Interview: The Vandals

Published in Drum Media (WA) | 28.02.13 | Issue # 327



The world’s seen or heard very little of The Vandals over the past nine or so years. Bassist Joe Escalante discusses the lawsuit that sent them into the shadows and almost broke up the band with Daniel Cribb.

It’s been almost nine years since The Vandals unleashed their tenth studio album, Hollywood Potato Chip, and this year they’ll be releasing their first new material since in the form of an EP. “It’s a darker, more introspective Vandals,” Vandals bassist and founder of iconic punk rock label Kung Fu Records, Joe Escalante tells.

Coming from a man whose band has song titles such as I’ve Got An Ape DrapeThe Vibrator Song and Live Fast, Diarrhea, something doesn’t sound quite right… “I’m kidding!” he chuckles. “It’s just more Vandals stuff; things that we thought were funny. It’s just punk rock.”

He may laugh at the thought of a darker form of The Vandals, but behind the scenes, that’s exactly how things had been for close to a decade. The original Hollywood Potato Chip artwork parodied US publication Variety, with the band name written in the same lettering as the publication. A few months following release, The Vandals received a cease-and-desist order. They settled the lawsuit, agreeing to reprint the album with a new cover, and thought it was all over. Then, in 2010, Variety filed another lawsuit over the imagery resurfacing on varies sites that The Vandals had nothing to do with. Variety claimed that the band had ignored their agreement.

“That was a hell that prevented a lot of Vandals songs from being recorded, because it was just a traumatic thing; it was like someone kidnapping your baby or something, and you’re like, ‘What? How can you do that?’. And it’s like, ’Well, it doesn’t matter how, they did it, and now what are we going to do?’. So we were in that mode for almost ten years, and it was terrible, just terrible. There would be fights, like disagreements on how to handle it; suspicion, intrigue, drama – it was hell on earth.”

The lawsuit came to a grinding halt, February 2012, the night before the trial when Variety dropped the case. “It was an extortion scheme and we wouldn’t pay the extortion,” he explains.

Escalante’s “only real” job was at a CBS television network in Hollywood, where he worked as a lawyer and negotiator for programs, writers and actors. Since then he has been hosting his own radio show, Barely Legal Radio, and giving away free legal advice twice a week for US company Legal Zoom. So when The Vandals found themselves in a spot of legal trouble, Escalante representing the band seemed like a logical choice.

“I didn’t really know what I was doing, because I’m not a real lawyer that litigates things in court – but I learned to, at least, put up a fight and let them know that we’re not going to bend over, and so we fought them and fought them until the night before the trial.

With the Hollywood Potato Chip nightmare well and truly settled, they’ve had an intense year of celebrating and rediscovering their love for the band. Soundwave is their first “foreign” venture since the lawsuit. “It’s very exciting, because we can just play and have fun and enjoy each other. There’s been the same four guys in this band for 25 years, but there was a lot of tension during that lawsuit, it was like, ‘Hey, why is this happening? Is it your fault? Why aren’t you doing this? Why don’t we try this?’, so there was tension. Now that that’s over it’s a freedom to just go and try be creative again.”

Unfortunately drumming legend Josh Freese wasn’t able to make the trip Down Under this time. But as Escalante explains, the helping hands enlisted already feel like part of the family. “[Freese] is so famous; he won’t even go to Australia with us. He has Sublime shows, so we’re taking Derek Grant from Alkaline Trio. He’s the only guy in the band with a tattoo, and he has a Vandals tattoo,” Escalante explains.

The Vandals will be playing the following dates:

Friday 1 March – Soundwave, Melbourne VIC
Saturday 2 March – Soundwave, Adelaide SA
Monday 4 March – Soundwave, Perth WA

Daniel Cribb

Drum Perth (Feb 28, 2013)