JUNKYARD – Swinging For The Fences

April 16, 2017, 6 months ago

Aaron Small

feature hard rock junkyard

JUNKYARD – Swinging For The Fences

“It’s been a hell of a ride, let me tell ya,” says Junkyard vocalist David Roach. Talk about an understatement! As the ‘80s drew to a close, this rough and tumble rock ‘n’ roll band emerged from Hollywood, California, signing to Geffen Records. And thanks to their rather well known labelmate – a singer named Axl Rose from a little band called Guns N’ Roses –  who opted to wear Junkyard t-shirts on stage and in photo shoots, the band’s name could clearly be seen in every rock mag across North America, The UK and Europe, sparking deep-rooted curiosity and profound interest. MTV was quick to jump aboard, playing the videos for “Hollywood” and “Simple Man” from the band’s self-titled debut album on a regular basis. In 1991, the equally superb sophomore effort Sixes, Sevens & Nines surfaced, spawning the video for “All The Time In The World”. After Junkyard completed their touring cycle, including a support slot for Lynyrd Skynyrd, they began recording demos for what was supposed to be the third album. All of a sudden, grunge – led by Kurt Cobain and Nirvana – turned the music world on its head, effectively killing anything even remotely linked to Los Angeles and the famed Sunset Strip.       
 
Fast forward to 2017, the old saying that time changes people does not hold true in this case. 26 years later and the band – despite undergoing a few member changes – still sounds like good ol’ Junkyard on their newly recorded, beyond welcome third full-length album High Water. A quarter-century has passed, yet this toe-tappin’, foot-stompin’ eleven-song set of beloved bar-room songs is incredibly consistent with the two albums that came before it. “Because we were not playing around,” offers frontman David Roach. “We played on a pretty regular basis; once or twice every few years, sometimes more. But we weren’t trying to write new material the whole time; we weren’t trying to put another record out is what I’m saying. We didn’t go through different phases of Junkyard, like other bands do when they evolve. They go through their free association jazz period, the concept album about aliens; we’ve always done three chord rock ‘n’ roll songs – get in, get out within three or four minutes and just say what you’re going to say. Don’t overthink it!”
 
That’s it exactly, the honesty in David’s lyrics has always been a hugely appealing facet of the band, and that continues on new album, High Water. “Well, I don’t know what else to write about except my personal experiences, or experiences of people I know. I don’t get into sci-fi or horror or any of that kind of stuff lyrically. That’s why I like all kinds of music – as long as the song touches you somehow; it hits a nerve where you can relate to that.”
 

 
“WFLWF” (We Fuck Like We Fight) from High Water is a prime example of a song striking a chord with the listener, as everybody’s had one of those outrageous relationships. “We were talking about this yesterday, and I didn’t know how she felt about it,” admits David. “This is my current girlfriend I’m talking about. She was an inspiration for it, I had her in mind but it’s a universal story. Every guy and every woman has been through this experience. Because it’s about the person I’m currently with, it’s a little touchy for her; but she likes the song, it’s cool.”
 
Die-hard Junkyard fans will recognize a couple of tracks on High Water, beginning with “Faded”. That song initially came out as a single in 2015 on Unison Music Group; now it’s resurfaced via Acetate Records. “What happened was, we were starting to get some noise about putting out another record. At the time (guitarist Brian) Baker was practicing with Bad Religion in Southern California. He had some studio time where they rehearse. So we were like, screw it! We had a couple songs (‘Faded’ and its B-Side ‘The River’) and we put them out early. The deal with Unison was spit and a handshake – we didn’t sign anything; they’re good friends and we were with them before, so we just did this one-off. Basically, we released it earlier than the album because we hadn’t secured a deal yet, but we wanted to get momentum going, and try to keep it going. Then Acetate approached us later on about doing a full album and we’re like yeah, let’s do it. The whole record deal was talking back stage for about ten minutes, we shook hands and made a record.” No lawyers or attorneys? “No, it’s like a good divorce – copacetic man.” 
 
And “Don’t Give A Damn” first appeared on XXX, released in 2008 on Anodyne Music. XXX, along with Joker, was a collection of songs recorded in 1992 intended to appear on the ill-fated, never released third album; thanks to the onset of grunge. “Those were demos of what was supposed to be the third album,” clarifies David. “It’s just a fun, two-minute song we always kicked around. Mike Martt was the songwriter; he did ‘Clean The Dirt’ from Sixes, Sevens & Nines. I love Mike Martt, I just wanted to keep that song alive. I know some of the metal fans won’t dig it cause it’s country, but just relax. To me, he was the singer/songwriter of my generation. Some people like Bob Dylan, some people like Jackson Browne; Mike Martt was my guy. He’s a brilliant songwriter! And he sang about life experiences – stuff that you and I, the guy washing dishes and digging ditches can relate to.”
 
Another guest writer is featured on High Water, namely Charlie Starr from Blackberry Smoke who penned “Till The Wheels Fall Off”. “Oh yeah! Brian (Baker, guitarist) crossed paths with Charlie – who was a big Junkyard fan back in the day – and he said, ‘I’ve got a song I think would be perfect for you guys, would you like to hear it?’ Hell yeah! He’s no slouch man, it’s a good song.” It fits so well within the original material, if you weren’t aware of the fact that it came from an outside writer, you’d never know just by listening. “We’re kind of known as having southern rock influences, which is just a by-product of being from the South, more than an intention. But yeah, it sounds like a Junkyard song.”
 

 
Junkyard guitarist Tim Mosher produced High Water. Was there ever any thought given to bringing back Tom Werman or Ed Stasium who helmed the first two albums? “No. I think Tom Werman’s retired, I don’t know about Stasium. Looking back, those guys – their credentials speak for themselves. They produced some of the albums that made me want to play music; fucking Cheap Trick and Mötley Crüe, Ed Stasium with The Ramones. They’re among the best. For us personally, we’re sloppy joes. We’re rock and roll – press play and record. In a perfect world, there was talk about getting Ryan Adams to produce, or some name person like that. But the reality is, we get the best out of us when we’re just relaxed. It’s not rocket science, it’s rock and roll. You get a good guitar tone, you get a good drum sound, you have decent songs and you’re fine.”
 
Guitarist Brian Baker’s name has come up a couple of times during this interview; although he plays on the High Water album, he won’t be touring with Junkyard due to his commitments with Bad Religion. “Brian is busy with Bad Religion; he really doesn’t have the time to commit to Junkyard,” explains David. “It’s not fair for the fans to expect him to be there; but that’s how we’ve been rolling for the past 15 years or so. In reality, he’s probably played half a dozen shows with us. We remain friends and we’ll continue to write songs together, he’s always welcome. He just decided, for the good of everybody… Bad Religion is a machine, they just go and go and go. When he’s home, he doesn’t want to pack another bag and go out again. So we’ve got a guy named Jimmy James (from The Hangmen); he actually played with Bobby Durango in the original Rock City Angels back in Florida – that’s how far that guy goes back. He’s a great guy to work with; a different guitar player from Brian. Like I told him, ‘Brian’s irreplaceable but you are a great guitar player, so take his cue and roll with it.’ I’ve got no worries about that.” 
 
Delving into the cover art for High Water… “We had an art director that the label found… we kind of just let him come up with his own ideas; we liked where he was headed with it. We wanted it to be kind of like a turn of the century medicine bottle. He took off on the water theme with the shipwreck in the back, and on the backside is the water damage in the room with the equipment in it.” The medicine bottle looks quite like a booze bottle, which leads to the possibility of Junkyard wine, or even better, bourbon. “Yeah, I see the same thing; other bands have been licensing their own liquor and stuff, but that wasn’t the intention. If it happens, that’s another story. I don’t even drink anymore. I had enough for five lifetimes. But if it’s a built-in commercial product ready to go then shit, I’m good with it. Drive responsibly.”
 
“Without getting into it too much,” David sheds a little light on his sobriety. “I wrote ‘Blooze’ (the opening track to 1989’s self-titled debut). I wrote that when I was like 20; that pretty much spells it out. I’ve gone probably as far as you can go, to the end of the road for hardcore drinkers. It’s been a lifelong battle and I do what I’ve got to do to keep my head above water.”
 

 
While the song is called “Hell Or High Water”, the album is titled High Water. “I came up with that title before the song was even written. Coming up with an album title is kind of like coming up with a band name, you’ve got 50 and two or three are kind of funny; but it’s hard. We wanted a title that was kind of ambiguous, didn’t mean anything… something that’s left to your own interpretation. When I thought of it, I was just taking a walk thinking, ‘This album is going to come out hell or high water. What if I shorten it to High Water? That’s kind of a cool name.’ It could mean a lot of things. It could be the water that gets you high, or reaching for the high water mark, or just the trouble and challenges life brings you. So we all agreed that High Water would be the album title, then Baker wrote a riff and a chorus and called it ‘Hell Or High Water’; that was the last song written for the album.”
 
“Styrofoam Cup” is really different as far as song structure goes, given that the title is not part of the chorus. It appears at the very beginning, and then again at the very end of the song; a rather unusual lyrical format. “Well, I’m not a songwriter, I don’t play guitar; but I wrote that whole thing. I was drinking coffee out of a Styrofoam cup, and I like good strong coffee. The coffee you get at AM/PM or 7-Eleven is watery, and you have to use that powdered creamer; it’s just shit! Cold coffee in a Styrofoam cup – that’s how the song started, and since I don’t play guitar I had to verbalize what I was hearing for the music. And when you see the title, you don’t know what the hell that’s about! I think it’s pretty much the only two-and-a-half-minute power ballad, which is cool.”
 
A limited edition, 500-piece run of High Water was made available via online order. This hand-numbered collector’s item features alternate cover art and five bonus tracks. Those additional songs include: “The River” (the B-Side to “Faded” in 2015), acoustic renditions of High Water cuts “Don’t Give A Damn” and “Styrofoam Cup”, as well as a live version of “Wallet” (also from High Water).  But the one mystery tune is “Rome Is Burning”. “Well, ‘Rome Is Burning’ has a Bon Scott – AC/DC style riff. We’re not a political band, we don’t talk about social issues; personally, I don’t feel like that’s my place. So I fit every issue I could think of into one three-minute song. It’s a good song, but it’s one of the last songs we wrote; we had to crank it out cause we needed one more. But I felt it was missing something, it didn’t feel complete to me. I didn’t feel it had enough time for us to find whatever that was, so it got bumped for another song called ‘Kindness To The Dead’. But it’s out there now.”
 
In closing, David emphasizes that “The new album sounds like old Junkyard. The energy level – despite getting up there (in age) – we still bring it. We don’t leave anything behind; we give 110% every night. No matter if it’s a Monday night with 15 people, or Saturday night with 500 people – we’re going to fucking rock! The only down side is there’s so many people that have never seen us play, that have been waiting 25 years to see us, so we can’t play a lot of the new stuff because people have been waiting to hear “Simple Man” or “Hollywood” for so long. But it’ll be good man!”

Featured Audio

IRON MONKEY - "OmegaMangler" (Relapse)

IRON MONKEY - "OmegaMangler" (Relapse)

Featured Video

GOD Premiers “I Am”

GOD Premiers “I Am”

Latest Reviews