An Interview With Brian Barbara of Deviates

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All images courtesy of Brian Barbara

There’s a general consensus on what it means to be “punk” but it still comes down to the individual to define what it is and then another thing to actually live it.

For me, the genre is hit or miss, and my old high school had the few “punk” kids with the patched-up vests, skinny jeans, and spikey mohawks. Although I didn’t look the part, I was still “punk” at heart.

While I never have attended a Vans Warped Tour I still enjoyed the bands that would play them, and definitely regret not going, but, I have recently gotten to see the legendary Punk outfit, Descendents, and thoroughly enjoyed it!

Today we have Brian Barbara of the 90s Punk band, Deviates, who has hit the ground running with a new album and some tour dates after a 20-year hiatus. We talk about Punk music in general, what it was like in the mid-90s to the 2000s in terms of getting their music out to the public pre-internet.

Deviates has a story to tell that’s 20 years in the making, and they come out swinging with “The Liar” music video so be sure to give that a listen, stream, or buy their new album Holding Out. So, let’s hear it from the man himself!

Anthony:
Brian, thanks a lot for doing this interview with us today, it’s always a pleasure to get to talk to Punk Rock bands! How have you been holding up on this roller coaster of the past couple of years?

Brian:
Thanks for making time for this; I’m glad to connect. Things have been crazy in the world, but the band has been doing great. I committed early on to make every effort to find the positive amid all the changes and challenges. It served me and my family really well. In fact, without that attitude, Deviates wouldn’t have made it into the studio and these songs wouldn’t get released. Additionally, I don’t have cable and don’t consume the media machine’s noise. I don’t live with my head in the sand, but I make sure to manage the amount of garbage I let in; that helps.

Anthony:
Before we get started, can you tell us a bit about Deviates, who you are, who plays what, where you’re from, etc.?

Brian:
We’re from the South Bay of Los Angeles. Charley and Donald play guitar. Lloyd plays bass and Daniel is our drummer. I sing for the band. We first came together in 1994, when we were teenagers. I still live just a few houses away from the garage where we wrote our first records. 

Anthony:
Punk is a genre I’ve been learning to love over these last few years, and I really enjoy the classic bands of your era. You’ve been playing for well over 20 years, what got you started with punk, and what led up to the creation of Deviates? 

Brian:
A lot of bands have come out of this area and many of the Punk bands we all love find their roots right here. Black Flag, Descendents, Circle Jerks, Pennywise, and a ton of other great bands all came out of the South Bay and their music was the soundtrack of our youth. Whether it was skating, surfing, or a fondness for rebellion, you were certain to be introduced to the music that these streets had spawned. I really didn’t listen to any Punk Rock until I was 14, but the first time I heard Suffer I was forever changed. Finding a voice for my angst and a community of like-minded kids set the stage for a group of friends to grab some instruments and give it a go. We were 16 when we started. With no plans and no expectations, we started Deviates. 

Anthony:
Who are some of your inspirations and influences? I can hear some Billy Talent, Pennywise, and maybe some Offspring.

Brian:
Our original intent was to play fast and loud. We all liked different bands and often disagreed on what was good. Charley and I liked the old school, Hardcore sound and the other guys liked all the new, melodic music of the mid-90s. That seemed to serve us well and prevented us from sounding exactly like what we were listening to. Deviates doesn’t really sound like anything I listened to then, or now.

All images courtesy of Brian Barbara

Anthony:
What was it like trying to break out into the Punk scene during seemingly one of the bigger eras of punk as it was simultaneously giving way to Pop-Punk?

Brian:
I wouldn’t have been able to answer this with any real clarity before, but looking back…at that time, location mattered. The fact that we were from a historic Punk Rock neighborhood gave us access and visibility to the bands that had come before us and allowed us to get in front of a larger Punk Rock crowd. Fletcher from Pennywise took interest in the band and produced our first record. He helped get us on the Warped Tour and made the introductions to Epitaph. Without Fletcher and Pennywise, we wouldn’t have had the opportunities we did. 

Anthony:
I know this can seem like a cheap question, but, what does Punk mean to you? While Punk music seems to have a clear definition of “anti-establishment” or “whatever I want it to be,” the definition can be different from person to person.

Brian:
That is a minefield and any attempt to define it will be met with anger and division; the tone of the day. You’ll very rarely hear anyone that has affection for the term describing it in a way that excludes their personal expression or experience. No surprise there, right? What is Punk to me? I guarantee it would be different for each band member. To me, Punk is the attitude, the character that wears more than a sound or style. To use an analogy…Punk is the tree and we’re all just seeing the shadow that is cast from different perspectives. That sounds super hippie…and I’m not. Words matter immensely, but I’ve met people that have never heard of the Sex Pistols, Ramones, or Black Flag that are more Punk than a lot of the “Punk” bands hopping on stages today. It is not what you do…it is who you are…and…it’s a gross fallacy to believe that being a Punk when you were 18 automatically means you’re still Punk at 55, simply by playing the same songs. By most of my own definitions, it sounds like I’m not Punk. [Laughs].

Anthony:
So, now onto your new music, you’ve just released Holding Out 20 years after the release of Time Is The Distance, and sounds like you guys didn’t miss a beat during that hiatus. Did life just get a hold of you guys or was Deviates still somewhat present in your lives during the time?

Brian:
Thanks for the comments. We wanted to come back with the same intensity that we left with. Deviates is the only band I’ve ever been in. While life was happening, I never stopped writing music and so whatever came out had its roots in Deviates. Releasing this music had to happen. I didn’t expect it to take so long, but this first batch of songs was a great way to get going again. 

All images courtesy of Brian Barbara

Anthony:
What made 2021 the time to come back?

Brian:
Honestly, it should have been sooner, but we had some challenges with some of the guys not being able to do it. When we had that straightened out, the issues with COVID got in the way. We wanted to get it out ASAP and 2021 is where we landed. 

Anthony:
What does Holding Out mean to you? What kind of story does it tell?

Brian:
“Holding Out,” the title track, addresses the tension between what you want when it’s so close, but you can’t have it…good or bad, real or perceived. Holding Out, the record, connects the dots between where the band was and where we are going. The imagery and the delivery of the music pay homage to our past and looks toward the future for better days.

Anthony:
Along with this new release, you’re also doing a tour on the west coast with Pennywise and Dead Kennedys. How does it feel to not only be getting the new music out but also getting back on stage with some huge names in Punk?

Brian:
We’re stoked to have the opportunity to get back in front of a crowd and honored to join some of the bands that have meant so much to us, both as fans and friends. I’ve already spoken about the important position that Pennywise has played in our story and we’re excited to get this opportunity. Strung Out and theLINE are bands that we admire and have the privilege of calling friends, so it’s somewhat of a reunion run with them. Slaughterhouse is a local band that we’re fans of and excited to share a stage with. Urethane is composed of some great players and contributors to the scene. Both Urethane and Slaughterhouse have new records out and they’re full of great songs. Go check them out!

Anthony:
What have been some of your favorite places to perform and cities you got to see while touring? You’re ending this tour where your last one left off, at The Troubadour and I’m sure you’re excited to get back there!

Brian:
We never went anywhere growing up. We didn’t have the means to see the world or even the neighboring states, so when the band had the opportunity to get out and play shows in different cities it was a completely new experience on several different fronts. Everywhere we went was new and exciting. While there are regional nuances and geographical differences, our experience with the crowds at the shows has always been overwhelmingly positive. The Troubadour is a historic venue and will always have a place in our story. 

All images courtesy of Brian Barbara

Anthony:
One of my favorite questions to ask is, what equipment do you work with? Does it differ from what you play live with vs what you record with? I love learning about all the different gear people use!

Brian:
I’m the worst to answer this question because I don’t play an instrument in the band. I can confirm that the guys all have their favorite tools of the trade, but they also have a treasure trove of goodies to pull from to meet the needs of the situation, whether that’s a live or studio setting…they love what they do and they do it well. Not the most detailed answer and certainly won’t get the gear heads excited, but…that’s all I’ve got. 

Anthony:
Here’s another one we ask everyone, do you collect any music yourself? Vinyl, CDs, tapes, cassettes, etc…or are you all digital?

Brian:
I don’t collect anything. I never have. I don’t even have copies of our CDs or any Deviates memorabilia. I have a limited amount of vinyl and some old cassettes, but I primarily listen to music digitally now. I listen to less music than anyone I know, but all types of music when I do. That being said, I’m a fan of music and would rather support bands by purchasing their music and merch or going to see them live, rather than simply streaming it. 

Anthony:
Having been in the music scene since the 90s, how do you feel the scene has changed with the advent of Limewire/Napster and whatnot up to Spotify, and the many other streaming platforms? Would you say it’s harder to get your music heard in the middle of a sea with countless other artists out there? In a way, I feel as if it’s easier to share your music but harder to be found.

Brian:
I think that’s a fair statement. Our new record just came out and I don’t have a ton of personal experience on the topic, but I have heard and seen that it is extremely difficult to be found in the sea of noise out there today for bands that are just starting out. Being a band on an independent Punk Rock label in the 90s didn’t make it any easier. The music required a physical form of interaction that introduced all kinds of logistical and cost challenges. In 1994 how were we going to get kids in Belarus to hear the song we wrote in Southern California? When we started we made a demo cassette tape at a garage studio in Woodland Hills that we found in our local newspaper’s classified ads, made the duplicate copies ourselves on my dual cassette boombox, and then sold them out of our backpacks. We gave them to bands we loved at the shows we’d go to all over L.A. and sold them on consignment at the local independent record shops. It worked out. Today you don’t have that same challenge. Hearing it…that’s one thing, but capturing the attention span to listen to it is completely different. Ultimately, if you’re willing to work hard, you’re going to find your way to a stage or performance platform and have the opportunity to develop a crowd in 1994 or 2021. Don’t quit. Unless you’re not having fun. If you’re not having fun and loving every minute of it…quit now. 

Anthony:
What does the future of Deviates look like now that you’re back on the scene?

Brian:
We’re going to continue to release new music and make every effort to get on a local stage near you. 

Anthony:
Brian, thanks again for doing this with us. Is there anything else you’d like to say or mention that we may have missed or didn’t go over?

Brian:
It has been an honor to get this time with you. I’m looking forward to staying in touch over the months and years to come. To your readers…go check out our new album and shoot us a note. Thanks! 

All images courtesy of Brian Barbara

Interested in learning more about the music of Deviates? Check out the link below:

Dig this? Check out the full archives of A.M. Radio, by Anthony Montalbano, here: https://vinylwritermusic.com/a-m-radio-archives/

About Post Author

Anthony Montalbano

Anthony Montalbano grew up in New York and North Carolina. Anthony is a baker by day and a contributor to the Vinyl Writer cause by night. With a passion for podcasts, Pop Punk, video games, and more, Anthony brings a unique and fresh perspective to the team. Anthony's column is a catch-all for the things he loves most, and he wouldn't have it any other way.
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