D.I.Y. and live your life
Shawn Stern and 30 years of BYO and Youth Brigade
By David Cotner 11/10/2011
Records equal immortality. Sometimes it takes musicians a while to catch up with their own eternity. Case in point: Youth Brigade, the positive punk band formed in Southern California in 1980 by brothers Shawn, Adam and Mark Stern. They’re celebrating their 30th year of life as a band. Their Better Youth Organization (BYO) imprint, founded by Mark and Shawn, came to more prominent public understanding with the 1984 film Another State of Mind, which showcased the grueling grind of two bands on tour in a school bus — Youth Brigade and Social Distortion — in the horrible halcyon Reagan ’80s. VCReporter caught up with Shawn hot off the Youth Brigade live action at Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin.
How difficult is it to maintain a DIY ethos over 30 years?
Since we’ve never done it any other way, it’s not necessarily difficult. We’ve never made a plan and we didn’t set out to do this as a “business.” We just did what was necessary out of necessity.
Was DIY something that began with Youth Brigade for you, or was it something you valued earlier than 1980?
We have always been pretty independent since we were kids. We worked various odd jobs around the neighborhood when we were little kids in Canada. Our parents always encouraged us by saying if we wanted something we had to go out and earn it. I got my first “official” part-time job when I was 14 at a nutritional store stocking shelves after school, and I also would work mornings at the elementary school before school. We also were selling pot and other things on the side to make real money. We organized parties, got a band and some kegs, and those were our first tries at organizing shows. We realized early on that doing things on your own was much better than working for someone else.
Is it challenging to lead by example when it comes to the DIY ideal for living?
We’re not trying to lead anyone. I prefer to think of it as inspiring others by example. We don’t say that we have the answers. We just want people to think for themselves. If they see something we’ve done that gives them inspiration to go against the mindless consumerism culture that has come to dominate our society.
Did BYO’s organizing and values dovetail with other scenes like Crass’ in Great Britain?
I don’t believe so. We believe that, despite how screwed-up the system of capitalism is, it’s best to deal with the reality of living in a capitalist world and working to change from within for now. If revolution comes, we’ll be there, but we’re not necessarily pushing any political systems because most of them just get corrupted. I think globalism isn’t necessarily the best thing for our planet.
What was your experience with the late Rick van Santen of Goldenvoice, and what’s this new massive old-school concert being planned by Gary Tovar?
We mostly got along fine with Rick, but we worked with Gary Tovar as co-promoters early on and always have had a good friendship with him. He put together the 30th anniversary show and it’s going to be great. He does plan on doing more next year as well. He has been the man behind starting Goldenvoice, and is not well-known outside of the promoter/band people, but he deserves to get the recognition for how important he’s been to the punk scene. That’s one of the reasons we made sure to get him and Brendan Mullen in our movie Let Them Know.
Does BYO have unfulfilled aims or goals?
Since we didn’t really have any specific goals to start with, I think we manage to do what we want to do. We haven’t always had the huge success that some labels/bands have, but, like I said, we never did this with the intention of making money, yet we’ve been lucky enough to do what we love and earn a living from it.
Numbskull Productions presents Youth Brigade on Saturday, Nov. 12 at Zoey’s. All ages, $10 in advance, $12 at the door. Tickets available at Salzer’s Records and www.ticketweb.com.