Southern California gets a lot of credit for being the birthplace of many bands that you know and love such as Black Flag and Bad Religion, but Northern California’s discography, which includes both Green Day and Metallica, isn’t exactly that shabby either. The area may get a little less public affirmation, but hopefully we can help change that.
We had the chance to chat with producer, songwriter and AFI’s prolific bassist Hunter Burgan about the aforementioned two acts and 19 other specific bands from the northern region of the Golden State that helped influence Burgan both personally and musically.
Read below and check out this playlist from Burgan while doing so.
Let’s start this off with a band that you may not have heard of before: Blatz. Burgan says one word effectively and accurately describes Blatz: vulgar. Fucking vulgar. The band had three main vocalists, each wilder and more unbridled than the next. What they lacked in traditional musical training, they made up for in sardonic angst. Burgan describes them as the embodiment of the spirit of punk rebellion. Yet, it somehow didn’t matter as the band influenced countless other bands. While Blatz are admittedly not for everyone, they inspired Burgan and his sister Rebecca to start a band called BLoW HoLE. Many in the Gilman Street scene (and eventually locales outside of that area) followed suit.
Like Blatz, Crimpshrine were quite gritty and unrefined musically but extremely relatable to their listeners. Burgan commented that the band put a stamp of punk realism on otherwise sappy love songs, and each listen made you feel like you’re a punk kid sitting on the curb, nursing a broken heart. Fun fact: In addition to creating the acclaimed zine (remember those?) Cometbus, Crimpshrine’s drummer Aaron Cometbus also played in tens of bands, including Pinhead Gunpowder, which also featured Billie Joe Armstrong and Jason White of Green Day.
Because Dead Kennedys had already broken up when Burgan was 10 years old, by the time he discovered the band, they were already enshrined in a proverbial punk-rock Hall of Fame. While Dead Kennedys were certainly not for parents back in the ’80s, the political nature of the band’s material became a de facto history lesson for kids. Despite the sometimes dated subject matter, their music remains timeless because of its aggressive attitude.
Burgan describes many of the pioneering thrash bands in the Northern California scene as intense and thoroughly enjoys the energy of Death Angel. The cathartic nature of skateboarding and the relentless motion of a Death Angel song forged a unique and powerful parallel combination for many teenagers around the world searching for a new outlet. Also, the serious disposition of acts in this genre had a much different vibe than the punk and hardcore bands of this era, making for a more diverse aggressive music community.
Fun fact: Deftones were one of the first punk shows that Burgan went to back in the early ’90s. Things most certainly changed as Deftones abandoned their rap-rock roots to create extremely loud and heavy music that was slower and groovier than most of their musical contemporaries. With an extremely loyal fight-to-the-death fanbase like few other acts, Deftones will likely keep going their own dynamic way for at least another 33 years.
Though not originally Northern California natives (the band moved to Oakland from Arkansas), the political hardcore-punk act known as Econochrist found a way to make their mark on the Bay in a short amount of time. Bassist Mike Scott, formerly of Christ On Parade, was and still is a huge bass influence for Burgan. It’s difficult to combine melody and heaviness in such a unique fashion, but Econochrist defied the norm for their short existence.
One of the more resilient and noteworthy bands in the thrash scene, Exodus formed in the late ’70s with high school friends, including eventual Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett. Although Hammett isn’t a part of the lineup anymore, the band proved their tenacity by recently announcing that they’re releasing their eleventh studio album this summer. Basically, they’ve officially been around for four decades and are going on their fifth. Burgan credits the act as being one of the first metal bands that he ever heard.
Faith No More
Question: How fucking cool is this band? Answer: Very. Burgan was impressed that the band successfully joined their many individual influences in such an uncompromising and grandiose way. We agree. Faith No More managed to dip their toes in many diverse genres of music and melded together classic material in such a fluid fashion. Also, their overall sense of humor and unique take on covering classic songs are both worth mentioning.
On Filth’s split LP with Blatz, the band would go on to define the crustcore sound with their raw intensity. On AFI’s 1997 LP, Shut Your Mouth And Open Your Eyes, they paid reverence to Filth and covered their song “Today’s Lesson.” To this day, Burgan still listens to Filth while he runs and finds that the music pushes him to keep going as he starts to get tired. It’s the perfect soundtrack of rage for a teenager, fans of aggressive music and runners alike.
What more can anyone say about Green Day? Burgan truly admires how the band have continued to grow and mature throughout their 13-album career while totally changing the space of the scene and the eventual pop music world. AFI eventually had the chance to tour with Green Day during their 21st Century Breakdown era, and Burgan maintains that the power trio were still affable, easygoing and kind, millions of album sales later.
Speaking of rhetorical questions, what more could be said about this band? Burgan maintains that Jawbreaker’s basslines helped shape him as a bassist and inspired his use of bass chords in songs. Thank you, Chris Bauermeister. In addition, the other instrumentation deserves accolades, as Burgan vividly remembers both desk drumming and air guitar-ing with a friend to “Chesterfield King” in his high school history class despite the risk of getting detention. Thank you, Blake Schwarzenbach and Adam Pfahler as well. Welcome back.
Few bands in existence can even touch a sliver of Metallica’s extensive legacy. Burgan maintains that Metallica laid down the law for what metal music could be and effectively changed the scope of the genre for every subsequent act to forever be compared in some way to the everlasting band. It’s wild to think that the greatest thrash act of all time managed to become as mainstream as they were (and still are) and create a global phenomenon.
Before vocalist Mike Patton joined Faith No More, he sang for a demented carnival-esque band called Mr. Bungle. Like FNM, Mr. Bungle also excelled at combining many musical styles together, but often they did such in a single epic song. Burgan says in his teenage years, he saw Mr. Bungle perform and that some of their live antics were among the wildest ones that he’s ever seen—then, now and forever. Given the scope of acts on this list, that says a lot. And they’re back. Check out the latest Mr. Bungle LP from 2020 when you get a chance.
Burgan’s side project the Frisk (featuring Jesse Luscious of the aforementioned Blatz) practiced in Oakland next to the legendary Neurosis. They would often make the mistake of practicing at the same time as the heavy band. Bad idea, guys. In a scene with many sillier and lighter bands, Neurosis covered the opposite end of the spectrum, creating a distinctly dark and heavy sound. The band were and are unrivaled, and Burgan remarked that despite trying, nothing that he’s ever recorded even approaches Neurosis’ level of darkness.
After Operation Ivy released their classic LP, Energy, and subsequently broke up shortly after, it seemed like hundreds of new bands tried to write similar short bursts of punk and ska fusion. However, few had that same lightning-in-a-bottle effect that Op Ivy seemed to have a monopoly on. Burgan still listens to the band frequently and often references their music when communicating musical ideas to artists that he produces for. This was also Burgan’s first exposure to Matt Freeman’s basslines, which we will shout out in greater detail later.
Despite Les Claypool’s prodigious bass-playing abilities, more credence needs to be given to underrated Primus guitarist Larry LaLonde. Burgan once read an interview in which LaLonde claimed his approach to new songs was to figure out all of the “correct” musical notes and then intentionally play the “wrong” ones. Burgan often thinks about this unconventional method when composing music. Fun punk-rock fact: LaLonde also played in an early Lookout! Records hardcore band called Corrupted Morals.
Like we touched on earlier, Freeman’s basslines are in their own universe of precision and quality. In an atypical fashion, Rancid songs often feature the bass as the lead instrument. Burgan credits Freeman’s playing as one of his biggest influences and claims that he’s heard Freeman play basslines that are unplayable by any other human. If you had a chance to catch AFI on tour with Rancid in 2000, you’re one of the lucky ones.
Born out of the ashes of the legendary East Bay punk band Isocracy, the legacy that Samiam have built since forming in the late ’80s is unquestionable. The band’s energy and melody inspired many, many local acts, including some of Burgan’s high school bands. He remembers spending hours and hours in garages and practice spaces playing Samiam songs with his friends. Isn’t that what music is about? We can’t wait to hear the new upcoming album.
Sly & The Family Stone
This one is certainly an outlier, but while growing up, Burgan listened to a lot of records from his dad’s collection. When Burgan first saw Sly & The Family Stone’s 1973 LP, Fresh, all bets were off, and its album cover featuring Sly Stone doing a flying kick called to him. The song had ridiculously funky basslines, and often Stone would record many of the instruments on their albums by himself. If some of their ’70s material sounds like Stone was recording in his bedroom, it’s because he likely was. This combination of sounds, Stone’s socio-political messages and the DIY musical attitude was punk as fuck.
Speaking about home recordings, Burgan loves the sound that Tom Waits’ 1993 album, The Black Rider, captures, as if it was created with junk hanging around the house. Despite being around Burgan’s current age at the time, Waits endearingly echoes a weathered old man recording his tales in some shack somewhere using things he found lying around. What a unique, creepy album it was, and just a small part of Waits’ unique, creepy catalog. FYI: “Flash Pan Hunter” from The Black Rider spoke to Burgan initially because the title contained his name.
The Yah Mos
Happily, we started and will end this piece with bands that deserve more fame. The Yah Mos created energetic and aggressive music without relying on the heavy distortion like many of Burgan’s favorite hardcore and punk acts. The tempos were super fast, and Burgan likens them to the Jam on speed. He said that their shows were experiences unto themselves, with every band member exploding onstage (and sometimes off the stage into the audience). Members would go on to form the dance-punk group !!!.