Fred Stesney, Vocals and Drum Machine Jason Zasky, Guitar Jeff Musser, Bass and Maracas
Fred Stesney, Vocals and Drum Machine Jason Zasky, Guitar Jeff Musser, Bass and Maracas


Fred: Singer/Lyricist
Jason: Guitarist/Songwriter
Jeff: Bass Player/Conceptualist

Punk Then and Now

What was or is punk?

Fred: Punk isn't quite an institution now; it is a genre. It could be a section in a record store or a section on It does have its conventions. I guess it isn't quite what it used to be. It certainly is not that revolutionary anymore. It retains the name even though it's not really what it started out to be.

What was the music about back then?

Fred: What the music [in the United States] was about was "I hate my mom, how come I don't have a girlfriend, man my life sucks." That's what the audience was really responding to. The music was really about rebelling against suburbia, the banality of living in the San Fernando Valley where I lived. I was just looking for some kind of excitement.

When you created Black Velvet Flag, was it at a time when punk itself needed subversion?

Fred: That was part of Black Velvet Flag. It was an attack on an institution though strangely, the institution had become punk rock. Some say, "Punk rock is sacred. Don't mess with it!" That's so counter punk, isn't it? A lot of punk rockers found themselves on the other side of the stick.

How was Black Velvet Flag irreverent, destructive and rebellious to the punk institution?

Fred: It felt rebellious not to play loud, number one. It was irreverent that it made fun of all of these bands from a time in music that was considered one of those great times and places - Southern California in the early ‘80s was the place to be. And so not to keep that piece of history in a nice box behind the glass, we had to start poking at it. Some people didn't like that.

What was it like growing up punk?

Jeff: I really listened to the words as a kid. I didn't go to shows so I could go get fucked up and slam dance. I didn't drink or smoke or anything at the time, so I took it pretty seriously. For me it was really an outlet because I didn't feel like I fit in, and I felt more like I fit in the punk scene than I did in the regular high school scene, or even the college scene. But ultimately I realized that I really didn't fit in there either. The punk scene became just a new brand of conformity and it really wasn't for me.

Fred: I always got hassled. Everywhere I went I got hassled. It was kind of fucked up.

It seems your style, and all of its variations throughout the band's life, expressed a lot for the band. Talk about the fashion choices: red leather pants, and tuxedos. But let's start with Fred's dresses.

Fred: Well, it did something for my performance. It gave me a certain motivation that I don't have when I was just dressed. I think what it has to do with is, somehow, I feel more attractive in the dress. I think if I come out there in the tuxedo outfit or something, I figure, you know, maybe girls will be looking at me like, "Oh, oh, you know, he's O.K." But when I was in the dress, I get the feeling that girls say, "Wow! Look at his arms. Look at his legs." And because of that, you know, I think it shows off my body better. Maybe that's why I feel more "on."

Were fashion choices more about you, or the band?

Fred: I thought one of the reasons people wanted to be in bands was so they could dress up. That's what mystifies me about the whole punk rock aesthetic. Just dress in jeans, sneakers, and T-shirts. Even the Ramones, who maybe pioneered that whole look, that was their look. And it was how they would dress.

What do you guys think of punks of today?

Jeff: It's hard to say because that uniform was really important to me when I was at that stage. Now I look at them with my 30-plus-year-old eyes and go, "Why do you need to be so externally rebellious when you can still be internally rebellious? You don't have to dress so weird." But at that time, I guess kids are really searching for an identity. I think it's funny when you see people my age that still have that affected fashion sense. That to me is kind of sad. When you're 18, you do whatever you need to.

Why do kids need punk?

Jeff: At the Brownies show, the bands we opened for, they were all 20-year-old boys. And it was such a flashback. I once used to ask, "Why hasn't this music moved on and gone anywhere?" Then I realized it's just as important to them as adolescents as it was to me. I just happened to hit it the first time around, like at the beginning of it. They're just not really called punks anymore. It's all called hardcore. I guess it's always going to be there. In a way it's great, because if you are a young person and you're going through all that angst as a teenager - trying to figure out who the fuck you are, and what you want to do with your life, and not knowing where to turn - you just have that general internal turmoil. Punk is a natural place for that turmoil to go. So young people should have that outlet to write hardcore songs, and be barely able to play their instruments, and be in a band.

Did you or your friends change and simply grow up?

Jeff: If I project back on how I was as a teenager, I was spending so much energy trying to figure out who I wasn't and who I didn't want to be - my parents. That was the easiest role model to negate, and then you just grow past it and realize that your parents aren't so stupid after all. I was really into being anti-middle class at the time because I thought the whole punk aesthetic was telling me that making money was making me less pure - as if I had any kind of money. So I definitely wanted to disassociate with that. But then as soon as I moved out on my own, I realized that I was exactly like them, within the first week it's like everything I was trying not to be, that's who I was. It was really ironic to me.

Fred: Recently I saw an article called "Where are they now?" about the old punks in famous bands. A lot of them, including my friends, moved completely away from punk and are now responsible parents, some of them are journalists and lawyers, and some of them still don't know what to do with their lives. And, some of them are still in bands.

Why do you think your parents and society at large accommodated punk ultimately?

Fred: You saw a lot of punks who took the pose of fighting authority and fighting the government. All they really wanted to do was get together, holler, jump around and get drunk. And with enough of that, if you let people listen to bands and get drunk and slam dance they're not going to do anything. It is a good way for an authoritarian regime to let people blow off steam. Let them form their bands. Let them slam dance. Let them wear outrageous T-shirts, because while they're doing that, they won't be organizing themselves to tear down the system.

Punk Marries Lounge

What was lounge?

Fred: Lounge music, strictly speaking, is background music. It's not really meant to command attention. I guess the notion of a lounge is you are supposed to be sitting and drinking and having a conversation while this music was going on in the background. Jeff: I think it's a made up thing. I think people got interested in music from another time and it was kind of the pre-swing thing. It's just one of those faddish cycles of what to do on a Saturday night. People thought, "Hey, let's get dressed up and go listen to slower music instead of rock." The pendulum slams back and forth from one extreme to the other. It was right on the heels of Grunge. I've never really made much of it. It's not like we as a band ever intentionally went out to be a lounge band because there's this lounge thing happening.

What did your music do to real lounge or real punk?

Jeff: I don't know what it did to real ‘50’s lounge stuff, but I certainly think it made you look at the old punk stuff in a new way. One fun part about the band was that a lot of people were getting exposed to those lyrics that never would have been exposed to them. Those were always the most fun gigs for me - the ones where the audience thought you were just playing this hip retro-stuff. Then they would pause at the power of those lyrics.

Fred: Punk is so loud that you can't ignore it. And lounge, you're supposed to ignore it. We were an uncomfortable in-between. It really made it difficult to deal with audiences where we were not loud enough. They had to listen to us because they wanted to. But as performers we demanded more of the audience than indifference.

Jeff: To me the first time around, punk was very much preaching to the choir, and this time you got to take the message to the people that never would have gotten it, because it would have been too scary. The context that delivered it the original time was too far out there. It was ironic to me because you wanted the people that needed to hear it the most to hear it. But those were the people that heard it the least, because of how it was presented, so loud and obnoxious.

The Music of Black Velvet Flag

You guys did both originals and covers. Talk about how that balance affected the band.

Jeff: We painted ourselves into a musical corner.

Fred: We wrote originals to get ourselves out of the box. We realized early on that people didn't know the songs we were covering so we could just make up fake bands and they'd have no idea. Some of the songs are obviously ours. Some are covers.

Did you ever think the band would be successful?

Jason: If you told me a couple years ago that I'd be playing in shows on the Sunset Strip, I wouldn't have believed you.

How do you guys relate to the songs you do? Do you believe in what they are saying?

Fred: Our songs are far more hostile than I am. You know a lot of it's written like you'd just be writing for a character in a movie or something like that. It's not me. It's writing in someone else's voice.

Jason: Yeah, I think if we were as hostile as our songs, we'd be in a lot of trouble.

You especially, Fred, have a lot to say. Words come to you easily to get your ideas across. So then why did you choose music to express yourself?

Fred: I think music is the most powerful of all of the arts. Sometimes there will be riots at concerts but you're not going to get a riot at a gallery. You're not going to get a riot at a poetry reading. No one's going to read a book and immediately have a riot. Music seems to be the most intense, and it affects people the most deeply.

Do you think your music encourages any kind of action other than drinking martinis?

Jason: A few times we've seen a sort of like slow motion dancing. I don't know if you can call that slow motion dance slamming.

Fred: I don't know if that was the music. I mean we've gotten people to take off their clothes on stage. That wasn't the music, that was us asking people to come up and take off their clothes.

Jason: That was the alcohol.

Other than taking off their clothes for you, what other responses have people had to your music?

Jeff: A lot of it was like, "Wow, thanks. I was finally able to understand the words. You guys kinda brought it home." Seems like people got what we were trying to do, and that was really satisfying. A lot of people saw it as a joke and that's to be expected. There was some bad feedback too.

What were some of the bad ones?

Jeff: Just like, "Fuck you guys! You're making fun of these great punk songs!" They thought we were just a band of wise asses trying to take a piss on the whole punk thing. In a way, we did take a piss on the seriousness of punk. It wasn't always so drop dead serious. Look at the Ramones, the New York punk scene was more about having fun with stupid lyrics, and then the English punk scene gave it a political context that made it a lot more serious. By the time it got to LA, it was like a mish-mash of all those things. But you still had hits like Gigantor and Amoeba as the early punk anthems, those didn't have any political message at all. So I think people forgot that. They forgot that at one time, it was fun and not just a lot of macho political posturing.

How did the idea for the band came about?

Jeff: I played in this totally funny band we just put together for one show when I was in college for a party. I wanted to sing, "Livin' in the City" really slow. But the singer didn't want to sing the line, "I want to fuck some slut," in front of his girlfriend. So we never did it. And it just sat with me since 1989 until I met Fred and Jason five years later.

The Pleasures and Tortures of Touring

Describe the best and worst moments of touring.

Fred: The best part was when we played in San Francisco. That was great. It was a fairly large place, and it was packed. Right there! Sold out. And everyone was having a good time and that was really good. And the low point was the night before in Sacramento. Where, maybe when we started playing there were eight people in the audience, and when we were done, there were - well, if you don't count the other band members who had to stick around anyway, there were no people in the audience. That was horrible. You guys performed in a lot of the big cites in the U.S. How did you like going on the road?

Jeff: I thought it was really boring. I guess that's why friends form bands. You'd better like the people you're in the band with, because all you do is just hang out and drive for eight hours a day.

On the road, you must have learned some things about each other that did not come out in the film. What got missed?

Jeff: In Chicago, we had to face all of us being in a room together with one woman in a hotel room, late at night after a show. She was talking and massaging us. She went to the bathroom and Fred said, "Jason are you down with this?" We didn't know what was going to happen? Was she going to come out of the bathroom naked and say, "Do me boys!" had no idea what she was going to say when she came out of the bathroom.

And what did she say when she came out of the bathroom?

Jeff: Nothing

Were you disappointed?

Jeff: No, because I really didn't want to have sex with these guys.

Fred: No, me either.

Jason: I wasn't disappointed. I just went to sleep.

In the film, your pursuit of groupies never seemed to pay off. What happened there?

Fred: I don't know what it is, it's like this band somehow attracts lesbians. It's every man's fantasy, I know.

Jeff: It's just that they don't want anything to do with you. That kind of blows the fantasy.

Is that frustrating?

Jeff: No, no. I find it sort of comforting you know. I think you got to be a pretty whole guy for lesbians to hang out with you.

So did you guys have sex with groupies after all?

Fred: Not directly from the band. Maybe an old flame saw me differently and we got together, but I don't call that groupie sex. I mean, no one came up to us and said, "Wow, you're Black Velvet Flag? Let me suck." Nothing like that.

Almost Getting Famous

What are your thoughts about being at the center of media attention even for a brief moment?

Fred: Center of attention?

Jason: We should be so lucky. Being in the "Random Notes" of Rolling Stone, that's all very nice. But in the grand scheme of things, no one remembers that, you know? In order for people to remember you, um . . .

Fred: You have to kill somebody.

Do you guys still want to be rock stars?

Fred: Did we ever? Advertising's so much better than being in a band. You get to go on trips and you go in much better conditions, getting everything paid for, staying in nice hotels, getting your meals paid for. The pay you get is so far beyond what I'd ever see being in a band. Being in a band basically sucks.

So why did you do it?

Fred: Well, we created this music...

Jason: You know, we came so far. . .

Fred: We had to see it through.

Did you wish that the band had more success, or do you think that it would have corrupted some things that the band stood for?

Fred: If you have some big revolutionary message, if you're planning on tearing something down, what's the point of putting out your message on a record that no one's ever going to hear? The point is that there's nothing wrong with using the system to subvert it. Wasn't it the Communist person who said if you were going to hang a Capitalist, they would sell you the rope to do it? I think record companies are like that.

Making The Film

Who do you think will relate to a film about Black Velvet Flag and why?

Jeff: It's not just about us being in a band. It's not just about us thinking we're so incredibly interesting, 'cause we're really not... in the grand scheme of things. But, it is a really interesting piece about what do you do when you get a little older.

There are other themes going on than just three guys in a band doing punk covers. It's also about three guys atour stages of life trying to figure out what the hell they're doing with the rest of their lives. I can see people identifying with us even if they've never been in a band before - just as human beings.

Talk about what it's like to be doing all this music and performing while having someone making a film about it.

Jason: It's a bit surprising that people would be interested enough to videotape us for over a period of years. It kind of suits the band though, in the sense that the unpredictable kind of happened to us from day one. Well the unexpected, I wouldn't say it's unpredictable. It's pretty cool. It's just another experience. In this band we did things that you would never expect. It's been fun.

Fred: Just having someone pay attention when you talk - because no one cares - is gratifying. You know when you talk on a record a lot people don't listen, but when you put it in a documentary or something, then all of a sudden it takes on more weight and importance just because someone has decided that you're worth all the camera, film and tape. You must have something worth listening to.

Jason: Even if it's not true...

Have you guys lied at all?

Fred: I haven't.

Jason: Not that I can remember.

Fred: But what is truth?