Massimiliano Adelmo Giorgini

Mass Giorgini: Producer/Engineer (Anti-Flag, Rise Against, Alkaline Trio, etc), CoProductions include Billie Joe Armstrong (of Green Day), Kris Roe (of the Ataris), John Strohm (of the Lemonheads), Paul Mahern (producer of John Mellencamp, Iggy Pop), and Anjali Dutt (producer of Oasis, My Bloody Valentine). Sonic Iguana Studios founder. Screeching Weasel bass. Squirtgun bass/b. vocals, Common Rider bass/sax. Occasional contributor to Punk, Rock Sound, and Punk Planet magazines.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

I am woefully past due on posting new blogs, so I have decided to reprint here an interview I did with Lafayette-area magazine Tipp-C in December of 1995. As the distribution of the free publication is limited to local stores and restaurants, I thought it might of interest to the readers of my blog.

“Meeting of the Masses,”
Interview with Mass Giorgini of Squirtgun by Aaron Colter

Tipp-C: the Lafayette Cities’ Arts, Events and Entertainment Magazine (Vol. 3, 1),
December 7th - January 11th, 2006.

I met Mass for the interview at Village
Coffee Shop. Thankfully, I had already
seen his face at the Squirtgun show about
a week before. Mass Giorgini does not
look like a punk rocker, or even a soft
rocker for that matter. One of Lafayette’s
biggest stars, a man who co-produced an
album with Billie Armstrong, produced
an album for Rise Against, Anti-Flag and
Alkaline Trio, bassist for Common Rider,
Screeching Weasel and Squirtgun, toured
with Jimmy Eat World and Blink-182.
For Christ’s sake people, Squirtgun’s
song “Social” opens Mallrats. Fucking
Mallrats! Maybe I’m too easily won over,
but this man has had more productive
influence on music than that fat slob Axl
Rose. And here he is ordering coffee,
looking like a teaching assistant for
Physics 101. As I found out Mass actually
teaches Italian at Purdue, for fun he says,
and is a graduate student in Spanish.
Incredible. Now at 37, I got to sit down
with Mass and find out what punk rock
does with someone over 22.

What is the first instrument you ever

I started on the sax. And in fact, I played a
lot of sax in Common Rider with Jesse from
Operation Ivy.

When did you first pick up the bass then?
I started playing bass in seventh grade, so I
must have been twelve at the time.

I guess we’ll just dive into it from here.
So, why punk?
I was drawn to punk when I was about
12. I started playing in a punk band by
the age of 15. Remember the island of
misfit toys in that reindeer movie? It was
like that -- an island of misfit kids. Back
then, being punk was definitely not a cool
thing. The punks were the ultimate misfits,
beyond being square pegs in round holes
– we were four-dimensional fractals
trying to live in Flatland. And by “punks,”
I definitely don’t mean that they were
bad kids, but like me, nerdy kids, just…
outcasts. I think that the “misfit island”
of punk was what made me want to be a
part of it. I had felt like an outcast of sorts
from an early age for not understanding
the language – I was raised in Italy my first
several years, and came here not knowing
any English – that was probably enough
on its own to guarantee my getting picked
on or beat up… but add on to that the fact
that my mother had schizophrenia, and all
of a sudden I was the kid with the “crazy
mom.” But in the punk scene, I fit in. At
least in what I call my punk scene – because
for me there were three waves of punk:
the first wave was made up of American
groups like the Ramones, and before them
Iggy and The Stooges or MC5. Real basic,
loud rock -- fast and simple. The second
wave was British, with the Sex Pistols and
The Clash. And this was when, you know,
the politics came in, when the bands first
got involved with social issues. But the
third wave -- that was the most important
to me, that was… no, is my scene. We
kept the politics, and the fast, simple, hard
music. But we also added this sense of anti-commercialism,
community. We cranked
up the dial on our resistance to the status
quo – we brought the Mohawk to the
masses, declared ourselves an alternative
to the mainstream, claimed a different
sense of justice and morality that we felt
exceeded those of the powers-that-be,
and, whether we knew it or not, we were
preaching a form of socialism, within the
scene -- essentially semi-Marxist stuff, as
I see now, in hindsight. Sure, we were to
a large degree deluded, dreamy-eyed kids
that thought we could completely change
the world with our music and ideas, and
our actual effect on the world may not have
been as dramatic as our dreams, but I do
think that we made, and still are making,
a difference. Groups like Black Flag,
Minor Threat, The Dead Kennedys – they
engendered this scene. It was all about
D.I.Y., Do-It-Yourself, you know? And
with it there was the birth of the zine culture
– our own underground, independent press
--- starting with MaximumRockNRoll, and
later with zines like Punk Planet. And then,
of course came the whole concept of “unity”
– which first came to punk from ska via the
Clash, who brought the in word through
Desmond Dekker of Jamaica. “Unity” was
meant to symbolize how a music scene
could improve race relations, and used
the black and white checkerboard as it’s
symbol, to represent the idea of unity with
individuality – the colors are together, but
still distinct. But, even though the notion
started in the “second wave,” it really
came to life in the third wave, in the U.S.,
through Operation Ivy.
I was drawn to these kinds of social issues.
I guess I can add to that the fact that my
parents were not like many other parents,
not W.A.S.P. or conservative, they were
actually rather liberal, and very anti-war.
My father grew up a prisoner of war of the
Allies in Africa during the second World
War, and mother grew up in wartime Italy,
as the Nazis and the U.S. fought each other
on Italian soil – every bombing of a “Nazi
stronghold” was another Italian church
destroyed, every “U.S. Munitions Armory”
blown up was another Italian school. Maybe
that is part of why I like championing the
underdog, why I try to see things from the
side of the oppressed. Anyway, that’s what
punk is supposed to be about – championing
the rights of those whose race, culture,
or beliefs do not reflect the majority.
(Laughing) And, yeah, I admit that you have
to include the “teen angst” factor, too… I
mean, honestly, plain-old youthful rebellion
had something to do with it – just like it did
with early rock’n’roll – but also just like any
it has had to do with any social revolution
throughout history. The rebelliousness
of youth can be powerful. But, it’s also
short-lived, ephemeral. Just how many
thirty-seven year olds go to punk shows?
It’s only a phase of two years for most

Why stay in the scene then?
I love it. And I’ve made it my life to some
degree. But I would have made a living
easier any other way. When people say,
“Oh you must be so lucky.” Well, yeah, I
am lucky, yes. But I’ve worked an average
of over a hundred hours per week for most
of the last 15 years. You do that because
you want to. It’s something you do out of
passion. It’s not about the fashion, which
I love, too -- it’s all kinds of stuff. It’s the
combination of the music and the message.
I still believe it can change the world.

Punk seems to be coming back, it’s “cool”
now. How do you feel about that?

The classic punk reaction to that trend is
that it’s cheapening what we started, or that
the “cool” bands are selling out. I don’t
think it’s that simple. In many ways, it has
made the punk scene more powerful,
therefore more able to affect the changes
that were part of our credo. But, honestly,
like the naysayers, I do miss some things.
Back then, in the punk days of yore, if I
saw a guy with a Mohawk walking down
the street, instantly there was a connection.
Chances were that we listened to the same
bands, thought the same way about wanting
to rid the world of racism, or homophobia,
or sexism. I can’t say that anymore. With
all of the popularity, the message has been
diluted, there’s not enough unity to pass
on any focused message. There’s division
now, which is sad. You know, now that we
have such a wide scene, there really is the
possibility to band together and accomplish
something. But unfortunately, there’s a
tendency to separate. Don’t get me wrong,
I don’t want everything to be the same,
homogenous -- I’m not saying that. But
maybe there’s just one thread to connect all
of us together… we just need to find it.
As a scene, we’ve gotten big and fat.
There’s a lot of in-fighting, weird inner band
back-biting, discord between the subgenres,
and so on. If we’re not careful, punk will
become the same as dinosaur rock. Green
Day still has most of what made them. But
some other bands . . . there’s a bloated
carcass in the music industry now that calls
itself “punk.” It’s no more punk than
PokÉmon. Commercialism creates these
bands with no knowledge of what punk
is. People are looking for another Green
Day. But those guys busted their butts, they
slept on floors, their vans would break down
and they had to find a way to make it to the
next show. They are the real thing. These
new, pre-fab, wanna-be “punky” pop-band
pretty boys -- they can’t rise above stuff
like that. Not without living it, learning it.
…and I’m not saying there’s no hope for
the newest wave of punks. We all can learn,
and change. It’s up to the old guard to talk
about what was special about our cultural
revolution, and not bask in the glory of our
records sales, or gloat over how well we’ve
done compared to what anyone else would
have believed. We must not become what
we hated. Otherwise, all will have been
for naught. The new generation must
pick up the torch and banner, raise their
fists in the air, and fan the flames of the
fire we started. They just need to know
it exists. It’s not as if you can’t learn it,
or become it, if you didn’t live back then.
None of us were “born punk.”

What has changed over the years?
Well, when I first started, locally, it was
almost impossible to hold all-ages shows.
We had to resort to playing parties, which
was not always a good idea. But then in ’85,
’86 there was a huge push to have all-ages
shows, so barriers were broken down. We
got to start having some of the very first
shows at the Morton Center and University
In ’87 I took all of my college savings,
without telling my dad, and opened my club
called Spud Zero. Many other music fans –
punk or indie rock – would volunteer to help
me run the club, just to keep it open. All of
these great bands were playing right across
the river, two or three shows per week.
Sometimes only ten or twenty people would
show up, but then bands like Naked Raygun,
Dag Nasty, or Material Issue would come
and get two hundred. It worked for a year.
And during that time is when I met most of
the people I know in the music scene now -- the same basic group of people who started labels like Lookout and
Fat Records. It was so much work though.
Sometimes bands like Operation Ivy would
only get thirty people. And they were great!
They went on to sell over a million copies
of the record they were promoting on that
tour… but played to 30 people in Lafayette,
and slept on my floor.
Later, when I closed that club, the group
of kids would help me put on monthly
shows – back at the Morton Center, the
Conservation Club, and places like that. All
of the fans that had gotten used to several
shows per week were hungry for live bands,
so we would get up to 700 hundred people
on some occasions. But overall, locally,
“The Scene,” if you can call it that, was
the biggest back then. All these different
bands played, and everyone supported everyone
else. “Alternative” meant underground back
then, you know, this was before Nirvana or
before MTV cashed in on that name, before
you’d ever hear that word on the radio.
So it included everything, everything you
wouldn’t hear on the radio.
We found power in banding together. But
bands today have that power through
numbers, through the internet. Back then
it was all about calling people who knew
someone, who maybe knew someone that
knew someone else in a band, and we
would try to get them to come down from
places like Chicago to play. It’s so much
easier today. And I don’t understand why
there’s not a bigger scene as a result of that
Even as for our local scene -- so many great
bands have come from here. But no one
outside of town seems to hear of the bands
that are still here. The funny thing is that a
lot of great, unknown bands have recorded
at Sonic Iguana, that later went on to be very influential bands on an international level. None of them were local – they
came from far away to record here. But even
while they were in town, they did not play
here, because no one was putting on punk
rock shows anymore.
We could be making a huge splash here,
now, with so much cutting-edge music being
done in the area. Huge bands have come
out of here before… Blind Melon, Guns N
Roses -- one of the biggest rock bands of all
time. But those guys left, and didn’t really
come back here. There was no reason for
them to, because when they were here, they
weren’t encouraged. …but I would hardly
want to paint them to be saints, either.
We only need a strong group of, fifty people
or so, regulars… people who come to every
show, and push, beg, or force their friends to
go with them. Movements, at least in the rock
music scene, start with the fans between about
16 and 22 years of age. With a major university of
over 40,000 students, there’s no reason why
this town cannot be a major music scene
on a national level. But there are caveats,
you have to protect the scene too. Don’t
trash the place where there’s a show. Don’t
bring alcohol. If the rules say you can’t,
then don’t. Stay at home and get drunk if
that’s what you’re looking for. Being punk
doesn’t mean throwing bottles, breaking
windows, spitting on random people – that’s
just stupid. If we agree that the music and its
presence is important, we have to be willing
to respect the rules of the people willing to
allow us to put on shows. I know of at least
one place in town, with a perfect location,
that decided to no longer put on shows
because of precisely such problems.
(Laughing) I should have been a preacher.

How was the last Squirtgun show here, in
your opinion?

That was an example of the unity that we
need to see more of. I felt very good about
the number of people that came – about
300, give or take. Sure, I would have
liked to have seen more people. But it was
Thanksgiving Weekend, so I understand.
The kids at the show accepted all the of
acts – I saw punks with Mohawks clapping
and cheering for the Pat McClimans Group
– which is anything but punk. Sure, he
was involved a lot in the old scene, but his
acoustic bluesy set was far from his punk
roots. The fact that at the show people that
were into punk accepted bands outside of
their genre, and that fans of hip-hop, blues,
or country were so accepting of punk bands
is exactly the kind of solidarity that can
build a great scene.
And, of course, playing with Squirtgun…
that line up hasn’t played together for two
and a half years. It has always been like a
little family to us. We’ve toured the world
together, been on MTV, played to stadiums
of over 6,000 people, been in movie
soundtracks – but it really doesn’t get any
better than playing a basement show in your
hometown. Actually, some of the very roots
of Squirtgun, they
go back to that basement at the University
Church. …our first show in that basement
was in ’86. Shows in venues like that one are at the core of the scene that built all of what is DIY punk rock -- whether you speak of Screeching Weasel, NOFX, or Green Day. So it was a little like coming
home, back to the start.
(Laughing) Almost the entire front row
knew all the songs. I couldn’t believe it. I
mean, those kids were eight at the time our
first record came out. Many weren’t even
born yet when we first played that same
stage. Yet, I felt there wasn’t really an age
We felt great. Some people thought we were
poppier than they had first thought, others
thought we were edgier. More importantly,
though, as a benefit concert, it was a
success. The graduate student for whom
we had the concert was really moved. She
couldn’t believe that so many people would
get together to help her. She feels like she
has a family here now. By working together
– let’s just say it, through “unity” – we were
able to make a real difference in someone’s
life. That’s a start.

What do you think of some of the new,
local bands?
I really have a limited knowledge of a lot of
the new local bands. But there is definite
potential to have a national music scene
here. Groups like Clayton Miller have
talent, no doubt. Pat McClimas Group, he
has a punk background, yet his new sound
is a blend of country, blues, and rock,
but with a new twist. CounterActive, the
punk-punk band that was at the show… I
heard some people say that they’re nothing
original, just ’77 punk. But the truth is
that they have lots of energy, passion, and
dedication. Besides, there’s nothing really
new in musical genres or sounds anyway. I
could find a cow chip out in a field, hit it
hard with an electric guitar and record it,
and it would possibly, probably be “new”
– but it would sound like… well, we can
all guess what it would sound like. Back
to my point -- a good song done well, with
passion, will rise above any style or genre.
But looking ahead, as a scene we really
need to get people to try to go to every show
possible, just to check it out. If shows are
well-attended, there will be more shows.
More shows means more outside talent
coming to town, and more exposure for
local artists to other styles. Also, we can’t
let the scene fall into infighting between
bands, all wanting to be the “most popular,”
and discouraging people from going to
other bands’ shows. It’s too easy to fall into
rivalries, and that destroys music scenes.
We should take a cue from Operation Ivy,
who took it from the Clash, who took it
from Desmond Dekker… and focus on the
unity of our scene.