By Keith CarmanFew punk rock bands have had the monumental impact of Southern California's Youth Brigade. Comprised of the Stern brothers, Adam (bass), Mark (drums) and Shawn (guitar/vocals), the power trio have proven indelible to the ongoing revitalization of this enduring musical genre. Their list of accomplishments seems endless: classic, anthemic albums such as 1982's Sound And Fury and 1996's To Sell The Truth, forming the Better Youth Organization, a collective intent on inspiring positive internal action from punkers and proving them as active, contributing members of society to onlookers, the ensuing BYO Records, which was responsible for kick-starting the careers of some of punk's more memorable acts including 7 Seconds, Alkaline Trio and Bouncing Souls as well as offering titles from NOFX and Rancid, concocting the first-ever international multi-punk band tour with cohorts Bad Religion and Social Distortion in a converted school bus circa the early '80s ― captured on celluloid and available as the unforgettable film Another State Of Mind ― and more recent, fun engagements such as an annual punk rock bowling tournament in Las Vegas. Youth Brigade is continually active, endlessly energetic and eternally adored.
At that, they celebrated their 25th anniversary in 2007, planning to issue a commemorative box set. Due to the grandiose commitment involved along with running a label, playing in a band and organizing tournaments though, they missed their own party by a solid two years. However, as Shawn relates, the set featuring a book chronicling the band's impact on punk, a feature-length DVD discussing the scene, Youth Brigade and BYO as well as a 31-track CD of bands covering BYO material, Let Them Know: The Story Of Youth Brigade And BYO Records was finally released earlier this year. The trio may now let the jubilee begin.
This box set celebrating your 25th anniversary has been quite the undertaking to the point where you're two years late with it. Shawn Stern: Yeah, we were coming up on it a few years ago but of course it passed. I told my brother as he was freaking out a couple of years back that we weren't gonna get our 25-year anniversary box set out on our 25th year. He thought people would feel we're flakes. I said that if we put out a mediocre box set in our 25th year, they'd remember that more than a 25th anniversary set that's great but didn't necessarily come out at the right time. It's better to do something great than something on time. We weren't advertising it or anything. It just became such a big project that it ended up taking so much time.
How did this whole endeavour come about anyway? We were sitting around thinking about what to do. The first idea was to do a compilation but so many people are getting their music for free, it's killing labels now. It's changing how labels can do business nowadays. Then we thought about doing a movie on the label, the band and the punk scene in L.A. Well, even that they could download. Then we thought, well, if we made a book and put it all inside that, it's something everyone would want but can't just download. They'd have to buy it to have it. It took a lot of time. It's been a monster. It nearly drove my brother insane because he's the one who put the whole book together. He's the art department for BYO. It was a lot of work but he did a great job.
What a monumental task. Did you finally achieve what you'd hoped for since it took two years longer than anticipated? The LP became a double-LP and we actually had to cut one song. We'd asked a whole bunch of bands to be a part of it. Lots of people wanted to do it but trying to get them into the studio and record a song? It's always best to ask for the song but bands want to use all of the songs for their new records. That's when we came up with the idea of having everyone cover a track from one of our releases. That gives them a huge catalogue of songs to choose from and brings it back to BYO. We got 31 bands to cover 31 punk rock classics.
It sounds like things went as planned. It worked out really well. We got a lot of bands doing some pretty interesting takes on different songs. You hear the influences of some of these bands on the covers. It's obvious they grew up listening to 7 Seconds or Youth Brigade. It's interesting how there are some bands that get covered a lot. One Man Army got four covers, Youth Brigade and 7 Seconds had a couple, Bouncing Souls had a couple but we only put out one One Man Army album. Or Alkaline Trio has six songs that we released and two bands covered them.