April 5, 2024
Performance, Pride, and Punk: A Conversation with The Mainliners
Isabella Le

By Isabella Le

Punk is dead, right?

At least, that’s what we’ve been conditioned to believe since the late ’70s (a la The Crass). 

The genre has seen its fair share of changes and reimaginings over the years. It’s extremely difficult to define “punk,” much less find its vestiges in modern culture, nearly fifty years later. When a title is that weighty, it’s only natural to have reservations about its legitimacy in an age where it’s easier than ever to stick labels on art, image, and identity.

We were joined by four of five members—vocalist Cash Mathieu, guitarist Colin Martin, guitarist-bassist Adrian Morris, and drummer Jackson Fox—of the Hollywood punk outfit The Mainliners, following a grievous two-and-a-half hour drive from Los Angeles to San Diego. Donning moto boots, tattoo sleeves, black sunglasses, and studded belts, it was clear that they looked the part, but I was more interested in seeing if they felt it.

When asked what the most important thing to know about their band was, Mathieu keenly replied, “That we’re really nice guys!” (It doesn’t get much more punk than that.) I can strongly attest not only to the band’s kindness but also to their grassroots approach to creating music and building community. A testament to their collective upbringings and artistic inclinations, The Mainliners overflow with DIY ethos, visually, musically, and idealistically. At the end of the day, they’re a tight-knit group of friends who want nothing more than to make music and have fun—no strings attached.

A thirty-minute conversation was what it took to convince me that the spirit of punk is very much alive and well. The scene may not be that of the late ‘70s, but The Mainliners are here to pave a stud-studded road unreservedly their own. Ahead of their show at the House of Blues in support of Slater, KSDT caught up with The Mainliners to talk about their punk roots, craziest concert stories, and the unconventional creation process of their debut EP, Mainliner Motel.

KSDT Radio: Can you introduce us to who The Mainliners are?

Colin Martin: Cash and I started writing songs together in 2020. Obviously, it was during COVID, where you couldn’t play shows, so we were just writing and he was just learning how to play bass. I just played drums, and I was kind of learning how to play guitar. We were learning how to write songs and figuring that out. In 2021, we had our first show, which was in our friend’s basement, and from there we kept writing and playing. About a year and a half ago, Adrian joined us, and a year ago, Jackson joined us. Since then, we’ve rewritten a bunch of stuff, we’ve written about ten songs to put out these past six months, and are just starting to get our feet under us with touring and playing out of town! Within these last six months has been the biggest push for us to really get our band started, in a sense, even though we started coming together in 2020. We didn’t really start until a year and six months ago.

Cash Mathieu: We had some lineup changes. I was playing bass before, we had some people quit, I started singing, there was a different guitar player. Since it’s been just us, it’s been about a year.

KSDT: What’s the story behind the name “The Mainliners?”

Cash Mathieu: One of the old members in the band came up with the name. It’s loosely based off of this Social Distortion album name. I mean, a mainliner is within the theme of punk music being raunchy – a mainliner is someone who shoots up dope. So, yeah, The Mainliners!

KSDT: On the topic of punk, what drew you guys to making this kind of music? Who would you say your main musical influences are?

Colin Martin: Growing up where we grew up had a lot to do with it. It also comes from our parents’ tastes, our dads’ tastes specifically. I grew up with my dad playing Adolescents and The Germs in the house, so I was exposed to that world a little. He would take me to shows, and I would go see those bands that he listened to play. That kind of ignited this thing in me that made me want to hear aggressive music, and I feel like a lot of us have a similar story.

Jackson Fox: Same, having parents that are cool enough to take you to punk shows when you’re little.

Adrian Morris: For sure! And growing up in the environments that we grew up in. I grew up in Costa Mesa, Orange County, and I feel like there’s a really big punk scene within the older generation of people. A lot of my parents’ friends were in bands like The Stitches and other Orange County bands at that time, in the early to late 90s.

KSDT: Was there a particular moment in your guys’ lives that made you realize that you wanted to pursue a music career?

Colin Martin: I went to see this band called Manic Hispanic at the House of Blues in Anaheim, and it was right next to Disneyland. My dad and I went for Cinco de Mayo, but my birthday is at the end of May. His best friend got us tickets since he knew the bass player at the time, and he got us into the back. I was watching them from the stage at probably twelve years old, and it was the first time I ever got to be on stage watching a band. I remember just watching them play, smiling at each other between and during songs, and just looking like friends. They had their homie come on stage and do background vocals for songs, and I was kind of like, “Well, if you can do something like this with your friends, genuinely smile, and look out to see a bunch of people going fucking nuts for the music, then I want to be a part of that.” I wanted to do that.

Adrian Morris: Cash and I grew up together, and we’ve been friends since we were babies.

Cash Mathieu: Yes sir!

Adrian Morris: We’ve been going to a bunch of shows together. I think ever since I was a kid, and I’m sure I could speak for Cash too, I’ve always had a dream of playing music together in some way. I’ve always wanted to do something like that for sure. Even just getting one of my first CDs, London Calling by the Clash, made me realize what I wanted to do after hearing it.

Jackson Fox: My dad was a musician and guitar player. Music was kind of always around my family since I was really, really little. My dad gave up on trying to make it with music a while ago, so I think in the back of my mind, I wanted to surpass him and make him feel like shit about it. That and him taking me to shows, being friends with families that were cool, and getting me out to see new bands at punk shows.

Colin Martin: There’s also Alex who plays bass for us. He’s my best friend, kind of with a similar scenario to Cash and Adrian, but he’s on tour right now so he couldn’t be here. But, he and I have known each other and played music since like twelve years old. We were always kind of like, “Dude, we want to play together.” We had a band when we were younger, and then Cash and I had this band and opened up a slot for him to come play with us. Now, we’re just doing fun shit with him. We get to have our friends on stage and look across being like, “This is crazy.”

Jackson Fox: Honestly, a pivotal moment that made me realize that I wanted to do this, or that it could happen, was moving back after living out of state for a while. I was in Detroit, and I came home not playing music, then went and saw these guys. Shortly after talking to Colin, he said they needed a drummer and things ended up working out! It was getting back into the swing of things with good guys.

KSDT: That’s great! Colin, I think you mentioned playing in another band before – Espresso, I believe. 

Colin Martin: That’s how I met Jackson too!

KSDT: How is playing music and performing now different from what it was like back then?

Colin Martin: That’s a good question. It’s definitely changed. When I was younger, it didn’t feel as serious. Not that it’s serious now, but with that band, we kind of would just hear a song and be like, “I want to make a song like that!” We’d make a song, and maybe it was a different genre. Then, we’d hear somebody coming down here to San Diego and say, “Oh, can we come play with you?” Because it was some backyard or less official thing, they’d be like, “Oh yeah, for sure.” We found ourselves in the most random places, staying with random people, sleeping on random floors, and just kind of doing whatever, because we wanted to do it. 

This, on the other hand, is more calculated. It’s obviously not like, “Oh, it has to be this way,” but more like, “Okay, cool. We’re gonna go play the House of Blues tonight, let’s do an interview at UCSD because it makes sense to do something else with our day. I learned a lot from the last time we came and did a studio session, because I was like, “Oh, just hit up the radio station again and do something with them, because they were cool last time.” You meet a lot of people, and a lot of people that I knew from back then have either stopped playing music or continued in the industry as booking agents, managers, and whatever. You see somebody out somewhere and it’s like, “Oh shit! Remember when we played Santa Cruz in 2018? Now you do this, and it’s awesome!” You kind of see this constant pool of the same people coming in and out of this music scene. It’s nice, and it’s familiar. It’s people I’ve now known for about 10 years, so that’s awesome!

KSDT: While we’re on the topic of experience, Adrian, I read that you didn’t even know how to play guitar a little over a year ago! How has your experience as a creative in music been so far?

Adrian Morris: Pretty cool! I feel like this is probably the best opportunity that could’ve presented itself for my situation – being with people who were my friends prior, knowing what we like, and having the creative freedom to do whatever we want. I’m just learning at the same time and figuring out how everything works. Colin has been a huge help in my learning how things work and playing the guitar. I’m kind of watching how he does his stuff and trying to mirror that because I’m left-handed and he’s right-handed. I’m just watching in a mirror, copying whatever he does, but it’s been really fun! I’m really excited to keep learning more stuff. These few shows we’re playing, I’m going to be playing bass because our bass player is out of town. That’s a whole new learning experience as well.

KSDT: Your new EP, Mainliner Motel, is amazing! I listened to it not too long ago, but I love how reminiscent it is of classic, older punk music. I don’t see a lot of newer bands channeling that. If I didn’t know that it was released this year, I would have assumed it was released a long time ago, which is pretty cool. What was the vision behind this EP?

Cash Mathieu: That whole thing! Just make music that we grew up listening to – that kind of old-school shit. I feel like a lot of people aren’t capturing it nowadays, and we really wanted to try and do that. We’re not trying to do it too on the nose. It’s just kind of what we went along with as we played. We will definitely be influenced by certain songs to make a song somewhat like it.

Colin Martin: I think this project had such a clear idea of what makes sense and what doesn’t that it came together the way it did. Like, “Oh yeah, these songs all make sense together.” Cash got one of his really close family friends to do the art, and when you see it as a whole, you’re just like, “This makes sense.” These songs would be songs playing out of each room of this motel, or they’re the little stories of each of the people in the photo. It all just kind of came together. Sound-wise, we went down a long beach and recorded with another friend Jackson and I have known for a long time. Everything kind of came out in a natural way, and nothing was forced. There were songs we got a little more hung up on than others, but at the end of the day, we thought, “Actually, this is probably the best version of this that we could have done.” It was natural.

KSDT: What song do you think changed the most from its original inception?

Adrian Morris: “Jesusita” changed a lot.

Colin Martin: Maybe “Useless” too.

Jackson Fox: “Jesusita” changed a lot because we added some things to the track, like horn, auxiliary percussion parts, and stuff like that. It changed a lot from its original form, I think.

Colin Martin: Lyrically as well! That song was an instrumental for a long time.

KSDT: What song do you think best represents the energy of the album?

Cash Mathieu: I like “Diana.”

Colin Martin: I mean, Jackson wrote that one on his own and told us what to play. Then, we played it and it was like, “Oh, this is cool!” As far as lyric content and instrumentals go, it just feels like a Mainliners song. If somebody were to ask us to play our top couple of songs, that’s for sure on the list.

KSDT: Now that you have your first EP out, what do you know now that you wish you knew when you went into making it?

Colin Martin: Didn’t know how much money it was gonna cost.

Cash Mathieu: Prioritizing time, maybe. We were pretty good, but you could always crack down on being more efficient. Not fucking around as much.

KSDT: How long did it take you to finish everything then?

Cash Mathieu: It was about four or five sessions. Three days of us playing and one or two mixing.

Colin Martin: It wasn’t that long. There was one day when we had to rerecord the whole instrumental after we already deemed it as done. I think we had to redo two of them. It sounds good, and I’m very proud of it! Maybe next time we’ll have a little bit more of a schedule or plan to say, “Okay cool, let’s really lock this in these days.” It didn’t go badly. It actually went really smoothly, but I think next time we’ll definitely know how much we can realistically get done in an amount of time.

Adrian Morris: I feel like it probably also took longer in our heads than it did from the outside perspective.

KSDT: That’s actually super unheard of for me, because most musicians I interview take years to come out with a project. That’s so interesting. How long were the studio sessions then?

Colin Martin: 10 to 12 hours?

Jackson Fox: But mind you, our songs are short.

Colin Martin: Also, Cash and I had one or two of the songs before, then Jackson got a couple. The songs themselves had been written for a second.

Adrian Morris: We had been playing them too.

KSDT: What was your favorite memory about making all of it?

Cash Mathieu: The funny videos you guys were watching while playing!

Adrian Morris: Hanging with Chickpea!

Colin Martin: Johnny had a chicken that would come in the studio and hang out on the wire.

Cash Mathieu: Johnny was just so fun. He’s hilarious. Everyone’s just really funny.

Adrian Morris: Also, all the vintage recording equipment he had was really cool for me.

Colin Martin: I feel like it would be fucked up not to mention the fact that Alex, who is usually with us, was playing keyboards on some songs. Watching him do that was really cool too – getting sounds from the piano, the organ, and just adding texture. Jackson did a bunch of percussion stuff, so just watching the whole thing go down was cool. It was almost like a movie or watching the behind-the-scenes when you watch your friends record. You’re like, “Oh, cool. This is like the Rolling Stones Session that’s always on YouTube!”

Adrian Morris: Cash’s really good friend came in to play some horns.

Cash Mathieu: That was awesome. Adrian did a slide solo on one of the songs.

Jackson Fox: That was pretty cool.

KSDT: What was the most experimental thing about this EP? Or would you say you just tried to nod back to what had been done in the past?

Colin Martin: We didn’t have too much time to experiment, because we were like, “Alright, we need to record the songs.” Maybe the slide thing Adrian was doing. When Cash was doing his vocal takes, we experimented with pushing things and not pushing things to see what would sound best for a certain song.

Adrian Morris: I feel like we got pretty experimental with “Jesusita.” That’s not a track that you would usually hear.

Jackson Fox: We had our meat and potatoes songs ready to go. Then, we had space to add some things, so we saved that for the end. We had time to do trumpet, percussion stuff, keyboard, and organs.

KSDT: Unique. What’s the most important thing about The Mainliners you think people should know?

Cash Mathieu: That we’re really nice guys!

Colin Martin: I do think it’s important for people to know that Adrian makes a lot of our visuals. Light doesn’t get shed on that a lot. If you look at our Instagram page, a lot of this stuff is actually made by him!

KSDT: Oh wow, that’s awesome! I was actually told to not ask a punk band about their visuals and looks, but I love talking about that stuff. That’s great to hear! Tell me what it’s like aesthetically conceptualizing everything.

Adrian Morris: I just like to pay attention to how a lot of things look when it comes to all the old bands and the influences of those bands we listened to growing up. I don’t think it’s all me – Cash helps out a lot! Colin brings stuff, Jackson brings stuff, and everyone brings something to the table. I might be the only person who knows how to work Photoshop, but I think we all bring stuff to the table. It all becomes a mash-up of everyone’s ideas. It’s just taking influence from old punk flyers and how everyone used to do stuff back in the day. Cash and I also have a lot of influence from old tattoo artists too. Taking a mix of a little bit of everything and putting it in our stuff is how everything turns out. 

Cash Mathieu: It’s always kind of a family thing. Stuff that we grew up around in our households, like flyers, old shows we’d go to, and my dad’s old t-shirts. He’s a crazy collector of all these old punk shirts and things, so I’m just pulling things from that.

KSDT: Do any of you guys have a background in art?

Cash Mathieu: I didn’t go to school for it or anything, but my mom knew how to paint so I just kind of always grew up around it.

Colin Martin: His dad has drawn some graphics for us too!

Adrian Morris: I did work in graphic design for about six months, and then I got fired. That was my short-lived stint, but my dad is an artist, and I didn’t go to school for it either. He taught me a lot of stuff that I know. I don’t think the way I do things is the correct way to do a lot of things, but it’s just what works. I think that adds a little bit of our own flair.

KSDT: That’s so cool – it’s kind of full circle since you said that everything comes very naturally for you guys earlier. To close, I have a really open question. Is there anything you really want to talk about that I didn’t already ask?

Colin Martin: Maybe our favorite show that we’ve played together. We played with Israel’s Arcade, who’s from Coachella Valley, and he played in East LA. People were going fucking crazy. We only had three songs!

Jackson Fox: Non-stop the whole time.

Colin Martin: We had three songs out at that point, and they were singing songs that weren’t even out. I think it had a lot to do with Israel, since he had a really vapid fanbase and people that were super into him. They probably went to check us out, liked the stuff, showed up to the show prepared, bought all our merch, and sang along to songs that weren’t even officially out! It felt really good to have songs that people know and sing along to, and I think that was the big push to actually get them out. Let’s record them and get them out. Motivation-wise, that show at The Paramount was one of my favorites.

Cash Mathieu: Tiki Bar, Orange County.

Adrian Morris: I liked our show at The Wayfarer too.

Cash Mathieu: When you tackled that dude that was crazy!

Adrian Morris: I had a lit candle on my amp, and he tackled the dude into my amp and knocked it over – I got candle wax all over me. Some girl broke her ankle too!

Colin Martin: Actually, this guy got a fucking mannequin thrown off the stage at him and split his head! I still owe him a double-X tee.

Jackson Fox: Big Kev, we got you!

Adrian Morris: Every show is the best show.

Colin Martin: They get better and better!

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

share this