Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Downset interview with Bassist: James Morris. 1996.

*This interview was done with James Morris, bass player of the L.A. band, DOWNSET. This interview was done in the middle of May, 1996, over the phone with James. As you're about to see, the interview is really lengthy & in~depth. James was more than willing to do the interview & is a very interesting guy.Check it out...

VISTA: You guys just got back from Europe, how was the tour and who was that with?

James: Well, it was our first time headlining in Europe. We did the whole thing with, DOG EAT DOG and MADBALL, we didn't really headline, we shared last slots. Well, this was our first time really playing kinda big shows where we were the headliners, so it was pretty nerve wracking, let's see, it was 46 shows in 45 days, no days off and one day with two shows. It was great shows, great audiences and fun. Fun kids and the promoters were all cool...they took out the barriers and mad stage diving and stage invasions. But it was weird in the fact that we never had that kind of pressure on us before...where we had to play like, an hour and a half set a night. It's like, if you're opening up for a band and you suck, ohh well, no one's heard of you's kinda cool, you had your fun up there. But, it's kinda weird when it's like, your show or your fans or whatever...but we don't look at it that way, it's a weird feeling. We played with, SHOOTYZ GROOVE, from NYC and a bunch of opening bands from wherever we were...from every city or countries...bands we've known and hooked up with from when we've been over there before. We called them up and had them open for us. Ya know, like local opener bands.

VISTA: You guys are going back to Europe again. How long will that be for?

James: That's gonna be for about 30 days or so.

VISTA: I heard you guys are doing some stuff with DOG EAT DOG again in Europe?

James: Yeah, we're gonna do this little, tiny traveling festival with, DOG EAT DOGand um...I forget who else? But, DOG EAT DOG and us, and lets see, DUB WAR, I guess is playing and most of the other bands are European bands. BOSSTONES were supposed to do it, but they couldn't do it. SHELTER was suppose to do it, but they're doing an album. It's gonna be like, this traveling little festival of six bands in Europe, so that's will be pretty cool and it's like, we don't have to headline this time, so we'll be opening for DOG EAT DOG, so that's going to be a little bit easier.

VISTA: How long have DOWNSET been touring for this album and how many shows have you guys done, so far?

James: About a straight year, and we've calculated that one, one time...we've played 220 shows in the past 360 days.

VISTA: DOWNSET have played with a variety of different bands, such as, TESTAMENT, SLAYER, PANTERA, and DOG EAT DOG. What has been the best tour?

James: Well, the best tour. I don't know? The BIOHAZARD tour was always the one that sticks out in my mind, because it was the first time we met DOG EAT DOG...It was our first tour man, it was our first tour ever...We got to go to Europe and those guys really hooked us up. If it wasn't for BIOHAZARD, we would never be able to, ya what we've done. Yeah, but that tour sticks out in my mind, cause it was our first time and everything was so new. It was Europe, wow, I never thought I'd be able to go to Europe, let alone go there three times, now almost four times. I t was just great, because they were so cool...all of them, the bands, DOG EAT DOG and BIOHAZARD. They could have been jerks, ya not giving us sound~checks. It was just great. They're really super cool guys, and I'll always remember that and we'll always owe them a lot. The TESTAMENT tour was pretty cool, except that we're really on different pages as bands than them, ya know. TESTAMENT is a great band and we really respect them and I think their music is really cool, it's just that, ya know...we're kinda coming from a different place than they're coming from, which is not a bad thing but it was just kind of hard to find a common point of interest or hang out with them, ya know...when they're into one thing and you're into another, it's like, "so, um, how's it going"? A lot of the hardcore fans and the zines really dissed us for that...they were like, "you're just a bunch a wanna~be hardcore band just trying to get big" or, "say no more, they're on tour with TESTAMENT, say no more". It's like, that defines who we are as a band or something, and I think that sucks! And that was a fanzine from New York, so print that, that will get back to them.

VISTA: The last time I saw DOWNSET, was on tour was on the East Coast, you guys were touring with, MADBALL and DOG EAT DOG. How was that tour and where were the best shows here on the East Coast?

James" I'd have to say, CBGB's'...not to kiss ass or anything, because of New York, but because CBGB's, ya know...I've grown up in L.A., in the hardcore scene and like, all we've heard about, ya know, for the longest time was CB's and the hardcore matinee's back in '89 and '88. The first time we played CB's was pretty cool, but it was pretty dead. But this time when we came back this time it was packed, and to rock a solid show where you felt you played good and everything was tight and the bands thought you sounded really good...and to look out and see people getting off and fully going was a great feeling to go to N.Y. and rock the house in New York City...and I'm sure it wasn't just because of us, ya know what I'm saying? I mean, we opened up for DOG EAT DOG and MADBALL, but I'm sure ninety percent of those guys were there to see them. But, just because they were there and we were there too...they went off for us as well, and it was just great to kinda prove ourselves, to ourselves, that we can do it in New York City when there is such a "rivalry", if you want to say that, ya know, like L.A./N.Y. as far as the hardcore scene.

VISTA: Yeah, that was a really good tour, no doubt.

James: Yeah, we had a ball. The only thing that sucked about that tour was the weather...East Coast winters SUCK! I've never, ever been that cold before man.

VISTA: That was one of the most mild winters we've had here.

James: I know, and that amazes me. I was like a big baby about that one. Ya know, all we ever get there is sun...we get rain, but it's never freezing cold. It's never snowing here.

VISTA: I saw DOWNSET in the NY/NJ area for the first time with, TESTAMENT. It seemed like half the crowd understood what guys were about. The other half absolutely
has zero clue as to what was being said in between songs. Do you guys like shows like that?

James: I'd be surprised if one~hundred percent of the audience understood what we said and were like, fully into it. Ya know, that's have the people who take what they can from the music and some people are just there to have fun, and some people don't want to hear it at all, and they think you suck. For one, it was a little bit of a different crowd than that would normally come to a show that we're use to playing, ya know? And for second of all...if they don't want to hear it, that's fine...but we're gonna say it anyway and they're at the show, so too bad!

VISTA: Yeah, with Rey talking in between songs, people were standing there like they have never heard things like that before, or thought about things like that before.

James: Well, then that's good....If that was the case then maybe that's a good thing, because maybe that made them think. And, I'm not saying we have the answers or that what Rey was necessarily saying is going to save the world or should change anyone's life, I'm just saying, maybe some of those people aren't use to questioning things or maybe don't see things in a certain way, and maybe we can make people see things in a slightly, ya know, "a skewed" point of view that is not the same as theirs. Ya know, maybe you can get progressive thoughts going and progressive~challenging thoughts. My main point basically with this band is, ya know, we're an attempt at expression and we're not saying we're right and we're not saying we're wrong...we're just attempting to say something, where we're coming from. Where we're coming from, a lot of people don't get a lot of chances ya know, just like New York, a lot of people don't get a chance to get out of the city and do really productive things with their lives. There's a lot of stuff you can fall into, so we're lucky to be able to be saying what we're saying, and we are going to use that, ya know, to the fullest extent as possible and I'm not trying to sound like, ya know, "super guy"...we're just not going to use it to sing about, beers and chicks. So, if we made some people question some things, maybe that was cool. All I'm saying is even if you disagree with us and you're like, "you're full of shit and here's why", then that's good. In my opinion, I think we need to think a little bit more and really slow down and say, hey, what's really going on.

VISTA: You guys use to be known as, SOCIAL JUSTICE. Why did you guys change the name?

James: Well, basically out of respect for the hardcore scene, that is basically why. Have you ever heard of the band, 7 SECONDS, ya know how their old stuff is very punk rock and their newer stuff isn't as hard or whatever. Even though they never went to a major label or anything, we didn't want it to be like, SOCIAL JUSTICE before and SOCIAL JUSTICE now. Or people saying stuff like, "oh, they were better when they were unsigned" or "they sold out". We know we never sold out bro...we know what we're doing is from the heart and it doesn't matter. If we're on, ya know, Revelation Records or if we're on, Mercury Records. It's still coming from the same place and still for the same's just being heard by more people and we're more fortunate to be able to stay alive with our music, I mean I don't have money to spend, but I'm able to go on tour, ya know what I'm saying? I don't have to have a nine to five job. But, basically we changed the name to DOWNSET because when we got on a major label it was out of respect for that name, SOCIAL JUSTICE, which had a lot of respect in the hardcore scene, so we didn't want to cheapen that integrity that we had, so we cut it, ya know, and drew a, o.k., now we're called's the same band basically, except for the guitar player. It's the same ideals. The first four songs were definitely different, like songs like, "Anger" and "About to blast", cause they were a lot more angry and had a lot of curse words in them and stuff. They were written right after along the time of the {L.A.} riots. But, basically, it's the same band, same ideals and we just changed the name out of respect. It's a new...not's a new age kind of thing, for this band. It is a major label...there is money involved now, it is more business, ya know. There is no way I can say it's not, it's way more business, so we changed the name. It's kind of like changing clothes, ya know, you wear a certain kind of clothes to be playing in the back yard or if you're just messing around, but when you go somewhere nice, you put on your nice clothes. Same thing with the name, ya know what I'm saying? We're just a hardcore band...and we are still just a hardcore band, but I mean we were just, ya know, playing in our basement and playing shows at parties on the weekends. We never thought about going here or there, or we'd ever have a cd or ever be touring...we never thought it would be there. So, now that it's on kind of a different page, we changed the name, ya understand? Out of respect for the name and the integrity that it had in the scene.

VISTA: The SOCIAL JUSTICE full length record, "Unity Is Strength" was just re~released through "Lost & Found", form what I understand they didn't get permission? What's up with that?

James: Basically, they bootlegged it. They didn't have our permission to do it. They did write me a letter, asking if they could do it and I never said yes to tha, I basically never wrote back, cause I didn't want to send the DAT tape {master tape}, but they did it anyway. I think they did a good job personally. Ya know, that cd is making the rounds. I mean, I don't know, personally, I didn't play on that album, even though my picture is on there. So, ya know, It's really nothing I'm too concerned about as far as, "oh, they bootlegged us and they're ripping us off". I mean, we're not getting paid but, I mean, that's not the point.

VISTA: How did Rey react to them putting out the cd?

James: Well, he was just like, "well, what's going on"? Because, I guess that cd is selling a little bit and it's starting to show up everywhere. He's like, "What's the deal"? "What's the distribution plan"? He's not expecting to get paid from it. He just wants to talk to them, ya know? They just did it and didn't really talk to us about it. I think it's a good thing. I love that record. That was my favorite record before I was in the band. I was like, wow, these guys are great!

VISTA: The layout and packaging is nice on it. Also, people finally get to hear the older SOCIAL JUSTICE material.

James: I think basically and ultimately, that's the point. It's out, ya know. I mean, if people want to get it, that's cool. I just think that's a good thing.

VISTA: You guys still do a SOCIAL JUSTICE song live. Any chance it will turn up on a DOWNSET record?

James: I really don't think that the SOCIAL JUSTICE songs would get recorded on a major label, just because the whole schism of, it's a major label and those songs were are written like, a d.i.y. punk rock style, along with the whole thing of changing the name. Even though we play them live and it's still who we are, those songs area part of our history and who we are...if you don't put them on a major label release, it would somehow make them different, ya know what I mean? We scrapped together a couple of thousand dollars and released five hundred 7inches, ya know, the original pressings and that's what is special to me and whwnI hear those songs, that's what it brings me back to. So, I really don't think I would be down to put any of those releases on a Mercury Records~DOWNSET release.

VISTA: DOWNSET does a song live called, "Touch". For those who don't know anything about this song, what's the song about and will it be on the next album?

James: Yeah, that's a new jam and it's gonna be on the next album. That song is basically about love. "Touch"...It's about being touched by love. It's like, I know it brings a really sappy image to mind, "Touch" is just about not forgetting about, like the chorus, "do you have any love in your heart"'s pretty simple. A lot of times, there's just not enough love in a lot of situations and we're forgetting, ya know, we're letting other things come in the way of the way we should be. I do it everyday still, everyone does it, it's like we think of ways we can put someone down or ways that we can employ negative things to people, rather than being a human~being to them...acting out of our natural love for life. It's kind of an all encompassing thing. It's basically, just, ya trying to be more positive, more directive with our songs.

VISTA: Any other new songs, song titles?

James: Yeah, actually we are working on them right now. We have a new song, called "Louder". I assume it's called "Louder"...that's the tentative title. We just finished it this week. When you get into the music business and the music is on a certain level, it's like, a lot of people talk out of their ass, like DOWNSET's this or DOWNSET's that...our point is that we're not here to be on anybodies good or bad list and we're not here to impress anyone and regardless to what all the gossip and all the rumors, what we say is very important to us, the statement value out of what we since that is so pure to us, we're just going to keep saying it louder and all the people that try to bring you down or try to say things behind your back, just because people write about you in magazines, or maybe you're played on the radio, ya know what I mean? It's just about some stuff we're dealing with at home...with old friends and people who think we've changed or something or think we're somebody else now, because we're on tour and stuff like that. It's basically like, look, we're still doing this for the same reasons we did it in the first, we're just going to stick to that but we've got to get louder...and we've got to drown your...ya know...bullshit out.

VISTA: Lyrically, DOWNSET are opening people's eyes, ears and minds to a lot of major topics, that a lot of other bands don't seem interested or concerned in covering. Will this continue with DOWNSET?

James: Definitely, one point I want to make is that this album, ya know, our deals a lot with us complaining and a lot with us saying what we think is wrong. And it's real easy to do that, I mean, It's east to complain and to yell about what's wrong, but it's really hard to, or it's harder and the real challenge lies in, ok, yeah these things are wrong but what am I going to do now? How am I going to solve this? O.K., you've said what's wrong and that's all cool, but what are you gonna do? So, our next album we're writing is going to be more about, ya know, on some of the songs at least, is going to be more about what our solutions are and what we at least as individuals are going to do to make those situations better for ourselves, and those around us. We're still going to cover things that we think, ya know, that we think are issues that at least where we live and if those issues can be accepted universally and points around the world, wherever ya know, because the issues we talk about like, maybe everyone's not familiar with a riot or familiar with police brutality or stuff like that. But, everyone's familiar with hate, everyone's familiar with racism, everyone's familiar with ya know, ignorance and confusion, and those topics are universal. Sometimes we give those topics definitions by putting them in particular situations like a riot or a beating or something like that, but it's still the main force behind those's universal. So, anyway...I kinda strayed off my point but, um...the nest album is gonna be more about positive things but still about, ya know...putting our money where our mouth is basically.

VISTA: Mercury Records is a huge label. Do they understand where DOWNSET is coming from?

James: They do more so than a lot of people think. We are definitely the first band like this that they've had. We've kinda learned what a major label is and they've learned what a band like us is like. They've been real good to us, ya know, help putting us in directions we wanted to go and financially backing us and we have 100% creative control and they don't tell us, "oh, well gee, maybe if you guys weren't so angry" or stuff like that. They don't pul any shit like that. They know it wouldn't work. They know that we're, ya know, the type of band that is pretty hands~on, and we're not really that type of band that can be "directed", if you know what I mean...or "produced". They've given us free reign, ya know...we did the album and then they heard it. They didn't sit in the recording studio and push buttons and add things. We did the album. We mastered it and then we handed it to them and they were like, "fine", ya know? It's cool because they've let us grow and they haven't tried to make us an over~night success. They haven't tried to turn us into like, GREEN DAY or stuff like that, or try to get a radio hit. They've let us grow as a band. We've pretty much grown by ourselves...I mean, you really don't see DOWNSET in all the stores, like big window displays and big least over here {L.A.} you don't. I don't know about the East Coast? Actually, a lot of people haven't heard of us, not to say we should be heard doesn't matter whether we're on a major {label} or not. It's like, the band has to be ready first. That's the kind of thing they've let us do.

VISTA: If there's one bad thing about being on a major label, what would that be?

James: Politics, for sure, ya know? Just like if you work at Denny's {restaurant} deal with politics. When things become business, when money comes into things, definitely, definitely, it becomes political. We're just kids who grew up real simple and having to get lawyers to look over contracts and stuff, having to deal with people in the industry that don't have the same attitude as we have...and they're assholes, basically. Dealing with peoples asshole attitudes, whether it be a promoter or a booking agent, not saying our booking agent, because we have a really cool booking agent...or people at radio and things like that. For me bro, one of the worst things about being on a major label is having to justify myself to all the people who were ya know, into us before or having people take a hard~stance on hating us, ya know, saying we're full of shit or, we're fuckin' sellouts or we're pieces of shit...and that's tough, ya know? I'm not going to sit here and say, fuck all those people, they don't know what the hell they're a lot of bands say, "fuck them, we didn't need them in the first place"...and that hurts bro, to tell you the truth. The hardcore scene is where I come from and it's always where I was. We knew the step we were making when we did this, so I'm not looking for sympathy. We knew what we were potentially setting ourselves up for, even though we knew what we were doing was for can't explain that to every single person. It still hurts though, when people don't understand. I read a lot of things that I just think that if people just knew us more, and really knew where we were coming from, they wouldn't write some of the things that have been written about us and say some of the things that have been said.

VISTA: Who are you guys influenced by?

James: Well, personally, bands that influence me...Joe from FUGAZI. if there is one bass player that blows me away, I'd say him. I really love FUGAZI all the way around. A band called FORCED DOWN, from San Diego. I thought they were really, ahead of their time.A band called AMENITY from Sam Diego as well. They were from the late 80's, early 90's. Right now, I really dig TORI AMOS...I think what she's doing is very cool. I like a lot of classical stuff. I really like a band called STATUE that are no longer around. What I basically grew up on was the punk rock scene and in the late 80's I was getting into a lot of the three~chord punk rock. That's actually how I learned to play the bass, was listening to MISFITS records and, SOCIAL DISTORTION, SEX PISTOLS...stuff like that. Your basic 12, 13 year old punk rock. Then I started getting more into conscious stuff of the straight edge hardcore scene, like YOUTH OF TODAY and a lot of the East Coast stuff, GORILLA BISCUITS. Oh, I really do like QUICKSAND's new album too. I really dig them. That's basically how it started, listening to hardcore and learning how to play it. I'm really into authors as well. I like Henry Miller. I read a lot of biographies as well. Things like, the whole 1945 thing. I read a lot of things on the Holocaust and books, memoirs, personal letters from the Holocaust and people who lived through it. I read Charles Brokowski...some of his stuff I'm really into. Ray Bradbury, I really like a lot...that inspires me. Reading gives me ideas, it puts me into an emotional state. Sometimes it gives me an idea and I get emotional and I transfer that emotion into a bass riff or an idea for a song. Our guitar player {Ares} has been influenced from across the board, ya know...from HENDRIX to Vic from 108. Rey is really into Martin Luther King and Bob Marley and stuff like that recently. Chris is basically into all kinds of different drummers. He's into a lot of hip~hop actually and reggae and ska. He's into punk rock. He'll listen to anything.

VISTA: What happened to your other guitar player, Rogelio? You guys were a 5 piece band, now you're a 4 piece.

James: Ya know...I'm not going to sit here and dis him. Basically, he was in the band for like, three and a half, four years and there were real bad personal problems with him near the end. It was just like a marriage...we tried to reconcile. After a lot of really, really disastrous situations that happened because of him, we tried to work it out but it just didn't work out and we had to kick him out. I love that guy...he's a great guy. We're still friends but situations were happening with him and the band, and situations the band were being put was bad. It was like cutting off the arm to save the was tough. It wasn't like, oh lets kick him was really, really, really tough.

VISTA: Will DOWNSET remain a four piece band?

James: Well, for now yeah, because we've been really busy and we haven't had time to incorporate another guitarist, plus when on tour you basically have to be as close or closer than you are with your own family, because you live in the same van or the same bus, day in and day out and you live with these guys and you never really get a break from them and I can't really see anybody that I know, right now that plays guitar that I could be willing to live with them that closely and that long. Right now, with the four of us, we do good living together. I mean, yeah we get on each others nerves and there's little things here and there, but nothings that's out of the ordinary. I really can't see that happening because with Rogelio, he came up through, ya know, when we first started and we did it together and learned it together and lived through it together. It would be weird taking somebody and just putting them in the middle right now, in situations where you're touring year round and trying to work into it. Plus, there's no time to really teach somebody the songs and get on our page, on our level, and how we're thinking and kind of incorporate that into the whole DOWNSET thing. But, I'm not ruling out a fifth member. As soon as we find the right guy, my vote goes in.

VISTA: Will DOWNSET be back on the East Coast any time soon?

James: We're trying to get out there with MACHINE HEAD  in July. And that will be all of the U.S.A., tentatively.

VISTA: What kind of style is MACHINE HEAD?

James: Ya know...I'd say a cross between SEPULTURA and BIOHAZARD. We played with them {MACHINE HEAD} in Europe a coupe of times. They're really nice guys. I'd really like to get a third band on that tour...someone like 108 or SHELTER or DOG EAT DOG. Someone to bring a cool flavor to that tour. I'd like to have another kind of hard band...but along a different line, to kind of shift up that bill.

VISTA: Speaking of 108, I just saw them down in nyc. They were great.

James: I think 108 is amazing. That's another band that has really, really influenced us. 108 and SHELTER. 108 is awesome...they feel it and they're for real. It's so honest, we can't even say nothing about them. Even the people who dis them because they're Krishna and stuff and say, "ahh, you and your funny robe". You can't deny that...that band up there on that stage bleeds for what they do. They're amazing.

VISTA: Any final comments?

James: Thanks to anyone who, ya know, read this interview and have given my thoughts a chance to be heard and thank you for enabling that to do so. Thanks for, ya know, the chance to speak and thanks for the opportunity.

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