A couple of weeks after returning from their month-long European tour and just more than a month before the band’s latest LP ‘On The Front Line’ was to be released, I had a chance to speak with The Casualties’ affable guitarist Jake, whose been in the long-running band going on 11 years now. On the road while chatting, the only disruption to our conversation came when he had to stop to pay a toll and, later on, get away from a noisy dump truck.
The Casualties have been around since 1990 and have undergone plenty of line-up changes, needing to kick out people for various reasons including heroin use. Since ’99, however, the set-up has been quite stable, with lone founding member Jorge on vocals along with Jake, drummer Meggers, and bassist Rick, forming a cohesive unit that Jake declares to “be the last line-up The Casualties will ever have…I don’t think anybody right now will leave the band or anything like that,” after a short pause, sheepishly adding, “I hope not.” They all get along well and his philosophy on making it work is simple: “[The band is] like a little family – you gotta keep the family together.”
So just why have these hardcore punk stalwarts survived and why are the legions of fans still growing 14 years later? Jake attributes these phenomena to the fact that more and more people are discovering punk and “we have the music and we also have sort of an image that people are interested in, so they check it out right there.” The band keeps soldiering on simply because of their love for the lifestyle and the music. “We look it, we live it, we love it. That’s why we’ve done it.”
Times were not always as good as they are now. For instance, back in the early days, they’d come home from tour owing people money, but have kept at it and as Jake understatedly explains, “We’re doing good now, I don’t know how long it’ll stay like that but…I’m happy where it is.” From speaking with Jake, it’s quite apparent that the band don’t take their popularity or success for granted, as exemplified in the above quote as well as when he speaks of Warped Tour and how they have a good time on it, immediately adding, “If we don’t get like kicked off it or anything.” These sentiments are a result of working hard over the years and going through difficulties, rather than garnering acclaim and wealth overnight.
Yet, for all their supporters, The Casualties are also criticized greatly in the punk world. Jake used to take people’s comments personally when he first joined. He relates that back in ’93 when he came onboard, “people were talking shit all over the place even then…so why should I be surprised if it’s now when we’re even bigger?” Obviously, over the years Jake’s come to terms with the fact that you cannot please everyone and doesn’t take the criticism to heart. “The only thing we want at the end of the day is for people to be a little more aware of what’s going on and take things in for themselves and do what’s right for you.” And don’t forget to have fun! “Just come to the show and have a good time,” he urges. “That’s all I care about ‘cause life’s too short to be worrying about what people are saying about you.” Every band has its detractors, some more vocal than others, but from his own experience, Jake has suitable advice for any act out there willing to listen: “Any publicity is good publicity. If someone says, ‘Fuck The Casualties,’ they’re still talking about [us]…There’s always gonna be people out there that don’t like you.”
From interviews and blurbs about their upcoming record on SideOneDummy (Jake makes it clear that their break from Punk Core was amicable), it’s apparent how The Casualties feel about it. And if you haven’t heard anything yet, Jake clarifies the band’s opinion thusly, “I think that this album is gonna be our best one to date.” One reason for this surmise is because of the length of time spent recording it at The Blasting Room in Ft. Collins, Colorado. “We recorded there and we spent two weeks there just on the record, like we already had the songs; we were rewriting stuff, putting tracks down, and a lot of stuff got changed and it was cool,” says the guitarist. “We put everything into that album. It wasn’t like our past albums where we would record and then go home and then come back the next day like it was a job…This album we really just like put 100 percent in.”
‘On The Front Line’ is the most politically-charged record (and, in the words of Jake, the hardest musically) The Casualties have created so far, featuring songs like “Leaders of Today”, “Marching Joe” with militaristic drums, “Media Control” and “Death Toll”. According to Jake, this outcome was not premeditated: “It kind of happened…when we were writing,” elaborating, “We sing about what goes on around us. And what’s going on right now?…Bush gets in office and drags us into this war that NOBODY wanted.” He continues, “We’re not a political band, but I can say when I think [that] nobody wanted it…and that affects us, so we’re gonna write songs about it.”
Other topics touched upon include more personal subject matter like how a good friend of Jake’s became a junkie as well as broader subjects like capitalism in America. As Jake puts it, “It’s become harder and harder for the lower classes to even survive ‘cause we’re paying everything out of our wallets – like EVERYTHING,” continuing, “Where you used to be able to just live, now it’s like they find more and more things to make laws about and they take a litte bit more freedom…until we got a law for everything – a law for laws, which is ridiculous. On the same note, he brings up the looming Big Brother, how video cameras are present on street corners all over. So, in conclusion, says Jake, “We’re singing about different topics. I don’t wanna put out the same record every time.”
Jake believes the “diehard” fans will eat it up and novices will dig it because it’s heavy music, but not like “fuckin’ garbage Ozzfest stuff.” ‘On The Front Line’ and in turn, The Casualties, are “an outlet for that kid who wants to get into something hard but it doesn’t have to be like that nu-metal bullshit Korn stuff…It’s punk rock, [which has] a little more substance.” Definitely. And that’s one of The Casualties’ greatest assets – they turn kids onto good, hardcore punk, mostly of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s U.K. persuasion like G.B.H., Varukers, Discharge, and Blitz. Jake agrees: “If we can make the scene a little bit bigger from that, then everybody’s gonna benefit…Would you rather have a scene that’s dead and you go to shows and there’s like three people there? That’s really depressing…I’d rather have a good, strong scene where people are involved.”
So of course in addition to the new record, I had to know how Europe was. Not realizing I was interested in the shows, Jake replied with how Europe actually IS: i.e. some bars close around 6a.m., the food’s different, and how basically it’s just a “culture shock.” Finally prying out of him more relevant info, the guitarist said overall the tour went well, particularly on the mainland. “Belgium, Holland, Germany, and Italy – especially Italy – all the shows were like at least 300 people a show.” On the other hand, the band encountered some not-so-great times in England. According to Jake, “England was…awful except for London and Sheffield. We played like seven shows and two were worth it, like the other five shows…were like 20 people coming out and nobody was buying any merch; no one was dancing; it was terrible.”
While on the subject of England and aware that the band has committed to playing the Warped Tour for its entirety, I questioned him about this year’s Wasted festival, the event formerly known to street punks around the world as Holidays In The Sun. Jake said they’re not playing it this year because “usually during the summer we’re busy…either doing Warped Tour or like we’re doing our own thing…I’d love to get over there and play Wasted…but it’s just not gonna happen,” adding, “Warped Tour is…way more important for us.” Wasted is a three-day affair and hints of ill-will toward the festival shine through, as he declares, “It’s all old bands, you know, and after a couple times you get really sick of it. It’s just bands reforming” and The Casualties don’t want to be perceived as an old band. “We never broke up and got back together.” Being the first American band to take part in the show back in ’96 gives The Casualties leave to voice their opinions. Jake, with a chuckle, even says that some of the bands participating (alas, no names were given) “aren’t even punk rock anymore. Some guys get up there in sweatpants and sneakers and then go home.”
On the topic of Warped and what a pop-punk/emo showcase it’s become, Jake agrees, confiding, “I don’t like 90 percent of the bands [on it]…I don’t really care for like the bands that are all over ‘AP’…like all the emo/hardcore/metal-type bands…just ‘cause I like straight-up hardcore punk rock and there’s very little of that.” Still, however, he says the other bands treat The Casualties well – “nobody’s ever been a dick to us,” he avers – and rightfully says seeing bands like Bad Religion and Lars Frederiksen And The Bastards every night is great. In any case, he hopes that by being on Warped they can inspire some kids who may not normally be exposed to hardcore punk get into this style of music.
As for touring plans before Warped kicks off this summer, The Casualties will be heading out on the 35-show On The Front Line Tour February 19th - the record comes out the 17th - beginning in Savanna, GA and will be hitting NYC’s Knitting Factory February 26th with A Global Threat and NYC’s own Zombie Vandals. Should be a great hardcore/street punk showcase. The Casualties/AGT line-up was supposed to happen this past summer, but AGT didn’t show because of scheduling problems. Hopefully this time around it’ll all work out.