The Father Figures Dish on Phoenix's Punk Rock Glory Days
In this week's issue, we chat with the members of Phoenix art-punk band The Father Figures, discussing the band's phenomenal sophomore album, All About Everything. We ended up with quite a bit of information left over from our 90-minute interview, so in this installment of Outtakes, we'll crack open the tape recorder and let a whole bunch of good material that didn't make the print edition see the light of day.
-The Father Figures Play Punk With No Rules -Gregg Turkington on Punk in Tempe, the '80s, and a Band As Good as Black Flag -JFA Celebrates 30 Years of Skate Punk -More Oral History of Phoenix Skate Punk -Download: The Father Figures Cover The Feederz Classic "Avon Lady"
All three members of The Father Figures -- bassist Tom Reardon, guitarist Michael Cornelius, and drummer Bobby Lerma -- are longtime members of the Phoenix punk scene, and in their minds, it was only a matter of time before they would end up playing together. The idea to jam first arose when Lerma's wife and daughter were out of town.
"I had wanted to play with Tom for a long time," Lerma says. "It was just [a matter of] finding the right project. He had me come in to try and fill in for [his band] Pinky Tuscadero ['s White Knuckle Ass Fuck] and I don't have the stoner rock genes, so I floundered. I've never been so frustrated trying to play music before in my entire life; it was borderline embarrassing, so it's good to be able to play together. He said, 'Hey, who can we get to play guitar?' I immediately thought, 'It's got to be Michael.'"
Although Cornelius acts as the band's guitarist, Lerma has always respected his bass skills. Cornelius played the instrument with the legendary skate punk band JFA (Jodie Foster's Army), a band he helped found.
"There's always Mike Watt, but Michael was my favorite bass player," Lerma says.
The three began jamming -- with Cornelius flexing his jazzy muscle on guitar, Lerma on drums, and Reardon on bass and vocals. Six weeks after getting started, The Father Figures played its first show at Cornelius' 50th birthday party at The Ruby Room. The band soon released its debut, Lesson Number One, but immediately began working on its follow-up. Finally finished, All About Everything, is a testament to the band's precision.
"We agree with each other to keep writing the songs until they're really done," Cornelius says. "We've written songs that we don't play. We've written songs that we haven't recorded and don't play that we may come back to; they're just on the bench."
The material may see release -- but the lesson learned is that the band takes its material, with requisite woodshedding, very seriously.
"We're not The Replacements," Reardon suggests.
The band still likes to have a good laugh about the origin of its name. Lerma claims it was the only name they could afford. Reardon suggests, "All of the other domain names were taken." The name doesn't have too significant of a meaning, though the band likes to think of it in the authoritative big-brother sense.
"I've always thought of it as, 'We're just a bunch of clean-cut, regular guys imploring you to listen," Lerma says.
"If we had a good scolding once in a while, that'd be true," Reardon says.
All About Everything straddles the line between living in the now and nostalgia (songs "Switch" document the band's shared obsession, skateboarding). Still, the trio was around for Phoenix's punk rock glory days.
"I moved to Phoenix in 1978 from Kansas City," Cornelius says. "In Kansas City, there's no punk rock thing going on, really. I remember my friend that worked in the record store would play the Sex Pistols record to piss off the store across the mall. I was familiar with some stuff like Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, and Sex Pistols when I moved out here, but I'd never been to any sort of punk rock concert scene at all.
When I moved here, my friends were artists. My college friends were art major performance artists, and I started a band with them called The Junior Kims. We did that as sort of a reaction to 'Well, anyone can do this, because look at this stuff, this is crazy, we could do that too.' We did it almost like performance art, not really 'Oh, this is going to be great music, we're just going to do something crazy and have really cool fliers' and that kind of stuff."
Cornelius found himself immersed in the punk scene at an event called "Troutorama."
"It had The Feederz," Cornelius says. "The Feederz were back in '77/'78 and it was just crazy. It was a rented hall and people were being really weird and crazy, and it was a very small scene. We're talking about 100 people showing up to a little hall and three bands playing and you knew everyone in the bands. I met musicians that way, and I met [JFA's] Don [Redondo] through punk rock music. I was at a show at the Mason Jar and a band called The Blue Shoes were playing, and they were like a New Wave cover band. They played a Dickies song and this surfer-looking dude with long dreadlocks dived on the dance floor and started flopping around on the dance floor.
So, [I decided that] I've got to meet that guy because he's a weirdo. We like weirdos."
Eventually, Redondo and Cornelius formed JFA, a band as infamous as it proved to be influential.
"We got banned from the Mason Jar," Cornelius says. "Other bands were getting banned from other clubs, just being worried about getting away with it for right now, let alone what was going to happen later."
Lerma was younger and had different experiences.
"It was different because I was a little kid going to those shows," Lerma says. "For me, it always seemed like it was the safe place for everybody who didn't fit in anywhere else. The artists who didn't make art that conformed to what every other artist was doing. There was a big gay population that came to the shows then that didn't fit in anywhere else, just anybody who was kind of a misfit. Outcast longhairs, it was a safe place to go."
"I guess I'm more of a late bloomer compared to these two because I didn't start going to shows until probably until '84 or 85," Reardon says. "Didn't play until '88. I don't know, I guess it was violent and crazy. There was a lot of times walking out being bloody, but I always thought that was part of the fun. I remember being at the Mason Jar for a DRI show and walking right into someone's fist and it just ruined my face, but that was part of the fun because DRI was awesome and 'Oh, well, my clothes got covered with blood, but that's all right.' [It] just made it look cool.
Reardon played in numerous outfits but holds the distinction of opening for Fugazi with his band The Religious Skids.
"[Religious Skids] got to open for Fugazi, and that was our third time playing in front of people," he laughs. "It was Fugazi's first time in Phoenix. People were pretty jazzed about the fact that it was 'the dude from Minor Threat.' Some folks had copies of the first EP, so that's what they were touring in support of. We were the only non-straight edge band on the bill, but we were the only ones that Fugazi hung out with."
"And we were drunker than everyone else," added Lerma. Here's hoping the three punk statesmen get a chance to crack a few beers tomorrow, when they release their new LP. They certainly deserve it.
The Father Figures are scheduled to perform Friday, January 25, at Crescent Ballroom.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.