No Use For a Name's Tony Sly

Written by Big Smile Staff

Posted Aug 1, 2012, by The Bear.

Genre: Punk;
Image Credit: J. Shearer/WireImage

First broadcast on KSCR Los Angeles on October 25, 2005

In the more than 15 years since I started The Bear’s Den I have had over 150 different artists / bands / guests on the show. Some of these interviews have been transcribed into writing, including 19 choice ones for my thesis project for USC’s Master of Professional Writing Program, as well as some others that have been posted on the old “Bear’s Den” website, or the Big Smile website, or some that were transcribed but never posted online.

The sad truth, however, is that the vast majority of my interviews to this day have not been transcribed from their original recordings. Transcribing an interview is a very labor intensive, time consuming, and tedious process. I’m told that now they’ve come up with software that can do it for you but I have yet to experiment with it myself yet.

And so I have scores of great interviews that, after their initial run on my show have been sitting in my archives ever since. The following is one such interview. It is with Tony Sly of No Use For A Name – or should I say, the late Tony Sly, because earlier today, as I write these words, I heard that he had passed away quite suddenly from, as yet still unknown causes.

Although I have had many guests on my show as far as I know Tony Sly now holds the rather dubious distinction of being the first guest that I personally interviewed to have since died. Since that is so I went into my archives, fished out the tape of this interview and transcribed it in tribute to him.

I first saw No Use For A Name in March of 1998 when they were headlining a show at Coney Island High in New York City (by coincidence that show was also the first time I saw Anti-Flag perform, as they were the main supporting act). No Use For A Name’s album at the time was Making Friends and I have a very vague memory of talking with at least one of their members backstage at the club afterwards.

This interview was recorded at the Warped Tour on July 1, 2005 in California. The new record for No Use For A Name that year was Keep Them Confused which was recently out on Fat Wreck Chords. I sat down with Tony Sly some time after his band had played their set (they were on first thing that day) and we taped the following conversation. He was very nice to me throughout. I will remember him well; I am truly sorry he is gone; at 41 he has been taken too soon.

–Barry "The Bear" Levine, August 1, 2012 –

THE BEAR: We’re on the air! This is Barry “The Bear” from KSCR with Tony [Sly] the singer and guitarist for No Use For A Name.

TONY SLY: Hey, how’s it goin’ man?

BEAR: I saw you play earlier. It’s a shame you had to play at 11:00 AM.

TONY: It was very early. We woke up and it was just like “Hey! You guys gotta play” - and drinking coffee on the way to the stage.

BEAR: Do you always play that early [on this Warped Tour]?

TONY: Last night we played at 8 o’clock PM in San Diego.

BEAR: So you closed the show last night basically.

TONY: Basically, yeah.

BEAR: Cool. So how’s the tour been going so far?

TONY: It’s been going really well. It’s obviously a different tour with a lot of new bands, and you kind of feel like you’re not in your element out here a little bit all of a sudden, but it’s been going really well ‘cause at the same chance we get to play to a lot of new people and surprisingly there’s a lot of kids who come to the booth and are like “I’ve never heard of you” and I’m just like “Whoa! That’s kinda weird.”

BEAR: That is a little weird ‘cause I first saw you seven years ago [in 1998].

TONY: Right. Well when you got like NOFX and Pennywise out here, or Bad Religion, it’s totally different because kids come to see them, and you’re kind of preaching to the converted at that point. But right now you’re – it’s different.

BEAR: I understand. How long have you been around?

TONY: Well basically we’ve been around since ‘87 but we didn’t start touring until 1994, so all we did until then was screw around and play parties.

BEAR: How did you initially get together? Just friends from school?

TONY: Yeah we were friends in high-school but we went to two separate high-schools and it was like a mutual party at a park; it was like an acid trip party; it was pretty cool and me and the drummer met there; it’s kind of a long story. It’s really weird actually. I hit his dad’s car – okay, his dad lent him his car for the night; I didn’t know him and I was on LSD and I got into my car and I backed into his dad’s car, and then I took off. So he called me the next day because we had to hook up for the insurance thing. And then he’s like “hey man, our guitar player just went to U. C. S. B. Do you want to join our band?” And I was like “yeah, sure.” Kinda weird.

BEAR: That was No Use For A Name?

TONY: Yeah. That’s how it started.

BEAR: So where exactly in California – are you from California?

TONY: Yeah. I grew up on the peninsula of the Bay Area of San Francisco.

BEAR: Yeah, we played up there once.

TONY: Oh cool.

BEAR: So that’s No Use’s home base?

TONY: Basically two of the members live down south now, and me and Roy live in Northern California but not really near San Francisco anymore.

BEAR: So how do you get together for practice and things like that?

TONY: We usually just get together the day before the tour, or like a week before we record. It’s really bad, I know.

BEAR: But you know each other well enough that that’s really all you need?

TONY: Yeah. We send each other CDs and we practice to them.

BEAR: So who does most of the song writing?

TONY: I do.

BEAR: You do all of it?

TONY: Yeah.

BEAR: Cool! How many records have you put out?

TONY: We’ve put out probably eight – I think eight studio records, one live record.

BEAR: The ‘98 record, the one that has the boy scout on fire, which number was that?

TONY: That’s Making Friends, that’s, 1, 2, 3, 4 – 4 I think – no wait, it was 1, 2, 3, 4, I think it’s like number 5. I always get confused because we had two records on New Red Archives before Fat, and this [new one Keep Them Confused] is our fifth one on Fat, so it’s eight, included with a live album.

BEAR: Was Leche Con Carne with Fat?

TONY: Yeah, yeah. That was our second one on Fat.

BEAR: So who are your primary influences?

TONY: Well obviously some of the older Punk bands like Bad Religion and the Adolescents, a lot of the So. Cal. early Punk, Social Distortion, you know, all those great bands. But from record to record it varies. I mean I was listening to a lot of Stevie Wonder when I wrote this last record, which is not apparent on the record but it definitely gives you a feel for soul, rhythm and blues, that sort of thing.

BEAR: And what about the other guys?

TONY: Two of the guys are pretty big metal heads –

BEAR: Well we’re all metal heads at one time or another.

TONY: Yeah that’s true, but they love the nostalgia; they’re like “Judas Priest,” “Iron Maiden” and I’m so sick of hearing those riffs I can’t stand it anymore.

BEAR: I won’t tell if you won’t tell.

TONY: I was a big New Wave fan. They were the guys with the long hair in high-school, I was the guy with the long hair over the eyes in high-school.

BEAR: When did you first start going to shows?

TONY: Probably ‘85 when I was 15. My first show was Black Flag.

BEAR: Wow!

TONY: Yeah!

BEAR: Lucky you.

TONY: Yeah, it was their last tour.

BEAR: What were they like at the time?

TONY: They were really good.

BEAR: I only saw the [2003] reunion tour

TONY: Yeah they were awesome. It was the Loose Nut tour in 1985; I was 15 and my parents let me go. They were just “yeah you can go” and I was “all right.” It was awesome.

BEAR: I should have [said] that it was a reunion show; they didn’t do a reunion tour.

TONY: What’s that?

BEAR: I was saying I went to Black Flag’s reunion show; they didn’t do a tour; they just did two shows in L. A.; a benefit for cats.

TONY: Well that’s cool that you got in

BEAR: Yes, we got in through the station thankfully. So who else was current at that time?

TONY: Well the Adolescents were still doin’ it, Suicidal Tendencies was blowin’ up, Agent Orange, Social Distortion was pretty huge; it was all towards the end of – the Misfits and Minor Threat had broken up by then and that’s pretty much when I got into Punk.

BEAR: We all wish we’d seen Minor Threat, yeah.

TONY: Yeah, me too.

BEAR: So since you do the writing what informs your writing style?

TONY: Well like I said, anything that I listen to; like last time it was Stevie Wonder Songs In The Key Of Life.

BEAR: What about lyrically? Where does your stuff come from?

TONY: Lyrically on the newest album it had a lot to do with sort of like the political climate of last year, and then on the other side of the spectrum having a baby girl, which was totally two opposite things. I think the Bush Administration made it very difficult for anybody who was writing songs not to write about that last year, so a lot of my lyrics were post-election. It wasn’t like we were on the whole “Rock the Vote” bandwagon thing, but that had a big deal to do with the lyrics on the current record.

BEAR: How did 9/11 affect the things you write about – if it did? You have a fair number of albums from before then, and a couple after.

TONY: Yeah, well there’s a couple of songs that have affected it – you know what? I think it affects your vulnerability as far as being a writer too. It also opens your eyes to the fact that, hey, on a larger scale 9/11, compared to the [2004] Tsunami, compared to Rwanda – I don’t want to say “not that big of a deal” – I’d never say that, but just the numbers and the ignorance in the United States people didn’t realize in other countries is ridiculous. So opening your eyes to that more than anything I think is what’s most important to remember.

BEAR: So tell me about some of the songs on the album. Now you closed the show with “It’s Tragic.”

TONY: Yeah, it was the second to last song –

BEAR: Oh that’s right; you had something else after that.

TONY: “It’s Tragic”: the lyrics were written the day after the election and it’s basically just the way I think everybody who felt that they were defeated felt after the election was won by George Bush. And it was just kind of like what was going through my head there.

BEAR: And it’s tragic.

TONY: Yeah. That’s the title of it.

BEAR: That’s the title of the song. The Album is called Keep Them Confused, and it’s available on Fat.

TONY: Yepp.

BEAR: Now the first song [from Keep Them Confused] I remember playing on the show, according to my log here was “Killing Time.” Where does this one come from?

TONY: Basically last year when things were getting really hot in Iraq I was sort of going over this scenario in my head that I had of when I met this kid when I was in Germany who was a newly recruited Marine who was about to go to Iraq. I had this conversation with him about why he’s going there and what he’s doing there; he had no idea, and he really thought that the reason was because Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11. It was just totally way off base. So I sat there and had some beers with him for a couple of hours and we just talked a long, long time about it, and it kind of inspired me to write this song, but it wasn’t really supposed to be from a mother’s point of view until I saw that part in Fahrenheit 9/11 a couple of weeks later, and I just put those two together and out came the song.

BEAR: Now the one we played this past Wednesday, “There Will Be Revenge,” where does that one come from?

TONY: That’s interesting because that’s kind of like a lyric I started to write a long time ago when I was younger; it was actually a piece of scrap paper that I had that was from when the band generally first started and I was writing about this girl in high-school – I don’t even remember her name – and I basically just finished the lyric, and that’s all there was to it. And I was just like “how can I make this smart now?” So I kind of went for that.

BEAR: Cool. So what is next for you guys after the tour is over?

TONY: After this tour is over we’re gonna tour again in Europe, and then again in Japan and Australia. So we’re pretty much booked up until November.

BEAR: And are you going to be going with the Dropkick [Murphys]? They’re doing the same thing.

TONY: No, not that I know of, but we might see them on a few festivals or something.

BEAR: And what kind of reception do you meet with overseas nowadays ‘cause you’re American?

TONY: Really excellent. Really good. Germany and France and those kinds of places that were big time protestors of the war don’t look at a band like us as supporters of the war, ‘cause we never came out and said we were. All we said is that we’re against war itself.

BEAR: Well Tony I want to thank you for speaking with me.

TONY: Thank you.

BEAR: Any last things you wish to say?

TONY: Just excited to be on tour again and excited to have a new record.

BEAR: The record of course is Keep Them Confused, available from Fat Wreck Chords now. All right, this is the Bear, and I’m sending you back to the studio.

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