Interview: Mike Palm

Mike Palm is the singer, songwriter, and guitarist for Agent Orange, a skate punk band from Orange County which plays a potent combination of punk and surf rock. The band first gained attention for the 1979 recording of the song “Bloodstains”, which was included on DJ Rodney Bingenheimer compilation album Rodney On The Roq. Their brilliant first album, Living In Darkness, came out in 1981 and features punk originals and smokin’ covers of surf rock classics. The band has released several more albums and EP’s over the years.

This interview was done by email, with answers received on 7/17/13. It was for a preview article for the Agent Orange show at SOhO in Santa Barbara on 7/19/13.

Jeff Moehlis: What can we look forward to at your upcoming show in Santa Barbara?

Mike Palm: Well, just like every other time we’ve played there, I think it’s gonna go off! Santa Barbara is such a classic surf/skate town, we feel right at home. It’s been a while since we’ve rolled through, so the time is right. We are going to play some new songs, and every old classic too. Dave [Klein]’s got a brand new translucent Orange PorkPie Drum kit, and Perry [Giordano] and I are now rockin’ the full Orange backline. It’s an Orange Alert!

JM: This show is a benefit for local skateboarding parks. Do you still skate, and why do you think skateboarding and punk rock go together so well?

MP: It’s hard to make time for skating, but we’ve always had skates with us on tour, and we’ve hit some insane parks out on the road. I’ve been skating pools a lot more lately, and we have three new skateparks being built where I live, so I am all hyped about that. On the other hand, Dave just recovered from broken wrist, so that has been rough. It’s a drummers worst nightmare, but I think he plays better now. I’m not kidding! If you want to know why punk rock and skateboarding go so well together, just put the X-Games on your TV, and crank some Mumford and Sons. See how that works out.

JM: What was the good, the bad, and the ugly about the early SoCal punk and hardcore scenes?

MP: The good was that it was all so open minded in the beginning, everyone had a unique look and sound. No two bands sounded alike, but they were all powered by the same punk ideals. Punk rock was dangerous, new, and exciting. The bad is that the trailblazers took all of the abuse, and a lot of poseurs cashed in on it down the road. Punk rock has been tragically diluted for the mainstream, and now the ugly is we have to hear crappy bands like The Offspring every time you turn on the radio.

JM: Someone who unfortunately didn’t make it out alive was Darby Crash. What can you tell me about him?

MP: Not much. He was from L.A. So I didn’t really know him personally. I saw him perform a few times, and he was always a spectacle. I think he had a really unique punk vocal style in a time when everyone was trying to sound like Johnny Rotten, and he was an absolutely brilliant lyricist. G.I. is a masterpiece.

JM: How did the Agent Orange song “Bloodstains” come together?

MP: I wrote it in the upstairs bedroom in my mom’s little condo in Placentia when I was 14. I just wanted to hear Rodney Bingenheimer play us on the radio, so I had to come up with something!

JM: What are some of your memories of recording the first Agent Orange album Living In Darkness?

MP: All bad. One of the biggest mistakes of my career was signing to Poshboy Records, and I knew it at the time. It’s still a huge problem for me. I haven’t seen any royalties from Poshboy in over ten years.

JM: Why the long wait before the band’s next album came out?

MP: It’s a long story, you don’t want to know.

JM: I’ve read that you have a cousin who played in the Surfaris. What did you learn from him about music and the business?

MP: Yes, my cousin Jim Tran was the bass player in the Original Surfaris, but I learned absolutely nothing from him. When they were at their peak, I was just a little kid. I would stay at their house when my parents were out of town, but I don’t remember ever seeing an instrument laying around the house, and I never saw him perform. So close, and yet…

JM: What was it like doing shows with the great Dick Dale?

MP: It was tough at first. When we came along, surf music was all but forgotten. I think Dick felt like we were just some punk kids trying to steal his thunder, but we were the ones who recharged it, and introduced it to a whole new generation. I’m not sure if he appreciates that even now.

JM: What advice would you give to an aspiring musician?

MP: Don’t let anyone rip you off, and don’t forget to have fun.

JM: What are your plans, musical or otherwise, for the near future?

MP: We love touring, and now we have a new booking agent. With the time it took to switch agencies, and Dave’s injury, we are really excited about getting back out on the road. We are doing a couple weeks in Northern California, followed by a full tour of the States, and Canada in Sept/Oct. We are also planning to go back to South America in November.

JM: Do you want to set the record straight on anything about yourself or
Agent Orange?

MP: Yeah, for some reason there are a bunch of people out there trying to call themselves Agent Orange, and it’s really getting annoying. This band was named a long time ago, and has been continually active for over 30 years, so get a sense of musical history, or get a cease and desist from me!

JM: Where are you responding from?

MP: Orange, Ca


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