DS Exclusive: No Use For A Name’s Rory Koff on “Rarities Vol. 1: The Covers,” Tony Sly’s legacy, and upcoming NUFAN tributes

Last Friday, No Use For A Name teamed up with their longtime label home, Fat Wreck Chords, for the release of Rarities Vol. 1: The Covers. If the release somehow slipped under your radar, the first thing you should take note of is that it’s a collection of a large number of the covers that the band recorded throughout their twenty-plus year career, especially those that didn’t make it onto one of their eight studio full-lengths. Perhaps more noteworthy, however, is that it’s the first release of No Use For A Name material since the passing of their iconic frontman Tony Sly just a hair over five years ago.

To mark the occasion, Dying Scene caught up with NUFAN’s founding drummer Rory Koff for a lengthy, good-hearted interview over the phone last Sunday afternoon. And while we covered a lot of ground in a our rapid fire conversation — Koff has more than a little bit of a “shot out of a cannon” nature to him — the focal point that the boomerang that was our conversation continually returned too was, as you might imagine, the legacy of his fallen friend and former bandmate. And that’s for good reason. Koff, who currently lives and owns two businesses in the Lake Tahoe area of California, started No Use in 1986 alongside Chris Judge and longtime bassist Steve Papoustis; Sly joined up three years later and together he and Koff remained the two constant core members of the band for more than two decades.

He was really like a brother, almost literally, because I spent so much time with him,” says Koff. In a lot of ways, we’ve become seemingly desensitized to musicians, especially frontmen, leaving us all too soon. Occasionally one of those deaths stings a little more than the others, and that’s certainly the case when it comes to Tony Sly. For a lot of us, Sly’s death was the first time — at least since Brad Nowell’s passing in 1996 — that a major voice from our formative musical years had passed on. The pain was real, and palpable, and still lingers half a decade later. Everyone has friends that have passed away, but when someone leaves an impact on a lot of people, it intensifies a little bit. For me,” says Koff, “Tony’s passing affected me differently. Maybe because I spent twenty years in hotels with him and went everywhere together and sat next to him on planes and knew his family and knew his wife’s family and knew his kid. We were so close. It weighed on me a lot more than other people that I’ve known that have passed away.”

Koff, it should probably be pointed out, took a break from all things No Use For A Name in early 2011, after a quarter-century of touring and recording. There’s a bit of hesitation in Koff’s voice when he reflects on his decision to step away, particularly with the hindsight knowledge that Sly would be gone a year-and-a-half later. The timing…boy, my timing…” Koff hesitates, taking a reflective pause before continuing in rapid-fire mode. “(Call it) my hiatus, call it whatever you want to, but I just needed a break. I had never gotten a break. Twenty-seven years of being in a band I never had more than a full month’s time away from those guys. It was so intense, and so much happened and came to a head, and it wasn’t anything personal and it wasn’t like an argument happened and it wasn’t any one thing. I just needed a break. I think everyone needed a break. But Tony just wanted to keep it going. I just needed a break.” Astute followers of NUFAN will probably recall that the band’s most recent addition, guitar player Chris Rest (also of Lagwagon fame) was still the a new recruit. More importantly, their bass player, Matt Riddle, had been hospitalized around that time for pancreatitis, meaning that the band was in a state of real flux. “I just kept saying “what’s the rush? Matt’s in the hospital, what’s the rush?” And he’s like “well if you’re not gonna do it, we’ll find somebody else.” And I said “well, I’m not going to do it because we don’t need to.” And that was it.”

The two would continue to talk and remain friendly, but wouldn’t play together again. Sly, of course, broadened his presence as a touring singer/songwriter, putting out two stellar solo album (2010’s Twelve Song Program and 2011’s Sad Bear“) in addition to a couple of splits with Lagwagon frontman Joey Cape and a fun collaborative album with Cape, Jon Snodgrass and Brian Wahlstrom under the Scorpios moniker over what would turn out to be the last few years of his life. Five years on, Koff has difficulty listening to some of No Use’s catalog, and has particular trouble with Sly’s solo material. I can’t listen to his solo stuff. I may never listen to it again. It’s way too gnarly. The subject matter is so very heartfelt. It’s tough…” he says, trailing off again. “More than anything is that Tony’s vocals haunt me in an eerie way. It’s like…fuck…Tony is so present in my life sometimes and yet so not present. It’s a really bizarre thing. I’m not the only one, you can talk to the other guys in the band, and they’ll have similar situations. It still doesn’t seem real, because it’s so intense, and it shouldn’t be like that.”

It seemed like Tony Sly’s voice was everywhere in this scene for a while, and then, all of a sudden, it was gone. The death of a particularly beloved and thoughtful songwriter in the midst of a prolific period of his life stings for most parties involved, but doesn’t cloud the legacy he left in his wake. Fans and friends in the NUFAN circle continued to look to his catalog for support. And while Sly had a way of channeling some really heavy, intense feelings, he was also an awful lot of fun. The band recorded more than their fair share of cover songs, some of which ended up on studio albums, some of which appeared only on random compilations, and some of which never really saw the light of day.

Until now, of course. Over the last year or so, work started on a compiling all of No Use’s material in a variety of different forms. The first release to see the light of day is, of course, a collection of a baker’s dozen of the cover songs No Use recorded that didn’t appear on one of their studio albums. That means no “Redemption Song,” no collaboration with Cinder Block on The Pogues’ classic “Fairytale Of New York.” But don’t worry, there’s plenty of fun stuff to go around. “It actually came together really easy,” as Koff tells it. “Fat Mike, I knew, wanted to do it. He knew that we had a bunch of songs and he asked if there were any songs that we were missing. We kept searching and kept looking, because we just knew there was more stuff, but it had to fit the criteria of not making it onto an album. With the exception of that, it was all pretty easy…There wasn’t a whole lot to it other than just keeping it simple and fun and not doing too much.” While it doesn’t mean new, previously-unreleased No Use For A Name material, it does at least give fans a chance to hear Tony Sly’s voice and guitar playing again in a release that’s fun and not overly heavy (though the cover of Sublime’s “Badfish” is more than a little haunting in hindsight).

Given that the title of the covers compilation includes “Vol. 1” in the title, it’s more than a little obvious that there’s more in store. Koff opened up and gave us a hint of what’s to come. He’s helping Fat Wreck with a still-unannounced project concerning the No Use For A Name legacy that’s much larger in scale, and will hopefully see the light of day in the early part of 2018. Following that, if all goes according to plan, is an equally cool project — and equally major effort.

Koff’s brother, you see, is a documentary filmmaker. Together, they’ve teamed up to compile a film chronicling the history of No Use For A Name. We started working on it before Tony passed,” says Koff. After a bit of an obvious cooling-off period, the brothers Koff “decided to get it rolling again two years ago, and we put a ton of effort into it. We’ve got like 50 or 60 interviews. We’ve been digging up tapes for years, we’ve got almost everything we need.” The two are in the process of whittling hours and hours worth of material down to 70 usable and compelling minutes. What will hopefully follow is a sort of No Use And Friends reunion in a few select locations in order to give the two aforementioned projects — and the band’s legacy — the sort of fun-filled celebration they deserve. “I have grand visions of doing a two-week tour with the old members and getting one certain guest singer and doing all this stuff, but I’m realizing that there’s other people that have things coming out and there’s no way have everyone do two weeks,” says Koff. And while the grand visions may not come to fruition, that doesn’t mean there’s not a pretty awesome Plan B in the works. “I’m going to try to do two weekends and see if I can get my dream lineup together. Everyone said they’d be interested, but getting everyone’s weekends to line up is another story!”

Head below to check out the full text of our interview (albeit a little bit condensed for clarity’s sake). As indicated above, we cover an awful lot of ground, from the history of the band and their recording process to the origin of a lot of the covers involved to…bailing hay with Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman?!? We really like this one, and we think you will too.

Dying Scene (Jay Stone): I have to say, I am really, really enjoying the covers album. I think Vanessa from Fat sent it to me maybe a week or so ago, and I started to realize that I think it’s something I did myself a long time ago. You guys recorded so many covers that I think I burned myself a CD that had a lot of my favorite ones on it and maybe a few of my favorites from a few other bands and the Gimmes, of course. It’s super fun.

Rory Koff: Well, the Gimmes win!

I don’t know, you guys did it really well.

We tried, though. They didn’t have to try, they’re so good. We had to try to be good — that was the difference between the Gimmes and No Use. A few times, we recorded a cover or we did a cover or we wanted to do a cover and then the Gimmes did it and we were like “oh man, all that practice and effort for nothing!”

It’s funny: Spike from the Gimmes of course has his Uke Hunt project and he does a version of “Enjoy The Silence” that’s really good, and I’m not much of a Depeche Mode fan, so then I heard your version for the first time more recently. So ultimately I heard your version as a cover of a cover, even though the liner notes say that you guys did it first.

Aww, that’s funny. And what’s funny about that is that when we did “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,” we had just decided to release it and then Me First And The Gimme Gimmes did it and we were like “ah! You cunts! You suck!” But it is what it is. It’s funny, and it really doesn’t matter at all today. One thing to note that I thought was interesting is doing the “Badfish” cover for the Brad Nowell tribute album years ago. We did our first three big U.S. tours with Sublime. We did an early tour, maybe ‘91, in the United States, and then we did the first Warped Tour in ‘95 and in ‘96 we did a radio promotion tour with a bunch of other bands. So when Brad Nowell passed away and we had the offer to do that, we thought it was great. We loved those guys and so to get to do that was pretty awesome. It was a crazy thing to get to do that, but then of course Tony passed and it was kind of ironic how that went, in the world of music and another California band. I remember telling Bud (Gaugh), the drummer for Sublime that I couldn’t even imagine what they were going through, and then to find yourself in that position yourself is bizarre. It’s horrible.

And it gives that cover a bit of a heavy feel to it. Knowing that that’s history — and i’d imagine that most fans of No Use are pretty aware of the overlap there — it makes it really, really heavy. It’s not a heavy song by any means —

No, it’s a great song!

Oh absolutely!

Well, their version is a great song! (*both laugh*) We did it in our No Use style.

Yeah, but that’s good! And maybe I’m biased because I was a huge No Use fan from, I think probably Leche Con Carne was really the first time I got into the band, because I didn’t go to that first Warped Tour the year before. I was just a bit too young I think, according to my parents, to take the three hour drive to western Massachusetts or wherever they held Warped Tour at the time. So I think Leche… was my introduction to No Use and I was a huge fan from then on. So I’ve always been partial to Tony and to you guys.

Oh that’s very kind of you! (*laughs*) Tony just had this thing about him. The whole time I was in the band with him, I don’t think we realized that he had this thing about him, but when it was all said and done, there was obviously a thing. It’s the classic ‘you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone’ thing, you know? I was partial to him because I knew him for so long. He was really like a brother, almost literally, because I spent so much time with him. I was super fortunate. It’s horrible, but time heals. Everyone moves on and gets through it. There’s a couple of things that make it not okay, and that’s that he’s got a wife and a daughter. The guys in the band will all keep moving on and surviving. Looking back, it’s just too bad; the “should’ves” and “could’ves” and “would’ves” where you wished you could have changed it. It is what it is.

Do you allow yourself to do that? Do you let yourself do the “should’ve, could’ve, would’ve” thing or is that not helpful?

Not that I allow myself, but I think about it. I think about him all the time, pretty much daily still because he was such a big part of my life for so long. I did so much with the guy, through thick and thin, good and bad, fun and not-so-fun. I think I did my “shoulda, coulda, wouldas” already. It’s unfortunate, and to be honest with you, somehow, through all those things — and so much happens when you’re in a band, especially one that’s together for twenty-seven years, both good and bad — but I think all good thoughts. For whatever reason all the bad stuff takes a way back seat. It’s all good now. I feel very fortunate that I had the opportunity to play in a band with someone like Tony, and with Matt (Riddle) and Dave (Nassie) who were just amazing musicians and good guys. I think good thoughts, and maybe that’s just my personality. I kinda get bummed; I kinda get angry at him sometimes, even though he’s not here. I do get upset, but that’s just an emotion, you know? There’s really only a couple of emotions: sad, angry and happy, and to me, and ‘sad’ and ‘angry’ are really the same thing, so you’ve got to be either sad or happy and I choose the happy side. I’m happy that I got my time with him. You can’t run from death forever. It still doesn’t seem like it was supposed to happen, but you can’t turn the clocks back, so you’ve got to focus on the good. He left quite a mark. So I guess to go back to your original question, no, I don’t.

There was a time over the last couple of years where you and Matt and a bunch of people did the No Use And Friends thing — was that at Punk Rock Bowling a year or two ago?

We did it three times. We did it not long after Tony passed away in Montreal, I can’t remember the name of the festival, but it’ll come to me in a minute. There was one in San Francisco for the Fat Wreck Chords 25th anniversary tour, and then we were invited to go to Europe to do another festival, and they were all totally different and all excellent. I loved every minute of them. Paying tribute to Tony, paying tribute to the band, and for me, personally, getting to be up there with Dave and Matt again…those guys played such a big part of my life. I was in a band with Matt for 15, 16 years I think, and Dave for ten years. They were like brothers too, because they were at the pinnacle of the band. We did so much with those two guys in the band, so I felt very lucky to be able to do it.

It was nice to do it for the fans, and it was nice to see old friends, but really, to me, getting to play with Matt and Dave, and getting to play those songs that we worked so hard on and to see if I could still do it, and getting to challenge ourselves to see if we could be as good as we ever were. And we did it! We pulled it off! And I would love to be able to do that again, for a few reasons. One is to play with Matt and Dave. One is to pay tribute to Tony, and one is to give something to the fans: all the people who bought the albums and love the albums and miss Tony. And I love playing drums; I play a couple gigs a month with a few different bands, and I’ll always do that. But yeah, No Use And Friends was awesome. I hope we can do it again…maybe a little later on I’ll give you some more information on some plans we have!

I was sorta gonna end with that later! I don’t get out of the Boston area an awful lot because of whatever reasons, but I always get sort of jealous when like Fat Wreck Chords will through a cool show in San Francisco or these cool events that happen in LA or New York or a European festival, so I always pitch for people to do things in Boston! (*both laugh*) Even though I know Boston can be a bit of a weird market for some people.

Yeah, I think Boston was always good. They were at least nice to No Use. We always had decent shows over the years. We had a couple friends and other bands that we’d always see in Boston, so it never felt that tough for No Use, although it always felt like we played there on a Monday night! (*both laugh*)

That sounds familiar, actually.

For whatever reason, I don’t think we ever got a good Friday or Saturday night show in all the years we went to Boston. We played Boston in 1990 on our very first tour in some basement thing, and then we came back again in ‘92. I don’t really remember it, but I remember it not sucking! (*laughs*) It’s all the worst shows that I seem to remember the best!

I remember, one of my favorite shows still, and this is going back about twenty years, was downstairs at the Middle East when Chris (Shiflett) was still in the band, and I remember standing on his side because I had been friendly with his brother Scott for a long time, and that was the first time and it turns out the only time that I got to see Chris in No Use, so I was excited about that. I still think back fondly on that show, and I remember how hot and sweaty it was.

Was that with Lagwagon or was that with Anti-Flag?

That was Anti-Flag.

Yeah, Anti-Flag and The Smooths and maybe somebody else. I do remember that. I think it was like Sunday afternoon or something.

Yeah, a Sunday or a Monday or something like that, at least in my memory. And I want to say that Bad Religion was either the day before or the day after in the same spot, so it was back-to-back awesome shows.

I tell you, for like ten years of doing US tours, and this only happened in the US, but we’d go through Boston or Chicago or wherever, and the night before Bad Religion had played, and the night after Rancid was playing. It happened all the time! (*laughs*)

Let’s talk more officially about the covers compilation, since it just came out last Friday. How long was this in the works?

It wasn’t in the works for that long. It actually came together really easy. Fat Mike, I knew, wanted to do it. He knew that we had a bunch of songs and he asked if there were any songs that we were missing. We kept searching and kept looking, because we just knew there was more stuff, but it had to fit the criteria of not making it onto an album. With the exception of that, it was all pretty easy. Then we talked about the artwork, and everybody wanted to keep it simple and make it fun. I kept on saying “let’s make this a fun release,” because cover songs are fun. They’re never not fun, right? Even if it’s the worst cover song you’ve ever heard, it’s still fun because you know the original song or you have fun making fun of it. That’s the point. So there wasn’t a whole lot to it other than just keeping it simple and fun and not doing too much. That’s why the artwork kinda looks like a demo. One thing Tony was REALLY into was demos.

Really?

He was super into them for whatever reason, it was just his thing. He made tapes for everyone. He’d make demos and send you some songs on it that he wanted something to sound like. He was always into putting these things together, so the way this came together, it really does look like a demo. Not a whole lot went into it in that regard. We went through the pictures and we had so many, but these worked and it just looks like we were playing live. It’s just a very simple thing. We didn’t put a whole lot into it; we talked about it for maybe six months from the beginning ‘til the release.

Who collaborated on it? I know it says “compiled by Fat Mike” I think in the liner notes, but was it you and him and Matt going back and forth?

Matt didn’t do too much on it. We definitely talked to Matt and Dave about it… Every time something would come up we’d get on a conference call and talk. I kept on saying “there’s gotta be more, I just feel like there’s more,” but there were things that were covers but that were released on an album so we couldn’t do them. There were a couple more but they went on albums or somebody else owned them or whatever. “Redemption Song,” for example, was on an album. The Sinead O’Connor song was on an album. It all had to fit that criteria.

So is that how “Fairytale of New York” made it on? Because that’s a different version than the one on More Betterness.

Yeah, that’s exactly right. It’s a different singer, a girl named Meegan (Lair), she played in a band called Soda, which was a San Jose band in the mid-to-late 90s. Steve Caballero, the professional skateboarder, was in that band, and we were friends with him, and she was a great singer with a great voice and she and Tony were friendly, so when Tony wanted to do that song — I think it was Tony that wanted to do that song anyway — it didn’t make it onto the album, but we had recorded it.

Which one came first? That one or the one with Cinder Block that made it on the album?

The one that’s on this covers album with Meegan came first.

You guys recorded an awful lot of cover songs! (*both laugh*) Like you said there are a bunch that didn’t even make it on this as well. Was that sort of a thing were if you went into the studio to record an album you’d record a bunch of covers as well? What was the origin of that whole thing?

We were lucky enough to be able to go into the studio kinda when we wanted to for different things, and usually when we went into the studio we thought “what else can we record while we’re here? The drums are already set up, let’s just knock something out. There’s other things that we did that weren’t finished and I don’t even know where they are or what happened to that stuff. It’s probably sitting at Motor Studio somewhere. Typically the way No Use recorded is we went in there with a set of songs done. We never went into the studio and said “hey, let’s record an album.” We never had that option. We never had a $100,000 budget, because that’s what it costs, easily, to go sit in a studio and record and make an album that way. We would always have it as polished as we could — there’d be some little changes, obviously — but when we went into the studio, the things that we really concentrated on were the original songs. We’d make the cover there, and if the cover was good enough we put it on.

I mean, we knew the cover —well, there was only one cover that we didn’t really know. The weirdest cover ever; that song “Beth”? We recorded it and I didn’t know we were going to record it, and it kinda turned into “we have one chance to do this, let’s do it right now.” I didn’t know what we were doing. Tony wrote it out on a piece of paper and he literally sat in front of me and when he wanted me to change or the next part came, he just dropped his hand. That’s why it’s so rough, because I didn’t know what we were doing! (*both laugh*) And then they kept it that way and I said “oh, come on!” And him and (producer) Ryan Greene said “nope! It’s way better like this!” I thought it was horrible but I said “whatever!” Aside from that though, everything was well thought-out when we went in there. That’s how we operated. The studio was expensive for us, it basically came out of our pocket, so we did our practice, which was free, and we went into the studio prepared. Tony and Matt were super perfectionists, you know? Everything had to be right. It was nuts. It wasn’t easy.

Were those covers all recorded for a specific purpose or just to have? Like, I know I think the Laverne & Shirley song, whatever it’s called, from the TV theme show compilation or something like that. Did a lot of those come from offers to do a specific compilation or something like that?

Yeah, exactly. We were offered to do this, that, and the other thing a lot. “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” was going to be on something until the Gimmes put there’s out, so then it just kinda sat there. The Munsters’ Theme was for the Fat Wreck Chords TV theme thing. The Laverne & Shirley song was too. A couple of the songs were for the Broadway hit Selwyn’s Nuts — maybe you never heard of it, no one else did either. That was that movie that Joe Escalante put together and we recorded I think three or four songs for it. (*Editor’s note: The title was later changed to Cake Boy…maybe you’ve heard of it now?)

Oh Jesus, yeah, yeah yeah.

Ha! Yeah I know. That’s what some of those were for. “Turning Japanese” was supposed to be for a 7-inch with a few other songs and nothing ever happened with it. Then, like, ten years later it went on a video game – a skateboarding video game or something. Boy (the liner notes) are kind of a mish-mash now that I look at them.

I feel like that was on the Before You Were Punk compilation or something like that.

Oh you’re right! That’s exactly what it was.

There was some cool stuff on there. I want to say Face To Face had a song on there. Maybe Unwritten Law and I think, like, old Blink 182 back when they were a little San Diego punk band.

Yeah, I think Lagwagon and maybe NOFX too. I remember trying to find that one day. I had a house fire in ‘99 and I lost everything I owned. That CD was one of the ones that I lost and I remember trying to get it from the old manager of Face To Face, I can’t remember his name (editor’s note: probably Vagrant Records co-founder Rich Egan) but nobody had it. It was out of print. I wanted to have everything that No Use ever did, and after Tony passed away, I went on kind of a mission for find everything that ever went on to something. I couldn’t get that one; it wasn’t on eBay or whatever. I’m sure I could find it now if I keep looking. I spent like a year trying to find everything I could just because it was so heavy. That year after Tony’s passing was just crazy.

And the fact that it’s now just over five years, is…I don’t know. It’s fucking weird.

It is weird. It’s really weird. Everyone has friends that have passed away, but when someone leaves an impact on a lot of people, it intensifies a little bit. For me, you know, I’ve lost some other close friends, but Tony’s passing affected me differently. Maybe because I spent twenty years in hotels with him and went everywhere together and sat next to him on planes and knew his family and knew his wife’s family and knew his kid. We were so close. It weighed on me a lot more than other people that I’ve known that have passed away.

Even from a fan’s perspective, as somebody who grew up listening to the band, I think that his passing affected me certainly more than I expected. Musicians pass away and sometimes way too early. It’s a thing that happens.

I’ve thought about this so much over the last five years. One thing that I think affected people so much is that Tony made himself accessible to people. He never passed up an interview. He always made time to talk to friends, fans, kids, bands. He really was accessible. He definitely wasn’t a “rock star” kind of guy. Everything with him was on a very grassroots level. Everything about No Use For A Name, we had to work hard for. He was accessible in that way because he knew how important it was. The kids were the ones coming to the shows and buying the albums so that we could leave San Jose and go to New York or Europe or Japan or Australia or wherever we could. That’s because he was accessible, and that’s why it affected so many people. He talked to a lot of people. Anytime we were on tour, he was backstage talking to someone or out front talking to people. He never turned people down, and people saw that he was just a normal guy, and so when someone’s as normal as he is and that happens, it doesn’t add up. It’s so unfortunate.

I wrote something for Dying Scene when I got the text that Tony had passed. I was at work, and I remember just closing my door and writing this stream-of-consciousness thing about how this wasn’t supposed to happen to one of the good guys. It felt heavier because he was one of the premier good guys, you know what I mean?

Totally. He definitely wasn’t pretentious. He was the singer, out-front, center guy of the band and did a lot of touring and put out a lot of albums. People listened to him. People bought our albums, and we were able to put together twenty-five years of serious touring, so he touched a lot of people. Tony just happened to be the singer of the band which made him the centerpiece and the focus was on him, so when someone like that is taken away, it really sucks. You listen to the music and remember how much you love the songs, and then you realize the severity of it.

Did you have to take a break from listening to either his solo stuff or from No Use stuff after he passed?

Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I can’t listen to his solo stuff. I may never listen to it again. It’s way too gnarly. The subject matter is so very heartfelt. It’s tough. I listen to XM Radio and a No Use song will come on from time to time, or one of my employees will bring up a song, and I’ll spit out where it was done, how it was done, what was good about it, what I’d change about it. And people will just look at me like “oh my god…” I lived in it. It’s weird; when you’re in a band and you go to record, you know the songs so well because you put them together through the writing and the practicing and the recording, so it really sticks with you. I could play a No Use For A Name show tomorrow, and I haven’t played No Use For A Name songs since last year, but I know them so well that they’re literally engraved in my mind.

So when I listen to a No Use For A Name song, it’s engraved in my mind. I know every part, and I wish I could have done this that or the other thing differently, but what sticks out more than anything is that Tony’s vocals haunt me in an eerie way. It’s like…fuck…Tony is so present in my life sometimes and yet so not present. It’s a really bizarre thing. I’m not the only one, you can talk to the other guys in the band, and they’ll have similar situations. It still doesn’t seem real, because it’s so intense, and it shouldn’t be like that. At the end of the day, I guess I’m lucky enough to have this covers album come out and that I was able to be a part of it, and I’m able to hear Tony again. That’s a good thing.

At first I wondered why do a covers compilation before doing like another greatest hits or rarities compilation album, but something you just clicked. Maybe if it was like that that, you are sort of reliving some of those heavy songs, where this kinda makes it fun. It’s the first compilation to come out after he passed and it’s all fun or goofy stuff.

Yeah, it totally is. Those are all the reasons why a guy would get into a band or why the band exists. Because it’s fun. It might get overly serious and you’re not going to be recording thirty covers, like “Selwyn’s Got a Problem” or “Dream Police.” You do that because it’s fun. Everyone gets more Tony and that’s a good thing. They get to enjoy something maybe they’ve never heard, and it’s just a fun release.

So, you were saying before, maybe more plans for No Use And Friends?

So let me tell you what’s going on. There’s a couple ideas, but the big thing that Fat Wreck Chords is working on (an as-yet unannounced project). It’s a major effort. It’s a major effort on my part…That’s one thing that we’re trying to have for next spring. The other thing that’s been going on is that my brother and I have been working on the storyline of the band for a documentary. We started working on it before Tony passed, and we decided to get it rolling again two years ago, and we put a ton of effort into it. We’ve got like 50 or 60 interviews.

We’ve been digging up tapes for years, we’ve got almost everything we need, there’s only one or two more interviews we are trying to get. My brother is a documentary maker actually, and we’ve been working hard on it. We’re going to do a crowd-sourcing thing to make it as professional as possible. We’ve got like six hours that we’ve got to whittle down to 70 minutes. There’s so much cool stuff, and we want to give props to everyone that was in the band and everyone that worked with the band, and we want to have it out by early next Summer. My brother and I are hoping to go a few places with it. I have grand visions of doing a two-week tour with the old members and getting one certain guest singer and doing all this stuff, but I’m realizing that there’s other people that have things coming out and there’s no way have everyone do two weeks. So I’m going to try to do two weekends and see if I can get my dream lineup together… Everything has to line up. Everyone said they’d be interested, but getting everyone’s weekends to line up is another story.

It’s a massive amount of work. My brother’s been editing for a year straight. It’s really hard. So when I go into all this stuff, like when the record label asks me something…or I have to make a decision with my brother about how the story needs to go, the first thing I do is think about Tony. What would he do, and what’s the best for the band and portraying the truth and the honesty and not being a downer. That’s what it needs to be. The bad times are the bad times. Some of the stories in the documentary will show that, but overall it was great times, and I’m really trying to get that to portray. It’s a lot of work though, oh my god! So that’s what we’re trying to work on after this release. This release took hardly any effort, but (the forthcoming Fat Wreck project) is going to be tremendous and the documentary is just so much work.

Does it feel like people — the surviving band members and the label and Tony’s family — have the same vision in mind for what (the two projects) turn into?

For the boxed set, for sure. So far, it feels very organic and very natural. As soon as you push it and it becomes a chore, it wouldn’t come across good. So it’s been pretty easy. Whatever I’ve needed I’ve gotten from whoever I needed it from, whether it was the other members or the label. Everyone gave up a lot of time for some great interviews. There’s some amazing stories and some great interviews from people that were with the band or worked with the band or toured with the band. From Fat Mike to Ryan Greene to members of other bands to family members. That’s a lot of fun, and so far, everyone is on the same page to make the best release we can with Tony in mind and to pay tribute to the band. Tony’s gone, and he was the main creator in the band, and he was the oldest member in the band aside from myself, and everybody wants the same thing. We want to portray the band how it really was and to give honest answers and show what it was like to be with the band through (these projects).

So far, the documentary is a lot of fun. There’s some hilarious stuff. It’s just a band, you know? It’s not like you’re a politician. We were a fun band and people liked us, so have fun with it. The vision everybody has has been pretty dead-on. The record label’s been great. I’ve been to four or five meetings so far to talk about (both projects) and it’s really fun to talk about it. It’s just fun, and it really comes across good. The editing is good, it’s totally pro and high definition. It’s really fun without the effort. It’s not painstaking studio work or anything like that. The label has been awesome, my brother has been awesome, and they’re doing most of the work at the end of the day. I’m just the middle-man for all the old band members and family members.

I still talk to Tony’s family, Tony’s wife’s family, Chris Shiflett, Ed Gregor, Steve Papoutsis, Dave Nassie, Matt Riddle, and on and on and on. They might not talk to each other, but I’m the centerpiece for whatever reason. I get it; it’s not easy, and everyone spent their time and everyone’s busy. I’m just persistent and take everyone’s feelings into it. Tony’s wife asked for a couple of things to not be included and I said “absolutely! If you don’t want to do it, I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to go against anyone’s will.” That being said, we’re doing our best to put the storyline together for these two things. They will come out, and I’m hoping they’re both out by next summer. We’ll see.

Man…I’m really excited about that. I eat up documentaries and backstories of bands and shit anyway. And being somebody who interviews people not for a living but for a fun little hobby, I’m a total dork about that stuff in general, so when you factor in that it’s about a band that I’ve loved for twenty years or whatever…man, I’m excited.

You know what’s really funny about all of these interviews we’ve done for the documentary, I did a lot of them with my brother, and everyone giving answers would just look at me or ask me questions in the middle of an interview. And my brother was like “I don’t think you should be here for all these interview.” And I agreed. Everyone seemed to be looking to me for approval and it shouldn’t be like that at all. So what we did as we learned how it was going is that I just wrote a lot of questions and I asked questions pertaining to the people and the timeline, and some of them were just absolutely ridiculous. Then we would just let people talk, and people had a lot to say. Band members, people that worked with the band, Mike and Erin (Burkett, Fat Wreck Chords co-founders). It was much more natural if I wasn’t around!

I wouldn’t have even thought about that, but it makes total sense.

Yeah. You know, I’m the original band member. I was by Tony’s side for twenty-five years so much that people just kinda asked me for approval. And I just had to say “hey, you’re your own person. Nothing that you say is bad or wrong. You didn’t do anything wrong.” None of this is wrong. Feelings are hard, some people are still angry about certain things, and it’s interesting to see and it’s all okay. All that being said, we’re lucky enough to get to hear some unreleased stuff from No Use For A Name and hear Tony’s voice and guitar playing and it’s fun. Everything that happens at this point has to be. It’s all a tribute to No Use For A Name and Tony Sly. All of our thoughts are on him through all of this.

I feel like that’s a really good summation point! I don’t want to take up too much of your Sunday afternoon.

I’m totally happy to do this. Even though I’m not playing drums with No Use, we’ve got some plans and some stuff we want to do, and if Tony was around, these things would be happening anyways. I have to keep the ball rolling, and my brother is really good at it. Eventually you’ll see (these two projects) and I think that it’s going to be really enjoyable for everybody. Since we started talking about the documentary again, I’ve been watching a ton of music documentaries. There’s some really amazing ones out there. We try to see what other people are doing and not do what they’re doing and seeing what’s working and drawing people in. It’s got to be compelling. Even with the covers album, that was a way to draw people back in, because it’s interesting.

And it’s gotten a good response, as far as I can tell. Some of it, like I said before, is stuff people might have collected on their own, especially back in the late ‘90s when compilations were more of a regular thing. That was obviously how people got introduced to so many bands, whether through Fat Wreck Chords compilations or the old Warped Tour compilations. So it’s cool to have them all in the same place, especially since that whole compilation thing doesn’t really happen like that anymore. Compilations like that aren’t really a thing. Fat hasn’t put out a huge one like that in a while, I don’t even know what is on a Warped Tour compilation now, or what Warped Tour even is in that regard anymore, although I’ve gone to it the last couple of years.

I don’t think Warped Tour knows what Warped Tour is anymore, although that’s all good! I’d love to go back to Warped Tour.

Yeah, they’ve been really good to us, and I’ve gone out the last couple of years, and there have been a fair amount of cool, older school bands that have played. Strung Out played this year, Adolescents played this year. In talking to Kevin Lyman, it seems like he considers that part to be for him. Having the old school bands out to play seems to sorta fulfill his soul.

That’s great! Some of those bands that he’s put on are almost timeless at this point. It’s of course for him, but it’s also for the older fans, the parents, the crusty guys. I think very highly of Kevin Lyman and what he’s done. He’s single-handedly done more for this music world and many different genres of music than most people have done. It’s the longest running festival probably ever.

Yeah, I think so.

I give that guy props. And he’s a cool guy. He’s very down to earth, he’s a cool guy and he’ll take time to talk to any kid. I’ve got his email and phone number, I used to chat with him about this, that and the other thing. See, in the old days, he would call you directly! Like, he would call the guys in the band and say “hey, you want to do this?” If there was a problem or if he needed something, he would call you. I remember in probably 1998 or something getting a call and him asking “where are you?” because it was early in the morning and he needed help and he knew I was up early in the morning. He was like “I need help taking this hay off this truck, because we’ve got a mud pit in front of the stage!” So I woke up early and he gave me a pitchfork and Kevin Lyman and I were shoveling hay off a truck!

Oh, that’s funny!

It needed to be done, and that’s just Kevin Lyman! It’s probably a little different now because it’s such a big thing these days with a lot of trucks and a lot of buses and a lot of bands and a lot of managers.

Yeah, I think there were something like 70 bands spread over 7 stages or something unreal like that this year. It’s total sensory overload. It’s like walking into a giant casino.

They used to call it something else at first but then they changed the name of it early on to the Warped Tour, because spending a day on Warped Tour totally warps your brain! (*both laugh*)

I can’t imagine how people do all six or seven weeks of it or whatever.

On all of these big six or seven week tours we’d do, people would ask how you do it. And I explain it like this: the first week it’s all fun. You’re trying to get in a groove and you’re happy to be out. You’re clean and you’re shaven. Second week, you’re still kinda there. Third week, you start to get a little cuckoo. You get a little testy. The fourth week you’re kinda over it. You’re getting in arguments with people, you’re having trouble getting along. The fifth week you totally lose your mind. Nothing matters. You’re kinda numb (*both laugh*). The sixth week you can start to smell home. That seventh week, you’re happy to be on tour and you know it’s coming to an end, and there’s all these friends you may never see again, you’re just happy to be there. That’s just kinda how the tour cycle goes. You can’t live with it, you can’t live without it, but if you’re in a band it’s what you do?

Do you miss that part of it now that you’ve been away for half a decade or whatever?

Yeah. Yeah, I miss it.

When you left No Use in 2011 or whatever, did you think that you’d miss the touring part?

Umm…no! The timing…boy, my timing…my hiatus, call it whatever you want to, but I just needed a break. I had never gotten a break. Twenty-seven years of being in a band I never had more than a full month’s time away from those guys. It was so intense, and so much happened and came to a head, and it wasn’t anything personal and it wasn’t like an argument happened and it wasn’t any one thing. I just needed a break. I think everyone needed a break. But Tony just wanted to keep it going. I just needed a break, and he was like “well, that’s okay because Matt can’t tour anyways.” And I said “what do you mean?” And he said “Matt’s been in the hospital since the day after we got back from Japan.” And I said “what?!?” I didn’t know. I didn’t talk to Matt every day, but I talked to Tony all the time, but it was around Christmas, and then January 2nd he tells me that and I’m like “well, what’s the point? We don’t need to do anything right now.”

And he’s like “well, I really want to do this tour…” And I just kept saying “what’s the rush? Matt’s in the hospital, what’s the rush?” And he’s like “well if you’re not gonna do it, we’ll find somebody else.” And I said “well, I’m not going to do it because we don’t need to.” And that was it. I didn’t get into an argument with him. A couple of days later we talked and then you know what he ended up doing? He ended up writing one of the most amazing solo albums ever. Right after January 2nd, 2011, when I said I wasn’t doing that tour, so Tony was like “well fuck it, I’m just going to write a solo album” and that was the first solo album he did.

The Twelve Song Program album. My god, yeah, I love that.

No Use couldn’t tour. I was pretty much the only original member, Matt was in the hospital, Chris Rest was still a new member at the time. So when I told Tony I wasn’t going to tour, he went on and did Twelve Song Program. Not long after that, he did the second solo album, so there was never another No Use album. Was it because of that one conversation? Maybe. We’ll never really know, and I guess it just is what it is at this point. I didn’t quit, I didn’t get kicked out, he didn’t ask me to leave, he just said “okay” and…I never really told anyone that. That’s kinda just how it went. It’s a moot point now. And thank gosh it kinda did, because he wrote two phenomenal albums. They’re as good as any solo albums or as good as any other songs. He’s got twelve of them on each album and it’s amazing. In fact, it’s so amazing I can’t even listen to it. It’s gut-wrenching.

I want to say that I wrote at least one of the reviews for Dying Scene when they first came out, and I remember saying something about how much of a punch in the stomach pretty much every song was. And then you listen to them after he passed and holy fuck…I have literally cried in my car listening.

Yeah, yeah. My wife will listen to them every now and then, and I’ll go down there and I know she’s crying. And it happens every time, and I hate to see her crying. But you now, that’s the way it went. And I think Tony was really sad at that time. I wasn’t in the band, Matt was in the hospital, he knew he had to tour, he had a family to support, music wasn’t selling. The music industry was reeling because albums weren’t selling and that’s what we needed to do in order to tour. That’s why you put these albums out. A lot of things in the world of music itself for us were sad.

I don’t want to say Tony was a sad and depressed person, but he definitely had a lot of feelings. He could be a happy guy, he could be a recluse and all points in between that. Sometimes I think he was sad, and I think you need that to put together something that rips somebody’s soul apart. It’s unfortunate that that’s the way it went, but we can’t turn back the clock. I’m sorry it went down like that for him and his family and the band members. No one did anything malicious, I think everyone just needed a break. Tony wasn’t going to stay still because Tony was so damn creative that the music didn’t just stop with him. He didn’t just write an album and then take a break for two years. It didn’t work like that with him. We did an album every two years, but the only reason there was only an album every two years is that we were touring so much. If we didn’t tour so much, there probably would have been an album every year. There’s probably a ton of music that Tony had left to do.

And he was able to be prolific but still be authentic. It didn’t seem like he ever really phoned it in, so there was always something that resonated, and I think that’s why people loved it so much.

I agree. I would like to say that we never phoned it in, and we never really put in a bunch of filler songs. Some bands do have filler; they have the one hit song and eleven other songs that make you go “what the hell? What happened?” But No Use wasn’t like that. We took a lot of pride and we tried really hard. No Use For A Name always had to try. We had to tour harder, we had to practice longer, we weren’t all total naturals. Tony wasn’t just an amazing songwriter at 15 years old. He could write songs, but from his 15-year-old stuff to his 40-year-old stuff, there’s no comparison. We practiced a lot. We probably practiced more than most bands. Maybe Strung Out practices a lot (*laughs*) They’re one of those bands that No Use was the closest with. Strung Out was one, NOFX was one, Lagwagon was one, where you’re so close that it’s almost like their band is in your band.

They played a show in Reno and I went out and played a song with them, and it was an amazing moment and I’m lucky to have done it. I remember sitting backstage and talking to Chris and Jordan…I think actually the whole band…and it was not long after Tony passed away, and I remember saying “guys, don’t take this situation for granted. Treat yourselves good. You never know when the end is there. It can happen to anyone, it doesn’t have to be how Tony passed away, it could be any different way.” It could just be that one of the guys decides they don’t want to be in the band. Never take it for granted. Not long after that, Chris got sober. Jordan started talking to Jason again. You really just never know. It’s a band…there’s four or five personalities and not much else holding it together. You’ve got to enjoy the ride but it can be taken away so quick.

I knew that Chris was coming up on five years sober next month, but it never really dawned on me how close that was to Tony passing.

I’m not sure if my words helped or not, but I told him, and I was real clear with it, that you’ve got to treat yourself better. I’ve talked to other bands too, and I tell them if you don’t like one of the guys in the band, you better start. You better figure it out. If you want your band to continue and you want all the guys in the band to be productive, sweep the small shit under the carpet and take care of the big shit. And take care of each other.

 


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2 Comments

  1. matmoksik
    matmoksik8/18/2017 4:58 PM | Permalink

    This is a great piece, Jay. Thanks for doing this.

  2. operation-rescue
    Operation Rescue8/18/2017 6:16 PM | Permalink

    Great article, on a great band.

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