Drinking The Kool-Aid With The Alex Jonestown Massacre

by | Jul 8, 2019 | MUSIC

The amusing antics of this conspiracy-loving punk band can’t hide the politically-informed rage that inspires them.

It’ll take a fine-tooth comb and a couple hours for even the most well versed political/punk/literary trivia player to catch the immense amount of references in The Alex Jonestown Massacre’s songs. Some are more obvious, like the direct reference to Germs album art on the cover of their EP What We Do Is Stupid. Others take a bit more digging, like their reference to Crass’s album Yes Sir, I Will on their song “No Sir, I Won’t.” And some are almost impossible to pick up on without a degree in political science.

“There are many that no one picks up on, but I’m aware of them, and every time I hear it I get really excited about it,” said bassist/vocalist Tommy Jones. “Practically no one out there is gonna get that there’s one lyric from a Pulp song, or a song from The Screaming Sneakers.” 

“People who are more tapped into activist circles probably catch more of the political references, like ‘pajama boys’ and ‘dog whistle,’” added guitarist/vocalist Patty Jones.

In addition to Tommy and Patty, the Alex Jonestown Massacre is rounded out by Kenny Jones on guitar and Mikey Jones on drums. And, yes, all this is yet another reference, this time to The Ramones and their use of the same last name despite being no relation to one another. And this isn’t the only Ramones reference you’ll encounter when you listen to the Alex Jonestown Massacre — just listen to their song “Hayleigh is a Health Goth” and you’ll see the obvious resemblance to Ramones classics like “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker,” “Suzy Is A Headbanger,” and more.

Kenny and Tommy were the first to meet back in their school days and played music most of their lives, though not together at this point. Later on, Patty met both Kenny and Mikey while working Richmond’s stand-up comedy circuit. During that time, he and Kenny hosted a podcast called Welcome to Welcome to Paradise, which was about Green Day and other music they were passionate about. Both Tommy and Mikey were guests at one time or another. 

“We wasted a lot of time talking about music instead of playing it,” said Patty.

It was during this podcast, however, that the idea for The Alex Jonestown Massacre was born. According to Kenny, there is a moment in one of the podcast recordings where you can actually hear Patty come up with the band’s name. Like many of their song and album titles, the band’s name was conceptualized as a pun — which they insist they came up with before news outlets began using the phrase as a mocking reference to Alex Jones, the lizard-obsessed Infowars host himself.

“The Jonestown Massacre drank the Kool-aid,” said Kenny, referring to the 1978 mass suicide of Jim Jones’s People’s Temple cult by drinking cyanide-laced Kool-aid. “We live in this era of ‘fake news.’ We all experience our own version of the Alex Jonestown Massacre, through Fox News or however it’s getting out.”

“Are you saying we live in a society?” Patty joked in response.

Photo by Bella Tattersall

The name isn’t just a funny joke, though; it has gotten the band more notoriety than they ever expected, even showing up on The AV Club’s 2018 “Year In Band Names.” However, having this slightly controversial name has caused some concerns. As sites ban Alex Jones, the guys fear that they might get swept up into the ban and lose their own opportunities for social media outreach. 

“When Youtube banned Alex Jones, anyone searching for his videos ended up finding our videos. Same with Facebook,” said Tommy. “That’s something we’re very proud of — feeding off the misfortune of a terrible human being.”

“We’re scared that at some point we’ll get a cease and desist on our name, but he can’t afford to sue a band from Richmond right now with everyone suing him,” said Patty.

“We’re really hoping for a lawsuit from Alex Jones or the Brian Jonestown Massacre people,” said Tommy.

Having this name has gotten them some really interesting messages on social media as well — including a long rap about the rapture, and confused folks attempting to reach the real Alex Jones. And like the Infowars host, conspiracy theories are an eternal love affair for the band. 

“Anything from X-Files is 100% true. I wholeheartedly believe that show was made up by the government just to fuck with people,” said Bella, Patty’s fiancée and The Alex Jonestown Massacre’s manager. “Like, ‘Hahaha… this all really happened.’”

Photo by Bella Tattersall

They all joke about conspiracies like the flat Earth, Paul McCartney’s possible death, and WWE wrestler Chris Benoit’s innocence. Patty is currently focused on the donut-earth, hollow-moon theory within the flat Earth conspiracy. 

“I love the conspiracy theories around Chris Benoit, the wrestler who killed his family with a Bowflex,” said Patty. “The rumor, or the truth rather, is that he was some kind of MK Ultra super-soldier clone that got activated. I mean, have you seen that man wrestle?”

“What it comes down to is that conspiracy theories are real dumb, and real fun to laugh at,” said Tommy.

After all the puns and conspiracies have been tossed around, the guys get down to business and begin explaining the vast amount of puzzle pieces that hold their songs together. For a typical composition, Tommy and Patty record acoustic versions of new ideas, which get sent to Kenny and Mikey for them to go crazy on. 

“Mikey is a whiz kid, and he’ll come in with a drum part already written,” said Patty. “Then Kenny just shows up and shreds over everything.”

Photo by Doug Glass

They draw influence from more bands, books, and political commentaries than you could ever fathom to create their masterpieces. The most important influences include The Clash, Weird Al, Chumbawamba, The Ramones, Husker Du, and, oddly enough, Spanish Civil War songs. 

“Two days ago I came home and he had been listening to Spanish Civil War songs,” said Bella of Patty’s writing motivation. “He said, ‘Last time I listened to Spanish Civil War songs I wrote the best songs of my life, so watch out!’”

The guys’ most recent creation is up on all their platforms, including Bandcamp and Spotify. It’s an EP titled Candy Apple Island in simultaneous reference to an old episode of The Simpsons and the Husker Du album Candy Apple Grey. This release features two songs that with deep roots in music the guys grew up on. “No Cemeteries” strongly recalls mid-period Husker Du, while the aforementioned “Hayleigh Is A Health Goth” is their most overt musical tribute to the Ramones.

They will also be doing an Anti-Flag tribute set at the upcoming Punks for Presents Christmas In July show on July 13 at Hardywood, an homage to their biggest influences in life — political punk rock.

“It’s what radicalized me and made me want to care about politics. When we started this band, we joked about starting this Bush-era punk band to combat the Trump administration,” said Tommy. “Our first practice was Inauguration night.”

“That can’t be right,” replied Patty. “I drank a lot of cough syrup on Inauguration Day and watched Cabaret. I decided, if I was gonna have to watch Fascists take over, there were going to be songs and dancing.”

To keep up The Alex Jonestown Massacre’s upcoming shows and recent releases the best places to look are the band’s Bandcamp and Facebook pages, which are well updated on shows and music both planned and surprising. Grab your magnifying glass and get ready for some NSA-level sleuthing as you enjoy the punk rock puzzles that are The Alex Jonestown Massacre’s headbanging hits.

Top Photo by Doug Glass

Music Sponsored By Graduate Richmond

Alicen Hackney

Alicen Hackney

Alicen Hackney is a music journalism student at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. Her passion is sharing and exploring music and it's cultural ties, and she is always looking for new artists and styles.

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