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Maximum Stokage: The Warped Tour was built on the Faction's backbreaking work.

Slaves to the Grind

There's plenty of satis-Faction when San Jose skate-rock legends reunite

By Paul Wotel

IN THE EARLY '80s, skateboarders' reputations as artistic misfits and misunderstood troublemakers were growing. So was another cultural phenomenon: punk rock. The new sound meshed perfectly with the attitude of skateboarding. To both, the rules were simple: "There are no rules."

The faster and louder you skated or played, the better. It was a match made not in heaven but in the places where suburban kids who sucked at football and baseball congregated. You didn't just skate; you didn't just listen to punk. Skating and punk became your outlook. Your opinion. Your big middle finger to the status quo. It was your life.

The connection between punk rock and skateboarding is undeniable--a symbiotic relationship. You really can't have one without the other. Maybe it's the omnipresent boom box blaring from the deck of the half-pipe during the backyard ramp jam. Or over the PA at the skatepark. Or from the car stereo while a curb session is in full grind.

San Jose has a long and rich skateboard history, churning out some of the world's best pros. Steve Caballero was one of the top pros who put the city on the map in the early '80s, and he still rips today. Jeff Kendall, Mike Prosenko, John Fabriquer, Corey O'Brien (who started the San Jose-based Sonic Skateboards with brother Gavin) and countless other old-schoolers made the city proud with their talent on a skateboard.

And from that pool of artistic aggression surfaced the band that best represents the punk-skateboarding connection known as skate rock: the Faction. They were skateboarders, and they made music for skateboarding.

Though the lyrics of only two songs in their entire discography dealt explicitly with skating, the Faction was still the pioneering force in this punk rock offshoot. After all, they composed the quintessential skate-rock song, "Skate and Destroy."

The band was literally thrown together during breaks at the daily ramp jams in Caballero's San Jose backyard in 1982, and no one had a clue how far the Faction was going to go--or that two decades later, how skateboarding and punk rock would leap from subculture to pop culture.

In their brief existence, from 1982 to 1985, Caballero (bass, then later guitar), Gavin O'Brien (vocals), Ray Stevens (bass), Russ Wright (guitar) and Keith Rendon (drums)--along with former members Adam "Bomb" Segal (guitar) and Craig Bosch (drums)--toured the United States twice, recorded five records and played shows with fellow skate-rock legends JFA, Fear, Los Olvidados and Drunk Injuns (Stevens also played bass for the latter two).

After just three years, personalities began clashing over songwriting, and the fun was gone. So the Faction just broke up. "The band had run its course with Adam 'Bomb' Segal on guitar, and the direction he was trying to lead the band," Stevens says.

"We were all good friends," O'Brien adds, "but it wasn't fun anymore. It was no different from being at the end of a relationship that had run out of passion and understanding." In 1989, the band reunited for two sold-out shows at the Cactus Club (with local pro skater Jeff Kendall filling Segal's vacancy).

But a full-fledged reunion was still far off. O'Brien's life was too hectic, and he couldn't devote the time. For the next 10 years, Caballero and Stevens badgered O'Brien to get the group back together. When fellow San Jose punkers Los Olvidados reunited at the Rockin' Rob Dapello tribute show in March 2001, Los O's guitarist, Mike Fox, laid down the gauntlet to O'Brien, challenging him to get the Faction back together. Fox had done it; now it was O'Brien's turn. And he finally caved in.

"[Fox] ground me down for three days until I called Stevie and Ray," O'Brien recalls. "I told them I'd be willing to do it as long as there were no metal riffs in the band."

The band members were surprised to find themselves playing music together again. But the prophetic message on the back of the Epitaph (IM Records) album--the Faction's last release--read, "We'll be back." And indeed they are.

On July 14, 2001, the quintet stepped onto the stage together for the first time in 12 years. It was a sold-out reunion show at the Usual that looked like a who's who of San Jose skateboard and punk-rock lineage. The band killed it. That show was supposed to be just that--one show--but the Faction was having too much fun playing together again.

As a testament to its rekindled musical fire, the band is recording a new set of songs, just finishing the first session with longtime friend Randy Burk at his Stout Studios in Oakland. So far, the Faction has completed three new songs and one cover. And the guys couldn't be more stoked. While the old songs were strong, production quality (for virtually every early-'80s punk band) left a lot to be desired, the new tunes are full-on wall-of-guitar punk rock.

O'Brien says "Cut It Out" is about "waking up out of your reality distortion field and accepting life for what it is." "The Whistler" is inspired by an old joke his friends use to do on the phone. "Who the Hell Do You Think You Are?" is a cover song from the mockumentary Hardcore Logo, "probably the best rock & roll movie of all time," in O'Brien's opinion. The fourth song is as yet untitled.

In mid-August, the Faction traveled to Seattle to play the Hey Punk! Festival at the Experience Music Project Museum and, more importantly, celebrate their inclusion in the EMP's permanent section centered on something the Faction helped create: skate rock. Along with pictures and fliers, there's a video loop on a hanging television showing the Faction playing at CBGB's in New York on its 1985 U.S. tour.

"It really put things into perspective for me," O'Brien says. "Because I never felt the Faction was anything special. But the EMP thing was a sign of respect and recognition of our contribution to the scene."

This is an era of one-off reunion tours where homage is being paid not to the music but to the dollar. The Warped Tour ranks high in the top-grossing tours of the year along with Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys. "Heaven Is a Halfpipe" can be heard on mainstream radio (OPM had to pay Consolidated Skateboards' Alan Petersen to do all the skateboarding in their video. Read: not skate rock).

What is so refreshing and significant about the Faction reunion is the music. It is timeless. "Skate Harassment," "Tongue Like a Battering Ram," "AUK" and the rest of the Faction library could have been written last week. This is not some nostalgic throwback to the '80s, since the music and the lyrics are just as relevant today. Whether they're intending to or not, they're here to set the record straight. This is skate rock, and the Faction does it better than the rest. And they should. They invented it.

The Faction, Clay Wheels and Outtaline perform Friday (Jan. 25) at 9pm at the Usual, 400 S. First St., San Jose. Admission is $12 (Ticketweb). Info: 408.298.9375.

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From the January 24-30, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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