Miles Per Gallon | CH3’s Story of OC Punk
A Conversation with Mike Magrann
September 21, 2023 by Kevin Gomez
Growing up in the punk and hardcore scene in Orange County in the ‘80s, CH3 was just as synonymous as Adolescents, T.S.O.L., or Social Distortion. Truth be told, many bands can talk the talk, but only a select few can speak truth to power and precede their legendary status with their convictions. Luckily for all of us, an epic story 40 years in the making is about to be told.
Front-man and guitarist Mike Magrann is taking a change of pace by releasing his first novel, “Miles Per Gallon,” due out this Halloween.
After four decades, he and fellow CH3 co-founding member and childhood friend, Kimm Gardener are still playing music, touring the world, and even carpooling to their shows together. I caught up with Magrann to discuss his upcoming book, what the punk scene was like in the ‘80s, and CH3’s upcoming tour of Japan.
Kevin: Congratulations on “Miles Per Gallon.” You graduated college with a creative writing degree; is writing a book something you’ve wanted to do for a while?
Mike: I kept a blog for the band for a couple decades, just writing down little chapters about our adventures. I just never had the focus to sit down and do something long form, and then COVID – you’re just sitting there with nothing but time on your hands. So, I focused on a single tour we did back in 1983 and used that a starting point. The book is written [as] almost a fictional novel based on real events and people, sort of a biographical fiction.
Kevin: What did you find to be the hardest part of writing a book? Were you surprised by it?
Mike: People think the hardest part is writing that much, but it’s the opposite – cutting it down. When I first finished it was like 140,000 words (laughs). Also, I couldn’t believe how long it takes between finishing the book and publishing it. The book has been done for like two and a half years. Going back and forth with the editor, getting it printed. It’s such a slower process than when a new album comes out, but on that same note I feel like books have a longer shelf life.
Kevin: Do you have plans to write more? Would it be fiction, perhaps, like Blag Dahlia (from the Dwarves)?
Mike: I don’t know if you’re familiar with “A Fan’s Notes” by Frederick Exley. He was one of the first guys who said, “This is me. I’m writing about a character named me and what happens to him, but it didn’t actually happen.” The story about me and the band was kind of this three-book project, where “Miles Per Gallon” deals with my childhood and getting into a hardcore band. The next book would be about disillusion and trying to make it in Hollywood as a long-haired rocker. And then the final book would be about this resurgence of punk in 2000.
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Kevin: One of the topics I’m most fascinated and horrified reading about ‘80s punk is the violence that unfortunately went along with it. Does “Miles Per Gallon” touch on any of that?
Mike: Yeah, it definitely does. Like a lot of the ‘80s punk bands, it was really a short window of 5,000 kids showing up as the Olympic Auditorium. It was really only like a year and a half, before all the shows turned into riots. Cops, tear gas, a real battle scene. The hardcore scene kind of disappeared, and it was just a bunch of strangers fighting. It made it all sweeter in 2000 when there was this big resurgence of punk music.
Kevin: In October you’re playing some shows with the Avengers and The Vaxxines in Japan. Is it true this is your first time playing there?
Mike: Yes. I’ve been there before but the band has never played there. We weren’t even sure if people knew who we were there. Last year we played a show with The Vaxxines and they mentioned this tour they were trying to put together with the Avengers and we said, “We are there, man.”
Kevin: How have you and Kimm (Gardener) managed to stay bandmates and friends all of these years, after all those hours stuck together in a van? Do you think it’s because you’ve known each other so long, as opposed to just meeting to form a band?
Mike: Yeah, I always tell people you can teach someone how to play guitar or drums, but you can’t teach them to be friends and get along for an eight-hour drive for three months. We were friends first and the music came after that. That’s also why we survived because the low points any band has: people quit on you, things fall through, we always had our friendship to fall back on. We’ve known each other since we were nine years old and we still even drive to gigs together.
Kevin: The last time we spoke you mentioned that CH3’s first show was at the Cuckoo’s Nest. Anything memorable that stands out about that show?
Mike: There is mention of that in the book. We did everything backwards – we had a record deal and had a record out before we even played our first show. We had been to the Cuckoo’s Nest a million times before as fans, but it was our first time playing together as a band. It was a rite of passage: we started playing backyard shows, then the Cuckoo’s Nest, and then clubs in Hollywood and went on tour.
Kevin: Your first few releases were on Posh Boy Records (which also released T.S.O.L., Social Distortion, Adolescents). How did you first get together with them?
Mike: It’s funny; we did this little demo in a recording studio and passed around to our friends. Through a friend of a friend who happened to be dating (Posh Boy Records founder) Robbie Fields he heard it. He contacted us, came to one of our practices and like a bad movie, pulled out a contract and signed us right there.
Kevin: In 2022 you released the double-LP 40th anniversary with the colored booklet. You guys even had the big launch party with your own beer, which is pretty cool. Are you guys interested in writing new material, as well?
Mike: It’s always on the back of our mind. But it’s kind of backburner right now because if we write new songs, it’s sort of just to keep our creative chops up. But at the same time, music has been criminally and sinfully devalued. The whole record industry has basically been chopped up and turned into digital, for better or worse.
Kevin: CH3 is playing this Friday, correct?
Mike: Yes, we’re playing with The Avengers at Alex’s Bar with The Vaxxines Friday, September 22nd. Then, we head with these same bands to do nine shows in Japan next month. “Miles Per Gallon” is released on Halloween, and I’m doing a special release event for the book at Fingerprints Records in Long Beach Sunday, October 29th. We’re playing Philadelphia, Boston, and New York in November. And we should have a couple of Christmas shows locally. So, we’ll be wrapping up the year with a rush of momentum.
Thanks to Mike Magrann for chatting with us! Head to Alex’s Bar and catch CH3 in person Friday!
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