For those that checked out my article a few weeks ago on the 26th Annual Vandals Christmas Formal, you might have read that this year’s openers would be ska punk lads, Sharp/Shock. Unfortunately, the Vandals released a statement on Wednesday announcing that Sharp/Shock drummer Chris Erickson tested positive for COVID-19 and therefore, the band would be unable to play this Saturday. Though, fret not, because after playing for over 40 years, the Vandals have managed to make friends across the punk scene.
On just 72 hours’ notice punk legends, CH3 have been tapped to fill in as a last-minute replacement to open Saturday’s festivities. The Orange County natives have been keeping busy since live music opened up, most recently playing last weekend with the Adolescents, and then at the So Cal Hoedown in September. I caught up with lead singer and co-founder, Mike Magrann and he talked about the opportunity to play this historic show, what the scene was like in the 80s and their longstanding relationship with the Vandals.
Kevin Gomez: First off, congratulations on the news. When did you find out you were playing the Vandals Christmas Formal?
Mike Magrann: I live in Seal Beach; I’m a neighbor of (Vandals bassist) Joe Escalante . I’ve known him for 40 years. We ran into each other a couple weeks ago chatting, and so I think we were just fresh in his mind. He talked to his agent and called us and we just happened to be free.
KG: Was there any concern with playing a big show like this on such short notice?
MM: We just played last Saturday at Alex’s Bar with the Adolescents. We do that quite often, their annual Christmas show. We thought that would be the end of our short year with COVID, but this was a lucky surprise to end the year.
KG: If you hadn’t done that show recently, would there have been any trepidation or are you guys practicing regularly?
MM: We do get together quite often. We did a handful of shows from the fall, maybe a half dozen since September until now. But we kept a pretty low profile due to COVID.
KG: I’m assuming this is far from your first time playing with the Vandals?
MM: Oh, yeah. We would play with them back in the day at the Cuckoo’s Nest (the now defunct punk club in Costa Mesa). Of course, that was a different lineup with Stevo (Steven Jensen, the deceased original lead singer for the Vandals). It’s kind of funny, we just kind of lost track of Stevo went, he sort of disappeared. In the last 90’s , I was on vacation with my wife and daughter in Maui and we went scuba diving. I look up and Stevo was the dive master. He told me he had found paradise there and I told him that old school punk rock was blowing up back in California at the time, but he didn’t seem interested at all. It was so great to see him again, but unfortunately, maybe less than a year later he passed away.
KG: Have you ever done the Vandals Christmas Formal, or is this your first?
MM: No, we never have. Usually, we’re doing the Adolescents Christmas party at the Observatory around the same night. So, we were really happy that they thought of us and we were invited to play this year. In fact, we have our own little Christmas song that we are excited to play Saturday.
KG: The Vandals’ song Pat Brown details a notorious incident that took place at the legendary, Cuckoo’s Nest. Do you have any memorable shows there?
MM: We were wide-eyed kids compared to the Vandals and other bands. We came into the game a little bit later because when we made our first EP (released on Posh Boy Records in 1982), we hadn’t even played a show yet. We were literally out of the garage, made a record, and then started playing. And our first show ever was a Wednesday night at the Cuckoo’s Nest, so that’s one show I’ll never forget.
KG: During quarantine last year, CH3 played on a streaming show honoring Steve Soto (Adolescents/Manic Hispanic), who passed away in 2018. Coming from Orange County in the 80s, what was your relationship with Steve?
MM: It took everybody by surprise when he passed. Such a brilliant and kind person. He was truly the soul of Orange County punk rock music. Adolescents were Fullerton and we came out of Cerritos, which is right on the border of OC and LA, so we felt like we fit in with both scenes but fit in with neither.
KG: Was there like a clique or rivalry between the OC and LA scenes back then?
MM: Well, I’m sure you’ve heard stories of the LADS and other punk rock gangs back then. There was some horrific violence for a while in the early 80’s shows and that’s one thing I don’t miss. It became ridiculous that one out of every two shows would get shut down to a riot, due to actual violence or the cops just coming down and shutting it down. But that’s part of what makes the younger generation so fascinating if you had no map for what you were doing, and at times I think hardcore punk and rap all came out within our lives. And how much of an impact these had far beyond music, to where it’s a lifestyle. Of course, as a kid you are drinking a beer in an alley, you don’t realize it at the time that you’re part of a historic movement.
KG: After four decades, is there any burnout? Do you still feel excited to get out there and perform?
MM: we are actually a lot more energized now, than in the 90s when we were kind of burnt out on all of the violence and the punk scene dying out. Now, it’s such an honor that we can actually play, and a younger generation is interested. So, it’s just the best hobby in the world that you get to play and travel all over the world and people welcome you into their cities. So no burnout at all, we’re just happy to be out there.
KG: CH3 has been pretty active this year – these two recent shows, So Cal Hoedown, what’s it like performing amidst COVID? Any concerns?
MM: That’s really why we kept it pretty close with the usual clubs, we are in a pretty tight bubble with our band and our crew anyway. We’re not quite ready to do a van tour where you’re eating at a new place every night and sleeping in a different bed every night. It feels like it’s not quite 100% back, but most clubs are very responsible about it so there’s not as much worry of catching it or spreading it, locally. So, just getting out to the House of Blues and performing this weekend it all we’re asking for.
KG: You guys released “Put ‘Em Up” in 2017, your first album in nearly a decade. Any plans on a follow-up? Have you been writing?
MM: We are actually prepping for a double album for the 40th Anniversary of CH3. It will be a collection of songs spanning our entire career, going back as far as our earliest demos from the 80’s all the way to our most recent releases. That’s kept us busy during quarantine. We’ve been going through old tapes and photos. There’s a 30-page booklet included with the double LP on viny. That’s at press now, so we’re anticipating a release for spring 2022 on Hostage Records.
KG: You were around for one of the first waves of punk rock in California, as part of the OC scene in the 80’s. What was that like?
MM: All these bands, Social Distortion, TSOL, Adolescents, we were all just teenagers in the early 80’s playing at the Cuckoo’s Nest and the clubs in Hollywood. It’s so funny that as a band, we are all still out there playing. And it’s not just a hobby, everyone is still playing really well, and I think every one of these bands is playing better than ever. We run into these bands in Europe or on the road and we’re 60 year old now. When we ask for drugs off each other, nowadays its Advil and Aleve.
KG: You’ve been a part of and witness to over four decades of punk rock and seen all of its evolutions. What do you think of the current scene?
MM: There are some really great, ferocious young bands right now. We just played with Niss (based in Los Angeles), who opened for the Adolescents show last week. They are a young, female-fronted band. Our friend, Martin Wong’s daughter, Eloise plays in the Linda Lindas, who got a ton of publicity earlier this year from a video they did that went viral. It eventually led to a performance on Jimmy Kimmel. Their record is ready to be released on Epitaph (owned by Bad Religion guitarist and co-founder, Brett Gurewitz). So the future is bright for punk rock. But, then I always got a give a shout out to our old school brothers who are too often underappreciated in The Crowd, Shattered Faith, and our friends in Spider who are making a lot of waves now.
KG: Can you tell me some more about Martin Wong and his influence on the scene?
MM: Martin orchestrated music shows called Save Music In Chinatown going back, probably ten years now. It started because they had cut funding for music education in L.A. School Districts. It started off as bands getting together in this Chinatown art gallery with CH3 and Bob Forrest. I believe the Adolescents played one. From something that started small, now has become prestigious and bands are begging to play. So, it’s great to see because it’s for a wonderful cause. There may be one more before the year ends, so be sure to check their social media page often!
Go out and see this show, it will definitely be entertaining.