Tom "Soda" Gardocki spent years playing guitar in SoCal rockers Wax (go rewatch the credits of Mallrats; the band plays right after its pals Weezer) but more recently he's devoted himself to more rustic purposes.
Either performing with his Large Band, his "Million Piece Band," or solo with his 12-string banjo (like on the The South Congress Session bootleg, recently released by Hillgrass Bluebilly Records), Soda's twangy voice hints ever-so-slightly at his punk past.
Read on for our discussion about Spike Jonze, the Americana scene, and rocking a 12-string banjo.
Up on the Sun: When you tour as Soda, you do the Americana thing, but you also play in Wax, a punk rock band. Tom "Soda" Gardocki: Yes, sir.
Tell me a little bit about Wax's history.
What Else Can You Do came out on Caroline Records in 1990. We signed with Interscope after that, and then we also signed with SideOne Records. It's SideoneDummy now, but we started as SideOne Records. We were active just a couple years ago, too. We hadn't played in 15 years, but we did some Weezer shows, some shows in Chicago for the Riot Fest and some NOFX shows.
We wrote the song "Mallrats" for the movie. We were in Bio-Dome. All our videos were [done by] Spike Jonze. Loomis Fall plays drums in my "Million Piece Band," and other bands of mine, and he's the drummer in Wax and part of the Jackass crew, and Spike does Jackass and all that. We've always been friends with Spike. I think his first video was our first video. He did "California."
So when did you start exploring the Americana sound?
I've always been doing it; I've always played this way. I grew up in the middle of Illinois, and I've done it on and off. [Since Wax has cooled off] I've been doing this consistently for a few years now.
Other than the sonic aspects of the bands being different, is there a difference songwriting-wise?
Life changes, you know? I wrote the same way then as I do now. Even then I wrote on different instruments. When I'm writing it's just whatever is around. It's a lot different what I do now. When I do the 15-piece band, it's a huge undertaking, to put all that together, you know what I mean? It's like four bands in one. Sometimes when I'm in Phoenix, I'll have Hashknife Outfit back me up. If have friends in different cities, and different folks will sometimes back me up.
So you're mostly playing alone this tour?
I'll be playing a 12-string banjo.
I don't know that I've ever seen a 12-sting banjo.
I know Gibson made them in the early days, and I know Reverend Gary Davis had one because I've seen pictures of him with it. I never heard him play it, or know if he recorded it, but that's the only time I've seen one. I found one in Kentucky, and it makes a lot of noise.
A lot of former punk rock and rock 'n' roll guys are moving into more rustic sounds.
It's just a natural progression as you get older. I saw Kevin Seconds doing it. This is what I grew up on: country, Americana, blues, and stuff like The Replacements. Midwestern stuff, you know?
Do you see people breaking out of that scene into the CMA, Nashville establishment?
The Country Music Awards are like the bad metal of '80s. It is what it is [and] I don't know if it really counts. It does to the masses, I suppose, but I don't know what to say about that other than the masses are asses. [laughs] Some people love that stuff, but my heroes are guys like Johnny Thunders, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Howlin' Wolf. That kind of stuff. There are some people out there really good, Possessed by Paul James, who are just writing beautiful, beautiful songs. A band like Larry and his Flask [is gaining popularity].
I actually saw them at Warped Tour this year, which was strange, but good.
I tour with them a lot; They are a great band.
You've got all this history: touring with The Ramones, being a part of the California rock establishment.
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And now I live in a town with a population of 99. I'm 99. There's a bunch of old western people here, I sing up with them and have a lot of fun. Just things like that. Searching that stuff out.
That connection to the past is important to you?
Always. No matter what kind of music. You can always tell when someone means it, they mean it. Hashknife Outfit means it. They remind me of Camper Van Beethoven...meets some weird Arizona-country. There are people out there I think are really amazing.