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UNHOLY TRINITY :: AN INTERVIEW WITH THE SHRINE

UNHOLY TRINITY :: AN INTERVIEW WITH THE SHRINE

By Kazie Holiday

The Shrine rips. While musicians are trading in their callused fingers for a computer serial code, the unholy trinity - Josh, Jeff, and Court (@theshrine) - keep it authentic. No gimmicks, no drum machines - just energy. They fly in riding a skateboard to the stage with the whole Venice skate community right there behind them - ready to strain their necks to some psychedelic violence. They rock a sound that you know can only be found in the depths of a dark, moist garage in the middle of a perfectly buzzed stupor.

The Shrine goes from town to town, blowing the doors off every place that will let them play, and that’s where Scotty and them intersected. And there’s a reason they’ve stayed in touch. They’ve remained part of the LA-Venice skate scene, staying true to the city that helped give them what they have. They’re true musicians who are actually more fascinated by music than just being called musicians - something that’s all too rare. It takes that kind of authenticity for Chuck Dukowski to take you under his wing.

 

Scotty sat down with the trio to find out a little bit more about their past, present, and future. And of course, how they manage to stay true to themselves and the community that believes in them.

SCOTTY “THE TRILLZ” LITEL: Alright so let’s start with the basics, your names, where you’re from, all that fun shit.
JOSH
: Josh, guitar and vocals. Venice.

JEFF: Jeff, drums, Long Beach.

COURT: Court, bass, back up vocals, Inglewood.

So you guys have a relatively niche sound, although it does easily bleed into a lot of different genres. You guys come from LA and LA has so many different pockets of the music scene, how do you guys try to hop into every pocket and fit into every niche? Or don’t you?
Josh:
There’s definitely a lot of different worlds in LA and for a long time as we were coming up, we would just try to play anywhere. Somebody the other day was like, “You guys have played every shitty place in Los Angeles.” I was like, “Yeah, we probably have at some point or another because we were desperate to play out and play shows.” So we’d take a show at the Boulevard in Boyle Heights which was a total metal show. And they’d be like, “Ugh, this punk band.” Then we’d play some punk show at a different warehouse and they’d be like, “Fucking metal heads,” or, “That Led Zeppelin rip off,” or something. It’s like, people are so tuned into their own little world it’s crazy.

Jeff: Yeah, when we first got together we were jamming every day and stuff so even though we’ve always played our style of music we were jamming a lot. And there’s a lot of jam bands around so we’d play like McWorld with Insects VS. Robots or Chuck Dukowski’s sextet and more jamming kind of stuff. We kinda got into that world, really psychedelic stuff.

Court: And once that kind of fell out a little, we just started playing the stuff we were usually writing just a little faster. That’s kind of how Primitive Blast got started and then we’ve just been going from there, you know?

What would you guys classify your music as? Obviously, people put all different types of labels, you mentioned being punk, metal, psych rock - if you guys had to really narrow it down.
Josh:
I used to say psychedelic violence for awhile, which is kind of a term somebody else used to describe some art but I kind of liked it because we played kind of psychedelic guitar rock but it was harder than what you would think of with that.

Josh: Lemmy says we’re Motorhead and play rock and roll. And I feel like that’s usually the easiest thing to say. Though, that’s a weird one, if somebody was like, “You’ve gotta hear this band, they’re a rock and roll band.” You’re like, “Oh, fuck, give me a break.”

Court: It’s not metal and it’s not punk.

Josh: One thing I think about is when you read about old bands or you read about punk bands and metal bands and whatever. The punk bands are like, “The long hair is to beat us up!” And like, if you listen to punk and have a shaved head you couldn’t go to a metal show or something you’d get called a “Devo faggot” or something.

It’s kind of rad because we’re this fucking oxymoron or something. We’re like this mixture of this unholy thing that used to be enemies or something stupid.

I think that’s what kind of contributes to the raw and authentic feeling that, at least, I get from your music. It has an authentic sound and going back to the everything goes mentality of skateboarding. So touching onto that a little, obviously, you’ve got a lot of similarities to a lot of the older bands, but you very much have your own sound. You wanna talk about that?
Josh:
It’s like we’re evolving every step of the way because we’re always searching out new music and we continue to jam. And when we’re jamming all the time if you spend enough time doing it you end up making plenty of mistakes and sometimes you recognize a good mistake and you’re like, “Whoa, that riff sounds way better this way and now it doesn’t sound as much like a Judas Priest rip off as it did before.”

Make some weird mistake and you can catch it and recognize it and it becomes something different and new. And I don’t know, maybe just because we like so many different types of punk, rock and roll, and metal there’s kind of an endless well. And there’s roots to it, we’re pulling from stuff that’s been around for maybe 30 or 40 years and has stood the test of time. So you can kind of always take from that and try to mutate it into your own shit.

Jeff: Yeah, all three of us, even though together we all like the same stuff but we bring different influences in [dog barks] like barking dogs. But like Josh for punk more, and Court for more metal and thrash and stuff like that. And me more like glam rock, just rock and roll kind of feel. I think all three of us bring something in, we’re always revising stuff, real minute little things with riffing, but always kind of revising stuff as we go along.

Having such a vast taste in music obviously helps when you guys all bring your own tastes in.
Josh: In high school I was just learning how to play guitar. I learned to play guitar to Black Flag and Bad Brains records and Ramones records and JFA. My band, at that point, was just straight up hardcore and it was like - I loved that shit - but at some point there was a definition to that. And after thirty songs or something we had written, we all turned 17 or 18 and it was like, “All right, what were Bad Brains listening to? What were these dudes? How’d they get into these riffs? How’d they arrive at this place?” Because they weren’t listening to hardcore they were listening to weirder shit and all sorts of shit.

Jeff: Yeah, Black Flag was apparently listening to Dio in the mid '80s. That’s where that stuff converges. All of our influences converge at some point.

Talk about Dukowski a little bit. Did meeting and being produced by Chuck Dukowski change or alter your guys’ sound at all?
Josh: Yeah, it probably altered our lives entirely.

Jeff: We met him so early on in the band, I think it was our second show at Time Warp, that he was there. We were just really stoked to just have him around. And then just a couple of shows later he expressed the fact that he wanted to help us out in any way that he could and that he really liked what we were doing.

I don’t know if musically he changed anything for us, but certainly the vibe that he’s always had is very influential. He’s always been the same kind of brooding bass player that you strive to be as a musician. You put everything you have into the music and then just everything else falls into place.

Josh: Yeah, if he’s around it makes you want to push yourself harder.

It’s like the energy of being around a skater that’s better than you.
Court:
Yeah, he’s in his 60s now and when you watch him play live, he’s still moving around just as intensely as he was in the early Flag footage. He’s still putting every ounce of his being into it even though it’s totally different, he’s still just as invested into it. You want to take anything that seriously.

So what would you say some things that Chuck might have taught you guys would be?
Jeff:
To put your finger into the chest of a promoter that doesn’t want to pay you.

Josh: We did a tour with him and he hadn’t done a tour or left the west coast - this was early on, this was like three and a half years ago or something - we did a really bad tour with him and his family. Some guy from the east coast just hyped it up like, “You guys come out, Chuck’s band, with the Shrine, and I’ll book all these shows,” he had all these guarantees. We drove our van from here to Kansas City and they flew in and the promoter was supposed to be there and run the whole thing. He totally bailed, he wasn’t there.

Chuck, at 58 then, was having to get in promoters’ faces to get the guarantees we were promised. The shit was not promoted at all. It was our first time leaving the west coast and it was the biggest disaster. Chuck’s family plays in his band and he had to turn to us and be like, “I can’t do this to my family. I’d be here with you guys, but we’re going to fly home. If you guys want to finish the shows I’ll give you all the money we’ve made.” The shows were not promoted or announced at all and it was our first time off the west coast. Some of the shows had like five people at them.

He was like, “Dude, I shit you not. When Des joined Black Flag, we started touring, and it was like this. There was nobody there. And we did tour after tour after tour and we just kept going and we kept pushing on until we found people or people heard about us or we met the right guy. Then the next time the show was good.” Then he was like, “I would be here with you guys doing it, just don’t stop.”

Jeff: And we continued on with his drummer as the roadie and just kept going and finished the tour. It was a lesson in sleeping on peoples’ floors and playing to five people, but it set us up for everything we’re doing now, I wouldn’t change that tour because it taught us a lot of stuff.

Josh: It was still fun, you’re still just exploring the world and kind of escaping reality. All of it is just means to escape reality and play music which is one of the best, most fun, most fulfilling things you can do.

It seems like you guys have gotten more than your fair share of support from Los Angeles and from Venice. I think that’s really rare.
Josh:
Yeah it is. And a lot of that just comes from skateboarding. A lot of it comes from so many weird tie-ins that have helped our band. People who make our videos or books shows or just our buddies wearing our shirts in skate videos or something. One of our buddies, Blake Johnson who rides for Santa Cruz and DVS and a bunch of shit - I’ve been skating with him since I was in 6th grade 13 years ago at the Boys and Girls Club in Santa Monica and he was a fucking ripper then. And he just started riding for Santa Cruz and he was like, “My welcome to Santa Cruz piece, send me the fucking track.” That’s amazing because he’s like - I remember being 13 and people being like, “Oh, yeah, Blake’s the best dude here. Best fucking ripper at the park.”

The skateboarding world has definitely helped promote us like insane.

And skateboarding’s embraced you guys a ton.
Josh:
Yeah, it’s so weird. Even out in the world, I say it again and again, don’t have anywhere to sleep, end up at the skate park and somebody’s like, “Here’s where you don’t want to stay and you can stay with me. And here’s where you don’t want to eat, here’s the bar you want to go to.

Jeff: The skateboard community allows for everything to come together no matter what. Skateboarding just breaks down whatever barriers you may have when you’re at a show and just like, fuck I love everything.

Yeah, I think Jake Phelps said it best, “Skateboarding is the most universal language in the world.” What would you say was a high point of connection for skateboarding to the band? Obviously, being from Venice and being in LA you’re exposed to the culture of skateboarding and you’re around a lot of pros but kids in the Midwest or Europe might not have access to. And I know you had your picture taken by Lance Mountain at a really young age and obviously that’s pretty fucking insane and I don’t know if that’s top-able. But anything for you that really stands above all?
Josh: A show we played a few months ago, standing in our dressing room with us before we went on was Jim Muir, Jeff Ho, and Chuck Dukowski there to fucking hang out and see us. It was kind of like if we never did anything again this is the craziest coolest thing that’s ever happened.

Jeff: And because of that too - with Chuck living in Venice and what not - we played a show in DC when we were on tour with Graveyard last year. And we’re just chilling there talking right before the show and all of a sudden Ian MacKaye comes up and says, “Hey, good to see you guys,” like he knew who we were because of Chuck and came to the show to check us out. So I’m sitting onstage playing drums and I look over and he’s standing there watching us play, hanging out.

Josh: It was one of the most nervous shows I’ve ever played in my life because he was just standing right on the right side of me, if I turned a little bit I could see him out of the corner of my eye. He’s just like, “Yeah, the dude told me to come so I put the baby to bed and I hopped to it. What’s up?” What do you even say?! What can I say to you? What’s up?

Court: He was pumped and he was like, “I can see why Chuck likes you.” He was fucking cool.

I think it’s probably safe to say he’s influenced all of our lives. He’s played such a big influence on the culture and expanding peoples’ - opening up peoples’ minds completely. That’s got to be a humbling experience.
Josh: Still doesn’t seem real now that it’s been a year and a half. Was that a dream? I could probably still play every - the first half of Minor Threat’s complete discography right now on guitar and forever. That stuff is how I learned how to play guitar.

Josh: And also, one of the things that we carry on to that, it’s like, yeah, we’re not a hardcore punk band but look at Ian, look at Black Flag, look at Chuck, they booked their own tours. They put out their own records, they had skateboards made, they weren’t like, “We’re punks and we’re afraid of business.” They were like, “No, we’re going to do this shit our way, have our own companies and take it to other people all over the world.”

The real DIY. Nobody else is going to do it for them so they have to do it themselves.
Josh:
Yeah, not out of some subculture to fit into, but just out of flat out necessity. I remember Black Flag was like, “Yeah, we didn’t want to put out our own record, nobody else would. Somebody was supposed to and it fell through and we just wanted to get it out.”

Is it Bless Off with the cross on the cover? You got a blessing from somebody for that cover? You were telling me the whole story.
Josh:
Yeah, I had this idea to take the wolf and mix it with a Dogtown graphic that was kind of an obscure one, it was a late '80s Ric Clayton drawing for Born Again. It was when Dogtown kind of rebirthed in the '80s. But my buddy that I skate with was like, “Dude, you better get this shit checked out before you just blatantly rip this thing off and twist it.”

I went to school with Jim Muir’s son and I surfed with him when I was in middle school. We were on his radar for awhile and he was like, “Wait a minute this shit’s going on in my neighborhood under my nose? What up? I back you guys.” And I had sent him the graphic and was like, “I think we’re going to maybe use this for an album cover, would that be okay?” He was like, “Yeah, I’ll back you. I’ll put it up on my Instagram, whatever. I’ll tell people about it, that shit’s cool with me. I really want to make some boards but I’m kind of fucked going through this - I’m switching over my distributor, getting Dogtown back fully in my name. It’s going to be really good, we’re coming back full on, but it’s not ready.” He was like, “If you make boards, I’m cool, I’ll even tell people about them.”

I got off the phone giddy. We just got endorsed to make Dogtown rip offs. And nobody had ever done an album cover like that. I don’t think - there have been a million skateboard companies that have ripped off the Dogtown cross and done their own version of it. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen an album cover that used the Dogtown Venice graphic style.

If you guys could tour with any band together, dead or alive, who would it be?
Josh:
I think we’re about to do it. We’re about to go to Europe with our buddies Dirty Fences. [Laughs]

Jeff: Those guys rule. When anybody talks about dead or alive - Josh has said this before too actually - if I could artistically go on the road with somebody and it’s not even music, I’d say Bill Hicks. My first person just because that guy, as far as speaking the truth and telling people what’s up, should be looked at and listened to every single day by everyone in the world I think. That’s always been a huge inspiration on just putting your energy into something and just my worldview in general.

Court: My simple answer is Thin Lizzy.

There you go, man knows what he wants. So last thing here, let’s talk about what the recording process is like for you guys. I imagine it’s a lot of jamming.
Josh:
It’s really casual, really laid back. We’ve never gone and paid a studio and we had to set up our gear somewhere else and really ever had too much success with it. We’ve always recorded here in my garage except for our very first trip to Europe we stayed in Holland for five days recording with this dude who had made one of my favorite records; an awesome record by this band Annihilation Time. And so we wanted to go there and record with him because he got this crazy sound.

We spent five nights fried, up all night learning these new songs and jamming. We got this totally warped, amazing, fucked up, weird, alien-sound recording. And in the end we were kind of still learning the songs and it was too fresh, the takes were kind of - we didn’t necessarily nail everything. But we were kind of in boot camp there with this dude. Yeah, he hit us with a lot of stuff all the time.

Court: Yeah, it’s gotten pretty stripped down over the last few years. Time was very limited.

Jeff: His knowledge was unlimited.

Josh: How to play music, how to evolve yourself. It was really comparable to Chuck or something. We’d be trying to do something and he’d be like, “Be lazy like a cholo. Just cruise down the street and be so tough, don’t even do anything but just look. Make it feel tough. Don’t try to lift a weight that’s too heavy and everybody can see you crumbling.” He was telling me to play guitar like, “Let it be slow, let it ooze out, don’t give a fuck. Show everybody how little of a fuck you give and just do what feels good.” Really cool shit. It never left me.

Court: Yeah, when you were singing he told you to be gay like Iggy Pop.

Josh: Yeah! He was talking about how singers and theater people - how everything comes out dramatic, which is just being gay. It was amazing.

Jeff: I mean, we’ve had times in the past where we’ve come to the studio and just set up mics one day and we’re sitting there just seeing how everything sounds and maybe dialing in a couple things. Then we come back a week later and listen to it - the cover we did and a couple things - it always seems like we can set some things up and be like, “Oh, we’ll take care of the rest of it later.” Then we come in a little later and then the first take of the day is the take. We did that with “Symptom of the Universe,” we did that with a bunch of different songs. It feels really comfortable here. To the point where we demoed Primitive Blast here and then we tried to go somewhere else and do it on a larger scale and then we ended up essentially using the demos that we did here for the entire album Primitive Blast. Because we felt like it felt more natural than anything else that we had tried to do.

Josh: Yeah, recording can really suck the soul out of just trying to play music; it’s crazy. It’s really tough. Trying to feel comfortable. You want to think about, “Oh, we want this to be like as good as when we’re playing live and there’s energy and it’s nuts.” But then you’re recording so you’re really careful to play every note. Sometimes you want to hear things just being unhinged and raw like they would be at a live show where you just don’t care and are going on the energy and it doesn’t matter if you miss a few notes.

So many of my favorite guitar players were sloppy. Hendrix, sloppy, Jimmy Page, sloppy, Greg Ginn, sloppy. Live is sloppy - but their energy and the power communicates through it.

And that’s what you guys bring to the table is an unbelievable amount of energy and the organicness and it feels natural. I think it feels natural to the people in the crowd and obviously it feels natural to you guys on the stage and feels natural to you guys here in the studio.
Josh
: One of the coolest quotes I read recently is by this dude Ian Svenonius, who was in a bunch of bands and does a lot of weird stuff. I haven’t stopped thinkin about this since I’ve read it. He said, “Being onstage performing in a rock and roll band is a practice session for the rest of your life.” He’s like, “Practice, onstage, how you want to live the rest of your life.”

Words to live by right there.
Josh
: How fucking heavy is that?

::

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All photos above by Olivia Jaffe (@wicked_lady).

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