Archive | June, 2018

“It’s A Long Way To The Bottom”

26 Jun
Photo by Zach Mcaffree _preview

Photo by Zach McCaffree

In 2012 I joined a power-pop/punk group called MANIAC in Los Angeles, California. We recently released our 2nd album “Dead Dance Club” on independent labels Dirt Cult Records and Hovercraft Records .With months of planning, we embarked on a tour of the West Coast of the United States to promote our new album. The tour promotion included shooting a music video for our hit single “City Lights”

Day 1 – Los Angeles, CA @ HiHat with Dark/Light, Fiends, and Cheap Tissue

la 1

As I had a knee injury from playing basketball, I was on crutches. Captain Zappin poked fun when I was at the ATM and imagined a potential newspaper headline, “Gimp overdraws bank account for drugs.”


The HiHat is located in Highland Park on York, the recently gentrified area of a traditionally Latino hood in NorthEast L.A. There’s been loads of heartbreaking stories about grandmothers and small businesses being recently evicted including this article in LA Taco noting Highland Park independent businesses’ rents rising 250%.

However, MANIAC were not in NE LA to gentrify, we were there to launch our white-hot sophomore album “Dead Dance Club” into the hemisphere.  With my bum left knee I wasn’t quite ready to launch anything, but Captain Zappin and his better-half Tamara Eunice helped me carry a bag of ice and a bottle of tequila from the liquor store and up the stairs to the HiHat’s green room where I happily iced my knee and guzzled some tequila. Fiends, Dark/Light, and Cheap Tissue warmed up the crowd, then we had the soundman blare our come-out song “The Ecstasy of Gold” by Ennio Morricone.  In a plume of smoke, I crutched out, we plugged in, and we exploded like a truck-full of Chinese fireworks. (Photos below by Tamara Eunice and Tillie Lams)



Day 2 – San Francisco, CA @ Light Rail Studios w/ Harold Ray & East Side Dynamite & DJ Shannon Shaw

SF 1

As MANIAC live in 3 corners of Los Angeles it was a cacophony of text messages, Lyft cars, equipment loading, and then we finally made it to our buddies AVR, Airport Van Rentals at LAX to pick up our steed who someone later dubbed “The Great White Hope” (ya know, after Larry Bird).  From LAX we flew to Carson, home of our virtuoso drummer, Young James Carman.  It only took about 4 hours to get out of LA, then we had a 5 hour drive north to San Francisco.  Trader Joe’s provided some excellent van snacks, including but not limited to turkey jerky, beef jerky, salmon jerky, nuts, trail mix, dried prunes, dried figs, quinoa chips, rose, beer, tequila, and vodka.  Icing my knee while driving was an excellent reason to always have our cooler full of ice cold beer. Fantastic.

After a quick stop at Harris Ranch for an extremely overpriced steak sandwich and some iced tea, we jetted north to Light Rail Studios, in an industrial part of San Francisco sort of near the baseball stadium.  Crossing the Bay Bridge while being at an 11/10 on the piss scale is always pleasant. Squirming in your seat and enjoying the view of Alcatraz while nearly wetting yourself was how this van driver rolled across I-80 to the 101.

After a sprint into some SF bushes, we found the venue, a very interesting place, recording studio, rehearsal studios, film studio, and bar. It was the boss man Parker’s birthday party, and he was savvy enough to have it be sponsored by a vodka brand, so entrance to the show was free, and the bands and DJ had their own signature vodka drinks being made. I ordered a MANIAC and regretfully it was watered down and weak. Good thing we came prepared with a well-stocked van bar.

DJ Shannon Shaw of Shannon & The Clams and her soon-to-be-illustrious solo career DJ’d some killer tunes warming up for Harold Ray & East Side Dynamite, who ripped it up with old school rhythm and blues with a horn section and all. Jason Morgan AKA Harold Ray is like a white James Brown.

MANIAC did our thing and people seemed to like it. We received some heart-felt compliments including one from Allyson Baker who fronts one of our favorite SF outfits Dirty Ghosts.

Our entire bass-heavy SF set is here c/o Pressure Drop TV if you care to hear a few flat vocal notes and if you want to see what Young James is wearing.

Day 3 – Corvallis, Oregon @ Cloud & Kelly’s Public House w/ Wups and Kawaii Busters

corv 1

It was a 9 hour drive to Corvallis all the way up I-5 North. Our wonderful host Niki woke up early and made us some bacon and eggs. We were up late the night before penning a new hit, “Dwarves In Love”

We found out the Mayor of Corvallis is named Biff Traber. We enjoyed this name very much. When we arrived the venue, an Irish pub, there were families and children enjoying dinner. I made a bee-line to the bathroom to shave. Captain Zappin didn’t feel comfortable shaving in a bathroom where surely fathers and their kids were apt to burst in and interrupt our “me time.”  I just brashly began behaving like a man who lives in a van and lathered up and began to shave. A father and his kids came into the bathroom and I said, “Don’t mind me, I’m just in one of the bands playing tonight, we just drove 9 hours from San Francisco.”   The man said, “No problem, you guys should have a pretty good crowd tonight, it’s the big college graduation ceremony tomorrow, so all of the kids parents are in town.”  This was said while little boys were peeing and while I was shaving. Only slightly awkward.

The opening band had ponytails, backpacks, and canteens. Someone mentioned that they looked like a bunch of school shooters. They most definitely had similar taste in men’s fashion as Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.   They played thrashy, screamy music. We came out with napalm in our hearts and there was even an all-girl mosh pit going for a song or two.  Portland/Corvallis celebrity Chris Crusher gave us the lowdown on Corvallis and told us about the new book he is writing about his travels in Eastern Europe. Captain Zappin and I looked for some late-night cuisine and found a kebab truck as the only available option. The kebab was lackluster, but we sucked it down and our new friends took us to what they told us was the diviest bar in Corvallis “China Delight” AKA “China D’s”.  

“What goes on that is so sketchy there?”

“Dude, they pour the drinks directly in your mouth! One time, Mike from Defiance got stabbed in there.”

“Sounds great to us!”

No one got stabbed or drinks poured directly into their mouths by the bartender, but we did enjoy a few extremely fair priced drinks ($3 beer, $5 well, no tax). Our drummer Jimmy got some frozen Chinese food heated up in a microwave. (photos below by Chris Crusher excluding the photo of Corvallis Mayor Biff Traber)



Day 4 – Portland, OR @ Green Noise Records AND Lay Low Tavern

green n pdx 2

One of our label bosses, Chris Mason of Dirt Cult, set us up with an in-store at Green Noise Records new location on NE Killingsworth as well as a late show at Lay Low Tavern in deep South East Portland.

On the way we stopped by to visit our friends Jonny Cat, Cecilia Meneau, and Ben Corman at their stall at a classic car show at Portland Meadows. As the show was winding down, Jonny Cat invited us to an impromptu BBQ at his place. With the help of Alaskan Fisherman and Portland Cab Driver Kenton McDonald, we purchased some provisions for the BBQ.  Present at the BBQ were members of Portland punk royalty, including but not limited to Ryan from The Rickets, Tina from the Trashwomen, Ben from the Cormans, and more.

We shotgunned some beers and ate too much and that sort of got us ready for our in-store at Green Noise Records.  Opening the show was me, reading a story from my new chapbook of short stories “Mutant Maniac”. I had to promise the owner of Green Noise that there wasn’t anything too bad in the story as it’s a safe space for POC, women, etc. I agree fully with the principles.  I read the story “Aberdeen Skins Never Say Die”. 

green noise

Opening the show was Muscle Dungeon and Ad-Noids. There were a lot of little kids in attendance wearing ear protection. It felt like being in an episode of Portlandia.

The PA kept overloading when we sang backing vocals, but we played a buncha songs and people seemed to enjoy it. Green Noise is the distribution hub for Dirt Cult Records and we really appreciate the support.


Later that night we were at Lay Low Tavern, and it was a free show. We were to get 10% of the bar take. The Bloodtypes and Public Eye opened up this one. Both bands put on a great show. We were exhausted from the show earlier but had food, coffee, and alcohol and tried to get enough gusto to kick ass. We did indeed. Thank you very much to Doug and Courtney Burns who enlivened me with tequila and encouragement. Later that night was a blur. Very blurry.


Maniac label bosses Chris Mason (L) and Tim Janchar (R) of Dirt Cult and Hovercraft

Day 5 – Tacoma, WA @ The Valley


We passed through Vancouver, the hometown of Richie Stitch from Red Dons who managed to miss all 3 of MANIAC’s Portland shows and headed north to Tacoma, WA, home of the mighty Sonics and the Wailers.  Our soundtrack on this drive was highlighted by Sir Mix A Lot’s 90s hit, “Bremelo.”

We ate some seafood on the water at a place called Duke’s. The food was overpriced and wasn’t too good and it pissed off Captain Zappin. He was on fire with quotes such as “All of the chowder tastes exactly the same, they are just a different color. It was probably brought in frozen from Omaha, Nebraska.” There was a man behind us who didn’t much care for our laughing and carrying-on.


We did have some nice dirty gin martinis though! And we met a very nice middle-aged lady who used to play Al’s Bar in LA in the 80s. She ended up coming to our show which was pretty cool!

It was a Sunday and this was a pretty quiet night. We played our little hearts out. The promoter Logan was a very sweet guy. Nothing much to report.  The absolutely stunning Rachel Barrett from Rare Forms came out and it was  great to see her as always.


MANIAC enjoy some dirty gin martinis at Duke’s in Tacoma.


Day 6 – Bellingham, WA @ Boscoe’s Tavern

The boys partied with Kicks from The Briefs in Seattle and I caught up with an old friend. We met up in Seattle’s International District and once we made it through the Seattle-Everett traffic snare it was a beautiful drive up I-5 through Snohomish, Skagit, and Whatcom counties.

seattle kix

Jimmy at Kicks’ pad in Seattle. Photo by Andrew Zappin

I saw the band Girl Trouble in Bellingham years ago, and for some reason I still think of them every time Bellingham is mentioned.

We arrived at Boscoe’s 3 hours early, and so we had some time to walk around. We snapped some fotos at the boat yard. Jimmy spotted a crab in the water.

The opening bands were all very friendly and many of them donated to the tip jar. The lovely promoter Sean made sure we got 10% of the bar in addition to tips and it ended up turning out very well for a Monday night.  We decided to cross the border that night and James gave Sean his ganja joints to hold onto until we crossed back.

MANIAC has had missed results crossing the US/Canada border. The first time they let us across without any problems and we played the Biltmore. The 2nd time, two years ago, we were denied due to Zache’s DUI 9 years ago and our friend Cezar’s equally ancient DUI.  This time we had all of our paperwork in order but there was one SNAFU. Zache applied with the Canadians for an entry VISA, sending all documents showing that his 9 year old DUI was since resolved, he’s been granted his license back, etc.  However, the Canadians informed him that it would be 9 months to process.  We decided to try and cross the border anyhow.  After hours of waiting and multiple rounds of questioning (think Hillary Clinton’s 11 hour Benghazi hearing), the border guard convinced Zache the correct pronunciation of “Biltmore” was “Bitmore” and told him if he paid $200 Canadian, he could be granted a 48 hour temporary VISA into Canada.  We paid and also had to declare merch at customs which was a few buildings over in some Indiana Jones warehouse building.  We fucking made it!  We celebrated with some cocktails from the van bar and a cold wrap at Tim Horton’s.

Our very kind host Josh from Fashionism and Chain Whip stayed awake til 3:30 in the morning to greet us with a 6 pack of Pilsner. He told us to watch out for his Pitbull and his Bearded Dragon.  In the morning, Josh made coffee and croissants for us before he had to head to work. Tops Tops host!

Day 7 – Vancouver, British Columbia @ The Astoria


We spent the morning wandering alongside the water in Stanley Park. There were a lot of fit people walking and jogging and biking. I was limping along like Quasimodo. Medicated with a little Trader Joe’s rose and that helped a little.  We saw otters and cranes, boats, and bridges. We even got sunburned! Captain Zappin and I spotted a filmic moment straight out of “7 year Itch” which was truly glorious, and especially fitting, being that we all were experiencing 7 days of tour itch.

Marilyn Monroe In 'The Seven Year Itch'

After a wonderful MANIAC band meal at a lunch special sushi place in Gastown ($25 Canadian for a 45 piece party platter of sushi), we went to visit our friend Jeff from AUTOGRAMM.  He has a gorgeous backyard with a skate ramp and we watched him skate for awhile while drinking some ice cold frosty dogs.

It was a perfect afternoon hang. We headed to The Astoria on Hastings.  We loaded in and sound checked, then I had a casual dinner with an old flame, the lovely Sadie Olchewski. It was wonderful to catch up with her (secret fact: Pretty much every song on all 3 Clorox Girls albums is about her).   The other MANIAC guys ended up accidentally eating in the same restaurant with CC from Autogramm which was a hilarious coincidence. On tour, privacy and personal space are quick and fleeting privileges.

You’re in a band now/you’re not behind a plow/you’ll never get rich/you’ll never get rich/you’re in a band now

Opening up the night were Corner Boys who is Patrick from Hosehead Records and Joel Butler from Nervous Talk. They played great catchy late 70s style punk/pop reminiscent of Northern Ireland’s Good Vibrations Records.  They asked me to sing The Simpletones “TV Love” with them and Patrick asked me if I knew the lyrics. I lied and said “Yes.” I know the song, but definitely don’t know the lyrics by heart.  Luckily Patrick backed me up. I spilled some beer on stage and had a serious banana peel moment when I tried to do a high kick and fell directly onto my ass. Luckily the move looked like it was previously planned. Again, another injury nearly avoided!

Fashionism were up next! They are Bobby Beefy, Robin, Jeff from the Tranzmitors and Josh (our wonderful host who I mentioned earlier) newer band. They recently returned from a successful tour of Finland and North Eastern European former Soviet-Bloc countries.

MANIAC did our thing and were followed by some more of our pals Needles//Pins. We most recently hung out with Tony, Macey, Jesse, and Adam at San Diego’s Awesome Fest. It was very nice to see them!

All of our pals from THE BALLANTYNES showed up (Jarrod, Vanessa, Jennifer Wilks  Corey, Max, and Mick).  Jarrod had been rammed by a police car while on his bicycle and had his arm dislocated in the scuffle that ensued. Poor fella! Hope that he heals up soon! MANIAC hearts the Ballantynes.

Jimmy and I grabbed our cooler on wheels and burned the midnight oil over at Macey’s under-construction penthouse apartment with a cast of characters from Sore Points, Needles//Pins, Corner Boys, and Ballantynes.  Macey made these great gin cocktails with freshly cut fruit. Our cooler was emptied, cigarettes were smoked, every drop drank.  Young James and I traveled by cab back to Vanessa’s place where she kindly put us up on her couches.


J Mau & Joel Butler Photo Credit: Andrew Zappin

In the morning we had a lovely breakfast with CC, Jeff, and Macey, and we took this lovely photo afterwards.


On the US border side, we were stopped, had to go inside to immigration/customs, and had to pay $13.52 for the merchandise that we sold in Canada. This made absolutely no sense, but we did it anyway. The border guard looked like Egon from Ghostbusters.

Day 8 – Seattle, WA @ Funhouse


We stopped in Bellingham to pick up Jimmy’s ganja joints from Sean who promoted our show at Boscoe’s.  We also found our smoke machine inside of Boscoe’s. Double luck!

We had a short visit with my Uncle John who taught me how to play my first few chords on guitar in 1994. He was smoking weed in his car parked in an Olive Garden parking lot. He was also dressed like a pirate. Here he is making out with my neck for no apparent reason.


Underneath the freeway underpass near El Corazon/The Funhouse was a tent city where the folks underneath were doing all kinds of unsavory things including but not limited to drinking malt liquor, smoking crack, and shooting heroin.  We saw evidence of all 3.  The venue wouldn’t let us load in because security wasn’t there yet, but we had a very nice hang with the Brain Drain and Donzis folks out front of the venue and invited Will Donzi into our van bar. I went to high school on Bainbridge Island with Jeremy and Andy from Brain Drain. It’s a small world after all.


The tattooed doorman at Funhouse was extremely rude and uncooperative. A few police cars pulled up and began questioning him about something. We overheard something about a gun, a scuffle, something strange being afoot at the circle K.  The tattooed doorman soon left with what seemed like were a bunch of office supplies in a box, as if he was just fired from his office job and another door guy took over who seemed like he didn’t know what was going on. He was slightly friendlier than the first one.

Donzis opened up the show and absolutely ripped it up!

Brain Drain were next. They’ve recently released an excellent album.

The sound woman was in a rush and she said that we had already eaten 6 minutes into our setup time. I told her we’d play 6 minutes less.  Lars from Bread and Butter bought me a shot of well tequila and I found myself in the bathroom dry heaving before our set. Nothing was coming out, just a steady and slightly painful heave.  Nick from Downtown was in the bathroom and I asked him how he mustered enough energy to play without drinking.  He told me it was all nerves and nervous energy.  I ran back out and we jumped on stage and brought the fire to Seattle.

I tried a stupid jump off of a raised part of the stage and fell, also knocking my guitar into disrepair.  I also knocked over a microphone much to the disdain of my fellow Maniacs. Somehow I was able to turn up and make it work for the rest of the set, but my guitar’s input jack was hammerschlocked and kaput.

Nearly all of our friends from Seattle were there, it was probably the best energy of any show the whole tour. Everyone was all smiles and very supportive. We fed off of the energy and brought the hammer down.

Afterwards we parked the van and then things got real blurry.  A lot of beautiful people were out with us that night including but not limited to Conor St. Kiley, Ursula, Chris Costalupes, Rachel Barrett, Will Donzi, Miles and Emi, and many more.  The blur blends and it is a positive blur.  We ate some tortas and the mole torta gave me epic heartburn, the clutching your chest and almost crashing the car kind of heartburn.

Day 9 – Portland, OR @ Black Water Bar


On the way down Jonny Cat convinced us to stop by his place for another impromptu BBQ.


The Jonster, Kicking cancer’s ass one day at a time with his self-designed “cock sucking dick” t-shirt

Zache and Andrew had dinner with Zache’s mom who lives just outside of Portland.


Seve from Autistic Youth and Public Eye came out as well as Alaskan Boat Skipper Kenton McDonald.  It was very enjoyable.


At Black Water we bumped into Dark/Light and the Stops and had pleasant conversations with them.  Zache and I were nearly losing our voices, and Candy from Dark/Light gave us a bunch of lozenges and other remedies.  Doug from Red Dons, Clay from Clorox Girls, Zach and Samantha from Piss Test, and loads more were out and about.   STOPS and DARK/LIGHT were great.   MANIAC brought the fire again and torched the place as best we could.  It was a quiet night and everyone slowly dispersed.  The kind gents from MUSCLE DUNGEON put us up in their place. We had a very nice walkabout and had some pizza and a last drink before bed.  We slept on floor and couch and army cot.


Our hosts from Muscle Dungeon in PDX

Day 10 – Eureka, CA @ Siren’s Song Tavern

It was a 7 hour drive to Eureka from Portland, and we stopped at Guitar Center in Eugene to have them repair my guitar and restring Zache’s bass.  After we cut over from Grant’s Pass it was a gorgeous drive, winding alongside a river and through the forest. Past Crescent City was a grove of Redwood Trees and an impossibly picturesque cliff side forest along the coast. Words can’t begin to describe how beautiful it was and how amazing the untamed northern California coast can truly be.

I had been in Eureka over 10 years ago and I recall it being full of tweakers, meth, and speed.  This Eureka we pulled into was completely different. Farmers markets, nice shops, clean and bright-eyed people.  We had some pozole at a Mexican restaurant and shared the stage with Nico Bones from Long Beach and Material from Vancouver, Canada.   The bathroom was clean and perfect for shaving.

Nico Bones was recently a contestant on American Idol with this hilarious audition:

MATERIAL from Vancouver had Skidge on drums, a fella who had promoted some basement shows in Vancouver for some of my bands 10 years ago. Their singer Laura had seen Clorox Girls play in her hometown of Calgary when she was “a little kid” in 2007.  I was 24 years old in 2007 and this made me feel old. She asked me why Clorox Girls stopped playing and I told her about 3 guys living off of a ziplock bag full of change in London, thousands of dollars in debt, multiple van breakdowns, record release snafus and all that other stuff that leads to bands breaking up 🙂

Our host and promoter Nick brought us to his beachside shack that was straight out of the pages of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row.  He had this little kitten that was absolutely adorable and we all fell asleep peacefully after chowing down on chile verde burrito leftovers and fucking up our voices with more cigarette smoking.

In the morning we walked over the hill to the beach in Manila (are Manila clams from Manila, California?)  I realized that my high school punk band Maurice’s Little Bastards had played the Manila Community Center there in the late 90s or early 2000s.

Day 11 – Oakland, CA @ Golden Bull Tavern

Our last show of tour was in Oakland.  It was another gorgeous drive through the Redwood Forest and the Avenue of the Giants.  The soundtrack for this drive was this JAM:

Niki shot us pre-show at Mike Dirnt from Green Day’s Rudy Can’t Fail Cafe in Downtown Oakland.

Italian Cherry is Jason Patrone from FM Knives new outfit. I LOVED FM Knives. If you dig the Buzzcocks and The Boys, you’ll dig FM Knives… here’s their 1st album

The woman working the door was extremely unfriendly and uncooperative. She seemed annoyed that we existed and answered our questions with a heavy sigh, roll of the eyes, and even glares.  MANIAC take pride in our degree of politeness, we always say please and thank you and make eye contact.  She took the cake for the most rude and unpleasant door person of the whole tour.   Before we played she thrust $22 into Captain Zappin’s palm and told him that was our pay. She then rushed out the door and took off into the night.  $22 was the most pitiful pay that we have possibly ever received on tour.  The other 2 bands felt bad and gave us their $22 and the sound man gave us $20 out of his $100 pay.  I wonder what the door lady’s pay was?  Out of an $8 door 3 bands receive $66 pay on a Saturday night in Oakland?  It really made us appreciate our Sunday night in Tacoma and our Monday night in Bellingham.    MANIAC will not be playing the Golden Bull again. Dulcinea and Camylle from Midnight Snaxx had some great compliments for us and it meant a lot.   Local celebrity Morgan Stickrod made it out and our Bay Area photographer Niki Pretti snapped some shots of us.


It was the last night of tour!  We went back to Niki’s place in Albany with Drew from Personal and the Pizzas in tow and we burned some serious midnight oil. It’s probably best that it ends like this.  Comment below if I forgot anything.  Love you all.


Justin and MANIAC

Oak 1 niki

Photo Credit: Niki Pretti


Photos below by Niki Pretti: