When most people think of music in the 90’s, the whole alternative and grunge scenes seem to dominate perception. The punk scene of the time is generally thought of as desolate, but for those who were willing to look where the best music happens, in the underground scene, there were some incredible bands keeping the spirit of punk, and its DIY ethic, alive.
One of those bands was Southern California’s Spent Idols, and we were lucky enough to catch Mike Spent for a conversation before he takes off on his first tour with the band in a number of years.
ElDorkoPunkRetro: Thanks for talking with me! Could you give me a little background on who you are…native Californian?
Mike Spent: Yes, 4th generation Californian. My family lineage is from Spain, ultimately sent here in 1500 to settle Mexico, the part that is now California. On my father’s side we are Sephardic, from the original Hebrew tribe that converted to Catholicism during the purge. My family was on this part of the line when California was founded. My mother is from St. Louis and of German and Irish descent.
EDPR: First realization that you really connected with music?
Mike Spent: Well I liked music…always. To begin, 70’s radio pop – Elton John, Wings, Gilbert O’Sullivan – to name a few. As i got older, I learned about Bowie in 1973, and fell in love with the glitter rock of the UK…David Essex, then Roxy Music. I used to buy records in the dollar bin at Woolworth’s…bought a Stooges live ‘Metallic KO’, Roxy Music’s 1st LP, etc. Got into Black Sabbath ‘Paranoid’, Alice Cooper ‘Billion Dollar Babies’, as the 70’s progressed.
Now, about 1975-76, met the Dils in Carlsbad. They were CHS alumni, as far as i am concerned. Carlsbad’s first punk band was The Dils, second, Sacred Lies and third, Spent Idol, my first band. In 1979, meeting The Dils made me want my own band…took a couple years. Me and my friend JP would make up songs in his room. He played guitar…we’d trade ideas. Originally, I was gonna start Sacred Idol with him, but he beat me to the punch and started Sacred Lies with someone else!
EDPR: First band?
Mike Spent: Spent Idol started a couple months after Sacred Lies, but I got some guys to formally join Spent Idol. Some of our first songs were 502, Pause and Ponder, and Laughing Song. JP and I both built our bands mostly of players from Encinitas, California.
EDPR:What kind of student were you?
Mike Spent: I dropped out in 1976, 10th grade, did a GED in ’78, did some community college…never looked back. My favorite period in high school was lunch time
EDPR: Who are the characters behind the music? Who writes/wrote the material?
Mike Spent: Well, there have been a lot of changes. We are probably best know for this line up: me – vocals, Henry Spent – bass, Jess Valadez – drums and Gabey Goatman Schivone – guitar. Other memorable players are: Dave “Bink” Brown – guitar, John “Lurch” Pankow – guitar, Tiffany Starr – second guitar and Darren “Happy” Lores – second guitar…on drums, Tommy “Atom Bomb” Wheyier and Jose Navarro and bassist Dnile, Diana Nile, early 2000’s.
I wrote the songs, with help from the various players, like Dnile. I own all the music and did a limited licensed release worldwide, including Italy,German and Japan. All songs are registered with BMI and I hold the copyright.
EDPR: I remember picking up your CD mid-90’s, after reading a great review in Flipside or Maximumrocknroll, then going to watch you play at Spaceland…great stuff! I think I moved around then and didn’t find you again for years…what happened with the band from ’96 on to Last Year’s Heroes?
Mike Spent: Well, the band disbanded in 1997 after a Flipside party at Al’s Bar. In 1999, I teamed up with Generic, aka Eric Nathanson, to do NYW (New York Whores). We released 2 7” ep’s…one in Germany, one U.S., and played a few east coast shows.
Mike Spent: We last toured in 1996, coast to coast. Currently, we have, on guitar – Casey O’Brien, bass – Jerm, drums – Zach. The current band is a modern take on the original. We are playing unreleased songs and our standards like Bored, Last Years Heroes, etc. We haven’t recorded yet, but plan to. My friend Evo wrote a song, I Am a Lion, we plan to record for him on Needle Diet Records outta Texas.
EDPR: What are your general thoughts on how the Internet has changed the life of musicians, promoting, recouping recording costs, finding fans, piracy, etc.
Mike Spent: Thanks to iTunes, I kept the band alive since the early 2000’s and managed to keep our worldwide fan base somewhat intact. I like the digital age with one exception, people mimicking bands and releasing one man projects as if there’s a band involved. The internet kept the Spents alive all these years, so now in 2015 we hit the road and lay out old school real punk for the Twitter generation!
EDPR: What do you think the lasting impacts of late 70’s punk have been? Have you followed the rise and fall of the music underground over these decades?
Mike Spent: I have followed the trends as a viewer. 1970’s punk changed music, fashion and culture to this day. What we fought for, with some pals lives, is taken for granted today as normal. To dye your hair, wear a mohawk, etc. at one time could get you killed in America. I’m being very serious here! Today hard rock is making a comeback, which is ok with me. The metal years bugged me, grunge made me take up arms in the 90’s, disco kicked off the punk revolution. Remember now, hard rock (think rockers vs mods) is blending in, which is as legitimate to me as a great guitar riff. It’s just those over the top leads I dislike. I dig chord driven guitar songs.
EDPR: There were a handful of bands in the nineties that kept the punk spirit alive, in my opinion. Among them were New Bomb Turks, Teengenerate, Rip Offs, Supercharger…Spent Idols. Looking back on those times, do you think there have been lasting effects from this class of musician or was it just an anomaly we can look back on wishing it could have continued? In other words, do you think there is a cultural importance/historic significance to the work of those bands, keeping DIY alive, pushing raw, rebellious attitudes and music, etc.? If so, could you feel that at the time or does it surprise you now?
Mike Spent: OK, how it happened for me in the 90’s was like this, and it parallels the 1976-77 punk revolution, to me. In early 1990, I knew I wanted to play live again. I missed the old days…I would go see, say, Sonic Youth and bands like Mudhoney, Lemonheads, etc. I could hear the punk roots, but that blending of hippie culture just bored and disappointed me. I’d get excited by a song, only to have it drone on in opus, like a 60’s acid trip song…too long, too convoluted. I missed short and fast songs.
By chance I was a club and ready to go home when a band was announced…it was The Exploding Fuck Dolls. I was like, “we are waiting too see these guys!”, and I’m glad I did. What a band! A bit glam, a bit old school punk. I waited to tell these guys how stoked I was to see this. During the show i said to myself, “I’m in! This is the direction i wanna go! I’m doing Dolls meet Sex Pistols/Sham 69, etc.” I thought I recognized the roadie, it was DP, an old friend from the ’78 Cuckoo Nest days, ex-pro skater Duane Peters! I was like, “I thought you were dead!”, he said the same! He also said, “its our turn!” I told him my plans, etc. Well, he ended up fronting the band and we started ours and played. We met Michael Lohrman of the Stitches. The Fuck Dolls ended and DP started US Bombs with Kerry Martinez. To me, we were the first wave of a worlwide wave of like-minded bands sprung to bolster 1976-77 style punk again. I’m honored to have been there. As far as DIY goes, we were all about that. I kept everything in-house…our printing, everything. MRR got us great exposure, it just snowballed, but I ended it. It was getting harder, not easier, to be a band. In August ’97 it ended.
Today, in this cyber norm, nerd world of tweeters and social media phonies, image is everything. No more interactive talks, just tweets and comments. Verbally and written, its shallow. Bands don’t need to leave home for popularity…just play the local shit hole and broadcast on YouTube, etc. It bothers me to no end, but hell, I’ve always been antisocial and counterculture, regardless the coolness factor. So, on the other hand, I love it, too…the ease, the broadness, the rapidity of it all. Hell, today I was speaking to a guy in New Zealand who wants to promo us there! That’s amazing!
EDPR: You going to be playing a lot of the classics on this tour?
Mike Spent: Yes! Our first tour is 8 days. To Denver, leave June 24, ’til July 1. We play classics like Bored , Last Year’s Heroes, Girl Whore, I Don’t Give a Fuk ,Violation (“No Broken Promises”) and newer stuff, unreleased, like Stolen Heart, Total Glory, and more.
EDPR: Final thoughts on the current resurgence of punk rock or anything else?
Mike Spent: Nothing stops me. Nobody. No one. If I fall, I dust myself off and pony up again.
EDPR: Thanks for taking the time to talk, Mike! See you in Sacramento!