff, and I think that's -
It sounds like nothing I've ever heard!
I know, I know! I love it.
I couldn't tell if like - I was watching the videos going, "Okay well, they don't SHOW any keyboards. Is that the guitar making that noise?" It sounds really good.
Yeah. There are some moog and stuff here and there, but the guitar sound is definitely messed with a lot.
Do you feel like you yourself have a drumming style that you could describe how it's different than other drummers that you've heard? Do you go into it with a certain outlook or play in a certain way?
My job is pretty much to match the riff as much as possible. Like Deron will write a riff with some complex timing. I think that just adds a whole new style to what I do, versus a lot of drummers who just play 4/4 beats or whatever. Like the beat on "Escape From Hellview" and stuff like that - it definitely took a while to hear the riff and match it up as best as I could.
I know that you guys have a really strange, big collection of fans. I was reading in one interview where you were talking about they were kind of threatening Island if they didn't put out the record. Did that develop from the original videos you guys were making? Or from the first album? Or -
I think it has a lot to do with the kids getting really wrapped up in what we're doing, especially because we do have the videos as well as the band, so it's just a big multime-ta - media en-ti-ty, you know? Ah, that's a tongue-twister! But definitely I think that there's just so much stuff out there, and we have this whole CKY crew and the band and everything. I think they get really involved in it, and that's why they're so into it. Like you said about the Island thing, for a while there was a rumor circulating - they kept pushing back the release date of IDR until eventually it somehow got out on the Internet, "Oh, it's not gonna come out!" I guess some kid just started something.
And that's when they went completely apeshit and they were about to burn the place down. They were about to go to New York and throw bricks through the window and do whatever it took. And we had to kinda talk `em out of it! It's just funny to know that if we ever get double-crossed, our fans will probably take matters into their own hands.
Do you get huge audiences everywhere you go? Or are there just certain pockets of areas where it's this huge cult kind of thing?
Yeah, well I couldn't believe it - we just booked a tour in Europe, and the venues sold out in hours. And then we had to upgrade to bigger places, and then they sold out as well. We're doing like 2,000-2,500 seaters in England and Scotland, you know? And it's funny because our records are really hard to find over there and we've never played there before.
Wow! Do they know about you through the TV show? Or is it a word of mouth thing or -
I think it's a combination, because those skate videos get everywhere. I went to Iceland in 1999, and all the kids knew me in the town square. When I walked through, they were like, "Oh my God!" So it's pretty amazing how far those videos get. I'm just assuming that it's probably the skate videos and a little bit of MTV Europe has been playing some of our stuff.
Do you still skate?
I skate a little bit. I used to be pretty into it - I got sponsored and stuff. But now the band takes up all my time, so yeah, I'll go out and skate for fun here and there. But it's funny when I go out and skate with Kerry Getz and Arto Saari and Bam and everybody. They're all pros, and it's ridiculous - I can't keep up with them at all! I feel like I'm golfing with Tiger Woods or something.
(voices on other end of phone)
Is that someone you have to talk to?
Nah, I'm in the car right now and we're gonna go grab some food. I'm on the cell phone though; I can bring it in.
Oh okay. And you put out a video album this year? Or Island did?
Yeah, it's coming out this week. The 18th. It's a video for every single song on Infiltrate.
Are they all kinda the same video or are they different? I mean, are they all filmed in the same kind of places, or -
We filmed them over about the course of a year and a half. Bam directed all the videos, and they're all insane. You won't believe your eyes.
I've only seen the two that are on the enhanced CD.
Oh yeah, yeah. Well, the one for "Inhuman Creation Station" is all animation. It's great, man. I didn't know what to expect, but it looks better than Nightmare Before Christmas.
Wow! Who did it?
It's this guy Dave Dineme (sp?) out of Philly. And he did it for like - it looks like we spent about $300,000 just making that one video, but this guy just wants to make a name for himself, so he did it for cheap. In his basement, with a dirt floor.
Yeah. And it looks like we went to the biggest studio and had the best stop-animators do it for us, but this guy just went all out, you know? Like it was his baby. He worked on it every day for 17 hours a day, with him and a crew of about four or five people, for a month and a half straight. That's how long it took.
Wow! That's dedication.
Yeah, definitely. I mean, with stop-animation, it takes a whole day to get about ten seconds.
Oh man. And what's this - it says "Plus a lot more from the CKY vaults"?
Yeah, there's also a bonus disc on the first disc. It's tons of behind-the-scenes footage and backstage and tour stuff, and a whole bunch of stuff like that. It's pretty much a CKY diehard's dream - all the footage you could ever ask for.
From the different interviews I was reading on the Internet with the different members of the band, and also from watching the videos on the enhanced CD part, it seems like you've got four pretty strong personalities in the band. Are there ever issues with you not getting along, or is it the kind of thing where you all have SIMILAR strong personalities?
Yeah, that's the weirdest thing about it. Especially with all our musical instruments being so diverse and just our personalities being totally different, you'd think it would never work out, but somehow it does. It's pretty funny. But yeah definitely. Deron's kinda like the mad reclusive genius, I think. And Chad's like the real outspoken maniac.
Yeah! That's how he seemed to be in the interviews and videos, throwing the guitar around his body and everything.
He's nuts, dude. He's definitely got a lot to say. A lot of interviewers are like, "Oh my God! What do I do with this guy?" But yeah, and then me and Vern are kinda the mediator mellow guys that keep the maniacs at bay. And -
Do you - Oh sorry.
Oh, that's cool. I was kinda done.
Oh okay. I was just gonna say, as someone who has a - , well I have an older brother; I don't know which of you or Bam is older. But I was just wondering if that's ever tough, working with your sibling. Because you seem to do a lot with him.
Yeah definitely. It's definitely stressful, but I just like what he does, so I couldn't ask for any more. I've seen the music videos he's done for us, and he did some for a couple other bands like - That's the coolest part; he only works with the bands he likes. He just did a video with us. He's really into this band from Finland called HIM and this band from Norway called Turbonegro.
Oh yeah, I like them too.
Yeah, they're awesome.
I haven't heard of that first band you mentioned, but I like Turbonegro.
Yeah, well -
Who was the first band? HIM?
Yeah, some band from Finland that he's really into. I'm just so psyched, you know, he got offers from Green Day and Sum 41, and he turned `em all down, you know? They were gonna pay him ridiculous money to do a video for them, but he's only interested in working with bands that he's really into.
That's really cool!
What is he doing now? Is that mainly what he's doing now? Doing video-type stuff? And skating?
Hold on one second.
(to somebody else): If you could get me like one of those Value Meals. Yeah yeah, that's fine. Thanks, man.
(to me): Sorry, what was the last question?
Well, I was asking about him, but I'm getting off the topic here.
I know I saw quite a bit of your parents in the Jackass video. Do they like your music at all?
Yeah, definitely. Phil has never bought an album - he's like 46 or 47 years old, and he's been listening to Elvis. That's all he's ever bought. He's got every single Elvis record. Ever since the `50s or `60s or whatever, when he got into them, that's all he's ever bought. So it's just cool that he's like, "CKY and Elvis - that's all I ever listen to!" There's even a couple of shows where he comes down and he introduces us to the audience. "I'm telling you, this is the best fuckin' band since Elvis died!"
And our fans would go apeshit, you know? They're like, "ARRRR!!" It's so funny.
Is he a stepfather?
Nah, we just call him Phil. He's more of like our buddy than our Dad.
Oh okay. Alright. How long have you been playing the drums?
I think my first band was like '91, '92.
How old were you at that point?
Seventh, eighth grade, so like maybe 12.
Was there a reason you chose drums over another instrument?
Yeah. Well, both of my uncles are drummers. Yeah. It's cool. Both of them just came to the Halloween show that we just played in Philly. It was insane. There was like 3000 people there. We filmed a DVD and everything; it's gonna come out next year. It was just so cool, because back in the day, I was just like, "Oh, you know -" They'd be talking about drums, and I'd try and get in the conversation at Thanksgiving and family events and stuff, and they just like, "Ah that's cool, that's great, whatever. Ah, he plays drums too. That's cute." They never took me seriously, and then they come out to a show, and I think they were pretty impressed. That made me feel good.
Were they rock drummers?
Yeah yeah. Well, yeah, they're both rock drummers. The one's still playing in a band - I forget what band it is. But Matt's since moved on and got a job and stuff. Actually Matt was drum tech on one of the tours for a while. That was fun. It's cool to be hanging out with those guys, you know? It's like they influenced me to play drums and then now they're coming out with me. It's awesome.
When you listen to music, do you pay more attention to the drums? I play the guitar, and I don't know if that's why I always focus more on the guitar, but like I didn't even notice how interesting Keith Moon was until somebody pointed it out to me when I was about 15.
I listen to everything, but I'm definitely more into rhythm-based stuff. I appreciate things that a lot of people - I like Godflesh a lot. They have this record called Songs of Love and Hate, and the drums are just so cool. They mixed a drum machine with real drums on top of it, and it's like nothing I've ever heard. I rock out to that stuff, and people who don't play drums are like, "What are you thinking? This stuff is just crazy garbage!" Because it's pretty much just - there's no melody or anything; it's just all rhythm-based. I'm definitely into that record a lot, even though I can honestly say I like that just because of the drums.
Are you into any drummers that are like more - any jazz drummers or - ?
Yeah. Well, Elvin Jones and stuff like that I listen to a lot, but Bonham is my biggest influence definitely. And it's so cool because for that Hellview concert I mentioned on Halloween, I got - they only made a hundred this year of Bonham's crystallite kits. You know those drums you can see right through?
Oh yeah. Okay.
Yeah. Somehow I scored some of those. I was so happy to be playing Bonham's drums for the Halloween show.
Do you have those big monster sticks like he did?
Yeah, yeah. Mine are pretty big. I don't use the tree trunks, but I definitely hit really hard and I break sticks like crazy, so I try and play with them as thick as possible without it hindering my performance.
Do you ever at this point still practice drums when the band isn't around?
Yeah, definitely. When I go home and stuff, I have practice kits in my basement. I still mess around, but I've been playing for so long that it's just like I wanna play with musicians. And when I sit there, I'm kinda just like, "Yeah, whatever. I know what I'm doing."
Do you ever play with other musicians?
Every once in a while, I'll mess around with some stuff. Like just for fun, me and Bam and Brandon Dicamillo from the videos will mess around and record some stuff in my basement. They use a lot of our music on those CKY videos that we do in the basement, just for between scenes and stuff, just for fun.
Do you find touring more grueling or more fun?
I love it. I can't be home for too long. After you're out on tour for a month, you're like, "Man, I wanna go home. I wanna go home." But once you get there and you're home for about a week, then you just want to go back out onto the road again. It's hard to get used to, because on tour, you're in a new city every day and there's all this stuff going on, and then when you get home and you're just hanging out, you're just kinda bored and you're like, "Damn, this sucks."
Ha! Do you have time to see the cities when you're out?
Yeah. We get to the clubs really early. Usually at 1 or 2 o'clock we get there, and then we don't even go on til like 10:00. So we just have a bunch of time to kill in between soundcheck and stuff. We just cruise around the city and hang out. I love doing that stuff, and I'm really anxious to get over to Europe. We've never played there before.
When is that? When does that start?
December 2nd in England, and it ends up in Amsterdam on December 13th? 14th? Something like that.
Are you taking a band over with you?
We're just gonna get some English band to open for us. I'm not sure which one yet.
I guess you mentioned that you demoed two new songs recently. Do you think it's stuff in an area that the fans will follow you into? Is it close enough to the old sound? You said it's melodic, I guess.
Yeah, definitely. You'll always be able to tell that it's CKY even though we definitely go all over the place. Like "Close Yet Far" sounds nothing like "Sporadic Movement" or whatever, but you can just tell that it's us. And I think the new record is gonna be like that.
And you think some time near the end of next year, it'll be out?
Yeah, definitely next year. I'm not sure when, but I don't know - we're shooting for summertime, but you know, it takes a while sometimes to get things perfect. Especially since we take each song individually, so we can focus on each one and make sure each one has its own personality. That's definitely the benefit of having Chad produce our records, whereas most bands just book two weeks of a producer's time, banging out 15 songs all in the same session. And the record really suffers, you know? The production is the same the whole album, all the drum sounds and guitar sounds are all the same, and the songs kinda blend together. Whereas our records - all the songs were recorded at a different time. That's why it's so versatile-sounding.
Now what is Volume 2? It looks like it has about 60 songs on here.
Yeah, that's kind of a soundtrack - an unofficial album. We did lots of stuff just for skate videos, like instrumental songs. Me and Bam and the band did this crazy Christmas song, and stuff like that. It didn't really fit on an album anywhere, but all the fans wanted it, so we just kinda put it out on the Internet only. You can't find it in stores or anything.
Oh, you can't? They've got it here on -
You can get it on Amazon.com or CKYstore.com.
Okay. Alright. So was Volume 1 recorded as an album? As an actual -
Yeah, Volume 1 was our first record. And then "Shippensberg" was kinda - we were gonna put the song "Shippensberg" on Volume 1, but it didn't really fit anywhere, so we saved that one for Volume 2, and the Christmas songs and - Volume 2 is a double-disc set full of - one CD is completely prank calls by Brandon Dicamillo, which are hilarious. They're so good - he messes with people so hard. And then the other CD is just stuff from skate videos that we did just for that purpose, and a few remixes of songs off Volume 1 and some demo versions, stuff like that.
Off the top of your head, do you know how much that is if I buy it from your store there?
I think 20 bucks on the CKY store.
Okay. Let's see. I had another question, but I forgot what it was. Oh! Why did you shorten the name of the band?
Our first record label, Volcom - they had a problem with it. They thought they'd get sued by angry parents, you know. So we kinda just shortened it to CKY. Actually, they were calling us Camp for a while. The first pressing of Volume 1 on Volcom says "Camp." And we were just like, "What!?" We didn't get it. None of our fans got it. And then they finally realized it and they were like, "What are we doing?" So they switched it to CKY, and then they called the record Camp Volume 1. It's kinda weird. There have been so many different pressings of Volume 1. It's been on three different record labels!
Is it always with the same songs?
Well, at least there's that.
We released it on our own label. And then it did really well, and we got the attention of Volcom, which is - they're a really big clothing company, but they have a record label on the side with bands like Vaux and a couple other ones. And yeah, we got the attention from them. We did a Warped tour with Volcom for a while, and they put out a whole bunch of different pressings. And then we finally settled with Island Def Jam, and we had the whole thing remastered and everything, and enhanced with some videos, stuff like that. So it's been on Island since 2001.
When did you originally record it?
We recorded it in '98 and it came out in I think February or March of '99 on our own label. And Volume 2 came out at the same time.
So then you made your fans wait three years for the follow-up?
Well, yeah, pretty much! We kept getting offers for tours, and we'd just tour and tour and tour, and it seemed like nobody was sick of it yet. Because we were just gaining new fans - even to this day, every week, it usually sells about a thousand copies. Every week.
Yeah! So for the past four years, we've been doing a thousand copies a week.
Good lord! Wow!
Yeah! Last Christmas was its biggest week ever. It was like 2400 copies that week.
Why? Just because you're on tour so - well, we already went over this.
I think it's just - yeah! There's new kids finding out about it every single day. And IDR has been out for a year, and that's still selling 1500 copies a week. Our label can't believe it. They're just like, "We've never had a band sell like this before, consistently every week."
Do you get play on modern, like hard -
No, we don't get anything. We don't get any, any -
MTV at all?
They play our songs here and there as background music, but they don't really play our videos much. They play "Flesh Into Gear" here and there, but that's about it.
Good lord. At what point then did you have to stop working a day job? At what point did this start -
As soon as we went out on the Warped tour, we were making enough money to not worry about having a job. So we've been doing this pretty strong. Every day we're working on it. For the past three years, we quit our jobs.
All four members are really into it?
No one's gonna quit and go to college and become a scientist?
No way. We don't rest. As soon as we finish one project, we're already talking about the next one.
Okay, so you're working on an album, you're putting out a DVD, you're going on tour in Europe - is there anything else going on right now that I ought to know about? That sounds like enough, quite frankly.
It is, yeah. I actually gotta get going. My food's getting cold.
Okay! Alright, sorry about that. Well, thank you so much for talking to me.
Yeah, no problem! Thanks a lot.
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