Warren Fitzgerald - 2004

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Warren Fitzgerald is the kooky guitarist and chief songwriter for Orange County's funniest punk band The Vandals. He also played on the last two Oingo Boingo albums. Upon the release of his band's fantastic new album Hollywood Potato Chip, he was kind enough to give me twenty minutes on the American telephone to discuss things and such. My questions are as dark and bold as this Earth has ever seen; his responses are light and wispy, like an orange stream of lilacs.



Hey Warren!

Hey, what's happenin'?

Hey! Happy Ronald Reagan Day!

Yeah! Yeah. No mail?

No mail. No bank.

Really? No bank?


Mother Fucker.

I know.

Well, I mean, there you go. Yeah, happy Ronald Reagan Day!

Yay! Happy Rona-

Well actually, Happy Ronald Reagan WEEK. Jesus Christ.

I know. They won't shut up about him. My thing is he's basically been braindead for about five years anyway.

It's the Bob Hope thing. Whatever. Six months ago, it was the same thing.

I didn't remember Ronald Reagan having so many fa - I guess he must have had a lot of fans, but man. They're talking about putting him on Mt. Rushmore and putting him on the -

People love dead people. That's the thing, yeah. Exactly. He's dead! It's like, "Whatever, I'll forgive him. He can't do anything else wrong."

So I got Hollywood Potato Chip in the mail the other day.

Oh, very good!

Yeah! First of all, what does the album title mean?

That is actually an inside joke we've had -- Well, first of all, there are two answers to that. The first answer is you put the word "Hollywood" in front of anything, and it makes me laugh, no matter what it is. Hollywood Pants. Hollywood Locksmith. Whatever, as long as it has the word "Hollywood" in front of it. But actually the definition of a "Hollywood Potato Chip" is a cum stain on a casting couch.


That seems to be the general reaction.


Yes! Exactly. It's a little euphemism for that, and it's something that's been a joke that's been running around between us for the past few years.

Oh, for Pete's America. Gross. Oh, second thing - how many hundreds and thousands of guitar tracks did you use on each song? It sounds so full of guitars!

On the Queen song, I did an intentional tribute to Brian May so I think I got eight tracks on that, but most of it's pretty straightforward - two rhythm tracks and a lead track generally speaking.

It sounds really full. I don't know if you produced it differently or something.

We spent a little more time on getting guitar sounds and stuff like that, and then Jerry Finn mixed it, and he did a really fantastic job.

Okay. And did you ask... umm... Did you ask... uhh.... umm umm umm umm. For some reason, I'm blanking on his name. Your singer.

Dave Quackenbush.

Did you ask him to scream more on this one?

Actually, in a weird way, you know what it is? On this record, going into it, we were like, "You know what? Let's just do it as punk as possible." You know what I mean? Because we have like, whatever, there's a -- By the way, just so you know, your fuckin' reviews (http://www.markprindle.com/vandals.htm) are rad. You were very on the money, by the way. I checked out all your stuff, and you're right about "Pachelbel's Canon in D Minor."


As far as, uhh, it wasn't lifted, but very good call though, yeah! So obviously you know your music. Yeah, on this record, it's kinda like we're -- I like his voice, in that it's -- especially considering the nature of where "punk music" has gone over the past decade where if I didn't see the video or if I didn't see the fuckin' t-shirt or whatever the fuck, I wouldn't know that it was "punk music," you know? It's very puffy soft, and it's really gotten into like Celine Dion territory, so it's kind of a natural thing. We're goin' out and fuckin'- we don't want hits, we don't want whatever. And his screaming voice - I actually really like the quality of his voice when he does that (*imitates the way Dave's voice hits a higher and more maniacal register when he screams*).

I know! Right when I put it on and "How They Getcha" started, it was like, "Jesus! Is this an outtake from Live Fast, Diarrhea or something?"

Yeah, it kinda does sound that way. It was like, let's just approach it and fuckin' just belt it out. And fuck all the 'out of tune' and fuck all the other shit. We can add another part to it, but let's keep it real raw too at the same time.

Was there a point when you honestly were trying to kinda make more money? I mean, I could tell that a couple of albums ago, it was more of a palatable sound, like Look What I Almost Stepped In. But was there actually a thought that you might be able to -

When we were on Nitro, they thought we could be a hit band, or like we could have a hit, you know what I mean? I'm just too cynical to go - I just go, "Whatever." I don't view it in the cards; I don't even care about it. I don't even view it as a possibility. There was a little bit of that, but it was also just the eclectic range how we do stuff. Actually on this album, there are some songs that are really fuckin' melodic for Dave that we really had to push him on so he could get his arms around the complicated melodies. Which doesn't necessarily mean it's glossier. But yeah, there's always this weird process where you go in to make a record and it's such a blur that you don't know what it is until it's done. It's not very contrived usually. The only thing that's usually contrived, like on this album, is to not have a plan. It was just like, "Let's do a punk record, for Christ's sake. Let's put as many of the fast numbers and the screaming numbers and the funner numbers and the ones that do things that kinda punk rock bands do."

The lyrics are fantastic. Every single one of them. The one about the Ouija board and the one about "Let's Dig A Hole" and "Christians or Canadians!" And the one about the bomb. "I Guess I'll Take You Back" is hilarious. "My Neck, My Back" is great.

Oh good! Oh great! Thanks! Hey!

Yeah, there's a ton of them. And then "How They Getcha" -- so the whole song is about a lousy fortune teller?


That's hilarious!

That's my favorite thing about it. See, because punk rock - especially that style of punk rock with the fast tempo and the screaming -

You think it's about society, right?

Yeah! You use big words like "society" or "propagandize" and this and that. All of a sudden, they go, "Oh shit! This is real punk!" Then you read the lyrics and it's like, "Oh shit, it's about fuckin' Miss Cleo." I like that trick. Or you know the thing where a song can sound like maybe it's the happiest melody you've ever heard, then you realize they're singing about suicide and saying this and that. So just that kind of dichotomy between the music and lyrics.

Same thing with "Designed By Satan" if you don't pay attention. It's about a Ouija board. That's ridiculous!

I know! It's absurd. We definitely always love the absurd, quite often to the territory where it's just an inside joke, and maybe some people will get it.

Do you write all the lyrics at this point?

The majority of them. On this record, I wrote all of the songs except the Queen cover we did, and "Designed By Satan" and "Christian Or Canadian" - those are classic Joe songs. He always has very good surreal song subjects or kind of - he's very good at lyrically putting that together. I wrote the music for those. And then Dave wrote the bomb song.

He wrote one song for the record, and it was about building a bomb. What is that supposed to be about it?

A recurring thing in a lot of our lyrics is we're trying to be optimistic about negative situations, or be hyperenthusiastic about something that's really shitty. So like, "Well, let me see. Yeah, if we all go at once, then we won't have to say goodbye. Oh, that's a good sentiment. So yeah, why don't we explore that idea?" Dave likes the anger and venom punk rock music.

So whose brother is gay?

Ha! That's Dave's fictitious brother.


Yeah, Dave actually wrote the lyrics to that one also.

But it's not true? That's interesting, because it sounds like one of those true songs.

Yeah, well he goes into such specific things like Christmas dinner and all that kind of stuff, which is something that is another kind of Dave-type of thing that Joe's also good at - writing story-lyric type of songs. I usually take a specific subject or scenario and try to put a little twist on it. Most of them fall from my lap, to tell the truth.

You don't lie in your songs though, do you? Like "Canine Euthanasia" wasn't a lie?

Oh, that's actually true, yeah. That was actually very hard; it was real. That was really funny; we did that record so long ago, and I wrote it literally right before the dog died. He was dying. And it was the first song by the Vandals - and I'd done three albums with them at this point already - it was the first song that made my parents go, "Awwww."

Awww. When I saw the title, I was a little concerned.

Oh yeah.

But the song itself is like "awwww."

Yeah, as anyone who's owned a dog knows, you always outlive your dog. It was coming from that. It was a fuckin' bummer.

Do you have a dog now?

No, unfortunately I don't. With travelling and stuff like that, it would be hard.

Yeah. Were you - although I would assume the answer is 'yes,' I'll go ahead and ask anyway - were you a Vandals fan before you joined? Did you like the early music that they'd done?

Yeah, I was. I was very young. Their first EP came out when I was like 12 or 13. So I was still in like middle school, and I remember hearing - I think the first song I heard was "Anarchy Burger" or "Heartbreak -." No, I remember; it was "Heartbreak Hotel." I heard their version of that in some record store at the beach when I was 12 or 13, and I was like, "Oh, that's funny!" I was just discovering punk rock at that point, especially the Southern California scene at that time, with Black Flag and TSOL, and I was really into it. I was aware of them, and I liked the band. And then actually a few years later, I became friends with Dave and Joe, and after Jan left, it kinda just morphed into what it became.

He was the guy playing on the country album, right?


Okay, so you started with Fear Of A Punk Planet?

Yes. And that was when Josh first joined. I was in about a year with no recording, and then Josh came in and right then was when we did that first record together with the current line-up.

Okay. In the beginning - see, the thing with me about Fear Of - no, that that one, uhh, Sweatin' To The Oldies is it just seems like you're forced to play these old songs. Stuff like "Mohawk Town" and "Master Race," and I'm just sitting there going, "Man, I wish they'd made this movie later because these songs kinda -"

Oh right, right! That was obviously the point of the title; at that point those songs were considered "oldies." They were from nearly ten years earlier. But we only had one original album to draw from at that point, so that's kinda the key of the thing. It was interesting. And the timing on that thing was interesting because no one had really done punk long-forms at that point. NOFX came out with their first thing not long after that, but it was kinda the first long-form kinda deal, you know? Trying to do the whole rock/speak kinda thing. It was definitely new to our territory. But now everyone and their brother has a DVD out. Either that or an EPC. Or an EPK? What is it? An electronic press kit?


Just a little industry jargon I thought I'd try to bring in.

Every CD I get in the mail to review now, I put it in the computer and it just starts up some enhanced boring crap.

Oh right, right! Well see, that's the other problem. It can work for or against a lot of bands. Because with a lot of bands - well, musicians in general have not the most interesting personalities. Or whatever! You know what I mean? They're like, "Hey! Here we are in our... van. Yeah. Hey! Remember that time, uhh... you made out with a chick? Yeah!"


Or like, "Hey, let's get some high-speed stuff!" Yeah, there's plusses and minuses. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

It seems like all four of you are pretty funny, because that Internet Dating Super Studs thing was a scream.

Oh, good good.

It was really funny.

Oh, you mean our little - that's right, we did have the enhancement!


That was fun, because we kinda did our own little - It was a very good bit. It had kind of a... what would you call that - kind of a choreograph to it. Like mine was like, "Okay, my date doesn't speak any English. I know how I'm going to attack that."

Being an absolute insider like you are for the band, I just wondered if there were certain things about some of the records that you played on that other people might not realize, like if you were trying to go for something different and people might not have, you know -- people like ME, you know, fans who've heard 'em a bunch of times -- might not notice it? Because I can't imagine you go for the same things every time.

Yeah, you get into the world of lyrical, musical or production subtleties. Sometimes it's like, "Here's my favorite part right here - and no one's ever gonna notice it." Or you go, "This is my favorite song!" and it's just not well received. And then there's also the way how on every album, we go, "Oh yeah, I love this song!" and then by the time you've mixed it and it's done, you're like, "God, I'm sick of it. It's the worst song on the album!" It's such a weird process. There's always subtlety. Like there's things I like to put in when I'm playing - you know, like the guitar riff I lifted from "Night On Bald Mountain." Just the viola part. Things like that. And I know no one's ever gonna notice it! No one's ever gonna -

Did you actually do that in a song?

Oh absolutely! No, I'm a big classical fan, so -

Which one did you do that in?

The riff from "Live Fast, Diarrhea" - that "Dih-noo-nih-nee-dih-noo-nih-nuh."


That's the viola section in the first breakdown of "Night On Bald Mountain." I had the full score in front of me, so I had to pick out a part where it was like, "Oh okay, that part would sound cool on guitar."

Did you do any other crap like that?

Tons of stuff. The Christmas album is FILLED. I had eight Christmas songbooks, classical music and everything, and the March of the Dwarves from Edvard Grieg in one of the breakdowns, and all this kindsa stuff. I mean, little variations on stuff, but whatever. In music, they call it an "homage" or a "variation." Not "plagiarism."

I was reading some old interviews today with you, and I saw in one you said something about writing lyrics, you like to make them funny because lyrics can be funny but a guitar can't. And that's not true! A lot of your guitar playing is funny.

That's the - see, you're one of the small elite of people that can actually differentiate a - what's the word - "scherzo." Like a musical joke. To go, "This is funny because the phrasing is ridiculous!" Or there's one note that goes for too long or too weird, or too vibrato. Yeah, that's a good point. When I grew up playing guitar throughout the '80s, it was all heavy metal bullshit. It was all this "junka-junka-junka" kinda bullshit. There was no humor in it or anything like that. I'd rather have one funny noise and say everything than say, "Hey, check out my chops." That's the kind of stuff where I put a lot of effort into it. Guitar players notice a fair amount, but a lot of things go over people's heads, or they like it and don't feel the need to analyze it.

Why is your artwork (http://wafart.com) so offensive?

Oh! Okay. That's great. There's a real psychological answer for that. It's because I try to be focused on being creative. It's my whole fuckin' deal. I love being creative, I love writing songs, doing anything creative, what the fuck - and the thing with the painting is that it makes myself a more balanced person. If I can think of the worst fucking thing I can think of - something I shouldn't think of - and then make a picture of it, then I can purge myself of that and I can go on with better equanimity.




It's like a therapeutic approach towards it. And it is funny because literally that's where it comes from - those moments of "Oh my God! I shouldn't even THINK that! I guess I better go paint it."


And the reaction I usually get is, umm.... It gets a reaction. No matter what.

That's neat. Okay. Well, I was told I was limited to 20 minutes, so I will let you go.

Well hey, fantastic! By the way, you're a fuckin' outstanding... I don't know, "critic," whatever. I read a bunch of your reviews of a bunch of different things; last night I was looking at all your stuff.

Oh, really?

Yes. You are educated, and I'm glad that you've been kind to our music but also fuckin' right on the money though. It's like I read them and go, "You know what? That song DOES kinda stink too!" I can agree with you, so much respect for that.

Thank you very much! And have a good Ronald Reagan Night.

Yeah, exactly. I'll go get some..... umm.....

Jelly beans!

I'll figure out something Ronald Reagany and go buy that.

Alright, have a good'un!

Alright man. Take care.

You too. Bye.

Reader Comments

I like that Warren Fitzgerald. He's an exceptionally nice person and a great guitar player. I'm not going to criticize his disturbingly gross visual art. After all, who hasn't visualized something disturbingly gross in his or her life?

Anyway, I give this interview an 8.

Add your thoughts?

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