Interviewed November 11, 2010.
Government Issue [wiki / MySpace] was a Washington D.C. punk band active from 1980 to 1989. The band was fronted by John Stabb for the duration but there were many musicians in the line up over the years including Brian Baker (Minor Threat, Bad Religion), Tom Lyle, and Mike Fellows.
The G.I. 1987 lineup (John Stabb, Tom Lyle, J. Robbins and Pete Moffett) will be playing a one-time reunion show at the Black Cat in D.C. as a benefit for a friend on December 11, 2010.
John Stabb was interviewed by N.C.F.C. in December 1983 [read it here] and it seemed appropriate to talk to him again nearly 27 years later on the eve of his band's reunion.
Janine: What about this reunion?
John: It's just basically a friends thing. We've been asked over the past four or five years to play different places as Government Issue but me and Tom Lyle, the guitarist, always kind of vowed that we would never do Government Issue ever again. The only time anything ever came even a little bit close to it was "Government Re-Issue" a couple of years ago after I got my face rearranged by some thugs in the neighbourhood and I had over ten thousands dollars worth of facial surgery bills to deal with so we had a benefit with Tom and Brian Baker and William Knapp on drums from "76 Percent Uncertain". It was fun and it was good and all that but we always vowed to never really reunite Government Issue for anybody but basically, this friend of ours was having an ear tumour removed and it cost him like 55K so he definitely needed some help.
The hold back in a way at first was our drummer, Pete Moffett, who is a drum tech now. Since G.I. broke up he was in Wool with the Scream guys in California then he came back to D.C. and did Burning Airlines with J. Robbins from G.I. Then he wasn't doing anything for a while so he decided to be a drum tech for a company and he went around full time touring with other bands and doing drum sound stuff for them and recently he's actually working for Hanson. That's his gig right now: full-time working for Hanson and the last one he was working for was Dashboard Confessional, full time across the country and Europe but apparently Hanson has a better leave policy. So he was able to get out of doing some stuff around Christmas time and he finally came together with the whole thing so we're actually now working on the whole thing and working out all the songs that we're going to do for the show and stuff. If anything, I always said 'never would we do G.I. and people could offer all this money blah blah blah'. But we're doing this as benefit for a friend and I guess I won't say "never" again.
Janine: How big is the venue?
John: It holds about 800 people.
Janine: Is it sold out?
John: It is completely sold out now. I was really amazed. I was getting really nervous but 2 weeks after they announced the thing 500 pre-sold tickets were sold already. I was like "damn! If we don't come off really great then I should retire my old ass or something!"
Janine: Any chance of more shows or a tour?
John: No. If someone else somewhere down the line needs some help then we might put it back together again if we can make it work but as it is, it's not a touring thing. I've talked to so many people asking us to bring it on tour but no, never. It's really hard. It's just a one-off thing that we're doing. It's definitely not a touring thing.
Even if we actually could and things would actually work out for it, it took me 25 years just to be friends with Tom Lyle again and I don't want to ruin that by going back out and playing and having no privacy and driving each other crazy. We were like the Gallagher brothers of the D.C. punk music scene. We wanted to have punch ups on stage. We were really immature and insecure we just drove each other crazy.
We were just so close to each other as far as when you're in a band. It's not farfetched to say that as band member that you tour with, you get closer than your own family and your girlfriend, wife. I spend about nine years with Tom and the band and I lived together briefly with him and a couple of other group house-mates and we drove each other crazy. We just wanted to kill each other.
Janine: Are you having a good time now? I hope you have a lot of fun with it because it's gotta be fun.
John: Yeah yeah, it's definitely going to be fun. It's fun getting e-mails back and forth that we're carrying on about what songs we're going to do. J. Robbins is like 'ah man, I forgot just how great these songs were' and everything and playing them again and trying to get the bass part and Tom's like "well, I don't want to do this song, and I'm not physically capable of doing it". Things like that, you know. It's interesting.
We're all looking forward to it. It's going to be a really really fun show. I've been dying to practice. J and Pete have practiced on their own. They've practiced together. Tom's coming down in the last few days before the show from New Jersey and we're gonna all get together then and practice our asses off. They tried to see if they could put another one together the night before, but we were like 'no way, we're going to be rehearsing our asses off during the week' so we definitely can't do that.
I know by the time we get together for a full rehearsal it'll be a lot of fun. Fun seeing everybody again. It should be a really fun time. A fun show. My ex-wife was asking me, "Do you know the songs well enough?" I know the songs in my sleep! Before the Government Re-Issue thing, I never thought I could remember this stuff but yeah, of course!
Janine: What is your definition of punk?
John: I don't know if I could actually just define it. For me it would be about not putting up with unnecessary bullshit in life.… to not put up with ignorance in public or let someone completely get carried away with their power…
It's not putting up with people's ego and definitely not dealing with the injustices of the world. If you basically see something go down you should be involved if you feel passionate about the whole thing, you should definitely not put up with seeing someone get hurt. Or some kind of racist thing, like people making racist comments. It's bullshit. I won't put up with that stuff. Never have, never will.
It's also to basically just do stuff that you're comfortable with and if other people don't like it, then you know, you're not there to please them, you're there to please yourself and that's what I've always done within the band scene and whatever, wearing crazy wardrobe that was not considered punk rock, like wacky outfits when everyone else was wearing leather jackets and spikes and stuff. I have a very low tolerance to no tolerance for bullshit in life. For stuff that I would consider like, having to cow-tow to ideas, being forced into something. I definitely, you know, if I feel like I want to go out and protest something, that's fine and whatever and I'll deal with the consequences but I don't necessarily want to feel like I'm being pushed into that whole situation just because other people are doing it. That's probably about the closest I can come to defining punk.
Janine: It sounds very individualistic.
John: Yeah, yeah.
Janine: You've been into punk since--
John: 1980 was when G.I. started. I tried to kinda get into things a little bit towards the last half of my last half year of high school and I was just getting fed up with all that rock and roll bullshit out there, just hearing the same bands and all that and I started to pick up on something I thought was a little different than the mainstream stuff that I was hearing and I thought well this is interesting, this is different but I didn't really get into the whole band thing until about 1980. So that's what I've done for the past several years.
Janine: Was there any point where you were not part of the music scene?
John: Let's see. Maybe about a year, a year and a half of not being in a band but I was still part of the scene. There was a point where I was distanced from it when I was living in a Maryland suburb with my wife and I didn't go to shows as much and didn't see people like the old days and check out bands because I was miles away. I still don't drive – I don't have a license – which might have to do with wrecking a driver's ed vehicle in the parking lot and a couple of other things and just also being in other people's accidents over the years like throughout G.I. and other things in live that I just got kind of psyched out. It works for me that I don't drive. So to travel to see a show, it would just take me a long long fucking time to get down to a show. So there was a portion of time, maybe 4 years that I didn't go to a lot of shows. The only shows that I got to see or attend were ones that I played in called Factory Incident which lasted about 5 years. I'm in one now called Sleeper Agent.
John: I'm just about to turn 50, Tom's a little older than me, Jay and Pete are younger and it's like, even now, I feel like part of the whole punk rock godfather geezer geriatric crew. I can do my thing and I'm not going to be like uh, I don't think I'm going to have as much energy as most teenage kids jumping up and down. I really still push myself pretty hard in whatever I do. If I ever get into the territory where I need to have a walker on stage and it'll be like 'walker dives' and have an oxygen tank on the side like Angus Young…
I know I definitely get pretty bruised up and pretty scratched up because Iv'e been rolling on the floor or whatever, I know that sometimes that I come out of it with a little bit of a sore back or something but it's something that's in my blood, it's something I have to do. It's not like it's even a choice for me to go out and do music or whatever, it's just something I have to do. It pushes me like a therapy session, it's like a primal scream. But it is such an outlet. It's like I've always joked that being in the punk rock scene and being in Government Issue for nine years even though we never made any money it kept me out of jail and mental institutions. That's a good thing.
A Mad and Angry Youth
John: Over the years maybe the last 6 years – who me, hyperactive? People have told me that for years. And I think that I never knew that I had ADHD. I knew I had some kind of attention deficit going on and I got diagnosed and I decided okay, maybe I do need a little bit of medication to help with focussing and keep my anger managed a little better so I take paxil now and I'm, you know, the old man who takes the meds now.
Janine: Is it working?
John: It definitely has helped me focus a lot better in life and the littlest things become manageable. When I was touring with G.I. and playing all the time, going through relationships, group houses from hell… all this stuff, it was tough to hold down a job, it was tough to hold on to a relationship. It was tough to keep myself going at times. I had a few minor nervous breakdowns. That all channeled into certain songs, like the Joyride album. That was my 2 years of depression, my "I'm having a little nervous breakdown".
Janine: When was that one? I want to tie it in to the interview you did in '83 for NCFC where Dave had asked you what kind of stuff you were writing about. Back then, you said you were "a mad and angry youth". So you were just saying you did Joyride while dealing with depression. What are you doing now?
John: Now? I'd say that back then I was 'young, loud and angry'. Now, I'm older… not as loud… but I'm pretty damn cynical. Cynical about the whole music business, industry. Things in life. I don't know if that's changed that much over the years. I think I was a lot more negative back in the G.I. days.
Janine: But you seemed to have a real sense of humour back then, at least that's what I picked up from the interview.
John: Yeah, I'm glad that I never lost my sense of humour but I definitely was still pretty negative in my own life and I was really negative in relationships and jobs and all kinds of things. Maybe that ties into that I needed some medication but I'm really glad for all that G.I. accomplished and everything that happened, I have no regrets about all that stuff. I just look at things that I don't have regrets about anything in my life good or bad. For me, life is one long learning experience and when I stop learning, I'll be ashes. I'll be dead. I still learn things, even now. You should never stop learning about things in life.
[John Stabb on the cover of N.C.F.C. issue #9, June 1984. Photo by Naomi Peterson.]
Stage Diving / The barricade a.k.a. “moat” at large venues
John: Back in the '80s people would stage dive, split their head open, get a concussion and nobody would get sued. These days if it happens the parents will sue the club. It happened in Baltimore in a club called the Ottobar a few years ago so every club is very wary of that situation. Worried they're gonna get sued. People will get thrown out if they stage dive. I have to say that's the way it's gonna be. I'm not gonna be like Fugazi saying nobody can slam dance and you can't do this and you can't do that. I expect it and I'm not going to try to stop it unless people are really beating the shit out of each other or hurting someone for senseless reasons. It's gonna be a lot of fun but I think definitely it would be totally ridiculous, you know, we've always fought against putting up a barricade, like a big moat in front of the stage. Security guys lining up trying to 'protect' the band. It's like 'look, we don't need you here', we don't need it to feel cold and distant like arena rock.
Janine: I was surprised to see that [recently at a larger venue]. It was kind of sad.
John: I know! It's really sad. It is. Some bands want that but I'm totally opposed to it. We all pretty much said 'no, barricades'. It's ridiculous. I know people are going to get a little wild. But I don't think it's gonna go totally nuts. I just don't like that. I like to be connected to my audience, not some security guard. It's always been the audience that makes the show as much as the band does. Totally getting into it and getting pumped up with what you're doing. As long as they're not "I'm gonna stage dive because my older brother did it years ago and I don't care what you're about". It's cool for them to knock around and they can slam dance and they can pogo or whatever, but I guess we have to get people NOT to stage dive and hopefully that goes okay.
I remember we played an anti-apartheid benefit with the Slickee Boys and Marginal Man. It was a big hall that puts on plays and gets bands, they've had anything to the Replacement and Robert Hitchcock and Spaulding Grey… and basically, they had this big orchestra pit in front of the stage and I thought this is bullshit. So I thought I'd just ask the sound people for the longest mic chord I could have and I'm just going to climb out there with audience because this is bullshit. People sitting in the seats and then the orchestra pit thing. I just went "no way, I'm not dealing with this bullshit". Marginal Man went on before us and people were getting out of their seats and getting excited but they didn't move up front. Security was there watching over so they were calm but getting into it and the security guy comes up to me before we went out there and said "you know, people were standing in their seats and moving around, could you tell people to stay in their seats?" So I said "Yeah, sure." And I go out there and I didn't even have to say 'hey, come on up', it was like a private message and they figured it out really easily. I said something like 'security wants you all to stay in your seats, but you know me, I don't preach" and these kids just rushed up to the front. It was awesome.
Janine: Oh they must have loved you!
John: I climbed into the orchestra pit and got into it with them and the people were having a good time. My parents were there, and they've seen a lot of G.I. shows, they thought that was the tamest reaction we've ever had at a G.I. show. They were really surprised by the reaction and by the rent-a-cop security grabbing kids and saying 'hey, don't do that shit'. People weren't smashing the place up, they weren't going crazy. They were just moving around and getting into it. After the set, I go back stage thinking it was awesome, I had a fun time but Tom's flipping out. He says, "They're throwing all our shit out onto the loading docks. They're throwing all our equipment out because you went out there." And they did! They threw all our stuff out onto the loading dock. I'm so opposed to that arena shit.
We played a 10,000-seat arena in California on this Mystic Records tour. They flew us out there in '85 and we played a handful of dates and that was our biggest one. We played with all these international bands, like the Asexuals, the Upright Citizens, DOA and Conflict UK and DOA were the headliners. Everybody had these HUGE banners and everything and I thought that was ridiculous. Even DOA had one. Come on! Why do you need a fucking banner up there?
John: I remember we played with Discharge at the first Hardcore Matinee. It was with Discharge and Scream at the old 9:30 club and I saw that Discharge had this HUGE banner on stage. We played first so I was blowing my nose and wiping my ass with it. It was bullshit. I'm sure they were thrilled about that. At the big arena show, I saw these huge banners like one after another would lift up for every band. We were the little american band at the bottom of the bill, I think we got on because someone cancelled. Anyway, I saw all these banners so I put up a G.I. t-shirt "look at our banner!". My old friend Naomi Peterson took all these pictures and from a distance it looked like a hanky. It was pretty funny. I've always been opposed to people's rock-star behaviour and all that bull shit.
The RULES at a G.I. show
John: These are the rules we want you to deal with. You can slam dance and you can stage dive. But absolutely no nudity. It's hard enough playing up here without you taking off your clothes in front of us. I always got really "ewwww, this is like being at a fucking Grateful Dead show or something." I don't want to see this unattractive person shaking their jugs on stage! Sometimes the human body is not a beautiful thing. And I certainly don't want to see some guy whipping out his junk either, like "hey! check it out!" And I'm like "oh, great… nudists…"
Janine: I've never seen that at a show.
John: It's happened. It's definitely happened. It happened with some SST bands too. Like Nigheist with their dicks hanging out when they get up on stage. Oh god, do we really need this shit? Beefeater. He was the same way. Every Beefeater show he would take off his clothes at the end of the set it would be like "ah man, they got through the whole set and he didn't take off his clothes" and he goes "oh wait, I forgot something" and he'd come back onstage in his sweatpants and his dick's hanging out.
Jesus, can't you play just one fucking show without whipping your dick out? Is that even necessary to be part of a punk rock show? No, it's more like a fucking Grateful Dead concert. Or like making punk rock into Burning Man. I would lose my mind if I went to a Burning Man thing.
John: To me selling out would be to endorse a product, to push something that you honestly are completely against. Like I don't want to promote cigarettes. A friends of mine was in a band and they did stuff for a company called Marlboro Music and they wanted to get my band at the time to do this. Saying "Do this! They'll give you money and you just need to put Marlboro Music on your records and they'll sponsor a tour" and I'm like "That's bullshit. I'm not endorsing cigarettes, I'm not endorsing something I'm totally opposed to." I really hate the smell of cigarettes. I can't even be around them it just kills me. It ruins my whole day! I'm not Mr. fascist straight edge, sober vegan guy that's going to go "oh you smoked a cigarette in my face I'll punch you out" but I just don't like to be around it. And I'm certainly not going to let Marlboro cigarettes sponsor a tour or my band. Fuck that. That's not my thing.
I like Smirnoff coolers. If someone said 'hey, you want to be sponsored by Smirnoff?" I'd say yeah! sure! because I drink the shit so it wouldn't be a selling out thing to me. My co-workers, they say "you're selling out, you're putting out G.I. skateboards and t-shirts, you're selling out!" To me that's not selling out, that's making a little bit of a profit and you're getting paid for all the years that you put into this whole thing because we never made a profit with G.I. We always struggled out asses off. I certainly don't want to have one of my Government Issue songs or any songs that I've written changed into a song promoting football. And if Joan Jett made money off that, well, okay. I think that's kinda lame but it would be her choice.
People say how come you never made any money you were in this band for all these years and put out all these records. One of my bosses is always giving me shit 'oh you're the washed up punk star guy' but I'm like "but I got kids who come up to me in the store who want my autograph, do you?"
If we'd stuck it out a couple more years and maybe gotten on to a major label, I think THAT would have been selling out for me because my heart wasn't in it any more. Some of us were really bummed about how things were going and it took us 9 years to finally get a booking agency to handle us and then they said "Okay, you'll play these shows for a couple of days during the week in Detroit or Ohio or whatever" and I'm asking "are we even going to get paid even a little bit of money because we're taking off these days from work and we can't afford it" but they're like "no, no,you have to do these showcase things" and I'm like "we've done all this showcase shit over the years and they've been really lame and they haven't helped us." But the label is going "Come on! Come on! You're on the verge of something" and I'm like "yeah, breaking up!" They said if we'd stuck it out two more years and gone with this booking agency and done all these shows and "paid to play" and more losing money, and probably losing your relationships and all that combined, to just do all this shit and struggle your ass off more, then we would have gotten closer to being signed to a major label.
But it's all in the timing. The '90s was a huge time for bands to be doing punk rock and noisy music. I look at the whole thing, bands like Greenday, and I think that it's kind of ridiculous that old geezers like us and Minor Threat from the old days, TSOL, Hüsker Dü, all these bands who had to pave the way for people to finally 'make money' and to actually be treated with respect. But it's like they haven't really struggled really as much as other people have…
You should do it if it's something in your blood, something you have to do as an outlet, but not if you're trying to make a profit or if you're expecting to get hotel rooms.
Janine: That doesn't seem very "punk".
John: Yeah, the G.I. got maybe 2 hotel rooms the whole 9 years we were even around. And they fit everyone and our roadies and maybe even the next band too in that room. Somewhere to go and have a private shower instead of crashed out on someone's group house and sleeping next to the dirty cat litter box on the floor. Or being in Europe and sleeping in a in a squat with no heat or hot water in the middle of winter and you freeze your ass off and get sick and whatever.
People have it way too easy these day. I read this article about some band coming out from North Carolina or something all bitching and moaning in this newspaper article "oh I have to take off this time from work, we have to rent a van, blah blah". I'm like come on! Are you expecting all this to happen over night? You DO have to struggle and put in your years of just eating shit. Just to really see what you really you know, what you can accomplish and what you really have to really be hungry for it.
Janine: What do you think of the current punk music? There's definitely some punk out there but there's so much that calls itself punk—
John: Yeah, I agree. I even said in that documentary that I hate that "American Hardcore" book and that documentary itself but the documentary pissed me off. The book is this complete waste of paper. It's got a million and one typos. It would be something I would be so embarrassed to put my name on but this loser douchbag from D.C. – who put on a few D.C. shows and booked some bands – thinks he's some authority on punk rock or hardcore now.
Janine: Well, he is now. He's put out a book.
John: He's such a loser. Even in the documentary he's got these people from old school bands going "oh, punk doesn't exist any more. Punk is dead." But I'm like "Come on, it's still out there! What are you, the authority on punk rock or something now? You're so elitist that you can say "oh sorry it doesn't exist any more because I don't do it" or "it's not from the '80s". But it still exists out there! Punk and hardcore. Some people re-work it in their own way but there are aspects of it out there.
But yes, there are too many fucking bands that are like basically saying they're punk rock, they're like fast speed metal, saying oh they're hardcore, but no way, they sound like Carcass or Napalm Death. Don't call yourself hardcore or punk rock when you're doing something that's closer to Metallica. It's bullshit. There was a whole crossover from punk to metal in the mid '80s and I thought that was such a lame lame period. All these bands like DRI were crossing over to the metal thing. We played with those bands when they were little hardcore bands when nobody really cared about them and then years later they decided they were going to be metal. And then we were opening up for them and our fans were asking why were were opening up for these clowns. Better management. We managed ourselves very badly on our own. We basically did our thing on our own and we learned through getting burned and we made a lot of mistakes.
John: The punk thing has definitely given me a lot of courage and strength but I try not to let things get out of control in my own life. I know I had a pretty big ego back in G.I. and people were – rightfully so – knocking me down a few notches. I shouldn't have gotten big headed about some things. But I never treated fans badly. I just treated my bandmates badly. And that was not cool but it happened and we all went through our immaturities and insecurities. It was a pretty tough time. But in general I'm proud of everything I accomplished back in that time period and I wouldn't change anything.
Janine: When Dave interviewed you in '83, you had never been to Canada. You eventually made it up here.
John: I've played up there in a couple of different bands.
Janine: Did you like it?
John: Yeah yeah. We always had great times up in Canada. Even with the Stabb band, we thought people were going to hate us but we actually had better reactions. We had a great time out there. That was probably the most enjoyable part of our sort of like tour that we ever did, the Canadian segment of it. We always had a great time in Canada. I don't think we've ever had a bad show there, even with G.I.
Posted December 7, 2010.