Interview with Poison Idea vocalist Jerry A. | By Janelle Jones
Not only did Poison Idea release their first LP in nine years on April 7th – the gripping, blistering Southern Lord-released Confuse & Conquer – but the hardcore greats who’ve been around in one form or another since 1980 are also doing a bunch of touring this year. Hearing about the latest goings-on from frontman Jerry A. is a trip…
The last record you put out was Latest Will and Testament in 2006, when guitarist Tom “Pig Champion” Roberts was still alive.
Yeah, it was a long time ago.
You put out a couple of 7”s in the meantime…
Yeah, we were just messing around. It’s the same thing with this one. We’ve kinda always been a self-centered band and do whatever makes us laugh. We don’t have a schedule. There’re a lot of bands that put a record out, tour behind it, come back, do press, do another record. We’re just like, “Eh, whatever.”
We haven’t put out a record in a long time, and I just kinda felt… After last year, we were gonna go over and do some festivals and the promoter who was gonna fly us over just dragged his feet forever to buy the tickets. He wouldn’t contact us; he was just waiting and waiting. We’re like, “Dude, we’ve got all these shows, what’s up?” Then, all the sudden, he didn’t speak English, at the last minute, he’s like, “I thought you were buying the tickets.” We’re like, “Bullshit. We have this right here that says you were doing it.” So anyway, a lot of people were pissed off and with the Internet you can say all you want. Information is so quick. Like that thing with NOFX, that guy [Fat Mike] punches a guy, kicks a guy in the face, the next day, he’s vilified and he’s this monster. And it travels around the world. Or, I don’t know if you’re familiar with… I think it happened a year ago with the guy in The Casualties.
That’s the thing. I could put that I got beat up by a bunch of cops in front of my house. I could say, “These cops pulled me over and fucked the shit out of me and beat my head in.” And the next day, it’s the gospel. I don’t know what that cat from The Casualties did. I wasn’t there. He wasn’t tried, he wasn’t judged. It’s just this hearsay and shit. But I know how that goes. People talked shit about me for years, and said I did this, I did that, and the next day I’m a whatever… But the thing with [the tour] was “we canceled,” “we’re the assholes.” So I just thought, “Fuck it. Let’s put out a record and try to do some good.”
Since this is the first full-length without Pig, was there a time you thought it might fold?
Well, yeah. There’ve been lots of times. Poison Idea has always had this reputation for being extremists in all senses. We like to drink, we like to party, we like to get fucked up. And there was a time when that went first before anything else. And when that’s all you do in your life, everything comes second. I just thought, “This music’s getting in my way of me getting loaded.” But then, it was just like, I said I felt like I was kinda cheating some people who really dug the music, and it was time to just quit all that stuff and get back to doing what I started out doing.
Just make a record, play some shows, and if they dig it, that’s cool. Then, if we wanna quit, at least we’re not going out with a whimper.
How long did it take to write and record?
[Laughs] Like four months. We just decided we wanted to tour, so we’re like, “Let’s sit down and write some songs.”
What about a song like “Dead Cowboy”?
Well, I listen to all sorts of stuff. I don’t just listen to the same music. I’m sitting in my room here, and I got a guitar there right in front of me and I just play around with it constantly. That [song] just came to me and I thought it sounded cool. With the music, the way it sounds, the lyrics just naturally fit in there. It’s not like I set out and planned to do that. I understand you have to break up the monotony and add some variety with everything, and I couldn’t write a whole record with those cowboy songs, because I wouldn’t dig it. We’ve always just wrote records with the stuff we’d want to hear, like if I put on a record, [I write it] the way I think a record should sound. It should kick ass in the beginning, have some good break in the middle, go up, down, up, down, end like this, go out like that. So, that’s what we did.
The lyrics are really powerful. You can feel it. And I love the next song “Beautiful Disaster.”
If you’re gonna write stories or books, the best advice a teacher can give students would be to go out and live a full life, and then write about that. Write about you know. The songs are all… You could look at Poison Idea records from the very first record up until this one, and it’s pretty much just a big, long story. The first record, we were kids and we were just pissed off youth going 100 miles an hour. The second one was whatever; we were getting into this. The third one, we maybe had girlfriends, bad affairs, and this and that. Then, our friends started dying on the fourth album because of the stuff we were doing. The darkness crept in. If you knock on its door long enough, it’s gonna answer. Then we just got engulfed in this stuff worse and worse, and then pretty soon, it was not just crying in your beer, [but] drowning in your beer. It’s just life: it goes up and down. Maudlin stuff happens and good stuff happens. It’s all true and it’s powerful, and if you feel, maybe you can relate to it, because it’s life and people experience life. I’m glad that it touched you.
I hadn’t heard Latest Will and Testament. The last full-length I had was Blank Blackout Vacant from 1992, which was so long ago.
That was a depressing record.
I was just looking back on it. “Crippled Angel” is a great song.
Oh yeah. That’s a sad song too. But the cool thing about that is it’s a true story. But then, somebody came up to me once and… There’s a bridge in Portland that people are known to jump off of, and this person came up to me and said, “I was on that bridge and was gonna do it, and that song came into my head and I started thinking about it, and I just couldn’t do it and I just walked away. I wanted to tell you that.” And I was just like, “Wow.” Just that one person saying that made it worthwhile.
Good things come from bad things.
How old were you when you started Poison Idea?
Who really got you into not just punk, but rock ‘n’ roll or whatever?
Just really good music. I like all sorts of crazy music. I liked rock ‘n’ roll and stuff, but I kinda liked more, not so much glam, but I really liked Queen a lot. Just weird Roxy Music, Sparks, stuff like that. But of course, the Ramones, and when I think of NY and [New Jersey], I think of The Dictators and, from Jersey… A lot of people don’t like this band, but I think Genocide is a great band. Like I said, I’m sitting in my room right now, I got my CDs right here. I see 13th Floor Elevators, Nick Cave, The Who, Wu-Tang Clan, Blitz, Broken Bones, some grunge shit, The Smiths, Pixies, Rasputina, Daisy Chainsaw, The Jam, just all sorts of shit. Such a variety, it’s insane. That’s what makes it good, because you don’t get bored with just one thing.
I was just asking I guess what inspired the craziness of the first record, Pick Your King?
Probably the West Coast punk stuff, like in L.A.: Circle Jerks, Black Flag, Germs, all that kind of stuff. That’s what we were into. The 30 second songs, skateboarding, crazy shit like that. That’s still a part of me. I still love it. We played  Gilman [Street] down in San Francisco. There’s still little kids going crazy and I talk to them. These kids wearing like Circle One shirts. I’m like, “Do you really like Circle One?” And they’re like, “Yeah!” It’s fun. People’s tastes change, but that’s the stuff we were into at that time.
Looking back at Blank Blackout Vacant, you did a New York Dolls cover. Kids who were strictly into hardcore might not have been into that before…
That’s good to do that. It’s like making a dish for somebody and they’re not familiar with what it is, and you put a dash of cinnamon in it and they’re like, “What’s that flavor?” I like that. Turn them on to something new.
But that can go both ways. We played a festival with Machine Head in Europe and we ended with “Islands On Fire”—which Machine Head covers—and after our set, I was walking off with the two guys in Machine Head and this guy’s like, “Can I take your photo?” I said sure. He’s like, “How long have you been covering Machine Head?” And I go, “A long time. We cover Pantera, too,” because both bands cover our songs. [Laughs] I thought that was funny. I’m honored that those guys covered our songs.
On the new record, the song “Hypnotic”…
What do you think of that song?
The middle part, the spoken word thing about “burned-out hippie shit”…
That’s Pig. That’s kind of a tribute. We added him on the record. Some guy videotaped him talking for some interview, and we just watched and thought it was hilarious. Now that I think about it, we didn’t put “Spoken word by Pig Champion.” We really should’ve done that. That never occurred to me until you just said that…