Sunday, January 3, 2010

Q&A: Singer/guitarist Rob of Responsible Johnny

I don't recall the first time I met Rob, but the first time I saw his band Responsible johnny, I was not only thouroughly entertained, but had a smashing time of it as well. They rock hard and Rob is so much fun live, his between-song banter is like a stand-up comedy routine and regardless of how many times you cringe as the humour slides over the edge you can't leave a RJ show without a huge smile on your face and the thought of "i can't wait to see them perform again!". Rob's a great dude and so here's a fun Q&A for ya!

Q: How long has Responsible Johnny been around and how did the band start up?

Rob: The name had been in my head since the mid-90's when I was an ex-musician and current corporate whore wishing I could just walk away and be in a band again. Cut to ten years later and I'm in a s****y metal band and working on a script with my buddy Waldo. We wanted a song to play over the end of the film, so I put together a punk song called Sherpa Girl, got some buddies together to record it as a one off deal (which never happened), and then as they got bored and dropped out I just kept replacing them because I wasn't ready to call it done. At that point it was still casual, but a year later I met Spoon, who was the first core member of the group, we hit the studio two days after that, and now the band is going on five years.

Q: It's well known there's been many members in Responsible Johnny. Why is that, and why do you claim at concerts that (and I'm paraphrasing you here) "eventually everybody will be a member of Responsible Johnny"?

Rob: It's something we like to joke about, and something that we've encouraged to be blown waaaaay out of proportion. If you pull out the members from the year before we were a "real" band, and pull out the people that joined or wanted to join but for whatever reason backed out, only played a show or two - or in some cases none - the number is pretty low. Three bassists and three drummers over a five year period's not too terrible. Why do people leave? Different reasons. Some people just fall out of love w/ punk, or have another passion they want to go after. Some people left because they needed more of an outlet for their songs that weren't necessarily Responsible Johnny music. At least one left to go to med school - although I tried to convince him that punk music was a better use of his time, to no avail. The short timers are usually a different story, and most of the time it just simply comes down to what people have come to expect of the music industry in general and the fact that many people still view punk music as an economically viable genre, despite all of the evidence to the contrary - especially where we're concerned. The band was started for fun, and that's how we've always tried to keep it. I'm not saying that I end every show with a smile on my face, but for the most part this is my outlet for all the stress and all the b******t that happens on a day to day basis, and as soon as I try to turn this into something big it becomes a job. I play music to get away from my job, so why would I want a second one? So, you'll never see a Responsible Johnny shirt in Hot Topic, you won't ever hear us on major radio, and we're never going to be that band that all of your friends are talking about. And a lot of people can't handle that. They want to play to big crowds at Curtain Club and House of Blues, and get their name out there. And I'm not bagging on them for it - if that's what they want, then more power to them. But it's not us. I don't like stages, and I don't like big crowds. Even a show at a place as small as Renos just loses something for me. I want to be down on the ground, right there w/ the audience. I don't want to play to 1000 people that don't give a s**t. Give me 30 that are completely psyched to be there and want to be part of the show. That's a hard thing for some people to understand. Those people quit pretty quickly. It's not the case with every short timer of course, but it seems to be a pattern. As for everybody being in Responsible Johnny, it's just a matter of doing the math. How many punks are left in DFW? How many of them play an instrument? We're a very incestuous scene, so it's just a matter of time before the Observer announces that Christy Darlington has signed on to play triangle.

Q: You have a reputation for wheels-off, wild live performances that include such events as the "no pants jam". How did that start, and how does all the craziness ensure live?

Rob: It didn't really start as much as it just sprang into being. Spoon was a pretty out there guy - actually, he still is - and I'm the same way, so from the beginning there was a feeling of controlled chaos about the shows. People came to see us because they never knew what was going to happen or whether it was all going to fall apart around them. It was all about how to get the crowd to interact and become part of the show. The jokes, the between song stories, the songs made up on the was all because I wanted to make sure that everyone left with a sense that they had seen something immediate and fresh. Something that they wouldn't see again, even if they came back to every show after that. I used to tell people all the time - I don't care if you love us, and I don't care if you hate us. But I want you to walk out of this show, call your friends, and say "You won't f*****g believe what I just saw."

Q: What sort of guitar and amp setup do you currently play thru and why?

Rob: I've played through a Line Six Spider 2x12 for the past six years, and when this one breaks down, I'll be going out to buy another identical model. I decided to upgrade two years ago, went out and bought a new, expensive amp, played one show with it, and took it back the next day. Nothing beats a tweaked Line Six Insane setting for crunchy hardcore goodness. As for guitars, I play through an Epiphone Les Paul w/ the neck pickup removed - neck pickups are for bitches - and a Gibson Dirty Finger for the body pickup. I can throw a Les Paul off a stage and across the room and then pick it up and still be in tune (and I've tested that theory many times). That's the type of guitar for me.

Q: You appear to have a background in metal bands of some sort, judging from your ability to play "metal-ish" solos and riffs. What sort of metal bands have you listened to and been a fan of in your life?

Rob: I grew up on hair metal, and I say without the irony that is so cool nowadays that the first concert that I attended by myself was Slaughter/Bulletboys/Poison, and I was in heaven. I went from hair metal, to blues music, and then onto punk as far as playing, but it's always been a part of my life, and it's something that I'm always listening to, although not as much nowadays as before. Which bands? I started off in third grade w/ Ratt, Twisted Sister, and Scorpions, then moved onto billions of generic hair bands and GNR clones in junior high, and then Iron Maiden, Megadeth, and Metallica in high school. And now? Mastadon, Killswitch Engage, and Shadows Fall are my mainstays, but if it's loud and riffy then I probably listen to it.

Q: You have very long hair. What are the pros and cons of having very long hair both as a rock and roller and as a human?

Rob: As a rock and roller it's a godsend. It hides yer ugly mug while still making you appear pretty to all the girls, it gives your headbanging a little extra something, and it makes you stand out a little from the crowd - unless you're at a metal show surrounded by a bunch of other longhairs. For punk it's all about the buzz cut, the mohawk, and the straightened indie/emo hair. So I still stand out, but more as the "what's the metal douche doing here" guy than anything else.
Personal life? Well the ladies are always tugging on my hair or wanting to run their hands through it. I'm not going to argue with that. Cons? Crazy girls can pull you up the stairs by that same hair when their pissed at you - trust me. And hairballs. I f*****g hate hairballs.

Q: Are there any crazy or funny stories you can legally share with us involving Responsible Johnny?

Rob: I'm not sure. What's the statute of limitations in Dallas on crazy show stories?Actually I could tell a hundred crazy stories that have happened to the band, but if you wanna hear one - or experience one for that matter - just come to a show and you'll get way more than you expected...or wanted.

Q: What other bands and artists do you currently like and enjoy listening to?

Rob: It changes from day to day. When most of your friends are in bands you never have a lack of music to listen to. Right now I'm really digging on The Loosies, Giggle Party, and JD Spoon. Beer Gnomes continue to amaze me. On the Shoulders of Giants - out of Sherman - have some really great stuff going on right now. The list goes on and on, and the more I name the more I'll miss, so I'll just stop right there. Outside of punk, I'm a huge jazz and blues nerd, so the holy trinity of Monk, Mingus, and Coltrane are always on rotation, along with Tom Waits and Lightnin' Hopkins. And then there's the aforementioned metal bands of course. This could go on for pages. Let's move on...

Q: Has RJ toured ever and are there any future touring plans?

Rob: We had a show in Gladewater that we refer to as "The Rape Gate Incident" -'nuff said. We also had an aborted tour a few years ago that started out at two weeks, ended up - after cancellations and typical club b******t - getting cut down to one show in Houston, that almost ended in me getting beaten up for singing "F*****d Your Fat Girlfriend" without realizing that apparently the portly female denizens of Houston don't find that as funny as we do here in DFW and will be more than happy to rush the stage and/or tell their gangbanger boyfriends to take care of you in a stabby stabby fashion. As for future tours, I don't see anything happening outside of a weekend tour here and there. I enjoy playing our shows and then being able to sleep in my own bed. And as much as I enjoy seeing new faces at the shows, touring around in a smelly van, living off of fast food, and having to shill merch to get to the next town just doesn't sound like as much fun to me now as it did when I was eighteen.

Q: Are there plans to do a live recording to attempt to capture the craziness for everyone to hear? Or maybe live video?

Rob: We'll be doing a live recording in September in the hopes of people finally hearing the real Responsible Johnny, instead of the oh so sterile version that we keep getting when we record in the studio. As for live video, stay tuned. It's just a matter of time. The trick will be filming a show that doesn't involve me whipping it out for the crowd. I really don't want little rob to be out there on DVD for all eternity...hahaha.

Q: What inspires you to write songs and what are your songs generally about?

Rob: It really depends on our mood. Some songs, like "Amy is a Feminist", come about because I'm telling someone one of my patented long winded stories, and a line catches me just the right way - "Amy always had a copy of the Bell Jar in her bag" - and it just comes tumbling out. Sometimes - and this became a tradition with Spoon and I - we just start yelling out titles until one makes us all laugh and then I'll start scribbling down lyrics. That's how we got "I Like Chicken" and "F***** Your Fat Girlfriend". And sometimes I have an idea and I fight with it for months and months and months, nurturing it and taking care with each and every line, and then we play it for a show or two and abandon it. What are the songs about? Anything and everything. We really don't think too much about what we've got or what we need. I don't think we've ever sat down and said "We've gotta get a song about (x) if we wanna keep this money train rollin' on down the tracks". We just don't censor ourselves and we see what happens. There's really no pattern there. I read Geek Love and wrote "I've Got Flippers". I met a few bands that were a******s, and we got "Jerkface". Dallas banned smoking and I wrote "Gimme Back My Smokes". I was raped by a penguin and we got "F*****d by Penguins". It's all up to whatever pops into our heads.

Q: Do you have any favourite songs you've written and why?

Rob: I have a very short attention span, so my favorite song is usually whatever our newest song is, because I haven't had time to get bored with it yet. "Sherpa Girl" obviously has a special place, being the first punk song I had written in years, and being the first Responsible Johnny song. Love listening to it, not a big fan of playing it...hahaha. "I Like Chicken" and "F*****d Your Fat Girlfriend' are favorites, because they're such great audience songs. People yell "chicken" at me all the time, and "Fat Girlfriend" has led to so many after-show discussions about my feelings towards women (fat and skinny) and whether I'm a chauvinist pig or not. And for the record, no I'm not. I'm married to a feminist. I support women's rights. All I'm asking in return for those rights is that you show me your tits when I ask you to and that you make a f*****g pie every now and then. There, that should stir up the hornet's nest again for a bit...hahaha.

Q: Your wife also plays music as well. Is there ever any tension or competition between the two of you? Are there pros and cons to this situation and why or why not?

Rob: Tension? Not a bit. We both support each other's bands to the fullest, so there's no need for tension between us. Competition? Hell yeah. It's a constant competition to book the better show, to get the better bands on the bill, to write the hookier chorus. If you ever see her on TV accepting a Grammy, you'd better believe that I'll be accepting a Juno a year later. And that's a giant pro. There's nothing better than always having someone around that you can bounce ideas off of that you know is going to be completely honest, and is going to push you to be better. If I bring her a song and it sucks she's going to let me know and she's not going to pull any punches, and vice versa. If I'm having issues w/ the band or a show, she knows what I'm going through and what I'm talking about. You can't get any better than that. Cons? She knocks out songs like it's effortless. I write songs like a chihuahua giving birth to an elephant - it's ugly, painful, and in the end you'll probably just want to kill the result.

Q: What does the future hold for you and RJ musically?

Rob: We never really give ourselves the time to think about that too much. We've just changed the lineup (again), and I'm stepping back from the guitar for a bit so someone that actually knows how to play can have a shot at it, while I concentrate on making vocals not suck so much. Coy is moving over to guitar, Rob (ex Non Radio Friendly) is coming in on bass, and we've got recent DFW transplant Nick coming from up north to bang on the drums for us. This will all most likely last for about a month and then fall apart, at which time we'll start from scratch again. We've finished writing the songs for "The Pornstar EP" which we'll hopefully be recording in the next month or so, and we'll be doing a live recording in September that hopefully won't be a complete musical travesty. Outside of that we'll just keep playing shows until no one shows up anymore, and then I'll hang it up, stay home and watch TV.

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