OF A MUSICIAN
An Interview with Jonny Santos of SILENT CIVILIAN
Interview by Snidermann
It wasn't easy for Jonny Santos to leave Spineshank, especially since it had only been two weeks since the popular band had been nominated for a Grammy Award. But he felt the need to move on and Spineshank wasn't offering him the opportunities he needed to grow. So Jonny walked away and, although it took some time and lots of effort, he's finally returned to the world of rock'n'roll with his new outfit, Silent Civilian.
With their new CD, "Rebirth of the Temple," just out, and the band on the road in support of the new disc, Jonny invited us into his tour RV where he took about an hour of his obviously valuable time to introduce us to his dog, Bacchus, and talk with us about Spineshank, life after Spineshank and, of course, Silent Civilian.
Rough Edge: How are the Spineshank fans reacting to Silent
Jonny Santos: Theyíre reacting very well to it. I mean, the kids are so supportive. I think since Spineshank is pretty much over and the other guys havenít really got their project off the ground, this kind of gives something for the hardcore Spineshank fans out there. And theyíve been really receptive to it. The kids have evolved as well, with their musical tastes, too. Every night, I get kids coming up to me saying, ďWow, I love Spineshank, but this is so much more evolved and so much better.Ē I mean, every night. I get constant e-mails form the fans going, ďWow, Jonny, I canít believe you came out with this. You came out blaziní.Ē I mean, itís been really, really good for me. I canít say that weíve had any, any negative energy from any of the Spineshank fans out there, at all. Whatsoever. If there is, I havenít heard it.
Rough Edge: How different is it for you, doing this as opposed to what you were doing with Spineshank?
Jonny Santos: Itís a completely different world for me. The only thing thatís probably the same in this band is my voice. Everything else -- the direction of the music, the style of the music, Iím playing guitar now. I try to bring something totally, completely new to the table. I didnít just want to do Spineshank 2. I wanted to really re-invent myself as an artist in the metal community, man. I just wanted to start a thrash band. I played guitar for thirteen years before I ever sang a note, you know? I was the original guitar player from the original conception of Spineshank. I ended up becoming the singer and guitar player to just the singer.
Rough Edge: Which do you prefer?
Jonny Santos: You know what? Guitarís always been my first love, but I was, I guess, either blessed or cursed with the talent to sing as well. I donít think I could really choose either one or the other, anymore. I know Iím much happier playing guitar, but I donít think I could ever go back to just playing guitar. My heroes are Dave Mustaine, James Hetfield, Robb Flynn, you know, guys like that. I donít really care about the whole front man thing, anymore, being able to jump around like a monkey and all that stuff. What I care about is the actual musicianship of the band and, as a songwriter, you know, I wrote so much of the music in Spineshank, with this band I was just so hands-on with everything. I wanted two guitar players, Iíve always wanted to have two guitar players in Spineshank; we never did. And now, I can have that. But I donít want to have twenty people in the band, either. With this band, Iím playing guitar, weíve got another guitar player and Iím just going to leave it at that. I donít mind having five guys in the band, but why fix it if itís not broken? Weíre here, weíre there, have gear will travel. And I think itís bringing something new to the kids, too. Because they come up to me and they say, ďWow! Jonny knows how to shred? Where the hell did that come from? How could you get that good that fast?Ē And, Iím all, ďWell, let me tell you something...Ē
Rough Edge: Weíve been listening to the new songs on your MySpace page (http://www.myspace.com/silentcivilian) and weíve been listening to them a lot. My favorite is "Falling Down."
Jonny Santos: That to me, is straight up as thrash as it can get. That, to me, is straight up thrash metal. I wanted to build a modern thrash band. You know, thereís a lot of metalcore bands out there right now but not a lot of guys who are doing the old punk beats, you know, with heavy guitar riffs, and thatís kind of what thrash was. You look at bands like Exodus and Testament, and old Metallica and Megadeth and thatís what thrash was. Itís like a fusion of punk beats and metal riffs. And thatís kind of what I really wanted to bring back.
Rough Edge: There seems to be a resurgence of classic thrash.
Jonny Santos. Oh, totally. Death Angel was probably my most favorite band when I was a kid. And Ted Aguilar hit me up on MySpace with like, ďDude, I love your band,Ē and I was like, ďDude, I worship your band!Ē And Craig from Forbidden, a good friend of mine. You know, people are trying to get a Forbidden reunion tour going and I told him, ďDude, you should so do it,Ē All we gotta do is get Vio-Lence back for a reunion tour! I think all these kids out there these days are getting into it and I think itís because of their parents. I think itís their parents. These kids are coming home with all this crap music and their parents are all, ďNo, listen to this, man.Ē Iron Maiden! I donít know how else these kids are finding out about these bands from twenty years ago. I just went and saw Kreator in Springfield. 800 capacity, shoulder-to-shoulder kids. The place was packed. And Kreator was amazing. They were fucking amazing. I think the last time I saw Kreator I was probably about 13.
Rough Edge: So have you been in touch with your old bandmates?
Jonny Santos: Actually, yeah. Just recently, as a matter of fact. I ran into Rob at NAB and I talked to him for awhile for the first time in about two years. Rob and I never really had any problems. Weíve always gotten along. With Tommy, well, obviously, we had our personal differences but, you know, me leaving was pretty amicable. I think the dust is starting to settle a little bit. The guys were at the show last night, at the House of Blues. And I talked to them, talked to Rob a little bit. Didnít really talk to the other guys. Itís kind of a ďHey, whatís up,Ē and a ďHeyís whatís upĒ kind of a thing. I think the dust is still settling between me and them. I wish them all the best of luck and success in whatever those guys do. For me, Spineshank had definitely ran its course. And I wasnít haviní fun anymore. And why play music if youíre not having fun?
Rough Edge: Why do anything?
Jonny Santos: Yeah. You know, for me, thatís why I wanted to be a rock star ... or whatever you want to call it. I want to make my living having fun, playing on stage every night. Iím a singer. I love it. I love seeing the fans out there having a great time and I love entertaining them, you know? When you donít have fun doing that anymore, and youíre not happy with the direction your band is going in, shit, you might as well go home and swing a hammer, you know?
Rough Edge: Tell us a little about the new CD.
Jonny Santos: I made a very conscious effort to not rip kids off. This will be no twenty-five, thirty minute record. Youíre getting over an hourís worth of music, youíre getting a music video, youíll get a ten minute documentary on the making of it. The way I see it, is if a kidís going to save up his lunch money all week long to buy my CD when it comes out, spend sixteen to eighteen dollars, I want to make sure that that kid got what he pays for. You know what Iím saying? I donít think itís fair for bands to put out thirty minute records and get away with it. I think itís a rip off. All my old albums are close to that long. I used to save my lunch money all week ... I remember buying ďAnd Justice For AllĒ when it came out. And, dude, that recordís timeless. When you stick it in, by the time itís over, youíre two sheets to the wind and itís worth the money that you pay. I think thatís one of the reasons that thereís so much downloading going on, because the record companyís prices are too high, and once it goes from the label to the distributor to the record store, you know, the kidís going, ďOh, my God, Iím going to pay $20 for a half hourís worth of music!Ē So I figure Iím not going to do that. It got to the point where I had to keep one song off the record because there wasnít enough room to put it on. I told them, ďMake it happen,Ē and they told me ďImpossible. We canít make it happen.Ē Itís important to me. The last thing I want to be known for is ripping off kids. Thatís not what Iím out here to do.
Rough Edge: So whatíd you do with that song?
Jonny Santos: Wait until next time or we might do like a re-mix album or an EP or something. Toward the end of the year, weíre doing an EP thatís basically a tribute to all the old Bay Area thrash bands. Itís going to be Silent Civilian covers fuckiní Exodus, Metallica, Megadeth, Kreator, whatever. Weíve already recorded a Death Angel song. Weíre gonna do that so maybe Iíll throw that extra song on as a bonus track. Because when we go home to do the record, I want to put something out for the kids while weíre doing down time. The first recordís not even out and Iím already tired!!
Rough Edge: So did how did your experiences with Spineshank help you in not only dealing with the musical side of it but the business side?
Jonny Santos: As far as the business side of it, I think Spineshank taught me what not to do. I made some really conscious decisions when I negotiated the deal for this record and I didnít go after the big production money and all that crap. I mean, how am I ever going to recoup? When am I ever gonna see something? I mean, Iím married and have two kids.
Rough Edge: And a dog.
Jonny Santos: Yes, and two dogs. So I gotta be smart about it. I mean, Iím not out here in a bus. Iím out in an RV and, actually, I think I should be in a van right now. But with the wife and the dog and with Logan (Mader, producer) ... Logan's just an amazing guy. He discovered the band and he was like, ďI gotta do this. I gotta do this record.Ē And he did the demo for us and it came out slamminí. And then he was, ďI gotta do this record, Jonny. I have to do this record.Ē You know, Logan said himself, that for 2005, it was more fun and more of a pleasure making this record than anything heís ever done before. Thatís how well we work together. Loganís already lined up exclusively to do the next two records. We work that well together. And weíre even talking about possibly doing the next record overseas, in New Zealand or Australia something. Why not, man? We got the budget, letís go do it. Letís go hang out and not be bothered by people every day. Letís go rent a house up in the middle of extreme sports land and just have at it. Yeah, Logan is awesome. Lucas Baker co-produced the record with Logan as well and I just got to get his name out there, because he needs the credit. He really went above and beyond when it went to working with me vocal-wise, just an amazing guy. Logan and Lucas, that was the team. You know, we kinda worked together like a family. I engineered a little bit of the record, I co-produced as well. It was so hands on, everything.
Rough Edge: What does Silent Civilian mean? How did that name come about?
Jonny Santos: Iíve always been a pretty opinionated person, as far as speaking out about things that I believe in. With the climate of world issues and national issues, I think thereís so many people out there that have opinion but are scared to speak half the time because theyíre afraid of what society is telling them or what our world leaders are telling us to think and nobody wants to be the odd man out or be called unpatriotic or ďyouíre a traitor.Ē I think thatís a huge problem because so many friends of mine, Iíll say, ďI didnít know you felt that way,Ē and theyíll say, ďYeah, I sure do.Ē and Iíll ask them, ďWell, did you vote?Ē And theyíll say, ďNah, it doesnít change anything.Ē I think a huge part of our society today in America are a bunch of silent civilians and we just let people force feed us and tell us what to think and we must believe everything we see and read and people arenít trying to form opinions for themselves anymore and theyíre not really trying to use this up here and use their own intuition. For better or for worse, have your own opinion and stand behind it. And tell us where you stand. And I think if people did that we might see a lot of changes. Unfortunately, I donít really see that happening over the past couple of years.
Rough Edge: Do you address that in your lyrics?
Jonny Santos: Oh, yeah. I never set out for this band to be a political band, weíre a thrash metal band. But, you know, I touch on certain subjects. ďMaster of PuppetsĒ and ďAnd Justice for AllĒ both had a lot of political shit going on, but they werenít a political band. And itís kind of the same thing Iím doing. Iíve got several songs that do speak politically about, you know, whatís going on but then I have songs about empowerment and self-preservation and the will to live and, hey, songs about life. And then I have two songs on the record that are just straight hate. Gotta have a couple of those, too. I didnít want to set a solid tone, lyrically, for the record. I wanted it to be very colorful, I wanted it to be a roller coaster. I wanted to have positive, negative, you know, yin and yang, all around. Because I believe that certain songs create a mood to a listener. When they feel a certain way, they want to listen to this song or "that songís gonna make me feel better." ďFalling Down,Ē on the new record, you know what that songís about? Itís about the actual movie with Michael Douglas. Itís about a guy who just fuckiní snaps, and I wrote the song about that guy and that songís appropriately titled ďFalling Down.Ē I really had fun with the record and I really wanted to go somewhere with it. I just really hope people enjoy it and really kinda get where weíre going with it. Itís just a great combination of so many different things and it all comes down to just some fucking blazing guitars and fast drums.
Rough Edge: How was it starting the new band after Spineshank split up?
Jonny Santos: It was fucking hard. When I left Spineshank - you gotta remember, when I left the band, I basically walked away from a career. I just got nominated for a Grammy two weeks before. People were like, ďWhat are you doing?Ē And I was telling them, ďDude, this isnít right for me.Ē So, obviously, I left and I left with nothing. And I was practically homeless at the time, sleeping on couches at friendís houses, going through a divorce Ė how funny, you quit the band and you get divorced. I donít know how that works, but I guess thatís how it works! I lost everything and it was like crazy and I had to spend the first year basically getting myself together. And I had to change a lot of things about myself and it was really, actually, the best thing I could have done. It humbled the shit out of me. Because for the better part of my late teens and early 20s, that was all I knew. Everything was done for me. Every day. "Here ya go, Jonny, whatever you want." "Get on stage, Jonny." And I think that doing what I had to do after I left Spineshank was really difficult. It planted my feet solid and I was like, ďWow, this is reality, setting in.Ē I mean, I never had a regular job since I was nineteen years old. I was like, ďWhattaya mean, I gotta work?Ē Not only that, getting into my late 20s, I was like ďWhoa, I gotta do something here.Ē I was learning about this ďlife is shortĒ kinda thing, you know? So, I got down on myself and then my girlfriend at the time, now my wife, she would tell me, ďYou know, Jonny, youíre better than this. Youíve got so much left in you. Youíre such a talented person. What are you doing? Youíre just wasting it.Ē And, of course, I was like, ďOh, itís over. Itís over!Ē And she was like, ďYouíre fucking crazy. Got for it!" So, as soon as I felt comfortable and I cleaned myself up and I got back on my feet, put a little money in the bank to pay bills (because I knew I was going to be leaving that job), I said, ďOkay, Iím going to start a new band and Iím going to start a band with all new guys." I donít want to start a band with known musicians. I donít want to do that. I donítí want to get the bass player from so and so and the drummer from this band, because thatís just kind of transparent, to me. I didnít want people to think, ďOh, Jonnyís just trying to fuckiní cash in.Ē I wanted to find new guys, hungry guys, talented guys. And I started the band on January 2nd, 2005 and this is where Iím at now. Iíve got my guys together. Chris, my drummer, and I, basically built the entire foundation. We wrote and wrote every night. I almost got a divorce again. We were in the studio, every night, every night, every night, every night. And, having the studio in my house didnít make anything easier. And we wrote and wrote. We probably wrote thirty songs in the end, fifteen of which got recorded, thirteen which actually made it on the record. We worked really, really hard on this, we had a great team behind us, between the label and management and our producers and, now that the recordís done, everyoneís asking me, ďJonny, whereíd this come from?Ē And I tell them, ďIt came from here.Ē The label assembled us a really good team for us afterwards. Scott Culver directed the video for ďRebirth of the Temple,Ē Maria Ferrero and Adrenaline PR as publicists, KOCH for distribution, Itís amazing, KOCH is so behind the record right now. James, the sales representative. We have this team of super-excited people. Now, Iím glad I made the decisions I made. Now itís all come full circle. But I had to work hard for it. I had to hit the bottom before I could start my way back to the top again. And Iím telling you, this is one of the hardest working bands ever and these guys are just loving it, theyíre living for it. And I couldnít be happier. I donít know if itís because Iím a little older, a little wiser or a little dumber - I donít know Ė but Iíve never been as happy as an artist. I mean, I could give a ratís ass if this album sells a quarter of what Spineshank did. I feel that this is the best thing that Iíve ever done. Iím not going to say itís the heaviest thing Iíve ever done ... but it is the heaviest thing Iíve ever done. Itís definitely heavier than Spineshank, but itís a different kind of band. But I could die tomorrow knowing that I made the record that I always wanted to make. The hard part is now, how do I top it?
Rough Edge: So whatís going to happen to all those great Spineshank songs?
Jonny Santos: Well, you know. People ask me, ďAre you guys going to do Spineshank songs?Ē And, at first, I thought about it and then I decided against it. And Iíll tell you why: A) I think that for me to go out there and do a Spineshank song isnít fair to the guys in my band and also I think itíd be saying Silent Civilian is riding on the coattails of Spineshank. And I donít want that. This band is good enough to stand on its own two feet and, if we were to play a Spineshank song, it wouldnít be Spineshank. People ask what it would take to get me to do a Spineshank song. Well, if you were to somehow get me on stage with the guys in Spineshank, thatís what it would take. Are those guys gonna do Spineshank songs? I donít know. But the only way I would ever do it, if I was actually on stage with those guys again. And I donít really see that happening any time soon. And I donít think Spineshank was every big enough for us to have a reunion tour twenty years from now. Spineshank was a huge part of my life, I donít regret one day of being in the band. If I would have stayed in the band, thatís when I think I would have started having regrets. It was a huge thing to happen for me, and Spineshank had to happen for this to happen. People will ask me, ďDonít you hate Spineshank?Ē And the answer is no, I donít hate Spineshank. That was my band for eight, nine years. I started that band in 96, and it ran until 2003.
Rough Edge: Itís nice to hear that because so often you hear, ďScrew those guys, I donít want to have anything to do with them.Ē
Jonny Santos: Spineshank was what gave me my name in the first place. If Spineshank never happened, and I just came out with Silent Civilian right now, it might be a completely different story. People know the name, Jonny Santos, and theyíre ďOh, shit. This is Jonny Santosí new project." The marketing plan: "Jonny Santos, formerly of Spineshank." Thereís a story there. Iím reminded of it every day that I was in Spineshank so long and it doesnít bother me at all. I have nothing bad to say about that band whatsoever. I had the fucking time of my life. Twenty-one years old? Single? On the road? Come on! Give me a fucking break! I might have had a little too much fun!
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Revised: 23 Aug 2016 22:57:11 -0400.