Celebrating 25 Years of Pop Punk and Humping with Chixdiggit
But did chicks ever dig them though?
Image via Sub Pop
KJ Jansen might be a dad in his 40s, but the frontman for Calgary’s Chixdiggit has the kind of eternal youth that most pop-punks would sell their soul for. Whether it’s his youthful complexion or his enthusiasm to keep singing “I Wanna Hump You” at this stage in his life, Jansen seems primed to celebrate another 25 years with his band. This year marks Chixdiggit’s first 25th anniversary. Originally formed without any intention to play a note of music, the members thankfully gave in to curiosity in 1991 when the t-shirts for their fake band became a hit. Spending the first few years building a stockpile of songs, the band were courted and eventually signed by Sub Pop, which already had an impressive lot of Canadian artists in Eric’s Trip, Jale, Hardship Post and Zumpano. Chixdiggit released their debut album, Chixdiggit!, on May 21, 1996, but quickly learned Sub Pop was a bad fit. Not long after they were dropped and found a new, more appropriate home in the pop-punk-minded Honest Don’s, a sister label of Fat Wreck Chords.
Despite being out of print on vinyl basically since its initial pressing, that debut of theirs is regarded in its circles as a stone-cold classic. “It’s hard to believe that it’s only 20 years and that it’s 20 years already,” Jansen says about their debut. “Just considering all of the water under the bridge. But it’s been a good 20 years. We’re still a band and we get to tour and play all of those 20-year-old songs.”
NOISEY: Chixdiggit began before there was actually a band, so you could sell shirts at school. Why tell people that lie?
KJ Jansen: We were all friends in high school and at our school there were a bunch of bands already. They were just kind of dicks about it though. A lot of them were the big dudes on campus because they were in bands. So we wanted to start a band to poke fun of those guys, and that’s kind of how it started. We came up with the name and made t-shirts we sold to our friends. Three of us worked at restaurants, so we had regular customers we sold shirts to as well. And then everyone was like, “Where is this band?” So we felt forced to do a show, which we were gonna do and then quit. But it just kept going after that.
Did any chicks ever dig the music?
I have no idea. That is officially the one-millionth time I have been asked that question.
You named your first cassette, Humped, and then wrote the humping anthem of all humping anthems, “I Wanna Hump You” for the debut album. What’s with you guys and humping?
Well, the girl I was dating at the time worked at this mall that had an Orange Julius slash Dairy Queen we would go to every day for lunch. Humping at the time was like it is now. It’s not a cool word to describe physical contact… or maybe it is now, I don’t know. But there was an old guy who kinda hung out at the same place and he always used the word “hump,” so that’s where it came from.
What do you remember most about recording the album?
We recorded it at Sundae Sound here in town. I remember there was some resistance to that because Sub Pop wanted us to go to some different places in the States. We wanted to do it in Calgary because we were on tour a lot and we just didn’t want to be away from home. The engineer was Dave Alcock, who ended up joining the band shortly after. I just remember it being fun, but we were worried about it being good because it was our first record. But Brent Cooper, who was the guitarist for Huevos Rancheros, produced it and helped us get relaxed. There was lots of drinking in the studio. Also, all of the bed tracks had to be live, so we had to play them properly, which was the most time-consuming thing about it. That was tough for us because we were still learning how to play our instruments.
How do you think the original holds up after 20 years?
I think like any band’s first album, we had five years to work on it. So I think it’s one of our better albums because we had that time to work on it and put our favourite songs on it. But it seems like so long ago, that my view of it has changed.
Image via Flickr
Why hasn’t there been any kind of reissue of the album?
We asked Sub Pop about buying the record back or doing something with it and they just wanted nothing to do with us. It was a weird relationship that we had. We were signed by one guy [Bruce Pavitt], and another guy [Jonathan Poneman] was upset about that, so we were kind of caught in the middle of this weird thing from the beginning. So there were a bunch of relationships that weren’t in very good shape there. I think that’s part of it. And it has been 20 years, so who knows where it’s at right now. I haven’t tried to contact them for a while. I do know that Fat Wreck Chords contacted them about buying the record back but Sub Pop wouldn’t even return those calls. We wanted to do something with those songs because no one could hear them anymore, and they weren’t really selling the records or pushing them. Back then we actually tried to buy a bunch of the records, just to sell on tour and we were told we’d have to pay retail price [laughs]. It was like $9.99 a CD. So we said, “Y’know what? It’s been long enough so why don’t we just re-record the songs and sell those songs.” We kind of rushed it a little, so it didn’t really turn out the way we wanted it to. So that’s why that kind of happened. But I know Fat has reached out in the last few years again and there was no response.
I found a vinyl copy about a year ago and astonishingly it was still sealed.
That came out of my garage, that copy. Yeah, because what happened was the day we had been dropped they through all of our records in the garbage. It was a pretty common practice back then. We were on tour with the Best Kissers In The World at the time, and they were signed to a major label. And so we had gone to L.A. with them, and they had left us to go talk to their rep. But they didn’t have a very good meeting, and when they were leaving they just peeked in the dumpster–which is something a lot of other bands had done–and they found all of these CDs of theirs in the garbage. So they ended up selling them on tour for a dollar because they were just garbage to the record label [laughs].
So this nice person working for Sub Pop at the time saw all of our records in the garbage, took them back in and Fed Ex-ed them to us at Sub Pop’s expense. They went into our drummer Jason Hirsch’s garage and were forgotten about until a few years ago. So we had the rest of the entire pressing sitting in a garage here in Calgary. And it wasn’t a big pressing, but we started selling them on tour a little bit here and there. We still have a few left. So yeah, the record you have was once in Sub Pop’s garbage, and then rescued by a very cool person, Fed Ex-ed to us and then sat in Jason’s garage for 15 years. There you go.
I will give it a sniff once I get off the phone with you.
It might smell like motor oil and I don’t know what Sub Pop’s garbage smells like. You can tell me.
You guys re-recorded the album and released it as Chixdiggit! II in 2007. Is there a version you prefer between the original and the re-recording?
For sure, the original. It was a pretty exciting time. We were signed to Sub Pop, which was a pretty big deal at the time. We had videos on MuchMusic a lot. And Sub Pop put a lot of money behind us. There were a bunch of semi-rock star things going on that were kind of fun. The kind of stuff you didn’t really see much of for a band our size.
Do you think the fact that Sub Pop was signing a bunch of Canadian bands at the time had something to do with it?Most of those bands were from the East Coast, like Eric’s Trip and Jale, and there was a Sub Pop person in Boston who spent a lot of time in the Maritimes. I think that is how those relationships happened. But for us we played a show in Seattle and ended up in a transvestite bar, from what I remember, and we were drinking with some friends. There was this other guy with us who was really quiet, and about a week later he called us and asked us if we wanted to be on Sub Pop. There was some stuff that went on behind the scenes that I found out about later. We had a manager and he got an offer from Fat Mike to put out our first record on Fat Wreck. But he didn’t tell us about it because Sub Pop paid him money up front, I guess a percentage of the signing bonus. Whereas Fat didn’t do that. So our first record very well could have been on Fat. A year after the Sub Pop deal, there was sort of an out clause, and we called Fat and they said they’d put out our next record. And Mike said, “Well, why didn’t you let us do the first one?” And we didn’t even know he wanted to. That was something we didn’t learn until later.
Did you feel like you didn’t fit in with the other bands?
Well, they had the Fastbacks, who we liked, and the Supersuckers, who were a rock and roll band, and Les Thugs, who were a French kinda Ramones-core band. So it’s not like we were way out of that style or anything. But there were all of these other kinds of bands on the label. Like gospel acts and other bands I don’t even know how to describe [laughs]. They just had such a vague roster that I don’t think it was even possible to not fit in. I just think it felt like we weren’t wanted there by some of the people. But then some of the other people were fantastic and I’m still friends with them to this day. It was an interesting time and we learned a lot about the business of being in a band, which is something we didn’t have to learn from Fat because they’re so good with their bands. We never have to go through these shitty situations with them.
Based on the lyrics and assuming they’re personal, your family was your biggest influence on the album—especially your mom.
It’s all joking, but my mom was a very important person in my life and still is to this day. But it was more like I used my mom to say something instead of me saying it. So I was more like I was using my mom as a smokescreen for stuff I was thinking myself.
What did your mom think of the songs?
She thought it was funny. Actually, at the time she was getting a lot of phone calls. Because I lived at home people would track down my number and call asking to speak to my mom.
Image via Flickr
Is “Henry Rollins Is No Fun” a true story?
No. That’s just a made-up story. But we did have a friend who ran the magazine Flipside, and he was friends with Henry, and Henry wrote me a postcard and sent it to me. He handled it all in good humour. I’m a big fan of him and the character. I think that it is his image and he was contributing to it, but he’s a funny guy. Back then he was a little less funny but his sense of humour has definitely come through.
What about “Angriest Young Men”? Did you have a favourite album in your Primus collection?
I have never listened to Primus [laughs]. That was sort of a commentary on the bands that were around back then. There were a lot of angry bands and we were this happy, “I love you” band that pissed off a lot of people who would say, “Fuck you! Why are you so happy?” We were just trying to poke fun at those types of people by naming "Primus." Back then I was pretty mouthy on stage, and there were a lot of times where people wanted to have a go at me after the shows. That was pretty common back then.
Yeah, there were a lot of things about Sub Pop. They’d see these signs saying, “Signed to Sub Pop!” and they’d come down and watch us play and say, “What the fuck is this? This isn’t Sub Pop!” So there were quite a few “getting to know Chixdiggit” moments for people that weren’t really into us. There were a lot of times on the road where people would jump on stage and throw punches at us. It was pretty rough at the beginning. There was a lot of that. Just before we did our first record we were on tour with Pansy Division and there was a lot of that stuff happening. People couldn’t believe the guys in Pansy Division were actually gay, and they tried to pick fights with them. Back then it just seemed like the smaller towns were just crazier. Around 1994 or 1995, we were supposed to play a club in Thunder Bay and they wouldn’t let Pansy Division play because they were gay. So we said, “Well fuck you guys” and packed up and left.
How cooperative were those puppies in the video? Did you ever try using them at any of your shows?
They were pretty co-operative. That was a fun day. Lulu [Gargiulo] from the Fastbacks directed it, and she had a contact who knew all of these different dog breeders. So there were all of these puppies in this pen, but then one of the breeders brought wolf puppies. Like actual, pure wolf puppies, and all of the other dog puppies wouldn’t go near them. They’d crowd over to one side of the pen to get away from the wolf puppies. But the dogs had a lot of fun. The premise of the video was originally based on this story we were told as kids about the evils of rock and roll. So apparently when Ozzy Osbourne had played a set and the crowd wanted to hear more. So he threw all of these puppies into the audience and said he wouldn’t play another song until the puppies came back dead [laughs]. So we wanted to have a video–which didn’t come across because it was too difficult–we were not going to play another song until the puppies were adopted. So it ended up being a hybrid of that.
Tom Bagley’s artwork has always been a part of Chixdiggit. What does he mean to the band?
He’s just Calgary’s renaissance man. Great songwriter with a cool voice; he’s in a cool band, Forbidden Dimension. He’s probably the nicest guy you’ll ever meet. But he’s also one of my favourite artists. He has his own style that people all over the world recognize. When we go on tour we see his stuff all over, and you know it’s his. He’s just this crazy talented guy who’s super humble.
The updated artwork he did for Chixdiggit! II was pretty hilarious.
[Laughs] Yeah, that’s funny. The colostomy bag and the adult diaper. That’s Tom. He’s really funny. It’s those tiny, little things he puts in there that you notice 20 years later. He’s smart that way. We talked about it, and conversations with Tom always get turned on their head. We wanted to make it look like the first one but a little different, and that was his sense of humour coming out.
So the album turns 20 this year, but the band also turns 25. Any plans to celebrate the band’s 25th anniversary?
Yeah, we’re working on some shows. Tyler, our drummer and his wife are having a baby, so we’re trying to work with what they want to do. The beginning of June we’re doing some shows in Alberta for sure, and then later in the year we’ll do some touring. Plus we have a new album coming out. That’s where it’s at. Lots of plans to do stuff this year, we’re just trying to figure out how and when. It’s a lot harder now. When you’re 19 you can just quit your job, hop in a van and go. But now everybody has commitments.
Cam Lindsay is a writer living in Toronto. Follow him here on Twitter.