Johnny Bonnel: When I first joined the Swingin’ Utters with Greg and Kevin, the original band members, we were just doing covers at that time — the Clash, Stiff Little Fingers, Sham 69, the Ramones. We mostly played backyards, kitchens, living rooms, mainly around Santa Cruz. Sometimes in the mountains, but that’s as far as we got.
Spike Slawson: My parents moved out when I was 16 to Davis, California, gateway to Sacramento. I used to tell people it was only 11 miles away from the capitol of California.
These kids from Vacaville, Woodland, Dixon would descend on this mall. It was cruise night — only it was punks. It was really weird. And Modesto, Sac, Vacaville kids would come in and beat people up.
Right before I moved there, they had shut down the punk night called “The Graduate” because they were trying to change the whole profile of the bar into this more dickhead-friendly kind of room.
When they changed the profile of the bar, they put a sign on the door with a comic rendering of what they thought punk rock people were — with a big red X through it. The guy had a safety pin and some spiky hair and a trenchcoat. But people kept descending on that parking lot even though they couldn’t get into the club. They called it Grad Night. Like, “Are you going to Grad Night tonight?” This town sucks. Places like that are for fruits and vegetables. For people to go to college.
We drove to Sacramento to see shows at the Crest Theatre. When it would shut down, the police were waiting and they were really rude and abusive. It was kind of like they couldn’t come up with anything you were doing wrong. It was just what you chose to wear. I had long hair at that point, too. I listened only to Southern rock, but only went to punk shows. It was bizarre. I wasn’t ready to completely flip. I was ridiculous.
Johnny Bonnel: When we first got in [Gilman] we were super excited, like, this is the big-time! Because we’d heard so many stories, Operation Ivy and Green Day, and then Rancid. We were sort of let down once we played there, because we were just playing to our friends.
There were basketball games going on while we were playing. Our friends would be there sweeping in front of the stage, in their suits, while the show was still going on. Because it was so dead.
Larry Livermore showed up to one of our shows and said we were a violent band. And there was like, no one there! I don’t know how he got that because people were dressed really nice and they were sweeping. That was his first impression. We were all excited because we found out he was there — like maybe we’ll get signed. But if he can’t handle a little show with people dressed in suits…
I’m a little bit uncomfortable now just cause I’m older. I’d rather play slower music than be on stage acting silly, spraying beer on people. That’s not fun anymore.
Spike Slawson: But you get to yell. If you yell in bars without being in a a band, you get beat up.
Johnny Bonnel: Now there are so many bands that are successful and making lots of money, it’s like who cares. There are so many bands it’s ridiculous — and there are other bands that are reforming. It’s disheartening. It’s a cluster fuck. I always say, Wwhy are these guys big?” I’m bitter, I’m totally bitter, but it’s like whoever’s successful is successful. If people are going to take it that seriously — c’mon, it’s music. The first stuff they were listening to was on major labels anyway. They just wanted a hefty paycheck so they could go down to the bar and drink and not have to work.
Spike Slawson: Those are admirable ambitions. The new generation wants to buy homes or feed their kids, or some shit like that. What’s more punk than laziness?