If you’re into hardcore at all, Iron Lung require the same detailed introduction
as Infest or Youth Of Today – either you know what they’re all about at
this point or there’s simply no hope for you. I respect that not all readers
of this site are hardcore fanatics though, so let me break it down like this:
if there is a hardcore band to define the ’00s (in the best way possible),
Iron Lung are a strong candidate. They’ve done their share of split 7″s with
small-time grindcore groups, they’ve played Chaos In Tejas more times than
most punks have attended (including a breakfast show!), and they’ve put out
some crushing, meticulously-detailed albums that stand the test of time in
an era of good-yet-disposable hardcore. It will be a sad day that Iron Lung
calls it quits, but I’m convinced it will take the death of one of their members
for that ever to be a reality (and who really knows what future technology
holds – maybe Jon Kortland could get Kranged after his body fails him?).
So you just wrapped up a mammoth tour in support of your new album, White Glove Test. How’d it go? Is
it as brutal on your mental and physical well-being as I’d imagine a two-month tour would be?
Jensen (drums/vocals): Now that we’ve been home a couple days I can definitely feel the mileage.
There is a thing that happens to the body on tour that is somewhat remarkable in that you
really only feel a physical change in the first and last week of any tour. The middle, no
matter how long it may be is mechanical and consistent; dependable. I suppose the same could
be said for the the mental side of all that too. Jon and I have been doing this for long
enough to be able to anticipate any odd behaviors and adjust for them accordingly. Also we
like pretty much the same stuff so there is hardly ever any trouble. I’ve seen a lot bands
completely implode just because one guy wants this amazing canned hummus across town or
someone else hates record shopping when there is free time for it. People have their wants
but mistake them for needs far too often. The group mentality needs to have a little elasticity
to it. As for the trip itself, it was a weird great one. Tulsa, OK was cantankerous, Jackson,
MS was not. Portland, ME punks do it in the ice, Newark, DE’s do it in the dirt. We tried to
hit all the states we’ve never played before. Unfortunately because of bad weather we had to
cancel the Wyoming show which only leaves Alaska and Wyoming left for us to play in the US.
Jon (guitar/vocals): I’d almost say it is more brutal on my mental state when a tour is over. When
the constant movement and rhythm of tour ends, it can be difficult to adjust to the stagnation
of everyday life. A tour sets up a routine, but then there are always these unpredictable
variables. “Will the gear work tonight? Will the crowd break our gear tonight? Will this be the
worst night or the best night of my life?” All that being said, I was really happy that we
were able to do a full US tour by getting in a van and doing it the old fashioned way.
In your experience, is there anything that pretty much every American town has in common when it
comes to shows? Like, is there always one guy in a Void shirt, or Motorhead patch? Does the pit
always rotate counter-clockwise?
Jon: Now, thanks to the internet, there are several people wearing a Void shirt and/or a Motorhead
patch in every American town. As far as the pit goes, I didn’t see much actual rotation. Mostly
just back and forth or lunging forward or no movement at all. On a more positive note, I will
say that every town we went to had someone who was willing and motivated enough to make a show
happen and we all know that is a thankless labor of love.
For as much as I know you guys embrace technology (Bandcamps and Instagrams and all that), it
seems like your tour was booked the old fashioned way, just getting in touch with punks in
small towns and mapping it all out. Do you feel like you’re one of the few hardcore bands still
touring the way you just did?
Jon: I wouldn’t necessarily say we fully embrace technology. On one hand, we have a Bandcamp, and
we are both on Instagram, but on the other hand, we don’t have a Facebook or whatever the
new social network thing is. I guess you could say we are selective about the ways we communicate
in this modern world. The way this tour was booked was actually not that much different from
the way we booked tours when we were just starting out. Some of the same people even booked
our shows or are still involved. We also had to track down contacts for places we had never
been, much the same way we did years ago.
It seems like over the last few years most bands stopped touring North America the way we just
did. The economy of doing a lengthy tour just does not make sense, which is a real shame. The
coastal tour trend has left so many people out, and so many of these forgotten places deserve
more attention. This tour was a bit of an experiment to see if it can still be done, and it can,
but it’s not easy.
After all your years of touring… do you feel like the “old guy” band at this point? Like besides Dropdead,
who don’t really seem to do a lot of recording and new records, Iron Lung seems to me like the
last group to come out of the ’90s power-violence / hardcore-grind scene that is still relevant
and putting out killer records. Was there a point where you were like “oh crap, most of the crowd
was being born when I was at shows moshing” or anything like that? Or do you feel as youthful as
ever and I am totally wrong.
Jensen: I would say that we are on the older end of the age spectrum at most shows, but I prefer not
to think about our mortality in that way. On this tour there were several people that came up to
us saying they had been waiting “forever” to see us, citing that they were 12 when they first heard Sexless
or something. In that way, to these kids, we are a band that has just always been around. In my mind
it has only been a few months since the last tour. The last Spazz show (our second show ever) was
just a couple years back. We do talk about our age a little more these days but only as a side note.
Funny how that happens.
I have always looked to older folks in the scene for inspiration to keep going, and definitely look
to the younger people for the energy needed to carry out whatever ridiculous plans we may hatch. We
are in the perfect middle area for achieving anything we want to do. I also feel that people,
regardless of what interest area, should continue doing the things they love until they are physically
unable to do them anymore. You wanna lipslide the ten-stair handrail? If your knees will sustain you,
rip it! You wanna climb a mountain? You don’t even need legs for that. What are you waiting for?
Jon: Generally, I am the oldest person at any given punk show. This happens a bit less in the Bay Area where
there are a good amount of older punks still actively going to shows, making music, etc. We have been
consistently playing in bands, touring, putting out records, so maybe we sometimes forget about the
fact that we are physically growing older. At this point, I have been doing these things for way more
of my life than not. I will continue to make music as long as I am physically able. I think we both
agree that there would be no need to continue playing in Iron Lung if we were to run out of ideas. I’m
sure there are some that would disagree, but after all these years, I feel like we still have way
more life left as a band.
Regarding that “perfect middle area”…. it seems like Iron Lung can always sell new records, or get
at least 50-100 punks to show up in any town you play. You’re undoubtedly a successful
hardcore band, so do you ever think about getting “bigger”? As a hardcore band that stays DIY,
is it even possible in 2013 to become more popular and bigger than where you’re currently at,
without sacrificing the integrity somehow?
Jon: I think a lot of that has to do with longevity and consistency. I don’t really have any interest in
getting “bigger.” I am concerned with making the kind of music I would want to hear and to play
with bands I want to see. So, I guess that alone would stop any band from becoming a part of
“mainstream culture.” I’m sure there are people who think that putting out a demo or playing a
show out of town is somehow unpunk or some form of selling out. We make music and put out records
for other people to hear and hopefully enjoy. If someone does, great. If someone doesn’t, we don’t
really care. We will continue to do things our way whether anyone else likes it our not.
Going back a bit… how did Iron Lung get started? I know you were both playing in other bands… was the
intention to be a duo from the start, or did it just kind of wind up that way? And how’d you
manage to play Spazz’s last show? That’s like going straight from high school to the major leagues.
Jon: I had been playing in a band called Gob for many years, and around the time that folded, Jensen and I
started playing together. We worked on a project called Kralizec which was basically proto-Iron
Lung with a vocalist. All of the songs were based on Frank Herbert’s Dune series and the 7″
included long sampled segments from the film. We wanted to continue making music, but without
the limitations of such a rigid theme. Iron Lung has always been the two of us, but there have
been a few guest vocalists along the way. One of them was Mike Cheese from Gehenna who played
the last Spazz show with us.
I toured the US with Spazz in 1997 and we had been friends for years before that. Chris had
heard a recording we did and I guess he liked it enough to ask us to play. There was talk of us
doing an LP on Slap A Ham before he stopped doing the label and Max put out three of our records
on 625. It was pretty crazy playing that show, especially with Cheese in the mix. That was our
second show and it was in front of around 700 Spazz fans packed into Gilman with no ins or outs.
It was more like taking the SATs without any pants.
Are you just as psyched on hardcore in 2013 as you were in 1997? If so, what’s your secret?
Jon: Good question. It’s really hard to gauge the enthusiasm I had 16 years ago against how I feel now.
I will say that I definitely love music, whether it be hardcore, noise, chamber music,
whatever, just as much, if not more, than I did back then.
I hear a lot of people, young and old, informed and misinformed, talking about how there are no
new hardcore bands that are any good. Well, the same could be said for 1997 or 1987 for that
matter. I feel like I have consistently found new bands that interest or even inspire me over
the years, so I guess that would be my secret.
Jensen: I am definitely as stoked on hardcore now as I was back then. There is a different breed now but
it still excites me. Luckily there are so many other musical styles to delve into when hardcore
hits a stale point. I have just discovered trap-rap and it is ruling my speakers for now. There
is just as much energy and culture to that as punk, but it offers a completely different and
refreshing balance to my palette. I see people burn out of punk-life all the time and I really
put that down to them just not being creative or motivated enough to explore new things.
I never understood that, people who get super into hardcore, but carve themselves into such a specific niche
of the records and bands they enjoy that they eventually buy them all up, then just stop caring
or following hardcore. Do you think that this is kind of a side effect of people who get really
into the “historical re-enactment” style of hardcore, if you know what I mean?
Jensen: Absolutely. The civil war already happened. Let it go. People get stuck on this trip that no new
musical idea is any good. Tried and tested is so safe… and boring. Hardcore is not about playing it safe
anyway. Every other time we play, some joker yells “Crossed Out cover!”, which is just as clever
as “Freebird” these days. My reply has become almost automatic to this stating that “they broke up
and we are here now… and write better songs.” I love the response that gets from people. It’s
an equal mix of enthusiasm and skepticism. And that is exactly what I want from a crowd. Maybe if
we play a horse race in San Diego, Dallas and I can have a real conversation about song structure
and effect. Ha!
Jon: Also, it seems like a side effect of people who got into hardcore for all the wrong reasons. It’s no
longer limited to people who feel alienated. Now there is all this acceptance with being punk, and
all the information is at everyone’s fingertips.
You mention noise, which I know has always played a role in your label (Satan’s Pimp), other projects, and Iron
Lung too, most prominently with the extra noise LP to be played alongside White Glove Test. Do you view noise
as sort of an extension of hardcore, as far as intensity and ugliness is concerned, or is it
something completely separate?
Jon: For me noise was and is the natural progression from hardcore. It must be the addictive properties of
distortion. I am always intrigued by the endless possibilities of sound. There is nothing more
perfect than how a certain sound can elicit an emotional response.
You’re definitely known for your crowd banter / heckling responses. Was this something you slowly developed
over the years, or were you always down to break the invisible wall between band and audience
and get right into it? Why do you think more hardcore/punk bands don’t banter/joke with the crowd between songs?
Jon: The banter has always been there. I used to say more, but now I just leave it to Jensen.
To the rest of the world, the Pacific Northwest usually isn’t looked upon as a hub for hardcore punk. Are we
just missing out on some great bands, or has it really just been mostly metal-core and straight-
edge hardcore for the past couple decades?
Jon: Within the last few years the northwest has spawned some really excellent bands. Seattle has had
a pretty dismal legacy to live down, but as far as bands and shows recently, I would put it up
against any town in North America and it would probably win.
Jensen: It is sort of a buzz how many great bands there are in the Northwest right now. I think Seattle
has always had interesting bands, but the people in those bands have never been very outgoing or
even interested in letting the rest of the world know about their existence. There are flashes
of coverage. Then there was grunge and all that it contained. I think once that happened, the
people that were not in the big bands excused themselves from the light even further. A truly
underground scene in many respects. I can definitely get with that mindset sometimes. With that
being said, I refuse to ignore the talent here and take strides to make sure other people can’t
ignore it either.
Your graphic design is pretty distinct, from the hand-drawn art and imagery to the fonts that repeatedly
appear on your records. I’ve definitely seen some other bands doing an eerily similar thing…
have you noticed other punk bands kind of copping your artistic style? Is it annoying when that happens?
Jon: Thanks. That is a very important element of the band in my opinion. I’ve seen some blatant rip-offs
of what we do. Some would say this is just the nature of punk. Some would say imitation is the
highest form of flattery. I feel like we are trying to create an identity for what we do and by
no means is what we do without influence. I am informed by what I see in the world and what other
people do. I’d like to think that these influencing ideas go through our filter before the rest
of the world gets to see them though.
Jensen: The art has always been there. I used to draw more, but now I just leave it up Jon.
Now that Spring is here and your allergies are back in full swing, it’s time to bust
out the happy, poppy, sunshine-y punk rock! Or better yet, check out something new for
2013, like Tony Molina’s album Dissed And Dismissed. Molina truly has the knack
for what makes guitar-heavy pop music great: the hooks are memorable and bountiful, his
singing is tunefully simple, the guitars explode with confetti at just the right time,
and no song ever overstays its welcome. As his group Ovens has been dishing it out for
years, Tony Molina proudly contributes to the Bay Area’s wellspring of catchy, anthemic
punk music both on his own and with the variety of groups he claims membership. I was
able to catch up with him while he was working his night job (movie theater projectionist)
and we talked about music, of all things.
You just released an album under your own name. Does that mean you played all the instruments,
or just wrote all the music and lyrics, or what? Was it weird having your own name instead of
a band name on the front cover?
Yeah, I wrote all the songs and played all the instruments on that record. It was very weird,
because none of my bands have ever done an LP, this is my first one, and it has my full name
and a big-ass picture of my face on it! I was a little bit nervous about doing that at first,
but now I don’t really care.
Who had the idea? I presume you are more than just business partners with the Melters folks…
Did you have the record done, and they asked to release it, or was the idea established before
you recorded it?
It was my idea. That record was originally going to be an Ovens record, but since half of that
band is scattered around the country and doing their own thing, I decided to do it by myself.
The Melters dudes are my friends and hit me up about doing an LP of my earlier solo stuff, and
didn’t know that I had recorded Dissed And Dismissed yet. So I played it for them and they were really
stoked on it and wanted to release it.
Will this forever be a studio-only thing? Have you gotten together some folks to play
these songs live, and put together a Tony Molina band?
I finally started to put a band together with Andrew from Ovens, Spencer from the band Baader
Brains and my friend Anthony who does a project called Swanox. Right now it’s just me and
getting the riffs down. It’s going to be awhile, but I do plan on playing shows and touring
and whatever. I am nervous about playing this shit live though.
You’re playing in other bands too, right?
Yeah I sing in a hardcore band called Caged Animal. And up until like a week ago, I was playing
guitar in this band Violent Change. Both bands put out records this year. My main band Ovens
isn’t very active anymore, but that band will never break up. We actually have two records
coming out this year!
Why’d you do these songs under Tony Molina instead of Ovens, then? Is there any fundamental difference?
It’s only because those guys didn’t play on the tracks. The music is pretty much exactly
the same, but those dudes are my best friends and we’ve been in that band for like eleven
years or something now. If they didn’t play on it, it can’t be called an Ovens record.
So about the record: the title Dissed And Dismissed, along with some of the lyrics… do
people really not want you around? The lyrics can be kind of a downer, especially when compared
with the upbeat melodies and poppy riffs.
All I can say is the last couple of years was a pretty rough time in my life and I think some
of the lyrics describe how I felt at the time. The title is a Breakdown song though.
You’re really into heavy, thuggish hardcore, for my lack of a better term right now. Does
that have any influence in your solo material? Are they just two very separate entities in your brain?
I think it influences my guitar style/tone a lot. Most of the ideas I have for my guitar
playing come from heavier, more riff-oriented bands, but it probably doesn’t influence my
songwriting very much.
What does influence your songwriting? Is it annoying when people say you remind them of Weezer?
Probably just a lot of the bands I listen to. I think Thin Lizzy, Guided By Voices, Big Star,
Teenage Fanclub and The Fastbacks are bands that are a big influence. It doesn’t bother me at
all when people bring up Weezer because they are one of my favorite bands. I get a lot of
guitar ideas from bands like Crowbar, Obituary, and heavier stuff like that.
What kind of ideas?
Just like, how those bands approach writing riffs and the tones they get is what I also
try to do myself. I want my music to be very riff oriented like those bands, even though
I play pop music.
Isn’t pop music riff-oriented? Or is that hook-oriented? What’s the difference anyway?
I think it can be both, but I guess I think hooks when I think of pop music, and when I
think riffs I just think of Merauder. Or something.
Which matters most? If you were exiled to an island and allowed only hardcore/metal or
pop, what would you grab on your way out?
That’s a really tough question! I’d probably grab my Big Star and Teenage Fanclub albums,
and then be very sad knowing I could never jam E-Town Concrete or Suffocation ever again.
It’s bumming me out just thinking about that right now. I really hate this question.
Thankfully that is a fictional situation that will never exist. I’ll change the subject…
what’s the Bay Area scene like these days? From my East Coast point of view, there’s a bunch
of cool bands springing up, doing skewed takes on indie rock and punk and hardcore and what-have-you…
is it really just like, five different people in a handful of bands and a bunch of internet
praise, or are there really lots of different bands and cool things going on?
There’s lots of different bands doing cool shit in the Bay. I’ve seen a lot of cool hardcore
bands, and made a lot of friends from playing shows with Caged Animal. I’m still mourning the
loss of the great bands like Ecoli, Yadokai, Sopors, and Jump Off A Building, who are important
bands for me. Thankfully I can still see Violent Change, Synthetic ID and Culture Kids though!
That’s great. What’s next? More Tony Molina records? Something by Ovens? Caged Animal
double LP on Lockin’ Out?
For the solo stuff, I got an unreleased eight-song EP from 2009 that I want to come out as a 7″.
I’m also going to the studio soon to record four songs for a split 7″ with Swiftumz. There are
two Ovens 7″s that are coming out on Melters and Catholic Guilt, both were recorded years ago.
Caged Animal is going to the studio soon to record our second 7″, which is going to be released by
Video Disease. Also I’m starting a new hardcore band with Blaine from Violent Change that’s going
to straight up sound like Biohazard. I think that’s everything, haha.