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Indie Film Director Evan Jacobs on Growing Up in the Orange County Hardcore Scene

Photo: Drew Traulsen

Evan Jacobs has been a staple of the Orange County hardcore scene in Southern California since the '80s. Through his work as a member of both Ice and Collateral Damage, he recorded and played alongside some of the movement's best bands of the era. For a spell in the early '90s, Evan ran Ringside Records (Strife, Ignite), and has continued to stay close with the musicians from the OC hardcore community.

But Evan's biggest passion has been Anhedenia Films, his indie film company which has released his multitude of projects across several genres. In many of his films, Evan has hired musicians from bands like Outspoken and Dear Furious. His Orange County Hardcore Scenester documentary from 2013 is a must-see for any regular No Echo reader. 

In this interview, I chat with Evan about his musical and film history within the hardcore scene in SoCal.

When I look through both your musical and film work, it all seems tied to Orange County, CA., but you were born on Long Island, NY and lived there for a few years. What was the move like to SoCal for you and did it take a long time to get used to it?

I moved out to California when I was four. For the longest time, mainly because my parents were such East Coasters in their tastes, I often felt I was truly an East Coaster myself. As Jews in Orange County in the late '70s, early '80s we stood out. Not in a bad way but my home felt different than most of my friends. I didn’t mind this and in many ways that duality informs much of how I look at the world. As far as identifying as an East Coaster, it wasn’t until I lived on the East for about 4 months in 2004 that I really realized I am a Californian at heart. I love Orange County. I want to make movies about it, write books about it, and continuing exploring this place that is itself a picture of duality. Where else can you have million dollar homes and across the street have people living in their cars?

When did you fascination with music and film/TV start out? Were your parents music and/or film buffs? 

Oh yes, all of my interests in movies, music, and books come from my parents. As I said, we were almost bohemian in Orange County. My house wasn’t well kept by any of us. There were books and food everywhere. Every Sunday, for years, my parents would take my brother and I to the movies. PG movies, R-rated movies, etc. It wasn’t ever a big deal. I never went to school and repeated things I saw in movies like Night Shift or The Stuntman. It was normal to see more than one movie, too. Also, a lot of the books around the house had a left or progressive bent, but my parents never pushed any of that on us. It was just there to find and discover. 

What was your introduction to the hardcore scene? 

My brother Andrew and Joe Nelson (Triggerman, Winds of Promise) were my gateway into all of this. Andrew made me go and see Judge and Carry Nation when they played at the Reseda Country Club in 1990. That was my first show. A few years before I had heard from my brother that you could buy this record called Screaming for Change from local record store, Peer Records. The best part was you could buy it from the singer, Pat Dubar, who worked there. So, right before my Bar-Mitzvah my mom took me to the record store and I bought it off Pat Dubar. I went home and didn’t even listen to it! I just wanted to buy it from the singer. Later, when I started to go to shows in the 1990s, of course I listened to it again and again.

What were some of your most memorable shows from your teen years?

There were awesome shows at Spanky’s Cafe in Riverside with bands like Outspoken, 411, Insted, Haywire, Farside, Gameface, Blackspot, and all the big bands from that '90s, OC era. The Macondo in East LA had a lot of cool shows with bands like Strife, Sense Field, Wool, etc. Some of the coolest shows were the one-offs at places like the Set Free Church with Outspoken and Mean Season headlining. I remember going to see Blackspot and A Chorus of Disapproval at a Mexican restaurant in the Long Beach/Lakewood area. Things got more steady (show wise) with the advent of places like the Showcase Theatre in Corona and of course Chain Reaction in Anaheim.

Tell me a bit about Ice, the band you played in with some familiar names to No Echo readers.

Ice was formed in 1990. When we started Mike Kushner and I wanted to be like the Descendents. We loved hardcore but it was way too serious for us. So we practiced with a few people and eventually the line-up became my friend Mark Wirthlin and Vadim Rubin (Half Off, Haywire). Mike and I had known Vadim from going to shows and Zed Records. Since we were friends with Joe Nelson we were able to get shows with Triggerman and all the other bands. No band wants to open a show, so Ice was always the opening band. Then we booked time at South Coast Studios to record a 7”. Vadim had to quit because he got a new job at Toys R’ Us. Mike and I knew Popeye from going to shows, too.

We loved Farside. [Farside singer] Popeye seemed to like us so I just told him we needed him to be in the band. So we record and then Mark leaves Ice. We knew Jeff [Caudill] because Farside and Gameface always played together. Ice had also played with Gameface a few times. So Jeff joins the band. We all started writing songs and recorded another 7”. I released them both on Ringside Records. Ice was starting to progress and kind of become a decent band. So, of course, we had to break up! I was doing Ringside Records and a couple of other bands so I was okay with having less to do. 

Around that time you started Ringside Records, a label that went on to release records by Triggerman and Ignite. 

I started Ringside Records in 1993 because I needed a way to get the Ice 7” out. At first [Nemesis Records founder] Big Frank [Harrison] was going to put us out but that didn’t happen. That bums me out for two reasons. First of all, I love Frank and would loved to have been on Nemesis. The second reason is he had distribution through Cargo, so our distribution would’ve been way bigger than anything I could’ve done on my own. Kevin Murphy (Headfirst, 411) was supposed to do it and we were stoked. Sadly, that wasn’t meant to be. So I called my friend Drew Traulsen who does Jester Records and asked him how I could do it. Drew explained it all to me in about 10 minutes. So I put out the Ice 7” and titled it Making Up for Lost Time. Then we recorded the L’Chaim 7” which was worlds better than our first one and it didn’t sell at first.

Igby, who worked at Zed Records at the time, told me that people were probably confused because both 7”’s came out so close together! So I had a record label and of course I asked Triggerman to do a 7”. They recorded it on a 4 track. We put it on a DAT and I had another release out. Popeye had asked Jordan [Cooper] from Revelation Records to help me distribute my stuff. Network Sound (Mike Hartsfield and Dennis Remsing) distributed Ringside stuff, too. So, then Joe Nelson calls me. He says that Joe Foster (Unity, Winds of Promise) was doing this new band called Ignite. I don’t think Joe Nelson was singing for them then. However, I don’t think they had Zoli yet, either. It might have been right before or after Randy Johnson (Pushed Aside, Drift Again) quit. They had been out of the scene for a bit and they just wanted to get a record out. So, they asked Joe if I would put out their 7”. “Yes!” I said without hearing a note of it.

So, suddenly people started asking me to put their records out. I was into it but I also started working at Revelation at this time while also working another job and going to school full-time. Right at this moment I was really getting into screenwriting. Movies like Clerks, Pulp Fiction, and El Mariachi were happening and that was where I wanted to be. So, I basically morphed Ringside into Anhedenia Films, made my first film, Walking Between the Raindrops, and Anhedenia Films has been around now since 1995! 

What’s the story behind Collateral Damage? The band released two records—one on Indecision Records and the other on New Age Records—before breaking up.

Collateral Damage started off as myself and Popeye. I was hanging out with these guys a lot and I wanted to become a better guitar play. I got my first guitar when I was 10 but didn’t learn a power chord until I was 18. Todd Trout from Gameface showed me one as we were walking to his car one day and suddenly a lightbulb went on in my head. “I only have to play two strings!” So, I started writing songs. None of them were really hardcore songs. Then I wrote one which was the music for the Collateral Damage song “Nation.” I practiced it with Popeye and we then told Chris Lohman (who had just quit Blackspot) that he should sing. Lohman thought we were idiots because when you get Popeye and I together… we are. So, we played Lohman the song and he liked it. Then he started showing me other songs on guitar and it was tough but I could actually play them. We then got Jeff Caudill to play bass and we set up recording time. It was supposed to be on the cheap at South Coast Studios. Popeye and Lohman set it up with E at For the Record.

Popeye funded it with his student loan and I was supposed to release it. Sadly, I was at the point of being done with Ringside. Then [Indecision Records founder] Dave Mandel came into the picture. He had been doing Indecision Fanzine and he wanted to start a label. Collaterial Damage was his first release. Around this time Jeff then Popeye quit the band. So, Lohman got Jason Zonner (Naked Ape) and Kevin Panter (Speak 714) to play with us. I had just made Walking Between the Raindrops. I was planning on making Safety in Numbers. I was (still am) writing scripts all the time. Those guys wanted me to practice more because they wanted the band to be better. That wasn’t a crazy request but I didn’t really want to do that so I quit. Then I heard they got on New Age which is funny because Mike and I spoke all the time (today we text all the time) and he never mentioned this to me [laughs].

In terms of your filmmaking and screenwriting, did you have any formal training?

I’ve been writing since I was 8. I was in 2nd grade it was just something I started doing in class one day. I’ve been making films in various forms with various cameras since I was 12. My parents always took me to the movies. I’ve always wanted to see everything. I never had any formal production training at the beginning. I went to Cal State Long Beach and got a degree in Film Studies but it wasn’t a production degree. I started making my own films just trying to emulate the things I’d seen. Then I started writing for other people, too. This was all why I was still in college. I’ve taken writing classes but, except for English classes, I’ve always written things that weren’t well received in those classes. I worked as a part-time extra for a bit after college so I got to see how bigger films got made. I am sure some of that seeped in. 

Most of us that go from the hardcore scene and step into film/TV/writing take that DIY approach along with us. How important has that been to your development as a writer/director?

I certainly have the same DIY ethos in the stuff that I make. They are the same as when I did Ringside Records. They are pretty much, “Be a good person.” I make almost no money doing Anhedenia Films on Demand. Anhedenia Films Unlimited, my $2 a month streaming service that allows you to watch my films as many times as you want (I know, it’s a dream come true), just launched, but I don’t think I’m giving Netflix any sleepless nights. As far as being a filmmaker, since I don’t spend a lot of money I can basically make what I want, how I want, and since I am the distributor (or I work with distributors who “get me”) there’s no pressure of any kind to not do what I want.

As a writer, I love writing and exploring new things. Have I written scripts for others that I might never write if I wasn’t getting paid? Sure. However, I always try and find something that comes from me. I try and infuse that in every script in some way. Oddly enough, writing young adult fiction books for myself and others, my tastes are actually in step with what others want for the most part. So, I don’t feel like I am on the outside as much in that medium. I don’t feel like I am a hack for making changes because ultimately, for the Young Adult books, these changes make what I am trying to convey stronger and more accessible.

How did you get into screenwriting? I know you did the screenplay for a feature called Knockout that starred Steve “Stone Cold” Austin in it.

I had written three scripts (the second of which became Walking Between the Raindrops) and one of them garnered interest from an agent. Pulp Fiction, Clerks, and all those other films had happened. I thought this script was going to get made and I was going to be a working screenwriter at 20. So, I rewrote the script, the agent went away, and suddenly I felt helpless. I hated that feeling. It was just like how I felt when Ice had no way to get our 7” out. So I decided to make Walking Between the Raindrops. However, all I wanted to do was write scripts. So I kept doing that and making films, but I am always quick to say that if I do anything well, writing would probably be that thing. I had successes here and there. Scripts that got made on big and small levels. Well, bigger than if I had made them!

I got hooked up with this producer through a website called INKTIP (a great resource!). They were interested in a script of mine. They read it but it wasn’t right. They asked what else I had, I sent them a list of log-lines (one sentence descriptions about a bunch of my scripts), and they liked this one about a kid whose being bullied in school. The kid loves boxing. The janitor of the school is an ex-fighter and they work together to defeat the school bully. Within a few weeks of reading the script the producer optioned it. Then they told me they were going to show it to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Apparently, he liked it and the movie got made. 

You’ve also had some success in Television. 

Well, I don’t know that I’ve had success in television! I wrote a film that became A Father's Secret. It played on Lifetime. When I wrote this film I had no idea what would happen with it. Then it was going to get made. It wasn’t going to get made. Hurry up and rewrite it. Then wait… and eventually it got made. The process was the same as writing a script. The only thing I ever wrote for TV was a pilot for a TV show called The Best Days of My Life. I wrote, produced, edited and animated it. I shopped it around as much as I was able to but ultimately there were no takers.

One of your signature moves is casting some of your friends from the hardcore scene in your films. Who are some of the ones you’ve worked with and what is it like directing your friends?

My biggest reason for doing that is that my friends know me and they know what I’m doing (or not doing). They know that when we make a film there will be a minimal time commitment and some free meals. I don’t do any contracts or any of that other stuff because zero times zero still equals zero. Nobody is getting rich off these films. Sure, I hope they make money. I want people to see them. However, the biggest thing is making them and creating a library.

I work with Popeye , Isaac Golub (A Chorus of Disapproval, A18, Dear Furious), Mike Hartsfied (Outspoken, A18, Dear Furious) a lot. I also cast people I work with at other jobs in roles I think they might be good in. Basically, if I start a movie it will get done. Sometimes it’s good, other times it’s not, but the point is that something was made. I have had films that I didn’t think were going to do anything, do much more than I could’ve imagined. Then there are those films that I was certain would garner a lot of attention and they didn’t. That’s why you need to make a lot of things and be happy with whatever happens.

Mike Hartsfield on the set of Death Toilet

Give me the run down on Death Toilet, your latest movie.

Mike Hartsfield and I had the idea for Death Toilet probably over a decade ago. Then I just decided that we were going to make it. I would direct, he would star, and of course we would include Isaac. In Death Toilet, Vietnam veteran Brett Baxter comes home to settle his dead brother's affairs and soon realizes that his toilet may be the embodiment of Satan. We shot the movie very quickly. It was edited last summer and it’s available through my streaming service, Anhedenia Films on Demand. Pretty soon it will be coming out via Comcast Streaming and Amazon Prime. 

What’s next on your plate? 

I just started a subscription service that I talked about earlier called Anhedenia Films on Demand. Basically, for $2 a month you can watch all my films as much as you want, as many times as you want. Also, a minimum of 3 new films will be added every year. I have to credit [Hate5Six's] Sunny Singh and Dave Mandel for giving me the idea to do this. I plan to finish up a new animated movie in 2019 called Cool Summer. It’s set in the 1980. It’s about these teenagers who meet a man who may or may not be a serial killer. I’ve got a bunch of films to edit and those will all be available through Anhedenia Films on Demand and Anhedenia Films Unlimited. Some new films I am editing soon are The Riverbed (a different look at the homeless crisis in Orange County), DV5: Cordcutter Hell, Tokyo Night Slap, and Walking Between the Raindrops Again (a 23 years later sequel to my first film).

Gun to head, what’s your favorite hardcore record (album or 7”) that ever came out of the Orange County scene?

Oh that’s easy… hands down it’s Screaming for Change by Uniform Choice. 

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Head to Anhedenia Films on Demand to check out trailers for Evan's many films.

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