The Faction interview

factionbatNo skate-punk from the ’80s hasn’t heard of The Faction. They were the epitome of skate-punk. Hell, they even had a pro skater in the band! You seldom could read an issue of Thrasher without some mention of them and for my skater friends and me, “Skate and Destroy” was our anthem and way of life. In their short career, the band graced the punk rock world with only a small handful of records, but it was quality over quantity. They fizzled out, as most bands of that era did, leaving the fans yearning for a reunion and more material. That came true in 2002 with new material. This interview was done via IM with Gavin O’Brien, lead singer and one of the founding members of the band.

 

What came first for you, the skateboarding or the punk rock?

Skateboarding in 1969. My brother Corey and I shared a thick wood board with metal wheels.

How old were you then?

I was born in ’64, So I was 5. I discovered Punk in ’78 when I heard Devo. Thanks in part to SkateBoarder Magazine. The Ramones and Pistols followed and I was through with the status quo from then on out.

So what made you decide to form a punk rock band, where did you guys all meet? School?

I met Stevie at Campbell Skate Park. We were locals at Winchester Skate Park, and Campbell. After those parks were closed, we built a ramp in Stevie’s backyard in 1981. Soon after that, Stevie was forming a band and asked me to sing. We all knew each other because of our dedication to skateboarding…even at that time, when the sport was dead in the water. We refused to quit. The rebellious attitude always prevails.

At what point did Steve become a pro skater? Was he already one then, or did that come later?

He was already pro. I think he turned pro in 1980? I could be wrong. It’s funny, but back then, The Faction started getting press because Stevie was a pro skateboarder. In the Bay Area at the time, all the other bands resented us because of the free publicity. Also, skateboarding was not exactly the “Official Sport Of Punk Rock” back then. It was still viewed by punks as a jock activity, and so we were seen as suburban jocks from the most hated, suburban, and biggest city in Northern California; San José.

When did the marriage of punk and skateboarding happen? I always thought of it as the punk sport as punk is what got me into skating actually back then.

It probably happened a lot sooner in Southern California, but for the Bay Area, I’d have to say 1980 – 81. Skateboarders were all into heavy rock FM stadium junk before Duane Peters, Steve Alba, Steve Olson, and Tony Alva clued us all in. Jay Adams helped out as well.

Who came up with the name for The Faction, and why?

Well, we were part of this northern California gang, I guess, called The Faction. It wasn’t like the LADS in L.A. or anything, it was more like skateboarders sharing terrain information. We had members in San José, Oakland, San Francisco, and even Sacramento. It was a spin-off in a larger scale of the old San José Pool Exchange. When the band first practiced on Halloween day of 1982, we didn’t have a name. We asked the guy who formed The Faction if we could just use that name and he was stoked.

Now, in one lineup of the band, you were in the band with a member who stole your woman! How the hell did you manage to play in a band with him after that?!

Oh yeah. He’s still in the band today! Keith and I are tight. Back then we stuck together after that whole episode. So here’s the story: I was at practice with my then girl, who I loved. She was a stunner. I just went to a party a couple of months ago and this random guy from back then wouldn’t stop talking about her. “She was the raddest girl at our school! The jocks were pissed when you hooked up with her!”, etc. My girlfriend today was pissed! Anyway she was hot. We tried out Keith to be the drummer, and he made it. None of us knew him because he was a couple of years younger and was from across town. Anyway, the next day my girl disappears with him for like 12 hours. I broke up with her that night because I don’t mess about like that, know what I mean? Keith starts in with her and I was fine with it because I had a plan to split them up and it worked pissing her off really bad. Keith and I are best buds, but the girl is long gone.

So with all the press you were getting being skaters and all, was the decision to release the first single yourselves by choice or necessity? I mean there was no shortage of labels in CA releasing punk…

No, we decided to do it because we had someone who was willing to front the cash to release it. And that person wanted then guitarist Adam to form his own label and get the experience. It worked out well like that. We never even thought of shopping any of our recordings around. Back then you did it yourself, or you were so damn good that Posh Boy swooped you up!

Who was that magic benefactor who fronted the cash?

Adam’s mom, Rita, who I love to this day. She was a gem of a mom! So supportive. I hope I can be half the dad she was as a mom.

So he pressed up 1000 of Yesterday is Gone. Did you just sell them at shows or did you get them distributed? How long did it take to sell through them all?

We had them distributed here and there. I think Jem in Berkeley was one of them? We sold a lot through the US mail, at shows, at local Bay Area shops. It took about nine months to sell them through.

Did you ever think in your wildest dreams that it would become a punk rock collectible?

Heck no. Personally, I only like Dark Room. The rest of it is rushed, has really poor mixes, poor art work. I’m picky. When Goldenrod asked us to do the Collection CD, I told them it was cool, but I had to have 100% creative control in the art work area. I saw No Hidden Messages at a local store a few months ago going for $45!

Speaking of that LP, how long after the 7″ did you go in and do the LP?

About six months. What a pile of crap that is! And I only say that because when we played live, everyone told us we had a great sound and were tight as a drum. But our first two records were rushed, rookie efforts. Our new stuff is hard, crunchy, and mean.

Was the plethora of vinyl colors done for fun, or as an attempt to drive collectors like me crazy in their quest for completion?

Uh, it was done for fun. We never thought anyone would try to collect that stuff. We are all very proud of the vinyl we put out, as far as the song writing goes, but we all wish the mixing and mastering were a lot better. That’s one of the reasons we’re doing six new songs now. We’re gonna show everyone that we can put out great tracks in the production arena. That’s the main reason we are re-recording “Skate & Destroy” for the new EP that’s coming out. And yes, it’ll be on vinyl as well!

So after the LP was made, Adam booked a tour of the states. Did you go alone or take another band with you? Were you headlining or getting on other’s shows where you could? And lastly, who had the foresight to keep a document of every show you played? That is amazing that you have that info!

We toured the US the first time in the summer of ’84. It was all alone. We took another San José band with us on the ’85 US tour, The Drab, and that was even better. We headlined almost all of those shows. On both tours, we were support for other bands at CBGB’s, and they told us that if we came back in ’86, we’d definitely headline. But we had to go and split up! I was the one who kept records of every show we did. I don’t know why I did it, I just did.

I can’t think of any other band from that time that saved such information.

Me either. I get so many comments about that. I’m glad I did it, for sure

Any chance you took photos too? I’d love to acquire some copies of any photos taken at Keith Garage.

No. We didn’t have a camera, and we never thought of doing that. Adam has a lot of local photos of us, though. A lot of them are on the cover of the Epitaph EP.

Damn! So after that, you recorded Dark Room?

Yeah. We had Stevie move to rhythm guitar, and we got Ray Stevens from the recently split up Los Olvidados to play bass. Keith left the band and we got Bosch who was our original drummer for the first couple practices we had. Dark Room was like a quest for us. We wanted to show the scene that we were capable of recording and mixing better than we had in the past, plus Ray was slapping the bass now, and at the time Craig was a very technical drummer. I tried to actually sing where prior to that I was just screaming or yelling. I was really into writing lyrics back then, but I have always hated actually trying to sing. I’m not good at it at all, but I can make a really good fool of myself live!

Did you write all the lyrics?

Except for “Dark Room”, I did write them all. When we started writing new songs for that album, Adam and a friend of his started writing lyrics for me to sing. I didn’t like that, but I did it. I wrote most of the lyrics on “Dark Room” as well.

“Let’s go Get Cokes” is an anthem for me and my fellow Pepsi haters!

Me too! I still love that song. I wrote it from the heart. Me and Mike Muir had sparring verbal bouts over that! He liked Pepsi, obviously. Poor sap. Pepsi is like liquid bubble gum. All sugar and no BITE!

Screw him, drinking Pepsi was probably the reason that ST turned into a lame-ass metal band 😉 Coke is the punk rock beverage!

In ’85 after we did that song and released it, one of those fuggn’ hippy Crass “punks” in Santa Cruz confronted me in front of all these people at a club over there that we were playing. He said “Do you realize Coca-Cola supports apartheid in South Africa?” And I said, “Hey, at least they’re not supporting Michael Jackson!” because at the time, Michael Jackson was doing all the Pepsi commercials. It’s not The Real Thing 😉

So did Epitaph come out after you broke up? After doing your own records for your whole career, how and why did you end up doing one with Mystic? What kind of deal did they give you?

Yes. We recorded it in the summer of ’85, then we split up at a Halloween party before it came out. Mystic approached us and said they were doing “Skate Rock” bands on a sub-label of theirs called Thrash Records. We didn’t see a penny from that release, as a matter of fact all we got was one copy of it per band member. What a flaming pile of shite that deal was!

You never saw the master tapes again? For on the Collection CD, those songs were clearly lifted from the vinyl.

Yeah, if I remember right, Adam never got those tapes. Who knows if they still exist?

They seemed to have a bit of a bad reputation with certain members of the punk community back then, had you heard anything bad about them before working with them?

No. I don’t think we would have driven to Hollywood for the weekend and done it if I knew we were gonna get screwed that hard!

I thought perhaps you had this stuff you weren’t going to do anything with and figured “what the hell” and let them have it. Did Adam or any of you ever try to contact them and get your tapes or come to some sort of resolution? Was there a contract you had to sign for that record?

Oh yeah. Adam was on ’em from what I heard. Nothing ever happened though. And that’s funny because I don’t remember any contract. We were just blown away someone was gonna record us and release an album! But once again, I saw it for the first time and was pissed because of the poor artwork. That was the last straw for me on that front. I like doing layout.

Why did you guys break up? Aside from Steve who kept skating, where did everyone go and what did you end up doing?

Well, there were personality conflicts. The last couple of years, Adam really took control of everything. We were on his label, his song writing, art work, he booked our shows. He worked his ass off, and I thank him to this day. But there were times where it was too much. We split up on Halloween night, 1985, exactly three years to the day that we formed. Halloween is our official day in The Faction, that’s part of the reason we have the bats. After the band I worked at Sessions Skate Shop, then I went to work for my favorite company at the time, Santa Cruz Skateboards, as the Team Manager. I got to travel the world in that job, and it was a lot of fun. I learned a lot. Then I left Santa Cruz to form my own company with my brother and two friends called Sonic Skateboards. We had a great, great five years of ups and downs between ’93 and ’98, but we were under financed and couldn’t meet demand. Eventually our distributors and shops around the world got tired of waiting and stopped ordering all together. Then after that I went to work for my new favorite company, Apple Computer. I love Apple and will never leave there.

Apple? Wow! What do you do there? I was a faithful mac user until last year when I switched to PC. The later years of my printed zine and all the stuff for my record label all were created on the mac.

I’m the world wide System Test Engineering manager. Basically, we test all the new computers we’re thinking about building, and we try to break them. You need to switch back my friend.

So, after many years of everything but Dark Room being out of print and unavailable, how did the much-needed, but sadly incomplete Collection CD come to be?

Well, Mark Waters at Goldenrod Records called me with the idea. Everyone else agreed so we all contributed a list of songs we wanted and pounded that out. The thing is, it was never meant to be a complete collection. I named it Collection after The Stranglers album with the same name.

Ok, so then there was Collection 2, done by Adam. Did he consult the rest of the band or did he just go ahead and put that out to sort of fill in the missing material?

Exactly.

Did this upset the rest of you?

Kind of. It was unfortunate, but it’s his right as holder of all our old stuff. That’s another reason we’re moving on with our new stuff which is way better.

So the publishing and masters are his to do with what he pleases?

Yeah. He usually gives us a heads-up and is really good about keeping records of sales and sending us royalty checks. He’s an entertainment lawyer in Las Vegas now!

And he also has a record label, AVD records. Why is he not in the band now? Do you not really get along, or is it because he lives in a different state?

Well, a little of both? He’s doing his thing now and is fairly successful from what I hear. The distance also comes into the equation.

So I read during the course of the ’90s, the other guys wanted to reform the band, but you refused. Why were you so against it, and why the change of heart now?

Well, Los Olvidados, who were also from San José and are still the best band to ever come out of our city, (along with the Syndicate Of Sound in the ’60s), reformed and played two shows in 2000. They picked up and kicked ass. I mean, these guys are one of the best bands ever. I have seen a billion bands, and not many are in the same league as Los O. Anyway, I called the guitar player, Mike Fox, who was also in The Dwarves after Los O broke up, and I told him it was time for Los Olvidados to release the CD that never came out, and take over the whole fucking world!

Los O! Perhaps the best band ever to not release a record! That stuff on Skate Rock Volume 1 is the shit! I made a CD of that tape comp just so I wouldn’t wear it out listening to them and Drunk Injuns over and over again!

So he threw it back at me and said The Faction had to start playing again! I was a little pissed he even mentioned it. I mean, I hate singing and I don’t have time, etc. Their CD is out now!

Indeed, and I have it! That and the Injuns stuff are the two best releases of the year hands down!

Anyway, Mike’s comments ground me down for three days. I finally broke down and called Stevie.

So now The Faction are together again, sans-Adam, and you are recording new material. Tell me about this. And who will have the pleasure of releasing said material?

It looks like Sessions Records is gonna do it. I’m really stoked because this is the quality recording I’ve always wanted our fans to have of us. This will set the record straight.

Will there be more to come after, or is this a one-off thing?

We don’t know. Hopefully we can do something else after?

What will it take to get The Faction, Los O, and Drunk Injuns to tour the states and give us old timers a reason to leave the house, and teach the young punks what real punk rock is all about?

Funny you should ask. The three bands you mentioned may tour together, but not in the US.

I would pay a king’s ransom to see that! Even though those Injuns are scary looking mofos. Not the US?! Where then?! Not the UK I hope. What happened to AUK? Fuck the UK is what I say!

Actually it’s Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. The German folks who have brought us over there twice in the last year are talking about the three bands going over there. I’d be into it. AUK!

That sucks! Well, sucks for me. How about those places, and Chicago?! I have no passport!

Oh yeah! My dad was from Chicago, and I have an aunt there. I love Chicago!

You can all sleep in my basement! There are plenty of pinball machines down there to keep you busy.

Cool. It’s on!

OK. when will this new recording be out?

Hopefully in February of 2003.

OK, any final comments?

All of us in the band are really stoked now. We’re getting along pretty well, and have really been on a mission of sorts to produce quality in the studio. I had quite a few truthful friends back when we were originally doing this, and they all said that live, The Faction was really good, you know, super tight, energetic, etc. But they also admitted that our recordings never did us justice. We really want to put that behind us. We’re a four piece now with Stevie as the only guitar player, and it’s sounding really good, really good. All I need to do now is take voice lessons, haha! And hopefully we can get out to Chicago for a gig. I want to hang out with my friends out there again. There’s talk of a tour in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland with Los Olvidados and the Drunk Injuns, like I mentioned, and some friends in Buenos Aries are looking to get us down to Argentina for a few gigs there. I heard the new Tony Hawk game just came out (it features “Skate and Destroy”!), and we’re playing the TransWorld Skateboarding Magazine 20th Anniversary party at the Vans Park in Orange County next weekend, so we’re super busy. We just got e-mail from one of the guys in Fu Manchu! He said he’s been a fan forever and was really stoked we are back!? But uh, I really want to come out to Chicago and Milwaukee and do some sets out there. That would be cherry!