|Lifeline artwork by Pete McDonnell|
"Who are these guys?" I asked myself. Not just once or twice, but three times over the course of a two-year period from 1987-89.
First, they were called Frontline. An energetic, punk-metal outfit from San Jose, Calif., opening for Corrosion of Conformity at the Farm in San Francisco.
Then, as Lifeline (they had to change their name because another Frontline claimed rights to the moniker), I saw them open for Stiff Little Fingers and the Ramones at the Variety Arts Center and Roxy, respectively, in Los Angeles.
Then came the topper.
One afternoon, as I walked into the San Jose law office I was messengering for, there sat new courier Joe Sib -- Lifeline's singer.
"It's him," I said to myself. He looked up at me, commended me for wearing an SSD T-shirt and asked, "What's up?"
I told Sib I had seen his band open again and again for some of my favorite groups, and he quipped, "Does that bum you out?" I replied: "Not at all," since I dug their tunes.
Thus began a several-year friendship between the band and I. We hung out, I roadied for them a few times and wrote the following story for their press pack.
|From left to right, Bill Fraenza, Joe Sib, Dave Conrad and Kevin Morrissey. (Photo by Paulette Denis-Rees)|
For some bands, playing music is a hobby. Simply an excuse to waste away the grueling hours faced each day. For San Jose's Lifeline, being in a band is a way of life.
"The band is our lifeline," says sharp-tongued singer Joe Sib. "Without this, we wouldn't be happy."
Formed in 1984 under the moniker Frontline, the band has come a long way and are finally starting to make some noise.
The name change was crucial in establishing its current musical standing. While Frontline, the band jarred Bay Area audiences with an energetic punk-rock attack. The band has since cleaned up and tightened its sound into a pounding, and often melodic, hardcore-rock-n'-roll style, reminiscent of early Clash and DOA.
"We grew from Frontline to Lifeline," says Sib. "But in my eyes, we've just begun."
Also consisting of guitarist Bill Fraenza, bassist Kevin Morrissey and drummer Dave Conrad, Lifeline is intent at taking its music as far as possible.
"The four of us have always known that this is what we want to do," says Sib. "No one in this band would ever quit."
Quite a strong statement from someone deeply caught up in the ever-changing world that is the music business. However, one member of Lifeline gives ample evidence as to why his involvement with the band is permanent.
"Playing live is everything," says the soft-spoken Morrissey.
Imagine this: A stocky lad, arms flailing, hair flying -- set behind his drum kit. A virtuoso guitarist and bassist flanking stage right and left. A manic frontman jumping every which way, while giving his vocal chords a serious workout. And lastly, most important, the crowd with fists raised -- shouting out lyrics as if they personally wrote them.
This is Lifeline in its most comfortable and meaningful setting.
And whether the band is rocking to thousands (as shown in its opening slots for the Ramones, Stiff Little Fingers, Danzig and Jane's Addiction) or just a few friends, one can bet on having their ear drums assaulted to the hilt each time.
"'That Feeling Inside' is my song to the crowd," says Sib. "It's like giving back something -- basically, we'll get you off for the money you paid to see us."
That process of returning the favor is often reversed at Lifeline shows, especially in San Jose.
The crowd can usually be seen thrashing about and piling onto the stage as soon as Fraenza lets that first chord wail.
"Playing in San Jose is my nightmare," says Sib, while shaking his head. "I get really nervous -- but when we start, and the crowd's into it, it's great."
"Or even if they're just smiling," adds Morrissey.
While the live atmosphere is necessary to Lifeline's existence, things behind the scenes are just as vital. The way songs are generated is especially unique.
"If a song isn't written or completed in one night, it's aced," says Fraenza.
Sib further states that if the feeling isn't in the song when first played, it most likely won't be a mainstay in the Lifeline repertoire.
That sense of spontaneity is also evident when the singer is faced with writing lyrics.
"I don't force it," says Sib. "I wait for an idea to hit -- something has to happen to me."
Some of the most important songs on Lifeline's new releases are "Nothing to Lose," "Words to Live By," "Forgotten Friend" and "My Secret."
Sib went into detail on the first two:
"'Nothing to Lose' is about the band. It's my story of playing music. We've got nothing to lose when we go out and play a show. I like what I'm doing, and there's a couple that like it -- these are my friends or just people there. So let's go balls out."
"'Words to Live By' is what I feel about certain things. Why I do certain things. Sometimes, I get bummed about things I did, but it's done. I've listened to so many bands, writers and laws. I've learned to live for now."
Although Sib is outspoken on Lifeline's lyrical and philosophical stance, the rest of the band have a great amount of input, also.
"We're trying to get the music that we like out there," says Conrad. "Instead of always having to compromise and listen to stuff we don't like."
However, the main thing for Lifeline is to get out on the road and play to some people. But it knows from experience that touring in a crowded van with barely enough gas money isn't always the best of times. Despite this, the boys manage to get by.
"Our motto is, 'When it's shitty -- we'll still have a good time at it,'" says Sib.
Definitely words to live by.
... CHECK OUT THIS FRONTLINE VIDEO FROM 1988: