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From the Ashes of Jahbreaker, America's Best Jawbreaker Reggae Tribute Band, Rises Great Apes

Brian Moss talks about the transition from joke band to real band.
July 18, 2014, 2:20pm

Photo by Katie Hovland

Brian Moss has gotten around. From fronting pop punk group the Wunder Years (with a “u”, not those other guys), shred rock band the Ghost, and solo acoustic project Hanalei, Moss’ discography is prolific to say the least. If those bands aren’t too familiar to you, then you probably heard a track or two from Jahbreaker, the sickest reggae Jawbreaker tribute band to ever put out a record. Jahbreaker is the alter ego of Great Apes; a pop punk band out of San Francisco. Their upcoming EP Playland combines the truest bay area pop punk with forward-thinking tendencies boarding into the nation state of hardcore. While listening, the record may seem deceptively simple, but narratively, it holds the complexities to fill a book. Each track is about a different site in San Francisco, and they run the emotional gamut of the city’s viewpoints. From a meteoric hatred of what’s lost to even keeled reflection on what the future of the city will look like, it’s all here.

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Check out a track off that new EP above, “Go Niners (As Told By Telegraph Hill),” and read our interview with the dude himself below.

Noisey: How did the best pun ever of a band, Jahbreaker, come about?
Brian Moss: Rob, one of my best friends who plays guitar in Great Apes, and I started chopping about Halloween jokes one night at a party. We both strangely simultaneously dropped that pun. Lyrical hackings started flowing, and we decided that the idea’s immense stupidity warranted bringing it to fruition. We played one show on Halloween, and then shit kind of just burst from there. I self-recorded the seven-inch, and things started snowballing. One of the main motivating factors for us was an awareness of how uptight and nearly religious some Jawbreaker fans are. We knew we’d get a rise out of people, and it was so fun for us to watch it happen. It goes without saying that Rob and I are Jawbreaker fans, and have been since our formative years, but in the realm of comedy, nothing’s sacred. Most of my lyrical material tends to be heavy-handed, but punks often tend to take themselves too seriously and need a light-hearted jostling from time to time. Without a sense of humor, all is lost. Fuckers were blabbing about how we should be imprisoned and killed. Some woman said it was the worst thing she’d ever heard. Perfect.

It’s a joke taken the perfect distance.
When we put the seven-inch songs up online, they basically exceeded the amount of listens that all of my previous bands combined for the past 15 years had received over the course of one week. Joke’s on me, right? At that point, we were basically done. I did an interview with Punknews under the moniker “Bake Smokenpot” that was so fucking dumb they never even ran it. It probably got bumped for some emo salon crabcore band feature. People were offering us shows way out of the area and hollering at us to play locally. We kept saying no. The joke went too far, and we shut it down.

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Do people yell Jahbreaker song requests at shows?
Nah. Jahbreaker only did one show, on Halloween in a house, and I don’t know if there are a ton of people that make the connection to Great Apes.

Listening to your first record, Thread, the focus then seemed to be other people’s emotions rather than your own, yeah?
Exactly. Over the course of my life, I’ve made 10 records where I just spit out my own stories and woes. It all started feeling played out and self-indulgent. I thought it would be really rad to give some of the people I love that don’t write or play music voice through our band’s writing. Every song on that record is a friend’s story, or a musing about something they feel strongly about. Essentially, each track represents a different person. I put together lyrics based on interviews, conversations, or things my friends wrote. I was stoked to put together a record that stood for a strong community of people that I’ve been fortunate enough to know.

And the upcoming EP, Playland, is written from the perspective of monuments and places around San Francisco, which is almost spatially removing itself from a person.
Right. The idea popped into my head one day when I was coming home from work. I wanted to personify different buildings, and give them vastly different characteristics while addressing San Francisco’s history, culture, and current state of rapid change. The buildings and monuments tell stories from differing viewpoints and offer up their own thoughts and criticisms.

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Is it a more interesting approach to use physical places as a conduit for your emotions?
Totally. I think it makes it more challenging and fun for me to approach it from that angle. The standard singer first person lyrical stuff gets boring for me, both as a writer and a listener. We probably could’ve turned the EP into a full length, but I like that it’s brief. I think we covered a lot of different perspectives and balanced history and modern issues decently.

Do you think with this EP you have a lot more to fight for than previous releases?
It’s thematically addressing a much larger issue that’s pretty raw in the city right now. For a lot of people, myself included, that have soapboxed our complaints, frustrations, and thoughts in public forums, I felt that writing a record was a better, more productive, creative, and alternative means of expression.

I remember reading about Thread, and you expressed that you were trying to go for a “purer” pop punk sound that you hadn’t played in a while. Have you switched up that approach for this new release?
Right. The initial idea was to pay homage to the classic era of East Bay punk, but we’ve been a band of a while now, and like I suggested earlier, shit’s always changing. This release is definitely a bit more involved and complex. There’s a lot of straightforward parts, but there’s also a lot of layering and counterplay present. Rob pointed out that in a certain light it sounds like a culmination of all my bands, which is interesting, and something I hadn’t thought about.

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I think that sums it up pretty well. One of the lyrics in particular on “Paint Job” is about waiting for another earthquake to swallow everyone up, which seems pretty the Ghost-esque.
Yeah, it’s something that I’ve heard come up in conversation here and there around San Francisco as of late. I don’t think anyone is wishing large-scale death upon the city [laughs], but the idea is that an earthquake could potentially level the field, shake up finances, and scare some people away. It’s the old tear it down and start new thing. From the ashes blah blah blah…

What other monuments or places do you touch on in the record?
I went into public records and gathered info on a bunch of buildings I had been looking at. That one (Paint Job) is sung from the perspective of an apartment building that’s above a bar called the Dovre Club in the Mission. It’s been there for over a century, and the address is 1492 Valencia, which allowed me to loosely play around with a neo-colonial Columbus theme. I wrote one about Harvey Milk from the perspective of the Civic Center steps, and one from the perspective of one of the Dutch Windmills in Golden Gate Park that’s about Playland by the Beach, which was an amusement park on Ocean Beach that closed in 1972. Rob and I collaborated on one song that involves Vesuvio and Specs, two classic longstanding bars in North Beach, hanging out with each other and sharing a drink after last call. There’s also a song addressing the early years of the Gold Rush, as told by Telegraph Hill.

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Have you seen the Facebook page “Lost San Francisco?”
Yeah, my friend got himself into a pretty intense argument on that page regarding proper neighborhood names. He’s been a cab driver in San Francisco for a long time and turned me onto Lost San Francisco. The lyrics to “The Edge of the Western World” on Thread were taken nearly verbatim from some of his writing. There’s some interesting stuff up there, and a lot of differing viewpoints.

There’s all these huge things I totally wasn’t aware of in the city, like the World’s Fair in 1915.
It’s interesting. Writing this record, I learned a lot, and it involved a fair amount of research. There are always things hiding in history. One thing I find humorous about what’s going on in San Francisco right now is that some people approach the issue under the false pretense that San Francisco used to be a cheap city, devoid of corruption. As long as I can remember, it’s always been an expensive place, and the city’s political history, spanning back to its earliest years, is pockmarked by scandal.

Has your focus shifted away from doing solo stuff, or are you still keeping up?
It’s definitely shifted away. I’ll still do solo shows from time to time, but they tend to be rare and generally attended by less than 20 people. I hit a certain point where I took a break from playing louder music, and after a year or so I started desperately missing it. I had just moved back from Chicago and started playing in a band called Olehole to feed the need. Since then, I’ve done one Hanalei full length, and that was four or so years back. It’s been fun here and there, but lately most of my writing efforts have been going towards Great Apes. I’m sure I’ll end up doing some more solo stuff. I just can’t tell you when and how much. Right now, I’ll take ripping my throat to bits and distortion over softly whining with my acoustic guitar nine times out of ten.

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Check out Great Apes this month, and look out for their EP Playland this fall on Asian Man Records.

John Hill is on Twitter, starting his Misfits glam tribute band, Danziggy Stardust - @johnxhill

July 18th - Asbury Park, NJ @ Asbury Lanes w/Plow United & Ma Jolie

July 19th - Brooklyn, NY @ Shea Stadium w/Ma Jolie

July 20th - Baltimore, MD @ Charm City Art Space w/Ma Jolie

July 21st - Richmond, VA @ Strange Matter w/Ma Jolie

July 22nd - Virginia Beach, VA @ Hook Up w/Ma Jolie

July 23rd - Washington D.C. @ DC9 w/Ma Jolie

July 24th - Pittsburgh, PA @ Star Command w/Ma Jolie

July 25th - Cleveland, OH @ Now That's Class w/Ma Jolie

July 26th - Philadelphia, PA @ Creep Records w/Ma Jolie

August 8th - Berkeley, CA @ 924 Gilman w/Sharp Objects

September 12-13th - Oakland, CA @ This is my Fest (details t.b.a.)

October 10th - San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill w/Shonen Knife

Also check out:

Watch Jawbreaker Play for a Handful of Incredibly Bored College Kids in 1995

Here's Your Chance to Bang All the Dudes Playing Warped Tour This Year

Watch NOFX Get Lectured on Selling Out