CH3’s Mike Magrann talked to tHeARTofla about the band’s newest record, the Los Angeles punk scene past & present, and It’s Not Dead Fest 2 (this weekend, 8/26!)
When you think of 1980’s SoCal punk rock typically people will list off bands like Black Flag, The Adolescents, Descendents, and TSOL. But up there with those legendary acts is melodic hardcore pioneers, CH3 from Cerritos, CA. If you see show fliers from back in the day, there is a good chance that you will find them in the line up. The band started in 1980 and they are still going strong. The band released their first album in a decade called Put ‘Em Up on August 18, 2017 through TKO Records (www.chthree.com) and they will be playing It’s Not Dead Fest 2 (http://www.itsnotdeadfestival.com) on August 26, 2017 at the Glen Helen Amphitheater in San Bernardino, CA. Ricky Frankel spoke with CH3’s lead vocalist and guitarist Mike Magrann about the band’s new record, what he thinks about the LA punk scene now compared to when CH3 was just starting out and a whole bunch more.
Q: CH3’s new record Put ‘Em Up is the band’s first album in over decade. Why is now the time that the band decided to release a new record?
A: It was just the right time for us to sit down and write a complete project, something we hadn’t done in quite a while. I think due to the nature of digital downloads, we were only recording one-off singles for a while, just weren’t that interested in doing a collection of songs. But the cultural and political climate really inspired us to start writing, and we ended up with enough for this album in a pretty short time. We were able to bring our old mate Jay Lansford back in to produce, so the stars just aligned perfectly for this project.
Q: What is the story behind the lyrics of the track “Model Citizen”?
A: We thought it would be interesting to have a song with a simple child-like melody, but lyrics dealing with a horrific police state. It has become like an all too likely reality, a world where people will lose their rights in the face of hatred and fear. We see it as an update to “I Shall Be Released,” but sadly told from the Fascist point of view.
Q: Can you elaborate on the message in “The God That You Deserve”? The lyrics make references of Christianity, but are this song more about religion as a concept or Christianity specifically?
A: Well, I did not want to point to any specific religion, as there have been as many atrocities committed in the name of Western religion as Eastern. I think it is just a story of how man can try to justify his horrors by pointing to a religion, and how convenient it is to have a God you create that just happens to share your political views!
Q: Your recently released and funny “lyric video” for your new song “The God That You Deserve” (that was premiered on The Hard Times) is performed in sign language. Who came up with that idea? What is the story behind it?
A: That was the idea of Jay Lansford, and he actually produced the video in Germany. So it may be German sign language for all we know! We thought it would be novel to do a “lyric” video without the actual lyrics, and the hands doing sign was a perfect concept. The imagery of the hands turned out to be pretty effective for the song, illustrating the hand to hand combat between cultures, so to speak. During the recording process we would correspond with ideas we’d assign to the “Bad Idea of the Day,” but it was surprising how many of those concepts somehow made it into the “We’re Doing This!” column! This was definitely one that happily made the jump.
Q: Can you talk about any memorable LA punk shows that you went to or played from back when CH3 was first getting started?
A: I remember when Kimm and I went to the Fleetwood to see Black Flag the first time, this must’ve been in ’79 or 1980. Just the sheer abandon, the mix of the music and energy, palpable violence–it was all there. We were soon writing our own songs and got a demo tape to Robbie Fields of Posh Boy fame. We recorded the first EP before we ever played a proper club show, so we did our first gig at The Cuckoo’s Nest in Costa Mesa with a debut record already in the mix. It was an exciting time…
Q: What do you think about the current LA punk scene compared to scene back in the day?
A: It’s easy to romanticize those old days, but there were a lot of problems with shady promoters, the violence and riots. The usual clubs wouldn’t have anything to do with hardcore, so you really had to scrap for places to play. But it was great to be part of a smaller more organic scene. There was definitely a feeling of a close knit community, don’t think we’ll ever get that back. It is nice to be able to play all the nice venues and festivals nowadays, and pretty incredible that most of the old bands from back in the day are still out there playing and touring. We are very fortunate to be able to go out and still play, have people give us some of their time to listen.
Q: I recently finished watching Urban Struggle, the documentary about the Orange County venue the Cuckoo’s Nest. What do you remember about that venue? If you watched it, did the film leave out or get anything wrong in your view?
A: It’s been a while since I’ve seen that, but the Nest was indeed a legendary hang. That was our first real gig, and it was a natural graduation, to go from the backyard parties to a weeknight gig at the Nest. You look back on those legendary lineups the club hosted, and it’s hard to believe it was just a shack in the industrial area of Costa Mesa. I think that’s a testament to Jerry Roach, who out up with all the headaches of putting on punk shows back in those days.
Q: Hollywood and Orange County have/had vibrant punk scenes, why didn’t the San Fernando Valley?
A: We were always on the border of the OC and LA punk scenes, as our hometown Cerritos was literally split by those counties. So we were witness to to a lot of the hijinks on both those cultures. But we didn’t get out to the valley that often, except when Godzilla’s was happening for a short time or maybe the gigs at Devonshire Downs. Godzilla’s was a pretty magical scene while it was running, just a warehouse the Sterns somehow opened up that hosted a string of shows when all the bands were at their very peak.
Q: I’ve seen CH3 play at The Roxy, you played a club show at Punk Rock Bowling 2017 and you are playing It’s Not Dead Fest 2 on August 26, 2017 in San Bernardino, CA. Do you prefer to play small venues or large festivals? Why?
A: I’d say a small club feels a lot more natural for us, given we are playing a stripped down music that is really born of the sweat and dark. But these festivals that are so popular nowadays, they really give the fans a great day of music, and usually give us the chance to play in front of a lot of people who might not go out to a late club gig. Usually pretty good catering at Festivals too, so there’s that!
Q: What contemporary punk bands do you think are doing it right?
A: You gotta hand it to Keith Morris doing OFF! And Flag, both bands strip all the bullshit away and get right back to the core of what this music is really about. The kids in Bad Cop/Bad Cop are just killing it right now, really a hard working band with some serous talent. And you definitely gotta check Starving Wolves!
Q: Which bands are you looking forward to seeing perform live at It’s Not Dead Fest 2?
A: There are so many bands that we’ve been fortunate to play with before and call friends, so it will be just great catching up to some of the bands we haven’t seen a while like Murphy’s Law and GBH, local friends like Spider, Love Canal and Unit F. But to have Rancid and Dropkicks on the same bill (with Buzzcocks!), well, if we weren’t playing that fest we’d be buying tickets to be there anyway.
Q: Is there anything else that you would like to add?
A: Hey, thanks so much for getting at us with the thoughtful questions. We’re really excited for the new record, and it will be on all the usual avenues to download or stream now, so please check it out. Vinyl and CD is also available at the best record shops or from us here- www.chthree.com.