Freakout! Flashback: Speeding Down Memory Lane with Joel Gion
Updated: Aug 25, 2021
Joel Gion graced the stages at Freakout 7! to read excepts from his memoir, shedding light onto life stories before and after his time with Brian Jonestown Massacre. Over the past year, he's continued to publish his works on a personal Patreon account where fans have access to heaps of exclusive content.
Curious to learn more about his writing process, I was determined to get an interview. After meeting the man behind the words, I can attest that Joel Gion is a genuine, free-thinking individual who doesn't give a fuck about what you or society thinks about him.
About a year ago, I left California to embark on my first solo voyage representing Clear Vision Collective. After meeting Freakout Records co-founder Skyler Locatelli backstage at a Vinyl Williams concert down in LA, I was offered press passes to cover their annual psychedelic rock festival out in Seattle. Still basking in the afterglow of Desert Daze, I was eager to chase the opportunity and continue experiencing the modern world of rock n' roll, so I flew out to Ballard, WA to get a clear view of Freakout 7.
To get a in-depth background of the festival, checkout my previous article where I interview Freakout Records co-founder Guy Keltner.
Being the 7th rendition of their DIY rock n' roll extravaganza, the organizers went all out by gathering a legendary lineup, securing the Mad Alchemist on visuals and expanding it to a four day event. With artists like Elephant Stone, Death Valley Girls, and Frankie & the Witch Fingers, I knew it was going to be another one of those wild weekends that'd be seared into my memory; however, I was hit with a lot of realizations and understandings about my own life/path as a journalist thanks to the community that Freakout fostered.
I landed in Seattle a few hours before the first set on Thursday night, a bit flustered yet buzzing with a sense of awe. I missed my initial flight that morning which caused a current of doubts to wash over me, but the universe must've been smiling upon me because I happened to meet Anderson .Paak while I was waiting for a lay over flight at the SF airport.
Oxnard California's my hometown, so I went up to .Paak to show some appreciation for everything he's done for the city. I also gave him a CVC sticker, which he instantly put onto his phone, and he left me off with some encouraging words after asking me where I was going. This moment acted like a floodlight shining away all the insecurities or unaswerable questions that raced throughout my mind, so I decided to keep embracing the choas.
Once I finally got to the first venue, a comfy dive bar called the Sunset Tavern, I was submerged in a sea of liquid light visuals and the fuzzed out tone of The Shivas. I immediately felt at home.
The next day, my doubts reattempted to finagle my attention. At this time, my idea for Clear Vision Collective was still a bit unpolished. I didn't really know what drove me to the festival other than an opportunity for adventure. Was I just going out here to meet artists to feed my own ego, why would people want to read or listen to the stories I gathered, what am I trying to get out of these interviews or experiences? I knew there was something important I was missing that I couldn't quite visualize. I was pretty confused until I spoke with Joel Gion.
The iconic percussionist of Brain Jonestown, doesn't really need an introduction. If you know him or of him, you know. He's authentically transparent, ready to party, and always down to speak his mind and share some perspective. When I found out he'd be at the festival reading some of his memoir, I was beyond stoked for the chance to chat with a living legend. I can't lie, I was definitely nervous to meet the cat, but his nonchalant nature drew me in. He was more of a character than anyone I'd ever met around my age, unashamed to be who he is.
From the get-go, I wanted CVC interviews to stand out from other media outlets by having a more conversational tone than traditional Q&A articles; this experience solidified my value of the casual conversation. During college, I noticed that the professional boundary between journalists and artists can cause tension or create a less open space for genuine storytelling. While I spoke with Joel Gion, I realized letting go of those professional labels and seeing each other as creatives/artists set the stage for a better interview.
I went into the chat questioning my own abilities, luckily Gion took over most of the talking and shared loads of insights into his life as an artist outside BJM. By the end of the interview, he left me with a nugget of knowledge that changed the way I interviewed artists from then on. According to Gion, "ideas are currency in the world of artists. If you're not bringing an artist an idea, then what the fuck are you doing?" I was shocked yet grateful for the blunt and up front advice.
I'm grateful that I was able to share exchange some ideas with Gion. He truly made me understand my purpose as a journalist. Everyone I interview has their own story and insights to pass along while I have my own vision to bring up new ideas that can spark further conversations.
Right after watching a set at the Salmon Bay Eagle's Club, I had the opportunity to meet up with Joel Gion and drink a beer with him backstage.
Hear's what he had to say:
Q: Could you describe your process of writing? What kind of headspace do you get into while writing about your past? A: Well, I had a bunch of stories I’d been telling over the years and I very much enjoyed telling them. Then at a certain point, I realized I should write this shit down, which is a thing a lot of people experience. Like well fuck, I’m constantly saying the same shit over and over again, what if I just fucking wrote about it, you know. So then, that kind of clicked a box in my brain where I remembered in high school, I like to write and it was one of my more successful endeavors in the systematic man factory. If you will, my report card was like a jazz solo. It was like A, F, C, D, A, you know what I mean. It was all over the place.
If I cared, I cared. If I didn’t care, I didn’t give a flying fuck. Because I’d gotten so deep in music and keeping up with Anton which you know’s not that easy to do, I’d kinda forgotten about my own artistic strongpoints. So there was this weird sort of coming together of a few things. So I remember, right, that I love to write and I’m a huge cinephile. People can say whatever they want about whatever people do, like I play tambourine right, but my interests are the arts. I was from a poor family and they couldn’t afford to send me to a place where people were paid to tell me what I should be interested in and what would benefit me. I found out about all of that stuff on my own, like cinema. From Bergman, to Buenel, to Rossellini, to Wes Anderson, like I love movies more than anything. Despite the fact what I naturally gravitated to was music, my writing is more influenced by cinema. So when I write, I think cinematically. I take my cinematic knowledge and I don’t make movies with it, I make writing with it. Q: Since you consider yourself more of a natural storyteller, did you ever have to go back and ask people to tell you about your past?
A: I wanted to, but I think some people were mad at me for talking about it, so I didn’t have that benefit. Everyone is the hero of their own story, right, you’re the center of attention. So when I take the stance of telling my own story, which is all I can do, in default I become the word and people don’t like that, you know.
Because in their world, they’re the world, ya know what I mean. It’s hard to get people to back you when you’re pushing your version of their deal. It’s hard to do and understandably so, but they can't write so fuck ‘em. Beyond that, it’s an interesting thing the memory muscle. I mean it’s the dumbest thing in the world. If you make yourself do anything repetitively, you get better at it, right. So what I found, the weirdest part about this whole thing, was the more I thought about what the fuck I did and that weird ass fucking world zone, the more I remembered it. More clarity came to me because it was like flexing a muscle. The more I’m forced to describe something, the more I reach into some netherworld that I had no interest in or reason to go into beforehand. It’s weird, it’s almost a trick that I don’t wanna give up because other people could do it. It’s a weird thing, the brain, it’s all in there. All that drugged out, fucked up shit is in there. So I did a lot of drugs, right, but my drug of choice was speed. I feel the only reason I’m able to do this is because I chose an enhancement drug of consciousness. I’m not getting drunk. I’m not doing dope. I’m doing an enhancement, a fuckin’ fine-tunement drug that makes heightened awareness. I don’t recommend doing drugs, but for me at the time it was pretty great. It was awesome, but what I have to say about it is that amphetamines give a better situation for memory attainment than almost any other drug.
Q: Do you think MDMA is similar in that sense? A: MDMA for me, like a lot of people love it and thrive on it and they can really do it and perform well on it, but I’m not one of those people. Like, I’d just be laying on the floor in front of the DJ booth. I was never really that good on ecstasy. I did a ton of it (laughs), but it was never my favorite. It was like the ultimate peer pressure situation where it was like, well everyone’s doing it and we’re at a rave on the beach and the moon’s out, so you know I’m a dork if I didn’t do it. You have to do it in a way which is great because those forced options are important, depending on the situation. But yeah, amphetamines sharpen you up, so I can remember a lot of stuff that I end up writing about. Q: Has your perspective on media shifted at all over the years? Do you think it’s chill that people nowadays have easy access to it? A: Yeah, it’s rad. I mean when BJM was starting out, there were two schools and they were the demo tape and the post office. That’s how you existed if you were to share your whatever. Then came the fuckin’ mafia of the record labels, who are the reason why we’re where we are. Napster came out like, oh how are we gonna fuck this shit up, and they start streaming everything. Well the interesting thing is that Anton put all the Brian Jonestown Massacre music on the Internet in 1996 and that’s a fact. You know what I mean, that’s real. People weren’t even thinking on that level at that time. So every album and every track was just thrown out there for free. It’s interesting to me that he had the wherewithal to get that.
What I find interesting in having said that and establishing my status, is that people generally need some sort of verification. The want to see it in an article, you know it’s not just like, well I’ll put it on the Internet and people will find it and like you. People will love you, but only if someone tells them to love you and that’s a fucking fact brother.