The Unexpected Reinvention of Pitboss 2000, or How John Tole Stopped Hating and Started Meditating
The former One Life Crew member talks about moving away from the fight against political correctness.
Say what you will about John Tole but he’s been battling PC politics for two decades. Tole (who formerly went by John Lockjaw) was a member of the controversial Cleveland hardcore act One Life Crew in the late 90s and went on to start the Columbus, Ohio-based offshoot Pitboss 2000, an act that was a vehicle for Tole’s politically incorrect brand of comedy set to a backdrop of metal-influenced hardcore riffs and brutal breakdowns. In many ways a direct reaction to acts like Earth Crisis and By The Grace Of God (the latter of which’s singer Duncan Barlow was immortalized in the Piteous song “Duncan’s A Fruit”) the band routinely made fun of crippled people, joked about domestic violence, and put headband-wearing “nerdarios” in our place with a tongue-in-cheek grin.
Tole himself would be the first to agree that while musically tight, albums like 1998’s Everyone’s A Winner—which features a handicapped person winning a gold medal—didn’t age very well regardless of how reactionary it was at the time. But then something unexpected happened. Tole moved to Austin and then the West Coast where he started PC Deathsquad who still rallied against political correctness but traded in straight-edge culture for one that emphasized the importance of partying and stage-diving. He also began to pursue stand-up comedy full-time and became a national touring comic who has appeared on television, Sirius XM Satellite Radio, and has performed at festivals like Fun Fun Fun Fest and the Moontower Comedy Festival. But maybe the most surprising part of all this is that Pitboss 2000’s new album The Cult Of Fuck Yeah doesn’t poke fun at Hillary Clinton or Hare Krishnas.
In fact, the group’s first full-length in eight years sees them upping the production values and the positivity to create an album that doesn’t “punch down” (as Tole a.k.a. Mr. X says in this interview when asked about his past) and instead sees him celebrating life with his longtime bandmates on songs like “Stagedive Off the Roof.” We spoke with Tole while he was in his current home of Los Angeles about how he transcended his hate, the effect of psychedelics and meditation on his transition, and how he looks back on his days in Ohio in the 90s.
Noisey: Lyrically this album seems so much more positive than anything Pitboss did in the past. How did that shift come about?
John Tole: I'm definitely not the same person I was in ’98 when I was making the earlier stuff. I spend most of my day in prayer, meditation, or exercise just to balance keeping the razing lifestyle working at night. I spend all day working on stand-up or music and everything is pretty much going the way it's supposed to be. The positive attitude makes the music and the music makes the positive attitude, so once you start that ball rolling, you're just enjoying what's happening with it. I realize that I've made a lot of moronic decisions in my past and lyrical choices and going back and listening to the old stuff, I get douche chills. [Laughs] This album was really easy to write because the overall idea of The Cult Of Fuck Yeah is that if you lived your life in a way when anything that came, you were like, “Yup, that's what's happening, I accept it, let's go have fun,” then your life would change.
Was there a specific turning point for you when it came to this ideological shift?
It's a mix of hallucinogenic experiences, life philosophy, and faith. All of those things kind of coming together, slowly revealing that change is definitely possible and once you embrace it and really run with it how many other doors open—and from a creative standpoint, it's just been a blast. You can spend your life being mad at everything, but what's the point? There's enough of that going around. We already have a culture that's based on hatred and everyone being different and the world is going to shit so you might as well celebrate the breaths you have left, celebrate the people around you, family is everything.
Your sense of humor was so present on the early Pitboss stuff or OLC’s American Justice, even if it was niche and purposefully offensive. Did your comedy career come out of hardcore?
I think the drive to continue to preform beyond being in music was the impetus for me finally stepping onstage. It's one thing to have a band behind you and talk shit to an audience—it's no different than doing stand-up, I just don't have anyone to wring out if it's not going well. [Laughs] I just looked at it like, I'm already comfortable onstage, it's just really about honing my ability to be a better writer and better performer. But I feel like every step of this process has been able to get me where I'm at now where I'm able to tour doing both music and stand-up. We don't know how much time we have left on this planet and with the time I have left, I want to play as much music as I can and hang and party with my friends as much as possible. If I can do that and have that be my career, I really couldn't ask for more than that.
You were in a band called PC Deathsquad long before this resurgence of political correctness occurred in the comedy world. Is that something you’re still rallying against?
For me, I just don't have those thoughts or ideas in my head anymore; I don't put any negative out so I don't get anything negative back. No one is really complaining about what I'm making lately so I've been fortunate not to get caught up in any social justice warrior/Tumblr stuff, which is a good thing, you know? [Laughs] To me, if you live in a free society and you're outraged by someone's free choice of words, that's your choice to be outraged, but that's kind of where it stops. We're all just humans. We're all doing the same thing, that's just how they're choosing to do it. I’d prefer to party with my friends.
Do you remember practicing in my parents’ basement when I was in high school?
I absolutely remember that. I'm pretty sure I probably had on some ill-fitting Tommy Hilfiger jacket and carpenter shorts. [Laughs]
It's fine. I was probably wearing JNCOs so it’s for the best that we’ve both changed.
If you had told me in ’98 that in 2015, I would be writing a bunch of stuff that sounded like it was written by a hemp choker-wearing hippie, I would have just laughed, you know what I mean? Now I am coming from that perspective and I truly believe it. I think that all art comes from your heart’s center and that's how we're all connected, so now I'm writing music, lyrics, and comedy from that perspective. Even my folks like it. That's pretty funny.
What’s it like looking back at the more offensive elements of Pitboss 2000 now?
In a way, the same people whose buttons we were pushing back then still exist today, I'm just not really interesting in messing with anyone any longer. I think that regardless of if you're writing music or stand-up or anything, we shouldn’t be punching down. If someone finds themselves in a life situation where they do have some physical limitations, we should be doing whatever we can to help them along and not smash on them. [Laughs] In the 90s, it was almost like the PC culture was so big that we were like, “Fuck you, we'll say whatever we want because who is going to say anything?” Now I look at it and think, “Wow, we really do have a responsibility here.”
That seems like a much more validating way to live your life.
If you're straight-edge and you’re accessing a third dimensional reality without any substances and that's how you're able to navigate your life and you're doing in a healthy positive way, good for you. Most of the stuff I was doing in the 90s was hugely ego-driven and when you have these [hallucinogenic] experiences that are so profound, that translates into your waking state. Whether you're just walking on the beach or riding your bike or talking to your friend, that's as magical, so why aren’t you treating it with the same amount of awe and love? Whether I’m stuck in traffic or doing this interview or writing music or doing stand up, it's truly all the same experience.
Jonah Bayer is on Twitter - @mynameisjonah